Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Anonymous: You’re racist

Warning: this article may contain some truth.

Just when we thought all the damage done by the likes of Julian Assange and Eric Snowden had finally come to an end, "Anonymous" rears his ugly head. Well…mask. And No. I’m not referring to the group of loosely associated international hactivists with the cool mask that looks like the guy from the movie V for Vendetta. This "Anonymous" is more ignoble.

In his “secret” post, I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted To Black Men, Anonymous seeks comfort from other anonymous strangers on the internets to quell his conscience from the creeping suspicion that he may be a racist. You see Anonymous - who is white -  is only into white guys. Can you believe it? Me either. And what’s worse, those white guys on Grindr are into him too! Rough I know. But these groundbreaking revelations aren’t what shocked the conscience of our faceless cipher. It was a conversation with his (black) friend.

You know exactly what conversation I’m talking about. The conversation gay men of color sometimes have with white gay men. The one where gay men of color complain that they have to work so hard to get any white cocktails while their white friends do nothing more than send the standard “sup” message (if it’s a virtual space) or look across the room (if it’s a club or bar). I’m sure this conversation has been going on since the time of ancient Egypt. As the conversation continues, the white friend admits he hasn’t been with many or any people of color, followed quickly by “but you know I’m not racist. It’s just a preference.” Anything said after this point by either party is almost guaranteed to be unintelligible. It's a breach too far.

Usually, at that point, I sigh and take the advice of poet Kate Rushin - not to be the bridge to other people’s humanness.

This isn’t one of those times.

Anonymous: I want to ease your anxiety about whether or not you’re a racist. Based on what you wrote, it’s pretty clear you are a racist for at least three reasons.

1. You benefit from a system of romantic advantage based on race.
Many people think racism is about intention (see Madonna’s apology on using the n-word). It’s not. It’s about function. Clinical psychologist Beverly Tatum (and many others) defines racism not as disliking a race but as a “system of advantage based on race.” Attractiveness is a socially-constructed ideal formed by the cultural messages one receives from  his or her environment. According to Polish psychologist Robert Zajonc (1923-2008), mere-exposure to a thing makes you more likely to like that thing. In other words, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder’s eye is more likely to find something or someone pleasing if it has seen something like it before. So Anonymous, that thing you call “chemistry” is really a socially-conditioned psychological response to the fact that you’ve seen a whole lot of white people in your life.

2. You can exclude entire races from your romantic life and still have options.
 Ask yourself what would happen if your black friend removed every other race from his romantic gaze except for white guys. Wait. You don’t have to imagine that. You already know. He’s miserable because he doesn’t have many options. Why is it that you have so many when he has so few? You both like white guys. Whatever could be the difference? The fact that you can do it and he can’t is an example of “the system” at play. Guess who’s winning?
3. You appeal to an unknown higher power to explain your relative advantage.
When reading your post, I couldn’t help but think of the judge who wrote the following:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such [interracial] marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

This rationale was used to de-legitimize an interracial marriage half a century ago. And to be fair, you didn’t
say this. But what’s similar is since you had no rational way of explaining your preference you appealed to nature, to chemistry, to unknown bugaboos that take over when it hurts our heads too much to reexamine the assumptions of our lives in order to absolve you from responsibility and to distance yourself from the role you play in the oppression of others.

In the words of poet Andrea Gibson , privilege is not having to think about it.

Anonymous, if you really want to absolve yourself, stop defending systems that help you and hurt others. Research it. Expose it. Then, fight against it. It’s only by trying to change the system that you will truly come to understand it. If you take nothing else away from this post, understand that, when bigcockjohnny89 responds to you instantly on Grindr, it is because he’s accustomed to associating beauty with whiteness because our dominant culture is white. It takes more effort for your black friend to get attention because we aren’t used to seeing blackness as equally beautiful. This dynamic doesn’t make you racist. Defending it and allowing yourself to benefit from this system of romantic advantage without challenging it makes you a racist.  


Gary                                                                                                                                  #iwokeuplikethis

I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, Anonymous.

Here are some resources for you if you choose to take the road less traveled and begin to seriously examine privilege. I mean, preferences.

Peggy McIntosh (video) 101
Justin Ford (video) 201
Tim Wise (video) (He some good books. I’d suggest White Like Me) 301


  1. I don't think I would equate racism with a general feeling of not being sexually attracted to someone of a particular "race." Racism may indeed be about "function" just as it is about "intention," but to make a broad statement of racism based on a small sliver of someone's innate preferences--even if they may be influenced by one's environment--is misguided. You pointed out that "while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder’s eye is more likely to find something or someone pleasing if it has seen something like it before." The words "more likely" do not mean "definitely going to." I was raised in an area that was about 50% Hispanic, and generally speaking, I'm not all that attracted to Hispanics. That doesn't mean I think that Hispanics are completely unattractive--because I don't. By the same token, I've never met anyone from Turkey, and yet I find Turkish men very attractive. I don't think either statement somehow makes me biased in any significant way. And there are many gay people who make blanket statements like "no blacks," but I've met several white gay men who have told me that they only see black men. Is that racist, too? I think a racist function based on a sexual preference should only be deemed racist is this dis-attraction is itself a function of another racially motivated prejudice. There are probably many factors that play into who one finds attractive, and claiming a certain perspective is innately racist by default seems a stretch too far.

  2. I think it would be interesting to see a study on how a person's sexual racial "preference", correlates with their perception of a race/culture in intelligence, long-term companionship, compatibility and overall feelings. It would shed a light on where the deep seated feelings reside from in that whether it's a phenotypical fancy or a stereotype appropriation along a whole race/ culture.

  3. I support both comments. I think it's dangerous to equate a preference as bias, but I understand the nuance and how there's a fine line. I think the "but you know I’m not racist" element is interesting to point out, but I think this speaks to a larger issue of people not being comfortable having conversations around race/ethnicity.