Online dating has become less of a taboo in recent years. With society’s rising dependence on technology and social media, it was only a matter of time before we collectively became more comfortable with the idea of meeting our potential soulmates and “friends with benefits” online. For some of us, it’s even become fun. There are bars that dedicate nights for people to come in and Tinder the evening away, and cafes that give discounts to people who matched on Coffee Meets Bagel.
There are always the typical stressors behind talking to a potential lover online. But for people of color, there is an added anxiety: is this person racist?
I’ve been off and on five different dating apps over the past four years and have experienced racism on all of them. From the white men who tell me white supremacy isn’t real, to those who think I owe them an education based on my degree in the lived Black experience, I’ve grown tired of opening messages and hoping I’ve not opened a Pandora’s box of ignorance and potential triggers. So instead, I’ve decided to armor up and make things a little… interesting.
You don’t owe anyone — let alone an ignorant stranger on OkCupid — your time or energy. If they really want to learn about white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, they’d consult the many resources that exist on the Internet, in books, on TV, and in classrooms, not some random person of color on a site meant for finding friendship and romantic connection.
Here are five ways you, as a person of color, can respond to racist messages on dating sites.
The Passive-Aggressive Response
My “about me” section on OkCupid reads, “[A]ll about dismantling the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy/anti-feminist, sexist ideologies, and putting an end to police brutality and rape culture.”
Still, I get white men telling me America doesn’t have a culture of violence despite, ya know, its history of violence. This feels passive-aggressive to me: they see the kind of person I am trying to engage with, yet they’re willing to ignore my expressed wishes to fulfill their own selfish desires. This is an indirect kind of hostility and violence.
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So, if they’re going to be passive-aggressive, why can’t we be, too? Here’s how! Take a message like this:
“[Let’s] address the elephant in the room — slavery. Is it okay to tell someone to ‘just get over it’? No. But is it okay to hold my race eternally accountable for something that our ancestors did in which we had no part in and find as equally repulsive as you? Definitely not.”
Instead of explaining the myth that is reverse racism, you could say something like:
Well, Theo(dora), if we’re gonna bring up elephants, let’s at least address their magnificent memories. So maybe “the elephant in the room” doesn’t want you to forget slavery is an ongoing phenomenon that you’re still benefitting from because the elephant is still dying at the hands of white supremacy. So it literally can’t forget about it ever. But, I mean, what could I possibly know about elephants? TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE ELEPHANTS, THEO(DORA)!
The Directly Aggressive Response
Sometimes it’s more tiring to hold your frustration in than it is to expend energy expressing it. So when racism invades your personal space, a space you’ve spent time cultivating in such a way as to gravitate love and cute faces your way, you are allowed to rage against the machine. If they want answers, you’re gonna give it to ‘em.
Let’s imagine you get a message that goes a little something like this:
“The problem is not with the police. The problem is with ignorant, entitled children who feel like they are above showing respect for authority figures and think they can behave however they want without consequences.”
Instead of biting your tongue, bleeding at the expense of a stranger’s inflated ego, let ‘er rip:
Here’s the thing K(ar)en: the problem isn’t the children. The problem is authority figures not being taught how to non-violently assess and handle non-compliance; a system set up to capitalize on the imprisonment, endangerment, and murder of people of color; people of color being labelled “disrespectful” and “thuggish” for challenging authority, but when non-POC do it, they’re exercising their rights; Blackness and Brownness being read as “immediate threat” and “deserving of punishment” regardless of behavior; militarized security guards in schools; and non-POC not batting an eye at a child being thrown to the ground, assaulted, pushed up against walls, punched until bloody, kicked in the ribs, shaken by the neck, and — I hate to be the one to tell you this, K — it’s because that child is not White. Not only would there be a mob at the ready if an officer treated a white child like that, that mob wouldn’t even be necessary, because the likelihood of an officer treating a white child like that is practically negligible. Go home, K(ar)en. The problem is you.
The Resources and Receipts Response
We’ve heard it all before: “Isn’t #BlackLivesMatter divisive? Don’t we all bleed red? There’s only one race: the human race. I don’t even see color, except for red, which is the color of the blood I previously mentioned. Bob Marley said it best: let’s get together and feel all right. Because ALL LIVES MATTER!”
This would be where you’d drop your links and titles. Copy and paste every bell hooks, Michelle Alexander, and Melissa Harris-Perry quote known to humankind. If you think they’d respond better to pictures, attach a few Tumblr and Twitter memes to that outgoing message. Speaking of which, one of my personal faves is:
(tweet: austin @kvxll “Dear cis people: no one is saying your life can’t be hard if you’re cis but it’s not hard because you’re cis/ Dear white people: no one is saying your life can’t be hard if you’re white but it’s not hard because you’re white Source: austin)
Show the screenshots of conversations you’ve had with white people who have called you out of your name for being open about your experiences being: followed around stores, stop and frisked, told you “talk white”, called derogatory terms, called a Latin lover / caramel / chocolate / mocha / ebony princess / Mulan / Jasmine / Pocahontas / et cetera.
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We have years worth of primary resources proving our systemic oppression. So, if you’re feeling up to it, RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
The Sleight-of-Hand Response
Another option is to play the ol’ fashioned game of “look over there!” Just completely derail the almost non-existent, one-sided conversation.
He wants to tell you police brutality is both fake and not about race and that we’re ignoring the real problem here: Black on Black crime. So maybe now is a good time to tell him that you once had a dream that you rode a hipster unicorn across the Brooklyn Bridge only to find that your cat had been at your yoga instructor’s cabin in Montreal the whole time! Classic Chewy!
Tell them you once ate an entire glob of wasabi and didn’t cry. Tell them about that one time in band camp. Tell them, if you were an undercover agent, you’d want your spy name to be Gullah Gullah Island. Maybe none of that is something they want to hear or have the emotional bandwidth to respond to, but you have every right to take up space in someone else’s life. Because don’t we all deserve to be heard? Regardless of consequence, of the impact our words might have on others?
And when they write back to tell you that you’ve sent them nonsensical trash, tell them you were only returning the favor.
The Non-responsive Response
Or simply…. nahhhhh.
I once had a guy go on a ten-message tirade about how I owed it to humanity to discuss racism with him after I didn’t respond to his first sad attempt at starting a conversation. Oh, the irony: engaging in violent rhetoric against the kind of body you want to teach you about violent rhetoric.
It was sad but mostly amusing, watching this human confront his own (in)visibility, throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get his way. It was an interesting window into white privilege. While visibility politics are a part of my everyday life and survival, given that being (un)seen can lead to my death, being unseen just makes some white people irritable.
Like I said earlier, you don’t owe anyone your time or energy. You’re not on OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble, Siren, or whatever other dating platform to prove to racists that you deserve to be alive, loved, and seen. You’re likely there to find someone to spend time with, date, hook up with, flirt, and sext with — you’re there to have fun. Don’t let the bigots get you down!
(Feature Image: A close up black and white photograph of a person’s face. Their fingers are opened onto the face allowing the eyes to see through. Source: Christiane Birr)