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Scruff Founders Defend App’s Ethnicity Filters — “Personal Preference” Or Casual Racism?

by Dan Tracer February 10, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 10.49.40 AM

Scruff founders Eric Silverberg (right) and Johnny Skandros (left) have defended the app’s feature that allows users to filter out entire races in their search for love, lust and companionship, but is catering to people’s deep-rooted racial preferences really the right idea?

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the duo was asked to respond to the idea that the race filter “enables” and “compounds” racial stereotypes.

BuzzFeed reports:

“Those are legitimate critiques,” Silverberg begins before changing course. “Ultimately we wanted to build an app and a service that enables guys to find the kind of guys they’re into and for some people that includes…” He stops himself and continues: “That can mean many things for different people. Sometimes they have ethnic preferences, sometimes they have height/weight preferences, sometimes people have body hair preferences.”

“Right!” pipes up Skandros with the knowing chuckle of a man who has fallen victim to ruthless body hair discrimination.

Sure, someone can anecdotally “fall victim” to something like body hair discrimination, but relating the experience to racial discrimination is a cringe-worthy comparison.

But is Scruff doing anything that the other dating services are not?

Here’s a screenshot of their ethnicity filter, which is only accessible to paid users:

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And here’s where you’d find a similar feature for Grindr’s paid users (I wasn’t about to pay for Grindr just to get a screen shot):

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Here’s the free filter Manhunt offers:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.40.50 AM

So, clearly, this isn’t a Scruff problem, though the brand does differentiate itself by projecting a more inclusive vibe than, say, Grindr.

“A person’s choice of partner is deeply personal,” Silverberg added to BuzzFeed. “And I don’t think we would presume to judge or tilt one’s choice of sexual partner, boyfriend, or husband.”

“Ultimately each one of our own individual choices is profoundly informed by the community we grow up in, perhaps by the relationships we had with our siblings or parents. I mean, to try and unpack that would probably take years for each person and so…I don’t know…I give wide latitude to other people when they talk about the kind of people they’re into.”

Related: This Is Nelson. He Has Something To Say About Racism In The Gay Community. You Should Listen.

“Outside of your sexual partner, boyfriend, or husband, yes I think it’s good and right to see our assumptions challenged, our biases challenged, and certainly in the public sphere and the workplace,” he continued. “But when it comes to the very personal choice of who you’re partnered with it’s something we leave to our members.”

That sure is a long way of saying “sexual racism isn’t really racism,” a dull argument we’ve heard before.

So where’s the line? If it’s OK to only be into white guys, or not be into Asian guys (which even as we type it doesn’t feel quite right as they’re preferences based solely on prejudice — you never know when you’ll see someone that flips your switch to the “on” position), is it alright to advertise your biases directly on your profile?

We’ve seen just about every race preference proudly displayed on profiles.

“Vanilla or spice, no chocolate nor rice.”

“NO ORIENTALS!!!”

“Is there a block all black button?”

“Asians, prease reave me arone.”

“Just a preference. Sorry!!”

Those are just some of the creatively racist boundaries from the following video, “Guys React To Racist Grindr Profiles”:

It would be tough to argue that these profile comments aren’t racist, that they don’t negatively impact other users, so why provide a tool that essentially legitimizes the same biases?

Would anyone really care if they weren’t able to segregate their Grindr and Scruff grids anymore? Is the competition between the apps really that stiff that removing the feature from one would tip the scales in the other’s favor?

We don’t quite buy the “it’s good to challenge your assumptions in life, but not when considering a sexual partner” line. Sex, love, friendship, work, community — it’s all life. If you’re on these apps, you’ve already challenged or are in the process of challenging the assumption that you were born heterosexual, so growth is clearly within the scope of possibility.

If we can’t get outside of ourselves to truly embody that — and judging by the nastiness that abounds, it seems unlikely we will any time soon — shouldn’t our tools of communication at least be designed to move in that direction?

Just questions. Thoughts?




Dan Tracer
Dan Tracer

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