Dating, cohabitating, and marriage processes aided by online dating are central topics of interest for researchers interested in modern modes of relationship formation. This qualitative multi-method project intervenes by assessing self-identified multiracial and multiethnic (mixed-race) women’s understandings of race, gender, and class while in the process of dating, providing insight into the experiences that are hidden within analyses of large-scale online dating trends. Through digital ethnography, content analysis of 225 profiles from the online dating website, OkCupid, and 30 in-depth interviews with mixed-race women residing in Texas, this project goes beyond notions of dating and marriage that emphasize a market-based exchange. Instead, it presents the practices used to entice and select potential partners, centering the factors that frame the production and regulation of race within relationships.

For mixed-race women who are dating both on- and off-line, appearance and ethnic identity factor in how they are racialized, how they racialize others, and therefore, how racial dynamics play out. Mixed-race women use vetting strategies, the specific ways of listening to, and prompting, potential partners on dates to determine their politics. In particular, women who are mixed with black inquire about current events, referencing mainstream issues related to blackness (e.g. police brutality). Women who have Arab or Middle Eastern backgrounds also try to screen for Islamophobia in these ways. I also present three narrative frames that mixed-race women use to frame racial boundaries in their committed relationships. These women rely on skin color and cultural differences to name what is and is not an interracial relationship; mixed-race women also actively avoid dating certain men who share racial and ethnic characteristics with male members of their families. Ultimately, mixed-race women are concerned with who they choose to date because they view their choices as reflections of how they racially identify themselves. By focusing on how mixed-race women describe and interpret their on- and off-line experiences, this research shows how the logics of colorblindness and anti-blackness extend into everyday life, demonstrating contemporary meanings of race and the post-racial in the United States.

The next stage of this project will examine how men who express interest in dating mixed-race women pursue relationships and navigate race as part of that experience.

Read more on my dissertation here.