The hidden world of racism on Tinder
Please don’t tell me I’m ‘pretty for a mixed-race girl’
by Serena Smith
A lot is said about sexism and misogyny on dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble – but racism too is an equally prevalent problem. With women of colour either being exoticised and fetishised, or else simply swiped left because of prejudices, the worlds of racism and sexism meet and merge in the most unpleasant ways.
Apps like Tinder and Bumble can be great to meet people, yes, but they also open up endless possibilities for casual acts of racism. Men are safe behind the relative anonymity of a first name and a few pictures, in an environment where real backlash and repercussions are basically impossible.
Racism on dating apps can manifest itself in different ways. I’ve been called ‘exotic’ before, which may sound harmless, but the implications of the word are troubling. You might call an animal exotic – not a human being. ‘Exotic’ is lazy, sloppy – I’m mixed-race, yes. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask me about my ethnicity – by all means, do ask me about my heritage – but ‘exotic’ implies that I’m different in a derogatory way. ‘Exotic’ lumps everyone who isn’t white together in quite an unsavoury manner. On top of that, it’s fetishizing a race, which is dehumanising in itself.
One of my friends is told regularly that she’s ‘hot for an Asian girl’ – is being Asian not hot by default or something, then? ‘I feel like I can’t be as attractive as my white friends simply because I’m not white’, she says: it really doesn’t matter that whatever was said was intended as a compliment – no one should be made to feel like they are inherently unattractive purely because of their race. A guy once told her over Tinder flat out that he didn’t find Asians attractive. ‘It made me feel awful – it’s something I can’t change; it’s just who I am. I felt ugly because of his prejudices’, she says. It seems that behind the safety of a screen, casually racist comments become easier to bandy about.
Likewise, a black friend of mine was once told by a guy on Tinder that she was attractive to him because she was ‘light-skinned’. Again – this implies that there is something unattractive about dark skin. ‘There’s this obsession with light skin; some people even go as far as using skin bleach to lighten their complexion – I’ve considered using it before’, she says: it’s frankly heart-breaking to think that someone should be made to feel so uncomfortable in their own skin, and it seems ridiculous that someone should be judged on something totally out of their control. ‘I’ve had guys tell me that they swipe left almost immediately for girls that are apparently ‘too dark”, she says. ‘It’s disgusting. It’s racism’. That is exactly what it is – racism. By all means, everyone has their own ‘type’ and is entitled to find different things attractive, but to judge someone purely on their skin colour is racism, pure and simple.
I’ve also been told ‘I’ve never got with a brown girl before’, as though I was a box to tick on some warped conquest list, and I know many of my friends feel objectified in a similar way because of their different races. Racial stereotypes can manifest quickly into fetishisation: nigh on every man invariably loves Beyonce, and thus nigh on every man invariably wants to say they’ve got with ‘a strong black woman’. Whether a race is stereotyped as fiery; sexy; strong; dominating – it all dehumanises and fetishises real, human women.
It’s tempting to put this all down to special snowflake syndrome, to say that this is all a massive overreaction, that we shouldn’t take such comments to heart. But that’s not good enough. Racial microaggressions are essentially normalised, everyday acts of racism, and we can’t just brush them under the carpet. No one should ever be made to feel ugly or unattractive ever – and especially not on account of their skin.