Online dating and racism

When my wife died, I considered online dating as way of meeting people. Hadiya Roderique’s shares her experience with online dating in Walrus magazine (March, 2017).

    Hadiya Roderique on cover of Walrus magazine

I was searching for a committed relationship with a supportive partner, someone I could love deeply and who shared my values and goals,” she wrote.

There are reasons why our online dating experiences would be different. I am in my mid-seventies and she’s in her mid-thirties. I am retired and Hadiya is a lawyer working on a PhD. I look white and she looks black.

I say “look” because skin colour is a fluke of ancestry. I’m the descendant of Scottish, English, and French ancestors. Hadiya’s father is white and her mother is Caribbean and East Indian.

One thing we both share is a white Canadian culture.

“Certainly, I am black to the white world. And as someone who travels in personal and professional environments that are predominantly white—the legal profession, Ultimate Frisbee, graduate school—the majority of my friends, including my single girlfriends, are white.”

Hadiya liked the online dating site OkCupid. She had a high match with a large number of men but she was troubled by the response she received.

“But almost immediately, I began to notice peculiarities about my experience. Among my single friends, and even in the conversations I overheard between strangers in coffee shops, women using dating sites described being ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘flooded’ with communication. On the day I completed my profile, I received one message; four more appeared over the next two days.”

Friends suggested that maybe the limited response was due to an intimidation factor because she was a lawyer. At this point, Hadiya didn’t think that skin colour was a factor.

“As a Torontonian, I optimistically thought race wouldn’t matter much. One of the defining principles of our culture is, after all, multiculturalism. There is a widespread perception that the tensions and cultural politics of race are milder in Canada than in the US—we represent a “mosaic” rather than a melting pot—with an openness to experiences that all that implies, including interracial dating.”

To test skin colour as a factor, she posted a picture of her white friend Jessica in the same clothes and the same written profile. The “White Hadiya” received nine times the messages as the black Hadiya.

Still unconvinced, Hadiya thought it was because Jessica was more attractive. As a final experiment, Hadiya became white. She had her photo taken in a blond wig and photoshopped her skin to white, her eyes to blue.

Responses were even greater than the White Hadiya. She even heard back from people who had not responded when she sent messages to them as black.

The experience confirmed the disheartening truth about online dating.

“Online dating dehumanizes me and other people of colour. On the other hand, maybe online dating dehumanizes everyone.”

Hadiya gave up online dating and has since found a boyfriend through mutual acquaintances.

I have heard of life-long relationships that developed online. But not for me. Based on Hadiya’s black and white experience, I think that I would be judged by the way I look.

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