This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Despite a URL and billboard that have proved divisive in West Valley City, the owner of WhereWhitePeopleMeet.com insists the new dating site is "not racially motivated at all."
The billboard turned heads last week after it appeared Tuesday near 5600 West and 2100 South, and, amid national media exposure, the website's membership has risen from five on Thursday to more than 1,000 on Monday.
Sam Russell, the Bountiful man who launched the site in December, says he brainstormed the website during a sick day spent watching daytime TV about six months ago.
"Every ad or every other ad was: BlackPeopleMeet.com, FarmersOnly.com, LDSSingles.com, Christianmingle.com, OurTime.com," Russell said. "I was bombarded with dating sites for every walk of life, and I thought in my own mind, 'Why can't there be a website for where white people can meet?' "
Traffic to the site exploded over the weekend and briefly overwhelmed the servers. Reaction to the site, which was designed by Russell's 18-year-old son and is co-owned by his wife, Jodie, "by and large ... has been positive and/or neutral."
"A lot of people have said, 'Why not? It's only fair.' ... And a few people are concerned if this was a racially motivated campaign," he said. "It's not racially motivated at all."
Debate was more lively on the company's social media accounts, where some users compared the site to the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow-style segregation, and others expressed gratitude to the site owners for standing up to a "white genocide" agenda.
Meanwhile, Utah's own diversity advocates were split on the site and accompanying billboard. Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake branch has said while the billboard is an "odd" presence in a state that is more than 90 percent white, the site is no worse than other race- or ethnicity-focused dating sites.
However, Utah's overwhelmingly white population is what made Salt Lake Community College student Matthew Wong uncomfortable with the billboard. It's also what makes Where White People Meet different from dating sites for racial and ethnic minorities, he said.
Those "serve a purpose to find and connect with other people of similar background and culture, and in a way becomes a safe place for you," said Wong, who is an "inclusivity ambassador" with SLCC's diversity office. "I've never used a dating site for Asians, but I can see the appeal, growing up in Draper where there were maybe two Asian families. If I want to date within my culture, it's really hard to find that just by going to school or something."
That purpose doesn't exist for a website geared toward white people in a majority-white population, he said.
"Why does the majority need help finding the majority? How can they need more help finding white people? If this was for a very small demographic of very introverted white people who have trouble meeting white people, I wouldn't have a problem with that. But it doesn't sound like it's geared toward that specific demographic; it sounds like it's geared toward Caucasian people in general.
"It's really excluding everyone who isn't white, which already happens a lot in society, unfortunately."
Russell noted that the site doesn't restrict membership to white people only and has gained some members of color. That is consistent with other race-specific dating sites, he said; he joined BlackPeopleMeet.com for research and found many on the site were white.
"If you want to meet a black person, that's your best odds," Russell said. "If you are a black woman and prefer to date white men, [WhereWhitePeopleMeet.com] might be a good site for you to join. We're not discouraging anyone from joining. If it's not your cup of tea, there's hundreds of other dating websites."
Wong noted that many people of color had migrated away from more general dating sites because it was hard to gain traction within the majority-white user pool.
"Unless you're an Asian female, it's hard as a person of color to get any response on a dating website," Wong said.
White people don't face the same level of discrimination in online dating, he said, which raises questions as to the purpose of a site specifically for white people.
"I'm being an entrepreneur," Russell said. "It's a business decision. You could make the argument: There are a million places to get a hamburger, so why would you see the need to make another hamburger restaurant?
"Part of it is about equality," Russell continued. "Everybody should be entitled to the same rights. If there's a right that exists to open up a Black People Meet or Asian-only dot com, that same right exists to open WhereWhitePeopleMeet.com."