The Black Damsel In Dating Distress

There are worlds, and there are worlds
--Cornelius Eady

There's been a lot of talk over the past few months over the dating prospects for black women. Besides the occasional dip, I've tried to stay clear as I think this is the kind of conversation where there's a lot of condemnation and very little exploration. One instance of claimed exploration is this study done back in October by the dating site OKCupid in which they mined their data to see how race and gender affected your chances at the site. 


There's a lot of data and conclusions up there, but for our purposes, I want to focus on the conclusions about black women: 

Black women write back the most. Whether it's due to talkativeness, loneliness, or a sense of plain decency, black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.

Men don't write black women back. Or rather, they write them back far less often than they should. Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race--including other blacks--singles them out for the cold shoulder.

At the Times' Freakonomics blog, Ian Ayres looked at the data and offered his observations:

Men (including African-American men) write back to African-American women at about a 20% lower rate. This result is somewhat reminiscent of the famous resume study done by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, which found that employers who place want ads were less likely to respond to resumes from people with African-American sounding names. 

 But in some ways the OkCupid result is even more depressing than the racial disparities found in employment. It seems that OkCupid doesn't match couples where the match would be inconsistent with an explicit racial preference of a user. So these racial disparities persist even after excluding users who have stated an explicit racial preference...

Ayres finds this depressing, and laments that black women have "an uphill battle." TIME uses the study, and others of online dating sites, and concludes that black women "will be disproportionately snubbed by men of all races."

Look, I deeply suspect that, on a national level, there are an unfortunate number of people who think black women are less attractive then women of other races. The remnants of white supremacy are not just economic, they are cultural. I also think that's less true today then it was twenty years ago.

But that said, I think that people passing this data around need to be really careful about using this study to draw inferences about the dating world of black women. One significant problem is that, as any black person will tell you, when black folks date online they don't go to OKcupid. They go to blacksingles. They go to soulsingles. Or if they're truly high post, they go to EliteNoire. (Dig the sensuous piano riffs and candelabra.)

Black people who are going to a site like OKcupid are generally black people who, with some exceptions, are open to interracial dating. But the same isn't true of white people on OKcupid.
So the game is rigged--on OKcupid you have many white men who have no interest in dating black women, but very few black men with no interest in dating white women. 

That's because all the black men who don't want to date white women are on the African American Dating Network or Blacksinglesconnection. There simply is no real white corollary. 
Stormfront excluded, there aren't many "WhiteSingles" websites or "EliteIvory" dating sites. There is no Caucasian Dating Network, because the broader world is the Caucasian Dating Network. OKCupid is the Caucasian Dating Network. (Note that there is Jdate, though.)

This has other implications for white people. OKCupid reports a relatively high rate of white people who don't want to date interracially. It looks shocking when you compare it to black people on the site. But it's also an unfair comparison because, again, most of the black people opposed to interracial dating aren't on OKCupid. 

I don't write this to be dismissive of the struggles black women face on the dating scene, or all women, for that matter. But these tales of black female woe are becoming grating, not because black women don't have their share of struggle, but because of the lack of agency runs that through them all, this sense that black women, are there to be acted upon, to wait by the phone. There's almost an objectifying quality to the whole discussion. We've been here before. And, evidently, we've learned nothing.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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