Why we ask this question: Racism

Q: “I would prefer my partner not have the following ethnic identity/identities…”

You’re likely here because you care. Thank you for being here. This question carries a lot of weight and emotion. This is incredibly important; we care deeply about getting it right.

The Marriage Pact aims to be an inclusive event, and we believe this type of question actually supports that aim (we’ll explain below). But we know we can always do better. If you’re open to it, read our thoughts below and please share with us any idea you have for making the Marriage Pact even one step better.

It’s a common feeling that the Marriage Pact shouldn’t accommodate discriminatory behaviors, especially on the basis of ethnicity or race. Further, if someone is racist and ends up displeased with their match as a result, we shouldn’t have to accommodate or empower them. We agree.

However, removing this type of question as a result of this logic alone—we believe—would reflect a misunderstanding of who the question is for. It’s not for the person who holds racial preferences. It’s for the person who shouldn’t have to match with that person and be subjected to their behavior.

The Marriage Pact looks to find the best match possible for each person here on campus. By default, we do that in race-blind way; ethnicity is not at all considered as a factor in matches.

But how devastating would it be if someone were matched with another student who was outright racist towards them? The most important thing the Marriage Pact questionnaire can do is discover discrimination like this privately, so that students won’t be exposed to it when they get their match.

Being confronted by the existence of systemic discrimination is uncomfortable, but we thought that experiencing racism firsthand (like casually or overtly racist comments in your first DM convo or your first date with your match) would be worse.

This question’s presence in our questionnaire in no way represents an endorsement of different respondents’ views. But we simply can’t pretend racism—or uncomfortable racialized views in dating—don’t exist. We see it as our responsibility to help students avoid overt or covert racism when connecting with their matches.

The Marriage Pact aims to be an inclusive event that everyone can enjoy. We can always do better. If you’re open to it, we would love to talk with you—or any deep thinkers on this topic who you know—to learn about how to make Marriage Pact better and more inclusive. If you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out to us at inclusion@marriagepact.com.

Context that informed our perspective

People of different races have different lived experiences—and they hold different understandings of race because of those different experiences. Race must be considered among the lenses we use to view the important things in our lives—including dating.

Our current understanding is that closing our eyes to race’s existence would be an attempt at “color-blindness” that comes from “post-race” theory, which reached its zenith in 2009–2014. During the Obama administration, many scholars seemed to claim that racism largely behind us.

But today, post-race theory is largely rejected by contemporary scholars in race & ethnicity studies. It’s been called both “hubristic” (Valluvan, 2016) and “analytically unappealing and empirically unpersuasive” (Meer, 2016).

Pretending that race is not a factor in our lives (‘color-blindness’) is simply not correct. Just pointing it out is also not enough to combat it—but doing so is at least a step toward acknowledging that racial structures influence our daily lives.

Being antiracist (Kendi, 2019) is not accomplished by ignoring the disparities of race, but rather by enacting policies that actively reduce the disparities of race.

For example, we agree that we generally shouldn’t empower people to discriminate. But some people (especially BIPOC women) have particularly valid reasons for holding racial preferences. In dating contexts, the male gaze—especially the white male gaze—has been considered the default for centuries. Empowering people to tell us they’d prefer to avoid these circumstances reduces the outsize burdens placed on them in racialized dating interactions.

In serving these concerns and those like them, this system empowers people to proactively avoid uncomfortably racialized interactions if they feel strongly about doing so.

And with regard to those individuals who do hold racist beliefs that this question could enable them to express: if people really do hold racial preferences (or outright racism) in their hearts, it’s less important to us we not empower them, and more important that we not inflict their racism on unsuspecting people by matching them together.

We can always do better. If you’re passionate about these topics, or have insights or ideas about how we can make the Marriage Pact more inclusive, please reach out to us via inclusion@marriagepact.com.

Why it’s worded in an exclusive (rather than inclusive) way

When we were designing & re-designing this question, the precise wording came down to a tension between two things: (1) how inclusive does it feel to read? vs. (2) how inclusive are its effects?

An easy alternative wording would read more inclusively: “I would prefer my partner have any of the following ethnicities…” This framing feels better, but results in substantially more discrimination because of the default effect. If you take no action, you’re opting in to no groups whatsoever. It’s far too easy to exclude people, because you're excluding everyone by default.

The wording we went with instead ("I would prefer my partner not have the following ethnicities...") reads, on the surface, more exclusionary. But the default option here—the path of least resistance—is being OK with all ethnicities. If a participant really wants to behave exclusively, they’ll have to confront their discrimination with each additional box they check.

The science of questionnaire design suggests this format will lead to the most inclusive effects, despite the way it reads. But it does suck to read.

We can always do better. If you have any alternative ideas or suggestions, please email us at inclusion@marriagepact.com.