Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”

The Fear of a Black Baby

Over the weekend my stepdad shared this video during a family gathering. While most of the family was congregating in the living room, my mom, my aunt and I snuck away to view this prank performed by Nephew Tommy of the Steve Harvey Radio Show. My mom has been a big Steve Harvey fan for years now, and is not one to get offended easily. Yet she didn’t laugh once during this video.

For those who can’t watch, Tommy informs this man that his wife was accidentally impregnated with his sperm by his fertility clinic. After getting over the brief of confidentiality by the clinic, the caller doesn’t seem that worried that his wife will be having someone else’s baby. What he focuses on is the fact that the baby will be black.

Now, I can imagine people throwing out words like “colour-blind”, “race card” or “race-baiting”. The people who throw out these words have a hard time grasping the concept of noticing race, and not being racist. Their go to defence for racism is to argue that they don’t even see colour, and those that do are the real racists. They say that the people always talking about race are the people dividing us all. In that case, this man fits the description. Tommy repeatedly says that he is the “baby daddy”, which prompts the man to ask if Tommy is black . That is not something a colour-blind person would say. For the rest of his call, this caller is only worried that the baby will be black. “Am I going to have a black baby?” If he was colour-blind, this wouldn’t matter either. If he’s colour-blind, his only concern should have been that the baby is someone else’s.

I initially laughed at his outcry, while my aunt and mom both looked taken aback by my amusement. Maybe it was a nervous reaction on my part, since I was so taken aback by how disgusted this man was with the idea that he could end up having a black baby. In retrospect, the video isn’t funny. It reveals how people can embrace racism and use the excuse that they consume black entertainment to backpedal out of their own racism. Once the caller realizes it is a recorded prank call he quickly informs Tommy that he listens to the show everyday. I’m surprised he didn’t say that he has black friends. Like my mom said, this man accepts us for entertainment but doesn’t seem to want blackness anywhere near his home.
Of course, people will be quick to defend him. Probably because they would react the same way. My question to these people is: Can you really say you’re “colour-blind” if you would react this way?