Date My Race

Date My Race: Santilla Chingaipe on Love and Race in the Online World

February 24, 2017
Presented as part of Face Up To Racism Week on SBS (good idea!), Date My Race is a Matchbox Pictures produced documentary about how race impacts online dating. Zambian-Australian presenter Santilla Chingaipe went on a quest to discover why online dating for her is so hit and miss.

What was your personal journey leading up to making Date My Race?

I was experiencing some really, really bad outcomes on the dating apps, and I’d been quite vocal about it to people that knew me about why. I was suspecting my race might be a factor because I just didn’t understand why. I’d go on with some of my girlfriends, and they would perform just so much better than me. I’d do it over the same time period, and I’d take similar photos like them, and I just really wasn’t sure what it was. And I didn’t want to be too paranoid about it, so when [production company] Matchbox found out that I was having this kind of experience, they got me on board and said, “This is actually what we’re trying to look at, would you be willing to test out all these theories, and talk with people who work in this space, and see if you come back with a similar conclusion to what you’ve already experienced?”

Date My RaceWhat surprised you the most while making the documentary?

‘Very little, actually. Very little. It’s so funny, if anything it just reinforced what I’d suspected before I did it – that race was a factor. But in terms of my own views about race and racism and why people do certain things and behave in a certain way, I guess what did surprise me was that I just assumed that people interrogated that. That most people, when they were going to make choices that had to do with race, or were online and swiping no because they don’t look like them, I thought people were thinking about that. But what I found on the show was that I met some people where that doesn’t even factor in. It’s just come down to what people know, what they’re familiar with, and for a lot of people that’s what it is. And that in itself is not necessarily racist, what ends up becoming racist is when you’ve got individuals collectively doing the same thing, because that then has outcomes that impact certain groups of people.

After making Date My Race, what are your thoughts on online dating now. Have they changed? Do you think it’s better or worse than traditional dating? What’s its place now, for you?

Look, I probably wouldn’t date online in Australia, just because I’ve not had a great experience and I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do anymore – just apart from showing more boob. I don’t know what to do.

So making the documentary hasn’t changed your views or anything?

No, if anything it’s just reinforced those views. Because when you have academics telling you that, actually, there is science to back up your paranoia, what are you going to do? I can only control myself, I’m only responsible for myself, I’m not responsible for other people and other people’s actions.

But when I travel, it’s a very different experience. I do jump on the apps and I find that people are more open in certain parts of the world, and that makes for a really wonderful experience. So I can actually enjoy it the way my girlfriends that come from different backgrounds get to enjoy it when they talk to me about it here.

I think the online space is a very interesting thing, because one of the academics we spoke to, Matt Bambling, he talked about how people project fantasies online, and everyone has an idea of what they want online, that’s very far from reality. so people go in with very unrealistic expectations. There are so many stories now of young people ghosting, where for your self-esteem you just rack up the likes, but you don’t actually show up to meet people, or think that you can always do better. I think the online space is not necessarily the most healthy, if you are genuinely looking for a partner.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some sites that do it quite well, like the ones where you have to pay, I think they do pay particular attention in ensuring they vet people properly, and that people are there for the right intentions. But I think that with the apps it’s a very different thing, and when you add all of that, and then throw in race, I would rather settle for meeting people in real life. Because from the get go they know sort of who you are, and what you’re about, and all that kind of stuff doesn’t matter. So yeah, I’m happy to date IRL.

Date My Race 3Did you meet any roadblocks while making the documentary?

I think the biggest challenge for me was when I realised, yes, it was a personal story, I was trying to find out if my race was holding me back and stuff, but I also went into it as a journalist. The bigger issue was race and I was trying to understand it, so I didn’t necessarily put myself at the centre of the story.

I think it was towards the end when I had people telling me what they thought about me, that was when it really hit me, like this is no longer about race. This is me, people are actually judging me on something I can’t control, there’s nothing I can do about it; I can’t wake up white tomorrow, it doesn’t matter how successful I become, it doesn’t matter how hard I work, doesn’t matter how much of a good citizen I become, none of those things matter, you know? People will have views about me about this thing that I can’t change. That was the toughest moment, having that, because as a journalist I can go into a story and leave, but this was one of the things that I’ve never experienced anything like this before, because I am the story, because I am someone that’s impacted by racism, whether I like it or not.

What do you hope this documentary achieves as part of Face Up To Racism Week on SBS?

I hope it just gets people talking. I hope that people can start asking simple questions. Like when you are looking for someone, and you put down your list if you have one, like, I want someone that’s funny, that’s respectful, and all that sort of stuff, just being open to the possibility that that person might not appear in the way that you think that they should and that that is okay, and that, if anything, you’re more like to meet that person if you are that open.

Date My Race airs on Monday, February 27, at 8.30pm on SBS.

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