Mate Racism

The latest Time:

My Race-Based Valentine. Why online dating is the last refute of overt racial preferences.

This Valentine’s Day … relatively few women on mainstream dating sites will bother to respond to overtures from men of Asian descent. Likewise, black women will be disproportionately snubbed by men of all races. …  Chemistry.com requires users to identify their ethnicity; like eHarmony, it considers members’ racial preferences when suggesting matches. Match.com lets users filter their searches by race. The site’s profiles include space to indicate interest (or lack thereof) in various racial and ethnic groups. …

Among the women, 73% stated a [racial] preference. Of these, 64% selected whites only, while fewer than 10% included East Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians or blacks. … 59% of [men] stated a racial preference. Of these, nearly half selected Asians, but fewer than 7% did for black women. … In October, [OkCupid.com], 80% of whose members choose to input their race, studied the messaging patterns of more than a million users and concluded on its official blog that “racism is alive and well.” …

But do racial preferences amount to racism? Or is overlooking an entire ethnicity as innocuous as filtering out redheads or people under a certain height? “Just because you take race into consideration in your dating preferences and are aware of race doesn’t make you racist,” says Dr. Nicole Coleman, a psychology professor at the University of Houston. Minorities who prefer to date within their own race or ethnicity — and who look for potential mates on niche sites like BlackPeopleMeet.com and Amor.com — would probably agree with her.

So dating is our last refuge of overt racism because … preferring people based on race isn’t racism if its for dating, especially if minorities do it?!

Of course its racism, if anything is.  But is it good racism?  The obvious reason to allow mate racism is that people better enjoy mating when they better like their mates, and people think they care about the race of their mates.  But this same reason suggests allowing racism by firms, schools, and clubs.  Firms are full of people, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, any of which might care about the race of folks they must deal, mingle, associate, etc. with.  At schools, the teachers, students, and ultimate employers of those students may also care about race.

Yes people may be mistaken about how much they care about the race of their associates, and perhaps this justifies government policies forbidding overt racism at firms, schools, or clubs.  But why doesn’t this apply just as well to mating?  Sure it is impossible to legislate away all racism in dating, but the same is true for hiring etc.  Why don’t we at least forbid overt mating racism, such as race-based searches?  We could even collect stats on the race of folks that people contact at dating sites, just as we check now on rates rates in hiring at firms, etc.

One explanation is that we naively think that imposing rules on firms only hurts those abstract entities, not the people associated with them.  Or we think such rules only hurt investors and managers, who we don’t care about.   Perhaps we only dislike racism that changes incomes, not happiness — yet mates often change income a lot.  Another explanation is that we only don’t care about racism in the “personal” sphere, though this just changes the question to what exactly is “personal” and why do we care differently about such things.  What do you think?

Added: The UN definition supports the “personal” theory:

“Racial discrimination” shall mean any … preference based on race … which has the … effect of … impairing the … enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of … fundamental freedoms in … any … field of public life.

Added 25Feb: A Post article encouraging black women to date white men.

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