A used-car mogul from Utah has created either one blatantly racist dating site or one extremely calculated attempt to rile our collective outrage.
Sam Russell is the 53-year-old mastermind behind Where White People Meet, a dating site whose title explains its purpose. Though anyone can join Russell’s site, its exclusionary title and apparent focus has irked many people on the internet. But Russell doesn’t believe he’s being racist.
“The last thing in the world I am is racist. I dated a black woman once,” Russell told the Washington Post. “I just believe it’s hypocrisy to say ‘one group can do this, but another can’t.'”
The “groups” Russell is referring to are the primary audiences for dating websites like Black People Meet or JDate — which allow users to connect with black and Jewish singles (respectively). Russell’s views and comments have fueled internet outrage, to the point that what he’s doing feels a bit like performance art; he may even be saying stereotypically racist things to incite anger and draw more attention to his site.
Do white people need Where White People Meet?
The reason people are talking about the dating site is that there doesn’t seem to be a need for it. White people still represent the majority of Americans, and in the dating world, there are benefits to being white.
OkCupid, one of the largest dating websites in the US, compiles data on its “matches” between its members. In 2009, OkCupid found that white men get the most responses from potential mates. It also found that white women tend to reply to white men and exclude nonwhite men. “[W]hite women have an above-average compatibility with almost every group. Yet they only reply well to guys who look like them,” OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder wrote on the site’s blog.
The same data was collected again in 2014, and the numbers stayed consistent:
The boxes represent people’s preferences versus the average; the bottom right box, for example, shows that white women rate white men as 19 percent more attractive than the average guy. These numbers reveal a strong bias against black women and Asian, black, and Latino men. They reveal that people tend to rate their own race more highly. And they reveal that there’s an attractiveness benefit to being a white man.
Rudder doesn’t believe it’s outright racism that drives this trend. Instead, he explains, he believes it’s cultural, and because white culture is so dominant, it skews what we find attractive toward whiteness:
Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture. I believe that’s what you see in the data here. One interesting thing about OkCupid’s interface is that we allow people to select more than one race, so you can actually look at people who’ve combined “white” with another racial description. Adding “whiteness” always helps your rating! In fact it goes a long way towards undoing any bias against you.
With this kind of upper hand, the concept of Where White People Meet is sort of puzzling. The thought being: Why do white people need a dating site that’s specifically for them when they’ve already cornered so many other dating sites? The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey asked Russell just that. His reply isn’t really steeped in the idea of service, but rather in the idea that because spaces for nonwhite people exist, spaces for white people should also exist.
“It’s our right to have this business,” he told Dewey. “If we want equal rights in this country, it has to be equal rights for everybody.”
Where White People Meet isn’t even a real dating site yet
If you poke around the Where White People Meet website, it feels like the shell of something that hasn’t found its footing. In a section advertising its active users, only 11 were present when I checked at midday Tuesday:
And the site’s “top members” are faceless avatars:
The most active user groups are also in a sorry state. Many of them only have one member:
Where White People Meet doesn’t seem to be a place where white people are meeting.
It’s also worth noting that the site only allows you to perform heterosexual searches:
When you try to perform a “man seeking a man” search or a “woman seeking a woman” search, the site forces you to seek a heterosexual match. It’s unclear whether this will change in the future, but it seems not all white people are free to meet on Where White People Meet.
Despite the site’s apparent lack of users and interactions, Russell told the Washington Post that 100,000 people visited the site on Sunday and that 1,033 registered to browse the site for free. He wouldn’t say how many of those registrants ultimately paid the $15 per month typically required to become a full-fledged member (there is a special $4-per-month trial offer advertised right now).
Where White People Meet is perfect bait for internet outrage
With a lack of activity on the site but plenty of mainstream news coverage of its existence (the Chicago Tribune, Time, and the Washington Post are among outlets that have written about it), it seems like Where White People Meet could very well be an attempt by Russell to cash in on outrage. Currently, there are more people talking about the ridiculousness of the site than there are active users.
It’s not unlike the racist Star Wars boycott or the Starbucks red cup controversy that sparked debate toward the end of 2015. Indeed, it gives people an opportunity to prove they’re smarter, more well-informed, and not as racist as Where White People Meet is.
But the outrage that’s sprung up in response to the website doesn’t really further the conversation about the casual racism that OkCupid has found is inherent in dating. That’s probably not a topic people really want to discuss on Facebook, in 140 characters on Twitter, or, as OkCupid’s data has shown, in general. It’s easier to simply profess your anger over Russell’s silly site. And that’s something he definitely understands.
“I knew there was some potential for backlash, but I’m not going to dodge it,” he told the Washington Post.
But wait. Where do white people meet if they’re not on Where White People Meet?
After consulting some white people I trust, I’ve compiled a short list of places where white people meet:
- Juice bars
- Yoga class
- Silicon Valley
- Farmers markets
- Boarding school
- North Dakota
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences