Friday, January 21, 2011

Is refusing to date interracially racist?

Nadra Kareem Nittle of Bitch Magazine recalls a friend who is Latina who only wishes to date men who share her ethnic background.

Would my friend’s dating pool expand if she chose not to solely date Latinos? Probably. Is she racist for dating solely Latinos? No. And before I say more, I want to point out that I know Latinos can be of any race. The friend in question is mestiza, however, and she typically dates others who share her combination of Native American and Spanish heritage. So, why isn’t she wrong for making this move? Because wanting to pass on one’s cultural heritage to children isn’t racist, nor is wanting a mate who understands what it’s like to experience the same kind of oppression you have.

I don't think it's racist to choose to only be romantically involved with someone of the same race or ethic background... necessarily. Really, it depends on the reason. Clearly, if the woman discussed in the article were going to only date others who shared her ethic background because she doesn't like white people or black people or anyone else who doesn't share her ethnic background, that's racist. But there are a lot of reasons someone might make this conscious choice. For example,

It’s common knowledge that in this society, people of color have the burden of educating others about their culture. They have this burden at school and at work, so some want a reprieve from this in their intimate relationships. They don’t want to spend family functions explaining customs to a mate or translating from one language to another. They also don’t want to have to explain why it’s important for children to partake in certain cultural practices.

Also mentioned is the common belief that if a white person were to make the same decision, they would likely be viewed as racist. Well, I don't think that's necessarily true, either. Again, it depends on why the person is deliberately limiting their dating pool to only one race or ethnic background. And the reasons that white people may choose to do this can be very different than the reasons why a person of color might, as described above.

But why would a white person only want to date other white people? Well, first we have to break that apart a little. Is it that those white people only want to date other people with the same color skin, or are they only looking to be with someone who shares a common cultural heritage? I can't think of a good reason to deliberately decide never to be romantically involved with someone who has a different skin color, if there is chemistry, shared values, and all of the other things people use to decide who to be involved with.

On the other hand, say I am of German heritage, and that cultural heritage is important to me, and I want someone to share that with, who understands the importance I place on my heritage. That wouldn't be racist, and obviously, there are people of all racial backgrounds in Germany, so if all I was looking for was someone whose ancestors came from the same country, there isn't a "racial" element to it.

Ultimately, for white people like myself, whose ethnic background is much more varied than simply German (there's also English, Irish, and Native American, among others), it would be practically impossible for me to find someone whose ethnic background is identical, or even nearly identical, to mine. And this is sort of embarrassing, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what makes up my (white) husband's ethnic background. I think he mentioned something about Bohemia once, but, also embarrassingly, I really haven't the slightest idea of what that means (although I think I'll go figure that out in a minute). So, obviously, this isn't something that's very important to me, personally.

Mostly, I'm willing to bet that most people don't genuinely care, aside from concerns over potential family drama for dating inter-racially. My half-baked theory is that we just date people we are interested in who we find in our social circles, and in my experience, social circles tend to be pretty homogeneous, depending, at least, on where one lives, works, goes to school, etc. My high school, for example, was pretty diverse, and a lot of people dated inter-racially. It was largely no big deal. Ten years later, most of my friends are white, and dating or married to other white people. I wouldn't say this is intentional, but just a product of our social circles' demographics.

What do you think? Is the choice to only date a person who shares a racial or ethnic background with you racist, or not?