- Sexual racism, or racialized sexual discrimination, on queer dating apps like Grindr and Scruff is a significant problem.
- Researchers Ryan Wade and Gary Harper created a scale to measure the psychological impacts of sexual racism on young men of colour.
- The results found that black men who were objectified on these platforms experienced higher rates of depression and lower rates of self-worth.
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“No Blacks, No Asians.”
This isn’t language taken from a segregation-era poster. Rather, they’re “dating preferences” listed on some queer men’s online dating profiles, found on apps like Grindr and Scruff.
Queer digital dating spaces – especially those involving men – have a race problem. And while apps like Grindr have launched campaigns to combat racism on their platforms, there’s little existing research on how this form of racism impacts young men of colour.
There isn’t even a way to clearly measure the impacts of this kind of racism in general. Most research on young gay and bisexual black men focuses on HIV/AIDS while neglecting other important areas of study, according to Ryan Wade, a University of Illinois social work professor.
This lack of data inspired Wade and Gary Harper, a University of Michigan health behaviour professor, to create a scale and survey measuring the psychological impacts of Racialized Sexual Discrimination (RSD) on young men of colour.
Overall, their research confirmed that racism on queer dating apps can have significant negative health impacts on men of colour, including depression and feelings of lower self-worth.
The most common forms of sexual racism included men of colour being excluded, rejected, degraded, or objectified by white men.
Racism in online dating spaces has “been a part of the popular discourse for a very long time within the queer community” according to Wade.
One study participant even tested how race impacted the way he was rejected by other users by remaking his entire Grindr profile with no photos, and his race switched from black to white.
“Even with no profile photo, he said the number of messages he got increased four-fold,” Wade said.
The problem is so pervasive that Grindr launched the “Kindr” campaign in 2018 to try and combat RSD amongst its users.
“Racism is a serious concern for Grindr and the community at large, and this prompted us to launch our Kindr campaign to further the conversation about the various types of discrimination that happen online,” a Grindr representative told Insider.
But because previous research on RSD was primarily based on interviews and other personal anecdotal experience, it wasn’t possible to look at overall trends on the impact of racism on these online dating communities.In developing their scale, Wade and Harper wanted to quantify how RSD manifests online as well as its effect on self-worth and depression.
The scale broke down RSD into four distinct areas – exclusion, rejection, degradation, and erotic objectification.
When the researchers put their scale to the test on a survey group of 2,000 young men of colour, they found people who were erotically objectified experienced higher rates of depression and lower rates of self-worth.
While being rejected individually by white men didn’t have a significant impact, those who reported being immersed in a dating app environment where whiteness was seen as the most desirable characteristic also reported higher rates of depression and negative self-worth.
Being objectified by white men had the worst impact on mental well-being for participants
According to Wade, erotic objectification stems from certain racial groups being stereotyped in the context of sex, like assuming that black men are aggressive or dominant in the bedroom.
Erotic objectification was the only kind of RSD in the study that was linked to both elevated rates of depression and lower rates of self-worth. Wade said that this finding was surprising for researchers.
“If you’re being objectified, theoretically that could provide an opportunity for you to find an intimate partner. And if that’s their goal, we didn’t know if that would maybe offset the negative effects,” Wade said.
Wade eventually wants to turn the research into a national campaign against sexual racism
Looking beyond the scale, Wade said that he and Harper hope to eventually use their findings to prevent RSD from occurring.
“I think of the success of things like the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign or the Trevor Project and how these have been successful to bringing awareness around things like LGBTQ bullying and suicide,” Wade said. “I could envision something similar to RSD.”
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