Robin Hanson, as is his wont, finds a third-rail and grabs it with both hands. I’m posting most of it because it is hard to take any one of these paragraphs out of context:

So dating is our last refuge of overt racism because … preferring people based on race isn’t racism if its for dating, especially if minorities do it?!

Of course its racism, if anything is.  But is it good racism?  The obvious reason to allow mate racism is that people better enjoy mating when they better like their mates, and people think they care about the race of their mates.  But this same reason suggests allowing racism by firms, schools, and clubs.  Firms are full of people, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, any of which might care about the race of folks they must deal, mingle, associate, etc. with.  At schools, the teachers, students, and ultimate employers of those students may also care about race.

Yes people may be mistaken about how much they care about the race of their associates, and perhaps this justifies government policies forbidding overt racism at firms, schools, or clubs.  But why doesn’t this apply just as well to mating?  Sure it is impossible to legislate away all racism in dating, but the same is true for hiring etc.  Why don’t we at least forbid overt mating racism, such as race-based searches?  We could even collect stats on the race of folks that people contact at dating sites, just as we check now on rates rates in hiring at firms, etc.

One explanation is that we naively think that imposing rules on firms only hurts those abstract entities, not the people associated with them.  Or we think such rules only hurt investors and managers, who we don’t care about.   Perhaps we only dislike racism that changes incomes, not happiness — yet mates often change income a lot.  Another explanation is that we only don’t care about racism in the “personal” sphere, though this just changes the question to what exactly is “personal” and why do we care differently about such things.  What do you think?

This phenomenon has always troubled me. It is far to complex a topic to try to answer Hanson’s question in a blog post, but if I had to try, I would guess that it is a result of not race, but culture built around race. That word “ethnicity” is an effort to get at that idea. The debate over Obama’s “whiteness” or “blackness” was not about his race, it was about his ethnicity. I suspect that the issues Hanson is exploring here are those of ethnicity, where culture maps so closely onto race that what appears to be racism is, in fact, ethnic identities that have a difficult time relating to one another. As dating is so personal and the dating pool is so vast, we are attracted to similar ethnic groups, because that sets up foundational similarities on which a relationship can be built. Whether or not that assumption is correct is another issue entirely. Clearly, this deserves a lot more thought.

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