Who Benefits From Being Woke?

By Keisa Reynolds

Over the years, online dating websites and apps have been a way to meet new friends and lovers who share your interests and want to talk about them, and maybe make out. These days, dating platforms are useful for finding people who share similar social and political views—a criterion that has become increasingly important to people seeking new dating prospects and friends.

OkCupid recently added a fill-in-the-black question for users to answer: ____ lives matter. The options are Black, All, and I’m not familiar with these movements / no opinion. If someone has been paying attention, they'll pick black lives matter as their answer. They might pick it because they want to get laid. Ideally, they will pick it because it reflects their beliefs.

After seeing the new OkCupid match question, I searched Black Lives Matter on the site and saw mostly white and non-black people of color in the results. During my usual search for potential dates, I often somehow land on the profiles of white people who say they have no tolerance for racism, and they only won't speak with you unless you believe black lives matter. I see #blacklivesmatter on Tinder profiles of white and non-black people of color. White queer people also write in their OkCupid and Tinder profiles that they are intersectional feminists. I don’t feel more or less inclined to swipe right or send them a message. Most of time I wonder, is their feminism truly intersectional? Does black lives matter belong on a dating profile of a non-black person? When did this become a thing?

People deserve the opportunity to weed out potential matches, their political and social beliefs are one way to start. For people living in smaller cities and towns, being able to weed out the purposefully ignorant jerks is necessary for their self-preservation. Same for those with marginalized identities, namely queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people who don't have enough spaces in person to cruise or seek partnerships. That aside, it feels like social consciousness is being romanticized and used for social currency. And as usual, it benefits the people who are not directly impacted by specific issues of social injustice.

I go to men's profiles and see a disclaimer: only interested in feminists. What does it mean for a man to declare a preference for feminists? Men should be engaged in feminism, but not through romanization or sexualization of feminists. White men write that they support for Black Lives Matter and care about issues that impact black people and other people of color. I don’t see as many black men or other men of color state the same, presumably because it is likely obvious through the other information on their profile. Hetero men of color are also likely to mention they are mostly interested in women who are feminists.

In a recent interview with TimeOut, Feminist author Roxane Gay said, “I think woke men are great, but sometimes they’re not really woke, they’re performing wokeness. What’s even worse is they want cookies, they want to be congratulated for being aware of their privilege and the benefit they have as they move through the world, and I’m not going to play that game with them.” “Performing wokeness” is an excellent way to describe it. People, not just men who identify as feminists, who align themselves with struggles and movements tend to spend too much time making sure everyone knows how woke they are.

One of my favorite sweatshirts is from AfroPunk, says NO RACISM, NO SEXISM, and continues a list of oppressions. I have pictures of me wearing it, I look cute and conscious—does that make me more dateable? Being open about my intolerance of social injustice has me perceived as an angry black woman, not a caring, socially conscious person. Being woke online is for white people, particularly heterosexual cis men. And many of us are guilty of praising white male mediocrity when it comes to them understanding the importance of social issues.   

It is innocent enough to mention black lives matter or intersectional feminism on your dating profiles, but it is as annoying as it is a relief there’s a small possibility you are not a terrible person. I can’t tell if they are speaking to me as someone with a marginalized identity, or people who share their privilege and also want to feel good about their wokeness.

To be a queer black feminine person in online dating is already a hard enough feat; having to make sure my profile shows a certain level of political engagement makes me feel like I am appealing to non-black people. Funny enough, I may scare them away. It doesn't help that online dating is already difficult for marginalized people, especially black women, heterosexual or LGBTQ-identified. For many of us, our interest in social justice is not about gaining popularity, it is about survival, it’s for the sake of liberation. This isn’t to say white people can’t also feel this way, however, it is fair to say for those trying to prove their wokeness, it’s not coming out of necessity.

My blackness is political enough in a space where black women and femmes are still seen as least desirable and non-binary people are viewed as confused. My feminism can't be described in a single word, and it won't appease men. A white or non-black person believing black lives matter doesn’t mean they also have to date me or any other black person (besides, we know dating or sleeping with a black person doesn’t absolve people of their anti-black racism). But there is something to be said about romanticizing people’s commitment to social justice and giving too much credit to mediocrity.