Dating and Race: Thoughts on Race Relations 50 Years After Civil Rights (part 2)

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Dr. Ken-Hou Lin of UT-Austin and Dr. Jennifer Lundquist of UMass-Amherst evaluated dating homogeneity through the lens of race in their publication “Mate Selection in Cyberspace: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Education”, which appeared in July’s American Journal of Sociology. Much research on dating centers around propinquity theory: the idea that relationships are most likely to be made with geographically close individuals. Many neighborhoods, schools, and settings for extracurricular activities contain homogenized populations, with shared socioeconomic status, race, and cultural values. Dating relationships generally emerge from the commonality of location and experience; though interracial dating and cohabitation rates annually increase, only 4% of marriages in the U.S. contain individuals from two different races.

Cyberspace eliminates many of the variables that support propinquity theory. Daters can access Match.com from hours away, as website servers provide the common meeting space. Dating websites can increase the likelihood of finding someone with your specific interests and establish some security limits, but the social boundaries that exist in live communities diminish. Avatars have fluid social value; I may be a shy, geeky introvert, but on the internet, I can advertise myself as a popular, extremely talented stud through funny, brilliant instant messages to those who draw my attention. People of various races, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses may be drawn to my page.

Lin and Lundquist, determining that daters are most likely to view profiles of and write messages to daters in their similar racial classification, explore the “crucial divide” amongst racial groups on dating websites: Do whites tend to sidestep all races or strictly black daters?

I mentioned in the last post that black men are the most likely of the gender/race classifications to date within their race. Interestingly, black men sent messages out to a fairly diverse group of women. Black men were also the least likely to receive responses from any women (especially white women, who reported as the least likely to send messages to diverse races).

Black women received the majority of their messages from black men, with Latino men occasionally sending messages. Asian and white men rarely sent inquiry messages to black women, and the messages they sent to other races were seldom responded to. Lin and Lundquist identify black women as the least contacted/most avoided group of all eight gender/race demographics. The authors also evaluate whether education trumps race when making dating choices. In cyberspace, college-educated Black women were the least likely to receive messages. Dating relationships with white women/black men significantly outnumbered relationships with black women/white men. The authors suggest that Black men fit a hypermasculine stereotype that some women find appealing, whereas Black women fail to fit a feminine stereotype that attract most men.

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Fifty years ago, the Senate, with President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which includes the clause “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” (Sec. 201a). Many symbolic representations of racism have been demolished in the last fifty years, including segregated drinking fountains, African Americans being attacked by law enforcement by water hoses, and near-eradication of the “n” word.

However, many subtle racial stereotypes still exist. Lin and Lundquist’s study provides an excellent commentary on 21st century racial barriers through its focus on dating. Though some people date strictly to have fun and/or erase feelings of loneliness, most daters have a part that seeks something more permanent. Dating serves as a test ground for levels of commitment and vulnerability; families are forged from successful dating processes.

Remember, in order for online daters to learn about a prospective date’s shared interests and experiences, they must click on the profile picture, and most daters only click on those they find physically attractive. Lin and Lundquist don’t explore the types of stereotypes that daters make when looking at a profile picture; they only make assessments off of quantity of profile views, messages sent, and messages returned. However, for some reason, black daters seemed to be routinely ignored when they contact daters of other races. Black women receive the fewest messages from other daters. Educated black women, whom one could argue attain upward social mobility due to their collegiate degrees, receive fewer messages than other women of any educational status.

I don’t want to make any assumptions about any of the daters participating in this study, especially as an educated white male. However, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in the coming months, we uncomfortably struggle with the results of this study and realize that we have a long way to go in achieving racial equality.

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