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I was just asked at a dinner party — where a lot of my research on which topics need more discussion happens — about the difference between sexual racism and sexual preference. Both are deeply intertwined and often can be hard to separate.
Typically what we like sexually is rooted in anxiety, ego and social norms. We live in a sexually anxious and slut-shaming culture, so few are free enough to own and explore all they are sexually. Most are limited by how they want to be seen socially and haven’t really unpacked the unconscious limits our culture of racism has implanted in all of us sexually.
The powerful difference between racism and preference is that sexual racism reinforces oppression and racial supremacy, while sexual preference is about eroticism (though it’s also influenced by the culture around us). The two are intimately tied.
The real point is that the outward expression of sexual racism is damaging, violent and just not nice.
So how do you make sure you aren’t reinforcing racism? Well, you can use language that doesn’t shame or marginalize, you can stay sexually flexible and open, and you can consider the idea of being compatible with someone outside of what you assume you like.
Here are 7 forms sexual racism can take among queer men:
1. Listing races on your dating or sex app profile that shouldn’t contact you.
This is the “White guys only, sorry it’s just my preference” people.
There’s no need to say “White guys only,” not only because it’s hurtful to see if you are a POC, but because no one actually likes all white guys, so you look ridiculous acting like it’s too exhausting to respond to guys you aren’t attracted to. All you’re really saying is, “I can’t even consider the idea of liking a POC, I’m racist, and I don’t mind hurting others’ feelings.”
No one should want to date or bang someone as callous as this.
2. Defending only liking one race, aka your race, aka white people.
The world centers around whiteness. You don’t need to help this along on dating and sex apps, too.
3. Having sex with multiple races but being willing to date or have a relationship with only white partners.
This is called fetishizing, but it falls under the sexual racism umbrella. Being willing to have sex with someone but not seeing them as a viable partner because of their race is racism.
It’s not a compliment, and if you relate to this, do the psychological work to unpack why your self-esteem can’t tolerate the idea of a partner of color.
4. Saying that you date or have sex with POCs because they’re hung.
Not only is this not true, but it’s blatant body shaming to those who don’t fit this stereotype, and it reduces that person of color to a fetish, seeing their sexuality as their only value.
5. Thinking because you once hooked up with or went on a date with a POC that you can’t be a sexual racist.
We live in a racist culture, and we all contribute to it in many macro and micro ways. Your sexual or dating history doesn’t exclude you from this. The needed work is ongoing.
6. Thinking that because you are friends with POCs that you can’t be a sexual racist.
See the above. Your social life doesn’t excuse your romantic or sex life, or mean that you have no more work to do to help unpack and dismantle sexual racism.
7. Hitting on POCs by using cultural stereotypes or appropriated slang.
Using stereotypical language and terms to impress or engage people of color is neither a compliment nor attractive. Its naïve and offensive. Just hit on all people the same way.