Meet Jared*. He’s in his late 30s, plays sport, has a secure job and great friends, and lives in a pleasant flat north of Wellington.
For Kiwi women on the lookout for an eligible bachelor, he ticks a lot of boxes.
But since moving to New Zealand in his early 20s he’s not had much success on the dating scene, and he thinks he knows why – because he’s Fijian-Indian.
“On dating apps, a lot of girls write ‘no black guys, no Asians, no Indians’ – that kind of thing,” Jared explains
“Going speed dating, there’s like nine or 10 girls… so many times you feel like you’ve made a connection, but when you come home you [find out it’s] a no.
“They just don’t want to know you when you approach them at bars and clubs… they cut you off, find an excuse, start playing with their phones, all different things.”
Jared says these experiences have dented his confidence and caused him mental and emotional trauma.
But it’s not just him who’s grown disheartened by perceived discrimination by potential romantic partners. He says many of his mates – fellow migrants from the likes of Vietnam, China and Fiji – have faced similar struggles.
“It’s our complexion, our ethnicity… The dating scene is not particularly pleasant. One has to be in our shoes to realise what we’re going through,” he said.
“Life is lonely. I try and keep myself busy, but even then there’s that emptiness, there’s something missing. I come home from work and there’s no one to talk to, you know? No romance, no nothing.
“I never thought New Zealand was going to be like this when I first came over, but that’s how it is for us.”
There is plenty of research into sexual racism – discrimination in sexual or romantic contexts – that shows these men aren’t alone.
For ethnic minority men in western countries, it usually manifests itself in feeling undesirable – and Asian men are among the worst-affected. Studies suggest this racial group is significantly more likely than others to be single and to be excluded by non-Asian women.
Yue Qian, a sociologist at the University of British Columbia, told The Conversation this comes down to racial stereotypes of Asian men gleaned from unfavourable depictions in the media and historical portrayals of Asians as inferior to westerners.
“Asian women are stereotyped as exotic and gender-traditional. They are therefore ‘desirable’ as potential mates. But stereotypes of Asian men as unmasculine, geeky and ‘undesirable’ abound,” she said.
Qian says many people believe excluding someone based on race during the dating process isn’t inherently racist, and instead attribute their choices on potential romantic or sexual partners to ‘personal preferences’, ‘attraction’ or ‘chemistry’.
But University of Auckland Sociology Professor Dr David Tokiharu Mayeda says the ‘personal preference’ argument is actually just another way to uphold racial stereotypes.
“As human beings, we want social relationships and it’s natural to want to be desired,” he told Newshub. “When you see these patterns of you not being desired ascribed to your racial background, then it makes that sense of self-worth go down.
Dr Mayeda has done plenty of research into New Zealand’s racism problem. He says one of his key learnings has been around just how much damage it does to victims.
“When people are racialised, when they’re experiencing these different forms of racism, it really affects their personal identity, it affects their sense of self-worth,” he explains.
“Some people are quite resilient to it and they’re able to kind of push back and it makes them stronger and want to fight against those stereotypes. But it gets exhausting… it can break them down.
Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid and Grindr allow users to swipe left or right based largely on appearance – and they haven’t exactly tried to put a lid on race-based discrimination.
Since then, some got rid of them but many kept them anyway despite the pushback. Match Group, which owns dating platforms Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid, Hinge and PlentyOfFish, did not respond to Newshub’s questions on why it had retained its ethnicity filter.
“It takes people questioning ‘why do I see this person as less attractive than a white person who I actually feel that way inside? Or is that just my racism and all the racism in my environment that shaped me?’
“And then it takes having those honest conversations with other people. It takes people asking their friends of colour, ‘hey, do you experience the struggle? Would you be open to talking about this? And maybe have I ever done something to make you feel a certain way?’
“So having those honest conversations with oneself, with one’s friends and then educating themselves online, looking up resources and exploring the whole idea of what it’s like for those of colour in the dating scene.”