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 psychologist 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.
I am featured at the beginning, when host Hannah Reilly asks me to comment on ethnic preferences. (Note that ethnicity is about culture, and race is about physical traits. To illustrate this distinction: there are Black Latin people – they’re classified as Black in terms of race, and Latin in terms of culture.)
Amongst other things, I discussed how “racial preferences” in dating are not just individual choices – they have consequences that contribute to structural and everyday racism.
Well, people certainly think that it’s their right [to state their racial preferences], because they think they can’t help who they’re attracted to. But the fact is, as soon as you start to exclude people, then you’re participating in the broader pattern of exclusion that people from minority backgrounds face. That’s what people from White backgrounds don’t understand – that “I don’t have a preference towards X, Y, and Z groups,” they are contributing to the daily experiences of racism that those groups already face at work, at school, when they’re walking down the street. So this is just another form of discrimination that minorities are facing that White people don’t have to deal with.
Diversity studies encompass three broad processes:
Equity: addressing the challenges arising from structural disadvantage and leveraging opportunities for change;
Access: identifying, evaluating, and improving participation of underrepresented groups; and
Inclusion: recognizing differences and respectfully addressing the specific knowledge, needs, and experiences of minorities.
In science, diversity research shows that systemic barriers stop white women and minorities from reaching the same levels of success as white men from majority backgrounds. It’s especially vital to understand how gender, race, and other inequities are interconnected. While girls and boys from a wide range of backgrounds show the same aptitude in science, children are socialized from a young age to recognize one dominant image of scientists: white men in lab coats. This stereotype permeates the way in which science is taught. Teachers’ unconscious biases lead to ongoing hurdles for students from minority backgrounds, who don’t see viable career paths as they struggle for structural support.
“Modern Australians of global origins who are proud of where they came from and proud of who they are. Modern Australians. Yet, some of these designers are ignored by the Australian fashion industry, and what’s worse, some Indigenous Australian designers are not even acknowledged. It is disappointing that Australian Indigenous Fashion Week was a separate event from Australian Fashion Week.”
Quote and photo: http://buff.ly/2jkxNCc [Photo: Fijian-Australian model and author Dusk Devi Nand modelling in a magazine]
The despicable practice of trophy hunting has unique social practices that sanitise the language and images of animals killed for sport.
Ulrich Seidl, the director of “Safari,” a film that documents trophy hunting, says the language used by trophy hunters:
“‘create[s] this certain emotional distance between the act of hunting and the animals.’ ‘Piece’ becomes a byword for animal; ‘sweat’ for blood. Blood, Seidl says, is of particular significance: ‘They remove the blood from the photos so no one can see … It’s an indication for me that blood is very much a taboo in our society.'”
This is not the best way to deal with an ageing population. Barcodes and similar types of identification have been exploited throughout history.
“A company in Iruma, north of Tokyo, developed tiny nail stickers, each of which carries a unique identity number to help concerned families find missing loved ones, according to the city’s social welfare office.”
“The problem of unsafe plastic surgeries also has not been taken seriously because Colombian society divides victims into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ It has a serious lack of empathy with the victims of unsafe cosmetic surgeries… The surgeries that society rejects are those that have to do with women’s sexualisation. And in Colombia, for women, there is only one thing worse than being a sexual object: not being one.”
Beauty ideals and their consequences are not immutable, natural or unavoidable. They are socially constructed. This means that what people take to be normal and fixed facts about the world are actually determined by social norms, culture and social interaction. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann have established this theory, showing how individuals’ knowledge and perception about social reality are shaped by their social position within a given society, otherwise known as their social status. While there are positive and negative social outcomes that flow on from beauty hierarchies, these are not the logical result of natural selection and biological drive. Renditions of beauty found in art and pop culture reflect the way in which broader narratives about beauty are socially constructed.
“Marginalised people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences… Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimising” the other person by calling them out.” – Too Young for the Living Dead
When White people try to dismiss Indigenous and other people of colour’s (POC) discussion of colonialism and its present-day impact by focusing on “tone,” that’s racism.
The language of “civility” has been used throughout history to justify the colonialisation of Indigenous people, the slavery of Black people, and racial stratification all over the world. All of these patterns are part of Australia’s history.
“It could be that active learning breaks a cultural barrier. Student surveys showed that in a traditional lecture hall, Black students ‘were very uncomfortable speaking up in class. And, under this reformed course, they were two times more likely to speak up in class,’ said Eddy [Dr. Sarah Eddy, University of Washington biology postdoctoral fellow]. Part of the problem, Eddy argued, is that universities teach based on the culture of the populations they’ve historically served. ‘And those populations tended to be white and upper middle class,’ she said. This teaching style does not translate across cultures, according to Eddy, ‘since different populations bring different values sets into the classroom,’ as this study reports.” – Ainissa Ramirez on Edutopia
Racism is not an interpersonal phenomenon. It is not simply about something one person said to another; it is more than a slur about skin colour. Racism operates through institutions and policies, that are reinforced in everyday words and actions. Racism is not comprehending that things you say and do – as well as the things you fail to say and do – contribute to the alienation of people of colour. Well-meaning White people contribute towards racism – through their silence. Whether intentional or not, racism has material consequences on the life chances of racial minorities.
Racism is thinking that having one person of colour in your classroom amounts to “diversity.”
Racism is using that one unnamed, magical student of colour you “mentor” (whom nobody ever seems to see in your office) as a defence to vouch for your diversity credentials.
Racism is never stopping to notice that your curriculum, the textbooks you ask students to discuss in research and exam papers, and your presentations are filled with the work of White scholars. And no: that one video clip you use of [insert pop culture reference to a person of colour] does not count as “diversity” in your teaching. Racism is not recognising the lifetime of racism students have suffered before they walk into your classroom, and then contributing to their silencing and exclusion because you’re unaware of your biases.
Racism is expecting people of colour (usually postgraduates and early career staff) to look after the needs of other minority students but never giving them resources, support or credit for this unpaid work.
Racism is using resources that should be directed to increase diversity of research students and junior staff into areas where people of colour will never enter. Usually this plays out by redirecting all efforts and funding into programs that primarily benefit White women from majority groups.
Racism is using the work of students of colour to boost your career but never giving them public credit, and yet privately undermining their progress.
Racism is thinking that there’s a “nice” way for students to approach you about racism. Racism is punishing students for pointing out your racism.
‘The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being White confers privilege but that not being White means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that Whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially Blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.
‘Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.” – George Yancy and Naomi Zack on The New York Times.
Educator Peggy McInotsh introduced the idea of white privilege, the special benefits, protections and access to power conferred onto White people, which allows them to advance in life without conscious awareness of racial discrimination. She came to this concept as she reflected on her feminist practices. She noticed that even when male colleagues were willing to support women’s efforts to increase gender equity, they were not willing to give up their own status and power. Having tried to include women of colour in her feminist activities with little successful engagement, she came to see how she, as a White woman, had also been reticent to give up her own benefits to make feminism truly inclusive of racial minorities. She notes that educated White people like herself are raised to notice the “bad” aspects of racism, but not the benefits that make her life easier.
She came to realise that Whiteness was like an invisible knapsack she carried around with her, which protects her from noticing the advantages of race. Noticing her racial privileges, she understood the myth of meritocracy, for in the bag of Whiteness, she finds the key to open many doors that women of colour cannot access. Her skin colour was “an asset” that helped her secure a better education; it made it easy to take for granted that she belonged to the broader culture that facilitated her success, despite the gender inequalities she fought.
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious… Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us.”
McIntosh began to recognise that “privilege confers dominance.” She came to see that her feminism was oppressive, even though she wasn’t conscious of the benefits of her race; but this is the point: by not being aware of race, she was contributing to inequity. She had failed to notice how the benefits she enjoys are part of a system that disadvantages people of colour. Just as patriarchy positions men as the universal norm, requiring women to adjust their behaviour and expectations to the needs and interests of men, McIntosh recognises how Whiteness pushes her to view the world through a racial lens. She’s encouraged to leave undisturbed the norm that Others should be more like White people, instead of challenging the system.
In 2014, Karlesha Thurman, a young Black mother in California, faced vicious trolling after she shared a photo of herself breastfeeding to a Black mother’s group on Facebook. Conversely, Jacci Sharkey, a young White Australian mother, was commended after posting a photo of herself breastfeeding to the University of the Sunshine Coast Facebook page. Both are of similar age, both are students and similarly smiling with pride in their graduation cap and gown, while carrying out a natural act of feeding their child. Neither mother deserves to be exposed to abuse. But racism ensures that the same act of motherly care led to the hypersexualisation of a Black mother.
‘And so the hypersexualistion of the Black woman was born.
‘Colonial Australia was no better. Because Indigenous sexual relations differed to that of Whites, Indigenous women were all considered prostitutes and fair game for White men with a fetish for “black velvet.” In a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy, many Aboriginal women were forced into prostitution to survive. Even those in “respectable” employment such as domestic servants were expected to sexually satisfy their bosses and co-workers as part of the job requirements…
‘But the fact remains, when two photos were stacked side by side, only one of the women was able transcend the sexualisation of the act of breastfeeding. Only one woman was called “adorable” by the media and portrayed with girlish innocence, and it wasn’t the Black one. It never is.” – Ruby Hamad on Daily Life.
The sexualisation of Black women’s bodies is enshrined in law, with the Australian government making Aboriginal women and children ‘wards of the state.‘ Insitutions aim to disempower Black/ Indigenous women in a multitude of ways. This includes how Hollywood perpetuates images and narratives of Indigneous women and other racial minorities.
In Hollywood films, the Indigenous or minority ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ is either a disposable sex object or a colonialist conquest. In fact, women of colour who play opposite a white man are almost uniformly constructed as exotically sexual, usually because they are feisty, head-strong “free spirits” who won’t be tamed by any man… except by our white hero. The magical pixie provides sex and a beguiling love of nature, but she needs to be taught English first and foremost and then she needs to be imbued with civilisation. The epitome of this trope is found in Westerns. Such Hollywood films usually portray Mexican or Native American women as independent souls who haven’t wanted to partner with a man from their own communities. Yet after some sexy, passionate resistance, they succumb to the rogue charm of the white protagonist who waltzes into town.
You can also see “Asian” variations, of a beautiful, mostly silent but strong-willed Lotus Flower Woman who eventually takes care of the wounded American man and submits to him.
Becoming aware of and deconstructing such discourses in film and popular culture is a useful step in overcoming our collective tacit acceptance of romanticised colonial fantasies.