“Dating app racism is a huge problem for gay men—and we are talking about it all wrong.”

By now we are used to the righteous outrage that accompanies stories about gay and queer folks’ behavior on dating apps. Usually it starts with some guy, usually a conventionally attractive white guy, or more accurately, the torso of a possibly attractive white guy, posting on his Grindr/Growlr/Scruff profile that he is looking just looking for friends and conversation, that he is masc. for masc. and oh, he isn’t into Blacks and or Asians. Then a person, often a Black or Asian queer boy writes the harms of sexual racism. Next, the story goes viral and comments are posted on Facebook and Twitter, some echoing the author’s position. Then a rebuttal piece is inevitably published defending the queer right that is sexual preference. That story goes viral–somewhat, and comments are posted on Facebook and Twitter. Eventually, we all forget about sexual racism and then in a few months the cycle repeats. Exhausting. This week Samantha Allen’s Daily Beast article,  “‘No Blacks,’ Is Not a Sexual Preference. It’s Racism” set of the latest round of sexual racism discourse, and while she is not a Black queer boy the effect for me is the same: exhaustion. Popular media conversations about sexual racism are tiring and boring mainly because not only is nothing new being said, but the discourse always picots around the desires and practices of white gay men and this simultaneously privileges whiteness. Privileging whiteness and white men  is as American as apple pie. This privileging also ignores the problem of Black men who don’t seek out other people of color on hookups and queer culture. In other words, it begs a question: Why, beautiful Black boy, are you so upset that, that white boy in the window doesn’t want you?

Samantha Allen is not alone in centering whiteness in conversations about sexual racism; in fact most of us do it– it is the default way to discuss sexual racism: What are the white boys doing wrong? For example, in December of 2014, The Huffington Post posted Nathan Manske’s article about Nelson Lassiter’s interview for the queer site, “I’m From Driftwood.” The video can be found on the site rather quickly. Just type “racism” in the search bar and it is one of the first videos to appear. One of only a few on the topic. The focus of the video: Lassiter’s struggles with attempting to date white men. They find him attractive but they (whomsoever he is talking to) are just not into Black guys. Not once is it brought up or asked to Lassiter: Are you into Black guys?  

The heavy focus on white men’s sexual racism is possibly most evident in the area of gay porn. Really, more of us should be talking about porn because, as Dwight McBride tells us in why i hate abercrombie and fitch, that everything you want to know about the gay marketplace of desire is on display in gay porn. Where different bodies rank; who is valued, who is not, and who the imagined consumers are, which in turn reveals who is imagined to comprise the gay community: white men. This is despite the fact that we know that Black folk are more likely to claim a LGBTQ identity. Several sites ( Straight Up Gay Porn, Instinct Magazine, The Huffington Post) have touched upon sexual racism in gay porn–to little actual substantial studio change–but most often the focus is on who’s to blame (models, studios, or consumers) with everyone passing the buck, or it is a blanket un-nuanced defense of sexual racism in porn as fantasy. Often the solution presented to combat sexual racism in porn is to create more interracial scenes, but, this may be hard to do for material reasons–also tied to sexual racism.  Popular white gay porn performer Tom Faulk gave an interview to the gay porn blog Straight Up Gay Porn,  and one of the questions asked, by a fan, was whether or not he would do an interracial scene.  Faulk claimed that while in his personal life he has had sex with Black folk, in front of the camera it just doesn’t pay: “My only problem with doing interracial is that the pay scale is lower–especially for the Black performer.”  Still, again, the conversation revolves around white men willing to do scenes with Black men.

Not a single story is about Black men refusing to do scenes with white men. This creates a picture that it is just assumed that Black men will be willing to perform with white men. Also left unexamined: Black men like Sean Cody’s Landon or adult performer Troy Moreno, or former Cocky Boy Austin Wilde who either never or rarely perform with other Black men. Actually, when Austin Wilde finally performed with another Black man the porn blog The Sword ran a story about the event under the headline: “Austin Wilde Has Sex WIth Another  Black Man For The First Time!” The piece opens with a line stating that folks complaining about Austin Wilde’s lack of Black male costars can now stop complaining–because he has one, finally after five years in the business. Defensive much? In the story Austin Wilde blamed his former studio for his lack of Black scene partners. Unexamined was that Wilde, performing for his own company, took almost a year before he performed with another Black man and he still is much more likely to have a white (or white-presenting) scene partner than a Black scene partner. In fact, Austin Wilde seemed bothered that people would question whether he could actually be sexually racist since he is biracial, but is it really that odd of a question?

What do we have to point to in mainstream culture that says Black queer love on its own is good? Everytime I hear a person complain about white men not seeking Black romantic partners, I also hear an unverbalized confession: firstly, that Black men should want white partners, at least enough that I should bother us when they don’t want us, and secondly, certain Black men just aren’t checking for other Black men. White men are not the only ones who are sexually racist. Can we ever forget the 2013, cringe-worthy “Ask Mister Carl” post where a “smart, good looking African-American man” was seeking advice as to how to get a white man’s attention because he “wanna be down with the swirl”?

Yesterday, over a spicy bowl of Thom Yum at Pho Grand, a popular St. Louis Thai restaurant, a friend lamented to me about his experiences dating, and in one story he told me about how another Black man told him that dark-skinned men were unattractive. This man, himself an attractive dark-skin man, could not see the beauty in other folk with his skin complexion. This is the conversation I am interested in having, the one that needs to happen. What does it say when Black men are not desiring other black men? What does it say when a piece like the brilliant Hari Zyaid’s “Choosing Black Love: Why I am Unlikely to Spend My Life With  a White Personn,”  feels so refreshing and progressive? Ziyad’s piece dares to put at its center the desires and preferences of a Black man. It just so happens that it is attached to other Black men, but the revolutionary act is that it centers Blackness. Too often when Black desires are centered there is a quick reaction to recenter whiteness. This can be seen in Gabe Zicherman’s response to Lamar Dawson’s July 13, 2015 Huffington Post blog demanding that white men stop objectifying men of color.  Zicherman didn’t seem to understand that Dawson’s post had nothing to do with wanting white men to like him or not like him, but had more to do with him being a Black man and setting the terms for how he should be interacted with by white men. He was centering Blackness, but Zicherman responded with a post that centered whiteness, assured us that white men really like us, and said, “don’t take away my preference rights.”

At the end of the day, I’m just like Mary J. searching for that real love, but I just don’t believe that, that real love is somehow better when a white man checks for me. If he does, fine. If he doesn’t then that is also fine. He is not my center, my reflections are, and there is beauty in this mirror. After all, Joseph Beam did say: Black men loving Black men is the radical act of the 1980s. And it still is in the 00s.


2 thoughts on ““Dating app racism is a huge problem for gay men—and we are talking about it all wrong.”

  1. MrMalik says:

    My sentiments exactly. I think it has a lot to do with what we see in porn and the mainstream media – it’s an underrepresentation issue. I’m not gonna lie, I never used to give black guys a second glance, telling myself it was just an attraction thing. But when I finally became conscious of this, I started to actively seek out other like-minded black queers. And let me tell you, I found me some fiiine brothas! It’s so easy to get lost in the sea of white queerness and delude ourselves. It’s time we get comfortable with and start appreciating the beauty in our own skin. If we don’t love and promote ourselves as people (not just penis sizes), how can we expect others to genuinely do so. Hopefully there will be more articles like this to spread awareness about this issue.

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