How many times have you heard yourself say, "They're just not my type"?
Whether you're into bad boys, funny girls or your complete opposite, chances are you have some preferences when it comes to sex and relationships. Who you like is who you like, and that's totally okay, but how do we know when our preferences cross the line into prejudices?
You may have heard people describe their type in physical terms: "I love tall guys" or "I'm really into redheads."
But when someone says, "I don't date Asians," or "I'm only into skinny chicks," that's not a preference: that's straight up discriminatory.
What you're really saying is "this person is not attractive because they do not fit white, Western beauty standards." You're saying that you believe negative stereotypes are associated with this person's appearance or culture.
This kind of exclusion works both ways.
If someone says they only date a certain race or body type, that's fetishization. They're objectifying people by reducing them to a sexual fantasy. While this sort of discrimination can apply to fat, disabled and trans and gender-nonconforming people, let's use race as our main example.
Wanting to only date a specific race (a race that is not your own) defines people solely by their race, and also plays into stereotypes that there's a specific way people of certain races are "supposed" to look or act. Implicit in this is the assumption that all people of a certain race look the same, which is obviously not true.
Desire turns into fetishization when someone views a person as "other" and therefore "exotic"; they regard dating that person as cool, mysterious or adventurous. It's most definitely not flattering. In fact, it's actually pretty gross.
Wanting to date someone solely because of physical attributes related to their race relies on harmful colonialist attitudes toward people of colour. If skin colour alone is enough to determine if you're attracted to someone, it's time to think about why.
Western pop culture's role
While some preferences are unexplainable, favouring certain ethnicities or body types is often a learned cultural bias. Western pop culture celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty, one that is mostly white, thin, cis and able-bodied. Anyone that doesn't fit that standard is excluded from our cultural definition of what is ideal or attractive.
If we're not surrounded by diverse images of what normal humans look like, there's little room for a more inclusive narrative of beauty.
As a white woman, I have to be careful to reflect on what shapes my "type." One of my first serious partners was mixed, half black and half white. Do I find mixed black men attractive because I dated one, or did I date a mixed black man because I find them attractive? Questions like this are especially tricky when considering how colourism in pop culture favours light-skinned celebrities. Multiracial identities are also often subject to the legacy of the "one-drop rule," categorizing mixed people as black instead of white, for example.
There's no such thing as reverse racism
Conversely, many people of colour prefer to date only other people of colour, even more specifically, people of the same race. For example, one of my friends, a second generation Korean-Canadian, highly prefers to date East Asian men. For her, dating men as a feminist is hard enough. Dealing with racism on top of that is just too much. After dating a Chinese-Canadian, she realized how important it was to her to have a common cultural experience with her partner.
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In the same way that reverse racism doesn't exist, it's not racist for a person of colour to only want to date another person of colour, because they're not discriminating against people whom they have a history of oppressing.
There is a fine line between having a type and a fetish — so how do we find it?
Make sure that you're looking at people, not stereotypes
Being attracted to certain traits is fine, but discounting an entire group of people? Not cool. There are so many amazing, multi-dimensional people out there who deserve to be appreciated for their full selves, not just one aspect of their identity.
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