Sexual racial preference

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Graph indicating the extent to which US citizens agree or disagree with interracial marriage, spanning 1958-2007.

Sexual racial preference is the individual's sexual preference of specific races. It is an inclination towards potential sexual or romantic partners on the basis of perceived racial identity. Not everyone agrees that this should be classified as racism, some argue that distinguishing among partners on the basis of perceived race is not racism at all but a justifiable personal preference.[1] The origins of sexual racism can be explained by looking at its history, especially in the US, where the abolition of slavery and the Reconstruction Era had significant impacts on interracial mixing. Attitudes towards interracial relationships, and indeed marriage, have increased in positivity in the last 50 years. In 1968, 73% of US citizens disapproved of the right to marry inter-racially, whereas this figure dropped to 17% by 2007, this illustrating the reduction in discriminatory attitudes towards interracial dating.[2] Irrespective of this, there still remains the issue of sexual racism in the online dating world, in that preferences appear to follow a racial hierarchy.[citation needed] Sharing the basic premise, originating from the 'taboo' nature of interracial relations, individuals of other racial groups are classified as forbidden sexual objects; the result of a racial fetish.


United States of America[edit]

After the abolition of slavery in 1865, the white Americans showed an increasing fear of racial mixture.[3] The remnants of the racial divide became stronger post-slavery as the concept of whiteness developed. There was a widely held belief that uncontrollable lust threatens the purity of the nation. This increased white anxiety about interracial sex, and has been described through Montesquieu's climatic theory in his book the Spirit of the Laws, which explains how people from different climates have different temperaments, "The inhabitants of warm countries are, like old men, timorous; the people in cold countries are, like young men, brave."[4] At the time, black women held the jezebel stereotype, which claimed black women often initiated sex outside of marriage and were generally sexually promiscuous.[5] This idea stemmed from the first encounters between European men and African women. As the men were not used to the extremely hot climate they misinterpreted the women's lack of clothing for vulgarity.[6] Similarly, black men were stereotyped for having a specific lust for white women. This created tension, as if white men were having sex with black women because they were more lustful, this meant black men would lust after white women in the same way, this threatened the white male dominance that was apparent at the time, increasing the fear of interracial interactions.

There are a few potential reasons as to why such strong ideas on interracial sex developed. The Reconstruction Era following the Civil War started to disassemble traditional aspects of Southern society. The Southerners who were used to being dominant were now no longer legally allowed to run their farms using slavery.[7] Many whites struggled with this reformation and attempted to find loopholes to continue the exploitation of black labour. Additionally, the white Democrats were not pleased with the outcome and felt a sense of inadequacy among white men. This led to them taking out their frustration on the black population. This radical reconstruction of the South was deeply unpopular and slowly unravelled leading to the introduction of the Jim Crow laws.[8] There was an increased the sense of white dominance and sexual racism among the Southern people.

There were general heightened tensions following the end of the failed civil war in 1865, and this increased the sexual anxiety in the population. Races did not want to mix, the whites were feeling inadequate and wanted to take back control. The Ku Klux Klan then formed in 1867, which led to violence and terrorism targeting the black population.[9] There was a rise in lynch mob violence where many black men were accused of rape. This was not just senseless violence, but an attempt to preserve 'whiteness' and prevent racial blur, the whites wanted to remain dominant and make sure there was no interracial sexual activity. For example, mixed race couples that chose to live together were sought out and lynched by the KKK. The famous case of Emmett Till who was lynched at the age of fourteen for supposedly whistling at a white women shows the prominence of white male anxiety in the 1950s.[10] When the Jim Crow laws were eventually overturned, it took years for the court to resolve the numerous acts of discrimination.

Heterosexual community[edit]

Sexual racism exists in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities across the globe. The prevalence of interracial couples demonstrate how attitudes have changed in the last 50 years.[11] A case that has perhaps received heightened publicity is that of Mildred and Richard Loving. The couple lived in Virginia yet had to marry outside the state due to the anti-miscegenation laws present in nearly half of the US states in 1958. Once married, the pair returned to Virginia, and were both arrested in their home for the infringement of the Racial Integrity Act, and each sentenced to a year in prison. Prior to the repeal of these laws in 2000, several attempts were made to void the sentence, ultimately the couple resorted to relocation to avoid further prejudice.[12]

Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray with their two children in 2012, attending a silent march.

Around a similar time was the controversy surrounding Seretse and Ruth Khama. Seretse was the chief of an eminent Botswanan tribe, and Ruth an English student. The pair married in 1948 but experienced frequent discrimination from the onset of the relationship, including Seretse's removal from his tribal responsibilities as chief. For nearly 10 years, Seretse and Ruth lived as exiles in Britain, as the racism towards their relationship remained strong. British officials hoped that their asylum in the country would reduce their desire to continue the marriage. Once the couple were allowed to return home in 1956, they became prominent figures the movement for racial and social justice, contributing to Seretse's election as president of Botswana in 1966. Later, they both continued to fight laws surrounding interracial marriage.[13]

More recent examples portray the increasingly accepting attitudes of the majority to interracial relationships and marriage. In 2013, Bill de Blasio was elected as Mayor of New York City, accompanied by his wife, Chirlane McCray. The pair are one of the first interracial couples to stand in power side by side. Both de Blasio and McCray are active political figures, and although they are not exempt from racial discrimination, the attitudes of the world to interracial marriage are much more positive and optimistic than in previous decades.[14] Across much of the world, it is ever increasingly the situation that interracial couples can live, marry and have children without prosecution that was previously rife, due to major changes in law along with reductions in discriminatory attitudes. Sexual racism also exists in the heterosexual community in online dating.[15][16][17][18][19]

Online dating[edit]

Monthly visitors to different Online Dating services globally in February 2016

In the last 15 years, online dating has overtaken previously preferred methods of meeting with potential partners, surpassing both the occupational setting and area of residence as chosen locations. This spike is consistent with an increase in access to the internet in homes across the globe, in addition to the number of dating sites available to individuals differing in age, gender, race, sexual orientation and ethnic background.[20] Along with this, there has been a rise in online sexual racism, whereby partner race is now the most highly selected preference chosen by users when creating their online profiles, displacing both educational and religious characteristics.[21] Research has indicated a progressive acceptance of interracial relationships by White individuals.[22] The majority of White Americans are not against interracial relationships and marriage,[23] however these beliefs are not illustrated in subsequent marital rates between interracial couples, such that no more than 4% of White Americans will wed outside their own race.[24] In fact, less than 46% of White Americans are willing to date an individual of any other race.[25] Overall, African Americans appear to be the most open to interracial relationships,[26] yet are the least preferred partner by other racial groups.[25] However, regardless of stated preferences, racial discrimination still occurs in online dating.[21]

Each group significantly prefers to date intra-racially. White Americans are the least open to interracial dating, and select preferences in the order of Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and then African American individuals last at 60.5%, 58.5% and 49.4% respectively.[26] African American preferences follow a similar pattern, with the most preferred partner belonging to the Hispanic group (61%), followed by White individuals (59.6%) and then Asian Americans (43.5%). Both Hispanic and Asian Americans prefer to date a White individual (80.3% and 87.3%, respectively), and both are least willing to date African Americans (56.5% and 69.5%).[25] In all significant cases, Hispanic Americans are preferred to Asian Americans, and Asian Americans are significantly preferred over African Americans.[26] Hispanic Americans are less likely to be excluded in online dating partner preferences by whites seeking a partner, as Latinos are often viewed as a racial group that is increasingly assimilating more into White American culture.[27]

In addition to general racism in online dating, there is further exclusion differences between certain genders within racial groups, such that women of any race are significantly less likely to date inter-racially than a male of any race.[28] Specifically, Asian men and Black women face more obstacles to acceptance online.[29] White women are most likely to exclude Asian men, likely due to their amplified effeminate portrayal in the media.[30][31][32] This exclusion remains present even when considering high earning Asian individuals with an advanced educational background.[26][33][34] Increased education does however influence choices in the other direction, such that a higher level of schooling is associated with more optimistic feelings towards interracial relationships.[35] White men are most likely to exclude Black women, as opposed to women of another race. High levels of previous exposure to a variety of racial groups creates a more accepting attitude.[36] Sexual racism in online dating, in addition to the outside world, is also influenced by the partner selectors area of residence. Those residing in more Southern regions, particularly in American states, are less likely to have been in an interracial relationship, and are unlikely to inter-racially date in the future.[37] Location is also related to the individuals current and previous religious practices; those who engaged in regular religious customs at age 12 are less likely to inter-racially date. Moreover, those from a Jewish background are significantly more likely to enter an interracial relationship than those from a Protestant background, indicating differences in levels of sexual racism present, which translate into the virtual world of online dating.[37]

Currently, there are websites specifically targeted to different couple matches, such that singles can sign up online and focus on one particular partner quality, such as race, religious beliefs or ethnicity. In addition to this, there are online dating services that target race-specific partner choices, and a selection of pages dedicated to interracial dating that allow users to select partners based on age, gender and particularly race. Online dating services experience controversy in this context as debate is cast over whether statements such as "no Asians" or "not attracted to Asians" in user profiles, are racist or just signify individual preference.[38] Ethnic minorities who feel they lack dating prospects as a result of their race, sometimes refer to themselves as ethnicels.[39]

Homosexual community[edit]

Asian men are often represented in media, both mainstream and LGBT, as being feminized and desexualized.[40] LGBT Asian men often report sexual racism from white LGBT men. The gay Asian-Canadian author Richard Fung has written that while black men are portrayed as hypersexualized, gay Asian men are portrayed as being undersexed.[41] Fung also wrote about feminizing depictions of Asian men in gay pornography, which often focuses on gay Asian men's submission to the pleasure of white men. According to Fung, gay Asian men tend to ignore or display displeasure with races such as Arabs, blacks, and other Asians but seemingly give sexual acceptance and approval to gay white men. White gay men are more frequently than other racial groups to state "No Asians" when seeking partners. In interracial gay male pornography, Asian men are usually portrayed as submissive "bottoms".[42]

Asian American women also report similar discrimination in lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) communities. According to a study by Sung, Szymanski, and Henrichs-Beck (2015), Asian American participants who identified as lesbian or bisexual often reported invisibility, stereotyping, and fetishism in LGB circles and the larger U.S. culture. This is in addition to the heterosexism and invisibility they felt in Asian American communities.[43]

Racial sexism is also prevalent in gay online dating. Phua and Kaufman (2003) noted that men seeking men online were more likely than men seeking women to look at racial traits.[44] Race is often used to advertise oneself or as a criterion in seeking a partner, according to a study looking at Manhunt profiles. In Callander, Newman, and Holt's (2012) study, White participants self-disclosed their racial identity less often than non-White participants, with the implication that Whiteness was the norm and non-Whites expected to self-disclose their racial identity. They cite one profile description as an example: "I shouldn't have to ask for a picture, or your age, or your ethnicity. Have it available straight away or I'll just pass over your profile."[45]

In a qualitative study conducted by Paul, Ayala, and Choi (2010) with Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), Latino, and African American men seeking men, participants interviewed endorsed racial preference as a common criteria in online dating partner selection.[46] This reflects the racist power hierarchies often seen in broader spheres of society where Eurocentric discourses are often the standard, and non-Eurocentric discourses are the exceptions.

In another study by Callander, Newman, and Holts, researchers found that attitudes towards sexual racism was often tolerated, with many participants feeling that racial preference was not racism.[47] They quoted Watts from the Huffington Post, who argued that sexual attraction and racism are not the same:

Just because someone isn't sexually attracted to someone of Asian origin does not mean they wouldn't want to work, live next to, or socialize with him or her, or that they believe they are somehow naturally superior to them.

— as cited in Callander, Newman, & Holts, 2015, p. 1992


This suggests that people find it possible to view larger systemic racial preference as problematic, while viewing racial preferences in romantic or sexual personal relationships as not problematic. Researchers noted that there is a general hesitation to call racial preference "racist", with many defending racial preference as saving time.[47]

In that same study, researchers found that attitudes towards sexual racism were similar to attitudes about generic racism. That is, patterns of sexual racism seems to follow similar patterns of general racism. For example, they found that higher levels of education was associated with more positive attitudes about multiculturalism and less positive attitudes about racial sexism. They also found that experiences of exclusion online due to race was correlated with more accepting views of multiculturalism and less accepting attitudes about sexual racism, regardless of racial identity. These findings suggest that being more aware of racism in general, due to experience or education, and racism's impact had an effect on racial preference such that it was seen as less desirable.[47]


Asian woman tied in red rope from the Folsom Street Fair 2007

As well as race-based sexual rejection, sexual racism also manifests in the form of the hypersexualisation of specific ethnic groups. Freudians theorize that sexual fetishism, people of one race can form sexual fixations towards individuals of a separate generalised racial group. This collective stereotype is established through the perception that an individual's sexual appeal derives entirely from their race, and is therefore subject to the prejudices that follow.

Racial fetishism as a culture is often perceived, in this context, as an act or belief motivated by sexual racism. The objectification and reductionist perception of different races, for example, East Asian women, or African American men, relies greatly on their portrayal in forms of media that depict them as sexual objects. An example of such a medium includes pornography. An instance of this hypersexualisation is commented upon in Artist and Designer Donna Choi's illustrative series targeting the specific fetishisation of Asian women, named, Does Your Man Suffer From Yellow Fever? (2013).[49] In said illustration, Choi uses satire to depict a white man's harmful perception of a "china doll stereotype" towards Asian woman and how she is an object to his desires. Choi's intention comes across through implying the presence of an obvious dehumanisation of Asian women in the eyes of another race. This is a deliberate commentary on the fetishisation rooted within the social issue of sexual racism.[third-party source needed]

The effects of Racial Fetishism as a form of Sexual Racism, is discussed in research conducted by Plummer.[50] Plummer used qualitative interviews within given focus groups, and found that specific social locations came up as areas in which sexual racism commonly manifest. These mentioned social locations included pornographic media, gay clubs and bars, casual sex encounters as well as romantic relationships. This high prevalence was recorded within Plummer's research to be consequentially related to the recorded lower self-esteem, internalised sexual racism, and increased psychological distress in participants of colour. People subject to this form of racial discernment are targeted in a manner well put by Hook.[51] Hook's historical overview of J.M. Coetzee's novel, largely addressed Coetzee's depictions of racial otherness within South Africa. Additionally, Coetzee goes on to write about how the otherness and social detachment from the colonials was what fabricated present racial stereotypes. Such stereotypes are what is said to encourage the perception of other racial groups as fantasmatic objects; a degrading and generalising view of different racial populations.

See also[edit]


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Gross, Larry P.; Woods, James D., eds. (1999). The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics. Between Men—Between Women. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-10446-3.
Marubbio, M. Elise (2006). Killing the Indian Maiden: Images of Native American Women in Film. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2414-8.
Nguyen, Hoang Tan (2004). "The Resurrection of Brandon Lee: The Making of a Gay Asian American Porn Star". In Williams, Linda. Porn Studies. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. pp. 223–270. ISBN 978-0-8223-3300-5.
 ———  (2014). A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation. Perverse Modernities. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5684-4.

Further reading[edit]

Kudler, Benjamin A. (2007). Confronting Race and Racism: Social Identity in African American Gay Men (MSW thesis). Northampton, Massachusetts: Smith College. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
Lay, Kenneth James (1993). "Sexual Racism: A Legacy of Slavery". National Black Law Journal. 13 (1): 165–183. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
Lilly, J. Robert; Thomson, J. Michael (1997). "Executing US Soldiers in England, World War II: Command Influence and Sexual Racism". The British Journal of Criminology. 37 (2): 262–288. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjc.a014158. JSTOR 23638647.
Plummer, Mary Dianne (2007). Sexual Racism in Gay Communities: Negotiating the Ethnosexual Marketplace (PhD thesis). Seattle: University of Washington. hdl:1773/9181.
Stevenson, Howard C, Jr. (1994). "The Psychology of Sexual Racism and AIDS: An Ongoing Saga of Distrust and the 'Sexual Other'". Journal of Black Studies. 25 (1): 62–80. doi:10.1177/002193479402500104. ISSN 0021-9347. JSTOR 2784414.