The conversation always goes the same way. In a circle of friends, the discussion somehow arrives on the topic of dating, or race, or both, and then somebody says it: “You like white guys” – “You like Asian girls” – “You like black men.” These mocking accusations suddenly thrust you under the spotlight, in front of your friends, and you want to save face, to change the topic, to deny. The one in the hot seat nearly always reacts defensively. In America, where many different races are close enough to mix and mingle, this exchange is nothing new. Many of us have been guilty of making these claims, and many of us have fallen victim to them (myself included, in both regards).

Notice, though, that instead of “exposing” the accused, these “accusations” actually reveal more about the accusers, and their conservative views of normative relationships. First, when claiming that your friend Bob prefers a partner of ethnicity X, it is implicit that Bob is not of ethnicity X himself. To claim that a Latina really likes Latinos would seem pointless, not even worth mentioning. Second, the evidence for such claims of ethnic affinity often comes from weak observations, such as witnessing a person express interest in people of another race. One of their five partners could be of a different race, or five out of five partners could be of a different race; either scenario could result in that person being labeled as someone who has an affinity for other races. Yet even if all of their past relationships were with individuals of a similar ethnicity, would that (or anything else) become sufficient evidence to claim that this person is partial to an entire race?

Martina Fouqet recently wrote about the existence of racial fetishes, and explained their insensitivity and harmful nature. I want to discuss the origins of how people are assumed to have fetishes in the first place. Not only is the usage of expressions like “yellow fever” and “jungle fever” wrong, as Fouqet explains, but if we look into the derogatory meaning of the words, it is easy to see the animosity and aversion that the creators of the terms hold; they’ve literally termed it as an illness. Comments which emphasize and criticize racial attraction are tinged with racism, and by attempting to highlight something wrong in an individual’s attraction, the accusers instead show that there is a lot wrong with the themselves.

Of course, the point is not that racial fetishes are irrelevant or harmless phenomena. But there is also a safe middle ground, which is too seldom recognized as such. It is not that I solely like Asian women, or that my friend likes African men, or that my roommate likes Latinas. Instead, it is that we do not adhere to racial boundaries in our attraction. Simply put, we like people, and not races. Because society continues to back-handedly shun those who date outside of their race (with accusational phrases like “you seem to like ____ skin color”), interracial attraction is made to be something to fear, and and creates a cycle of perturbed communities.

There should be no label for those who approach romance with an open mind. Sometimes, people are too quick to point to fetishization (or some other abnormal condition) in order to cope with their own discomfort towards relationships deemed “unusual.” When discussing racial trends among friends’ relationships, we should not use a disapproving or condemning tone. In return, we will no longer have to expect or fear such a tone. Sometimes we forget that it is possible to just be attracted to individuals.

– Kovey Coles