On Twitter, user @rasmansa wrote that “One of the places race is least important is in deciding who you should be in love with.” On this view, I strongly disagree, as romantic relationships that lead to love often begin with physical attraction between both parties.
When one thinks of sexual relationships, one thinks of physical attraction. Physical attraction is what, in the first place, draws two people together more often than not. It is then after the two get to know each other that the other’s personality then makes them more or less attractive. But they originally began talking due to the fact that they found each other physically attractive. So, “should” race not matter in decide who you should or should not fall in love with?
If most people talk to a new person of the opposite sex with the intent of becoming romantic partners on the basis of looks first and personality later, then race should matter to one’s dating prospects. Race would then matter in these prospects as certain racial groups (whether social or minimal) look differently from each other. When we think of racial groups, we think of outward appearance.
So take Joe. Joe is attracted to white skin, red hair, freckles etc. The woman that Joe is attracted to seems to be Irish, so Joe would then reject those women who do not meet his physical criteria. I am not saying that a woman can have the three aforementioned physical traits and not be Irish, since it is possible that a woman of a different ethnic group may have similar features, the Irish signifier, too, would be a factor in Joe’s choice of who he dates.
When we think of different races, we think of different clusters of traits that go with certain races, on average. So if we then imagine that Joe is not attracted to typically “black traits”—like tightly curled hair, big lips, and light brown to dark skin (as the phenotype ranges in skin color between almost-white looking but-not-quite to dark), then Joe would not want to date those with typically “black” features. This would then include Melanesians/Papuans/Australian Aborigines since they, too, have a similar phenotype (although they are not of the same race).
So take a white person that does not have typically “white” features and they trend to look more “black” as they have tightly curled hair, big lips, and darker skin (relative to how one perceives the average white), then they will not date them. This shows that ancestry is not (fully) in the conversation here, as even though the person in question may not be of race R, they have certain features that Rs have, and so Joe would not date them. But if one is of a certain (social)race then one is more likely to look a certain way, which means that if Joe likes a certain phenotype over another, then Joe would not be attracted to certain races and he would be attracted to others.
Now we can make the argument:
If one isn’t attracted to a particular phenotype, and R (a race) is more likely to have a particular phenotype compared to another R, then race is important who you fall in love with, as races have different phenotypes and phenotype dictates attraction first-and-foremost—before one has the chance to learn their personality and learn if they are compatible.
But what about mismatches? Take Britain and their classification of Pakistanis as ‘Asian.’ While technically true (they are on the Asian continent), they are not what one in America would think of when they hear the term ‘Asian.’ Now let’s say that Joe is American and when Joe hears “Asian” he does not think of brown-skinned Pakistanis he thinks of ‘East Asians.’ Let’s say that Joe is not attracted to Asians as he thinks of them (‘East Asians’) and then hears of the British ‘Asian’ category which features Pakistanis. Let’s say that Joe does not like Asians since, to him, they do not have brown skin and he finds brown skin attractive. When he learns of what the British term ‘Asian’ includes brown-skinned Pakistanis, he then learns that he is not attracted to the American usage of ‘Asian’ but is attracted to the British designation of ‘Asian’ since they have a phenotype that he finds attractive.
So the argument would be
If Joe isn’t attracted to what he thinks is ‘Asian’ and he then sees what Britain refers to as ‘Asian’ (brown-skinned Pakistanis), then Joe would be attracted to what are termed ‘Asians’ in one society and not in another.
Let’s now say that Joe likes short women, light. In America, Asian- and ‘Hispanic‘-American women are the same height (at 5 ft 1.5 in’) but he is attracted to light skin and not dark skin. Since they have the same hair color (dark brown/black) and the same height in America, the tie-breaker would be skin color. Since Joe in this instance likes short light women, he would then like the Asian women since they have light skin compared to the ‘Hispanic’ (in this case, Mexican with high indigenous ancestry).
Now, these considerations are in a way social, as if we did not live in multiracial societies then we would not have such notions different races. Yes there is variation within ethnic groups, and our friend Joe who likes certain phenotypes over others would trend toward one side over the other in the case of having no other races/ethnic groups in his area. So there is, of course, a social element at work here. Even then, one could have certain conceptions of how certain races/ethnic groups behave and they would then not want to date on that basis, leaving physical differences out of the picture. In this way, we can make a distinction between phenotypic and cultural differences when it comes to dating. And this is the case with many ethnic groups in America.
Some old-fashioned people in America may want their children to only date people of their own ethnic groups—say Italians would want their children to only date other Italians while blacks would want their children to only date other blacks. It is out of the question to allow their children to date outside of their ethnic group, for, in some cases, reasons due to culture and not physical differences (though in the case of old-school Italians it is probably both).
Now we have this argument:
If one is attracted to certain particular features that is more common in certain races over others, then race does matter in dating.
This would not mean that Joe would never date anyone of a different racial/ethnic group. Although cultural differences may sway Joe to not date someone of his same race, those same cultural differences may push Joe to dating someone of a different race, on the premise that he enjoys certain aspects of the culture.
Since we don’t need genes to delineate race and can delineate them on the basis of physical features, and if one is not attracted to certain features, then one will not be attracted to certain races on the basis of having those features. This could be construed as ‘racist’ if the individual in question has other thoughts about why they are not attracted to the phenotype in question (like if they think they are better than another group due to their skin color/ancestry). But some people—for non-nefarious reasons—are not attracted to certain phenotypes.
A black person may not be attracted to light skin, freckles, and red hair so would he be discriminating against the Irish girl if he does not want to date here? Is his idea of attractiveness culturally-instilled? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that different individuals have different preferences and these preferences may match onto racial/ethnic groups, thereby eliminating certain individuals from their dating pool. Whether or not that is a good idea, since, unbeknownst to Joe, the woman may be a perfect match personality-wise and not phenotypically, is up for debate. But Joe would not want to date the woman on the basis of her outward features, and so he may not ever be attracted to her, even if they do become friends and ‘click’, they may turn out to be best friends and never become romantic partners.
So these different clusters of traits may or may not be attractive to any one individual and then their preferences will dictate their racial/ethnic preferences—whether or not they date certain racial/ethnic groups rests on whether or not they are attracted to certain phenotypes.
It may be claimed that those who will not date certain individuals due to their race-based traits are racist even though they are not thinking of a hierarchy between groups of people. But their thoughts would be racist on the basis of prejudging a person on the basis of their looks even if the person in question may be a perfect match, other than the fact that their looks don’t match the individual’s ideal of what his partner should look like.
Race is instilled in American thought, so therefore race will be a factor in American social life—which includes dating preferences. Strully (2014) found that when blacks and whites had the same (social) chance for interracial dating, they were more likely to date their own race, and when ‘Hispanics’ had similar chances for interracial dating, they dated outside of ‘their race’ more often than blacks and whites. So ‘Hispanics’ are more likely to date outside their group compared to whites and blacks.
But to Luke and Oser (2015) it’s not so much phenotypic differences between races but social distance between races that matters for dating outcomes:
…the social distance (particularly between African Americans and whites) may be shrinking and it is possible that the male marriageable pools for African American women may be broadening to include men of other races/ethnicities. Additionally, the social distance maintained between racial groups, as indicated by rates of interracial relationships, appears to be primarily related to the preferences of men to not date African American women. While the interracial relationship intentions of African American women were relatively high, there may be a bias against economically disadvantaged African American women by white and Hispanic men in the dating pool.
Further, when it comes to Asian men—although not Filipino men—they were more likely to not be in a relationship compared to white men, even after controlling for an array of different variables (Balisteri, Joyner, and Kao, 2015). Asian men, it seems, are less desirable than other races of men. (Rushton thought that this was due to lower levels of testosterone which means they were more feminine so they skewed more K in his now-debunked r/K selection theory).
Of course, social—hierarchical—aspects play a large role here. Balisteri, Joyner, and Kao (2015) state that notions of (social)racial hierarchies may explain part of the reason why Asians are less likely to have a partner than whites. They write:
Critical race perspectives focus on how certain race and gender groups are favored or marginalized in the mate market. In other words, the ability of an individual to enter into a romantic relationship may be hampered by set of perceived or ascribed differences attributed to their racial or ethnic group (Burton et al. 2010). Studies have suggested that unflattering stereotypical media depictions of nonwhites have contributed to a racial hierarchy in many aspects of society, including mate preferences (Bonilla-Silva 2010; Larson 2006). For example, media studies continue to document the racialized portrayals of Asian men’s masculinity as desexualized or effeminate (Feng 2002; Eng 2001) and black women’s femininity as less than desirable (Larsen 2006; Collins 2004; Wallace 1990). Scholars suggest that a preference for white standards of beauty reduces black women’s opportunities to date or intermarry outside of their race (Collins 2004; Bany, Robnett and Feliciano 2014). Other research, however, highlights the preferences of black women, noting they hold the least favorable attitudes toward selecting a partner of a different race (Davis and Smith 1991; Todd, McKinney, Harris, Chadderton and Small 1992) and are the least likely to intermarry or date across race because of cultural influences and lack of trust toward non-Hispanic whites (Childs 2005).
Research on dating preferences provides additional evidence of this racial hierarchy. A recent study of internet daters finds that among those who expressed a racial preference, less than 10% of Asian men would not consider dating Asian women, yet approximately 40% of Asian women would rule out dating Asian men. It also reveals that more than 90% of women of all different racial groups who expressed a racial preference excluded Asian American men. In addition, men of all different racial groups are most likely to exclude black women than any other women (Feliciano, Robnett and Komaie 2009).
So, to answer the question “‘Should’ race be a factor in dating?“, being that ‘should’ statements are normative statements, and normative statements are about what is desirable/undesirable, and what the current discussion on desirability is about (race preferences in dating), then the answer clearly is ‘Yes‘, since people are attracted to different phenotypes and certain groups are more likely to have certain phenotypes over other groups. If phenotype is a factor in dating then it follows that race will be a factor in dating—whether it ‘should’ or not—since different races have different phenotypes. Differences in dating those of different races/ethnies may come down to not just phenotypic differences but also class/social differences/expectations, too. In this way, class and race combine to make a partner more or less desirable to an individual on the basis of his desires for a partner’s particular look and class position. It doesn’t matter if race ‘should’ be a factor in dating, as we live in a racialized world (whatever your view on the social or biological existence of race)—it then follows that race is an aspect of life we cannot escape and that it does influence dating life, whether it ‘should’ or not. A racial hierarchy in dating exists (at least in America), and this will then dictate how one views other races. In this way, the choice is both personal and cultural.