When it comes to dating, whether online or offline, people will always have a preference. All online dating sites have done is give people the option of selecting preferred race so that they can be able to match like-minded individuals. I don’t think their aim is to make people come off as racist by merely stating the racial preference of sought mates. We all have preferences. Should we claim people are racist just because they prefer particular races? Should we blame these individuals when we face rejection from others for being ‘what they weren’t expecting?’ So where is one supposed to draw the line? How do we divorce mere preference from prejudice? Or are they just the same?
There is a difference between saying:
- You usually find x more attractive than y (logic: everyone has preferences)
- You would never date x because of whatever stereotype you have formed (racism/extreme prejudice)
The best way to illustrate the tenuous yet crucial difference is via two scenarios.
1. Filling up an employment position
Assumptions: You are filling up a vacancy, which entails only knowledge of Office 2007 to perform the job. Your choice of candidature are: (1) a chinese person, and (2) a caucasian person.
How would you choose? Obviously, drawing from the above traditional argument, you would hire the candidate with better Office 2007.
2. Choosing your life partner
Assumptions: You want a guy who is financially stable, tall and has facial hair.
How would choose? We never go out, start on a blank slate and evaluate if every single man you meet satisfies this criteria. So what do we do? two things: (1) we form our own stereotype of what class of men are more likely than not to satisfy this criteria and focus on that, or (2) borrow an unquestioned socially held stereotype and focus on that class.
For example, in Singapore this criteria would be more likely than not be satisfied by a white caucasian man (based on a social stereotype). Hence, why they are so popular among the south-east asian women. So, women who look for such criteria (which about 85% of female Singaporeans) would prefer this race compared to the rest – Clarke Quay on the weekends or online dating site requirements are evidential proof of this phenomenon.
Moving into a grey area
So, what is the difference between the two scenario and when does/can preference turn to racism.
The innate difference between the two is the logically reasoning. In the s(1), you know all you need is someone proficient in Office 2007. There is no subjective assessment and merely a paper-based qualification of a candidate can allow for the right decision to be made without prejudice or racism. In the s(2), there are two levels; firstly, to ascertain what characteristics an individual would want in his/her life partner. This is subjective and such criteria can be concluded based on purely personal preferences. For example: I can decide to prefer green tea over to coffee and such preference has no influence or prejudice over other coffee drinkers. The second level causes concerns, next we take this subjective preference and create a class of individuals who are treated superior to others. Logically, this directly and indirectly achieves three things: (1) it creates a positive stereotype of one class of people, (2) creates a negative stereotype of another class of people, and (3) opens the possibility of a wrong stereotype and prejudice.
Let me explain this using the green tea vs. coffee example. Say, you wanted to drink a hot beverage, which is healthy (subjective preference). In addition, you generally conclude (stereotype) that non-caffeine based beverages are healthier and logically would prefer green tea over coffee when given a choice. However, the accuracy of your choice depends on the accuracy of your assumption; “non-caffeine based beverages are healthier”, so if your assumption is wrong then not only would you be fooling yourself but have created a false negative stereotype (or wrong stereotype i.e. coffee is unhealthy) about coffee. Therefore, the second level in s(2)’s logical reasoning provides an avenue for ignorance based stereotypes (caucasian men = rich, tall and hairy) to be drawn about people based on honestly held subjective preferences (financially stable, tall with facial hair). Saying green tea = a healthier beverage is placing too much reliance on a subjective stereotype taking it an assumption as the truth. This ignorance would also lead for a non-caucasian to be unappealing because he is non-caucasian although he may in fact have all the subjective preferences desired (financially stable, tall with facial hair). This treatment of other classes of people based on a wrong (not negative) stereotype fathomed through ignorance is what I called racism.
Ok I do admit starting with a blank slate doesn’t mean you can’t prejudge. You should be aware of where someone fits by their appearances, but just don’t confirm those thoughts until you’ve given them a chance. When giving them a chance remember what your subjective preferences are and never let your ignorant stereotypes guide your choices.