Friday, May 9, 2014

Race, Attraction, and Cognitive Dissonance: Part I


It surprises me how many of the things we experience growing up stay with us 'till adulthood. Moreover, even after considerable effort in digging into the past to route out the roots of our present emotional, psychological, and spiritual disease, we find that weeds have popped up bound and determined to increase the amount of work we still must do.

This is where I find myself.

I have written fairly extensively about my experiences as a black and gay man. And I debated a great deal as to whether I should continue to blog about these struggles. My assumption is that most people that have read my writings or know me personally have grown tired of my ongoing rants about race and sexuality. But recent conversations and Facebook threads have triggered feelings and issues that have always lain under the surface of my superficial conscious living. I've started conversations with several black men and white men about their attractions to different races - exploring the "why's," the guilt and shame, and the triumphs and difficulties of loving someone of a different race.

I concluded that I can no longer hide my invisible struggle if I am, indeed, going to find the healing and restoration I so desperately seek.

A series, a book, a thread, a group?

I do not know where my writings on this subject will lead me. There is so much to say. So many stories to tell. So many deep psychological hurts, pains, and traumas to bring into the light of day. There are inconvenient truths to be revealed and I can no longer withhold them. Some of what I say will be wholly biased. Some will come across as racist, egotistical, small-minded, contradictory, and the like. But what I won't write are things to continue the masquerade. I have discovered that my story is mimicked many many times throughout the African Diaspora. The consequences of what has been done to us and what we have done to each other continues to ripple out in so many ugly and devastating ways. Unfortunately, I too, have been caught up in the waves. I can not escape this reality. But hopefully I can escape its lasting hold.

Perhaps this will lead to a series of blog postings (most likely), or a book, a Facebook thread, or group (which I'm also considering). I don't have all the answers. I haven't read everything there is to read on being black, gay, and attracted to a different race. I am not an expert. The only thing I am an expert on, however, is my own life and my own lived experiences. And at the end of the day, that alone is credibility enough.

Community

I am seeking community. And this is hard for me because I have always felt on the outside looking in. I'm discovering that I need others with similar stories to have brotherhood and sisterhood with. My story is not going to be exactly the same as others. Some, I'm discovering, have been able to overcome their struggles far easier and quicker than I have been able to. Others are struggling even more so than I am. But this is not the time for pat answers such as "it is what it is" and "you are attracted to who you are attracted to." I don't buy that for a moment. To me, these statements are often lazy veils we drape over our sexual urges to hide a more sinister reality - that if we were to truly face ourselves in the mirror, ask the hard questions, and keep digging 'till we reach bedrock (some people need to dig far further than that), I have a feeling, many of us would shirk away in shame from the ugly truths that live within us about why we are attracted to certain people and not to others.

My belief is that there is ALWAYS a reason "why!" Unfortunately, most of us are too afraid to discover the answers.

Observations

Patterns create systems and the truth is that most stereotypes exist because some patterns have become so common place that they are outside the realm of mere coincidence. Again and again I will continue to refer back to this principle. I want to start by sharing three incidences that have, for me, driven the point home that sexual attraction is usually not based in assessments of individual characters but perhaps more in stereotypical beliefs about certain ethnic, cultural, or racial identities. I am also coming to believe that sexual attractions often are based in people's past hurts, traumas, or some childhood conditioning - often a way of eroticizing a previous childhood or young adulthood event (be it good or ill).

1.
Back in 2009, I had the privilege of attending a workshop for African American gay men in Seattle - "Brother's Link." On the first night, over dinner, we were asked to participate in a three-part activity. Three large flip chart sheets were displayed with three different titles for each sheet: Black Men, Gay Men, and Black Gay Men.

We were asked to state words describing how we felt about each group. Upon the "Black Men" sheet about 95% of all the words given were negative. Upon the "Gay Men" sheet, the same level of negativity. And upon the "Black Gay Men" sheet, again, most of the words given were unfavorable.

The fact that so many of my companions had so many negative things to say about the very things they were, illustrated two things. One - either the indoctrination that being Black in America or Gay in America was an evil had taken hold or, Two - so many negative patterns had rooted itself within these three communities that it wasn't difficult to come up with negative descriptors. Granted, there were positive things said about each community but those were sorely diminished by the negative adjectives.

In these passages, I am not trying to negate the negative in the interest of painting any community in a more favorable light. I am writing to, to the best of my ability, expose the negative and in the process of such exposure, ask questions to determine the "why's."
2.
A few years ago, I accompanied a dear friend of mine to a Fourth of July party hosted at a house of one of his acquaintances. Upon crossing the threshold, I saw an older white gay man with an Asian man who was clearly his lover. As I turned to look into the living room I saw yet another White/Asian pairing. Upon further observation I noticed more and more White/Asian pairings.
I have noticed this White/Asian pairing so frequently that upon seeing it I can't help but wonder why this stereotype (a pattern that is beyond coincidence) continues to occur with frequency?
3.
On the topic of gay racial pairings I have noticed a very interesting trend that warrants a cause for concern because its implications might point to a far more inconvenient truth about why we are sexually attracted to certain groups and not others.

Just through observation (which is the primary way in which I come to conclusions), I have noticed that gay pairings rarely come in the form of Asian/Asian (what is derogatorily called "sticky rice"), Latino/Asian, Latino/Latino, Black/Latino, or Black/Asian. What I have noticed is that White's usually can have the pick of the litter - any man they choose. I've seen White/Asian, White/Latino, and White/Black. But rarely do these minorities pair with each other. I suspect that all this is highly geographical of course as you would find more Black/Black pairings, for instance, where more African Americans reside and so on.
But these observations only beg the question, "Why?" Why do we see more pairings of the hegemonic (dominant) culture (White) with themselves and other minorities than we see of minority/minority pairings? Granted, Caucasians make up the majority of the populace (for the current time) but is majority the only reason why there is such an observable lack of minority/minority pairings?

And on the flip side, in a part of the debate I might touch on later, why are there those who emphatically choose not to date outside of their race no matter the costs? This argument covers both extremes, those who only date outside their race and those who won't date anyone outside their race. Again, why?

Cognitive Dissonance


This brings me to Cognitive Dissonance - the principle that the mind is capable of holding two or more contradictory positions, beliefs, value systems, or ideas at the same time. In turn, this conflict creates a certain level of emotional distress (unless, of course, we have trained ourselves to ignore it). In the scope of social justice and equality, sexual discrimination (discerning one partner better than another based on racial patterns, racial promoted traumas, racial stereotypes of varying degrees, etc.) demands examination! On the one hand, many of us admittedly support the civil rights and equality of various racial groups. And on the other hand many of us find ourselves openly favoring members outside of our own race. Hence, how the contradiction manifests itself. The shame, guilt, or concerns that are often inherent in this contradiction are not solely rooted in why we are sexually attracted to a different race but why we are not attracted to our own.

This brings me to the crux of the issue and the reason why answering the "why" question is so important.

Are we, in our racial-sexual selecting, inadvertently contributing and reinforcing a much larger system of racism, prejudice, and subversive discrimination?

I will attempt to examine this crux further in part two.

Disclaimer

At this point it behooves me to state that I am NOT promoting like/like racial pairings (only date within your race). On the contrary, I believe that diversity within the dating realm is positive progress, but I cannot help but question when dating trends, that are highly determined along racial boundaries, are so frequent. Nor can I ignore when some members of a race exclusively date within a particular race at the exclusion of all others. To me, this signifies a much deeper (and often more negative) discrimination that has the potential of exhibiting itself in other areas outside of the bedroom.

For more info about Garland Jarmon please visit his website www.garlandjarmon.com




 GARLAND JARMON
Guest Contributor for Male Media Mind