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The interface might have been one of any number of popular dating apps. I tapped on handsome faces and sent flirtatious messages and, for a few minutes, felt as though she and I could have been any other girlfriends taking a coffee break on a Monday afternoon, analyzing the faces and biographies of men, who just happened to appear Asian.I had been interested in dating more Asian-American men, in fact—?Last year, a billboard advertising a dating app for Asian-Americans called East Meet East went up in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles."Asian4Asian," the billboard read, in an oversized font: "That's not Racist."One user on Reddit posted a photo of the sign with the single-word rejoinder, "Kinda," and the sixty-something comments that followed teased apart the the moral subtleties of dating within or outside of one's own ethnicity or race.
Tip one: Truly listen to and appreciate the person you are meeting."I wasn't thinking about it, but now I am."Dating sites and services tailored to race, religion, and ethnicity are not new, of course.JDate, the matchmaking site for Jewish singles, has been around since 1997.East Meet East's headquarters is located near Bryant Park, in a sleek coworking office with white walls, lots of glass, and little clutter. A range of startups, from design agencies to burgeoning social media platforms share the space, and the relationships between members of the small staff are collegial and warm. In other words: less Chinese-Exclusion Act and more Stuff Asian People Like.I'd originally asked for a visit, because I wanted to know who was behind the "That's not Racist" billboard and why, but I quickly learned that the billboard was just one corner of a peculiar and inscrutable (at least to me) branding universe. I asked East Meet East's CEO Mariko Tokioka about the "That's not Racist" billboard and she and Kenji Yamazaki, her cofounder, explained that it was meant to be a response to their online critics, whom they described as non-Asians who call the app racist, for catering exclusively to Asians.