During a discussion at Northwestern last October, author Junot Díaz brought up the role of white supremacy in dating preferences.

He told the audience he’d conducted a little experiment with his MIT students, challenging them to take a picture of every Asian girl they saw on the arm of a white guy. Or, as he pointed out, to look at all the black athletes with white trophy wives.

It was a topic I’d pitched to Gozamos’ Lifestyle editor but, for whatever reason, decided not to write about. Yet, here it was again, and so I guess it’s an issue I’m urged to muddle through.

Like any decent, hardworking, pious immigrant, my grandma is a borderline racist. She’s not racist in the intentional sense, meaning she doesn’t consider herself a racist and would punch me in the mouth for saying so.

She’s racist in the traditional sense, in the “como debe ser” sort of way.

For her, white equals good, black equals bad and brown is mediocre — not based on her experience with black and white people (since she hardly knows any), but because that’s the world she’s lived in since forever. For the old-timers, life comes color-coded.

I can remember my mom and aunt warning me not to date Latinas because “we’re all bitches,” and though I’d had crushes on Latinas early on, I didn’t date one till I was a senior in high school, and even then we weren’t exclusive.

I don’t think it had anything to do with what I’d been told — not solely, anyway. I simply thought I didn’t have much in common with the Latinas I knew. For starters almost all of the Latinas I knew were Mexican, which was as foreign to a Honduran-Puerto Rican boy like me as white, black and Asian girls were.

But there were also ideas in my head that could’ve been part of white supremacy.

White supremacy isn’t just a skinhead thing, you know. People of different races are all guilty of it in various ways.

The idea that white is right can be as benign as… well, no, it’s never benign. Holding up a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl as the highest standard of beauty is itself an ugly thing. The belief that dating a black girl or a Latina isn’t as good as dating a white girl is entirely messed up.

I used to think Latinas and black girls were aggressive and not as gentle as white and Asian girls, which was as much misogyny as it was white supremacy. I thought Latinas and black girls had bad hair and weird skin, whereas white girls and Asian girls had beautiful hair and skin like glass.

Being an undercover sensitive nerd myself, I was also attracted to white girls and Asian girls because I thought they were more sentimental and cerebral than their black and brown counterparts. I saw black and brown girls as crass, while white girl and Asian girls were the height of refinement.

When I dated my first Latina during senior year (and a Mexican, at that), I was still seeing other people, most of them white girls, and two of them Asian. I ended up breaking up with her and dating one of the Asian girls for five years, giving her as much monogamy as I could muster.

When things ended with my Asian girlfriend, I fell for another Mexican, this one a DREAMer. After two and half years, we got married in Vegas.

As you get older and meet new people, you learn that people aren’t as black, white or brown as you once thought, that there’s plenty of grey to make generalizations impractical, especially in terms of dating.

While my prejudices toward black and brown girls were way off base, there are still general differences between girls of different races and ethnic backgrounds, and most of it comes down to culture. In a place like America, you can find a white girl who “acts black” as easily as you can find a black girl who “acts white,” and you can probably find Latinas who act white, black or Asian.

Since America is a divided place, race and ethnicity is very much tied to culture. Because Latinos tend to live near other Latinos, they tend to share a lot of things in common, which may be as simple as liking the same foods and listening to the same music, or as major as sharing the same morals and politics. And the same can be said about black people, Asians and, to a much lesser extent (because they’re everywhere), white people.

But there’s also plenty of variation and overlap in America. Every new generation of Americans grows up to be more mulitcultural than the one that came before it, and people are marrying outside their races and ethnic groups at higher rates.

So it’s hard to see an Asian girl on white guy’s arm or a Latino guy treating his white girlfriend to a fancy meal and know whether it’s white supremacy at play or just a bit of multiculturalism.

Maybe it’s both.

[Photo: Emily Tan via Wikimedia Commons]

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