What gives me the ick? Men that ask guess my ethnicity” on dating apps

Ickbait: The question is very revealing – in a bad way, says Kemi Alemoru.

Each week, we ask a FACE contributor to break down their biggest ick. Check out previous columns here.

When I re-download Hinge to punish myself – and acclimatise to the idea of dying alone – I treat it like it’s Depop for men. I’ll idly scroll – a bit of window shopping, before concluding most of what I’ve put aside doesn’t really suit me and I probably won’t proceed to checkout.

Close app, return to the outside world.

But from an anthropological point of view, it is fascinating. This is an exhibition space. It is art. What makes it into these profiles is what men think we want to see, and what they think we want to hear. And even though straight men surely can’t see each other’s profiles, a lot of them have come to the same conclusions.

They post pictures of themselves doing their own, very serious, manly face. They think it’s quirky to like pineapple on pizza and watch anime. They like to post photos of them with their much hotter friends and have that as their lead profile image, so that every photo thereafter is a disappointment.

These recurring trends – while clichéd – are not cardinal sins, and they don’t necessarily give me the ick. What’s unforgivable, however, is the curious masculine urge to think that guess my ethnicity” is an interesting profile prompt. Guess my ethnicity” is overused and under-discussed. Surely it must elicit about 1000 rejections a day, and yet its popularity has not yet ceased.

Rather than guessing their ethnicity, it mostly just leads you to guess why they think that their ethnicity is one of the more intriguing parts of them as a person – in lieu of, say, a hobby, a sense of humour, or sartorial flair.

Having asked my friends whether they had noticed it, they confirmed I wasn’t mistaken. They usually didn’t match, they added, because they felt it was a clue into that person’s dating preferences, i.e. that only white people would find this quiz an interesting game to play, and so that’s probably their main audience. It makes me wonder what their racial politics are.

Then I wonder how I would even arrive at an answer without crudely looking at his features and trying to compare it to other people I know. Still wondering, I think about how such a dry question came to be one of the most popular prompts on the app. Because at the end of the day, all I really want to be thinking about is: is this guy hot? Please don’t trigger my discourse brain, I’m here to have fun. Next.

On a profile with limited space, where a man could tell viewers about himself and show off his personality, he has instead opted for a game of eugenics. Of course, the man in question is usually ethnically ambiguous or white-passing – otherwise the prompt is kind of useless.

But for the sake of nuance, it’s worth unpacking the various things that are possibly at play here.

It’s been discussed how online influencers often lean into ethnic smudging, building an aesthetic that borrows from different cultures into an amalgamation of perceived desirable qualities, from extreme contouring to augmented eyes and lips (and legs and hips and body body,” as Kandi from The Real Housewives Of Atlanta would sing). Perhaps this is spilling over into men on dating apps thinking that being racially hard-to-place is now seen as a bonus elsewhere.

Meanwhile, articles have unpicked the racial hierarchies on apps like Grindr, where users explicitly write no chocolate, no rice, no spice” to deter matches from particular ethnic groups, or Hinge, which allows you to have someone’s race or ethnicity as a dealbreaker”, meaning you can make sure your digital path never crosses unwanted groups.

On the flipside, there’s also a lot of exoticisation and fetishisation of ethnic minorities that happens on dating apps. Maybe this prompt is the potential suitor deciding to go ahead and exoticise themselves first before they get an inevitable no but where are you from?” message.

However, please ask us something else. Literally anything else.

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