Is it possible to prefer dating people of a certain ethnicity without making assumptions of an entire race?
For all the good value that comes with friendship, perhaps the most dubious quality is comfort. Someone who won’t judge you when you need to lean on them during difficult times, a companion who will have dinner or watch a movie with you, somebody willing to drive you to the airport: These are a few of the splendid benefits of having somebody in your corner.
This same level of comfort is also the point at which certain filters begin to dissolve, allowing us to speak candidly to each other in a way we might not in public. I will certainly attest that some of the things I say to my closest friends are so profane and ridiculous that I would never dare share it with unfamiliar company. While the comfort of being able to be yourself, as they say, around your familiars is something devoutly to be wished, it occasionally presents a quandary whenever a friend says something that troubles you.
I’ve been meditating on this dilemma lately because while I was among a group of friends recently, one member of the group, who happened to be Caucasian, shared a personal insight into why he is single: He desires to only date Asian women.
Sure not to miss their cue, other people attendant to the conversation mic-checked the requisite, “Uh-oh, you got the yellow fever!” I, however, did not reply, even though the admission exhumed a sociological problem that has perplexed and harassed me for years—the underlying implication of preferring to date a specific ethnicity that isn’t your own.
In the immediate case here, of a white man desiring to date only Asian women, I hesitate to dismiss this as simply a personal affectation because, at its basis, and most likely unintentionally, the choice smacks of sexual colonialism. In Western culture, non-white races have historically been indexed as “Other,” sometimes boiling down the non-white person into a token of what Westerners believe to be universally true about a given culture.
Within this perspective, a white man professing his ambition to only date Asian women resurrects the assumption that all Asian women must have the same fundamental attributes, owing to the fact that they come from the same continent—not even coming from the same country, mind you. Assuming that all Asian women, or all people of any race in general, share some inherent quality that makes them desirable is, frankly, racist.
The white man/Asian woman dichotomy is by no means the only example of this type of inter-racial Other-ing. I mention the colonialism aspect simply within the historical lens of white male’s gaze. Although I won’t argue that such a colonial outlook is limited to Western Caucasians, in the interest of full disclosure, I can only speak personally of this particular experience because I’m white, American, and male.
More generally, regardless of your own race, preferring to only date within another ethnic group continues to drag behind it the assumption that the object of your desire possesses an innate, exotic characteristic that naturally runs through that entire race.
Whether it’s other cultures or self-driving cars or the color of ink you prefer to write with, people tend to project a token value on the new and unfamiliar. Heir to this projection, people are also intrigued and guided by their aesthetic desires. We choose cars because of how they look and perform. We live in apartments and houses because of how we imagine ourselves inside of them. We enjoy certain foods because of the pleasant tingle the taste brings to our palate. You pick out a TV because you like the big plasma screen and how the picture will look when paired with your surround sound.
The same process of curiosity, for better or worse, affects how we choose partners. Some people prefer redheads to blonds, short hair instead of long hair, tall people over short people, beards instead of a shorn face, lunch dates at Qdoba instead of Chipotle, etc. Some of those qualities are negotiable—can’t hate on the occasional late-night date to Taco Bell—while others might be more personal. I, for one, tend toward taller women simply because I am very tall and my posture already sucks so I don’t wanna make it worse by craning down to steal the occasional smooch (and I’d like to believe that smooching would happen on a regular basis).
Any of the above examples of personal preferences will limit the dating pool, not to mention that some of the attributes still maintain stereotypes about a person possessing specific characteristics. Yet, I imagine someone evoking the right to personal preference when defending a desire to exclusively date other races: “How is there any difference in saying I prefer to date black people as opposed to blond people? It’s simply a matter of preference.”
Theoretically, I suppose you shouldn’t single out blonds as the only viable dating options; in the end, it’s very superficial. However, a preference for blonds is less likely to be based on a cultural assumption (well, as long as you don’t consider Real Housewives of Orange County as a legitimate culture) the way said assumption exists when choosing to only date someone who is black.
That we have slang terms for the desire to only date other races is somewhat telling. Yellow Fever. Jungle Fever. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard one for Latinos before. Do we have one for Arabs? Has Cracker Fever been codified yet? At any rate, categorizing such a desire in a way that suggests a lustful rabidity isn’t exactly making a good argument for preferring one race over all others, to say nothing that most of these are typically only applied to white/non-white relationships.
Is it possible to exclusively desire someone of a certain race without rendering that person’s entire race and culture as an adventure into the exotic? I won’t definitively say that it isn’t possible, but in the meantime I’m not hearing any arguments for exclusively preferring someone of a specific race that aren’t steeped in reductive notions of exotic tokenism.
Drew Bowling writes about language, gender, and mental health, although other topics have been known to enter his orbit. When he’s not writing, he spends his time pretending to be a photographer. Follow his messy thought-trail on Twitter.