John Mayer, in an interview with Playboy, regaled readers with how much "black people love me" and then said this:
PLAYBOY: Do black women throw themselves at you?
MAYER: I don't think I open myself to it. My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick.
The Benetton part is revealing to me; their ads are nothing more than crass commercialism exploiting racial and ethnic identity politics and white people's often genuine concerns with racism to make a buck without really caring about well-being of the people of color they put in their ads to seem liberal and aware.
The David Duke part, while I've never seen anyone put it quite that way, is fairly common. I don't know how many times I've seen gay online personals and on cruising sites say something like "only into white boys" or "looking for white and latino guys" or "sorry, no blacks. just a preference" or "no thanks just not turned on by Asians." I have no reason to believe that straight men are any different, and La Toya Tooles at Salon confirms:
See, I don't begrudge you your sexual preferences; it's your right to screw as many cheerleaders as you want. What bothers me is that you're not the only guy who feels or acts this way. Sometimes, when I stand in a room of white men, I feel unfeminine and unsexual, no matter the strappy heels, the makeup, the dress. I know there are white men out there who find black women attractive, but you, John Mayer -- the guy down enough to be on"Chappelle's Show," the guy so sensitive he writes love songs -- now represent the ones who don't. Maybe you should think a little bit about that.
I doubt you have any idea what it feels like to be invisible, to come to a party looking for a little sexual validation and have white men look through you like you're wearing sweats. I doubt you know what it's like to feel the weight of cultural expectations every time you stand on a dance floor, knowing that your dance card will be empty since you won't play the freak. I doubt you know what it's like to question everything about yourself -- how you stood, how you dressed, how you smiled, trying to figure out what you did so wrong that men simply stayed away? I'm not ignorant enough to think my color is the only reason men would dismiss me, but when that happens enough times, it's hard to ignore the common factor. Do you know what it's like to be ignored in a roomful of romantic partners your age? Well, multiply that by 300 years of servitude.
I grew up hearing black is beautiful. I grew up knowing black men and women who believed that in their bones. But that lesson just seems to be lost on too many seemingly smart white men like you.
The fact that so many people freely admit to being sexually racist stems, most likely, from Americans' distaste for analyzing their own sexual preferences. Much like racism, it's a murky, scary place in someone's mind that they'd generally rather not deal with, so even though Tooles asks Mayer to examine his own racism, I'm sure that what's most likely to happen is he's going to learn to keep his mouth shut. (In a sign of the times, Playboy put his apology from YouTube right under his comments on race in the interview. It's all part of the same spectacle!)
As gay and bi people have argued for a long time, sexual orientation isn't just something that you can change like you change a shirt. A sex drive is a powerful thing, and the direction it's pointed in isn't something that we can control, we say. As much as we try, the only thing we'll end up doing is covering it up and living an unhappy, inauthentic life.
How is it, then, that people's sex drive can sometimes take race into account? Race is a quality that's imposed on people's bodies after birth; it's not like there's a single gene that says "white" or "black" so that people innately know what race they are and the skin color of the people they're attracted to.
Queer theorists have long argued, though, that such attraction based on the gender of others isn't set in stone, that it's a part of the way we discipline our own sexualities, how our culture tells us to read and understand our sexual impulses actually creates sexual impulses and suppresses others. People's attractions are often more bisexual than their identities, and that must eventually affect their actions.
When it comes to race, though, I'm much more skeptical when I read about someone's "just a preference." A preference along the lines of gender isn't going to change because someone wills it to (the gays have been trying that one for decades and it hasn't gotten us anywhere), but a preference along the lines of race? Here's what Tooles had to say about that:
There is a lot of history between black women and white men, and it would be an understatement to say it's not very good. But I work to get past it: I push beyond the Mammy image, the welfare-queen persona and the caricature of angry black women to love myself. I struggled to identify and define myself in spite of the lousy stereotypes to which your penis apparently subscribes. I have looked past slavery, white-only water fountains and the joke that is George Bush to find white men attractive; I don't define all of you by this history.
I can do all this because I've been to some uncomfortable places within myself in order to address my own prejudice. I have come to admit my irrational hatred for blondes and my burning desire to exploit all white men who show any amount of weakness. I see this sin within myself -- I regret it, I apologize for it and I work daily to rise above it. I wish you could do the same, John.
Indeed, while certain aspects of sexual attraction don't seem like things we can control (gender and number, for instance), race is such an arbitrary, contrived and artificial category. It was made up by humans and then ascribed to others in the form of a hierarchy, and the fact that that same hierarchy presents itself in those "just a preference" statements should make it suspect enough for people to examine their own sexual racism.