In yesterday’s post I discussed one of the experiences that cemented my understanding of the persisting disdain for interracial couplings. I was initially tempted to combine this piece into yesterday’s, but I was apprehensive due to the length of the article. I didn’t want to have to condense these thoughts, since the experiences I’ll lay out in this article are a microcosm of frequent and subtle instances of racism in dating.
I am not saying people have an obligation to date someone of a different race. If two people like each other, and happen to be of the same race, there is nothing racist about that. If one person goes through life, rejecting people due to their skin colour, there is something wrong with that. I have already discussed all the excuses that abound for sticking to one’s race when it comes to dating or sex, including the argument for a “natural preference”, so read those first if your head is already teaming with rebuttals. The supposed hardwiring we have for what we view as physically attractive, can all be traced to accumulated external stimuli, whether it is the advice of our parents or the images of beauty we consume in the media.
There are also cases of people who don’t date their own kind at all, or only date people of a certain shade within their own group. Some people may try to argue that this undermines the point I am making about dating and racism. After all, how can someone be racist to themselves? Someone with a rudimentary understanding of racism would pat themselves on the back for bringing this point up, thinking they’ve thrown a conundrum my way. People can develop feelings of inferiority, or even self-hate due to their own race. This can lead them to take measures to ‘evelate themselves’ by having lighter-skinned children or bleaching their skin.
As I also mentioned in yesterday’s post there are examples of interracial couples and we probably all know some. However, I am sure facts will support my assertion that they comprise a small minority of the world’s population, and the population of any given city. Since most of my friends are white, and most of their friends are white, I have only been with white girls so far. You might think I have no reason to be skeptical of racial progress but these experiences are tainted by a wider net of racism. All names used below are pseudonyms.
I met a girl named Sarah in Ottawa, and she later wanted to get into a relationship with me. Sometime after we met I found out that she doesn’t normally like black guys. Sarah was actually more interested in someone else at the house party we went to, but since he turned her down she just settled for me. Yes, a girl can also end up settling for some other guy of the same race too. However, if the girl has specifically stated that she doesn’t like black guys then there is obviously a racial component at play here. In this case, I was second fiddle, but I was also a “credit to my kind.” It’s not the first time I’ve had someone express that I am good looking “for a black guy” or that they normally think black people are unattractive, but find me good looking. Should I take this as a compliment? No, because that would ignore the negative part of that statement: “You people are normally ugly.”
In the years since this incident I have tried online dating, but the online realm brings up a crucial disadvantage. In the previous incident, Sarah pushed aside some of her ingrained prejudice because she was forced to get to know me. We were in a small social circle where mutual friends introduced us and we bonded through the same activities. If I was just another face on tinder, she probably would have swiped left quickly, regardless of how good my pictures, bio etc. were. Maybe my outlying good looks would have made her swipe right, but then I’d be competing with twenty other guys messaging her that day. Odds are one of the other guys would be a white guy who she considered better looking. I would have the same disadvantage if I was one amongst ten other guys in her college class. An attempt to talk to her there would probably be met with a lukewarm reception.
The contrast between what happened at the house party, and what could have happened if Sarah and I came across each other in another setting emphasized how big a role race plays in someone’s selection. In another setting, Sarah wouldn’t have had as much impetus to get to know me. She would see my colour regardless of the setting, which isn’t racist in itself. However, Sarah would only pay attention to my skin colour online. At the house party she also paid attention to my other traits. If racial preferences truly are something hardwired into our systems, like some people claim, then one night of talking shouldn’t have been able to make Sarah willing to hook up with me and even try to pursue a relationship.
Another fallacy, one which I used to fall victim to as well, is the belief that dating someone of a different race means that you are open to dating someone of any race. As an example, my Indian friend Nathan once dated a white girl who lived on the same floor of his building. She was very attractive and I was happy for him, and couldn’t help but wish that I lived in that building too. It turns out that a serendipitious meeting wouldn’t have changed anything for me. Nathan revealed that Emma doesn’t like black guys. However, I was fortunate enough to be considered a credit to my kind again. Like Sarah, I think Emma’s perception of me was influenced by the time she spent hanging out with me. I wasn’t just another face on a dating profile or yet another guy hitting on her in class or at the bar. Emma’s perception of me also brings up the question of why she was open to dating an Indian guy, but not a black one. Maybe she wasn’t really open to Indian guys either, but her proximity to Nathan led her to get to know him better? Or maybe there’s another explanation.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists actually explores this phenomenon in more depth. Emma appears to suffer from the “model minority” mindset. Middle Eastern and South Asian minorities have positive stereotypes associated with them e.g intelligent, hard-working. Meanwhile black people have enduring stereotypes of violence, laziness and stupidity. The stereotype of physical prowess isn’t enough to undo the more corrosive, threatening stereotypes. Of course, racial ignorance can also lead to negative stereotypes about South Asians and Middle Eastern people. Bonilla-Silva also retorts that these negative stereotypes may be easier to overcome for these groups due to their positive ones. The Japanese were once held in internment camps, but they are comfortably among the model minority caste now. Likewise, ignorant stereotypes concerning terrorism or docility may dissipate or be overpowered by the positive stereotypes. Some people may also be more attracted to the model minorities since they are also stereotypically envisioned as being lighter-skinned.
Throughout my life, my skin colour has been enough to make people decide I’m unattractive, hold their purses tighter, call security on me and many more. In some ways dating security is the least of my worries. In other ways it is one of my most pressing. Many people may read about some of the racism I’ve experienced, and express disapproval with the treatment. Then those same people would still wish to stick to their own race for dating. Dating discrimination warrants mentioning because it is one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination. It is also one of the forms that is defended most vehemently, even by people who are otherwise tolerant and open-minded.