Race, Racism and Online Dating

interracial datingRace, Racism and Online Dating: What the Research Tells Us

According to some estimates, more than 20 million people per month use online dating services.  Sociologist Andrea Baker has looked at the phenomenon of online dating in a number of publications, including two books, Double Click, and Online Matchmaking (edited with Monica T. Whitty and James A. Inman).  Baker points to four factors that indicate what makes for a successful relationship online:

  • meeting place, where they first encountered each other online;
  • obstacles, barriers to getting together overcome by the couples, such as distance and previous relationships;
  • timing, period spent writing or talking before meeting offline, and how intimate they became before meeting offline; and
  • conflict resolution, ability of the people to resolve problems in communication.

None of the factors Baker identified point to race, nor is this the focus of her research.   More recently, however, studies are beginning to emerge that examine the phenomenon of interracial dating in the context of online dating sites.

Psychologist Gerald Mendelsohn (Emeritus, UC-Berkeley) is leading some of this research, which is as yet unpublished in peer-review.  In an interview with TIME Magazine, he said:

“The Internet has changed things. There is no segregation on the Internet. So the question then becomes, When you have a free situation where people can contact whom they please, what will happen?”

Mendelsohn is right in framing this question, I think.  If we’re really as post-racial as many claim, then race shouldn’t be a factor in dating or mate selection.  It’s a question that needs to be put to the test, and online dating sites are an excellent way to do that, in part because of the user profiles, where race is an issue.

Mendelsohn’s study involved evaluating the user profiles on an (unnamed) online dating site, and looking at the ones that indicated some sort of racial preference. Some profiles to reflect a desire to date people only of the same race, others indicate the subscriber is open to dating someone of another race or of any race.

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About Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels is the author of two books White Lies (Routledge, 1997) and Cyber Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), both dealing with race and various forms of media. She is also the author of numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and dozens of conference presentations dealing with race, gender, sexuality and new media.

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