Romantic preference is no excuse for racism

Photo by Casey Gomez

Yesterday I had a friend post an article on Facebook that asserted that not being “into black girls is not a preference. It’s racist.”

As with many controversial political articles posted to Facebook, the comments section erupted in arguments. The morality of romantic racial preferences is a topic of argument I’ve seen many times over, and have almost never seen a clear conclusion. According to one matchmaker, 90 percent of her clients reported having racial biases and 89.9 percent of these biases were for white people. So many people have these preferences that it’s impossible to call all of these people racists, right? Unfortunately, I believe that to some extent you can.

Though many people chose to ignore it, racial bias is a part of every American’s psyche. Though this does not mean every American is a bigot, research has shown that implicit biases are utterly pervasive in today’s society. These biases may not even align with the beliefs we outwardly express. Researchers have suggested that these implicit biases are the cause of longer criminal sentencing for people with Afrocentric features. Harvard even hosts an implicit bias test online that is a useful tool for diagnosing one’s own implicit bias. In fact, in order to address implicit biases in academics, Tech has recently instituted implicit bias workshops which faculty members must take upon reappointment or promotion.

The environment you grow up in, the faces you see, the values you are raised with, the friends you make, the cumulative experiences you have all affect these implicit racial biases. For instance, I was raised in an affluent, academically-centered environment but was privileged to go to a school that had a good bit of pan-asian ethnic diversity. In fact, the majority of my friends were persons of color, and I think my exposure to this diversity had an impact on the fact that I entered the dating scene open to the idea of pursuing relationships with many ethnicities, not just my own. However, I do admit with great shame that until college, I thought it was acceptable to say “I’m just not into black guys.”

Now, I would also say that I would never have explicitly viewed any person of color as being somehow worse than someone who was white. Coming into college, I would argue vehemently against racism and believed racism was still a significant issue of interest in the U.S. But somehow, I was able to also believe my “preference” wasn’t racially motivated. After-all, a common phrase is that “you cannot help who you are attracted to.” However, looking back, I definitely think that this “preference” was motivated by a combination of my own upbringing in a predominantly white (76.6 percent white, 2.9 percent black) community as well as the cultural biases against black people in the U.S.   

After attending college in Atlanta and having much more exposure to more diverse faces, I no longer believe that excluding a specific race from attraction is a respectable choice and no longer have this “preference.” It would be silly for someone to claim that they were not attracted to people with brown hair or blue eyes. Similarly, it is silly that the color of a person’s skin should be a significant factor in one’s attraction. I understand that people tend to be more attracted to people who they believe they can share experiences with, which often translates to being attracted to people of the same ethnic group, but I believe that dismissing a race of people out of hand is a result of the implicit biases they have against people of that color.

This does not necessarily make someone a bigot, in my opinion, but I think those who have these preferences should at least not make excuses that this behavior is acceptable. It is incredibly difficult to change implicit biases, but one should never publicly justify not being attracted to a certain race or skin color.

You do not need to be attracted to every person, but it is important to at least try not to dismiss someone simply because of their race. So in the argument of whether not being attracted to people of a certain race is racism or simply preference, I would argue that it is a preference, but a preference motivated by racism. Instead, we should work to find beauty others rather than letting our implicit biases decide who we are attracted to.