Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More on the Subtleties of Racism and Romance

Building off my previous post on the Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who refused to marry an African American man and white woman, this podcast was recently aired on NPR's "Tell Me More": "Love Might Be Blind, But Online Dating Isn't." Nothing terribly surprising here. As has been captured before in studies examining inter-racial marriage patterns, white men are the more common partners of choice for women in heterosexual relationships. Likewise on the whole, white women are considered the most desireable by men.

The interesting differences emerge when examining how people rate men and women of color. Generally, men of color are seen as the least desireable marriage partners, or in this case for online dating. Some women of color, however, are portrayed as highly desireable, a likely indicator of race and gender stereotypes portraying them as exotic and/or compliant. Notably, however, African American women, were found to be less desireable. From the "Tell Me More" podcast:

MARTIN (interviewer): And what made it particularly interesting is that you asked people what they were looking for, and then you could determine whether their behavior matched what it is they said, which is one of the things that intrigued me. And I have to tell you, some of the findings will be fairly painful, depending on your values, for some people to discover.

You found that black women get the least response to their messages. They also respond the most to received messages. You found that Indian men fare very poorly overall but also with Indian women, that Indian women do well overall. White women and men do the best.


So what do you think is going on here?

Mr. YAGAN (interviewee): Well, because we're able to adjust for compatibility, and what that means is we've already normalized for how well we think each person is going to get along with the other person, the only factor left in determining response rate really is the aesthetic appearance of the person who sent you that message. Obviously, there's more to aesthetic appearance than just race, but that is going to be the first thing that someone notices when they look at a picture. So we think that there really is racial bias in determining who people want to date.

As society continues to evolve in how it functions electronically, it is important to dissect how social distance between racialized and gendered groups is widened and closed. In this case, social distance presumably closes between white men and women of color, but on what terms and based on what race/gender stereotypes? What might these stereotypes contribute to in some inter-racial relationships when it comes to power imbalances (e.g., control, isolation, violence)? Conversely, social distance between women from all ethnic groups (whites included) and men of color widens, again, based on what racialized and gendered perceptions of diverse men of color?

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