Racism & the queer community: The folly of racial preference

Adding black and brown to the Philadelphia pride flag in order to highlight the disproportionate violence occurring to LGBTIQ+ people of colour in Philadelphia is all it took to evoke white fragility in queer white people across the globe. Unfortunately pointing out the suffering of people of colour always evokes a bunch of knee-jerk reactions. But racism in the LGBTIQ+ community is nothing new, especially around ‘racial preferences’ on dating/sex apps.

The notion of ‘racial preference’ is often used by people in our community to justify listing statements like ‘no Asians’ or ‘no black, rice, or spice’ on their Grindr, Tinder, Scruff (etc) profiles. Instead of being understood as ‘racist’, people explain that their preference for one particular race is an inborn characteristic of their sexual desire, and therefore cannot be changed. The problem with this explanation is that racism and white supremacy are learned attitudes.

I don’t believe in the notion of a ‘racial preference’. It seems to me a bizarre logic – somehow, you can tell that you are not attracted to a person of a particular racial construct prior to even having laid eyes upon them or talking to them. If such a thing exists, it’s a powerful capacity for premonition – but I don’t care much for mediums or fortune-telling.

Racialisation is learned – we all learn how to exist in a society together through a combination of influences – such as family, peers, media, Government regulation, cultural practices (and many more) – and some of these ways of existing ensure our survival, while others are violent norms that we carry with us – such as racial prejudice. Fortunately, if these things are learnt – they can also be unlearnt.

Against the notion of ‘racial preference’ I want to offer a much more interesting set of possibilities – your capacity to make choices. You have a choice as to whether or not you want to keep feeding the implicit biases you might have, or to challenge them every single day. We do not become free of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, overnight. Against the lazy notion of ‘racial preference’, which renders you as a static being, you have the freedom to revolt.

You have the choice to remove it from your dating/sex profiles, you have the choice to call out someone’s prejudicial generalisation when they say that “Asian men are more feminine”, and you have the choice to learn from the voices and perspectives of those most affected by prejudice in our community. Believe me – they are observing your actions, but most of them are too exhausted by it happening all of the time to say or do anything.

But I am not expecting that reading this short article will somehow obliterate the idea that you have a particular racial preference. What I want you to consider instead, is the effect of stating it. Imagine reading ‘no Asians’ or ‘Whites only’ every third or fourth profile and feeling like you’re better off not existing in this queer community.

Some of us queers love to be flamboyant and unfiltered – because we’ve spent so long keeping quiet in the closet – so we unashamedly speak our minds; why can’t we just be ‘politically incorrect’? Very quickly it stops being funny, and it just becomes psychically violent. You might still have prejudicial thoughts in your head – that’s OK (everyone does) – sometimes the first thought that comes into your head is violent or offensive – we have to learn to suspend that thought and consider our words and actions.

Instead of defending our right to an indestructible prejudicial preference (a strategy which our homophobic and transphobic detesters use, by the way) – we must choose to actively unlearn our racial prejudice. We must choose this path because it is life-sustaining, and it builds a stronger community.

Anthony K J Smith


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