Tag Archives: online dating

[Thursday Throwback] Craigslist Personals: Desperately Seeking Diversity Training

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? Continue reading

Online Dating Shows Us The Cold Hard Facts About Race in America

By Jenny L. Davis, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

Quartz, a business and marketing website, recently released data on the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, which connects single people with others within the confines of their Facebook networks. Quartz’ data are based on a series of yes-or-no questions about who users are interested in, as well as response rates between users, once notified of a potential suitor. The data show that white men and Asian women receive the most interest, whereas black men and women receive the least amount of interest. The writers at Quartz summarize the findings as follows:

Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men. And both black men and black women got the lowest response rates for their respective genders.

Here’s what the data looks like:


As a sociologist, I am entirely unsurprised that race matters, especially in such a personal process like dating/mating. However, these findings may come as a surprise to the (quite significant) segments of the population who identify as color-blind; those who label contemporary society post-racial.

And this is why dating sites are so cool. Social psychologists know that what people say and what they do have little empirical connection. Dating sites capture what we do, and play it back for us. They expose who we are, who we want, and of course, who we don’t want. As shown by Quartz, “we” fetishize Asian women while devaluing black people.

With a schism between what people say and what they do; between what they say and what the unconsciously think,  surveys of racial attitudes are always already quite limited.  People can say whatever they want — that race doesn’t matter, that they don’t see color — but when it comes to selecting a partner, and the selection criteria are formalized through profiles and response decisions, we, as individuals and a society, can no longer hide from ourselves. The numbers blare back at us, forcing us to prosume uncomfortable cultural and identity meanings both personally and collectively.

Indeed, before anyone has answered anything, the architecture of online dating sites say a lot.  Namely, by defining what can be preferences at all, they tell us which characteristics are the ones about which we are likely to care; about which we should care.

Both the user data and the presence of racial identification and preference in the first place are revealing, demolishing arguments about colorblindness and post-racial culture.

Jenny L. Davis, PhD, is in the department of sociology at James Madison University. She studies social psychology, experimental research methods, and new and social media. She is also a contributing author and editor at Cyborgology.  You can follow her at @Jenny_L_Davis.

Racialicious Loves OK Cupid…

by Latoya Peterson

…Because they got the data to back up what we already knew: your success in online dating is heavily influenced by your race. In a trends post titled, “Your Race Affects Whether People Write You Back,” the OK Cupid team share some key trends they’ve noticed after  analyzing their user data:

  • Black women are sweethearts. Or just talkative. But either way, they are by far the most likely to reply to your first message. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and overall black women reply about a quarter more often.
  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women only respond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible. Asian women write back non-white males at 21.9%, Hispanic women at 22.9%, and white women at 23.0%. It’s here where things get interesting, for white women in particular. If you look at the match-by-race table before this one, the “should-look-like” one, you see that white women have an above-average compatibility with almost every group. Yet they only reply well to guys who look like them. There’s more data on this towards the end of the post.
  • Continue reading