Craigslist Personals: Desperately Seeking Diversity Training

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

I’ve always liked reading personal ads. Even when I was a little girl, I would check out the back of the paper in hopes of finding a boyfriend for my widowed mom, and in the meantime, made an attempt to figure out what was going on in the minds of grown-ups as they searched for someone with whom to live “happily ever after.” There were certain acronyms and terms used in the ads that I didn’t quite understand at a young age (i.e. NSA: no strings attached or BBW: big beautiful woman), but for the most part, I thought I had a handle on what I was taking in at my elementary school reading level. It wasn’t until I became a bit older that I began to notice an interesting trend: personal ads are riddled with messages, some more subtle than others, on how people feel about race, ethnicity, and nationality.

With the emergence of the internet, I abandoned the paper and began perusing online ads, some of which read more like military code than personal descriptions: “SWF BBW in NYC seeks 30 – 35 y.o. D&D free S or D H/W/B/A/M for NSA BSDM ASAP in area codes 10003, 100019, and 10011. You must host. Pics? STR.” While these types of ads make virtual bulletin boards appear cluttered, others are well-written, funny, romantic, and/or so outlandish that they are hard to ignore. Sites like Craigslist became popular resources for finding any and every thing, from apartments and pets to jobs and vacation rentals. The personal ads were no different. Considering the privacy feature of anonymous posting in order to protect one’s identity, the personal ads serve as e-snapshots of candid thought—inside peaks into what the people I encounter on a daily basis may think of themselves, but, more importantly, how they view the world around them.

I checked the CL personals about as often as I checked for apartments, or, in other words, every five seconds, even though I wasn’t really looking for anything heavy duty in the love department and happened to be quite satisfied with my Brooklyn 2-bedroom and its 14 month lease. Reading the personals was a perfect way to find a little piece of reality TV-esque drama without all the heavy editing, good lighting, and stage makeup. The ads were frank, the boards were frequently updated, and the content never failed to amuse me, but behind all the fun, there was an underbelly of racism. This came as a bit of a surprise considering that so many of the CL posters were young, educated, and lived in diverse and densely populated urban environments—all oft-cited demographic factors in the commonly held belief that racism is on its way out. Though politicians, institutions of higher learning, and Ward Connerly would like for us to believe that the United States is on its way to becoming a colorblind utopia, a simple examination of Craigslist personal ads proves quite the opposite.

In the world of online dating, where a user name, masked email address, and optional photo sharing means freedom to speak ones mind in complete anonymity, users frequently abandon political correctness and resort to exotification, stereotypes, and blatant racism when referring to racial/ethnic “others” in their attempts to choose a mate. While some ads include the user’s thoughts on race in more subtle ways, for example, simply stating a racial “preference” (still, arguably, a sign of prejudice), others are more obvious in their descriptions—ranging from the utilization of explicitly racist phrases or terms to describe his/her own background and/or the background of the person being sought to downright exclusion a la Jim Crow style (“No -insert race here- need apply”).

I examined New York Craigslist personals for a week straight, mainly focusing on the basic m4m, f4m, m4m, and f4f ads as the prevalence of racist epithets/hate speech was so common in the “casual encounters” and “rants and raves” sections that I’d have to write an entirely separate article to cover them. In order to find data, I simply typed in a group (i.e. “Asian,” “white,” “black”) in the search box and let the magic happen. Here were some of my favorites (organized by search term) from my early set of results (please ignore the typos…I have left them in their original form):

  • WHITE: “I’m looking for a nice all American woman…Tell me about yourself and what you do, etc. I’m not picky about age, older is fine with me. White Irish or Italian is my preference, not into Latin women. . .”

Hmmm . . . an “All-American” woman who is of Irish or Italian background. . . Can anyone say “contradiction”? Is he not just saying that “All-American” equates to white, and that “Latin women” are nowhere close?

  • MIDDLE EASTERN: “Looking for interracial fun, dating & maybe more. . . I’ve always multi-racially dated since my 1st g/f which includes black, hispanic, asian, middle eastern, islander, mediterranean. I’ve yet to meet an Indian/Pakistani-it seems they are still pretty strict in dating their own which is fine but eventually they will “modernize” lol. I’m a swm…”

I like how this guy makes dating “multiracial dating,” aka “interracial fun” sound like a hobby or a game. I wonder how much each race is worth. His statement about South Asians is equallyridiculous. It not only implies that South Asians date South Asians exclusively, but it also implies that they are the only people who have a tendency to do this, overlooking the fact that many people of varying ethnicities, races, and nationalities choose partners of the same background. Offensive much? Hell yes.

  • BLACK: “WHY A different race? My personality seems to be more compatible with white females, but I’m also attracted to Asians and European women my relationships last much longer, and I’m also attracted to them, physically and mentally. We also like a lot of the same things and tend to have similar interests in common. . . P.s. If this is your first time thinking about being with a black man, this is your chance to find out, to question your curiosity. Not all Black men are the same. I’ve heard a lot of negative stories over the years, but there are some very positive black men out here and really know how to treat a woman.”

Ok, so let me get this straight . . . not all black men are the same. Check. But all black women (and, on the opposite end, white and Asian women) are?

  • ASIAN: [title: "ASIAN AMERICAN MAN WANTS WHITE WOMAN REALLY BAD"] “I LOVE WITE GRLS . THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. ITS ALL THAT MATTERS TO ME IN MY LIFE. O GOD PLEASE O GOD MAKE IT HAPPEN.”

No, the all-caps emphasis is not mine. This post was lifted straight from the site. Dear goodness, someone give him a date so he will at least stop typing in all caps.

  • LATINA: [title: "La Chica Bonita"] “Looking for pretty petite latina for attractive fit Gringo. Must like fun.Like to travel hope you do too. Would also appreciate someone to help me with my spanish.”

Does this guy want a date, a tutor, or a tour guide? I’m confused.

Some themes I noticed early on include:

1. Nicknames and food references are excellent ways to allude to race.
For example, white women are referred to as “vanilla” or “snow bunnies,” black women are referred to by a myriad of names involving “cocoa” and “chocolate,” and Latinas are almost always referred to as “spicy” or “exotic.” I haven’t seen “geisha” just yet used as a reference to Asian-American women, thank goodness, but I’m sure it’s next.

2. People like using juxtapositions a lot to imply stereotypes about certain groups.
For example, I see a lot of things like this: “I am looking for a woman who is slim, drama-free, intelligent, and who has no children. No black or Latin women, please.” Though sentences like that are not connected, you can clearly connect the dots on your own. Apparently the racism found in the “rejection” line of some posts is so common and offensive that a few members mentioned about it in their posts:

“Don’t be a SBM. No matter how clever, funny, or interesting you are once she finds out you’re black the emails stop. If you put SBM in your post you can pretty much guarantee no responses.”

“It seems that every non-asian woman have preferences for pretty much everyone except asian. Even asian women in new york city have started to steer their preference more towards non-asian males…I’d like to know why the majority of new york women are so closeminded toward us. You guys claim you aren’t racist or anything but why have such a preference? I figured since NYC was so diverse, it would be different but I guess I was wrong. I can understand if women like a guy who is tall/short, or strong/fat but based on race is kinda weird.”

3. Generalizations are a MUST.
The statements people make are often quite broad, i.e. black and Latina women are assumed to have big butts and an even bigger sex drive, Asian-American women are assumed to be thin, shy, and/or “traditional,” multiracial/ international, anyone non-white is, without a doubt, “exotic,” and white men are all wealthy and treat their women well, or, at least, they do according to these ads like these:

“Must be SINGLE and WHITE. I hope your stable financially and emotionally. I want to be with a man that’s wealthy. I aim for the stars and want nothing less than the best.”

“I am obviously a Latin woman who is very much attracted to white man. You might ask why, but the truth is that I love the way white men treat women.”

White women are also, at times, deemed “boring,” a stereotype that a friend shared has made her feel “worthless” and unfairly categorized. “I was a psych major,” she said. “I know about outgroup homogeneity bias, but is there such a thing as ingroup bias?” she questioned after being constantly viewed as yet another generic white person.

I interviewed several people about their experiences in the online dating world in addition to their feelings about exotification. One respondent informed me that when she first placed an ad on Craigslist while in college, she did so because her experiences attempting to find a date on what she describes as a “Midwest, white, upper middle class, narrow minded, slightly republican campus” were “highly ineffective.” She noticed that despite being talented, attractive, and intelligent, “making an intellectual connection or turning a friendship into a relationship seemed so difficult.” She wanted to “cast a wider net,” so she thought online dating would be the way to go. After receiving countless penis pics, sexually explicit emails, and racist responses to an innocent ad she posted, she decided that next time she looked to Craigslist as a way to find a date, she would not mention her race. When she replied to the post of a white Jewish man looking for a long term relationship with someone who had “a zest for life,” she offered a description of herself that was accurate (i.e brown eyes, black hair, college-educated), but did include her racial/ethnic background. “I wanted to bypass instant objectification, judgment, and the kind of ideas that come with race and being a black female,” she confessed. After more correspondence, the time came for picture trading. While she was anxious about how her new friend would react to her racial identity, his response was positive and they dated for a total of six months. She doubts that the outcome would have been the same if she had decided to post another ad that included her race.

A few of my friends shared similar experiences about being typecast in the dating world—online and off. “I need to get me a Latin girl…white girls just aren’t…you know….FREAKY like that!” was a recent pick-up line geared toward a Latina friend with whom I spoke. She shared that while she felt “Latin women are generally perceived as a bit more passive than Black women,” they are assumed to have just “enough aggression to make them sexually attractive.” She added that Latinas are often racially ambiguous enough in appearance to be considered acceptable in terms of beauty and are not viewed as a threat to the norms that help maintain the racial and gender-based hierarchy in America in the same way that black women are. Though such stereotypes are interpreted by some as harmless, it takes an obvious toll on those who are affected by them. A male friend recounts that, “Sometimes it’s disappointing. I want someone to be interested in me as a person and for who I am—not because of what they may have heard about my background. I think it adds pressure and awkwardness when someone finds out that I’m ‘not like the other Puerto Ricans [they] know.’ It always creates the doubt on whether a person is dating you because of you or because they can view you as a commodity.”

Commodification is King on Craigslist. Considering that women and men are advertising themselves for love alongside inanimate objects, it comes as no surprise that a reliance upon stereotypes to “sell” oneself or receive attention from another is customary.

I spared you from the really bad ones, but here are some ads that I found amusing from the m4f section. I have separated ads under the same category with slashes and placed my commentary in brackets. Enjoy:

Men looking for Asian/Asian-American Women
Most of the ads I came across regarding Asian/Asian-American women could be categorized under the following keywords/categories. They were, unfortunately, entirely predictable.

  • Model minority: “Asians are the ‘other white meat’. . . most white professional white guys would never really consider marrying a black or Latin woman as there are just too many cultural differences and other irreconcilable differences. But with Asian girls it’s not quite like that. Asian cultures are for the most part civilized, they have a high degree of intelligence, and even their skin is close to us white folk.” [Wow . . . side note, notice how he refers to Asian women as "girls" and to blacks/Latinas as "women." This is a recurring theme in a lot of the ads.]
  • I went to Asia once, so you’ll be my human souvenir: “i’m looking for an asian girl….i lived in japan for 4 yrs and can’t get enough…” [Because all Asian "girls" are the same, right? Oh and there is no difference between Asians and Asian-Americans…this distinction is hardly ever made.]
  • They’re traditional: “. . . I am white but tend to have affinity for other ethnicities (asian, indian) or non-u..s. born women. not sure why but think its that they tend to be more family oriented and just sweeter all around.” [Feminists would have a field day with this one. I'll leave it to the readers to add their two cents.]
  • They’re so skinny: “I am attracted to asian women but many have boyish shaped bodies that don’t do anything for me. My dream girl is asian and she also has a juicy rack! Yummm. The question is do you exist?”
  • I don’t have a fetish, I swear: “I am looking to meet an Asian woman for either serious dating, romance or a ltr. This is a preference not a fetish, I’m not looking for the submissive or subservient.” / “Please don’t email me asking me ‘why Asian’, ‘do you have a fetish?’ etc, especially if the last time you held an Asian guy’s hand was when your father took you to the amusement park 20 years ago.” [Even if these men really don't have a "fetish," it's unfortunate that such a stereotype follows them. They are smart to make note of how they debunk the stereotype, however, as Craigslist is no stranger to fetishization (ahem, see above), and neither, apparently, are Asian/Asian-American women as some even commented on feeling exoticized in their ads. P.S. the second user's comment is just plain ugly!]
  • But do they speak English?: “Ideally you are sexy and fun and speak good English.” [It’s too bad this guy can’t. If he did, he’s know that his sentence was technically not written in proper English. A run-on sentence + lack of adverb use does not a good sentence make!]

Men Looking for Black Women
While some were tame, most had to do with sex and/or fulfilling some interracial fantasy with a black Jezebel. Now I understand the aforementioned interviewee’s hesitance to include her race in ads/replies. Maybe the men felt like Craigslist was the only place they could be honest, but at the end of the day, it’s still o-f-f-e-n-s-i-v-e.

  • Color contrast: “Tall six one SWM in his forties with brown hair and hazel eyes seeks sexy dark skined black female ‘white women pale in compariso’ no pun intended lol. . . I need to get my mojo back ‘it’s been awhile’ and only a dark skin black woman will do. The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.” [Much along the lines of the recent press coverage of the "Magic Negro" seen in film and politics, I'd like to see a similar article on what appears to be the "Magic Negress" who can apparently cure sexual impotency.]
  • They make great dominatrixes: “I would love you to train me to serve you . . . I can be most useful to you giving you a foot rub, or maybe you get off on humiliating (privately) a white boy.” / [my personal favorite]“I’m pretty sure the term jungle fever is not politicall correct- so I won’t use it! But c’mon- there is something to the notion of a black woman taking control of a white man in the bedroom, don’t ya think? For a progressive guy- it feels weird to even type this.” [Does it feel as weird to think it, too?]
  • Strong Black Woman: “Goodlooking white boy looking for a confident black woman with an attitude.” / “I love dominant, bossy black women. I’d love to treat you like the queen you know you are.”[Why do black women ALWAYS fall into the "bossy" category? I see the mammy stereotype is alive and well in the dating world . . . ]
  • I’ve never been with one, but it’s my biggest fantasy: “I am out here because I’ve always wanted to meet a black female but I’ve never been in the situation to do so. Thought maybe CL would be a good place to find what I’m looking for. Yeah, I know I am married and I shouldn’t be doing this. Please don’t preach to me… it is annoying. If you are interested in white guys . . . send me an email.” [What is implied here? Sex is fine, but just don't marry one.]
  • Eh, you all look alike: “I work with this sexy black girl and she about 23 or 24. I think about her alot. Problem is that since we work together I can not be with her. Plus, she doesn’t know that I have this fantasy. So I am looking for a girl to take her place!!” [Read: You are all pretty much the same anyway, so even if you are NOT the girl from my office, your simply being black will suffice]
  • They have big butts (and need financial assistance): “Are you very attractive young black or latina woman, very cutie with nice round shaply phat bottom very clean aids dd free, 18 to 25 you need $200.00 in cash willing to give daddy sweet good loving.” [One word: ew. This one made me cringe.]
  • Interracial sex might cure my identity crisis: “Trapped in the body of a white man: Hi there, I’m a SWM, cute and intelligent, who has always dated all races but had a preference for black women. . .As a kid, my heroes were Walt Frazier and Jimi Hendrix and I also had a serious fondness for ’70s soul music (still do, actually). But last time I checked, I was white.” [A multiracial woman I interviewed informed me that she tires of these types of attempts at cultural immersion, "Like if a white guy who's into hip-hop digs me because it makes him look cool to have a sorta-black girl on his arm." Dating someone who is not white will not change who you are nor will it automatically give you a "hey look, I am part of your community" pass.]

Men looking for white women
I found that the most offensive of the ads regarding white women were those written by black men. Though men from other racial backgrounds expressed that they wanted to date an “SWF,” the majority of them did not contain nearly as much stereotyping, nor did the posters feel the need to explain themselves for wanting to date a white woman.

  • The One: “Looking for a slender white woman: I HAVE FINALLY FOUND MY CALLING. AFTER MANY YEARS OF DATING BLACK WOMAN, I MET A WHITE WOMAN WHO BLEW MY MIND WITH PASSONATE LOVE THAT I HAVE NEVER FELT BEFORE.”
  • Battling Temptation: “ISO SEXY WHT FEMALE SO ARE YOU ATTRACTED TO BLACK MEN? I have had a thing for white women since High School and I have battling this for years now. I can’t help it, it’s just my preference. I have dated all races and once fell in love with a Black woman yet, I have this strong attraction to white/hispanic women that won’t go away. I’m looking for somthing very simple.” [Um, liking white/Hispanic women does not mean you are diseased or possessed…yikes.]

Men looking for Multiracial/Latina/Middle Eastern/”Exotic” women
While most of these ads fell into the category of “any race is fine,” there were a few that stood out as they explicitly employed exotification in hopes of complimenting and attracting a girlfriend. Funny enough, most of these ads also made travel references (along the lines of “I have been all over the world, and this is why I want a -insert any race/nationality here- woman”). This one is nice because it contains about a zillion stereotypes all rolled into a small paragraph:

  • I’m just bored: “Maybe you are as tired of dating your own race as much as I am? Are you Mixed, Black or Hispanic and do you just love the ALL-American white guy who is tall and athletic with blue eyes and very well endowed? Yes, I said ‘well endowed.’ Hey I know most white boys have a bad rap of being ‘small’ but not here! I’m also handsome and good looking with blue eyes;P I’m just tired of dating girls that I dated all my life; you know the blonde hair and blue eyes. I’m pretty new here from the midwest and there are no exotic women out there. But now that I’m in Manhattan I’m definitely curious!”

Given, most of the samples I included here are from “m4f” postings, but that’s mainly because there were about two times as many ads posted by men than by women. With regard to the other sections, there was an abundance of racist imagery within the m4m section though, unfortunately, most were too explicit to share here. I am happy to report that I found less racism in the f4f section, and far fewer references to race at all except in the case of one’s personal description. Most of the ads posted by women, whether they were looking for a man or a woman, did not include as many references to appearance and/or race, and instead focused more on mental and financial stability, intelligence, and personality. I don’t find this to be a reflection of women’s dating tendencies as a whole, it just so happened to be the case in the week’s worth of CL NYC ads I reviewed. Nevertheless, the f4m section was certainly not free from posts that convey messages about race in similar ways as postings profiled above.

So with that said, I suggest you click on over to the Craigslist personals. It certainly makes you wonder how different the world would be if its contents were plastered on people’s foreheads when you interacted with them so you could avoid any confusion about what they wanted and why. . .