The Daily Illini

Dating apps examine racial stigmas

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

By YooJin Son, Staff Writer

A University professor is researching racialized sexual discrimination across dating apps, such as Grindr and Tinder, toward gay or bisexual black men based on stigmas surrounding their identities.

While this phenomenon is understood within LGBTQ communities, Ryan Wade, lead researcher and assistant professor in social work, said it has not been widely studied, and this research will be breaking new grounds.

“It’s been kind of a part of the popular discourse within LGBTQ communities for some time, but there’s not a lot of empirical research on it,” Wade said.

From this research, Wade hopes to provide preliminary evidence linking experiences of racialized sexual discrimination to adverse psychological health outcomes. The study looks at self-worth and depressive symptoms among black bisexual or gay men ages 18 to 29.

To identify and define the constructs of how racialized sexual discrimination manifests, focus groups were conducted to gather shared experiences and conclude a hypothetical four-domain structure.

The four domains are exclusion due to race or ethnicity, rejection explicitly based on race, degradation by making a denigrating comment based on racial or ethnic group in profiles and eroticization of a certain race or ethnicity based on stereotypes, which is broken down into the categories of physical characteristics and assumptions.

“People assume that because you are of a certain race (or) gender identity background you will assume a certain role in sexual activity,” Wade said.

Darius Greenleaf, first-year graduate student in architecture who identifies as a gay black man, said he sees erotic objectification on dating apps a lot.

“I mean of course that’s inappropriate, but at the same time, it’s known and it’s been a thing for sure,” Greenleaf said.

Jordan Ratliff, sophomore in FAA who identifies as a gay black man, has also experienced erotic objectification when using dating apps stated as a personal preference in profiles.

“As a man who is African-American, you’re usually either discriminated against or fetishized,” Ratliff said.

Wade investigated racialized sexual discrimination in a series of focus groups and through an online study including a sample of nearly 2,000 black gay or bisexual men.

The results of the online study and findings from focus groups are being further analyzed to study the psychological effects of racialized sexual discrimination when using dating apps.

The anonymity component of dating apps is an aspect to which Wade attributes the larger manifestation of racialized sexual discrimination online compared to in-person interactions.

“The difference is like we walk into a gay bar you don’t see people wearing T-shirts saying ‘not into black guys,’” Wade said. “But if you are on Grindr you see these profiles.”

Grindr, a popular dating app for men in the LGBTQ community, has recently established an initiative to combat racialized sexual discrimination named Kindr.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, harassment and abusive behavior,” Grindr’s Community Guidelines states. “Anyone found bullying, threatening or defaming another user will be banned.”

Kindr encourages users to police profiles and report users breaking the Community Guidelines. The initiative provides informative videos on its website to start a conversation on discriminations such as racialized sexual discrimination.

Ratliff said he thinks initiatives such as Kindr should be promoted and seen by more people.

“They’ve been starting a conversation that has needed to be started for a while now about racial preferences, about trans shaming, about femme shaming, about body shaming and all this stuff that happens on Grindr where if they’re not white, muscular, masculine, making them feel like they’re less than or they’re not as attractive,” Ratliff said. “All that needs to stop.”

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