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Here's why "positive" racial stereotypes in dating are harmful

May. 18, 2017
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A few years ago I was grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, just catching up and talking about school and work, but inevitably the topic of dating popped up. Now, both of us grew up with the idea that we would end up dating people of similar ethnic backgrounds that matched our own, so for me, that would be Mexican-American. However, as we grew up and experienced all the different cultures and people that a city like Los Angeles has to offer, we began to stray away from that idea. As we moved on in our conversation, my friend told me enthusiastically that she really wanted an Asian boyfriend; she thought that all Asian guys were really cute, soft-spoken, and all-around genuine people. The more we talked about it, the stranger it felt to me. I asked her if she didn’t think that these stereotypes she has for Asian men weren’t a little offensive or even racist, but she told me that this wasn’t the case: all she had to say were positive things about Asian men, but she completely understood how alienating a certain race would be considered racist. 

Now, at the time I did not know how to argue against that--how could I? All she had to offer were positive remarks for a certain group of people. At this time, however, I was also in on the gay online dating craze and, of course, I had my dating profile filled out to accurately portray who I was: a 20-year-old college student, 5’11,” and Latino. Every once in a while, I would get messages from random guys telling me how they loved that I was Latino, from “Latin lovers are so sexy and romantic” to “you must be well-endowed and rough behind closed doors.” These messages were not really saying anything negative; in fact, a lot of guys would love to be complemented like this. However, this is where the problem stemmed--even before they talked to me, they assumed they already knew who I was as a person based only on my ethnicity.

When I tied this back to my friend paying compliments to Asian men, I understood what was wrong with her comments. By using simple statements like “All [insert ethnicity] are [insert adjective],” we are reducing that group of people into a single trait, often neglecting their individuality. At first, it took me a while to understand why it could be harmful for other men to think I was some romantic guy like the telenovelas portray, but the answer is simple. Quite frankly, not all Latinos live up to these expectations, and those who aren’t particularly romantic are left out in the dating pool. Does this mean that they’re not Latinos if they don’t care for romance? What about calling Asian men “cute” and bashful, inadvertently emasculating them? Are the “not cute” ones not Asian? Absolutely not: a group of people can hardly be defined by such a small descriptor. After we learn to let go of these notions of what a group of people should be, we can start to learn more about the traits that make the person an individual. 

The adjective that accurately describes this issue is fetishizing. And although it may seem harmless, by holding expectations that aren’t necessarily true for the individual, you set yourself up for failure. It would be unfair to condemn my friend for thinking this way because at some point I agreed with her in thinking this was fine. But what is important is to reflect on your thoughts and ideas and correct them. Realize what you are doing has effects on other people and ultimately yourself as well, and once you understand this, you may have better luck in the dating world. Good luck on those dating apps, and remember: you are more than just a stereotype.   

Cover Image by Hana Haley