Interrogating desire

Are racial preferences in dating an exercise of individualism, or a byproduct of internalized racism created, maintained, and reinforced by global Westernised mass media and popular culture? Can we justify our human desires for certain types of people by appealing to freedom of choice, or should we strive to understand why we arrive at these “preferences”?

Hitherto discussion of heteronormativity has largely been confined to the realm of gender. Judith Butler’s seminal works Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (first published 1990) and Undoing Gender (2004) are articulate and thought-provoking exposés of the social construction of gender that are created and reinforced by society, acting as constraints on one’s personhood. Butler’s work has pried open pandora’s box, influencing a tidal wave of debates over gender, identity, and personhood.

Contemporary debates surrounding identity stunningly pays little to no attention to how the social construction of race, gender, and culture have immense ramifications in the realm of individual choice (which is inextricably linked to desirability politics). When we follow the logic to its conclusion, to speak of the social construction of gender we must also speak of the social construction of race, since these two categories of analysis are indubitably intersectional. Even though that in academic circles race has largely been accepted as a social construction, in mainstream popular culture and discourse this is clearly not the case. The constant backdrop of white (or other ethnocentric versions) supremacy and racial hierarchy can be seen, in all its subtlety, in Western (especially American) popular culture. Nancy Wang Yuen’s book Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism offers a telling analysis of the reasons behind the Oscar’s extreme whiteness despite the proliferation of acting talent from people of colour. Interviewing over a hundred actors and actresses, she exposes the day-to-day racism actors of colour experience in talent agents’ offices, at auditions, and on sets. Yuen highlights the sexist hiring and programming practices and structural inequalities that actors of colour, especially women, face in Hollywood. Bloggers have also analysed the ways in which Asians are portrayed in popular culture (the blog I linked may be somewhat exaggerated in certain instances, but nevertheless make some vital observations that would otherwise go unnoticed to the average viewer.) Popular media and culture is arguably the most pernicious form of social conditioning in modern society. As Goran Therborn expresses in The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology, the influence of society and the social setting subtly guides our preference formation, from political views to moral values.

In my opinion, this lack of discussion is predicated on the taboo of “individual choice” that forms the foundation of Western society’s liberal epistemological framework. In reflecting and critiquing our own choices and desires, we inevitably reach the brick wall of interrogating just how “free” our individual choices are. The permanent dialectic of “freedom” versus “the good” renders it difficult for us, as creatures who undeniably desire freedom of expression and of individuality, to engage in self-criticism when it comes to choices of fulfilment (sexual partners, career choices, food, etc). This inequality as a result of hierarchical and prioritisation of individual choice and individuality over consequentialism (often deemed as inescapable products of the exercise of free will) – in many cases subconscious – can have unintentional yet dramatic ramifications, including the perpetuation of pernicious stereotypes, reinforcing white supremacy (such as Western standards of beauty; Euro-American modes of economic production; imposition of incompatible Eurocentric ideologies (ahem, IMF)) and, in our particular case, normalising a particular form of “objective” hierarchical desirability.

But choice has severe consequences. If we all agree upon the fact (as we should, in my opinion) that sometimes choice and absolute freedom must be second to some version of the good, then we must face up to these consequences and thoroughly interrogate our desires. Our standards of beauty surrounding body size, height, and race are all subject to the subjection and interpellation as described by Butler, Althusser, and Therborn. In many instances, people who desire particular “types” are unwittingly participating in subconscious discriminatory practices such as anti-Blackness, anti-Brownness, anti-Asianness, even by people of colour themselves. To offer a colloquial example, discussion over a person’s “tastes” in men and/or women and whether or not we agree with those tastes implicitly assumes that there is a “type” of man or woman that we can all “agree” to.

To tie all of the above together and relate it to the context of Eurasians, there exists a “darker” side to desirability politics that can have massive implications. This blog has already discussed Elliot Rodger and his psychotic killing spree. His particular case, as reflected in his chilling “manifesto”, is perhaps a symptom of problematic popular culture – he was extremely anti-Asian; believed himself to be a “beautiful Eurasian” (subscribing to the beauty myth); and he was extremely averse to being considered as “Asian” in any sense. This intense self-hatred is an extreme example of how complex identities within multiracial people coupled with an aspiration for the unattainable (in this case, whiteness) can have horrific consequences.

What is perhaps more worrying, is the recent phenomenon of white nationalists and supremacists marrying Asian women and having mixed race children, despite their racist and xenophobic views. Notorious founder of the Alt-Right movement Richard Spencer has publicly admitted that he has a thing for Asian girls. Controversial political writer John Derbyshire, author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and has publicly defended white supremacy, acknowledged telling his Eurasian children (he is married to a woman from China) about how to “handle” African-Americans, including information about IQ disparity, Black people being openly hostile, and advising them to refrain from helping Black people in distress. Alt-right conservative writer Mike Cernovich, who has openly supported the idea that “white genocide” exists, is married to an Indian woman. The very fact that PoC women even choose to be involved with men with views that are discriminatory to their very selves is problematic to say the least and mind-boggling to say the worst. If, like Andrew Anglin (founder of racist white nationalist website The Daily Stormer), frequently court women in places like Southeast Asia where many women strive to find white men to marry, this poses even larger problems. One thing is for certain: it is time to interrogate our desires, understand its potential relationship to global white supremacy, and begin a discourse on the morality of desire.

Multiracial families that are ironically and problematically founded on non-multicultural views by one or both parents definitely create potentially dysfunctional families. Given that biracial Asian American children are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, it is dangerous to avoid or dismiss these problems, particularly as mixed race is the largest growing population in the United States, with the next generation reaching adulthood within two decades. We must at least talk about these issues before problems reach a critical mass.

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