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Everyday Accidental Racism #3 – Aversion to Other Cultures

July 15, 2016

I was surfing Netflix the other day looking for a film to watch with a friend. There was the usual dithering over a few candidates she was obviously not keen on, but she scooted right over one comedy, saying: “Sounds racist, but I really don’t like black-people films.”

I’ve watched a few bad ones, and I still find them preferable to stereotypical WASP comedies like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Not Another Teen Movie and The Hot Chick, all of which immediately jump to mind as being characterised by sneaky, mean-spirited sniping. Those are just the ones I’ve seen by-the-by, it being a genre that I avoid.

Assuming that black-culture films share attributes in common – and I think they do – what is it about them that makes them more objectionable to my friend than any of the above-mentioned? My suggestion would be lack of familiarity. Familiarity is often gained by accident. I have watched The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on many a bored, hungover day, and like all comedies and comedic style, you get used to it.

American sitcoms have a tendency to be low key and accessible, rather than challenging and alienating, hence their international success. Filtering slowly into the hearts and minds of white people makes black-culture comedy mainstream. Fresh Prince is entry level, totally without challenge.

More extreme, stereotypical examples might make us uncomfortable, because it may seem to white eyes that they actually perpetuate racist assumptions. You have to learn to separate racist perception of others from satirical self-perception of the ingroup; the film that is racist when made by white people is merely overblown when made by black people. This distinction often confuses people. The best you can do is chalk it up to subtle differences in presentation, which go over the heads of the outgroup.

Stand-up comedian Chris Rock is more challenging because he explores stereotypes and talks about aspects of culture that white people don’t experience. He makes comparisons that white people may or may not identify with, because they come from an alternative viewpoint. The proof of the pundit it is in the audience; the fact that Chris Rock’s jocular pearls of wisdom have a majority black crowd rolling in their seats tells you that it’s his culture who see themselves reflected in his description.

My first response to Chris Rock was one of mystification. I’d simply never heard of, or ever thought about, the distinctions he made between black people and white people – not to mention between men and women. But, I shared a house with a black man who liked it; and have a close friend who likes it; so I have seen at least three of his stand-ups. He grew on me through familiarity.

That’s how it always is, and some people stumble into familiarity while other people have to make an effort. As a movie buff, I never turn down a film I think I might not like because of its cultural distance from me; I’m not one of those who avoids foreign films. As such, I quickly got used to “black-people films.”

Other groups of people have to make their own efforts. “Why should I?” you might ask. Well, because it helps challenge latent racism. If I was black, would my white friend really have told me that she couldn’t get on with black films? I doubt it. Politeness would have forbade it. There would have been a chance I’d be affronted, interpreting (correctly) a stubborn homogeneity of taste and culture that freezes me out and segregates me off, whether intended to or not.

If a group of black people put a black film on, and a white person just happened to be in the room, the white person would just have to put up with it, the way black people in a group of whites routinely put up with our atrocious WASP comedies we rate so highly for some reason. Give-and-take of culture is part of life. Resistance suggests you think your lot, and only your lot, get to determine the direction of everyday life.

Again, via film buffery, I’ve learned that one of the fastest ways to adapt to different cultural media is via the rose-tinted glasses of someone else. Often, when I don’t “get” something or it doesn’t appeal to me, my dark opinion lightens slightly when a fan enthusiastically gives their reasons for enjoying the media in question.

For many forms of art, limited perspective stands in the way of engagement. Certain forms of modern art are popular now when widely derided in times past. Since cultural exchange is one of the fastest ways to weld two cultures together comfortably, getting into the head of the appreciators is part of the journey.

Speaking of appreciation, attraction is a thorny issue. It is thought that you can’t help who you’re attracted to, you’re just born with preferences. That is patently ridiculous. You can’t be born with a preference for died-blue hair (guilty). It has to be culturally concocted by situational experience.

As such, I find the argument that we have inbuilt attraction or non attraction to particular races highly suspect. Classic racists might try to appropriate homosexuality to say that attraction to one’s own race is nature-given, like attraction to certain sexes.

There are three problems with that; one, attraction to particular sexes is integral to reproduction, whereas between races is irrelevant; two, reproduction with different races increases variation within the gene pool, which nature loves; three, sexual orientation is proven to be immovable, unlike attraction to different races which is measurably down to nurture.

Yet, there are people who seem to be disgusted sexually by members of particular races; or all / most / some different races in general. Bear in mind, disgust may not be a strong feeling; the mild disgust of finding one group of people uglier than another is worth challenging. People who say they are not attracted to X group of people experience this mild disgust, without recognising it as such.

They will often say that having a racial preference does not make you racist, but they are confusing having a preference (for blue eyes, black hair, etc.) with having an anti-preference, or an aversion. Aversions are racist, because they are informed by unfamiliarity: the racism of babies.

Babies and young children prefer members of their own race, because they don’t know any better. They can’t analyse the irrationality of their response. They are simply hardwired towards preferring the groups they can most easily identify as their own. That is not to say children are severely racist, simply that when they are blank slates, their preferences align with the only beings they know: their parents. It is not the baby’s race that matters, but the primary caregivers’.

Anyone who wants to remain like a baby should feel free never to challenge anti-preferences for differently coloured people. Everyone else should recognise this for a symptom of unfamiliarity borne out of needless and accidental segregation of culture; white people who grow up in black environments do not experience non-attraction to black people. They may have cultural preferences for their own race because of the race relations of the area, but their physical attraction is a result of what they interpret as normal.

In other words, anti-preferences suggest that you do not interpret the race in question as a normal part of your environment. In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, that’s bound to cause problems.

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