Out of thought came the word
Online Dating: Black Men Dating White Women Are Exposed To Racism & Stereotypes On Tinder & Other Internet Dating Apps
AS A 50-SOMETHING SINGLE, BLACK Londoner who was new to online dating, I was shocked to find the apps riddled with racist stereotypes, abuse…but also love. By Ben Arogundade. Dec. 06, 2020.
SEX AND RACE: When 54-year-old author Ben Arogundade began online dating for the first time, he discovered that black men dating white women were subjected to racist stereotypes on dating apps such as ‘Tinder’ and others.
SHE WAS A SINGLE, DIVORCED WHITE WOMAN in her mid-40s with two young children. When she messaged me on a popular dating app, she wrote that she wanted to “try something different”. She told me, without any embarrassment, that sex with a black man was an item on her bucket list, alongside other post-divorce “experiences”, like trekking in Nepal or zip-lining in Costa Rica. She saw me not as a personality, but as a pastime, an object, and did not see her actions as racially insulting in the slightest.
“Why did you swipe right on me?” I inquired as we sat in a bar on our first date.
“Because I thought you’d be a playa,” she said.
“But, I didn’t say that in my bio,” I replied.
She admitted she had not read the text accompanying my profile pictures. In other words, she had seen a black face and automatically equated it with promiscuity. When I gently pointed out the racism implicit in her words, I realised it had never occurred to her they could ever be interpreted that way. Although she lived and worked in London, the world’s most multi-cultural city, all the people in her life were white, and so her assumptions about race had never been challenged.
DATING A BLACK MAN, EASY AS AMAZON
It was after this experience and other similar ones that it started to seem to me as if the new world of dating now meant that for many, connecting with or dating a black man had become like a branch of online shopping: as easy as buying a fridge on Amazon. At the same time I realised that the culture of online dating presents particular challenges if you’re black.I was 51 when I tried it for the first time, three years ago. I had just come out of a six-year relationship with a white woman, which had followed a four-year relationship with a black woman. I have a grown-up son from a much earlier relationship. I work as an author and live in West London, and what I wanted when I unexpectedly emerged on the singles market at the start of my sixth decade was companionship. I wanted to be in love once again.
I spent 18 months, on and off, with this intention on various dating apps, and was shocked at the racism that proliferated online. The vast majority of users of online dating apps are white, and most opt for partners of their own ethnicity. This is certainly the case with most of my white friends, who admit that when it comes to selecting a partner they tend to default to what they know, and what seems familiar aesthetically. The statistics on online dating back this up. Research conducted by professor Gerald Mendelsohn at the University of California revealed that over 80 per cent of the contacts initiated by white members were to other whites, with only three per cent to black members. Black females are considered the least attractive group within digital dating. Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid, discovered within his app’s analytics that black women (and also East Asian men) were the least popular groups, with the lowest number of matches. Black women received 25 per cent fewer connects than white women.
BLACK MEN DATING WHITE WOMEN
With a narrower field of options, blacks are forced to be more proactive when online dating, and to cast a wider net than their white counterparts. Mendelsohn’s research found that black daters “were 10 times more likely to contact whites than whites were to contact blacks.”This was certainly true for me, but approaching white women and those of other ethnicities did not present a problem, as I find women of all races attractive. I’ve never had a type as such, and all the women I’ve been out with have been very different from one another.
But it’s equally true that single people have to be pragmatic, before they are emotional, about their choices. The low volume of ethnic diversity within online dating means there is a high probability that black singles in the UK will end up dating whites, simply as a result of availability. Of all the single, London-based females I scrolled through across four different online dating apps - easily over a thousand faces - I estimate that only five per cent were black. And this number dwindled further when I assessed whether or not I liked their personalities or found them attractive.
During my time internet dating, I met up with five black women and 20 white, which is merely a reflection of who’s out there on UK dating apps. It didn’t work out with the particular black women tat I met, either because they lived too far away, or I didn’t feel a spark, or in one case because she wanted children and I had already had mine. When I did find black women to date, I was happy, as they’re harder to come by within the dating apps, and we often had a shared racial experience and outlook.
But other than that, my approach was colour blind, if not age blind. I set my parameters within the apps to between 40 and 55, which meant almost every match was divorced and with children. The majority of those I encountered had only ever dated white men, and a number of them expressed racist views, sometimes without even realising it. On seeing my online pictures, several assumed the following: “promiscuous”, “large penis”, “voracious sex”; rather than “family man” or “loving partner”. Some of them told me this outright. One especially telling moment came when a white woman I was dating said jokingly that her white friends wanted to know what a black man would be like in bed. Although I had stated in my bio that I was looking for a relationship, in my experience there remains a strong perception within the online dating arena that black men are candidates only for sex and a good time.
BLACK WOMEN DATING
Black women are subject to even greater levels of abuse, particularly around post-colonial stereotypes about possessing a more vigorous sexual appetite or outlandish sexual preferences. Style blogger Stephanie Yeboah encountered this during her time online dating. “Some blatantly exclaim that they would want to be in a relationship [with me] to ‘get a taste of jungle fever’ and to see whether black women are ‘as aggressive in bed as they’ve heard,’” she said. In so many areas of society, blacks are required to be “more than” in order to be accepted, and for many this is also true in the bedroom. This is not sex as we know it, as an act of pleasure, but sex as performance, defined by race. Once you’ve had one or two women make remarks to you about “what black men are like in bed”, the performance aspect becomes clear - and the knowledge that the woman you’re dating thinks, “I’m sleeping with a black man”, rather than just “I’m sleeping with a man”. With the next white woman I met online and slept with, I deliberately tried to make the sex mediocre. I wanted to smash the stereotype. I wanted sex to be normalised, finally, like it is for white men.
Admittedly my moral perspective is specific to my age group, as a more mature online dater. I’m well aware there are many young black men on Tinder who are having a lot of fun sleeping with white women without any concerns about racial stereotypes. In fact, many even welcome it. I play football with a bunch of black guys in their 20s and they tell me I’m over-thinking it all. They say I should relax and be happy I have interest from women, whatever their motivation might be.
But at 54, my wish is to be valued as a human being, and my focus was on finding love. I live alone and I wanted a companion with whom I could do the normal things couples do – watch Netflix, go to the local pub, or on country walks at the weekend. Yet when I said I was not seeking casual sex, one or two of the white women I encountered were surprised. On one occasion I had sex with a woman who maintained she wanted a relationship, but then when I moved in that direction she ran away, as if I was overstepping the mark. It seemed that something deeper was at play here. I was attracting emotionally wounded white women who had been hurt by their ex-husbands and so had became cynical and fearful of love. Many swiped right on me because they believed that, as a black man, I would only want sex, and therefore they would be safe with me. They appeared surprised on discovering their assumptions were wrong.
LOVE FROM ONLINE DATING
But despite it all, I must point out that my experiences were not all negative. I connected with some fantastic women, unmotivated by stereotypes, three of whom - an NHS psychotherapist, a landscape architect and a woman in the film business - have since become good friends after we realised we weren’t right for each other romantically.
Since writing my book I have now found a partner on one of the online dating apps. We met for the first time 10 weeks ago over a drink in a bar. We were only together for an hour that night, but I liked her straight away because of what she had to say. Culturally and intellectually, we had much in common. She had taken the trouble to write a very detailed dating profile in which she was very open about who she was, so I already felt I knew her quite well when we met. She is white, works in a related industry to me, and is far less interested in my ethnicity, and more in the fact that I like running, listening to Radio 4, drinking red wine and eating cheese. She lives locally and her children are in their late teens, so she’s free to come out on dates. She has actual, and emotional, availability. The two of us have now quit the apps, and we are on our way together, towards love.
Hi there. I am a London-based author and publisher, specialising in fiction, non-fiction and online journalism. Discover more about me and my latest projects, at Ben Arogundade bio.
More About Online Dating Apps
© White Labels Books, London Town 2021: Registered Office: 85 Great Portland Street, First Floor, London W1W 7LT