Sunday, November 25, 2012

White-on-Blond Racism: Another Side of the Other Sexual Discrimination

I recently met an American tourist in Bangkok who offered a variation on the main racist theme I've been hearing for the better part of the last two years, first in Melbourne, later in Bangkok. He summed up his sexual/romantic inclinations thusly: "I'm into Asians and black guys. I'm not attracted to white guys at all." Sexually and romantically speaking, he had no use for them, barely noticed them at all.

I was as shocked as a slightly jaded person who's heard just about everything can be. It wasn't because his announcement was so unusual -- as I said, I've heard it almost all -- but because as he was making it, he was looking at me as if I should have been impressed. While he talked, he seemed to be thinking, How cool is it that I'm so open-minded? But what's so open-minded about taking an entire race, even if it's the one that's most desirable among gay men in Bangkok, putting it into a box and tossing it into the dumpster?

I wasn't impressed. Nor did I jump for joy because his preference for Asians and black guys meant I had a shot. I was appalled in the way I generally am whenever I encounter so-called "rice queens" and "chocolate queens" (distasteful tags invented to describe unfortunate gay countercultures). Had he subbed "black guys" with "white guys" in the first sentence and "white guys" with "black guys" in the second, would he still have expected me to do a happy dance? Just because I made it into the "in" column didn't mean I was going to applaud a comment that still made me uncomfortable.

"Ah, reverse racism," I insisted, waiting for the age-old excuse.

He didn't disappoint: "That's just my preference."

Only it isn't just a preference. Saying, "I like dogs better than cats," is stating a preference -- just a preference. You haven't completely ruled out cats as being useless, even if you think they are. You've simply said that given a choice, you'd pick a dog over a cat. "I love dogs, but I don't like cats," however, is not just a preference. It's direct dismissal, which is the general idea behind racism and prejudice.

In human terms, it's the equivalent of "I don't like white guys" or "I'm not attracted to white guys" -- whether it's said by a white or a non-white person. And in terms of being racist, it qualifies as much as saying you don't like "black guys," "Asian guys" or "Latino guys" -- though nobody I know has ever said he doesn't like Latino guys. (For the record, I'm saving black-on-blond racism for another day since it's a far more complex topic with centuries of complicated history.)

"White guys" covers such a massive range of looks and nationalities (including, technically, Latinos) that to say you aren't attracted to them at all suggests that you're so busy clinging to your "preference," dismissing "white guys" out of hand, that you don't even bother to open your eyes, your mind, your heart, and look around. That's prejudice right there! It might not be hate speech, but that's just a subcategory of racism, not its definition.

Yes, I'm fully aware that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But if someone says, "I think black people are inferior to white people," is it not a racist statement just because that person has spun it as an opinion and not as fact? If you're going to go around spouting potentially inflammatory opinions, at least be man -- or woman -- enough to own them along with all their ramifications.

What's more is that when someone says, "I don't like cats," no one's feelings are likely to be hurt, not even a cat's. But anyone who has spent a significant amount of time living in this world should know that race is a loaded topic, much more so than hair color and eye color, which is why the American tourist in Bangkok would have been flirting with prejudice and bigotry (if not quite taking them to bed and sleeping with them) even had he said, "I prefer Asian and black guys to white guys." It may not be an overtly racist comment, but to what end does someone even say something like that? Are there no other preferences that can be declared when talking to someone who has most likely spent his entire life being judged and/or discriminated against because of the color of his skin?

I could have lived with "I prefer brunettes to blonds," or even "I don't like blonds." The latter is actually something I may have said myself once or twice in passing, referring not to white guys but to actual hair color. People like to defend racial sexual and romantic preferences by equating them with preferences for a certain hair or eye color, but that's ridiculous. Race is simply not the same as hair or eye color, nor is our reaction to it on par with how we respond to hair and eye color.

I'm pretty sure the cliched assertions that "gentlemen prefer blondes" -- which happens to be the title of a classic 1953 Marilyn Monroe movie -- or that "blondes have more fun" (used by Rod Stewart as the title of his 1978 album) haven't left scores of brunettes feeling unwanted, unloved or unfun. But consider what would happen were you to substitute race for hair hue: If Spike Lee were to call his next film Gentlemen Prefer Black Women, how much controversy do you think would ensue?

As I've said before, all sexual preferences are not created equal.

That said, we can't help what we like and what we don't like, right? No, we cannot, but we owe it to our evolvement to try to understand why, especially when it involves something as significant as an entire human race. Furthermore, we're each responsible for what we say, and we have to accept how people respond to it. It's the flipside of freedom of speech, which some seem to think makes them exempt from being called out on their comments.

Just because the American guy with a thing for Asians and blacks shuns the white European male that's so in-demand in Bangkok, among both locals and foreigners, doesn't mean he's any more enlightened or accepting than someone who says, "I'm not attracted to Asians" or "I'm not attracted to black guys," while refusing to even consider ever dating or sleeping with one.

It's still racism, only with a different target.

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