Multimedia Project Proposal: Racial “Preferences” on Grindr: Racist, or Nah?

I am interested in researching racial preferences on Grindr, a smartphone app for men seeking sex with men that is based in semi-anonymous profiles that also indicate a user’s proximity to other users. Current research indicates that these preferences exist in very direct ways on Grindr profiles and within Grindr messages, but existing research does not fully explore the implications beyond these direct statements of preference. Does this mean that the men using Grindr are racist (or committing acts of racism) for explicitly stating their racial preference? Do these potentially racist acts of self-presentation on Grindr influence the dynamics of the dating and hook-up realm offline? In other words, are these men likely to articulate the same preferences so directly in physical social spaces, or is the articulation of these racialized preferences limited to the context of the app and the text that it contains?

OkCupid, an online dating site with an app component available for smartphones, has released data regarding response rates to messages and the way that rates are correlated with race. In a fascinating data representation that they’ve released on their blog, a chart illustrates that white gay men are the least likely to respond to messages, but especially when these messages come from non-white males. Black males get fewer responses overall—in fact, black gay men get over twenty percent fewer responses than non-black gay men.

Labels on the top refer to responders, and labels on the left refer to contact-initiators.

OkCupid reply rates by race for gay males. Labels on the left refer to contact-initiators. Labels on the top refer to responders. Numbers within the chart refer to the response-rate percentages.

Additionally, in response to the profile-related question, “Would you strongly prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” Forty-three percent of white gay men responded “yes.” Rather than answering my questions, this data raises more questions for me—questions about interactions on OkCupid, but also about the interactions on other networked dating/hook-up spaces.

Kevin Lewis has done extensive research on straight OkCupid users and their racial preferences in presentation and/or practice on the site. Lewis suggests that perhaps these users are engaging in “preemptive discrimination.” This is to say that perhaps “part of the reason site users, and especially minority site users, do not express interest in individuals from a different racial background is because they anticipate—based on a lifetime of experiences with racism—that individuals from a different background will not be interested in them” (Lewis 18817). Since this research focuses on straight users—who are arguably less-marginalized due to their sexuality—I am curious to see whether this hypothesis and effect holds true for men seeking sex with men.

It seems like similar results are found on other networked platforms for men seeking sex with men. Denton Callander, Martin Holt, and Christy E. Newman have done research on racialized language on a dating and sex-seeking website called Manhunt.net, focusing specifically on the Australian context. This research used the content within Manhunt profiles to code the “who/what, why and how” of the race-related phrases on these profiles (Callander et al. 1052). I would like to delve further into this study to understand and utilize the discussion of the racial preferences that Callander et al. were able to identify.

Photo of Grindr by Flickr user triciawang. Used under CreativeCommons fair use guidelines.

Photo of Grindr by Flickr user triciawang. Used under CreativeCommons fair use guidelines.

Part of my interest in this topic stems from the broader, less-academic discourse happening about racism in gay male communities (the primary users of a platform for men seeking sex with men like Grindr). In an article titled “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture” published this July in TIME, Sierra Mannie addressed the white gay males who were, in her view, appropriating black female culture: “I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.” As these behaviors do make themselves present in some popularized representations and behaviors of white gay men, what responsibility does the white gay male community have to communities of color? How can they hold themselves accountable for these behaviors that are appropriated from black female (or black gay male) behavior? Additionally, how does this conversation about appropriative racism tie into the conversation about racism on platforms like Grindr? Twitter user @Philebrity raises this exact question:

Twitter showcases a better example of experiential, non-academic reactions to racial preference on Grindr, as do other non-academic spaces online. There are a multitude of other pieces written about racism on Grindr are published in non-academic online spaces. I hope to engage more deeply with an anonymous piece published on Thought Catalog titled “I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted To Black Men,” which positions racial preference in dating/hook-ups as something comparable to sex or gender preference in dating/hook-ups. In other words, this anonymous author questions why wanting to only be with white men because of “preference” is politically different from his desire to only be with men and not women. Another piece worth unpacking is Anthony Berteaux’s “Grindr: A Full Course Meal in Racism,” published on Medium. Berteaux addresses the racialized meanings attributed to words such as rice, curry and chocolate on Grindr, perhaps as a means of cloaking more explicitly anti-black or anti-Asian sentiments: “when someone tells me on Grindr, the famous gay hook-up app, that they ‘don’t like rice, sorry,’ even I have to digest the true meaning of ‘rice’ and what it’s real context means. What ‘rice’ lies down is the subtext of racism that has recently risen to attention due to the revolution of the dating app, Grindr.”

This topic is obviously a broad one, but I hope to limit my own analysis to an understanding of racism in the gay male community and the ways that it is – or is not – enacted in the real-life and Grindr-based interactions among men seeking sex with men. I plan to do a rhetorical analysis of the existing reactions (academic and non-academic) to these explicitly race-based articulated preferences. I will be working on this over the course of the next month, and then compiling my conclusions in response to my research questions articulated above using the website Medium, a great multimedia posting/publishing platform.

Perhaps subconsciously, this topic was introduced to me through the work of queer South Asian diasporic poet Alok Vaid-Menon’s piece “Tryna” (shared below) and his Tumblr post titled “The White Kind of Body,” which drive home the point that these potentially racist sentiments are internalized by not just white males seeking sex with men, but rather, all races, as white supremacy seeps – perhaps unquestioned – into the gay male consciousness.

Works Cited:

Anonymous. “I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted To Black Men.” Thought Catalog. Thought Catalog, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Berteaux, Anthony. “Grindr: A Full Course Meal in Racism.” Medium. Medium, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Callander, Denton, Martin Holt, and Christy E. Newman. “Just a Preference: Racialised Language in the Sex-seeking Profiles of Gay and Bisexual Men.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 14.9 (2012): 1049-063. Web.
Henry, Phillip. “You’re a Sassy Black Woman on the Inside, but Your Grindr Profile Says “whites Only, It’s Just a Preference.” RICH.” Web log post. Twitter. Twitter, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Lewis, Kevin. “The Limits of Racial Prejudice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.47 (2013): 18814-8819. Web.
Mannie, Sierra. “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture.” Time. Time, 9 July 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Rudder, Christian. “How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get.” OkTrends. OkCupid, 5 Oct. 2009. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Triciawang. IMG_6773. N.d. Flickr. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Vaid-Menon, Alok. “Because You’re Brown Honey Gurl | Alok Vaid-Menon – “Tryna”” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Vaid-Menon, Alok. “The White Kind of Body.” QUEER LIBIDO. Tumblr, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
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