I was standing in the middle of our bedroom when I heard Yara Shahidi, Grown-ish's lead actress, read the shocking OkCupid statistics on racial bias and dating. I've always known the words to be true and had experienced them firsthand. But something about hearing her share the data out loud with millions of viewers made it real and plastered my insecurities on the forefront of a nationally televised stage. It was loud and clear: Black women and Asian men aren't what people want. The true pain came in knowing that for every black woman who is denied or swiped left on, a white or Asian woman was that much closer to finding the love she desired.
Somehow, black women seem to always come up short -- and this struck a chord with me. OkCupid cofounder Christian Rudder's study showed that 82% of non-black men exhibited some type of bias toward black women on dating apps. No matter how breathtaking, stunning, accomplished, or intelligent black women are, we are still at the lowest rung of the desire ladder. But when did this change? When did the oversexualized black woman become stale and uninteresting in the world of cyber dating?
My husband, who was in disbelief, thought maybe the show had fabricated or dramatized the stats. This was our first time hearing the OkCupid study, but it intensely resonated with what we had been experiencing for months. I became obsessed. I researched dating and desire across color lines and wondered if these statistics were true for bisexual women of color and other queer folks of color. I noticed that the information got less and less comprehensive the more I explored black queer women's experience on dating apps, and I wondered if anyone had ever done a study on a black bisexual or questioning women in open-ish hetero marriages, or black women exploring kink with other races.
Listening to podcasts such as Lip Service, WHOREible Decisions, and others that were forthcoming about their open, kinky, monogam-ish relationships, I rarely heard them deep dive into the racial disparity or the vulnerability of feeling undesired in interracial hookups. In 2018, BET published "Here's the Real Truth About Polyamory in the Black Community," an article in which the writer of "Diary of a Polyamorous Black Girl," Alicia Bunyan-Sampson, says that "white is the face of polyamory and has been for quite some time" and goes on to talk about how "Seeking Ebony" inbox messages made her rethink the poly lifestyle. As I searched for more data, I saw Crystal Farmer's Black and Poly site but wanted to know more about black women experiencing racism when considering an interracial kink or curious experience.
I went to OkCupid's site to confirm the numbers. I was stunned by the ratio of black women people matched with versus the number of interested messages actually received. Where the percentages for black women measured "preference versus the average," black women were rated -18% by white men and -3% by black men. One can interpret this as saying that white men chose black women 18% less than white women, and black men chose us 3% less than white women or Asian and Latina women.
When I heard these words, I looked at my husband and told him, "We're screwed."
Let me explain. I came out to my husband, then boyfriend, as bi-curious in year five of our relationship, which naturally came as a shock for him. But overall, he was supportive and open to the idea of me exploring my sexuality both separately and together with him.
In the past, we tried to meet women the old-fashioned way. Sit at the bar or party, strike up a conversation, have a few laughs, a few drinks, flirt -- but nothing ever came of it. White people comprise 76% of Wilmington, North Carolina's population of 122,607. Forty-one percent of the population are single women, 45% of whom are 25 and younger -- fewer than 10% of single women in our city are aged 30 to 35. We were living in a small town of white millennials with a long history of racism and oppression.
Now you see where the problem lies for a thirtysomething black couple. The traditional soliciting for a threesome at a bar or randomly hooking up at a club didn't work in a small, racially charged southern town like ours. Especially not for a high-profile black couple with upper-management jobs.
What OkCupid confirmed was that the same stereotypes and racial biases we cling to in our social communities carry over to our sex lives and sexual choices.
I consider my husband and myself to be an extremely attractive couple. I'm a former model with a thin waist and wide hips; I'm tall, well-kept, and fashionable. My husband is a muscular, bearded, former football player with smooth pecan skin and a great butt. We are a combination that can't lose.
But then, we were given the silent treatment on apps serving people looking for threesomes. One promising app, Feeld, advertised itself as "kinky, curious, and open-minded." But there was nothing open-minded about white couples who were looking to hook up with black women for the first time.
We were open to it all. We clicked on attractive potentials of all races. Unfortunately, there weren't that many bisexual or bi-curious women of color on the apps in our area at all.
I researched strategies to get us more attention, such as shortening the profile description and posting a hotter picture. I uploaded a 30-lbs-lighter model photo and waited for my inbox to flood. When it only picked up a little speed, I asked my husband if he was open to broadening our search for couples that were in open relationships and open to letting their wife explore alone. Within a matter of days, we instantly got hits from white men of all ages that were excited about the possibility of hooking up with a "black chick."
In her article, "The Perils of Dating on OkCupid While Black," Vanessa Willoughby explains that fetishization and exoticizing is magnified in the digital dating world because we are oversaturated. She goes on to say that so many have tried to make exoticization about preference or about numbers and self-segregation, but that ignores the implicit bias that exists in favor of women whose features are more racially ambiguous and less traceable to African heritage.
During my search, I scrolled through hundreds of profiles of unattractive white men that said they were "very experienced," which led us to believe that white or white-passing couples were having random hookups and didn't have to try very hard.
After a few more months of sharing testimonies and befriending couples for advice, we quickly learned that most white couples in an open relationship were not going to let their wives play with a black couple alone. Their husband either wanted her to be with a black woman only or not have sex at all. Most white women I liked on Feeld said they were either intimidated by a beautiful black woman or that they didn't want to do anything with a black guy. We found that most conversations that moved on past the app ended up with women being caught by their husbands flirting with us. We were the dirty little secret.
A 2015 study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior indicates that "women -- queer and straight alike -- may desire casual sex just as much as men. Of the 22 queer women and nonbinary people surveyed, 81.8% indicated that they currently were into or had gone through periods in which they actively sought out casual hookups."
As a questioning, bi-curious woman, I didn't know if white women weren't attracted to me or whether that was all I was being presented with. Was I just a product of my environment? On average, we saw one woman of color for every 20 white women. The proportions and options for diverse matches were stifling, but even more stifling was the lack of reciprocation.
But according to the Guardian and Rewire, racism has been the well-kept secret on queer and queer-friendly dating apps such as Grindr, Bumble, and others for years. A study found that 96% of users were victims of racism or viewed profiles discriminating against a specific race in their description.
"By encouraging this kind of behaviour, it reinforces the belief that this is normal," Sinakhone Keodara, a gay Asian man who has used apps such as Grindr, told the Guardian.
I thought queer or questioning women would be more open and interested in interracial hookups. It was disappointing that even within the kink community, there were still prejudices, racial misconceptions, and hangups.
Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body Is Not an Apology, talks extensively about the cultural and political hangups and baggage white queer folks often carry when considering a sexual relationship with a person of color. After years of dating a white queer person, her experience was that interracial queer hookups still came with multilayered complexities.
My husband and I were open to any race, but sites with higher numbers of white profiles discouraged us. 3Fun is where we saw the biggest population of attractive women of color. As long as we were traveling and turned on the app search to bigger cities, numbers increased, but when we returned home, messages were slow. We'd scroll past profiles of white women who "always wanted to hook up with a black guy."
"Mate Selection in Cyberspace: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Education" by Ken-Hou Lin and Jennifer Lundquist found that "racial homophily dominates mate-searching behavior for both men and women. A racial hierarchy emerges in the reciprocating process."
Eventually, we swiped right on everyone, to increase our odds. What were we doing wrong? This site was specifically for single women who wanted to meet and play with couples, so why were there so few people striking up conversations or matching with us?
I changed my picture over 50 times, thinking it was me, but we still didn't see any increase unless we traveled outside of our city -- 100 miles out.
According to Rewire's Kyndall Cunningham, "dating preferences" mask real racial prejudice by making it seem casual. "This casual framing of racism ignores the greater impact it has on the lives and self-esteem of racial minorities who are already portrayed as being less desirable in mainstream media and society at large," she writes.
For me, it confirmed that no matter how beautiful I thought I was, I was still unwanted. My profile would never measure up to the Beckys or Jessicas whose inboxes were constantly full.
The truth is, neither I nor my husband have ever felt extremely desirable on dating apps. Not enough platforms have been created for both black women and men to talk openly and vulnerably about the feeling of rejection in the kink and queer communities. So many black folks are hesitant to even be forthcoming about their sexual experiences. My husband and I know even being on apps and sharing our story is a radical act. I speak in the hope that other queer and questioning women of color will be empowered to share. We remain hopeful that we will find someone willing to get to know us, not because of our race, but for who we are, and I believe it will happen when we least expect it.