As time went by, I discovered other such unspoken rules, or rather, double-standards that everyone harbours, but does not, or cannot, articulate. What I discovered was a totem pole of sexual racism, where each gender and race has a specific place, and limits on who they can desire. To give examples, it would be 'alright' for a Malay male to pursue a Chinese female, but not for a Malay female to pursue a Chinese male. In this situation, the Chinese person, especially the male, is perceived to be 'superior' and more 'attractive', hence expected to make the first move, and his attention towards the woman considered a 'gift'.
The same totem pole exists in the gay community too, whether we acknowledge it or not. The 'whiter' the race, the more 'superior' they are. Malay/Indian persons are not expected to pursue Chinese persons, rather they are expected to wait for the other to make the move. [Once again, this is a general statement, and may not be true for some]
I point no fingers here, because I feel this is a sad legacy from the colonial period and an unfortunate testament to the how far we have to go to eradicate racism. It is also reinforced by white-centric media depictions. This totem pole exists in the minds of most people, regardless of race. Inferiority complexes, hand-in-hand with the accompanying superiority complexes, create this totem pole. When I first came out, for example, and like every out-and-coming queer in this country, I logged in on Fridae.com. I searched for Indian women specifically, because I did not believe Chinese women would consider me a potential. Whether this was actually true did not make a difference, because my mindset at that time was such. I no longer feel this way, because my inferiority complex of that time has mostly evaporated.
I briefly mentioned sexual racism2 earlier in my description of the totem pole. But this is in fact, a Pandora's box of its own. It is a rather controversial term, I acknowledge. I feel it is perfectly fine for someone to have 'types'. It is okay to be attracted exclusively to people of certain race(s), based on physical appearances.
I do feel that, however, it is not impossible to examine one's preferences and decide why you are not attracted to certain racial types, or even change/expand your preferences. I used to be not so attracted to women of certain races, till I sat down and re-examined my prejudices, to realise my lack of attraction had to do with media conditioning and stereotypical views of beauty. I now appreciate women of all races, no longer seeing them through white-washed, anorexic lenses. And recently, I have discovered an attraction for Japanese men, something which surprised me very much. I've learned to never say never, in matters of attraction.
What makes sexual racism damaging is when you refuse to date members of a certain race because of certain prejudices you have of them. I do know of several people who have been rejected almost solely on the basis of their race. Sometimes the rejection can extend to platonic relationships. The gay male community, unfortunately known for its superficiality, suffers the greatest from this. There are gay men who will not even bother to make friends with those from races they consider unattractive, much less date them.
There is more to a person than their race, and there are ugly and beautiful specimens in every race, as well good and bad people. This relates back to the age-old problem of racism, and may not be eradicated any time soon.
Media and beauty
This subject has been exhausted time and again by many, by scholars much more learned than me. It is a topic to be taken seriously, though, as Dove is doing with Campaign For Real Beauty.
A hidden dimension of media influence is imposing not just a 'look', but also elevating certain racial traits to epitomise the look. It used to be a 'blonde beauty' ideal, slowly moving towards a Pan-Asian ideal in the past few years. The basic principle remains the same though, with emphasis on fair skin, skinny bodies and all that jazz. In Singapore, particularly, it disturbs me to not see women of minority races represented in most ad campaigns. I've yet to see a non-Chinese finalist for Miss Singapore and other various [non-race-based] silly beauty pageants. I point no fingers at no one, but once again acknowledge this as something we have to overcome together.
What concerns me more than anything is the psychological impact it leaves on women of all races, and particularly those of minority races. What will it take for them to acknowledge their real beauty beyond media stereotypes, as I have?
In the next installment of this series, this author will be exploring the flip side of Rules of Attraction.
- Interestingly enough, when I searched on the internet using the term 'sexual racism', all the links I obtained were gay male-related. I did not obtain a single lesbian or straight resource related to this phenomenon. I do not believe that the phenomenon does not exist in lesbian and straight communities, but that we have not acknowledged it. [back]
- Many people use this term to mean sexual racism in personal ads online, as indicated in the Urban Dictionary. However, in this context, I am using it to mean a general phenomenon of racial discrimination in matters of dating. [back]