Sometimes You Can Overcorrect: Objectification Ain’t The Answer To Institutional Racism

So first, let me share this video with you. It’s called “Sexual Racism”, and was sparked by a question on a Q/A panel:

Someone from the audience asked if having partner preferences for a certain racialized group is a form of discrimination… As if “I will only date Mexicans, is that racist?”

Their answer – in one word – was “Yes”.  And I’m conflicted about that.

More after the video.

And that short answer – though it’s followed up by explanation – makes me a bit uncomfortable, and not in a “challenge my assumptions” kind of way.

Because I would “Yes, and…” as an answer to that question.

Yes, I agree that racism has influenced who we are and are not attracted to.

I’ve noticed this in my own life: As a teenager (and overwhelmingly exposed to only white people), this was definitely true. Once I hit the wider world (and especially in the military) and was around people of many different ethnicities, that stopped being the case.

Acknowledging the unspoken social forces that shape our preferences is absolutely required. The institutional racism talked about here is definitely true and persists BECAUSE it is unexamined, or because people with good intent assume that being “deliberately racist” and “being racist” are the same thing.

So I’m in total agreement with those points.

AND… at the same time I’ve got two things about this video that make me uncomfortable.

First, there’s a blurring between individual prejudice (and individual racism) and institutional racism that leaves some really big unanswered questions.

For example, they’re largely talking about those who EXCLUDE a racial type. What about those who have a preference for a specific ethnicity? What if that preference is for a racial type that (according to the data cited, which I’m not disputing at all) is typically found “less attractive”? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Ugh. Just writing that there’s some racial types that are found “less attractive” makes me feel unclean.

Anyway, that blurring between the individual and societal also removes all the other elements in attraction, which seems to be a quick route toward further objectification.

Don’t get me wrong. This video makes a compelling argument for broadening your horizons, and I completely 100% agree with that. In my own experience, I can look back at who I found “attractive” and see how that’s grown, broadened, and shifted.

But that’s why I’ve got a big “and…” attached to my agreement with this video. That shift did not occur due to objectification, but from getting to know different types of people as … well, people.

My tastes in what qualities or features I found attractive (and – importantly – in what I did or did not find un attractive) followed the shift in who I was exposed to. It was getting to know people of different types, ethnicities, religions, sizes, and [insert quality/descriptor here] first that caused the broadening in whom I found attractive.

And that’s why I’m left uncomfortable with some of the video’s end exhortations. Sure, don’t set racial restrictions on your dating profile. That’s cool. But (for example) to “swipe right on Tinder profiles if the person’s from a racialized group you’d usually pass up”? That makes me distinctly uncomfortable.

Maybe because it reminds me a little too much of a few guys I’ve met over the years who were – and yes, this is AMAZINGLY offensive – keeping score of what races of people they’d slept with.

While I appreciate the intent of having people broaden their horizons and not excluding people of color, I am having a hard time seeing someone going out on a date with a person they’re not attracted to as anything other than an offensive trainwreck 99% of the time.

I think that’s because it brings me back to the point of objectification.

Again, I agree completely with examining and challenging your assumptions. In short, if you think you’re not racist and you live in this culture, you’re wrong.

That goes double if you say “I’m blind to race”.

I’ve seen the effects of it in my own life, and I agree completely that you’ve got to expand your circles of what types of people you’re exposed to. (I need to work on this again myself.)

I also recognize that any romantic and sexual relationship requires a certain amount of objectification. To quote Dan Savage1:

The historical problem with the objectification of women wasn’t that women were treated like objects, ladies, but that women weren’t treated like, or allowed to be, anything else… The urge to objectify is universal, and so long as it’s fairly and respectfully indulged, it’s not offensive, not a problem, and not news.

But if you’re going on a date with – or even signaling potential attraction to – someone simply because they’re of a different ethnicity? Or worse, forcing yourself to?

I’m not so sure that’s a great idea either.

1 Slightly edited because the quote deals with a specific situation, though he’s said the same thing elsewhere since.

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