New studies have shown a correlation between race-based romantic preferences and an increased likelihood of bigotry.
By Giselle Krachenfels, University of Southern California
“I’m just not attracted to black girls.” “Asian guys aren’t my type.”
Hearing phrases like these is incredibly common and, by and large, accepted. You like guys who are athletic, funny and listen to The Smiths. You’re not super into black guys, though, but that’s just another preference, right? On the other hand, if someone were to comment that “I just don’t like working with Hispanics,” they would be called out for racism. So why do we accept it when people say, “I’m not really into Arab girls”?
Preferences for people you’re romantically or sexually interested in can be wide-ranging. Sense of humor, height, freckles, muscles, taste in movies—all of these are valid preferences. Saying you don’t find a race of people attractive, however, is racism. If you view an entire group of people as “not your type” and the only thing they all have in common is their race, then you have a problem.
Calling someone out for any form of racism is a remarkably quick way to see tempers flare. When white people in particular hear accusations of racism, hackles rise instantly. By and large, the majority of people view racism as violent or pointedly malicious acts, like calling someone the N-word or supporting Jim Crow laws. When you’re called out for racism, the immediate assumption is that you are being called a terrible person.
However, racism manifests itself in a myriad of ways, from systematic and institutional inequality, to prejudices and micro aggressions. Here is a quick article detailing the different forms that racism can take. In your day-to-day life, you are likely contributing to and witnessing it, but not in terms you consider “classic racism.” Saying you’re just not into Asian people is simply another form of this. A particularly interesting study asked subjects about their thoughts on race and dating, with another questionnaire about general racial tolerance. A strong correlation was found between respondents who had race-related dating preferences and other more obvious forms of racial bigotry.
A conscious lack of attraction toward a whole racial group of people is just a polite, thinly veiled form of racism. The sentiment is very similar to fashion designers who say they don’t wish to use black models because they don’t fit with their aesthetic or don’t sell well. People’s racist dating preferences are so common that they can be seen in our dating apps. OkCupid released telling data about their users and who they matched with in 2014. The results are intriguing. All non-black men penalized black women. All women penalized both black and Asian men.
So, why is it that many people generally find white people more attractive? Why do white people feel less of this attraction toward people of color? The answer has to do with both our Eurocentric beauty standards and a long, historical campaign of othering and debasing minorities for their appearance.
First, it’s not for some “innate” reason that you have racial preferences. Society has been conditioned to see white people as the standard of beauty, and your tastes are a product of this. “Beautiful,” in our world, is white, i.e. light skin with traditionally European features—thin nose, wide, light eyes, non-kinky hair, certain jaw shapes.
The models who represent beauty are almost exclusively white, both male and female. White men and women are seen as what is desirable, what to emulate. White women are deemed more attractive not only for their physical features, but also for mannerisms and behaviors seen as more “white,” like being “ladylike” and “dainty.” People of color are viewed as less attractive for failing to meet these standards.
Black women in particular suffer the effects of failing to meet these ridiculous standards. They are told their skin is too dark, their hair too kinky, their mouths too full. Racist stereotypes of black women being brash and loud—diametrically opposed to the stereotypes of white women—further serve to paint them as less attractive and desirable. University of Texas Sociology PhD candidate Shantel Buggs explains the phenomenon: “…black women are viewed as hypersexual because of things like the legacy of chattel slavery, which also suggested that black women are more masculine and animalistic than other women.”
An excellent example of how white people have altered the perception of a minority’s attractiveness is that of Asian men. Asian men today are often depicted as less masculine and less desirable than white men. This originated in the mid-1800s, when there was a large influx of Chinese immigrants. To combat the sudden rush of cheap labor, through a series of targeted laws, Asian men were stripped of rights that typically signify manhood, such as job opportunities, property ownership or the ability to marry freely, and they were also the subject of racist caricatures. Years of crass jokes about Asian men and tasteless pop culture portrayals of them have followed.
The opposite side of the spectrum is just as bad. People who “just aren’t into [insert race] people” are almost equally matched by the number of white people who fetishize other races. Think of the guy who only dates Asian girls after one trip to Japan and has a weird samurai sword collection in his room.
The fetishizing of people of color has been happening for years, and it’s simply another way to devalue, eroticize and reduce people of other races by depicting them as objects of sexual fantasy and not much else. Asian women are fetishized as submissive and docile, black men as virile, Hispanic women as overly sensual and fiery. There’s even a term for wanting to date only Asian women—yellow fever.
When you say that you wouldn’t date a certain group because of their race, how can that be anything but racist? Racism in dating preferences is a legitimate problem. The combination of Eurocentric beauty standards and racist vilification of minorities is the reason for finding people of color just “not your type.”
If someone calls you out for finding people of color less attractive or unattractive, don’t defend yourself by saying that it’s just a personal inclination as harmless as liking long hair or dimples. Recognize that you have been influenced by a racist society that champions white beauty standards and supremacy, and maybe that you’re a part of it, too.