If you’ve ever scrolled through apps like Grindr and Scruff, you know that gay men are certainly not shy about identifying what they do and don’t want in a prospective sex partner. We often specify what body types and what sex acts and kinks we’re into, what age range we enjoy, and what degree of masculinity we seek–‘straight-acting’ guys are pretty popular.
And a lot of profiles contain a line something like “no blacks–just my preference”. Others go further and follow that up with a little ditty–”no fats, no fems, no rice, no spice”. That specific phrasing somehow became very widespread, indicating that along with Black guys, the undesirables include overweight guys (by whatever standards the poster judged weight), effeminate guys (the antithesis of ‘straight-acting’ guys in terms of desirability apparently), Asian guys (cuz they eat rice, get it?), and whoever the spice guys are (I think they’re supposed to be Latinos, but they kinda sound like a drag queen Spice Girls cover group). There’s also variations on “I prefer vanilla to chocolate.”
This phenomenon is known as Sexual Racism (and if you want to see some examples of genuine Grindr profiles with such statements, hit that link). Leaving aside the issue of contempt for overweight and effeminate men (which is a serious problem in itself), I wanna tackle this issue of preference vs racism. Here’s my point, briefly said. Pro-actively declaring you don’t like certain people isn’t just stating a morally-neutral preference like you prefer mint chocolate chip over rocky road. It’s advertising your racism.
Like, literally. Imagine walking down a street with a sign saying ‘I don’t like Asians’ or ‘No blacks’. We had a whole Civil Rights movement to establish that those signs weren’t acceptable, remember? So why do you think posting a sign like that in your Grindr profile somehow gets an exception?
Sexual racism is definitely a problem in the gay community. I know a South Asian guy online who has talked frequently about committing suicide because he gets such blatant rejection from white guys online. A couple weeks ago, when a Black leather titleholder on Twitter made a reference to sexual racism in the kink community, a white kinkster flat out told him he was wrong, which kinda literally proves the titleholder right.
Before I go any further, let me say that years ago, before I starting thinking about this issue, there was a period when my dating profiles said something like “generally not into Black guys”. At the time, I sincerely thought I was just trying to save everyone some time. I figured that if I wasn’t too likely to feel a click with a Black guy, I should save both me and the other guy the time and trouble of a wasted chat. That was before I’d really given a good thought to my own racism on the issue. I knew it was shitty to have a cute little rhyme about rice and spice, but I figured I was just being honest and respectful.
Eventually though, I started to feel uncomfortable with saying that, although I wasn’t sure why. So I rephrased it by trying to indicate the guys I thought were most likely to click with me. “I prefer white, Latino, and South Asian guys.” That seemed better to me, but it still felt problematic. I eventually changed it to “I generally prefer white, Latino, and South Asian guys,” hoping that the ‘generally’ would fix whatever was wrong about it. But it didn’t, so I added “but there have been exceptions”. But it still didn’t sit right with me, so after a year or two of that, I decided to just remove that entirely. I couldn’t put my finger on what felt problematic about it; it didn’t seem racist to me. But I knew it wasn’t something I was comfortable with.
Eventually, after a long time thinking about it, I realized that by singling out people based on a specific but rather arbitrary feature–skin color, basically–I was making a blanket statement that went beyond just what I preferred. Although I generally haven’t met many Black guys I’ve wanted to hook up with, I haven’t met every Black guy in the world (in part because white people are socialized to not interact with people of other races), which means that I cannot know that I don’t like Black guys as a group. There may be Black guys out there who would really trip my trigger that I just haven’t encountered yet, especially given that I have seen a few who did do it for me.
In other words, since I can’t say based on personal evidence that I don’t go for all Black guys, my statement that “I’m generally not into Black guys” is based purely on an assumption about skin color. And that’s the textbook definition of racial prejudice–generalizing from one trait (their skin color) to others (their sexual desirability) based on assumptions about the other features I associate with Black skin.
Once I had that realization, something interesting happened to me. I began noticing more Black guys that I found hot. It wasn’t a total shift in my tastes. In fact I’m not sure that my tastes actually changed at all. Instead, I think what happened is that I stopped ‘screening’ by skin color. I stopped mentally disqualifying Black guys based on skin color and began looking at the more individual qualities that specific Black guys have that I might go for–muscles, facial features, attitude, and so on. In other words, my preferences weren’t, as I had thought, based on my experience of not seeing hot Black guys. Rather, my experience of not seeing hot Black guys was based on the preferences I already had in my head. At some point, I had been socialized to not consider Black men attractive and so I had ignored all the contradictory evidence I was seeing.
That’s a big part of how racism operates. It implants a prejudicial idea–Black men aren’t attractive, Black men are violent, Black men are lazy– and then it bases discriminatory actions on those ideas–I want to screen my Grindr hits by race, let’s violently crack down on Black men, let’s make it harder for Black men to get unemployment benefits. And once you buy into one racist idea, it tends to get easier to buy into other racist ideas, because once you think badly about someone, you’re more willing to think badly about them in general. (For years, homophobes open insisted that gay men are child molesters. Transphobes are still claiming that trans women will assault people in bathrooms, when in reality it’s more likely to be the other way around. Neither of these is rooted in evidence. They simply emerge out of hostility to LGBT people.)
So one way to do some of the hard work of unlearning your racism is get those damn ‘just my preference’ statements out of your hook-up ads. Stop screening by skin color and actually look at the guys on the apps as individual people, not just as part of an amorphous Other you write off automatically. It’s not only the morally right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do, given that the whole point of those apps is to get you hot sex. The more guys you’re willing to consider, the more chances you’re gonna get to have hot sex.