How does race play into hook-up culture?

27 03 2009

PACT (Prevention, Awareness and Community at Tufts) is in the process of filming a documentary about hook-up culture at Tufts. We heard from many different people and their thoughts on various issues related to hook-up culture: whether hook-up culture exists here at Tufts, the advantages and disadvantages of hooking up, how race/racism factors into hook-up culture, how to be an active bystander, how technology enables/facilitates hook-up culture, where sexual assault plays into hook-up culture, etc.

What interested me the most was the whole race/racism issue. People may think that we are beyond race and racism now, that we are “color-blind”, but that is not necessarily true. People spoke about their experiences and thoughts on hooking up with or dating people who exclusively hook up or date people of a certain ethnicity. Like white males who only hook up with or date black women, or Asian women, etc.

Exclusively hooking up with or dating people of a certain ethnicity (like only Latinos/Latinas, or Asians, or blacks, etc.) is problematic and racist because in these scenarios, that ethnicity is being eroticized, fetishized and otherized. People project ideas and assumptions about the behavior of certain ethnicities based on racist stereotypes about that ethnic group. It further groups the people of that ethnicity together and tokenizes people – that one person is representative of the whole ethnic group.

But is it racist to hook up with or date only within your own ethnicity or to purposely avoid hooking up with and dating people of your own ethnicity? Some people mentioned having friends or knowing people who refuse to date within their ethnicity because they don’t want to be seen as people who only date within their race. Like how some Asian men make it a point to NOT hook up with or date Asian women because they don’t want to be that stereotypical Asian who only dates Asians. Or how some black women never hook up with or date black men.

I can understand why some people may choose to date exclusively within their own ethnicity – some parents may be very intolerant of interracial dating. Therefore it may be easier to date within your own ethnicity to avoid any parental/family drama. Parental pressure can be a strong force factoring into people’s decisions of who they date or become romantically involved with. Then again, some people just don’t give a damn what their parents think and date whoever they want to regardless of ethnicity.

I have a hard time believing people who say that they only date certain ethnicities because they are simply attracted to certain features. Like if they find blond hair and blue eyes extremely attractive. Or if they find dark skin and dark hair sexy and attractive. What lies behind the attraction? I feel like there’s got to be a lot more than just really liking blue eyes.

I am also slightly skeptical of the argument that it’s better to date within your own ethnicity because “people like you understand you better”. This relates back to the whole why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria question. People are conditioned to believe that it’s a personal issue, that people of your skin color just get you in ways that other people can’t. This ignores the underlying structural forces that come into play that shape these relations. It is no coincidence that wealthier suburbs and neighborhoods tend to be predominantly white while housing developments and projects tend to consist of people of color.

It’s easier to convince yourself and accept that it’s a personal, individual thing where people from your ethnic background get you better, but it’s never that simple. It’s also problematic because it lumps all people of a certain ethnicity together. Since you guys are all black, Asian, Hispanic, etc., obviously you are all the same and get each other.

The whole issue of race and romance, how race and racism influence who you choose to hook up with and/or date, is part of an ongoing dialogue that I have with my friends. Despite the many number of times I’ve talked about this and the many number of people I’ve discussed this with, I still haven’t come to any concrete conclusion. What are people’s thoughts and feelings on this?


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