Analyzing Asian: Navigating the online dating world as an Asian male

Shutianyi Li/Daily Trojan

I don’t love dating apps.

At first glance, it seems that hardly anyone does. Everyone is that friend or has friends who download and delete dating apps cyclically. Yet, no matter how much everyone claims to hate them, everyone still seems to have a folder on their phone that contains apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Raya, Coffee Meets Bagel or whatever other new dating app is currently trending. 

As someone who grew up in a generation immutably connected to technology, it’s not just difficult to find romance without dating apps — it seems downright impossible. Deleting them is practically synonymous to “I’m planning on being single for a while.” While I might be able to come to terms with that (for the time being) and live life dating-app free, there’s absolutely no way that my friends and acquaintances would follow suit if I asked them to. 

This led me to ask myself:  Why exactly do I dislike dating apps?

Well, for answers, let’s turn to season one, episode 10 of the Freeform sitcom “Grown-ish.” In this episode, Sky and Jazz — sisters who run collegiate track — talk about the discrimination they experience as black women in the dating scene. Admittedly, as an Asian man, I felt an eerie amount of correlation between my experiences and the ones Sky and Jazz described. The episode opens up relatively optimistically, with a brief discussion about how our generation is the most diverse and open-minded in dating history. It then quickly segues to consider that, despite this seemingly progressive overlook, there are still some statistically significant racial preferences at play. 

Pointing to data pulled from OKCupid, Tinder and other academic studies, white and Asian women are consistently the highest-rated demographic groups on dating apps. Meanwhile, Asian men and black women are the lowest-rated and most excluded groups. This, of course, should be no surprise. Dating apps are an easily accessible, digital representation of racial preferences in the real world. No matter how you try to spin an app into some groundbreaking, personality-first, connection-creating medium, it’s no different than window-shopping with other people’s photographs. As dating apps continue to dominate, they’ve also ushered in an era of unprecedented racial hierarchies in the dating market, unabated by the awkwardness of first meeting people in real life. 

This is why dating apps bother me. They open up a discussion I wasn’t ready to have, a hard-to-admit feeling that I do sit at the bottom of the racial hierarchy in terms of dating potential. Even worse, I don’t know if these racial preferences can be considered racist, no matter how easy it would be to deem them such. And even if they were racist, what can you do — call out your friends for not having enough diversity in their online matches? Even in this episode of “Grown-ish,” Sky and Jazz talk about how they prefer black guys and are unwilling to change their preferences just because the black guys at their campus aren’t into black girls. 

“I like what I like,” they said. 

What can you even say against that? 

I often wonder about how the connotations of racial preference also differ at the intersection of race and gender. If a heterosexual white male exclusively prefers Asian females, it’s “exotic fetishism.” In the opposite situation, the woman is called a “race-traitor” and “self-hating.” Dating within one’s race exclusively is becoming increasingly controversial, as is dating outside of one’s race. 

As we grow both more diverse and more discriminatory in our own generation, it’s necessary to continue thinking about how race factors into social interactions in our daily lives. I hope we can think critically about just how we form racial preferences in the first place and how we can battle these engrained preferences — because I don’t believe that claiming “I like what I like” is a sufficient response.

A friend texted me recently saying, “There is an incredible amount of racism in the community against Asian guys . . . but I think people that are presented with obstacles and grow from them end up being much happier.” 

While there’s obviously no ill intent here, I can’t help but think this comment can only come from a place of privilege as a white male. Dating apps — and racial preferences by extension — are just another part of the systemic racial discrimination that’s been so integral in shaping my identity and experiences. 

I want to enjoy talking with my friends about their matches on Tinder, but I can’t say it doesn’t hurt my self esteem when we scroll through their matches and I see pages and pages of exclusively white men. To put it simply, I’ll quote this episode of “Grown-ish” one final time: “What I want is to have the same college experience as everyone else.” 

It’s just hard coming to terms with the fact that I know I won’t because of who I am.

Albert Qian is a junior writing about Asian identity. His column, “Analyzing Asian,” runs every other Wednesday.