Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Americans (ideologues) prefer traitors

Reihan Salam does not think much of people who prefer to date people with a similar skin color.
He would prefer people to cast aside their prejudices and qualify as a race traitor (our words).

What was truly interesting was his assertion that people's attitudes to race (and dating) depend on the communities in which they grow up, which is dependent on when they were growing up. Thus a brown kid in the 1950s would be forced to date only whites, while in the 1990s there would be many eligible browns to choose from. The same concept presumably applies to where you are growing up, even today, Boise, Idaho is lily-white compared to New York City.

While we do not necessarily disagree with Reihan, our lived experience was that brown girls preferred dating white boys (and vice versa). The consensus opinion of our peer group (incl. both sexes and races) was that this dynamic was driven by the prejudices of the concerned women (white males are enlightened as compared to browns) and men (brown females are submissive as compared to whites).

These days technology will also play a key role. The young generation dwells in the on-line universe for a large part of their lives (where they may be learning Bharat Natyam via Skype from an Indian guru). Thus one may not need a physical space and a community, the virtual equivalents may help foster prejudices (as Reihan sees it).

Reihan (as befits a conservative) is also taking this opportunity to admonish liberals for being hypocritical (and "hilariously self-righteous"). He certainly has a strong case. Arundhati Roy hates capitalism etc. while enjoying the fruits of a capitalist society. She is also (un)hilariously self-righteous. Albert Gore Jr. is self-righteous while burning up gigantic amounts of fossil fuel to fly across the world and lecture others about anthropogenic global warming. Conservatives used to call such people "limousine liberals." Now they have a brand new (self-appointed) name....a class traitor.

Jedediah Purdy (see link below) has issued a clarion call for class traitors to join the revolution, fortunate people who are prepared to rain down arrows of misfortune on their own people. Following this logic, a brown, upper middle-class individual who votes to (1) expand government and/or (2) supports affirmative action is a class traitor, and one who is (3) open to dating a white person is a race traitor. 

While liberals are looking for class traitors, conservatives are seeking out race traitors, doppelgangers of (Supreme Court) Justice Clarence Thomas, who is married to a white lady and who has just now destroyed affirmative action (after having benefited from the same). Liberals used to call such people "Uncle Toms." While it is futile to expect name-calling to stop in a deeply polarized society, we can at least appreciate the symmetry. Thank heavens for small mercies.
In a somewhat similar vein, one of OkCupid’s questions reads as follows: “Would you strongly prefer to go out with someone of your own skin color/racial background?” 
I was struck by the not inconsiderable number of people who answered “yes”—including some people I know “in real life,” many of whom are hilariously self-righteous about their enlightened political views.

Keep in mind that OkCupid users can skip a question with ease. The people who answered this question had every opportunity not to do so. What I found surprising about the fact that a fair number of people answered that they would indeed strongly prefer to go out with someone of their own skin color/racial background was not that this phenomenon exists in the world. Racial preferences in dating are quite common, and women appear to exhibit stronger same-race preferences than men. Rather, I was surprised that people would be willing to openly state that they had strong same-race preferences. One assumes that many people who do have such preferences would either chose not to disclose them publicly, or chose to skip the question entirely.

Is a strong same-race preference something one ought to be ashamed of? Or is it enough to say that the heart wants what it wants and to leave it at that? This is a more important question than you might think.

Before I start throwing stones, I should note that my upbringing has given me a skewed perspective on American life. When my parents settled in Brooklyn in the mid-1970s, there were only a small handful of Bengali-speaking South Asian Muslims in the city, and so self-segregation wasn’t really an option....Had I been born a few years later or a few years earlier, however, it’s entirely possible that I would have either found a crew of co-ethnics with whom to bond or I would have felt like much more of an outsider.  

But instead I grew up in an in-between moment in which people didn’t have a strong sense of what people like me were supposed to be like, and so I at least felt that I had the breathing room to define myself. I thought of my “group” as including all “ethnics,” whether they were Chinese or Haitian or Puerto Rican or Russian Jewish, and I suppose I still think the same way. The fact that I don’t have a strong same-race preference is not the product of some moral superiority on my part, but rather the idiosyncratic circumstances of my early years. 

And so I’m disinclined to judge those who do have strong same-race preferences too harshly.

Nevertheless, I do feel comfortable judging them guilty of being clueless. 

To be sure, dating is about more than the sharing of bread, and OkCupid users who express strong racial preferences may well be doing the world a favor by being open and honest about their wants. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask those who do express such preferences, and those who live them in practice, to reflect on them, and on how there might be more to fighting racism than voting “the right way.”
Link (1):
Link (2):

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