How might we reduce racial bias in online dating?

I had the privilege of writing for Solo-ish -- a section I have long wished to see take root at The Washington Post. The ways in which we form relationships, how we define them and the complexity surrounding them is a never-ending source of fascination for me and so many others.

Say what you will, but this is journalism that matters. 

The topic I focused on is a media topic near and dear to my heart: the door data has opened to confront racial bias in online dating. In the piece, I write:

"The publication of data on users’ behavior could be the first step to reducing racism and bias in online dating — and the cultivation of greater empathy may be key to reaching a solution. Just as there is an empathy gap between the wealthy and the poor, I believe there is an empathy gap in online dating."

The problem gets plenty of real estate in the piece, but if there's one thing I have learned while at the d.school: identifying the problem is important, but so is moving quickly towards a solution. That's what Para∆igm is all about. 

So, what does bringing empathy into online dating mean in terms of actions we can undertake? While there are opportunities for experimentation in the bells, whistles, widgets and code of online dating sites, there's also a simple thing consumers can do too -- or at least try. So, allow me to extend an invitation to prototype.

If you happen to use an online dating site, take a moment to consider how you choose your potential mates and whether the racial preferences you express on these sites, either actively or passively reflects your values. Take an audit of your actions relative to your worldview, who you say you are and would like people to consider you to be.

Then, sit and talk to a friend about it, ask them about their experience in the context of race and the expression of racial preference. Listen. Ask them why they feel the way they do, and be delicate when you ask follow-ups and request they tell you more. Don’t cast blame — not even on yourself. Rather, be curious, be kind, empathize and, the next time you see someone you might otherwise fear, dislike or reject because it’s quick and easy to make a snap judgment, ask yourself: “What if that were me?"

If you do engage in this act of empathy building, please do let me know. I'd love to hear your story. 

You can read the full piece (edited by the always-fantastic Lisa Bonos) over at The Washington Post. 

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Emi Kolawole

Emi Kolawole earned her B.A. in international relations and theater studies from Wellesley College and studied abroad at both the Panthéon-Sorbonne and the National Theater Institute.  She joined the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org in November, 2005 after working as a news researcher for Congressional Quarterly on issues of defense, foreign policy, intelligence and homeland security. Previously, she was a production assistant at PBS's "NOW With Bill Moyers," and worked in the Washington area office of a defense contractor.

In addition to her work as a staff writer and researcher for FactCheck, Emi was the host, writer and video editor for FactCheck.org's weekly video feature "Just the Facts!"  She is a level 1 certified Final Cut Pro editor and earned her master's degree in producing for film and video at American University. She also led the fact-checking review effort for "UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation."

Emi served as the associate producer for "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill & National Journal." In June 2010 she joined the Washington Post as a producer for PostPolitics. She served as the founding editor for Ideas@Innovations (now "Innovations") and co-host for the Post's daily news program "59 Seconds." In 2011, Emi was named a Young Global Shaper by The World Economic Forum. In 2013 she was listed among The Grio 100, was named a French-American Foundation Young Leader and accepted an invitation to become the Editor-in-residence at the d.school at Stanford University. She has served for the past three years at the d.school, most recently as a senior media designer working on the media experiments collaboration between Knight Foundation and the d.school. She is currently the founder of the media and design consultancy Dexign LLC.