My Dating App Matches Revealed My Subconscious Racism
When I was single and new to Toronto, my main activities consisted of swiping on dating apps and complaining about how frustrated I was with dating apps. I went through the familiar cycle of obsessing over photos and bios and matches and openers, then getting frustrated and deleting every dating app on my phone, then getting bored and downloading them all again.
I was at the height of my swiping days when a friend told me about a disturbing study from OKCupid. It showed that racial minorities experience extreme bias on dating apps, receiving substantially less right swipes and matches than white folks. The bias especially affects black people and Asian men.
It was upsetting news, but I wasn’t surprised. At the time, I was fresh off a liberal arts degree, where I had read and discussed research on racial discrimination and unconscious bias as part of my studies. Although I knew I had more to learn, I felt relatively aware of the effects of racism on modern society.
It’s terrible, but least I’m not part of the problem, I thought to myself. I pick dates based on whether they look interesting and compatible, not based on race.
When opened a dating app a few days later, the OKCupid study bubbled back to the top of my mind. I still felt confident that I wasn’t biased, but out of curiosity, I took a peek at the racial makeup of my matches.
Scrolling through them, I felt my chest tighten. White. White. White. White.
Out of a dozen or so matches, I counted a total of one person of color.
I felt hot, firey shame rise in the depths of my stomach. The matches didn’t lie. There it was — digital proof of my own racial bias.
I was an activist in university. I quoted Kimberlé Crenshaw and gave workshops where I explained intersectionality. I could spout off facts and statistics about the ways in which BIPOC are disproportionately represented in national victimization rates for violent crime. I understood and could explain the harms of microaggressions and cultural appropriation.
And yet, here was incontrovertible evidence of my biases, laid out in tiny chat boxes on an app. After all, what better way to evaluate the whims of my subconscious than peeking at the results of my absent-minded swipes?
To do anti-oppression work but not do the work to be anti-racist in your own life is the very definition of hypocrisy. I was so, so ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone what I had discovered, not even the friend who had pointed out the problem in the first place.
But amid the Black Lives Matter protests over the past two months, I realized I shouldn’t be hiding my shame. I should be sharing it with other white people and talking about what it means to confront our biases. After all, it’s not enough to commit to buying more goods from black-owned businesses and read more Ta-Nehisi Coates. To fight racism in a tangible way, we need to tackle it on a personal level.
That starts with acknowledging that we are part of the problem.
Confronting your privilege feels terrible — but it should feel that way. Understanding your biases means recognizing the devastating effects they have on oppressed groups. It means pinpointing the way your everyday actions — like swiping — support systems, beliefs, and institutions that are violent towards people of color.
Knowing the violence that racial minorities have experienced throughout history and continue to experience today, facing a little shame and discomfort is truly the least we can do. It’s the bare fucking minimum.
So when you encounter that feeling — the intense, potent shame of recognizing racism in your own actions — don’t shy away from it. Instead, lean into it. Feel the pain, sit in it, understand it.
Once you appreciate the damaging ways your biases affect others, you’re ready to start the long, difficult work of becoming better. For me, that meant consciously and deliberately thinking about who I was interested in romantically, and why. It also meant examining the other areas of my life where I needed to take anti-racist action. It was time to look at what kind of people I look up to in leadership roles, what kind of media I consume, and how I pick my friends. Yeah — it got that personal.
But fighting racism is personal. And we all still have a long way to go — I know I do. So let’s get to work.