Every few weeks or so, there is a piece published in some major left-leaning publication denouncing the racism of racial dating “preferences.” The titles are always eerily similar:
“‘No Blacks’ Is Not a Sexual Preference. It’s Racism.” - Daily Beast
“Yes, Sexual Preference Based on Race Is Racist” - Alternet
“Saying I'm Not Into Black Girls Isn't a Preference. It's Racist” - AFROPUNK (see, we can be self-reflective!)
More recently, this trend has extended past the realm of race and into conversations around dating and other social categories:
“Can Having Genital Preferences for Dating Mean You’re Anti-Trans?” - Everyday Feminism
“Why Are You Still Rejecting Short Guys?” - Jezebel
Though the titles in the latter cases are usually a bit more inquisitive, there remains a not so subtle “you” highlighting to whom the piece is directed. Collectively, it’s as if these articles are a plea to white/cis/able-bodied people, made in hopes that simply telling them how they are racist/transphobic/ableist will force them to stop being who they are.
By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer
These articles, as well-reasoned and intentioned as they usually are (I have long acknowledged that if your politics end at your bedroom door, they're not your politics) rely on the premise that white/able-bodied/cis people have no idea that they are racist, ableist or transphobic. If only racist white people could be shown how they were racist–again, and again, and again–they would stop, the story goes. But maybe that’s not how oppression works.
I have been told that I must think white people are stupid because I have such low expectations for them, but that is actually the opposite of the truth. I give white people far more credit than what my critics seem willing to give, because I come into conversations with the assumption that they are at least as aware of their own cognitive processes as I am. I just also know that they are rewarded for choosing to do nothing about their racist thoughts and desires, and so I expect nothing more.
Similarly, I know that before I committed to unpacking my own participation in fatphobic violence, for instance, I made excuses for the things I did to contribute to it. And, being constantly subjected to the unrelenting but baseless message that sex and love are some oddly sacred practice untainted by social conditioning, excuses are easiest when it comes to anything dealing with them.
Fact 1: I knew that I had issues with fat people long before I admitted that’s why I didn’t want to date them. I knew this because I would think things about health and weight–my own and others’–that were very clearly fatphobic. I did not acknowledge it, because everyone knows to be labeled fatphobic is shameful, even if being fatphobic is not. And the fact that people were engaging my “preferences” as if my way of thinking was valid enough to have to explain, slowly, over and over and over again, what I already knew, made not acknowledging my own fatphobia that much easier.
The scientific fact that whom and what you’re attracted to is political and influenced by society is indisputable, and putting it up for debate only encourages the same disingenuity I clung to for so long.
Fact 2: Black people, trans and gender non-conforming people, disabled people etc. do not need everyone to want to date them. If we agree that a person’s bedroom politics are part of their larger umbrella of politics, a person who refused to date a trans person simply because they are trans yesterday is not going to stop being transphobic just because he starts dating a trans person today. Black people, trans and gender non-conforming people, disabled people etc. need fucking assholes who are committed to violence against them to shut up and stay the fuck away.
Many of these conversations seem intent on changing just one small part in the cog of what makes a person oppressive, sometimes because the people complaining about sexual racism have equally violent white-centric beauty standards and just want to be with white boys while ignoring potential partners within their own communities, for instance. Even if the pleas underlying these articles were successful, getting a racist white person to finally date a Black person is no better than focusing on the problem of being labeled racist instead of focusing on the problem of being racist.
Racism, transphobia, and fatphobia/ableism are a part of everyone’s life. Arguing this is an act of disingenuousness on both sides. Rather than try to get violent people to face the violence in their dating practices, we might be better off committing to knowing that a person who doesn’t reflect on the violence in their dating practices is someone who should be avoided at all costs, not legitimized through debate. Most importantly, we should commit to being able able and willing to reflect on our own sexual/relationship politics, even and especially when it is uncomfortable.
Banner photo via Boldly
*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.