The League is a new dating service that caters to those who are picky about their prospective partners' professional accomplishments and educational backgrounds.

"It isn't an app for everybody," founder Amanda Bradford told The New York Times. "We're trying to hit home that these people do have high standards." 

It also caters to those who are picky about their prospective partners' race. To swim in the League's highly selective dating pool, you first have to apply and be accepted, and to do that, you have to submit your "ethnicity," choosing from a menu of options that includes "White/Caucasian," "Asian," "South Asian," "Middle Eastern/Arab" and "Black/African descent." If you try to complete registration without selecting an option, you will receive an error prompt: "We're sorry. Please select at least one ethnicity."

Asking users to specify their race isn't unusual for online dating services. Requiring them to is. And for a dating app that bills itself as restricted to "elites," doing so raises obvious, uncomfortable questions.

"Because you have to submit your info and wait to be approved, the race thing seems extra icky," says Kelsey, a user who attempted to sign up recently (and who asked me not to use her last name). 

I asked Bradford why the League elected to make race a mandatory field. She told me it's what her users wanted. "We did a ton of testing on this screen and these preferences were the most highly requested," she said, via email. She added that while users can select a preference for the race of partners they'd like to meet, it's not a hard filter. The League shows each user five potential matches each day, and if a user has set his preferences too narrowly, he may be shown matches that don't conform to them, racially or otherwise. 

OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder has written extensively about race bias in online dating, drawing from his company's data to show that black users, and especially black women, are at a distinct disadvantage compared with users of other races. 

Bradford insists that the League's policies are meant to make the service more egalitarian, not less -- at least when it comes to race. "The ethnicity data helps us maintain a diverse and balanced community that reflects that of the city (in our case, the San Francisco Bay Area)," she says. 

Published on: Jan 26, 2015