First of all I would like to say that I cannot or ever will be able to understand what it feels like to experience racism, persecution and prejudiced attitudes towards me because I am white and therefore privileged. I have always been aware of the inequality but I guess in many ways I was blissfully ignorant and thought that things were improving. Clearly I, and millions of others, were wrong, as recent events have shown us.
Secondly, I am aware that this topic is hugely uncomfortable for many people but I believe that right now, exactly because it makes us (white people) uncomfortable, more of these conversations are needed. It is important to challenge the way we have been thought to think and believe about race and learn a new and better way to relate to our fellow human beings.
In the dating world, discrimination according to race and ethnicity has long been an accepted element when choosing a partner.
Recently the very popular app fro gay men Grindr removed a feature from its users to be able to filter according to ethnicity and race.
It is a huge step for a dating app to do so but when you think about it, is it something that should not have been there in the first place?
For a lot of people, this discrimination or, personal preference, is something they take for granted, that not wanting someone who has a different color of skin to yours, is perfectly acceptable and no explanations required decision. In the world of high end Matchmaking, this is (or at least was) very apparent.
When I interviewed clients I often heard things like “I have black friends so I am not racist but I could never have a black man/woman as a partner” or “My parents would never approve of me taking home a black/Asian/other ethnicity partner” There have been many excuses from people, even from people on the surface very “liberal” and open-minded, to reject potential dates from different ethnicities. I know many will think, “but hold on, surely we can have preferences” Yes of course. But where do our “preferences” come from?
I would really encourage us to think about that.
What are our ideas of who makes a good partner for us, ethnicity-wise, come from. Are they based on the notions of the glowing images of white, together forever couples we have been brought up with? Are they based on the ideas that somehow, people of different color to ours do not, ultimately, fit into that image we so desperately want the world to see about us, living the “perfect life”? Are they based on those fundamentally racist ideas that our race is somehow better than the “other”?
Familiarity of course plays a big part and for sure we are drawn to partners that are similar to us and have similar social, cultural, educational and economical background. There are however many examples of how even when all those “boxes are ticked” if the color of the skin of that potential match is different, the answer is no.
As a Matchmaker it was my job to understand what my clients want in a potential partner but it was also my role to encourage them to think beyond the often very narrow ways of relating to what a happy relationship should look like. In the matchmaking world it is or at least, was, accepted that clients would request not to meet certain ethnicities. I understand this is considered to be a complex issue, but to what extent? Often the filtering based on ethnicity is done because one has very stereotypical expectations of how someone would be, purely based on the color of their skin, completely ignoring all the other matching qualities that person may have. I know I have been guilty of that.
Then there is the attraction argument, “I just don´t find any “other ethnicity to yours” men/women attractive. Can one really categorically say they can find not one person of a certain ethnicity attractive? I personally think this is a again based on that bias what we have been conditioned to think what attractive is, that somehow, our own race is better and more attractive than the “other”.
Our white privileged unconscious bias has developed so that even when we think we are liberal and open, our brain gives us messages that oppose that. I think this is very evident in the dating and relationship world. We consider ourselves progressive but when it comes down to choosing a partner, a certain colour of a skin is all of a sudden a threat and a no-go. This is the challenge we need to be overcoming, to unlearn the bias and learn a new , more open way to relate to ethnicity and race.
What Grindr did may be considered controversial but personally, I think is a step forward, standing up to more equality in dating and relationships. It is time for us to really start listening, learning and understanding more.