Friday, April 1, 2011

"I'm just not attracted to _(insert race)_ women.": racial preferences and dating.

Black Socrates read Jenée Desmond- Harris's excellent article (found here) a year ago and I've just now come up with an answer to the normative question she raises therein: Is there anything wrong with acting on one's racial preferences when it comes to dating? (or, to be more clear, when looking for a mate on or offline, is it wrong [or " problematic" or "troubling"...choose your favorite negative normative term] to exclude some potential partners simply because of their race?)

Most people who do act on racial preferences in this way defend the practice by stating that they are not racist, but are simply not attracted to _(insert race)_ women (or men). So, the claim is this: I don't think there is anything wrong with _(insert race)_ women (or men), I'm just not attracted to them.

But is this an acceptable defense of the practice?

I think it is. No one should be blamed for not dating someone they're not attracted to. But what is blameworthy is this: approving of one's racial preferences. If one thinks that there is nothing wrong with _(insert race)_ women (or men) then one should lament the fact that one finds oneself unable to date_(insert race)_ women (or men).

One's attitude toward one's racial preferences should be similar to one's attitude toward a food allergy. If one takes it that there is nothing wrong with shrimp, say, one should lament the fact that one is unable to eat shrimp dishes due to an allergy. And, one should hop on any opportunity to rid oneself of the allergy.

But this isn't the attitude that most people take toward their racial preferences.

Most people see no problem with the fact that they have racial preferences. Most celebrate (or at least take a flippant attitude toward) their racial preferences:

"Him? No. You know I'm not feeling _(insert race)_dudes."

And, most do not make any effort to overcome their preferences (by, say, spending more time with _(insert race)_ people).

Having racial preferences is not blameworthy. Even acting on one's racial preferences when it comes to dating is not blameworthy (at least in most cases). But taking a flippant or celebratory attitude toward one's racial preferences, I contend, is blameworthy.


  1. nice. counter-question: what about finding white-dating blameworthy? Ie, those POC's who seem to only date white people? White dating is interracial after all, but it is also an appeal to whiteness at the sake of foregoing intimate relations with non-whites. If someone wanted to say, stop white-dating, then there is a time (the only one I can think of actually) when it seems to me perfectly understandable and acceptable to be like "I don't want to date white ppl right now b/c [however they choose to explain it] I think this habit indicates that I am internally colonized." But maybe this case doesn't exactly fit your argument since at least the idea would be "I see no problem with white people and I am attracted to them, but I don't want to date them." At worst it'd be "I see a problem with white people and I don't want to date them." ~ lady POC

  2. I endorse the sentiment here, but I think that it may actually have implications that are harder to swallow. For example, why aren't gender preferences similarly lamentable but not blameworthy? Should the ideal person be blind to gender as well as race?

    I do think this won't extend to all categories; it seems defensible to have preferences for people who belong to categories that one does not regard as morally neutral. For example, one might defensibly prefer people with certain or religious outlooks.

    It also seems that one may defensibly have preferences between morally neutral categories on the grounds that only a certain sort of person can provide a suitable partner for the kind of relationship one imagines for oneself; so, for example, one might legitimately prefer an opposite sex partner if one highly values natural reproduction (note, though, too, people I might reproduce with is in fact a very different category than any gender category).

    But this latter sort of preference can only operate at the level of trying to figure out who one might conceivably form a certain sort of long-term relationship with, and the set of people who fit those criteria is surely anyway going to be a small subset of those one might be attracted to. Attraction is a difficult concept, but if we think of it as simply a necessary, rather than sufficient, condition for being interested in dating someone, why wouldn't one lament a failure to be attracted to people of all genders just as well as all races? And if attraction is a sufficient rather than necessary condition, then the set of people to whom I'm attracted is anyway going to be very idiosyncratic and not primarily delineated by broad categories like race and gender.

  3. Shortly, it's an interesting discussion Brandon, but I would like to assume this as a first step to discuss 'preferences vs. prescriptives' in general. Best.

  4. I agree with you. Life, to me, is about the continual examination and upheaval of beliefs. To fail to engage in meta-thought is to suffer a kind of living death, where one simply celebrates or mindlessly participates in modes of thinking and acting that are devoid of insight and that become automatic, leading to a corrosion of personal integrity. Like what you like, but don't celebrate it; examine it. For once an idea has been thoroughly examined, it might change...

  5. Lady POC, I think you're right that you're describing a different type of case. In the case you describe, one limits one's dating pool in order to expand it. If dating only non-whites is necessary for one to get to the position in which they can date everyone, then I see no problem.
    But, I can't imagine that such a move would actually be necessary.

  6. Cengi3 H,

    Expand. I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.

  7. Thanks Sabrina! You've got it just right.

  8. What if you don't really want to be attracted to anybody and thus it isn't really a loss to you to not be attracted in general to a certain race?

  9. Anonymous, I don't know what to say about that case. Presumably, to be justified in wishing not to be attracted to anyone, one would need to give reasons to think that not being attracted to anyone is a think to be pursued, given that there are many great people in the world.

  10. Sabrina, I'm glad I read your comment as I was thinking the same thing (although considerably less eloquently). I would like to add (my contention) that our existence is full of such "auto-thought" but that its validity becomes more contentious the more closely we associate the underlying issue with our personal identity. By asking people to consider (and possibly change) their ways of thinking, you are in many ways asking them to consider suicide; rebirth notwithstanding.

  11. Wow, thanks for writing this blog post. This is one position on racial preferences that I haven't heard yet. Usually, people are either too supportive of racial preferences (which almost always correspond to racist beauty ideals), or they are at the other extreme and disapprove of racial preferences altogether. I have never felt fully comfortable with either position, and now that I've read your blogpost, I realise I share the same sentiments as you. Thanks for sharing your clear thoughts on this.

  12. Thanks for reading. I'm working (well, thinking about) turning this post into an article. I'll keep you posted.

  13. I mostly agree with this. I recently chastised a group of woman for their extremely negative views towards short men (a view many woman seem to share). I'm not short, but on the lower end of average and occasionally receive flack for it in the dating game. I told them they shouldn't be comfortable or celebratory in their distaste for short men, as it is a very superficial and objectifying perspective that could be compared to a man only dating woman based on breast size.

    Of course, when reflecting back on that conversation I realized I myself have certain set of "criteria" for the woman I date, some of which are totally superficial. Race is an example, as I have never been attracted to black woman. Before I always accepted this as mere preference, as I'm certainly not racist. However, now I'm not so sure I should just be comfortable with this aspect of myself. I actually strongly believe that it's what's on the inside that counts, and I think these superficial views so many people hold (unconsciously or otherwise) are one of the main causes of our high divorce rates and marital discourse. If people aren't willing to focus on WHO their partner is and what they can bring to the relationship, as opposed to focusing on this outrageously strict and often extraneous set of criteria, they're setting themselves and the relationship up for failure.

    Of course, it's difficult to simply ignore the fact that you aren't turned on by something. However, I think many people have put mental blocks in place that one should work to remove, and never really accept. I know if I grew up around nothing but black woman I would likely have a preference towards them, but instead I grew up with a bunch of white people who told me I would marry a nice white girl. I think that might have been a contributing factor.

    I guess I'm saying, I agree with you, and good article.

  14. The guy above mentioned gender preference, and I considered that. That one has less of an easy answer, honestly, as there a a few other factors that go into its consideration (religion, reproduction, further sociological implications, etc.), however, it is an issue that also deserves a look in this context.

  15. As a white man, I've noticed this for years. There have been one or two black girls who I thought really gorgeous, but on the whole the vast majority have been white.

    I will also admit that those black girls I have been attracted to have had features more akin to the typical european - I.e. delicate noses and slimmer bodies. A bit like the female character in the film "Ashanti".

    I don't know any white man who is attracted to girls with the large lips and large buttocks characteristic of many african tribes - although I can intellectually view it as an envolutionary adaptation to the climate.

    Also, the attitude of black girls can be much more "in your face" and that might also put off some white guys.

    I appreciate that it is a real issue for black girls, because - since some black men marry white women - it leaves them with a dearth of fathers for their children, and they are more likely to end up single mothers.

    1. There are other men on the planet besides white american men. This is not a real issue in that, life goes on. I personally am seeing a Eurasian man who is neither white nor black. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Please stop think that our world will end because you don't like certain features of certain black women. Remember, we have the most diverse mitochondria on the planet. We don't all look alike, you know.