OK Cupid’s ethnicity profiling astounds me. You can choose to identify as:
I wasn’t kidding when I titled my first post “I Am Ethnicity: Other.” That aside, WOW this is American. In Britain ‘Asia’ colloquially refers to South Asia, which isn’t even a category (if I were Sri Lankan or Pakistani I would be deeply unimpressed) but why mix colloquialisms like ‘Asian’ with countries, as in ‘Indian’, when you could pick one or the other and go into greater, perhaps more representative detail? Which brings me to the question of what exactly these categories are for. That is, do they exist so you can pick your partner based on cultural background or physical features?
If you want to know my skin colour, let’s make a category for it! OK Cupid can put up a bunch of colour boxes and ask me to tick which one is closest to my skin colour at its most neutral, and when people sign up they can tick the furthest ends of the spectrum they’d be willing to date. Come on, if this is a priority for people at least be honest about it!
If you want to know my physical features put up representative pictures of people from different parts of the world and ask me to tick which one is closest to my features. Or, because it’s ridiculous to expect somebody’s ethnic background to give you hints about whether or not you’d find them attractive, you could LOOK AT MY PHOTO. What if I don’t have a clear photo, you say? Well, I hear people on OK Cupid also give a bunch of information on stuff like personality, interests and lifestyle, maybe that could hold some clues as to whether or not we’re compatible…
And if you want to know about my cultural background, which I suspect is what that is all about (CLASSY please, don’t want none of that ghetto bling all up in yo’ face!) then you do yourself a great disservice to look at my skin colour for clues when my country, class and education level tell you so much more about me, for better or worse. OK Cupid have missed out or misrepresented so many regions of the world, that a much wider range of people with absolutely nothing in common are forced to default to ethnicity: other, not just mixed race people like me who are, frankly, used to not even being considered to exist.
But even for me, this is incredibly marginalising. If I were using OK Cupid to look for a partner then I would be upset by the way this cuts my chances for exposure to people who maybe haven’t ever needed to be racially aware because of their own privilege or cultural background, neither of which is an insurmountable obstacle to a relationship. Nobody chooses “other.” Why would you? It’s not a category, it’s a non-category, and it’s a way to set people up for subconscious racism that will affect their chances of meeting someone like me, with whom they may have a million things in common that you just can’t see in a photograph.
Just read OK Cupid’s own data on race – it basically supports this, and the author of the post is none too complimentary about these results, but there’s not a hint of turning inwards to help the problem. The way I see it, they could choose from several possible directions: break the options down into all possible ethnicities, like a census (that would make me mixed white/Asian); give a multiple choice question of which culture(s) people feel they are most a part (I would actually tick British and Japanese, as that’s where I’m set to emigrate to); or really make it all about skin colour and get people to choose from a selection of tans or whites to protect people from accidentally ending up with someone too dark for their sensibilities.
Or, you know, remove this misleading category once and for all and let people judge by photo and profile rather than allowing them to search with unrepresentative criteria from mixed-up categories. If protecting the prejudiced is really a priority, get people to choose from two hidden sets of boxes: one is “White or Not White?” and the other is “Racist or Not Racist?” racists only get people who’ve ticked the same box as them, done. Call it as it is.