When you set up a profile on a dating app, you may be asked to filter out people who are the wrong age or too far away. Perhaps you don’t want to date a smoker, or someone who is keen to have children. But some dating apps still allow you to filter out profiles by ethnicity. Many argue that this ethnic filtering on dating apps is a form of racism. Others say that we can’t help who we are attracted to. These are sensitive issues with arguments on both sides.
Even if we believe the filters make the dating process more efficient, it must be admitted that they reinforce stereotyping, ethnocentrism, judging by appearance and unconscious bias. Challenging such processes is key to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and eradicating racism in society. We cannot separate our romantic life from the rest of our lives and allow different norms to operate.
Filters available on dating apps communicate norms in dating and beyond. Ruling out whole ethnic groups limits your experiences as a human being as well as romantically. Extensive research (and the evidence of my own clients) demonstrates that dating – as well as friendship generally – with people different from us expands our horizons and helps to break down barriers in society. What if someone out there were perfect for you in every way – except their ethnicity was one you had decided you couldn’t possibly be attracted to?
This means that dating apps such as Hinge and OKCupid, which still have ethnic filters, have a responsibility and an opportunity to communicate better norms for the way in which people interconnect. Being led by market forces or what their users want is not always the right course of action. Recently Grindr and Shaadi removed their filters in response to Black Lives Matter. Hinge and OKCupid: we want you to do the same.
I will be writing in more detail about this with my co-author, Aaliyah Blaikie. Please share this article to show your support, sign up for notifications of new blog posts at the bottom of this page, use the hashtag #ethicaldating, and get in touch here if you have a story to tell about racism in dating.