Racial preferences are the final taboo of dating. It’s time to call them out

They have no place on dating apps, and by extension, no place in real life

There’s something about the phrase “I only date black boys” or “I’m not really attracted to Asian girls” that instinctively makes everyone uncomfortable. You can replace that with any race – and the feeling is the same. Maybe we all do genuinely have preferences and we aren’t willing to address them for fear of being racist, or maybe it’s… actually racist?

One thing is for sure: racial preferences are the final taboo of dating, and no one really knows if they’re okay or not. I’m here to tell you that they aren’t, and they run the risk of veering into racism, fetishisation and the demonisation of other races.

Dating apps are a part of this. Grindr recently removed their race filter, which means users can no longer filter the profiles they see based on someone’s race. Seems pretty straightforward, right? But the move has been divisive. I recently had an argument with my housemate who puts “no Asian people please” on his profile when he visits Thailand, who is less than pleased about the race filter being removed (I wonder why).

Grindr isn’t the only app, either. Hinge’s “Dealbreaker” option allows you to pick race as a non-negotiable option for the profiles you are recommended. Hinge say this “supports our users of colour in finding a partner with shared cultural experiences and background”. But why is it an option for white users, then?

From discussing racial preferences with multiple people, you’ll quickly work out that everyone has a different opinion, and none of them are completely “right”. That’s why it’s the final taboo of dating. It’s the biggest grey area we have left. Harry, a Royal Holloway grad, defended his right to racial preferences in dating and explained how he feels they aren’t racist. He told The Tab: “I believe that it’s completely okay to be attracted to anyone based upon their physical attributes. Not only should people not be labelled – being called racist for having a preference over race is like calling a straight man homophobic for not being attracted to penis – but it is wholly dangerous to shame people based upon their preferences (if those preferences don’t result in endangering or victimising others).

“Different races have different physical attributes. I’m not going to point a finger at someone if they don’t find me attractive because I’m not the right height, don’t have the right complexion or hair style, because that’s their right to find me attractive or not. Does one need to bare the weight of a word like ‘racist’ because of their preference in a partner? Absolutely not.

“If the person’s lack of attraction is based upon prejudices and harmful racist tropes beyond physical preference, however, this is problematic and could certainly be deemed racist. At the end of the day love who you want, shag who you want and never be ashamed by who you find attractive, you’re allowed to be attracted to whoever YOU want!”

But it’s not that simple. The grey area sometimes allows for genuine discrimination to occur, and then the line is crossed. Amirah, a student from Birmingham, believes having racial preferences that cause you to rule out dating a certain race are wholly wrong. She told The Tab: “I don’t like it. You might not have dated or been attracted to a person of specific ethnicity or race before but can’t say you’ll never date one. If you date by that logic it is a fetish not a preference. Deciding who you think you’ll love is wrong – it’s pretty much racially profiling your dating pool.”

If you say you’d never date a certain race, or you are borderline not attracted to a certain race – you run the risk of being racist without even realising it. It begs the question: Why do you find that race unattractive? Mirabelle, a Durham student, told The Tab: “When someone says I don’t date this race or whatever, or I don’t find this ethnicity attractive, it begs the question, what about that ethnicity are you ‘not attracted to’? Because it’s not like you’ve met everyone of that ethnicity, and you’re making it clear that before you even get to know them, you’ve already decided that you don’t date that race or ethnicity, so it’s not personality, it’s about race, and that’s wrong.”

Obviously this argument is framed differently depending on the race of the individual it comes from. White people saying they’d never date a black person automatically seems worse than a black girl saying she’d only date black boys, for example. This doesn’t invalidate the argument – the main reason it sounds so much worse is because of the western beauty ideals that are enforced on us from when we’re wee babies. Non-white people only dating other non-white people won’t have these harmful beauty ideals, or racist pre-conceptions forming their preferences, so of course its not as bad. If you’re now thinking – but surely a non-white person saying they’d never date a white person is also racist? – step back and think about whether you really think white racism exists. Then step forward, realise it doesn’t, and move on.

There are more stupid arguments in favour of racial preferences too. No really – some of them are damn stupid. Generally, anything about wanting mixed kids is just downright dumb. A white woman was recently spotted at a Black Lives Matter protest with a sign saying “Don’t shoot, I want mixed kids”. Truly all you can say is yikes. Other motivations you should question are anything that runs the risk of fetishising the race you’re interested in (i.e you want a black man because he’s strong? Get out. Jordan Peele joke intended), or anything that implies you find the other races “unattractive” or “unworthy” of your attention. If there’s something about a certain race you “aren’t attracted to”, ask yourself – why is that?

It also entirely depends on how you handle these racial preferences with the people you date. If you consistently tell a black girl you love dating her because she’s black – you’re probably a bit of a knob. And fetishising her. And she definitely doesn’t like it. Also – it happens. Eulalie, a black student at Coventry, told me she’d once had a guy go on an elaborate rant about her being an “ebony goddess” which she obviously didn’t lap up like he expected.

But then this begs the question, do dating apps have a place in allowing racial preferences if they can never be truly ruled out as racist? Surely it’s more realistic to allow users to see a complete pool of profiles, regardless of race, and leave the swiping up to them. Allowing users to filter by race is almost like a self fulfilling prophecy – it legitimises it. If racial preferences so easily run the run of being racist, they have no place on dating apps. Grindr knew what they were doing when they removed that filter. We can only hope that apps like Hinge do too, so people have to confront their harmful ideals in dating. The more you stare it in the face, and drill down into the reasons behind it, the more you’re likely to realise it comes from a place of ignorance and discrimination. So for anyone reading and getting angry in the Youtube comments section level mad, think about why first.

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