Navigating Online Dating as a WOC: A Conversation with Tiffany
Words & Photography by Kristine Romano
A conversation about racially charged messages, the burden of interpreting people’s intentions and the screened protection (or lack thereof) of online dating apps.
How long have you been online dating?
Off and on for 5 years? I was off it for two or three years when I was with my ex and I went back on it… one, cause I had met him on there and, two, because it's a way to meet men I wouldn't otherwise meet with my busy schedule.
And how has the overall experience been for you?
Honestly, I actually made two really good friends on Tinder. I'm not very good at the whole dating thing, haha. So I've had some really good experiences, absolutely! But, I would say that the bad experiences are too frequent and not far enough in between each other and that's a problem.
For example, I was talking to this guy and because I had the audacity to not respond to him for like… two days, he goes "you f*cking n****" Like, what??? One, I have a serious problem with the n-word. There is so much weight behind that word, I even hate when black people say the word. So as a white person, for you to say the n-word, knowing the historical weight behind it, because I didn't message you because I was busy… You have got to be joking?
I had a cry when I got that message, I was so hurt by it... Hurt by the fact that someone could be so nasty to say that and think it was OK.
I think it's hard because obviously these behaviors are not specific to the apps and its not necessarily the apps fault. If anything, it's reflective of how society functions.
Exactly, but what these apps have done is create a platform that people didn't have before.
Do you feel like these comments--racist, sexist or otherwise, are magnified on the platform?
Like, do you ever experience that in real life?
Rarely. The thing is, I haven't actually experienced this with a guy until I've gotten to know him. Whereas, a guy knowing that there are no other repercussions besides an unmatch for saying something on an app...really opens the door for him to say whatever he wants. But then how do you tell the platform that they need to stop something they are not accountable for?
They should, in a way, manage it… they should manage their reports better because they certainly don't do that now. They don't protect the victims. They don't protect women who have to experience that behavior. Bumble is actually better, you can message their customer support and they're really good. Tinder, not so much.
I think what actually happens is that people opt out of using these apps or they go to race-specific apps. That's not as common here in Europe as it is in America I think, but the fact that WOC have to find other spaces…
...not because you haven't found anyone you're attracted to, but because you don't feel protected or safe is awful. I think why I say I haven't had a lot of bad experiences is also because I've had to learn to understand why people say these things, instead of assuming that they're just racist. I realized that 80% of the people who make these comments do so purely out of ignorance in trying to impress you or ignorance in that they just don't have racial literacy. The other 20% are just dicks and those are the people that should be filtered off the app! As a WOC, you kind of have to micro-analyze all of the messages you receive, which I don't think… non WOC have to do to the same extent. I think that's why many WOC struggle when it comes to online dating because there's this burden of having to interpret everyone's intentions.
"I think why I say I haven't had a lot of bad experiences is also because I've had to learn to understand why people say these things, instead of assuming that they're just racist"
Yet it's supposed to be this fun and light thing!
Yeah, like I just want to swipe and not be met with these messages! But unfortunately a lot of things can become racial.
It's interesting because when we talk about love, there's this narrative that you just "love who you love" without regard for the fact that who we love or who we date is largely political, especially for POC.
Yeah, when you think about the identity of POCs, race is very much rooted in their experience. All of my white friends never had to consider that their whiteness is an experience they live. Whereas being brown or being part Asian, you go through your life with certain experiences that you can attribute directly to your race or ethnicity. When you are seen as different, you always have to take things with a pinch of salt. Are people doing this because they like me for me or are they doing this because they like what I represent because of my race? It's like when people make comments like "I love reggae"...Would you say that with the same energy if I wasn't Jamaican at all?
But again, it's always catering to what they think they'll have in common with you but it's all based on stereotypes.
Yeah and even if you actually did satisfy those stereotypes, they probably only make up a small fraction of you. It's just funny because a lot of these men feel like it's okay to message me things like "Hey, can I lick your chocolate?" And surely I must respond "Yeah, sure! When?" They wouldn't do this if it hadn't worked at least once and so I think men are also a lot less frugal when it comes to swiping right. I feel like they don't care.
I feel like men are always swiping right and women are always swiping left!
Exactly! I think as women, we are inherently more cautious of who we're meeting online cause there's this feeling that you're putting yourself in a precarious position. There are so many scare stories, you don't know who you're going on a date with. I don't think men have that filter.
I honestly don't think that's even something that crosses many men's minds. I don't think that they think they're putting themselves in a potentially unsafe position by going on a date with a stranger.
Yeah, and I think this is especially heightened for women of color--in part because there are already these pre-existing stereotypes, but also because these stereotypes are reinforced through these dating apps. For example, Latina and black women tend to be overly sexualized, so there seems to be this idea that they're ten times more eager to have sex. I think that's why a lot of WOC find their experience with online dating to be a belittling experience because they feel like their perceived value is lesser than that of a white womans. If your experience is that you're perceived as a sexual object or that you surely want to get f*cked because you have wide hips, you can understand why it sort of reinforces that divide of why so many WOC only end up swiping on men of color to not deal with that.
Is that an experience you feel like you have had in your years of online dating?
I think because usually my type has been white, yes absolutely! In dating or matching with white guys or just anyone who isn't black, I find there's three types of men. You have the first who we can say are 'woke'--they have some sort of racial understanding. You can talk to them and it's fantastic. Then you have number two, who you think has a racial understanding until they say something that stops you in your tracks. For example, I met this guy who I didn't have to explain my whiteness to, I didn't have to explain my blackness to, I didn't have to explain anything to… for us to then be sleeping together and, in the middle of sex, for him to tell me "Yeah, be my naughty slave!"
Yeah, exactly! I was just like "SORRY???" There are so many people I won't say are racist but they do have a prejudice or this intrinsic bias that comes out in ways that are more revealing than they realize. And I think, if you're having to deal with these microaggressions, sometimes they can be worse than someone blatantly telling you that they hate you or think you're disgusting. For someone else to say that they are accepting of you, that they don't see a difference… but in minute actions reveal that they really do and that they see you as a sort of trophy or a keychain, I think that is really damaging. Damaging, one, to you as a woman but, two, to your perception of whether interracial dating or interracial hookups are something you even want to consider because I would say maybe two out of five situations are like that.
And then there's the third which are basically just guys who make it very clear they only want you because of the color of your skin. Like very clear and it's actually quite amazing how comfortable they feel in saying that, to the point where they will message you saying "I've never f*cked a black girl before." Guaranteed if you're in front of them, they would think twice or they would say it in a different way.
"For someone else to say that they are accepting of you, that they don't see a difference… but in minute actions reveal that they really do and that they see you as a sort of trophy or a keychain, I think that is really damaging"
Do you think it's just because it's a virtual interaction that people feel motivation to act in these kinds of ways?
Yeah, I think it's because it's virtual. I think… [online dating] is made to seem personal through photos, bios, social media and other personal details. But actually, I think online dating is a very impersonal experience. You don't know anything about that person, you can't see how that person gesticulates, how that person smiles, the way they walk… you don't know any of these subtleties of a person, of which I think really truly defines someone. I think when you get to first meet a person only then are you more cautious of what you say. But I think because it's just like flipping through a catalogue, you can say and do whatever you want. At the end of the day, if you get upset, someone else won't! This doesn't work the same for women though. I feel like women have to advertise themselves a certain way, respond in a certain way or we're still judged equally as hard in person. Whereas men are like "Oh, but it's just Tinder!"
I really hate that argument… when girls receive nasty messages on Tinder people are like "Oh! What did you expect? It's a hookup app" or "Why do you use it then?" Why is it somehow our fault that we receive these kinds of messages?
Whether you are of color or not, it's this sort of justification of "Well, you signed up for it." No, I signed up for a dating app, I didn't sign up for verbal sexual abuse and being fetishized and having racial slurs thrown at me. I feel like these dating apps really take away all accountability and responsibility of men and thrust it on women so if anything happens it's like… "What did you expect?" Even as a woman of color, you have the same shit when they're like "Well what did you expect if he's never been with a black girl?"
"I signed up for a dating app, I didn't sign up for verbal sexual abuse and being fetishized and having racial slurs thrown at me"
…as if that's the most important thing about you? As if that's okay for anyone to highlight?
Yeah, exactly! I'm not understanding… so, because I signed up for a dating app that allows people to pick apart my race because that's what they find to be the most interesting or thing at fault about me? Not only has it taken accountability away from people, it also has also made people feel as if their bias is okay.
Definitely. I think a lot of people don't see the problem in having a racial preference. It definitely depends on how that preference manifests itself… but if the bare minimum someone is looking for is just a certain POC…
Then that's an issue! There are so many other facets. You notice a difference in the community of WOC as well because I have friends who are darker skinned or just non-mixed black and they get some serious shit. I get shit as well but on levels that I can't even say are the same. For example, one of my friends got a message from someone who said "Yeah, I swiped on you because I have a big dick and only a black woman can handle that." The problem is that it's become so much of the norm that women, and especially WOC, don't even argue anymore. They just unmatch, which doesn't necessarily resolve anything. Maybe they can't message you again but it still hasn't fixed the inherent issue that this person is still on the app… There have been no repercussions, no education and they can still target other women. That said, online dating has opened up a platform for conversation that we haven't had in the same way. You could write it on Facebook but there's limited people you come in contact with. Now, you can match with a stranger and have a conversation about their behavior. It can be empowering to be in a position where you can educate people…I don't necessarily like this, but I'm in a position of power where I have the opportunity to rectify an underlying stereotype or bias that's incorrect. So I think it has…
Both sides to it.
For sure. I try to be positive about it at least! Haha.
But so you've written an article about the topic of our conversation. Can you tell me a bit about it?
What we've been talking about is largely what the article is about too. I've just been compiling the experiences of different women, exploring how degrading it can be to online date as a WOC and especially depending on your race. People think "racism is racism"…
Oh, yeah. No! There is definitely a racial hierarchy and it's important to understand that colorism is a problem in all races, facilitating certain people to be preferred online (and IRL) vs. others.
Exactly. I get racism light. Like I mentioned, some of my friends who are darker skinned or not mixed-race black get some shit. Like, I get pissed off at the shit I get but if I had to go through some of the things that they got, I would break down. And this is what I mean… I wrote this article from the standpoint of like… a lot of this degrading behavior you get online reinforces these stereotypes of being a 'strong black woman' because you have to be in order to take that shit. So are black women strong because they are meant for this suffering or are they strong because society is structured in such a way that they have to be in order to function? And you know…it's the same on dating apps; it transcends online. But can you imagine waking up in the morning excited about a date you have with this guy, only for him to message you saying "listen, this is just sex… I won't bring you home ever."
And that's another thing too… treating WOC as if they are disposable.
Yeah, they're tokens! I've heard people say "I f*cked this black girl" but if it was a white girl would you say "I f*cked this white girl"? No, you would say "Oh, I f*cked Jessica", you know? It's the fact that you have so little value for this WOC that you aren't even going to attribute her a name, you're just going to attribute her color to her cause clearly they are one and the same. And this is what the article is about, just compiling people's experiences because I started to wonder if they were universal.