Words by: Dena Tissera Art by: Nat
It’s Saturday night, you’re out with your friends living your best life when you see a guy smiling at you from across the bar. Blued eyed and blonde haired, your mystery man walks over to you. You quickly smooth
your dress, fix your hair and wait to be dazzled with a charming one liner or captivating compliment, but instead he asks, “What ethnicity are you?” Feeling a little perplexed you respond, “Chinese.”
“Oh, I only date Japanese girls.”
I regret to inform you reader that this situation is based on the real-life experience of a dear friend of mine. You see, not only do people of colour have to deal with being randomly searched at the airport or constantly being asked where they are really from, issues of race can complicate our love lives too. Whether we’re scrolling on the apps, trying to find a partner our parents will approve of or dating outside our ethnicity, it can be difficult to navigate the intersection of race and romance no matter who you are.
Whilst technology has made it easier to meet “hot singles in your area,” it has also created a uniquely informal space for romance, in which you might find a casual fling, or some casual racism
Most people have preferences for what they envision their romantic partners to be, however recent data shows that these preferences are informed by larger societal factors like the marginalisation of certain ethnic groups and euro-centric beauty standards. On dating apps these preferences manifest themselves in phases like “no Indians” or “black=block” according to the Guardian Australia. Whilst this kind of behaviour is less common in the real world, the anonymity of online dating apps ensures the perversity of this kind of online racism. Things are particularly difficult for gay and bi-sexual Asian men. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by Callander, Newman and Holt at the University of New South Wales, found that on Grindr “96% of users had viewed at least one profile that included some sort of racial discrimination, and more than half believed they’d been victims of racism.” The internet is a complex place, and dating can be downright confusing at the best of times. Once you add the complicated matter of race into the mix, the data shows that people of colour are losing out. The anonymity and informality of dating apps simply adds to the discrimination people of colour face on a day to day basis.
Let’s consider some common tropes seen in the media. At some point we have all seen the portrayal of a submissive East-Asian woman, a feisty Latina woman, or the hyper-sexual black man. Generally speaking, these tropes are just a joke, however they can also be extremely damaging when forced upon people of colour. A friend of mine, half Latina in decent, once received a message from a white guy she was dating, saying she was his “new Latina gal.” My friend found this unsettling and went on to find out she was not the only Latina girl he had dated. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with dating people of different races, the problem is racial fetishisation. This hyper-sexualising of people of colour (often women) based on their racial identity and associated story types is nothing more than derogatory. This isn’t a matter of preference, but rather prejudice that manifests itself in this way. Taiwanese writer Jessie Tu, wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2018, “My body is viewed as a literal and symbolic site upon which to construct their fantasies of the perfect Asian lover.” This type of sexual racism has a colonial history and remains pervasive to this very day, making things even more complicated for people of colour in the world of romance. These damaging stereotypes remain prevalent in media and pop culture and need to be debunked by more complex and realistic portrayals of people of colour.
Unfortunately, discrimination pervades dating apps and pop culture, making it difficult for people of colour to navigate their love lives. But no matter who you are, it’s important to reflect on why we desire the people we do, to interrogate our biases whoever they are directed at, and to try our best not to not be racially insensitive in both love and life. As we move forward into a world where a black woman has entered and left the royal family, East-Asian boy bands stare back at us from the covers of magazines, and Bollywood films are all over Netflix, I only hope the world of romance gets slightly less complicated for us all.