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After being selected for Y Combinator’s 2014 class and working on creating an artificial intelligence-fueled chatbot, Vu Tran decided three months ago to scrap that project and create Color Dating, an app for interracial dating. It’s been said that when entrepreneurs create something, they are often their own target audience, and for Tran it was a personal pivot.
“I had a lot of experience growing up where I just talk with people and they’d be like ‘Oh yeah, I think you’re cool, I think you’re nice, but I just don’t date Asian guys,'” he said. Those experiences were repeated in online dating. Hearing that sort of rejection and then scoring few matches on Tinder can make you feel unattractive and like nobody wants you.
While that used to be a source of “growing frustration” for Tran, today, he believes attraction can be a subconscious amalgamation of upbringing, environment, and other factors, and that people should be allowed to express their preferences when looking for love. When that doesn’t happen, it can create a terrible experience for certain groups of people.
Apps made due to frustration with the Tinder experience include Bumble, made specifically for women, and Bae, for African Americans.
Compared to the artificial intelligence-driven product Tran used to work on, Color Dating is no technological feat. The A.I. knowledge his company has accrued may be applied to Color Dating someday, but for now, it’s an app that was made in a weekend. Plenty of dating apps already allow you to state a racial preference, but Color Dating’s main draw is community, he said, bringing together people who don’t mind or who prefer interracial dating.
After three months, Color Dating has nearly 40,000 user profiles. The majority of site users are within the United States in major cities like Los Angeles and New York. Though one in three users identifies as white (users can identify as more than one race), roughly 30 percent of Color Dating users are Asian men and more than half of all women using the app are African American, the groups most overlooked in traditional online dating.
An analysis of five years of OkCupid data found that Asian men and African American men and women have the hardest time with online dating. White men and women fare better than anyone else.
“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,” said OkCupid Christian Rudder in a 2014 blog post.
Though Rudder’s analysis may be the best known, there are others. An analysis by a BuzzFeed reporter found that class is more important than race, while another report states that people who are perceived as mixed race fare best of all.
Color Dating is emerging as big changes occur in the United States.
In most parts of the U.S., attitudes about interracial relationships have changed dramatically. Between 1959 and 2013, approval of marriage between black and white people grew from four percent to 87 percent, “one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history,” the company said.
Roughly nine in 10 millennials approve of interracial relationships and marriages, and nearly 40 percent of millennials, the largest generation in America today, are people of color, according to U.S. census data. Meanwhile, Generation Z, the most diverse generation in American history, is beginning to vote, get jobs, and date.
All of this while shootings of police and unarmed black men continue to dominate the news cycle and news feeds, and people ponder what the success of the Donald Trump candidacy, with his remarks about Mexican Americans and Muslims, says about the United States.
Neither Trump nor timing were really taken into account when making the app, but Tran thinks Color Dating can have a positive impact.
Studies show that being contacted by someone from another race on OkCupid greatly increases the likelihood that a person will speak with a person from that race in the future, and that having friends in interracial relationships can help increase understanding. In both instances, talking with another person leads to a reduction in preconceived notions about a race or ethnic group.
Above: Vu Tran, creator of Color Dating. Credit: Vu Tran
Tran subscribes to the idea that companies have little influence over how consumers decide to use their products. The primary motivation for some Color Dating users isn’t even dating. It’s to feel desirable, Tran said.
“For a lot of people who use Color Dating, what makes them happy is just matching with somebody and having a good conversation and boosting their confidence, and maybe they don’t find somebody on Color Dating but it gives them the confidence to go out and talk to people,” he said.
Tran said he wants Color Dating to remove the taboo that some people still feel about interracial dating and to make life easier for people, like a friend Tran grew up with in Seattle who likes black men but whose father said he’d disown her if she dated someone black. He hopes the app will help users in less tolerant parts of the country who said they feel ostracized by their community for dating outside their race.
“The greater mission there is if we can make [interracial dating] less of a taboo, if we can bring people together, if we can get that conversation out there and stand for something positive, that’s great,” he said. “I want to believe that the reason this will continue to grow and take off and expand, the reason why this is happening is because race relations are getting better. That is because people are becoming more liberal or open-minded…”
In some circles, there’s a theory that racial harmony and the reduction of racism will be achieved as interracial couples continue to make babies, until the world reaches some sort of light brown blend of multiple races. That’s an attitude Tran said he took into consideration when creating Color Dating.
Originally born in Vietnam, Tran has lived in black neighborhoods in Newark and Tennessee, a predominantly Russian neighborhood in Seattle, and parts of rural Indiana. These experiences led to more understanding, and Tran thinks that conversations with people from many races can help others, too.
“I think if we encourage it, if people intermingle, and people get to know each other as human beings more, even if people match with each other and didn’t have any intentions of dating, just having a conversation with another person, I think that does a lot to humanize the other side, and I think that does a lot for race relations,” he said.