Heather Corinna replies:
A friend of mine told me I was a racist because I'm not attracted to people who aren't of the same race as me. I don't really know why this is, I'm just not attracted to them. My friends are from many different backgrounds so I don't think that I am a racist. Is it weird to only be attracted to people that are the same race as me?
Do they think it's sexist not to be attracted to people of the same sex or gender? I'm betting they don't.
That'd be sound, because that wouldn't be a very reasonable thing to think.
Whether we are attracted to men, women or both isn't something we can really control. Who we're attracted to is largely hardwired and often pretty random and individual.
The same goes with race, hair color, eye color, shoe size, height, weight, how a person dresses, what music they like, how long someone's neck is, what their voice sounds like, how they move, who they vote for, what books they like ... the whole kit and kaboodle. Who we find sexually attractive varies a whole lot between people, and while we get to choose who we date and who we are sexually active with, we don't get to choose who we want to date and who we find attractive. This is part of why it's so flawed for people who are homophobic to state that those of us who are gay or bisexual can simply choose to be heterosexual and choose to only be attracted to the same-sex. This is why we might sometimes find ourselves feeling an attraction to a person we really would rather not feel attracted to, either because they're unavailable or because they're someone who we don't otherwise like very much.
Being racist in this regard would be something like finding people of another race repulsive in some way, feeling that anyone who is not of your own race doesn't deserve you (or anyone else) as a partner, or stating that you don't feel it's somehow right for people of different races to be attracted to each other, have sex, get married to each other or date.
If you expressed disapproval over your friends dating interracially, or being attracted to other races besides their own because you felt people of another race were not as fully human as those of your own, that would be racism. If you feel like your lack of attraction comes from a place of prejudice or discrimination, racial bias may have something to do with this, but it sounds to me like that's not a likely issue with you, and to boot, you're not keeping anyone down by not feeling sexually attracted to them.
Racism is about oppression through bigotry or bias: just not finding someone sexy isn't oppressive.
As well, I don't know what race you are or your friend is, or where you live in the world, but if you're of color, it should also be pointed out that in the world we live in, someone white accusing someone of color of being racist is pretty darn iffy: in very few places in the world are whites an oppressed class based on race. If you're both of color, and just of different races, that can get a bit trickier to suss out -- after all, in various places and nations, one race can still oppress another even if neither are white -- but no matter what, this still probably isn't really about racism when it comes to what attraction you have yet experienced.
Additionally, sometimes attraction to other races can be racist. Some people see those of other races as objects -- as inhuman or less than human -- and their attraction is not about inclusion or any real connection, but about dominance or power found in racism, the way that many slave owners were "attracted" to those who were slaves. Some people fetishize racism or people of various races, or try to make interracial attractions, sex or relationships seem like they're about a lack of racism when it's actually about playing right into or enabling racism.
Because human sexual attraction is SO varied among all of us, we can never really say that any attraction or lack of attraction is weird, because what's normal in sexual attraction among people is a great diversity. As well, it's pretty normal for us to just love who we love -- remember, attraction isn't just about how someone looks, it's emotional, too -- and to be surprised sometimes, and find our "type" is not always what we expect, particularly as we grow into ourselves more, get to know people more deeply, expand our social circle, and develop over time. So, for all you know, at some point you may well find yourself being attracted to someone of a different race. But even if that never happens, not having that attraction isn't something that falls within the sphere of racism as most people define it.
To be sure and be clear on something very important in all of this: no one, of any race, gender, shape, size or age is entitled to have the people they are attracted to be attracted back to them. Again, we can't help who we're attracted to, and often enough in life, any of us will feel a thing for a person that they just don't feel back, for any number of reasons, any of which are valid. Sometimes, someone might guilt-trip a person by claiming that if they won't date them, won't have sex with them, don't return certain feelings or attractions, that they're not being fair in some way. I don't know if that was an issue with this discussion, but if it was, your friend is the one being unfair. It's never okay for anyone to try and coerce anyone else, in any way, into sex or sexual attraction. If you think that's what this was about, I'd just cross this person off your list of pals.
So -- so long as this wasn't about any kind of coercing like that -- you might want to bring some of this up with your friend, and perhaps even pose that question about sexism and heterosexuality to see if that can't provide some clarity. One thing that really helps with ending racism or any -ism is just talking about it, working out everyone's ideas and feelings, and trying to be as honest and candid as we can. You might even ask your friend if he or she is saying that because they feel hurt you don't feel attraction to them -- in other words, is this a personal issue for them? -- or if they feel like your lack (or someone else's) of attraction makes them feel unattractive, somehow lesser or insecure, or if they feel like your lack of attraction so far to people of their race means you don't love them or care for them as much as you do and reassure them that isn't the case. You might ask if they've had someone not be attracted to them because of race, what happened, and how it made them feel. I'd make clear that while you did not like being called racist, you want to try and listen to better understand where that was coming from because you don't want to be racist and that's important to you. You can also make clear that as well, you'd like to be heard yourself in how you think about this, like by talking about the differences between actively discriminating against someone -- like, say, if you DID feel an attraction, but felt you could not or would not date someone of a different race because you felt you were better than them or they you -- and simply not feeling a certain thing you can't control and which also isn't really an issue of anyone's civil rights or quality of life.
I'm sure you probably feel hurt at being called a racist, particularly since you care for your friends, so that has to sting. If you're of color, it can hurt even more because you've probably had to deal with the real racism, and the direct impact of racism, in your life. But I think we can all probably agree that racism hurts people a lot more than an accusation or question of racism, so when we can set aside our hurt feelings and really have these kinds of discussions, it can be a very powerful thing to counter and try to disable racism. If your friend is up to a real discussion, it could prove fruitful, and if he or she is not -- particularly if they keep lobbing this stuff at you -- it may be time to move on from that friendship to one with someone more interested in really communicating than just making accusations.