When it comes to online dating, segregation appears to be alive and well. After analyzing more than one million profiles on a mainstream dating website, researchers at the University of California Berkeley, concluded that whites are highly unlikely to initiate contact with black people.
Even when their profiles indicate that they are indifferent about the race or ethnicity of a potential romantic interest. The researchers expected to find homophily, a social science term which means love of the same, in their analysis but they were surprised that the internet did not play a role in eroding reluctance to date outside ones own race.
“When the constraints of segregation are lifted by technology, what do people do? They don’t act all that differently,” said Gerald Mendelsohn, PhD, one of the professors who worked on the study. “Segregation remains a state of mind as much as it is a physical reality.”
The study indicates that more than 80 percent of the communication initiated by whites was to other whites. Only 3 percent went to blacks. Black members of the same site were more open to dating whites and were ten times more likely to contact whites. Black men were actually slightly more likely to initiate contact with white women than black women.
Professor Mendelsohn, attributed this to the influence of cultural imperatives on all American men. “In this country, our notions of feminine attractiveness are based almost entirely on images of white women… the hypothesis that some people have argued is that there is no surprise that black men should contact white women, because that’s where we get our notions of who’s pretty.”
Mendelsohn’s latest research does not draw conclusions as to why online daters make certain decisions, but he acknowledged that the results indicate that the U.S has not entered into a so-called ‘post racial era’.
According to the U.C Berkeley research, a collaboration between Professor Mendelsohn, Coye Cheshire, Andrew T. Fiore and Lindsay Shaw Taylor, black women were the least likely group of those discussed in the study, to be contacted on the unnamed dating site. Aja Worthy-Davis, 26, says that she is not surprised by that statistic.
“If you are a black woman on Match.com and you’re not going to initiate contact then you are not going to date. That’s just the reality,” said Worthy-Davis from her home in Brooklyn. Worthy-Davis, a political operative in New York City, says she signed up for Match.com in 2004, when she was in college. She says that she initiated contact with the three men that she ended up meeting in person. The must substantial relationship that resulted from the experience was with a Russian man. The couple dated for the better part of two years.
Now in a committed relationship with someone she originally met in high school, Worthy-Davis says that she still thinks dating websites are a good tool, even if the statistics say that the medium does not favor black women. “No matter what it is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people, even if the relationships are not successful.”
According to a 2009 analysis, black women, on OkCupid.com a dating website that does not charge a subscription fee; get the “cold shoulder” from everyone, including their black male counterparts.
The cold shoulder comment was based upon the fact that black women receive the fewest replies on the site, even though they are the most likely to reply. Ron Worthy, a spokesperson for Blackpeoplemeet.com, a subsidiary of Match.com, says that this illustrates the importance and increasing popularity of niche dating sites that cater to specific races or religious affiliations.
“What you find is that people want to be in an environment where, not only are they going to find someone that they are looking for, but the person that they are looking for is looking for them too,” said Worthy.
There are niche sites that accommodate the entire spectrum of romantic interests including sites like, AfroRomance.com, which is specifically geared toward interracial dating. Rob Thompson an entrepreneur from Australia says that he started the AfroRomance.com because it was difficult to tell who was truly interested in interracial relationships on conventional sites. “I was open to dating anyone as long as they were a suitable person, race wasn’t a consideration for me.”
Rob went onto meet his wife, who is from Kenya on AfroRomance.com.
The U.C. Berkeley research indicates that although black women were much more likely than their white counterparts to contact someone of another race, they still primarily sought to contact black men.
The suggestion that black women should prioritize companionship over long held social paradigms and open themselves up to interracial dating has been met with controversy. Worthy, who is also the CEO of his own company, Buzzworthy Media Ventures, LLC, says that in many ways, black women have shouldered an unfair burden when in comes to marriage within the black community.
“Black women who are educated are twice as likely to ‘marry down’ to people who are not at their same education level or income level. [Black women are] willing to marry someone who is not their socioeconomic equal in order to maintain the fact that she is with a black man.”
Worthy says that he’s in favor of interracial dating and does not see it as a threat to the nuclear black family.
“I’m not going to say that if you have black women dating white men that is going to ruin the black family, because a black woman is going to raise her child with black sensibilities…. If we are raising more kids to have a cultural sensitivity to black history and the black struggle, whether their daddy or mamma is white makes no difference to me.”