Internalizing cultural messages

Over on Facebook, “Opinion Vlogger, Children’s Illustrator and Thrift Store Addict”  Kat Blaque, posed the following question:

So I need your opinion. I have mine, but I want yours:
Do you think people who actively say that they don't date members of their own race have issues with self hate?

Because I’m so well known for expressing myself succinctly, my response to Kat was a few concise sentences.

Ok, maybe it was a bit more than a few sentences. Ok, fine. It was a lot of sentences. Sue me. I’m still working on concise. Anyways, here’s the response I left:

 

To be honest, I’m not sure here. Long story ahead (seriously, you may want to grab some popcorn, take a pee break, walk the dog, or grab some coffee).

I’m a gay, black man who has never had an attraction to other black men. In my teen years, when I tried to make myself heterosexual, I dated black women. But when I looked at men that I found attractive, they were always white. Every guy I’ve dated has been white. Virtually all the men I’ve slept with have been white (a small handful were Latino).

I never thought anything of this until geez, something like 20 years ago. I was in a gay club in North Alabama and while I don’t remember all the specifics, I do recall a black guy hitting on me. I *think* I said I’m not interested, but I may very well have said “I’m not attracted to black men”. I remember him saying that I was discriminating against black guys by being that way. For the better part of the last 20 years, every time I’ve thought back to that incident, I always thought that he was wrong. That I wasn’t discriminating. After all, AFAIK, we don’t control who we are attracted to. I can’t *make* myself be attracted to someone I’m not (I’ve tried a few times to be attracted to white guys that I’m not physically attracted to and it just didn’t work out for me). I’m not sure anyone can (but other people are not me, so maybe its possible).

But my opinion began to shift somewhat in the last five years. It began when I embraced feminism (yes, for all the people out there whose gast is flabbered, I’m a guy who fully supports and speaks out on feminist issues on a regular basis). As I learned more and more about the struggles-big and small-of women around the world for the whole of human history, I began to recognize what I’d later realize was intersectional feminism. I began to see that advocating for women’s equality meant paying attention to the ways *all* women were discriminated against and oppressed. That resulted in me realizing that the experiences of white women-for all that white women have dealt with sexism and misogyny-were not the same as the experiences of black women. Or latinas. Or American Indian women. Or Asian women.

**Pause: [yes, all of this will relate to your question in a minute. I’m one of those people that fills in backstory that I think is relevant to understanding how I arrived at a position (I just need to learn how to distill my explanations down to their essence). I know it seems like a huge non-sequitor]**

The shift in thinking that came with understanding the struggles of women affected how I began to view the struggles of other marginalized groups. As a gay man, I’d long known about homophobia and the discrimination and oppression gay people experience. What I didn’t know was how pervasive it was. But, in learning how deeply rooted sexism and misogyny were in our culture (speaking here about the US) I also began to take note of how the system (i.e. our culture/society) was biased in favor of heterosexual people (which makes some amount of depressing sense-our culture was created by and for heterosexual people, without any concern for the needs of anyone of differing sexualities). I realized that there were some similarities between how sexism and misogyny pervade our society and how homophobia does as well.

This realization in turn led me to recognizing some connections between homophobia and misogyny. It was like a series of dominoes tumbling in my head. As I began to understand the various ways homophobia manifests in our society, I also came to realize the existence of internalized homophobia. Having already known that some women internalize sexism and misogyny because the dominant social messages that preference men over women are absorbed and internalized differently by different women, I came to see that internalized homophobia can manifest differently in different gay people. Confronting the homophobia I’d internalized led me, in turn, to realizing that some of my homophobic beliefs had sexist and misogynistic underpinnings.

Questioning and reexamining my beliefs about myself as a gay man and gay people in general, I found myself thinking back to the guy who told me I was discriminatory against black people. Back then, I shrugged it off as “nah”. But now, it was more like “there might be something to that”. I still didn’t believe I had any control over who I’m attracted to. But I understood that our society was built for the benefit of white people…that white privilege is a very real thing…that there are social messages all around us that uplift white people, while simultaneously demeaning, disparaging, and denigrating black people and that these messages are learned and absorbed at a very, very young age-I began to understand that even something like my attraction to men has been influenced by the dominant cultural narratives.

It’s not like I was raised in a household by parents who hated black people, or that I didn’t spend time around black people growing up. Neither of those is the case. But the influences of culture produce messages that we are all soaking in and absorbing. The messages of who the powerful people are. Who the successful people are. Who the rich people are. Who the most desirable people are. Who the sexy people are. The images on television or in the movies of the kind of people deemed ‘good looking’. I didn’t grow up in a culture that valued the accomplishments, celebrated the successes, honored the achievements, or saw beauty in the bodies of black people the way it did white people. That’s not to say some of those messages weren’t there. But the dominant social narrative that existed when I was growing up-and which still exists today, to perhaps, a slightly lesser degree-was one that, as I said, uplifted white people. In all ways. How could I not absorb some of that as I grew up? How could that *not* affect the mental processes I had as a child that would lead me to be attracted to white people over black people?

After coming to that realization, I made changes to the online profiles I created for Grindr, Adam4Adam, and Manhunt. Where I’d previously said words to the effect of “only interested in white guys”, I changed it to “typically attracted to white or latino men”. For years, I’d joke around and tell people “I not into black men. Chocolate breaks me out.” Such a comment always elicited laughter from others. But my newfound social awareness made me cringe and want to smack my younger self. Nowadays, I say “in the past, my attraction has been primarily to white men and sometimes latinos”. Instead of specifically excluding black men from the group of people I’m attracted to, I focus on the people I have been attracted to. If someone were to ask me if I’m attracted to black guys, I’d say that I haven’t found a black guy that I’m attracted to yet. That could change or it might not. I don’t know. I just don’t like the exclusionary nature of saying “I’m not attracted to X”.

So to answer your question (if you’re even still reading this long-ass message): I think it’s entirely possible that because (for instance) the dominant social messages surrounding black people in the US have been negative, and everyone who lives in the US grows up immersed in those messages, that yes, some people may very well issues of self-hate they could benefit from examining.

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Internalizing cultural messages
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One thought on “Internalizing cultural messages

  1. 1

    That’s a very thoughtful exploration of your own past.
    People internalize the bad messages about their own group as well. Heterosexual women will often say something like “I could never live with a woman, we’Re too complicated!”

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