On "Benetton Hearts" And...You Know

[A. Serwer]

Hey everyone, it's an honor to be back at Ta-Nehisi's place. I'm a writer at The American Prospect, and an alumnus of Jack and Jill Politics as dnA. I was also one of TNC's guestbloggers last June. I write mostly about human rights, civil liberties, and race, and if it stops blowing my mind at some point this week I'll have a post about Bioshock 2.

Last week, John Mayer went through the traditional social ritual of a white celebrity who has said something racist--there's the Mock Horror from the media audience, the General Pile-On from critics and observers, and finally, the rationalized Expression of Contrition from the celebrity themselves. There often isn't much thought given to the substance of what the person said--or what's really disturbing about it. In Mayer's case, I think he expressed a rather problematic assumption in really offensive terms that I suspect a lot of people actually share.

After bragging to the interviewer that he has a "nigger pass," Mayer gets asked whether he's actually dated any black women. And I suspect Mayer was immediately embarrassed that his dating experiences didn't match his professed racial views, particularly his vision of himself as a down-ass white boy so down the shrapnel from n-bombs can't faze him. So he tried to come up with a "raw" excuse that could reconcile those two things ("Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock"), and he played himself.

Mayer's cognitive dissonance aside, the basic substance of Mayer's statement,--that he flat-out doesn't find people of a certain ethnic background to be attractive--is one I've heard from people of all different races. Tracy Clark-Flory seemed to say as much in her response at Salon:

And what of Meyer calling his Johnson a racist? (Insert here: Tasteless joke about hooded Klansman.) Look, as a general idea, I don't object to people having racial preferences when it comes to sex partners; it's only human to imprint on certain physical traits and gravitate toward particular "types." (Although I think it's a great idea to challenge the limitations of your personal "love map," as psychologists like to call it.) That said, it is one thing to state an enduring preference for, say, Asian women and another to pronounce: My dick hates black women!

I'm not really sure it's that different on the substance. It's one thing to say that you haven't dated interracially: American life is still marred by social segregation, and most of us simply don't come in contact with that many people of different ethnic backgrounds, let alone in the kind of frequency it would take to meet a compatible romantic prospect. And dating interracially doesn't give you a get-out-of-bigotry-free card either. There's nothing about sleeping with someone of a different race that necessarily makes you able to see them as a human being--the slavery-era boom in mixed race births is evidence of that.

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Adam Serwer is a staff writer for The American Prospect.

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