They read more like signs you'd see affixed to the doorway of a 60s-era American diner than messages you'd encounter on a modern dating forum. "No blacks"; "no asians"; "WHITES ONLY!!" And that's a relatively benign selection.Welcome to the special hell that is being a visible minority on Grindr.While straight women of colour are certainly not immune from encountering racist bullshit when dating online (and IRL), I can't say I've come across a Tinder or OKCupid profile that explicitly—or even implicitly—disqualified an entire racial group from getting in touch. Things are different on Grindr.
The hookup app, owned by a straight Chinese billionaire, has grown exponentially since its 2009 launch and now has a reported five million monthly users in 196 countries around world. It's hardly a surprise that some of those people are racist, given the sheer size of the user base, but the brazenness with which bigoted messages are displayed, often in the form of disclaimers that sit front and centre on a person's profile, is unsettling."More into Vanilla and spice than chocolate and rice" reads one of thousands of profiles featured on Douchebags of Grindr, a blog dedicated solely to calling these people out, while another says, "Not into chopsticks [or] curry." Some of the offending posts are less cutesy e.g. "Blacks keep movin' cuz I aint interested unless you can prove not all blacks are the exact same."VICE reached out to Grindr for comment but did not hear back.As a heterosexual female, this issue wasn't on my radar until gay friends—white ones included—brought it up in frustration. After doing a bit of digging, I found myself cringing internally at what I discovered. Grindr, it appears, is one of the last bastions of open racism (and fat-shaming and ageism) that exists in a relatively PC society, with profiles at times mimicking a crass wish list e.g. "no femmes" "no fatties" "gingers need not apply." It's not only white men perpetuating these ideas, either. Scanning through bios, I noticed users of different backgrounds indicating racial preferences—typically for caucasians.
"It's like another world," said Toronto server Jeff Lau, 26, who said he's been rejected and fetishized on the app."People may think these things in real life but you would never see it as explicitly until you went on a gay dating site…It's like an outlet for them to act out on it and live out this white supremacist idealism."Vancouver social worker Victor Huynh, 28, told VICE he was once approached on a site called Manhunt by a "rank 50-year-old" who told him he would be down to hook up "if I were just a few shades lighter.""I wrote back, 'Dude, that's fucked' and he said, 'Dude? Are you just learning English? People don't say 'dude' anymore.'" (They do, dude.)The conversation carried on for a few minutes, said Huynh, with the aggressor saying things like, "You're beautiful but you're just not good enough for me."When Huynh said the comments qualified as harassment, the man acknowledged he was being "rude" but added "that's just the way the world is and you don't fit into it."Obviously, there's no excuse for that kind of in-your-face hatred. But the more common and subtle form of discrimination found on gay dating apps comes from people who romantically speaking, claim they aren't attracted to people from certain ethnic groups. Often, they defend themselves by saying it's simply a matter of preference.In one Grindr exchange between two men, one white, the other Asian, obtained by VICE, the white guy said, "I'm not generally attracted to Asian guys. That's not racist."
An Asian man who spoke to VICE but wanted to remain anonymous, supported this theory.He told me his definition of racism is when a person expresses a "malicious intent" and likened not being attracted to people of a certain race to his own disinterest in women."If someone actually cannot get turned on by someone from a minority group that's not really something they can change."Research published last year, however, suggests that's in fact bullshit—it's still racism (sexual racism, to be precise). Sydney-based researcher Denton Callander, who led the study, compared men's attitudes toward sexual racism online and their racist attitudes in general. His conclusion? They come from the same shitty place."Sexual racism is a form of racism because, quite simply, it is the use of racial stereotypes to include or exclude groups of people," Callander told VICE. He said he's caught a lot of heat for this theory because people view it as an "attack" on their sexual freedom."The reality is that our desires—like all of our thoughts and behaviours—are as susceptible to broader social and political trends. At the end of the day, we live in a world rife with racial inequality, so it is not at all surprising that racism should permeate our desires as well."For George Chijioke, a 25-year-old Torontonian who works in ad sales, there is no debate."I think preference is you like tall people, you like short people," he told VICE, admitting he's into tall, broad-shouldered men. "To discount a somebody just because of a race, I think that is inherently racist."
Chijioke has been called a "monkey" on Grindr, but he said those types of insults are rarer than run-of-the-mill "I'm not into black guys" rejections, backhanded compliments, or straight up fetishizing."I've had people messaging me saying, 'Oh my god, I've never been with a black guy before'…'I'm never really into black guys but you're really hot'," he explained. "I'm not here to be your guinea pig."Rajiv, a 25-year-old Vancouverite who did not want his real name used, has had men seek him out for his "brown uncut dick.""I had one guy essentially worship me because he read me as being Indian—calling me a sexy Mahatma Gandhi, and going on and on about how he loved Gandhi's politics and would love to worship me in the same way. Wanting me to be his Indian Prince."Callander said racial fetishization is a form of racism that's framed positively; ultimately, it's still based on stereotypes, like the idea that "all black men have large penises.""This myth may lead some to seek out black partners specifically, but doing this turns those men into objects and ignores that they are people also, with their own desires and needs."Most of the men I spoke with seemed to think the anonymity of being behind a screen and the tendency to treat people on hook-up apps as commodities partially explains the blunt racism. Gay men are also more inclined to be direct because they've been using these apps for longer, added Callander.
"As more straight people continue to join these web services, particularly to organize sexual encounters, I suspect that expressions of racial discrimination will become more prominent," he said.Sweet, something to look forward to, heteros.In terms of dealing with the problem, the strategy seems to be to simply grow a thicker skin. Still, it seems sadly ironic that people within a traditionally oppressed community would hold these sentiments."It sort of baffles me because we're a group of people who have been marginalized for so long for something that we can't change," said Chijioke. "The fact that there are gay people that actually go out of their way to do that others, I think is ridiculous and strange."Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.