It is absurd to draw a hard and fast line across a swath of people that contains such a multitude of human faces and figures, says Emily Heist Moss.
Is it racist to categorically not date people of a certain race?
But, what about…no.
But, what if…no.
But, but, but, but…no.
Why is it racist? Because treating individual people as a monolithic group that you collectively accept or reject denies them the right to be viewed and judged as individuals. “I won’t date _________ people” means that you think _______ people have something universally in common that you don’t like, and since the only thing they have in common is a socially constructed and arbitrarily enforced categorization as ________, the thing you’re uncomfortable with is their race, and that is racist.
These days, people don’t just come out and say, “I won’t date black people because they’re black.” (That’s not true, obviously, plenty of people are still explicitly racist, but this is not an essay for them.) Instead, like nightclubs that ban low-hanging jeans and do-rags, people express their preferences in coded language and rules, “I want to date someone who gets me,” “We don’t have anything in common,” “I’m just not as attracted to them.”
It is not unusual or improper to seek out people with shared experiences. We want to date people who get our jokes, understand our stories, and appreciate our quirks. But why would we assume that someone who gets us would look like us too? We can tell so little about the important stuff—the beliefs and values, the hopes and dreams, the sense of humor and conversational style—just from looking. Why would we rely on so imperfect a measure to rule out huge blocks of people?
But dating is not just about shared values and a sense of humor; if it were, we’d all just date our friends and life would be grand. There’s got to be that spark, that je ne sais quoi, that unnnnhhh. Physical attraction is important; you have to want to get in each other’s pants! You have to want to sit down across from your date and be like daaaaaamn, how did I get so lucky?!
If I had a quarter for every time I heard “I’m not racist, I’m just not attracted to _______ people,” I’d start chucking quarters at people who say that. All ______ people don’t look the same, OK? Viola Davis is not Beyonce is not Michelle Obama is not Halle Berry is not Oprah. Selena Gomez is not America Ferrera is not Sofia Vergara is not Penelope Cruz is not Shakira is not Rosario Dawson. Do we ever hear “I’m just not attracted to white people?” No. White people look hella different from each other, and so does everyone else. It is absurd to draw a hard and fast line across a swath of people that contains such a multitude of human faces and figures. If the only thing they share is that they check the same box on a census and that’s why you’re not interested, well, that’s racist.
While we’re on the subject of appearance, let’s not pretend that our personal preferences are truly personal. We are not born with such a narrow vision of what is attractive; it is culturally created and culturally enforced. As Olivia Cole recently pointed out in Huffington Post, all you have to do is Google “beautiful women” to see an illustration of our conflation of whiteness with beauty. We all live under this umbrella of bias, and it’s really hard to see out from under it’s shadow, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that our preferences, which we feel are so unique to us, are heavily influenced by the deluge of racial imagery we confront every day. If they are culturally created, they can be culturally uncreated; it just takes some work.
The point here is not to go out and get yourself a __________ girlfriend or boyfriend to prove how politically correct you are; that’s it’s own kind of racist. Just as declaring that you will never date ______ people is problematic, declaring that you will only date _________ suffers from the same misguided assumption that all _______ share some intrinsic similarity. All Asian women are not demure. All Latina women are not feisty. All ________ are not _________. It’s worth your time and energy to look past stereotypes and try, whenever possible, to see people as people.
When President Obama spoke after the George Zimmerman verdict, he said, “At least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” That’s what I’m asking that we do here; wring a little bit of bias out of our choices. Ask ourselves the tough questions about why we like what we like. Step outside our assumptions and recognize that everyone has a story. And we don’t really know if we want to hear it until we listen.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.