Racial Preferences in Dating
I was interviewed about racial preferences in dating for the Triple J show, “The Hook Up,” along with Dr Denton Callender, a research fellow at the Kirby Institute, and Dr Ian Stephen. The podcast included calls from listeners who shared what it’s like to be fetishised on dating apps, as well as the racial biases that White people exercise.
Here’s part of the transcript.
Hannah: I asked sociologist, Zuleyka Zevallos, where these ethnic preferences might be coming from.
Zuleyka: It goes back to the way we think about beauty. We’re socialised from a really young age to be looking out for certain types of physical traits – and a lot of them are associated with Whiteness. It’s about: having very light skin; having a particular type of nose – various types of features that are more common amongst people who are White.
Hannah: So you think beauty is a cultural idea, not a physical one?
Zuleyka: It is very much shaped by culture. We know that because there are patterns. You talked about the patterns on dating apps. There are patterns in which people couple more generally, in marriage – those types of patterns. If it wasn’t culturally shaped, there wouldn’t be patterns because everyone would have an equal chance of hooking up with people, and having relationships with, people outside of their own racial group.
Hannah: I’ve heard the argument that having an ethnic preference is like having a preference for blondes or brunettes. Is that really the same thing?
Zuleyka: Not really, because there is a lot of variability within and across racial groups. So you can find a lot of different traits across ethnic groups. But since people will say, particularly on their online profiles, when they’re using dating apps, they will say things like: “No Asians.” Or, “No Black people,” things like that.
Hannah: We are going to be talking that in more detail in just a little while.
Zuleyka: Great! I think that things show that people learn to think about sexuality and what attracts them in particular ways that are very much exclusionary to people of colour.
Hannah: And so, do you think we’re socially conditioned to find certain ethnicities more attractive?
Zuleyka: Yes. It comes across in a lot of research particularly to your listeners who would be people of colour would be told things like, “Oh you’re pretty for a Black girl,” or things like that, which show that people are thought about being attractive or unattractive the closer they are to European ideals of beauty. It’s through various forms of culture, from paintings through to film – we’re surrounded by these ideas that a certain type of look is more attractive than others.
Hannah: This preference for whiteness in dating, do you think sometimes we find that hard to accept?
Zuleyka: I think so. I think it’s because in Australia, we don’t really have a language to think about race. We don’t really talk about race, unless we’re talking about racism. In other countries, like the United States, people have more open conversations. Whereas here, I think that we’re scared to talk about race and racism because people are afraid to be thought of as racist. It’s not like people will be consciously discriminating against groups, even when they say things like, “No Asians,” or whatever it is – [Hannah interrupts].
Hannah: – Wait, how is that not consciously discriminating?
Zuleyka: [Laughs] Well if you speak to people who make those statements, they will tell you that they think they’re not being racist because in Australia we think of racism as something that is really overt. Like screaming at somebody an insult, or not giving somebody a job. Overt forms of racism is what we recognise as racism, but the everyday functions of race – like whom we’re attracted to – we are afraid to think about what that might mean about our racial identities and how we relate to other people.
Read more on my blog: https://othersociologist.com/2018/02/10/racial-preferences-dating/
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