Digital dating for African Americans is far from a new concept. Websites like BlackPlanet.com and BlackPeopleMeet.com have been responsible for many a love connection since the internet became a part of our daily lives. Today, apps like Tinder, PlentyOfFish, Coffee Meets Bagel, OkCupid, and dozens of others have joined those sites in the marketplace, which may improve the likelihood of African Americans finding love from their mobile device.
For some African Americans in Chicago, navigating the digital dating scene has become commonplace. Chicago resident Keisha Marsh explained to the Defender why she’s used the datings apps Tinder, PlentyOfFish, and Bumble. A successful relationship from a dating app isn’t farfetched to her. She said she knows people who are in relationships, married, and engaged after meeting offline.
“I used [dating apps] because I wanted to see what the hype was about; also as someone who is kind of a homebody, I could now meet people I never would have with my schedule and the fact that I’m not going out every weekend,” said Marsh.
However, in the brief history of dating apps, African Americans (especially women), have not felt the love like other demographics. According to a 2014 post on OkCupid’s blog entitled “Race and Attraction, 2009–2014”, Black women were consistently rated last in the listed demographics that included Asian, White and Latina by a wide margin under the category of “men rating women” in terms of interest on average. Conversely, Black men were rated poorly across the same demographics. One of the major takeaways from the OkCupid research is that Black women almost always highly rate Black men. In turn, Black men were usually positive toward Black women but not overwhelmingly so. The data reflected, the post states, was based on 25 million accounts.
Given how mainstream dating apps cater to the general public, a few African Americans had the idea to create apps tailored to their community while not at the expense or exclusion of others. The Defender spoke to two such Black-owned dating app companies to get the skinny on their progress from their launch date until today.
Launched on Valentine’s Day 2015, SoulSwipe is one of the fastest growing Black-owned dating apps on the market. Commonly referred to as the “Black Tinder,” SoulSwipe, according to its app store preview description on iTunes, helps Black people find and match with each other by either swiping left or right on pictures a user sees of other users. A SoulSwipe spokesperson told the Defender the app has 80,000 daily users consisting of a ratio of 51 percent male to 49 percent female. He said there’s a high priority placed on creating a safe environment.
“We just really found a need because there wasn’t really a place for Black people to meet r like-minded people,” said the spokesperson. “We make sure that people know we have quality on there. There is a hook-up aspect on there but by maintaining a level of class, it gets people over that level of fear to download.”
SoulSwipe began as a start-up with a team of college friends from the University of Southern California all coming together to enter the dating app marketplace. The spokesperson shared even some of its creators have found relationships from using SoulSwipe. He confirmed that so far 150 marriages have been credited to individuals meeting after using the app. He stated also that 90 percent of the users of the app are Black. He noted that SoulSwipe is a LGBTQ friendly space as well.
“There wasn’t much for the gay community so we’ve killed two birds with one stone with that,” he said.
SoulSwipe is currently free to download, a fact that removes any barrier from people downloading the app for a test drive, said the spokesperson. Being recognized as “Black Tinder” isn’t a sore spot if you were wondering.
“Tinder paved the way for us,” he said. “We don’t mind it really. We are working on ways to differentiate from the dating app.”
He said the most popular cities thus far are: New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago. He said the hope is SoulSwipe reaches an international audience. Thus far, he said they’ve received daily emails about expansion from people in Jamaica, Germany, France, and more.
Joseph Dixon, founder/CEO/matchmaker of RealBlackLove.com, launched his business in late 2012/early 2013. Currently, RBL has more than 200,000 members nationwide, according to Dixon, who proclaimed his excitement for the past, present, and future of the app. He said his app is centered around “building relationships”.
“Before we launched the app, we definitely looked into relationship based apps and there were none out there for African Americans,” said Dixon. “As far as our community is concerned, African Americans are one of the highest demographics to do online dating period so there was definitely a void that we needed to fill. A lot of these apps now are all hook-up apps. There are people who are looking to have relationships and establish something more substantial than a fling by night relationship.”
Dixon said RBL has grown through a grassroots effort, or how he describes it– “a movement.” He said RBL previously has held events and hosted parties to spread the word about the business. He said RBL is different from the Tinder model which helps to create better connections and is an “invite only” app. He explained RBL is moderated to maintain quality. He said 200-300 people sign up for the app on a daily basis.
“As a matchmaker I always told people to never limit your dating pool; you have to cast your net wide enough to get a decent pool,” said Dixon. “With professionals you’re busy, you’re not going out all the time, you don’t have time to meet people. This gives you the chance to not just meet anyone but the right one.”
Dixon said he’s been a part of the online dating scene since 1997/1998. He said within the coming month or so, the latest version of the app will be released.
“Everything that was great about those old sites that people used to use, I just implemented them into RBL, and the things that people hated, I made sure was not a part of RBL,” said Dixon. “We are going to take our competition head on with our next version and we are going to let the people decide.”
Both SoulSwipe and RBL shared several wonderful accounts of Black couples finding love, getting married, and starting families. Although, Marsh said she has not personally used a dating app tailored to Black people, she would be open to the idea.
“I would use [a dating app] tailored to Black people because even though I would date outside my race, just like everything else in America, you have to swipe through a million people before you find someone that looks like you; well, unless you are close to the South Side; then that’s when all the cute melanated men come out,” said Marsh.