Race Filters on Dating Apps Don’t Offend Me

But I struggle with guys who won’t examine their sexual biases.

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Scruff’s most wanted (Photo: Scruff)

I’m normally not one to tattle, but even a non-snitch has limits. Over the years, I’ve reported a few incidents of racist abuse on Scruff and Grindr (usually being called the N-word by someone I’d just rejected). I’ve yet to receive a response to any of my complaints, and as far as I know, neither Scruff nor Grindr has ever taken any action on my behalf.

Now Scruff co-founder and CEO Eric Silverberg wants us to know they’ve been paying attention. After years of requiring gay men to select an “Ethnicity” in order for their profiles to be considered “complete,” Scruff no longer makes revealing one’s race mandatory in order to unlock the “extras” granted to guys with “complete” profiles.

The apparent reasoning is that by compelling users to disclose their race, they were aiding and abetting discrimination. They were making it easier for us to weed out entire races on our playing fields and banish them from our grids.

Excuse me while I hold my applause.

I’m not sure why Scruff ever made ticking an “Ethnicity” box a big deal in the first place. Isn’t race one of those things you can usually tell just by looking at someone? It’s not like guys can’t simply ignore all the faces on the grid that don’t meet their racial criteria.

It’s not like guys can’t simply ignore all the faces on the grid that don’t meet their racial criteria.

In another move that’s presumably meant to discourage sexual racism, Scruff also has made the “Ethnicity” of others visible only to users who reveal their own “Ethnicity,” starting with Scruff version 5.6006 on iOS and 5.6009 on Android. I’m still trying to figure out what this tweak will actually accomplish, other than encouraging more guys to tick an “Ethnicity.”

So they haven’t actually removed the “Ethnicity” requirement. They’ve merely shifted it.

Where do we go from here?

Even if guys ignore the “Ethnicity” section altogether, where does Scruff expect us to go from here? You can’t police lust and desire. Announcing that race no longer matters to Scruff, won’t make its users suddenly want what they don’t want.

These adjustments won’t make a gay white supremacist or a so-called “chocolate queen” notice that gorgeous Asian guy they’d been filtering out of their searches and start to woo him. So-called “rice queens” won’t finally discover the appeal of black and white. Blacks who only date other blacks or Latinos or whites or whatever won’t suddenly drop their sexual biases either.

I honestly have no issues with guys removing me from their grids based on my race. If they’re “not into black guys,” that won’t change just because my face shows up in their search results. Still, it’s disappointing that Scruff ever felt the need to make things easier for them. Why did the app ever offer any incentive at all for revealing one’s race? Why is it still doing so?

I haven’t used Scruff in more than a year, but back when I did, I found the app’s insistence that I reveal my age far more objectionable than expecting me to tell the world that I’m black. If my age matters to guys, they can simply ask me how old I am and take it from there. Although I was 48 when I quit Scruff, I listed my age as “99,” and most of the guys who messaged me assumed I was 30ish.

There’s no massaging one’s race, though. Even if I don’t reveal it in a word, as long as I include a face pic in any dating-app profile, it’s impossible for me to hide it. And why would I want to? I’ve always ticked the “Black” box proudly. Who cares if some guys filter me out of their searches because of it? I don’t want them any more than they don’t want me. Even without the filter option, they’d keep scrolling. So filter away. Save us all the time.

The devil inside

If Scruff is truly dedicated to combatting discrimination within the gay community, removing extras as an incentive to state your race won’t change a thing, especially since race-filtering remains an option for paying subscribers who reveal their own race.

Despite my cynicism about Scruff’s newfound commitment to inclusiveness in the gay community, I’m not blaming them for how we are. Dating/hook-up apps didn’t create sexual racism (or “preferences,” if you insist on calling it that). They just reflect what was already there.

Meanwhile, they foster environments where gay men feel more free to openly reveal their prejudices. They bring us together, but they also keep us apart. Fewer of us are going out and socializing with a wide range of other men. Instead, we spend more time isolated while scrolling down the grid, browsing through profiles with a checklist.

Why have “Ethnicity” or “Race” boxes to tick in the first place? Removing them entirely would make it impossible even for paying subscribers to filter based on race. We’d have to sift through all the guys we don’t want in order to get to the ones we do want — just like in real life.

Safer spaces in a brutal virtual gay world

And the sexual biases would remain. Why not host discussions about why gay men have so many them? Why stop at race? What about ageism and femme-phobia and “No anal”/bottom/fat-shaming, and all the other ways gays make each other feel small?

Like Grindr, which has diversified from merely matchmaking with its INTO digital magazine, Scruff isn’t just a “hook-up app.” If it were one, “Random Play/NSA” would be the only “Open to” option. That said, it can be so much more than what it is.

Manipulating the profile-creation process so that it’s harder to filter guys out of searches based on race won’t do anything to make us less racist. I’d prefer if apps like Scruff and Grindr responded when I complain about being called the N-word by another user.

Manipulating the profile-creation process so that it’s harder to filter guys out of searches based on race won’t do anything to make us less racist.

I’d rather they ban discriminatory language in profiles and in messages the way they censor pretty much everything else, from the amount of skin we show in our profile photos to harmless no-no words. The other day, Grindr wouldn’t allow me to write “no XXX pics” in my profile. Is “XXX” really more harmful than “No Asians”? Is a double “X” acceptable only when it’s followed by an “L”?

Relaxing the “Ethnicity” requirement seems more like a face-saving PC tactic than genuine concern for an online gay community that has become too nasty and oppressive. I’d like to see Scruff and all the apps being less passive and actively promoting the sort of openness and acceptance we’ve been demanding from straight people for decades.

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Welcome to Benneton — um, Scruff! (Photo: Scruff.com)

A good start would be a “GLOBAL” section that looks more global, not just a bunch of white guys with a few token faces of color (usually Latino). Is it really necessary to have two “Most Woof’d” (white) sections, both of which just reflect and reinforce gay sexual biases?

The Scruff website has adopted the Benetton approach for its homepage, but the app itself doesn’t really celebrate the breadth of ethnicities, colors, and types that make up the gay community. So why would its users suddenly embrace them just because of a couple of meaningless tweaks?

If our gay dating apps are going to sort-of preach no race-filtering, maybe they should start practicing it, too.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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