The 180

Does online dating work for people of colour?

Hadiya Roderique is attractive, educated, fit, and musical. Despite being the catch she is, she wasn't finding love and decided to date online. She discovered her race mattered and the experience has her wondering online dating can ever work for people of colour.
Toronto lawyer Hadiya Roderique says she her experience online dating validated her suspicion that it's not for her and she wonders if it's truly useful for any person of colour. (provided)

Hadiya Roderique knows race matters. 

But what she didn't know was how much it mattered in matters of the heart. 

Roderique recently wrote about her experience Dating While Black and spoke to The 180 about why it left her wondering if online dating works for people of colour. 

Describe what happened when you first tried online dating? 

The first time I put up my profile I got a trickle of messages. In the first three days I was on the site, I received five messages and the first few days you're on the site, you're supposed to receive the most messages because you're the fresh meat, the new face, but I wasn't getting that. And then over time I got a steady stream of one or two messages a day. 

How did that compare with what you were expecting? 

People I knew that were on these sites were reporting deluges of messages and not being able to keep up with the messages they were getting, getting a lot of messages when they first logged into the site. And my experience was different than the ones my friends and people I overheard at the coffee shops and bars were having. 

You decided to run an experiment. Tell us about that.

Yes, I am a social scientist, so I like data to back up my assertions. And I had a suspicion that my blackness was playing a role. I had a fellow PhD student who was nice enough to let me do a photo shoot with her. So I took my profile down and then put it back up, but this time with Jessica's photos. 

So it was all the same information about you, but the only change was it was a white friend's photograph instead of yours? 

Yes and she wore my clothing, she wore my hat, and she was dramatically more popular than me. In my first three days I received five messages and in her first three days she received 49, so that's about seven or eight times the number of messages. 

Hadiya Roderique says she optimistically thought her race wouldn't matter much in online dating. (provided)

And if everything else was the same, is that difference because her skin was white? 

That's what I thought and you could make the argument that we have different faces, so maybe people were attracted to her face a bit more. But we're comparable on attractiveness, at least that's what people told me, and so I think some of it had to be explained by my skin colour. 

You did a second experiment - what did you do next? 

I wanted to be able to answer that question when people said, 'maybe it's her features' or something about Jessica's face that made her more popular so I used my face and Photoshop and some online apps and a wig to give myself blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, but all my features remain the same. Then I put that profile up, and she was actually more popular than Jessica and I. In her first three days, she received 64 messages so that's a twelve-fold increase. 

How surprised were you by this? 

I was surprised. I expected my white profiles to get more attraction and get more hits, but I thought it'd be two or three times more, not seven or twelve times. 

These online dating sites capitalize on this notion that you can you can calculate romantic attraction based on a profile and a picture. How problematic is that when race becomes one of the filters for attraction?

I wouldn't want to be with someone who discounts me because of my race, I don't want to be with someone who is prejudiced. But I think a lot of people aren't meaning to be prejudiced, and don't realize they hold these unconscious biases and that they don't notice they don't swipe right on the people of colour. They just swipe on who they think is attractive, but fail to recognize that who we think is attractive or what we define as attractiveness is informed by our society and our media. I never grew up with someone looking like me being put out there as an attractive figure. Even Beyonce, who is a beautiful black woman has lighter skin and almost blonde hair that is wavy. I have 4b afro and dark skin, and growing up as a child, I didn't see that anywhere so I didn't have messaging that told me I was attractive or that I could be beautiful. 

You also write that the elevation of white beauty is not limited to white people...

No, so we have shadism and colourism in the black community. The lighter your skin, the better. The more white your hair, it's called good hair. We tend to prize beauty that is closer to white beauty. You often hear people say that bi-racial kids are "so cute", I've said it myself, but it's based on the fact that light skin is prized. 

Hadiya Roderique, pictured in her original profile photo used for online dating. (provided)

You have a lot of white friends, you write about your ability to 'code-switch' in white dominated environments. After what you went through online, I'm wondering if you have any questions about that, do you question any of the assumptions you've made in your offline life? 

I'm pretty aware of how I'm perceived offline and offline I can control how I'm being perceived, to an extent I can't online. So if I can physically tell that someone is making perceptions or assumptions that are biased, I can immediately correct them in a way that I can't do when someone is looking at my online profile. 

Aside from the intellectual experiment of this, can you convey what this felt like personally? 

It felt like a validation of the fact that online dating is not for me, and maybe not for people of colour. I need to meet people in person for them to see me as myself, and not just a black woman. Being a black woman is an important part of my identity, and I'm proud to be a black woman, but I want to get past the stereotype and I don't think that happens very well unless I'm actually talking to someone in person. I think that stereotypes are too engrained and too deep, and you need the tangible, physical, analog experience not the digital one.