Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Racism in “Preference”: Afterthoughts on Using “Preference” to Justify Racism (And Yes, It’s Still Racism!)

Hindsight is 20/20 vision, which is too bad for bloggers who have grand epiphanies after pressing "Publish."

Once I read some of the responses to my latest HuffPost Gay Voices essay ("'I Don't Do Asians': The Dangers of Racial Discrimination in Dating"), I had a few new realizations too late to include them in the article, which was actually an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World.

Despite my having devoted much of the article --  and "You Can Get With This, Or You Can Get With That," the Black Sheep-inspired book chapter it excerpts --  to laying out an argument challenging those who blindly use "preference" as an excuse to exclude entire races and ethnicities from their dating pool, some dissenters to my HuffPost excerpt still used that same excuse without adding anything new or insightful to what is beginning to sound like a lazy automated response made by people who are just looking to avoid the "racist" tag while not having to think of the social consequences of what they say and do (or in this case, don't/won't do). Can we put the preferring-a-certain-race-is-like-preferring-brunettes-over-blondes argument to rest now? Please?

It's like when defenders of racist and homophobic speech and devil's advocates cite the First Amendment, which apparently gives everyone carte blanch to say and think whatever they want to, minorities, persecuted racial and ethnic groups, and gay people (who really should know better than to cherry pick using race and ethnicity while demanding full acceptance for themselves) be damned.

Yes, with some exceptions, we're all pretty much free to think something then say it out loud, even if it's at the expense of black people, Asians, or gays and lesbians. (Three of those exceptions: 1) If you're going to threaten the life of the U.S. President, or, really, anyone, you'd better do it at home rather than in public, with witnesses present. 2) Slander and libel, though difficult to prove in a court of law, also indicate that you really aren't free to say and write everything. 3) In Argentina, it's a crime to use a racial slur in public, though from personal experience, that rule isn't always enforced.) But does being legal make something right? Cheating on your spouse is not a crime. Is it not wrong, then? Is it exempt from being criticized or challenged?

As for preferences, yes, we are all entitled to them. (And as I stated in my essay and, by extension, in my book, preferring one thing over another is not the same as dismissing the latter outright.) But does that mean our preferences, especially when they involve race and ethnicity, can't be explored? Can we not dig deeper and try to determine why we prefer the way we do, or why a preference, when it involves race and ethnicity, might range from flirting with racism to taking it to bed?

Consider my recent Theme for Great Cities blog post , "The Most Egregious Example of Racism I've Yet to Encounter in South Africa." Can we be outraged by what "Wild fun" had the nerve to say to his black suitor without thinking about the thinking that led him to say it? For all we know, he could have plenty of black friends in real life. He could be like Justin Bieber, totally influenced by black culture, but still be perfectly capable of slurring black people in the right company (in Bieber's case, when surrounded by white people only, in the case of "Wild fun," when virtually surrounded by horny gay guys on Grindr).

I'm almost positive that "Wild fun" would excuse saying, "Fuck off Darkie," by saying, "I'm just not into black guys." Do we attack the symptom ("Fuck off Darkie") or the source ("I'm just not into black guys")? It's the source that leads to the symptom, whether or not we decide to scratch in public, as "Wild fun" did. One creates a mental environment that makes the other possible.

If a person were to say, "I'm not friends with white people because I prefer to be friends with black people," would that qualify as racist speech (despite being perfectly legal, thanks to the First Amendment)? And what about "I'm not friends with gay people because I prefer to be friends with straight people"? I think most people would agree that they would qualify as racist and homophobic statements, respectively. So why wouldn't this logic apply to the same kind of statement regarding sexual attraction?

It's one thing to say, "I prefer Latinos to whites because I find them more sexually attractive" and leave it at that. It's the voicing of what I consider to be a true preference. It might not be the most politically correct  --  or generous --  thing to say, but it's doesn't necessarily lead to excluding anyone the way statements that begin "I'm not attracted to…" and "I'm not into…" do. When you say, "I'm not attracted to white people," which is less a statement of preference than one of exclusion, you've made a blanket statement regarding race without possessing all of the facts about that race (unless you've met every white person on the planet), which is the cornerstone of prejudice. And racial prejudice, folks, is so closely related to racism that the terms are often used interchangeably.

"Preference is not a blockade."  --  Sarah Farma, It's a Curls World

Why is it so difficult for some people to grasp this? Why don't people realize that this sort of exclusionary thinking doesn't just affect sexual relationships. It also contributes to the dearth of opportunities for minorities in Hollywood, in advertising, in any field where a high premium is placed on physical beauty. The powers that be are merely catering to "preferences," giving the people what they think the people want. It's appalling how some of us can run around clamoring for more media representation of "real" people (fuller figured, flatter, hairier, less than even almost perfect) while declaring a personal lack of attraction to entire ethnic groups.

Advertising and Hollywood are about desire, fantasy, aspiration, so, of course, the images presented would cater to that. Does anyone dream of being less attractive, less rich, more average? Why would TPTB include as a representation of fantasy something that they don't think people fantasize about, which would include black people, Asians and myriad other under-represented groups?

Rather than rushing to their own defense against charges of racism and dropping the P word (yes, preference!), I wish more people in privileged majorities (and South Africa's privileged minority) would think harder - about underprivileged minorities (and in South Africa, the majority), about the underdogs, about the disenfranchised, about what they've been through, about how they feel when they hear "I'm not attracted to you" directed at their entire ethnic community. Yes, when it comes to preference, you're free to say, "It is what it is" (First Amendment rights strike again!), though it's actually more than that. Sometimes "It is what it is" is just avoidance masquerading as wisdom.

It's our prerogative to be attracted to whatever and whomever we are attracted to, but that doesn't make it beyond our control. Just because we don't have to dig deeper and face the ugly truth about our so-called "preferences" doesn't make them right. As a wise woman  --  actually women, actually SWV  --  once sang, "Use your heart and not your eyes." Think and feel, don't just see. When it comes to race, seeing without thinking and feeling (and without considering how other races think and feel) isn't just a gateway to racism. It's blindness.
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