One writer explores how ethnic filters on dating apps have become revolutionary for some women of colour who feel vulnerable online.
The dating world is complex in your mid-twenties. There’s the pressure to settle down from parents and family members. But there’s also a pressure to play the field and have ‘options’ thanks to the stigma attached to single women and the assumption that we’re not happy on our own. I personally enjoy meeting potential partners in real life rather than on dating apps. This is partly because I’m quite picky when it comes to men which is probably one of the reasons why I’m still single.
One undeniable reason as to why I’m not keen on dating apps, however, is because of the lack of representation. From my own experience as well as what I’ve heard from other Black women, it’s very hard to find Black men on them. But I found out about a function that revolutionised my online dating experience — Hinge allows users to specify their preference in ethnicity and race. After filtering my choices, I was pleasantly surprised at how many Black men I saw as I scrolled through after it had been so hard to find them before.
I liked being able to see people who looked like me and it made the whole experience more comfortable. I eventually went on a date with one man and reconnected with someone else I met years ago who I ultimately started seeing. Even though I didn’t end up with either of them, past experience tells me it wouldn’t have been so easy to meet them in the first place without the ability to filter the men that Hinge had been showing me.
A tweet recently went viral when a white woman complained about Hinge’s ethnic filters and described it as“racist”. When I first saw the now-deleted tweet, I was confused about why someone would think that, until I identified it as a display of white privilege from someone who’s likely never had to consider dating apps the same way the women of my community have.
It’s a complex and deep-rooted issue, but the unfortunate reality for many Black women dating online isn’t an easy one. We’ve had to question the intentions of the people who have matched with us. We’ve had to constantly consider whether the person we’ve matched - usually from outside of our race - sincerely finds us attractive after years of having society tell us that Black women don’t fit the Western ideals of beauty. There’s so much at play when we enter the dating arena, and many women like myself have found dating apps to be difficult when our ethnicity has come into play in these early stages.
Tomi, a 26-year-old Black woman from Hertfordshire, grew up in predominantly white areas and explains that her experience of dating has been influenced by this kind of doubt. “When I do date guys who aren’t Black, I always have the question of ‘Do they actually like Black women?’ in the back of my head,” she explains.
I can see how some people would deem Hinge’s feature as discriminatory, because it allows you to consciously shut yourself off from other races, but for a Black woman who has had bad experiences in the past, it makes online dating feel like a much safer place.
The topic of racial filters obviously calls interracial dating into question, which is something I’m not opposed to but I can relate to the number of Black women who say that finding someone who doesn’t define me by my ethnicity, but rather understands my experiences and with whom I don’t feel I have to explain cultural signifiers to, is important. Research from Facebook dating app, Are You Interested, found that Black women responded most highly to Black men, while men of all races responded the least frequently to Black women.
I fear being fetishised. I’ve heard countless stories from Black Women who have been on dates with people who make inappropriate comments or only have complimentary things to say about their race. Kayela Damaz, 28, from London says she’s often been fetishised and recently spoke to one man who told her “I only date Black women”. In another conversation shared with Stylist, Kayla is first approached with the racially charged question “Where are you from originally?” before the man she’d matched with declared that being Jamaican is “why you are so sexy.”
Kayela explains: “They tend to use words like ‘curvy’ excessively and focus too much on my exterior rather than who I am.” She says that she favours the ethnic filter on dating apps as she prefers to date Black men, but often uses Bumble where the option isn’t available.
This dynamic that Kayla experienced is birthed from a problematic stereotype usually connected to sex. Black women are frequently hypersexualised. We’re perceived as being extra ‘wild’ in bed and we have specific body parts such as our bum, hips or lips sexualised most commonly. Jasmine*, 30, says she’s been fetishised quite a lot on dating apps. “Sometimes it can be subtle but some examples are non-Black men commenting on how ‘nice’ or ‘perfect’ my skin tone or complexion is and I don’t like that. Especially if it’s early on the conversation,” she tells Stylist.
Ironically, this is a downside of having ethnicity filters on apps as it allows people who have a racial fetish to easily seek out ethnic minority women whilst dating online. But as I’ve started to use racial filters on dating apps, this isn’t an issue I’ve had to encounter. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean my dating experiences have been a walk in the park and I know that every woman’s interaction is going to have been different. Every match or date comes with their complications but, race hasn’t been one of them for me since being able to find men within my own community. As a feminist, my priority when dating is finding out where whoever I connect with stands on issues that affect women. Personally, I couldn’t imagine having to think about this while thinking about race too.
For now, I’m going back to meeting people the old fashion after deleting dating apps a few months ago. But for my fellow Black women who do want to date online, they should be able to do this while feeling safe interacting with whoever they match with.
*names have been changed.