Solving for the Racial Bias Innate in American Dating

Solving for the Racial Bias Innate in American Dating

I love OkCupid. Not because I’ve ever had the pleasure/misfortune of using it, but because they are so unafraid to come at you with the data on a subject that had never truly been discussed by the populous at large. Certainly, some of my favorite works of fiction have broached the topic of race and love. Spike Lee did it in Jungle Fever. Shonda Rhimes is doing it, albeit kind of superficially, with Scandal. And Spike Lee did again with She Hate Me.
While Hollywood, and certainly Billy Bob Thorton, don’t have a problem showing us difficult issues concerning race and love, the world watching these movies and television shows don’t seem to be interested in actually talking about those issues.

Enter OkCupid, which back in 2009, released a series of stats that ignited a huge conversation about something that we all kind of knew, but never really cared to admit. And in 2014, one could assume that the lack of conversation contributed to a paucity of change.

Spending the latter part of my childhood growing up in Austin, TX, I found myself living in a predominantly white neighborhood. That of course meant I found myself attending a predominantly white school. Ultimately resulting in most things I did throughout high school being in the presence of a predominantly white audience. Awesome for high school football. Not so awesome for Black History Month.

And while I found myself in the ever-consuming company of white people every day, I also found myself attracted to the black girls at my high school as much as I was attracted to the white goals–if not more so. I remember having many a talk about girls, as high school boys are wont to do, and when having those conversations with my friends, we’d do what 17-year old boys do: declare who the best looking girls were. My foolish adolescent mindset aside (I promise I’ve grown out of that–sort of), my black friends and I would almost always rank the black girls ahead of the white girls, and my white friends would almost always do the opposite.

My best friend and I must have been really mature for our ages, because he and I were always amazed by this revelation. From our viewpoint, there was no posturing going on. There was no one trying to prove a point. From conversation to conversation, the white guys found white gals more attractive, and the black guys found the black gals more attractive.

But why? I couldn’t understand it. When we’d have these conversations, it just seemed like my black friends were attracted to different things than my white friends were. Additionally, the black guys were more likely to find girls outside of their race attractive than the white guys were. And while obviously there were many exceptions to these anecdotal rules, I always wondered how this came to be.

Is it socialization? Is it natural? Is it natural selection?

The answer appears to be yes and no. Gawker by no means is the source of scientific evidence, but their article from 2014 cites several leading works and authorities on the subject, and their conclusion was that genetics probably plays some role in our tendencies to prefer a certain race, but that we don’t know what role that is, and that the modernization of the world would have likely eliminated this natural inclination–especially in diverse, developed societies like ours.

You can check out the article as to why that is, but going back to my own anecdotal experiences, using some of the information provided by those authorities, and looking at the data we see from OkCupid, it wouldn’t seem like genetics would be a satisfactory answer. Because most of the authorities will say that any genetic/natural selection-like need to choose a “mate” of your same race would come from the fact that a specific race is likely to physically benefit you–that is, they’d be able to protect you, live longer or care for you in a way that would lead to you and your offspring’s survival. And the only real thing that your skin color can potentially protect you or your mate from is the son–which in America, where OkCupid’s stats come from, is not something one needs protection from in today’s society.

Thus, in my wholly unscientific opinion, you have to throw out the inclination that in today’s America, the preference for race is that of a genetic preference. The argument just doesn’t hold water– to me anyway.

So then the question remains, how do we end up in a world where, according to OkCupid, non-black men apply a racial “penalty” to black woman, while black men don’t show much of preference for any race?

Let’s start with the first part of that question: non-black men applying a racial penalty to black women. If you don’t care to look at the stats for yourself, Asians, Latinos and White men have MatchScores that are 20%, 18% and 17%, respectively, lower than that of the norm when it comes to rating black women. What does it say about society that the black female is put in this position, where in a world that has gone digital and people are finding their soulmates online, they are at a distinct disadvantage? What are we doing with black women in the news, television shows, movies and (should I say it?) music videos, that causes them to be penalized in the online dating world? It’s a question best answered on another blog, but it speaks volumes to just how far the black women has to go in order to get on equal footing in this country.

Then what about the black man? When it comes to how non-black women rate black men, it’s better than the opposite, but not by much. Asian women are 27% below the norm when it comes to rating black men–the biggest dropoff in the study. Latina women are 16% unfavorable to black men. And white women are 8% unfavorable to black men. Only black women give the black man a bump, at a 23% increase. I’d ask the same question of the black man that I asked of the black woman, but I think we know a little bit more about why black men are viewed unfavorably in this country. The image of the black man in the media is that he is a threat, a criminal and an expendable commodity. One might debate whether it’s the media driving this narrative, but Fox News loves to talk about race in America when a young black man is shot by a cop, and the most popular black people in America are of an industry, sports, in which the very nature of the industry is that everyone is replaceable.

Obviously, I have my biases, but this unfavorability isn’t exclusive to just the black man. Asian men aren’t rated favorably by anyone but Asian women, and Latina women appear to be quite unfavorable to the Asian man. Why are Asian men so undesirable, and why does it appear that women seem to have much bigger racial vices when it comes to picking a mate?

Again, that’s hard to explain by natural selection. To me, the social environment of people appears to play more of a role. And if that’s true, or at least I go to sleep believing that it’s true, then there appears to be a clear social bias in today’s American dating scene. But it’s not necessarily one of skin color, but of education. For if there is anything “natural” about our society’s racial preference in dating, it’s the fact that having money has become more important than being able to kill for your supper. And when you look at the Pew Research Center, you see that White & Black interracial couples have the lowest median income of any interracial couple. Now, it’s not by a lot. But if you’re picking a mate, and you’re thinking about your long-term ability to “survive,” it may be justifiable that you pick the one that will help you increase your family’s wealth. And as we all know, the data tells us time and time again that your education is one of the biggest predictors of future income.

So what’s the answer to my title question: how do we solve for the racial bias afflicting our uniquely-American dating lifestyle?

Education.

It just so happens that the racial groups that are less educated are some of the least favored by the opposite sex in OkCupid’s data. Sure, that may sound like a reach, especially since American Asian men and women tend to be educated more than your average American, but my guess is that there would be a correlation between the increase in education of black people and the increase in other races affinity towards them. And who would have thunk it, but a professor from my alma mater’s Department of Sociology (my major) actually discovered that blacks with higher levels of education are more likely to be a part of a black-white interracial marriage, and specifically that less educated blacks are strongly excluded from participating in the interracial marriage market.

So at the end of the day, it would appear that the less than adequate education of black people in this country has an affect on their ability to find love–at least outside of their own race. And for blacks that do end up dating outside of their marriage, they likely have to overcome a social (and in general, accurate) perception that they are less educated, which may not be a distinction easily taken into consideration by online daters exclusively looking at pictures. Of course, this isn’t to say that there are no other socialization issues that end up affecting how certain races are perceived by other races in the dating market, but it appears that education plays a big role in determining who it is we do and don’t date.

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