by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse (originally posted 5-17-07)
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? Read the Post [Thursday Throwback] Craigslist Personals: Desperately Seeking Diversity Training