Today, several people and I were discussing Luther and our love for Idris Elba. I was lambasted for not yet having watched The Wire. (I know, I know.) One girl then turns to me and goes, "So wait, does this mean you like black guys?"
1 MONTH EARLIER
Early on, when we were just getting acquainted, she at one point said, "Oh, and I think you should know this about me—I love black guys."
I did not know how to react, so I just said, "...Okay?" and she wandered off to find some people to dance with (we were at a large social function).
It may or may not be relevant at this point to mention that she is white and I am Korean-American. We both grew up in fairly homogenous, white social circles up until high school for me, and undergrad for her. For those keeping score at home, I once (sort of unintentionally) cursed at her for saying she wasn't a feminist, but...
Later that night, she asked me for the first time, "Do you like black guys?"
It was late. I was tired. I was driving. I didn't know this person very well. I was not up to exploring the topic, either in my own head and with her, of why I found her question ... interesting. I replied, "Sure? I don't dislike black guys? I am not sure I understand the question."
She then said, in order: "The question is, have you ever been sexually attracted to a male who is black?" [I did not respond.] "Would you entertain the thought of having a sexual relationship with a black man?" [I did not respond.] "Have you ever dated or hooked up with a black man?" [I did not respond.]
Then, to the rest of the [white and Korean] girls in the car: "You guys, Smilla is so politically correct. She doesn't discriminate her sexual partners based on race." [I did not respond.]
The conversation among them then continued on to how they were really excited to be in an area with a sizable black population, because they had never grown up around black people and "their culture and language is so interesting".
I did not respond.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Today, again, she asked me the same question. It's a theme, picked at over and over again, and one to which I have not yet formulated a satisfactory response.
Why? I'm not afraid to confront her. I'm not afraid to confront anyone except maybe bears (oh, and large centipedes), and I'm not even certain of that because I have not yet met a bear in real life. Someone told us a story the other day of how he was surprised on his front porch by a 350-lb bear, and all he could think to do was say, "Go away, bear!" and it did. That would probably be me.
I am conflicted. Despite what some (who like me) would term my "assertive" and what some (who dislike me) would term my "caustic" personality, I genuinely try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt in what they say and do, and in how I interpret their words and actions. It's a long process in training myself to do this, rather than going with my first emotional reaction and defensiveness, but I believe I have made a lot of progress. I am trying to distill and analyze my own reaction first, before I try to have a substantive discussion with her.
I don't think she is malicious in intent, either with regards to me or with regards to the more general subject matter. Obviously, a good part of her increasingly inappropriate questions was poking fun at me, which in itself is problematic to the level of zero. I don't care. She's a fun person, and we generally get along. I want people to expand their social circles and explore new things, cultures, peoples, points of view, etc. I think it's commendable to want to do that after being narrowly raised in a dominant and privileged culture. I also grew up in a primarily white neighbourhood, and every day, my view of the world is shifted slightly by new people I meet.
At the same time, I found her comments and the discussion in my car to be alarmingly fetishistic. This was beyond expressing a preference. A lot of people have "types". I think that's pretty normal. I probably have a "type" that I am more attracted to than others. But I don't think that's the same as explicitly sexualizing a man based on the fact that he's black. Not only because I find that to be creepy in and of itself—as an Asian woman, the number of men who have told me they have "yellow fever" and that they like my "Oriental features" and "politeness" is greater than zero, and is therefore too high—but because we have a long history here in America of specifically focusing on the "virility" of black men. Think of the hearse scene in The Great Gatsby, "two bucks and a girl". The stereotype of black men's bodies. The stereotype of "once you go black..."
There is also, perhaps, an underlying condescension. This assertion of "I love black men" as an invitation for the response of, "Oh, good for you!", as code for "I'm so progressive, can't you see how interesting I am?"
(Or is that what I am doing, in my refusal to respond, in my insistence on being "politically correct"?)
I am not looking to inquire into her world view and make a summary judgment of her inner intentions. I don't want to ascribe to her issues that she doesn't have. Wasn't she expressing her honest thoughts in a casual social setting? Isn't she free to think and feel as she likes?
On the other hand, if I am reasonably certain that she would not have said these things in the presence of a female friend who wasn't Korean but was black, does this count as some evidence of an underlying issue here? I think it is also worth noting that in our setting, there are zero (o) people who are not white/white-passing or East Asian/East-Asian-passing. [Which is also why, I think, some male members of the group have no problem with sharing, watching, and analyzing the details of a succession of videos of black women twerking and posting videos titled, "WHAT BLACK WOMEN DO WHEN THEIR SONG COMES ON IN THE CLUB."]
How would you have responded? Am I identifying issues where none exist? Am I the one who is creating a race-based problem where none exists, thus outing myself as the problem, in a subtle, complex Rorschach test of social interaction? Am I the one being condescending and perhaps paternalistic, in presuming that I have the right to not only refuse to respond to her with regards to my own sexual preferences, but to also condemn her for being open about hers?
(For the record, I'm not condemning her sexual preferences, nor her choice to be an open person. Rather, it is the context of how she frames the discussion and continues it that bothers me.)
(For the record, part the second: I'm going to watch The Wire soon. It's happening. I promise.)