I have a serious problem. I have lived among white people all my life. And to a certain degree, minus the speck of color that is me, I still live a whitewashed, "Friends" life now. From my neighborhood, to my office, to the Ivy League school where I'm sort of playing at getting a master's, it's white people all the time. It wasn't until I started working that I could be 100 percent honest about something truly awful about myself: I am not attracted to men of my own ethnicity or race. I walk into a party, and am not seeking out the faces that look like me, but the white ones. Unfortunately, I think it goes even deeper. It turns my stomach to write this, but I think I may even be afraid of nonwhite men to some degree. I have internalized all the shit about them, and I don't have, nor have I sought out, any experience with them. This is so wrong! How can I change this? And isn't this a sign of some serious self-hatred to a certain degree? What am I going to do?
And I need to do something because I can't stand to think that I have something within me that awful. And, not that it as important as the first reason, but white men don't date nonwhite women where I am, so what do I do? This causes me a lot of anxiety and shame, so please do not tell me that it is OK to feel this way. I know it's not.
Can't think of a witty way to sign off on this letter.
Dear Troubled by Race,
In order to work out your problem, it is necessary to inquire about this belief that your attraction to white men is wrong. But since you warn me against challenging it, let us suppose that it is so, that your attraction to white men is wrong. If it is wrong, then we have a responsibility to right it, do we not? And my simply telling you to change might not be sufficient. You already know it's wrong and yet you haven't changed, have you? If it is truly wrong, it should be illegal, shouldn't it? After all, laws exist to encourage what is right and to punish what is wrong. If your perverse passion harms the public good in some way, or if it hinders the advancement of your race, then it stands to reason that outlawing it would serve the public good. However, the law cannot address what is in your head; it can only address its manifestations. So the law should outlaw marriage between people of different races, shouldn't it? Perhaps even dating or holding hands across the racial divide should be outlawed. That would put a stop to the problem.
Sure, you saw where I was going with that, didn't you? Such laws were repealed because they were deeply offensive to the dignity of man. The law came to accept such individual decisions as protected in the sphere of privacy.
So if it's not illegal, what is the problem? Perhaps it is a political wrong: It's not illegal to fail to recycle, either (except in Berkeley), but it does represent a kind of abnegation of responsibility toward a sustainable biosphere. So if it is a political wrong, I have to ask: Have you turned your life over to a political cause; have you married the left the way a nun marries Christ? Is there no room in your politics for personal error? We're not living under Lenin or Mao, are we? Our society endorses individual freedom. So no one, even if they believe that their vision of a just and true society takes precedent over the ineluctable longings of the heart, would be so foolish as to come right out and tell you that your dating other races is wrong, would they? But who might have hinted around at it or given you that idea? Your parents? Church officials? Community leaders? Racial spokespeople? Philosophers?
I say to you: Defy such notions wherever they arise! Defy them! Do not let yourself believe for an instant that your romantic attractions are based in self-hatred! That is a repulsive suggestion full of totalitarian brainwashing. It offends me personally. The problem is not you. The problem is that apparently you are living in a racist community. So if you want to do something politically useful with your love life, kill two birds with one stone: Satisfy your craving for white meat and defy racism at the same time. Ask some of these white men out on dates!
Let me remind you that in America there is one revolutionary idea still in effect: You have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I had dinner the other night at Luna Park in the Mission District with a 32-year-old artist who has given up painting in favor of making art out of brightly colored shelves from Ikea with paperback romance novels stacked on them. He said painting is a dead end. "The problem," he said, "is that we still celebrate the individual, and the individual is a romantic ideal."
I still celebrate the individual, even if the individual is a romantic ideal.
There is something else I want to say to you about the beauty of difference, about contrast and sameness, about how the great evil of totalitarian and religious systems is that in the pursuit of perfection they ruin the variegated soul of nature. In the movie "Adaptation" there's this scene where the orchid guy explains how orchids mimic the look of bees, and the bees, seeing their own image, make love to the orchid and thereby pollinate it. By following their blind instincts, unaware of their significance in the larger scheme, they create the staggering beauty of the world.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.