Black woman, 'white' profile: Exposing racism in online dating
Published Wednesday, March 8, 2017 10:05AM EST
When Hadiya Roderique created her Tinder profile, the 36-year-old lawyer and PhD student was told she'd be "bombarded" by messages from eager men on the online dating app. She'd put together what she thought was a witty profile, accompanied by several attractive photos. It seemed like an easy way to dive back into the dating pool after leaving a relationship.
But the anticipated flood of attention was more of a trickle: five messages in three days, and one or two messages each day thereafter. Put off and suspicious that her black skin had something to do with it, Roderique slapped her white friend's photo on the same dating profile, and watched as the messages came pouring in. Then, she tried a photo of herself, digitally altered to make her appear Caucasian, and saw even more messages filling up her inbox.
The informal experiment led Roderique to a disheartening conclusion: "People aren't as open as perhaps they claim to be."
Roderique joined CTV's Your Morning Wednesday, to share the details of her social experiment, which highlighted what she says are some of the underlying realities of the supposedly liberal-minded dating scene in Toronto.
"When you conduct interviews with people, they generally express that they are happy to date outside their race," she said. But the lack of interest in her Tinder profile led her to suspect the opposite might be the case. "I think that people are really reluctant to reach out across a racial divide," she said.
She put her suspicions to the test by enlisting her Ph.D friend Jessica. "We're about the same height and weight and similar attractiveness, so I asked if she was willing to be my guinea pig," Roderique said.
Jessica posed for photos while wearing the same clothes Roderique had worn in her own. Then, Roderique used the photos and the contents of her own profile to create the fictional "Hadiya Blanca."
With Jessica's name attached, the profile racked up 47 messages in three days.
Roderique says she knew some might criticize the experiment by suggesting that people might have seen Jessica's photo as "cuter" or "more approachable." She added that her original profile received approximately the same number of views as the one with Jessica's photo. "People would look, but they wouldn't touch in my case," she said.
So Roderique took her experiment a step further, using photo editing techniques to change her own image so she would appear to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian.
"She was the most popular of all," Roderique said, adding that her race-swapped profile received 64 messages in three days. She also received messages from several men whom she'd messaged from her black profile, and who had not answered her back.
"You always wonder what it's like on the other side and I lived it and found out," Roderique said. "I wasn't expecting the difference to be that stark."
Roderique suggests people of colour might find more success with dating offline, or on niche websites.
The alternative is braving a dating scene that is largely geared toward the majority population of Caucasians, many of whom appear not to be as open-minded as they say.
"I think that people say one thing, but act another way behind the secrecy and safety of their computer," she said. "You'd like to think that you're being seen as a person, but this (experiment) was a signal that I wasn't."