Is Toronto’s dat­ing scene in­her­ently racist?

How part­ner pref­er­ences have be­come a veil for dis­crim­i­na­tion, both on­line and off

Richmond Hill Post - - Currents -

Nav­i­gat­ing the dat­ing world — on and off­line — can be a chal­lenge in a world of 280-char­ac­ter posts, 1.6 bil­lion swipes per day and a dis­hon­esty rate of 53 per cent in on­line dat­ing pro­files.

But for peo­ple of colour (POC), the chal­lenges are com­pounded by racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and fetishiza­tion that are in­her­ent to the wider cul­ture and re­flected in the dat­ing world.

Scrolling through apps and on­line post­ings, you’ll find users who in­di­cate so-called pref­er­ences and aver­sions to spe­cific races.

“I’ve seen posts that read, ‘Black = blocked’ and ‘ seek­ing hot Asian love,’ ” says down­town dater An­dre.

Toronto er­ro­neously prides it­self on be­ing post-racial, but most folks aren’t as open as they claim or be­lieve them­selves to be.

“They say they’re open to in­ter­ra­cial dat­ing, but they aren’t open to dat­ing peo­ple from other cul­tures them­selves,” says Karen Don­ald­son, a Toronto-based com­mu­ni­ca­tion coach. “The word ‘pref­er­ence’ has be­come the veil for racism. When you overtly state ‘no blacks’ or ‘ no Asians,’ that’s not a pref­er­ence — it’s racism. A pref­er­ence is choos­ing who you choose with­out the need to out­wardly ex­clude an en­tire race.”

Match­maker Carmelia Ray sees so-called racial pref­er­ences in her GTA prac­tice, where her clients have spec­i­fied racial, reli­gious and even height re­quire­ments.

“If they had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence with an ex-part­ner and blame a breakup on cul­tural dif­fer­ences, they of­ten avoid dat­ing those of the same race as an ex,” Ray says. “The con­se­quence of elim­i­nat­ing an en­tire dat­ing pop­u­la­tion based on race alone is ob­vi­ous. They are nar­row­ing and se­verely lim­it­ing great op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet a per­fectly com­pat­i­ble sin­gle.”

A Toronto blog­ger who asked not to be named ex­plains that he faces dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, and in­ten­si­fied by his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and weight.

“It’s one thing to be brown. But be­cause I’m a fat, brown, gay guy peo­ple have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions, and when I don’t con­form, I face re­jec­tion — not based on the per­son I am, but based on as­sump­tions they draw from my skin colour and weight.”

The way in­ter­sec­tions of race, gen­der iden­tity, in­come, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, abil­ity and weight get in­ter­preted can make dat­ing ex­haust­ing and take a toll on your self-es­teem.

Sin­gle Girl Prob­lems pod­cast host An­drea Bain says that peo­ple don’t of­ten ask her about race, but as a black woman she is aware of the con­flict­ing mes­sages.

“I grew up with a very di­verse group of friends, and although their par­ents liked me, I un­der­stood that they would never al­low them to date a black guy, which was a strange world for me to ex­ist in as a black per­son,” she says.

So­cially pre­scribed norms with re­gard to beauty and de­sir­abil­ity also play a role in dat­ing.

“Many of us in Canada have been groomed to be­lieve that blonde hair and blue eyes equals gor­geous,” says Don­ald­son. “For most, it [this be­lief] is so­cial con­di­tion­ing — not an in­ten­tional choice.”

Bain ex­plains that, when she was young, she couldn’t pic­ture her­self with a white guy be­cause none of the de­pic­tions to which she was ex­posed — from mag­a­zines to the big screen — in­cluded in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples. They were sim­ply all white.

As for me, I re­call grow­ing up with the be­lief that I couldn’t pos­si­bly be as at­trac­tive as my white friends, and this was re­in­forced by re­minders that I was pretty “for a Chi­nese girl” or skinny be­cause I was Chi­nese. I can’t count the num­ber of times I’ve been hit on by guys laugh­ing that they had yel­low fever, which I was ex­pected to take as a com­pli­ment.

Be­ing re­duced to your race is de­hu­man­iz­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cally bur­den­some. So how do we over­come racism in dat­ing?

“When we start to choose to de­fine beauty based on a per­son’s core, their at­ti­tude, how they treat them­selves and how they treat you, only then will things start to shift for the bet­ter,” says Don­ald­son.

We also need to ad­dress sys­temic racism (and colourism) and not be afraid to call it what it is. It is im­pos­si­ble to be colour­blind. Claims of colour-blind­ness serve to erase the ex­pe­ri­ences of POC.

Racial bi­ases have been in­grained into the way we think so deeply that the in­sula (the brain re­gion that reg­is­ters dis­gust) is activated in re­sponse to pho­tos of in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples, but doesn’t en­gage when ex­posed to pho­tos of same-race cou­ples. This means that we have to make a con­scious ef­fort to dis­man­tle these in­her­ent bi­ases.

We can be­gin by ac­knowl­edg­ing our own priv­i­lege (and look­ing for ways to use it to sup­port folks who don’t reap the same ben­e­fits), check­ing our de­fen­sive­ness and cen­tring the sto­ries of those who face racial dis­crim­i­na­tion ev­ery sin­gle day in the city of Toronto — in dat­ing and be­yond. DR. JESS

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions coach Karen Don­ald­son says many Toron­to­ni­ans are not open to dat­ing peo­ple from other cul­tures

Jess O’Reilly is a sought-af­ter speaker, au­thor and sex­ol­o­gist (www.SexWithDrJ­

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