A prolonged debate I have had with my friends, peers and sister is the conundrum of dating, particularly in a country as ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse as India, without coming off as racist/prejudiced. With the onslaught of Tinder, Shaadi.com and other online dating sites that are plagued with very questionable preferential indicators (particularly the colour of skin of your potential partner), it would not be too long before the question arises: is finding a certain feature of an individual appealing a sign of racism/prejudice or is it a preference?
Anyone with some level of reading of race and prejudice issues and their historical significance both nationally and globally would be quick to point out (and I would agree with them) that this is a no-brainer: clearly, at least in the case of online dating, there is most definitely a certain level of prejudice towards someone’s skin colour (or width of eyes) disguised as individual preference thanks in part to the famous yet infamously commercialized Fair and Lovely creams. However, preference at its most basic level is a very human expression. For example, and at the risk of making an unfair comparison, on a day-to-day basis I prefer donuts to olives for breakfast, dance to going to the gym for exercise, black to cream white for a sunglass frame colour. Diversity is also a very human experience – we as people have vastly different physical features from the colour of our skin/hair/eyes to the shape and size of our mouth and teeth to name a few.
Considering these two very real and natural phenomenon, preference and diversity, and also considering the context of ethnic tensions within India (from colourism to the caste system to regional stereotypes), there appears to be a fine line between having a natural human preference for an individual’s feature and having been influenced by media, societal norms and biases when deciding what your preferences are in the first place. Understandably, one wonders –is preference always going to be affected by society and thus by its very essence be unnatural and biased? One a more global scale, for the sake of oversimplifying, what does fancying the dark Latino to the blond Englishman (or vice versa) convey? Is being ‘colourblind’ (often dismissed as a ‘white American liberal’ manner of viewing race) the way to go while forsaking recognizing our diversity? Or is it more important to acknowledge your preferences while realizing the forces at play that helped you choose what you find appealing? Considering the history of colonialism, racism, and ethnic tension in the midst of the vibrant diversity within India and the world, questions about human preferences and the choices we make for relationship are an important discourse to have. The narrative on preference, individuality, and prejudice needs to be reanalyzed and viewed with a more all-encompassing historical lens if we are to gather a more comprehensive understanding of the roots of our choices.