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?

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29 Responses to Is refusing to date interracially racist?

  1. andie says:

    I live in a fairly homogenous area.. mostly white, then First Nations, and a smattering of black, east asian, middle eastern and almost no hispanic population, so interracial dating isn’t terribly common, solely based on the homogeneity of the population.

    This article did remind me of conversations I’ve had with two male friends, both of whom refuse to date women with children. One friend says that he has particular goals that involve moving around a lot and that it wouldn’t be fair to get into a relationship with someone with children, knowing that parental obligations would mean that they would not be able to take part in that aspect of his goals.. not fair to them to ask them to give up their parental obligations (or make the choice of moving a kid around away from friends and family) and not fair to himself to be expected to give up these aspirations for the aforementioned reasons. To him I said “Okay, fair enough.”

    My other friend said he refuses to date women with children because ‘it says something about them and their lack of responsibility and foresight, and that being a single parent was a poor reflection on them and their choices.’ To him, I promptly said… well, I won’t repeat what I said, but let’s just say… I wouldn’t say it in front of my children.

    It kind of parallels your point here about intent. In the situation with her friend, the choice is based on what she is looking for in a relationship, rather than a preconceived notion about a group of people.

    • April says:

      Oh my god, if I heard someone say that being a single parent is a poor reflection on a woman and her choices… yeah. My first question to people like that: do you feel that way about single fathers, too? Most people of that mindset would say yes, I’m sure, to avoid looking like a misogynist ass, but I doubt they would have given it a thought before.

      But yeah; I agree about your first friend. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable motive for narrowing the dating pool to exclude a certain category, that is not based on bigotry or prejudice.

    • andie says:

      I think I may have posed that question to him as well.. I know I did pose the question “Uhm.. do you remember who you are talking to??? Did you really just say that to ME?” (I’m a single mother)

    • Danny says:

      My first question to people like that: do you feel that way about single fathers, too? Most people of that mindset would say yes, I’m sure, to avoid looking like a misogynist ass, but I doubt they would have given it a thought before.
      No I think they’d somehow become a misogynist and misandrist ass and say that go off on how as a man he has no business raising a kid on his own. Well that’s assuming they don’t try to get him arrested for abusing his own child by virtue of being around them.

    • Jim says:

      There’s a whole lot more sensible reason not to dat anyone, man or woman, who has kids if thiat dating relationship is likely ot lead to marriage – you just may not want that baggage. Being a stepa-prent is one baby step from adoption. It’s a lot to ask with even one step-child. It’s different if the understanding is just a mistress/* of some sort.

      *Odd that the culture and langugae don’t have a male equivalent.

  2. David K says:

    Refusing to date inter-racially CAN be racist, but of course isn’t always, it just depends on your motivation. If you think say that “the blood of a race is like a glass of water, and if it gets just one drop of ink into the water then it’s poisoned” that people who have inter-ethnic relationships are “race traitors” then it’s pretty obvious where you’re coming form. Also worth considering though are people that do want to date inter-racially, their motives may not be *cough* entirely pure either, for example the rather sickly Orientalist and patriarchal ideas of some men who seek out “Thai brides” for instance… http://youtu.be/Pmy_fnFqjfM

  3. Danny says:

    What do you think? Is the choice to only date a person who shares a racial or ethnic background with you racist, or not?
    Not inherently no.

    In my own experience I grow up in an area that was pretty much black and white so for a long time when it came to it I only had eyes for white women and black women. Of course the world is not so black and white (see what I did there?). Having a preference could very well just be the product of your environment and let’s get real its not like kids have a lot of say in what areas they grow up in.

    I recall a post over at Womanist Musings a long time ago talking about this and I recall people trying to push something to effect that if you live in a white neighborhood or only have white coworker then it MUST be the result of going out of your way to ensure that you end up in such environments.

  4. Hugo says:

    Racist? No, not inherently.

    Ideal? No.

    My wife is Afro-Colombian Croatian, the daughter of an unlikely pairing between a cowboy from Montana of Slavic descent and a mother from the Caribbean coast of Colombia who was of mixed African, indigenous, and Spanish descent. My father was born in Vienna the son of Jews who converted to Catholicism, and he married my WASPy mother. A long and proud tradition of marrying people who “don’t get your culture”.

    My daughter is German, Nigerian, Jewish, Scots-Irish, indigenous Colombian, Flemish, English, Croatian, Czech, Spanish. She’s an octoroon. She’s beautiful.

    And we live in the heart of multi-culti LA, where the kosher butchers sits side by side with the vegan Thai place, where I can walk down the street and hear Farsi and Yiddish and Spanish and Korean, and see the children of the improbable unions of so many cultures.

    We don’t just have one culture. We have many. I’m a half-Jewish WASP married to a woman whose roots are from Dubrovnik, Lagos, and the hot lowlands of northern South America. Blissikins.

    • April says:

      Where you live sounds awesome, as does the multicultural background of your family. Your daughter is lucky to have such a varied family history!

  5. Jim says:

    First off the cultural compatablity that matters has more to do with having a common class bakground than some notional ethnic identity. In the military commissary nearby it’s pretty common to see couples where the man is some old boy form Oklahoma or wherever and the women is a country girl from Korea, and they’ve been stably married for 45 years simply because they had simialr expectatgions of marriage and life in general, and simiar coping mechanisms. The old boys even come to like the cooking after a while.

    I was married to a banker while I was0 an [active] Army officer. Background – she was a very good person with some sever FOO issues, noe it them any of her doing. We had various problems, but the most serious ones were without reservation the diffenrneces in or class cultures and values. She and I accomodated in good faith, but it was always work, and we both had lines we would not cross and values we would not compromise.One of mine was that I refused to lie, and that was a source of a lot of consternation. She for her part had a very hard time getting used to having her own individual standing in my community, but then nobody did; that was the real disconnect.

    Notional ethnic identity – ethnicity as a hard and fast category is a 19th century nationalist trope. At one stage it was progessive; now it is almost always retrograde. The idea that an Irish-American has more culturally in common with an Irishman than an African-American is pretty debatable. Soe identities are more notional than others – Hispanic is one example. People fresh from Mexico are routinely mystified by the idea that they supposedly have nore in common with a Cuban than with that Anglo right next to them. Second-generationers may be different; they may have been enculturated to that idea.

    But that bit about dating or just esex based on race – that’s nothing new. Back in the free and easy 70’s it was a standard joke that black guys would pull the racial justice thing on white women they were hitting on. Why not, it’s one among many pick-up lines. But in the Me Decade being ideologically correct counted for a lot less and generally they got a laughing brush-off. Dating or mating based on race or ethnicity is basically pretty objectifying, but there’s a lot of that going around and there’s no reason to stigmatize this variety especially.

    • Byron says:

      Racial and ethnic identity is outdated because its propitiousness is perpetuated as something valuable, when it isn’t. Even though dating someone of your own (whatever) background is comfortable, it’d be much bolder to keep your own relationships free of the influence of how you were raised in regards to ethnic differences. With every generation, the instilled notion of ethnicity would diminish and people would have to get along be attracted to one another on more rational terms.

      Imagine, a world where you can discount someone not because of their ethnic baggage, like the “friend of OP”, but because you truly dislike them as a person.

    • Jim says:

      For one thing ethnicity is a moving target. Groups split and blend and acquire new names. Groups get different designations in different societies. It’s a mess if you give it too much weight.. It’s not so bad if you remember these labels are merely convenient and provisional.

  6. Clarence says:

    Byron:

    People aren’t going to change who they are attracted to just to make your ideology feel good.
    While I like some girls from all races, I dare say that the races seem to me to have different amounts of various morphological traits that I find attractive. Thus, it’s an open question as to whether I am more attracted on average to people of Asian heritage versus people of Nothern European heritage. There is, however, a noteable difference between those two groups and the amount of people of modern african heritage that I find attractive. This, plus the fact that there are far more people of the first two genetic lineages combined than the third one mentioned means I am overwhelmingly likely to date and/or mate with a person from the first two lineages, via simple probability.

    • Byron says:

      Morphological traits? You mean, the way the person looks? It may be comfortable to date among those you already find attractive, but if you keep that “ideology” you’re really going to narrow your choices.

      This isn’t “simple probability”, this is self-determination. As you relate more with people outside of your choice groups you might find them more attractive.

      It might not be racist to not date inter-racially, but you’re still delineating different ethnic “heritages”, and the world doesn’t need more differences.

    • Clarence says:

      “It might not be racist to not date inter-racially, but you’re still delineating different ethnic “heritages”, and the world doesn’t need more differences.”

      Differences are the selection traits of evolution.
      There’s a reason people in Europe have different skin color, lactose tolerance, susceptibility to sickle cell and etc. on average than people in Africa. People will continue to evolve differently so long as they continue to live in different physical environments.

      As for your ridiculous conflation of what sexually attracts me with “ideology” , I have no reason to believe this assertion is factually correct. Besides, I already said that some women from every “racial heritage” attract me, I just have a different proportion of people who meet my attraction criteria between these different types of people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    • Byron says:

      I doubt that people will continue to evolve differences at an appreciable pace to the human’s lifespan, but rather grow closer and closer: modern medicine will make human evolution a thing of the past.

      Your attraction is an ideology, since you’ve already formed strict “proportions” and “types” that you would prefer to lean on and guide your thinking with.

    • Clarence says:

      Byron:
      As guy with an undegraduate degree in biology, I can see you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to evolution. Evolution DOES NOT stop, and indeed, can be proven not to stop mathematically. You really need to educate yourself in the sciences a bit more.

      As for “ideology” you misuse that word. An ideology is, according to dictionary.com:

      “a body of ideas that reflects the beliefs and interests of a nation, political system, etc and underlies political action..”

      A sexual preference is not an ideology, and by the way, has nothing to do with whom I choose to have as friends as compared to lovers. Last I heard, friends discuss ideas and things among themselves as well as lovers. I don’t have to want to “bang” a female to learn something from her.

      Your misuse of terms and sloppy understanding of science disappoint me.

  7. Kaz says:

    I used to worry a lot about what would happen if I started a relationship with a non-German. Like, what if we had kids? I felt (and feel) that I’d pretty much die if my kids didn’t grow up speaking German, but how to manage that if my partner didn’t speak German? How about the cultural traditions that are very important to me, like how I celebrate Advent and Christmas? Would I have to compromise on those? Would I have to take e.g. some of the American traditions I think of as “foreign” and am seriously uncomfortable with because of feeling they were thrust on me and my family when we lived in the US into my home? How about the fact that although I don’t live in Germany now I intend on going back to live there permanently one day, how would I manage *that* with a non-German partner… one who might not be too keen on permanently moving to a foreign country?

    I still worry about this – my understanding of my orientation has changed so that I know my potential pool of partners is so miniscule that I can’t afford to do anything to narrow it further, but all of those issues are still present all the same. I can very much understand why someone would not want to date outside their cultural background at the least.

    • Jim says:

      Just curious – how were these American customs “thrust” upon you in your own home? who was forcing you to follow them? Is that the only reason you are uncomfortable with them, or is it really just that they were alien to you? Perhaps you and your family were still thinking like Germans – in my years of living in Germany I observed that local people were quite hostile if outsiders did not conform in even the most trivial ways to local norms – and so you assumed that your American neighbors had the same attitude. If so, you were imposing a false understanding on the situation.

      Second – why would you not be able to carry on your traditions in a mixed marriage? Lots of the rest of us do. You would have the same problem in Germany if you married someone from another part of the country, Germany is small but there is a surprising amount of cultural diversity on thelevel of food and customs.

      I lived in Germany for a number of years and your concerns sound very familiar. I don’t think you are a very good candidate for a sucessful inter-cultural relationship, even with a German from elsewhere in the country. Whatever else the relationship might amount to, it sounds like it would be a lot of misery for both partners.

  8. johnedens says:

    Eh…the heart wants what the heart wants – or doesn’t want what it doesn’t want, as the case may be. Overthinking ones romantic attractions might be counter-productive.

  9. Byron says:

    As a high school student with no degree, I resent your paternalism in being “disappointed with me.”

    Sexual attraction isn’t an ideology, but the same can’t be said about uniting this concept with morphological traits, probability, and genes; I’m not criticizing your choice of words, (after all, you’ve studied these concepts), but using science to inflate a concept into an idea and then a practical theory stinks of ideology.

    And I beg anyone to differ.

  10. Byron says:

    #cdwoodworth I’ll let you have the last word. And you won’t offend anyone by saying fucking and not putting it quotes.

    I must also say that this blog re-design is as great as the last look.

  11. Clarence says:

    I must have missed the place in this thread where anyone said a curse-word …
    You really need to be more clear in both your concepts and your accusations, Byron.

  12. sorry to jump on this so late, but Robin Hanson nailed it in a long-ago post:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/02/mate-racism.html

    “The obvious reason to allow mate racism is that people better enjoy mating when they better like their mates, and people think they care about the race of their mates. But this same reason suggests allowing racism by firms, schools, and clubs. Firms are full of people, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, any of which might care about the race of folks they must deal, mingle, associate, etc. with. At schools, the teachers, students, and ultimate employers of those students may also care about race.”

    The paragraph you pull from the article makes it seem as if POCs get to be lazy when it comes to explaining cultural minutia, as if individual familial cultures do not contain multiple such things that need to be explained to an outsider. We have such a terribly elevated notion of what culture is and should be–but what adds the most joy and causes the least violence and discord are food, drink, dance and song; the kottu roti, crab curry, arrack and baila instead of LTTE, Rajapakse, etc. If you cannot explain these things to out-group people, why have culture at all? It’s just an incestuous mix of bad ideas which segregate you from others.

    • JohnE says:

      Allow me to suggest an alternative –

      The obvious reason to allow mate racism is that there is no effective way to keep individuals from practicing mate racism.

    • Jim says:

      In fact that down-home aspect of the culture is what really erases these animosities faster than anything else, because they humanize us to each other.

  13. Sarah says:

    I think there’s a difference between not dating those outside your race/culture because you’re not attracted to them, and not dating them *even when you are attracted to them*, or dating them but not seriously. Nobody can help who they’re attracted to, but there is a lot of pain caused by people choosing their family’s values over their own love for a person.

  14. jared mackes says:

    I don’t neccessary date interacially for the first reason said. I grew up in a primarily white suburban area. In my area most of the black and hispanic population are from urban areas namely New York and Philadelphia. Those people even the white people from those areas are just different to say the least. The fact is too it really doesn’t matter what race the person is like I have dated a few “suburban blacks” who were more from my background. It matters more what social background they came from. As for the guy who said he didn’t like to date single women with kids. Not all single women with kids are irresponsible, but alot are. Having kids alone doesn’t deter me from dating them, but at least it makes you take a second look at them.

    • April says:

      It matters more what social background they came from.

      I think this is very true, universally. You’re more likely to not only date, but interact with people with whom you can relate on a socio-economic scale.

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