INTERNET ART: networks, performative programming, and web as context


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So for my final project, I decided to create two Grindr profiles – one with a black picture, One with a white picture, and then document the responses. 

I wanted to document the tone of how people talk to me.
Here’s a slew of Facebook posts that document how people talked to me during the project.

View it as a diary, of sorts.
1 / 4

Kevin Williams 

Internet Art 3001 

Fall 2016 

Queer and black are two marginalized identities that when they coexist, can be incredibly taxing. 

I often get tired on feeling devalued and upset at how people treat me. Although I love myself and my body, a lot of times it is so tiring being treated in oh so many ways as “second class”. 

In order to test a theory, I decided to set up two Grindr profiles – one white and one black. And see how the amount and quality of the responses vary. 

Here are some “stream of consciousness” Facebook posts I made concerning the ordeal. Treat it as a diary, of sorts. 
I wish I could have as much sex as the people who sexualize me think I do  
I think I’m going to reprise my “Grindr” project for my “Internet Art” final. 

For those of you who don’t know, last year around this time, drunk, angry, and horny, I decided to troll Grindr by changing my profile picture from myself, to a “stock white teen”. To add insult to injury, I didn’t even even remove the watermark from the photo – just to fuck with people. 

Aside from the sheer amount that my responses jumped, what was most striking, was the tone of the responses. People talked to me differently; far more cordial. Less aggressive. Granted, Grindr is basically a hookup app, we’re all looking for one thing really – but whilst white (digitally) I could see that people were ‘finessing’ their attempts to get with me. 

With that said, I feel like a lot of people misinterpret my posts as if I’m angry or bitter – I’d be lying if I said that really coming to terms with these things didn’t hurt somewhat, but moreover I’m fascinated by this. 

I think my face now is too recognizable. So I’m going to start two new profiles, one black, one white (I don’t want to try and speak out of term for the Asian or Latinx communities so I’m not including them in this project, our struggles are similar but it’s not my place to speak for theirs) 

What will I do with these responses? I’m not sure yet. I want people to recognize that racism in the gay community is a bit different than someone calling you the N word, it’s even in how people talk to you. 

* Kevin W ❤️ 

2 / 4

I’m doing the Grindr project right now, and I’m posing as a white person. He seems pretty average – not to slam the guy that I got the photo from, but he’s pretty average. 

The sheer amount of responses this guy is getting is depressing. Not just the amount, but the responsiveness of the others talking to him (me) is remarkable. 

It’s like seeing inside a world I don’t have access to. 

Grindr experiment day one: 

In the 12 hours I’ve been online (only six ish of those hours had my profile pic – it just was blank until Grindr approved my profile picture) I’ve gotten 35 responses. Commonality of users between this account and my own? Just two. Only two guys who messaged fake me, have also messaged real me at some point in time. 

I also forgot to get online a few times a night, so I probably kept disappearing from the lineup. 

Once again, as I noticed last time I did this – the quality of responses changed. The responsiveness of the responses changed. 

Suddenly, people were interested in my day. 

“You’re really pretty ;)” 

“You’re cute” 

“How’s your day going?” 

“Wow that’s sounds exciting!” 

Banter and camaraderie I’m not used to getting as a black person. 

Suddenly, as a white person I’m relatable and interesting when I’ve changed literally nothing about how I communicate on these apps. 

However, this is an art project, not a statistics or science project, so I need to focus on the qualitative aspects of the responses rather than the quantitive ones. 

Let’s see how day two goes by comparison when I create a new profile and go on as a black person 

I signed onto Grindr as myself, just to get a break 

No messages. 

When I finally got one it was “cum squirt that nut” (I roared laughing) of a guy inviting me to a gloryhole. 

Note: I am not shaming people for their sexual activities or what they choose to do – more power to them. But there’s a definite difference in how people talk to people of color. 

Since I need to have some semblance of objectivity, I’m going to start a new profile tonight with another black person’s picture that isn’t me. 

I’m excited to see where this goes. 

3 / 4

As a white person on Grindr 

“I’m just here to chat” 

“Aww, I’ll chat with you, cutie” 

As a black person on Grindr 

“I’m just here to chat” 

“Really? This late at night?” 
OK, Grindr experiment, day two. Been online about the same amount of time.. 

Yesterday, when I posed as a white person, I got around ~45+ (and counting) new conversations, in about 12 hours. 

Out of those 45+ guys, only three had commonality with the real me – meaning these guys who messaged fake white me, had also messaged my real profile as well. 

After 12 hours, I have 21 messages. At first I was concerned, since for a very long time, I got stuck at a measly four messages. 

Out of those 21 messages, TWELVE of them have messaged my real own personal profile.

Also, I got about two people who blocked me – something that didn’t happen to me on the white profile. They’d go around asking “what I was here for” and when I said “just chat” I had more than one person get annoyed and either block me or assume that I couldn’t possibly be on for “Just Chat” 

Although the white profile got unsolicited dick or other sexual pics without asking – it was only from two profiles. So, around 2/45. 

About 4%. 

The black profile got unsolicited photos from 5/21. So not quite 1/4 or 25% of the time, he’d get an unsolicited dick or ass pic. 

Once again, I noticed the tone of the conversations – on the white profile I felt like people were more interested in me as a person – or more interested in me as a sexual being. 

On the black profile, I got a lot more of an “I want it right now” type of conversation – no chitchat, no finesse, no chat about what turns them on, even. Just a sort of “I am looking for a penis, and you have that penis and would you come over? here’s my address” 

As I said, I’m not shaming the above people for doing so ^^ , sometimes you really do just want to ‘get it in’, however, on the white profile I felt like people wanted something more authentic and natural, where as on the black profile I felt more like a sex object, if not a fetish. 

So not only did the Black Grindr profile get less than half the messages as the white one, but the proportion of lewd photos received versus the amount of messages is far higher. 

So what I’m going to do, is make a video for my final project in Internet Art, reading you the responses, so you can really understand and see what I mean by ‘difference in tone’ between responses as a gay black person, versus a gay white person 

– Peace. 

4 / 4

<3 Kevin W 

I feel like every gay black male (specifically gay black men, this may be true for other people of color them but I’m not going to speak for their experience) goes through periods where they are on and then off the “apps” 

To be honest, I have been in a crap mood since doing the Grindr project, and since vacationing to another part of the country. Legitimately, I have felt off my game, and very aware since early November. 

I think I have more perspective and knowledge in this iteration of the Grindr Project – less was a curiosity of someone directly compared to myself; I think when I used two profiles that were identical, aside from profile pic, it sort of separated self from the process – showing that no matter what you look like – this is a thing for gay black men. 

I’m not asking for your sympathy – or even for your understanding, but there’s a certain resignation that goes with learning that you will never be on equal footing as your white counterpart; I consistently feel less clever, less smart, less attractive, less desirable, less beautiful when I exist here in these spaces. 

I know that not everyone has to like me – by god, I could write you a literal novel on how much I know and am ok with that. 

And yet, when I travel to other places, San Francisco, New York, anywhere that’s not here, people engage me more. I feel validated *less in the sense for my body, but more in the sense that I feel valued as as a person, not in the “I feel loved” but in the “your thoughts and feelings are worth being heard”* 

I thought it was just me, but I started talking to other black gay men, and they felt the same way. 

It’s really easy to wonder “why am I so caught up in wanting adoration for something that only loves me when it’s convenient for them?”

This is just my experience, and I am aware this is fairly disjointed, could use a lot more fleshing out, and I don’t want to come across as sad or upset; I just want to let you in on a little bit of how I, and I would not be surprised if other gay black men or anyone who feels they can identify with these sentiments. 

Here’s the final video 


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