We’ve all heard the argument that racial dating preferences are “inherently racist.” Perhaps you disagree; there’s just no way you’ll find (insert race here) as attractive as you do (another race). But for curiosity’s sake, pretend for a sec it is possible for you before reading this.
The following piece is a glimpse into one man’s fight against his socialization, and what a path toward freeing yourself of racialized dating preferences could look like.
I used to find black women unattractive. I would justify it as “preference.” I would say “I haven’t seen any attractive black women,” or I would just lie and say I thought black women were perfectly fine and just happened to have never dated one. It would have been pretty easy to hide.
But deep down, I knew damn well that my “preference” just happened to line up a little too perfectly with racist white standards of beauty. It ate away at me. It was hard to ignore that the few black women I did find attractive were light-skinned. It was even harder to ignore that my exact “preferences” were indistinguishable from those of a white supremacist.
I sat with this for a long time. I was ashamed. I felt paralyzed. What I wanted my mind to do and how I truly felt were not lining up.
I knew I didn’t want to allow myself to continue to perpetuate racist white beauty standards. As an Asian American male myself, I was oppressed by similar racist beauty standards. The way I saw myself treating Black women (not finding them attractive and ignoring them) was similar to the way I felt I was treated.
I could see the problem and my role within the problem, I just could not see the solution. So I just “tried harder.”
And then it hit me.
Society taught me that Black people, especially Black women could be ignored. I learned all the negative stereotypes about Black people. I was socialized and conditioned to be this way. It became a part of me because I had internalized it and practiced it without thinking.
I had to undo this programming. I had to literally retrain my eyes, my attention, my ears, my brain, everything to pay more attention to black women. I needed to retrain how I saw the physical bodies of black women and the minds of black women. Here are the two main steps I did:
Step 1: Look at black women
There were multiple times I would catch my eyes skipping over black women. So I challenged myself to look at them for a couple seconds longer.
I went on Instagram and followed black women. At first, I followed black models. After awhile, I was aware that only following black models, who themselves were adjacent to unrealistic standards of beauty, was just another way of objectifying/dehumanizing women. I started following some black women who I didn’t find as attractive and eventually some normal black women (don’t be lazy, follow people who post a lot of selfies).
Around this time, I would start making an effort to talk to black women when they were in the same room I was in. I focused on being non-judgemental, and giving them space to be themselves. If a white person joined our conversation, I would prioritize continuing the conversation with the black woman.
Step 2: Read their words
Finding black women physically attractive was only a part of the self-improvement I needed to do. I needed to connect with their humanity too. This meant reading their words in books, in news, celebrating their social justice victories, listening to their thoughts on social justice and their lives. It means paying attention to black women on my newsfeed when they post a long status.
As an Asian male, I’ve resented that there were white people who liked me only for my ability to codeswitch into whiteness. I was unwilling to force Black women into a similar dynamic with me. I needed to challenge myself to meet them where they were at, not making them meet me where I was at.
How did I feel doing this?
There were times this felt kind of annoying. I was going against what society had conditioned me to do. I was undoing old biases, learning new habits, and thinking new thoughts. It didn’t feel familiar. Some days, it felt fucking dumb. I was asking myself to look at a black woman for a couple seconds longer. I was telling myself to follow black women on Instagram. How the fuck was this going to lead to anything?
It required effort. Again and again, I either caught myself skipping over black women, or falling into what the people around me (also conditioned by society) were doing. I was enabled by the forces around me be it people, or Instagram, or Facebook because white supremacy is baked into the culture. I had to consciously go against what was around me.
What was the end result?
At each step, black women were becoming more and more human in my mind and my heart. I was recognizing all of them, ESPECIALLY in the ways society said black women could not be.
White supremacy stripped them of their humanity, their intelligence, their emotions, and basic dignity. I was retraining my mind to reprioritize who I was listening to, who I was looking at in conversations, everything. I was undoing the internalized racism in my mind, my heart, my attention, and my behavior. I was training my mind to humanize Black women.
I started finding black women beautiful, cute, sexy.
It meant I was sometimes feeling lust for them (Yeah, I understand straight men and lust too often leads to sexual violence and rape of vulnerable women. I emphatically reject sexual violence).
It meant I was fantasizing and masturbating to them (no Louis C.K. shit, I also reject that behavior).
It meant I was seeing their scholarly work as important texts containing wisdom. I saw how Black women SHOWED UP for people in social justice spaces. As a group, top down, the number of Black women who were “woke” and “got it” is unbelievable.
It also meant treating their feelings, their hurts, their wants, their pain, their wisdom, and their ideas as worth my attention.
I felt relief too. Guilt and shame were replaced with admiration and respect.
What I did in my mind could be described in many ways. I was undoing my internalized racism. I was rebelling against white supremacy. I think the most important way to describe this was an act of love for humanity.
A Final Note
I’m oppressed by similar myopic standards of the white aesthetic. I know there are people who justify “no Asians” as “a preference.” There are people who say “I haven’t seen any attractive Asian men,” or people who just lie and say they think Asian men were perfectly fine and just happened to have never dated one. It would be pretty easy to hide it.
Knowing this, I want people to do a similar process of finding the beauty and humanity of Asian men. I want people to face the mirror, see their bias toward me, and in an act of love for humanity, find a way to love me as well.