“You know, I’m really not into Asian guys. I’m into more … manly guys.”
My friend tells me this over dinner, and, with my spoon hovering over my tortilla soup, I don’t feel hungry anymore.
The problematic implications attached to my friend’s seemingly offhand words floor me: the casual racism behind branding an entire group of incredibly diverse people as somehow less than and the narrow, unforgiving view of masculinity my friend seems to hold and consequently value in a potential partner and the unfair suggestion that the entire demographic of Asian males is collectively undeserving of her romantic interest and the prioritization of manliness as the determining factor for romantic viability and the list goes on.
I love my friend a lot. I really do, but this comment is unacceptable — so I draw up the courage to firmly let her know that.
Immediately, I am met with a defiant, “That’s not racist! I’m not saying Asian guys are objectively unattractive. I personally am just not attracted to them. That’s it.” My friend then proceeds to explain that she has nothing against Asian men and that they’re simply not her “taste.”
After a while I give up, partly because I don’t want our dinner to get weirder than it already is. Our usual conversations consist of us laughing at the other’s jokes or sympathizing with each other, which means we often agree on the topic at hand. When we don’t, it can place an awkward, almost somber air over our interaction, a phenomenon that doesn’t deter me from speaking up in the first place but still disheartens me to such an extent that I’ll drop the discussion.
A couple weeks later, I’m absentmindedly scrolling through Instagram with another friend. She makes me stop at one post and then remarks on how the model in the picture is the most gorgeous person she’s ever seen in her life. I nod in agreement. He has flawless skin, expressive eyes and ultra-defined cheekbones.
He also appears to be multiracial, with blue eyes and a light brown skin tone. A little more research tells us that he has a Ghanaian mother and a German father. My friend comments, “I think mixed people are so beautiful and unique. Like, mixed guys are my favorite.”
This statement doesn’t sit well with me either. Celebrating and acknowledging the beauty and worth of people with mixed-race heritage is a good thing, especially since negative stigmas around multiracial ancestry exist. Yet declaring — or implying — that multiracial people with immediate white ancestry are more attractive than others based on the virtue of their increased “whiteness” (and, in that, their increased perceived beauty) is absolutely racist.
I struggle to tell my friend this, but she waves away my well-meaning assertion, saying, “No, I don’t mean it like that.” But, I think maybe she does.
In both experiences, I was stunned at how difficult it was to explain to my friends that what they said so casually was fundamentally problematic. It seemed impossible to argue with them about what they considered to be their personal, immutable romantic preferences — you can’t force someone to find another attractive if they simply don’t.
Romantic preferences though — in the context of what traits you’re looking for in a partner — are not the issue here. The fact remains that categorizing an entire race of people as romantically unviable or less attractive due to their lack of a certain kind of ancestry is racist. Behind seemingly innocent personal preference lurks the implication that those belonging to a certain race are not worthy of being your romantic partner. Thus, you discount an entire race of people’s capacity to be loved in a physical sense and, subsequently, emotional sense, seeing as the two inform each other. It’s an act of exclusion.
If you’ve grown up in a racially homogenous environment and have only interacted with members of one race throughout your entire life — perhaps your family, school and church are all composed of one race — you may feel more familiar with members of that race. My friend, the one who made the first comment, grew up in a small town in Texas that was predominantly white, and, as a result, she didn’t interact with people of other races on a daily basis for most of her childhood. She didn’t even think about finding other races attractive because every aspect of her life was so fully immersed in a white community.
Yet according to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.” In 2060, the minority population is expected to rise to 56 percent of the total population, making the U.S. decisively minority-majority. Minorities aren’t going anywhere. Though my friend may be from a deeply homogenous community, the U.S. as a whole is becoming much, much more diverse.
Our country — Trump’s “abandoned” white part as well as the demographic that includes myself and my peers — has yet to come to terms with such diversity. We have yet to come to terms with the fact that remarks that serve to institute a barrier between oneself and an entire racial group of people are not okay. And we have yet to realize that failing to call out someone for saying those remarks despite knowing the prejudiced implications of their statement is, by default, undeniably partaking in racism.
Contact Yanichka Ariunbold at yanichka ‘at’ stanford.edu.