I took to Tinder the Friday after Election Day. After a week of seemingly endless bad news, I was looking for a much-needed distraction from the swirling conversations about race and gender and politics that had been flooding my newsfeeds and emails and texts for days. Not long after I started swiping, a man messaged me: “Hi, Maxine. How was your week?” An innocuous enough opening line.
But he continued.
“I tell ya, as a white dude, it’s been great for me. I think I even get a free iPad now.”
Stunned, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, if I should even bother with a response. Slightly shaking, I typed, “I mean, as a queer biracial woman, this week has been nothing short of terrifying, so I hope you understand that that joke (and I hope it is meant as a joke) isn’t funny.”
He then unmatched me.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that even Tinder would be an uncomfortable-bordering-on-triggering app to open right now, especially since, as a minority, online dating is hard enough in the best of times. Whether you like to admit it or not, chances are good that your dating preferences are racist. But it’s not just you. It’s everyone.
The most commonly cited study on racial bias in online dating comes from OkCupid, based on data from culled from 25 million users between 2009 and 2014. It found that 82% of non-black men showed a bias against black women and that all women, regardless of race, preferred members of their own race, especially over Asian and black men.
In this racial hierarchy of online dating, white men are consistently at the top. According to a 2009 study from OkCupid, white men got more responses than any other group, while white, Asian and Hispanic women were all more likely to message white men than non-white men. Racial bias — and, in turn, white privilege — is amplified on Tinder, an app that forces you to make a snap judgment about a human being based on a photograph. In that situation, what other external markers can you realistically look for besides race and maybe a nice smile or, like, a dog?
Based solely on the statistics, I’ve got it kind of good when it comes to racial bias in online dating, since Asian women are consistently deemed to be the “most popular” of all the races and genders. The attention isn’t necessarily welcome, though.
Many men on the internet assume I’m submissive in bed, and in life, because I’m Asian. I’ve had enough men apologize for the fact they’ve got a thing for Asian girls or have only had Asian girlfriends while out on a date with me that I’ve started to expect it. It’s become a normal part of the dating game, piecing together which men are into me because of my race and which are into me because I’m a cool human. Casually discriminatory opening lines like those I received on Friday night are par for the course, but this most recent interaction scared me in a way those others have not.
What’s changed in the last week is not the existence of these racist comments, but my attitude toward them. These once-seemingly innocuous jokes about white privilege that I brushed off in order to get a date every once in a while, that I had long assumed were part of the proverbial package of online dating, have taken on a darker tone in Trump’s America, where hundreds of hate crimes have been perpetrated in under a week and white men still threaten to take away my right to choose.
Dating, almost by definition, requires you to be vulnerable. I can’t let my guard down right now, even if it’s just through an iPhone screen, and especially not for a human who’s demonstrated that he doesn’t get it. I deserve better than that, better than what Tinder can offer to me right now. So I’m logging off. The chances are good that the sort of person I want to date is taking a break from Tinder right now, too.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.