“I don’t date … “

Is it racist when a white woman declares, when asked out on a date, that she will only date white men?

The actual story in which “I don’t date African Americans” was situated is a bit complicated. She, a white women, took her boss, an African American, to court on sexual harassment charges. During the hearings, he commented that she had said to him that she did not date African Americans, and he maintained that that was racist.

No one in the group I was with thought it was a racist comment. I, however, was uncomfortable and unsure. It is too likely that bias played some role, but I think now that the issue of whom one will feel attracted to is so complicated that it is difficult to decide what to think.

What do you think?

58 thoughts on ““I don’t date … “

  1. I don’t think that it’s racist.

    I think that there is a sphere of personal choice/conduct, such as one’s sex life, where terms like “racism” don’t apply.

    “Racism” applies more to one’s general social relationships.

    To take another example, if I say that I don’t sleep with men (or with women), I’m not sexist.

    That’s not an exact analogy, but it also marks off a special sphere of personal choice.

  2. I suppose my reaction is, why does it matter if it’s racist? That doesn’t negate his stepping over any lines so far sexual harassment goes.

    But, beyond that, I don’t think acknowledging our general sexual preferences is racist. It could be cultural, but it could be…who knows? (Does anyone know what conditions attraction?) Why is one woman attracted to tall guys with broad shoulders and narrow hips, and another woman attracted to all-around slender guys, and a third attracted to guys built like squares? Why does one person prefer gingers to blondes or brunettes? And for some people, features associated with race play in to preferences, too – is that racist? Where is the line drawn?

    I think it’s very weird area to tiptoe in to; someone could say “I don’t date African Americans for [slew of racist reasons]” or someone could say “I don’t date African Americans because I’m not generally attracted to them.” Is lack of attraction racism? I hesitate to say that it is.

  3. Yes. Yes it is.

    There are parallel questions that this raises for people who are exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, too. But rather than support a reductio, my temptation would be to go modus ponens, but for the fact that there are (I suspect) disanalogies between the two cases.

  4. If you essentialize people — give a group of people an essential quality, such as “undateability” — based on their “race,” that is exactly racism. To say “It’s just her taste” is to reify race, to ignore its status as social construction, in effect saying, “All black people look the same, just like big hips or tallness is an inherent physical quality.” Race is not a physical quality — it is not reducible to phenotype. “Black” people do not fall into a single phenotype — what “looks” black at any given time and place is a social and historical construction. To state otherwise — to claim there is something physical that all black men share, and can be judged upon — is essentialism, the definition of racism.

    Now this isn’t racism on the level of mass incarceration. People should be free to date whom they wish; I don’t see the need to punish or castigate this woman. But she is indeed racist, and if she cares about not being racist she should examine her stereotypes of and prejudices against black men, and question her essentializing of millions of people.

  5. No, this isn’t racist, unless ‘racist’ means either ‘making a decision based on race,’ or worse, ‘mentioning race at all.’ I have heard people employ the term to mean both things, but I think any serious philosopher would recognize neither as instances of racism. If the former is an instance of racism, then hiring, for example, a black man to play Martin Luther King in a Biopic would be racism, which it obviously is not. If the latter is an instance of racism, then this post is racist.

    Racism, broadly, is something like: Making decisions that differentially affect those of different perceived races based on a presumption of categorical normative differences between those perceived races.

  6. Of course it’s racist. She excludes a huge number of people from a potential position/interview based on race alone.

    But it’s a very personal “job opening”, so it’s not open to litigation. In the end, also among the white guys whom the lady might consider, she will have to pick one, so many others will lose out. And many white dudes won’t be considered because they are too short, too fat or too poor.

  7. Seems obvious that Gavin is right: having it as a general rule is racist. Surely, there’s a difference between not dating people of certain races because so far it hasn’t worked out that way, and not dating people of certain races because you rule it out a priori, there being something intrinsically bad about the race that justifies a categorical judgment. Even a “no, I don’t tend to find black people attractive” is a less racist attitude than “no, I do not date black people.” Whereas the former might express one’s implicit racist biases, the latter expresses a categorical rule which has no non-racist justification.

  8. I have offered counterexamples to Gavin, Andreas, and Taylor. If it is racist to date based on perceived racial preference, then it is racist to hire a Tibetan man (and probably sexist too!) to play the Dali Lama in a movie. This is ridiculous. Therefore, this is not racism.

  9. To those who say this is not racism because it’s a personal choice, I am afraid you are confusing the justifiability or excuseability of racism with racism itself.

    If in a “personal choice” setting everything is OK, then surely it’s also my personal choice whom I want to let my children play with, whom I allow to cut my hair and to which bank I entrust my lifetime savings. These are very personal choices for me and I don’t want no black dude touch none of them. – Now you recognize the racism, don’t you?

  10. No one is making that claim, Andreas. Engage with the actual argument on this page against your claim.

  11. I have heard this sentiment expressed by peers over the years in academia. Extracted from the context of the sexual harassment case, the claim that I don’t date _X_, where X stands for an entire race or ethnicity, demonstrates prejudice. At the very best, the remark betrays an inexcusable lack of thoughtful consideration, and at worst explicit racism. There are many factors out of our control that bias how we react to and relate with others, but just because they are out of our control doesn’t let us off the hook. What we DO have control over is investigating our assumptions and biases and making an effort to correct for them.

    We can decline advances from someone by saying, “I’m not interested in a relationship,” “I’m already dating someone,” “no thank you.” That she chose those particular words should tip us off that she was signalling something, and that something was racially charged when it need not have been. You are entitled to your preferences, but when those preferences are racist you really should just keep them to yourself.

  12. A: your counterexample doesn’t seem to be even remotely analogous. For the role of the Dalai Lama, the ethnic presentation of the actor is non-trivial. Casting a Tibetan-appearing man is rationally related to the goal of casting someone appropriate for the Dalai Lama. Can you say the same about the role of romantic partner?

  13. Re-reading my comment, I sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I just don’t understand how you intend your argument to work, A.

  14. A, I’m really confused about why you think your counter examples are counter examples. There are obvious non-racist reasons to hire a Tibetan man to play the Dali Lama in a movie. I don’t see there are for categorically rejecting the possibility of dating someone of a particular race. Even if take what seems to me the most charitable interpretation, and assume that she is generally attracted to white men exclusively– well, I’m generally attracted to taller men, but I wouldn’t adopt a rule of never dating short men. It seems unreasonable to adopt any rules based on attraction other than “I will only date people I am attracted to,” given that you can’t rule out a priori that you won’t in fact find yourself attracted to someone who doesn’t fit your usual “type.” In fact, it seems that this is precisely an instance of what you define as racism: making decisions that differentially affect those of different perceived races based on a presumption of categorical normative differences between those perceived races.

  15. women’s bodies do not come with _any sexual obligations_ to fulfill the sexual desires of _any men_. there should be no expectation anyone has sex or a romantic relationship with anyone, not for any reason, and any reason to refuse sex is valid, particularly when it’s sex with bosses. that the woman said this in the context of work could also just be another way of her saying “I don’t have sex with bosses,” which is a thing which remains difficult to articulate to the actual bosses who try to get women to have sex with them. the experience of sexual harassment is always deforming of speech because the power of the boss to take a way the harassed’s livelihood. the harassed must come up with “polite” refusals in order to maintain her work, often unable to state clearly that she is being coerced because to do so would be to risk reprisal. also, if we want to speak of essentializing — it is “essentializing” to assume that a woman’s body, that her emotional life, is like a job opening which must be “filled.” this is not a simple case of “racial bias” — but even if it were, there is simply no obligation for anyone to have sex with anyone and every refusal of sex is valid. to argue that a refusal is invalid is ultimately to argue against women’s rights and abilities to consent (that is, “she doesn’t know what is good for her” or “if she were a proper virtuous subject, she would make herself sexually available to all”). one can refuse to grant sexual access to all humans, some humans, one gender, some genders, all genders, some classes, one class, one race, all races, some ages, one age: to refuse sex is OKAY. the moment one argues that women, who have historically been subjected to every manner of sexual violence and nonconsent, must operate, too, as open, “politically performative” sites which maintain a strict policy of non-essentialism, well, one obviously has argued oneself into a problem, creating an “essential” category of woman as sexual property to be distributed.

  16. philodaria: I think there’s a distinction to be made between a reasonable blanket declaration and a non-racist one. It might be unreasonable of me to say that I’ll only date dark-haired men, given that I’ve only met x number of men, even if I’ve only ever been attracted to dark-haired men. The reason this might be unreasonable is that I might be generalizing from a unrepresentative sample. But this doesn’t seem hair-colorist. However, if I claim that I will only ever date dark-haired men because all other men are normatively worse than dark-haired men, then it seems as though I’m being hair-colorist.

    Perhaps this is a disagreement over the term ‘racism.’ I take the term to be negatively normatively loaded, not normatively neutral. It seems as though some here want to claim that racism is any decision based on race.

    SeanH: If all you require is legitimate end in making a selection based on race in order for something to not be racist, then if I actually cannot be attracted to white men, for example, then it is legitimate for me to not date white men. Again, this is separate from whether I’m being reasonable when I claim that I can never be attracted to white men.

  17. I sometimes have this debate in the context of disability. Some disabled people feel that they are unfairly discriminated against by non-disabled people in the dating sphere. I reject this. I am pansexual and whilst fussy, there are no physical attributes I could identify that are either essential or a deal breaker. But I do understand that people can’t really help who they find attractive (cultural influences and all), and nobody actually *wants* to date someone who, for any reason, can’t find them attractive (well, you might want to, but what you want is for them to change their mind).

    However, when someone, as Gavin says, “essentializes” disabled people out loud – declares that we’re unattractive because supposed bad genes, worries around low earning potential, dependency, nonsense evolutionary psych stuff about physical non-conformity… that’s a big problem.

    In fact, I might go as far to say that not dating black men, for any reason whatsoever, is completely fine. But there are very many contexts in which expressing this sentiment is a bad idea.

    Meanwhile, it’s worth observing that we live in a culture where it is very commonplace for men (especially but not exclusively) to express a preference for blond(e)s of a particular age and body-type, and rarely is this seen as racist or problematic on any other level. Shallow, certainly, but more than that? Is a preference for big-breasted blondes in their twenties racist and ageist?

  18. The comment “I don’t date African-Americans” was stated in a context of sexual harassment.

    I assume that the woman in question refused his advances with more polite comments, as suggested above, “no thank you”, “I’m busy”, “I’m not in a mood for dating”, as is normal in such cases and that the male in question pressed his advances with persistence and more persistence, until the harassed woman got blunt, hoping that he would get lost.

  19. Goldfish: stating a preference *for* something is different from stating a preference *against* something. (And I’m not trying to defend the stereotypical ‘young-big-breasted-blonde’ fetish, because it’s dehumanizing and shallow.) But there’s a salient difference here. When I tell you I prefer chocolate ice cream, that doesn’t imply that I find vanilla and strawberry *defective* or *undesirable*. There’s no signalling to your interlocutor that you perceive the alternatives disfavorably. Maybe you like chocolate because it reminds you of childhood, or you’ve had the most opportunity to try it out. But if you get vanilla or strawberry served to you there’s a chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised. When you rule out some alternatives, you’re going further. You’re signaling that there is something defective or undesirable about them. Perhaps you believe that, and you may want to investigate your reasons for believing that, especially when we’re not talking about ice cream flavors but people. But there is no reason in conversation to express this negative preference except to signal to your interlocutor that you have ruled out, in principle, some group of alternatives. And I think that we ought to be suspicious of anyone’s motives for making that move, it is potentially hurtful, and unnecessary.

    And I don’t mean to be cavalier with my analogy of ice cream. I am just trying to use an example that isn’t politically and personally charged to illustrate the point.

  20. I should say there’s a bit more to the woman’s attitude. She maintains in other contexts that she won’t date people of color. I was very inclined to agree with Gavin that that’s essentializing in a racist way. However, I think I’ve heard black women complain about black men’s motives in dating white women, so we might wonder if she is worried about being exploited for her status, rather than cared about for herself. Given how the story was told, I doubt that was her reason, but still …

    I think racism has to do with power: I like this passage from Stuff White People Do:

    Make sure you understand the definitions of the terms that are going to be used. The first thing you really need to understand is that the definition of racism that you probably have (which is the colloquial definition: “racism is prejudice against someone based on their skin color or ethnicity”) is NOT the definition that’s commonly used in anti-racist circles.

    The definition used in anti-racist circles is the accepted sociological definition (which is commonly used in academic research, and has been used for more than a decade now): “racism is prejudice plus power”. What this means, in easy language:

    A. Anyone can hold “racial prejudice” — that is, they can carry positive or negative stereotypes of others based on racial characteristics. For example, a white person thinking all Asians are smart, or all black people are criminals; or a Chinese person thinking Japanese people are untrustworthy; or what-have-you. ANYONE, of any race, can have racial prejudices.

    B. People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment, ostracizing, etc., based on their racial prejudices. A black kid can beat up a white kid because he doesn’t like white kids. An Indian person can refuse to associate with Asians. Whatever, you get the idea.

    C. However, to be racist (rather than simply prejudiced) requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. “White” is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist. Only white people can be racist, because only white people have institutional power.
    F. So that’s the definition of racism that you’re likely to encounter. If you start talking about “reverse racism” you’re going to either get insulted or laughed at, because it isn’t possible under that definition; PoC don’t have the power in North America, so by definition, they can’t be racist. Crying “reverse racism!” is like waving a Clueless White Person Badge around.

  21. A, what I’m not seeing here is a normatively neutral categorization. If she is saying that she will only date white men because she is only attracted to white men, it seems as though she’s saying that she cannot be attracted to someone who is non-white, despite (presumably, and plausibly so) having only been exposed to a sample of non-white men. I’m really just not getting how that’s supposed to be neutral or reasonable. Saying “I only date white men” is really something quite different than “I only date men I am attracted to, and I am generally only attracted to white men.”

    Honestly, even then, I would wonder what sort of biases underlie our attractions.

  22. I don’t think this is racist. Racism is when you place a value judgment on a person on the basis of race–for example, “You’re X,” so then, “you are Y.”

    When a woman say that she’s not sexually attracted to black people and therefore doesn’t date black people, she’s saying just that–she’s not making any sort of value judgment outside of the context of her sexual attraction.

    Besides, boss sounds like an immature whiner. He should know better than harass an employee to date him. Crying “she’s a racist!” is redundant and makes him look ridiculous; she could have walked into work in a KKK uniform and it wouldn’t change the charge of sexual harassment in the slightest.

  23. Just want to chip in on the “ya it’s racism” side:
    (This is independent I think of whether she shouldn’t have said such a thing in such a situation. Using your privilege as leverage in a situation where you feel threatened or uncomfortable is morally compromised for sure, but if your choices come down to (a) not being a racist asshole or (b) being mentally/physically in one piece, I’m not (necessarily) going to berate people for choosing the latter. But that doesn’t mean it’s not racist or that when the stakes aren’t so high that everyone should get a free pass at stating their preferences regardless of how those preferences hook up with racial stigma.)

    Stuff on sexual racism in general:

    “What we’re saying in summary is, sexual behaviour is no more justified a place for racial prejudice than any other area of life. We should stop making racist statements in essentially public forums like personal ad sites. If our sexual preferences have had an ethnic or racial bias, we should challenge ourselves to confront those limits and, if we can, exceed them.”

    Also, Nathaniel Tobias Coleman gave a talk at one of the Implicit Bias conferences in Sheffield on “Sexual Semiotics and the Serious of Stigma.” One point that fell out of this talk was that systems of racism have influenced who we think of as attractive, so to go along with that influence is to contribute to that racism by way of strengthening the stigma against people relegated as undesireable and less worthy of love. (This is my assessment so mistakes here are mine not his!)

  24. People need to separate speech acts from held attitudes. We can control the things we say, while we may have less (immediate) control over the attitudes that we hold. The original question was,

    “Is it racist when a white woman declares, when asked out on a date, that she will only date white men?”

    Yes, it is racist when she *declares* it. It is simply unacceptable to declare such a thing because of the known power dynamics, stereotypes, and signalling that come along with such a declaration. Whether or not it is racist for the subject to *hold* the attitudes is a different matter. And while my perspective is that it is a racist attitude and the subject should make an effort to correct her underlying assumptions, it’s really a different matter than what she chooses to say in public.

  25. Whether it’s a racist comment or not, I think we should be absolutely clear that her comment is 100% completely and totally irrelevant to the sexual harassment case, and the boss is at best a jerk for raising this issue in a hearing. It simply doesn’t matter to the case.

  26. I think esssbeee has this exactly right. There are two separate questions here: whether it’s racist to have the preference in question, and whether it’s racist to declare it.

    Regarding the first: it’s extremely unlikely that racism plays no role in the formation of such a preference, especially for a white person in a Western culture.

    Regarding the second: stating such a preference is directly damaging, and also reinforces damaging attitudes/dynamics in others.

    So I think it’s racist on both scores.

  27. #27 is exactly right, and for exactly the right reasons. This is obviously racist. May I also say that this comment thread as a whole represents an unacceptably tepid response to this obvious racism, and that the responsibility for this lies at the feet of those who couldn’t be bothered to consider the merits of their fatuous analogies and non-sequiturs in private before spewing them in public.

  28. Mozzer, this blog has a strict rule: be nice. The whole tone of your comment breaks the rule; I have crossed the most offending phrases. Please do not break the rule again.

  29. Seconding #27 and others, I am suspicious of the claim that sexual/romantic preference “just happens”, in a way that is immune to political or ethical analysis. I also think that #16’s points are good, but I think that we can criticise sexual preference as racist without thereby committing to an obligation on the part of women to be universally sexually available.

  30. Sean H. and others:

    I too doubt that sexual and romantic preferences “just happen”, without any sociological imput and it is interesting to analyze how those preferences are formed or constructed.

    However, do you want to live in a society or culture in which one has to analyze his or her sexual or romantic preferences in ethical and political terms, before deciding whom to mate with?

    That prospect seems sinister to me, more sinister than the fact that people, who otherwise in their occupational, social and academic lives, make an effort not to be racist analyzing their options as carefully as possible, in opting for a mate choose that mate without going through a process of sociological and ethical psychoanalysis.

  31. I’ve found one of the most enlightening and rewarding results of experience is that I can question my preferences, see them as a result of manipulation and unconscious bias, and begin to dismantle them. I don’t know how it is ‘sinister’ that people should recognize that the media, and even their community, promote certain beauty standards that can be dehumanizing and objectifying. Being able to eliminate racist, sexist, ageist, sizeist, ableist notions and see other people free from bias is sexy. This is just maturity and sensitivity, nothing sinister about that.

    And to answer your question, swallerstein, I do want to live in a society where people are encouraged to analyze their sexual and romantic preferences in ethical and political terms. That sounds like a move in the right direction. No one said anything about ‘have to’. But it would sure be nice.

  32. respectfully, we already live in such a society or culture, insofar as queer people, trans people, and folks who date transracially, have their choice in partners analyzed all the time in political terms. and there are significant consequences to arguing that one’s desires are independent from this society or culture, or are based on “nature,” given the long history of, and political power in, such claims in shoring up the white, middle-class, heterosexual nuclear family as “natural.” (and especially as these are about reproduction and thus ‘mating.’)

    i’m not saying that everyone has to tick boxes off on a survey before falling in love – falling in love, or just the desire to hook up, are not entirely rational or voluntary, just as aesthetic taste is not entirely rational or voluntary. it is precisely its ‘non-voluntariness’ that makes it powerful, and also makes it a claim useful to those challenging what is ‘natural’: (i didn’t choose to fall in love with him/her; i was born this way; etc.). powerful things are worth thinking about at the very least, and maybe even changing as a result of reflection.

  33. Yes, of course it’s racist. And of course that doesn’t mean that she’s obligated to have sex with anyone (let alone her boss!). But, as Gavin says above, if not being racist is an important value to her, then she should explore her reaction here. To me, it’s not the pattern of her attraction that’s most problematic, but her willingness to generalize that into a rule. That’s what reifies race and accepts that there are “types” of people that one makes value judgments between. I’m just repeating what Gavin already said better than I am, but wanted to throw some support his way; I’m startled it’s not a near-unanimous view on this blog.

  34. sk:

    The puritanism which tries to regulate the lives of gay and transgender people and anyone whose erotic life is a bit “out of order” is horrid.

    Now, do we really want that puritanism to be replaced by a more politically progressive puritanism, which, with the best intentions in the world (surprise, tradtional puritanism also has good intentions or at least imagines that it has), dictates or suggests whom we should mate with?

    Eroticism is a very delicate and sensitive flower and it’s best that each person cultivate his or her own eroticism, with his or her own fantasies and his or her own idiosyncrasies.

    Now, in my own life I’ve tended to analyze my eroticism a lot, often in political and ethical terms from a feminist or progressive point of view. While that has made me a more scrupulous person in my erotic life, I’m not at all sure that my tendency to see my eroticism in political and ethical terms has contributed to a richer erotic experience. I tend to think that there’s a tradeoff between a rich sex life and a critical analysis of the facts that make up one’s eroticism.

    However, one thing is that I took the option of viewing my sexuality in ethical terms and trying to analyze the factors that have constructed it. I chose it and that’s fine.

    Another thing is that a culture, with all the puritanism that inevitably in my experience arises when people tell others or suggest to others what is “right” to do in bed or worse, what is “right” to think about sex, dicates or suggests that same option.,

  35. So, is it OK for a Jewish woman to declare she only dates Jewish men, thought she doesn’t care if they actually practice the Jewish religion? Many people prefer to marry within their own religion, culture, or economic status. Is that bigotry, or simply practical in eliminating many possible areas of conflict within a marriage? There are many dating sites that are exclusive in these ways.

    Also, I find the “it’s not ok to be racist, but it’s even worse to be honest about it, so you should make up some more acceptable excuse” arguments interesting.

    There are reasons why a woman may not wish to date an African American man without being racist. And saying she doesn’t date African American men does not necessarily mean she only dates white men. There are black men who are not American and black men who are not African. There are other races besides black and white. I think there is not enough information to determine whether she is racist.

    I have a lot of issues with bosses flirting with people who report to them, and it is always OK for a woman or man to say no to a sexual advance without having to justify their choice to the person making the advance.

  36. I follow ab and swallerstein in being suspicious of adding normativity to mate choices. One is certainly welcome to critically evaluate who one is attracted to in light of ones ethical or political commitments, but it seems quite strange to say that one ought (politically or ethically) to do this. Just as it is not societies place to tell me who I can’t wed, it is not societies place to tell me who I ought to wed.

    Might one make romantic choices that enhance my own privileged while simultaneously denying opportunities for social/economic advancement to members of a disadvantaged class? Certainly. In an aristocracy society members of the upper class might refuse to wed members of the lower class, and because social and political power are so closely tied to bloodline, exclude members of the lower class from social goods. Does this mean that individual members of the aristocracy ought to have some moral duty to web members of the lower class? I think the answer is no – romantic involvement is not a social good, romantic involvement with me is not something others can politically require of me.

  37. They aren’t telling you who you ought to marry, they are telling you that you ought not be a fucking racist.

  38. The point up for discussion isn’t that anyone thinks ‘society’ or others should tell people who they *ought* to marry. The point is that it’s reasonable to expect subjects to check their racism in public, and hopefully even reflect upon it and foster change within the privacy of their own attitudes. This isn’t about the thought police, it’s about moving towards a more inclusive, less biased community by each being responsible for our own conduct and contribution.

    Anyone worried about turning a reflective eye inward at erotic tendencies might just be a person who would benefit from such reflection.

  39. “The point is that it’s reasonable to expect subjects to check their racism in public…”

    I highly doubt this was a public conversation.

  40. Jarrod, you are getting close to breaking the “be nice” rule. I’ve been really proud of the fact that this blog can debate fiery topics like this one in a way that encourages clear reasoning, as opposed to angry emoting.

    JT, I think your point about eliminating areas of conflict in a marriage is very important. I’m not sure how to apply it here. Suppose mmarrying a person of another race would cost one a lot of family and friends relationships. If they are such bigots – which I suppose would be the reason – then it might be morally better to pay that price. But the marriage may have a very hard start.

    I think religion is different for a reason I gave in 21 above.

  41. Is it racist when a white woman declares, when asked out on a date, that she will only date white men?

    Merry, I was taking this question divorced from the specific context described, as I stated in a previous comment. By ‘public’ I mean in public space, contrasted with private space (e.g. such as your home or car). Typically people ask each other out on dates in public spaces. I believe we absolutely have a responsibility to not speak in racist, sexist, or other biased ways in public spaces. This should not be controversial.

    If someone asks me out it’s inappropriate to say, “No, I only date attractive people.” This might be true, even trivially so (I only date people that I find attractive). But there is implicature in our choice of speech acts. Saying, “No, I only date white men” implies certain things.

  42. essbeee, I might suggest that your boss’ office is not a public space in the sense that a conversation between you and your boss is not a public conversation. And, she did not say “I only date white men”, but “I don’t date African Americans.” This is an honest reply that can open up the conversation. For all you know, she may have had a bad experience.

    Your example, “No, I only date attractive people” is rude and hurtful but not considered politically incorrect or morally reprehensible, but phrased ‘No, I don’t find you attractive in that way.” is honest and not leading anyone down a rose covered path. But, sometimes people can be very persistent in a very uncomfortable way to the point of harrasement, and you need to be rude and hurtful in order to make it stop. This sounds like it got to that point and she needed to say something to make it stop. Was what she said politically incorrect, yes, morally reprehensible, I’m not sure.

    If I’m a white woman, do I have to be indifferent about the race of my partners? Am I not allowed to weed out an African, Asian, Indian, Native American man if I’m uninterested in dating them for any of the myriad reasons people use to weed out potential partners, like we have different views of the world or family acceptance, or I’ve already had a bad experience dating someone of that race or ethnicity?

  43. Socializing is very different from intimate relationships. Nor does personal preference imply that you have a problem with anyone else having intimtate relations with those of different races.

  44. How is socializing relevantly different from intimate relationships, here though, where you write “or I’ve already had a bad experience dating someone of that race or ethnicity?” If someone had a bad experience with a person of a particular race, and then decided not to socialize with people of that race on account of that experience, wouldn’t that be sort of obviously racist? It’s not clear to me why intimate relationships would be distinct on this front. The point isn’t that she weeds people out who happen to be a particular race– it’s that she weeds them out because they are a particular race.

  45. Everyone should be wary of the tendency to object on moral grounds to the sexual or romantic preferences of others (provided of course the preferences are for other consenting adults), especially when the objection is founded on assumptions about the psychology behind the desires in question. We would all discourage the use of such arguments against homosexuality, for example, and I see no reason to consider them any more appropriate in this context.

  46. The risk of attracting the racist post-fix or an “anti” prefix is always there as long as the question remains in the social context; that is, by exclusively removing a group from your [potential] social circle (intimate or not) will not be seen as a positive thing. Social preference based on race leans toward racist attitudes. Also, by the same token, of “my personal choice”, one can build the argument,
    i) I don’t date african americans
    ii) i don’t socialize with african americans
    iii) i live in a white neighborhood
    and you can see how it can grow out of proportion. The problem: it’s social thing; not an individual act, even if its an intimate relationship, it requires another. And this “other” is the problem here.

  47. Merry, I don’t think you and I are discussing the same thing. All of my points above were in regard to the question,

    “Is it racist when a white woman declares, when asked out on a date, that she will only date white men?”

    Which was asked at the top of this post. I stated from the beginning that I was going to divorce the abstract question from the particular context, because that’s how it is phrased. In general, is it racist for a white woman to declare this? Yes. Are there contexts/details that can affect this? Maybe, I’m unconvinced that that would every be a necessary or appropriate thing to say, but in general it’s terribly racist.

    I am honestly appalled at this point that a post on a ‘feminist philosophers’ blog would be getting the type of comments I see on this thread. Amanda, your comments are vastly more racist than the original question we were discussing. The plural of anecdote is not data, it’s anecdotes. Extrapolating from your own experience to make sweeping generalizations is harmful and biased. Where are the philosophers on this feminism blog? This is pretty disturbing.

  48. There was a very offensive comment made sometime in the middle of the night. It lead to comments being closed. I hope this will NOT happen again.

    If anyone feels other comments have been racist, i hope you’ll let me know by private email: ajjacobson at uh.edu. Do consider first that people here have been open, honest and generous in addressing the questions asked, and each other.

    I have started to worry about SW’s point. It is one thing to analyze a case on a philosophy blog. And I agree with esssbeee that self-knowledge is liberating on many levels. But now I’m wondering what Foucault would say: are we moving toward an internalized policing?

  49. “And I agree with esssbeee that self-knowledge is liberating on many levels.”

    Notably, it may be, if only indirectly, other-liberating as well as self-liberating.

    “Are we moving toward an internalized policing?”

    Perhaps. But I would think that being on the losing end of these crude distinctions over and over again, of consistently having an “automatic -3” in social interactions, would induce a bit of dare-I-eat-a-peach-ism, too. I would prefer the question, “Are we redistributing the costs of internalized policing, from those who would need to self-police to navigate others’ racist attitudes to those who would need to self-police to guard against adopting or expressing those attitudes?” My answer would be “Yes, and that’s a good thing.”

  50. Mosser, Nice response!

    Let me explain a bit more. I am all for all sorts of individual self-policing. I have a hard time coping with people who say, “but we should be race-blind and just pick on merit.”

    If you look a few posts later than this one, we see philosophy is not doing well with gender. Surprise!

    Lots of internal awareness and monitoring could indeed help in the world. If we added in the criticisms from the epistemology of ignorance, we could try to criticize some of the class distinctions that protect academics.

    Etc, etc.

    Can all this be translated over to intimate relations? I think racist assumptions that form one’s taste in partners is as bad as any other such assumption, but there,s another question, and it’s the sort Foucault was asking, I think.

  51. It seems to me that puritanism, policing, controling or dictating the sexuality of others, is bad and that in our desire to eliminate or control racism at every level, including the level of whom one is attracted to sexually, we may end up as puritans.

    Now, if people want to control or police their own sexuality, fine. I have every right to be puritanical with my self.

    However, in every social group there are people who enjoy or take in upon themselves to police or control what is “right” in the sexuality of others, that is, puritans. You find them on the left as well as on the right, although, I would guess, there are more on the right.

    Sexuality, as I said above, is a delicate flower and it withers easily when controlled or policed by others. Sexuality is also very idiosyncratic: people get off on the strangest things. If I only get off fantasizing that my partner is a white male Navy Seal in combat gear, then although the roots of my fantasy might well be the subject of an ideological analysis, it’s better to let me continue getting off.

    Lots of people tend to internalize the sexual norms or standards dictated by those who claim to be moral authorities in this area, that is, the puritans.

    So we may end up with the situation where our desire to erradicate or control racism in every area of life leads us to damage the sexuality of the more sensitive or weaker members of our group.

  52. Another thing to consider is that oppression often leads those who fall victim to it to insistently challenge their own attitudes and feelings on both moral and epistemic grounds. The suggestion that women have an obligation to apply intense scrutiny to their sexual and romantic preferences in order to ensure that there are no hidden prejudices underlying them is effectively a demand that they engage in a type of behavior characteristic of the powerless. Should we be comfortable with that?

  53. Tom, just to be accurate, no one, I hope, is suggesting “… that women have an obligation to apply intense scrutiny to their sexual and romantic preferences in order to ensure that there are no hidden prejudices underlying them”, though your point that that is effectively a demand that they engage in a type of behavior characteristic of the powerless is very interesting.

    One of my complaints abut certain kinds of psychotherapy is that we do not really understand internal scrutiny very well. The idea that awareness of something can make it easier to deal with rationally is just wrong about some things. E.g., narrating a trauma may solidify memories that are a burden for decades. Thinking about anger can get one in a rage.

    As things are now, women in the West are often enough told we choose power in our mates. If that’s true, I wouldn’t bet on awareness as a help.

  54. swallerstein, you say:
    “Sexuality, as I said above, is a delicate flower and it withers easily when controlled or policed by others.”
    In one sense this is obviously true: nobody should be able to tell you who you can or cannot be interested in, sexually. Nobody is suggesting anything remotely like this.

    In another sense, there seems to be a double standard here. Why doesn’t mainstream society’s policing have this problem? That is, how is it that our delicate sexualities can survive the racist, sexist, sizeist, classist, ableist, transphobic, binarist, etc. policing that we’re pummeled with throughout our entire lives? Why is our sexuality only a delicate flower that must be left alone when our interest is examining and dismantling or undoing the oppressive influence on our current state?

    The sort of “policing” that is being suggested is not damaging to sexuality, it is part of our recovery process. What is being asked is that we critically examine our *own* desires and the ways that we cognize them, in order to see how we are influenced by oppressive societal standards of desireability, and then investigate whether we can resist the influences on our own desires.

    How could this be worse than the oppressive influences of the mainstream, which *literally* tell you who you can or cannot be interested in (by telling you that brown people are less desireable than white people, that trans* people’s bodies are repulsive, that disabled people are sexless, that fat people are always unattractive, etc. etc.)?

  55. Having myself picked up on the topic raised by SW, let me advance a serious caution. It is very hard to know how to get rid of implicit biases; some people think you can’t.

    The model we all of us informally employ – that society tells us things – is usually wrong. Rather, among other things, different ways human beings have with vision can be exploited – we whites see white people as whole people, but we see other races as assemblances of stereotypical features, for example. (or so I’d bet, given this can happen). We create stereotypes that are repeatedly portrayed. We have social structures that divide us powerfully into insider and outsider groups. Some of us are sick and vicious and some institutions allow such people free rein.

    And so on and so forth. There are many hypotheses about what to do. Some obvious things don’t work. I’d hate to think we’d end up with the idea that spotting one another’s racism is going to solve things. We ourselves have systematically biased and distorted ways of understanding each other.

  56. I’m about to close comments here because we don’t have time to moderate right now and we’re worried about things getting horrible again.

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