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Can't We All Just Be a Bennetton Ad?

2003-10-28 - 8:07 a.m.

WARNING: Long sanctimonious essay to follow.

This entry will not, in fact, be about my niece's first birthday. Instead, it will be about my other niece, in a way, the one who was born only a few weeks ago. But mostly it's going to be about The Next Joe Millionaire.

The First Joe Millionaire represented a turning point for me, in that I caught my first episode on the drive back home to Austin after deciding that DC and I went together like Michael Moore and Anne Coulter (even though DC is cool enough to house St Caroline herself and Lord Byron the Congressional Staff Assistant). I was in a hotel room in Chatanooga, TN when I met Evan, Zora, Sarah, Melissa M, Allison, and Mojo for the first time. I thought the show was hysterical, and I kept watching after I had returned to Texas and settled down. I was one of the millions of people who knew that "rooting" for Zora would be like "voting" for Dubya; the outcome is rigged anyway, so why not stay at home (please take that message to heart, any and all Dubya supporters)? I watched, nevertheless, and rolled my eyes at the shameless virgin/whore dichotomy that Fox created by juxtaposing Zora and Sarah, respectively. And I was in no way shocked when Evan announced that he couldn't have given two shits about Zora if you paid him $500,000 and a lifetime supply of bran muffins. It was all about seeing what quasi-normal people would do for fame and money, and star-spangled apple pie couldn't be more American.

Now we have a new Joe, who, against all the laws of human biology, is even dumber than the first one (he is, however, a corn-fed, muscle-bound piece of eye candy that could give me ocular diabetes). We also have an all new selection of women competing for the prize, this time from various central European countries which have yet to dub over the episodes of the first season. I've already picked out my faves. There's Olinda, the Swede who's Debbie Harry look appears to be about as natural as plastic fruit, and twice as shiny! There's Alessia, the crazy Italian! She loves life! She is a cowgirl! She wears the bindi, so sparkly! She's Italian! Ciao! And, of course, there's Czech sweetheart Tereza, who's so obviously the new Zora that the producers thoughtfully included a Z in her name.

There is not, however, Jerusha, because she's already off the show and sent back to Berlin, but we knew that. St. Caroline, Kim the TWoP recapper, and I all knew that she wouldn't last past the second elimination at most, and even that would represent considerable staying power. This is because Jerusha is not Caucasian (she looks to be of mixed African-European heritage), and women who are not Caucasian are not long for such reality dating shows.

It didn't matter that Jerusha was absolutely stunning, with features much softer than many of the other women, who looked bony and drawn. It didn't matter that she was one of the few women who spoke flawless English (of course, the new Joe's own English is absolutely miserable--maybe he was intimidated?). It didn't matter that she seemed sophisticated and warm. When it came down to it, she, and Yassamin, an Italian whose name and skin-tone suggested a Middle Eastern/North African heritage, were the wrong color.

Now, it would be easy to blame the new Joe. The boy is one of those Texans who makes so many of us Texans want to lie about where we're from, a Texan who wears his ignorance and his beer-stained shirt like badges of honor (can you name another person from Texas who acts this way, boys and girls?). While some such boys manage to resist or avoid the bigotry that usually comes part and parcel with that culture, many still put the confederate flag on their trucks as a sign of what should have been. I wouldn't be surprised if he had taken one look at Jerusha and thought, "Well, she sure is purty, but Momma would throw a fit if I brought home a girl like her, so I might as well get rid of her now before I start liking her."

However, if I made this all about this Joe (who's name is David Smith, in case anyone was wondering), I'd be ignoring the main reason why St. Caroline, Kim o'TWoP, and I knew she would be eliminated, and that is that men and women of color don't seem to last long on these reality dating shows, at least the ones where elimination is involved. There are usually token minority contestants on every show, but the ax tends to fall on them relatively quickly. Granted, I haven't seen every reality show, but I also don't remember seeing a minority in any of the "Who will SoAndSo finally CHOOSE?!?!?!" articles that tend to appear at the end of reality shows.

Again, it would be very easy to blame the networks, particularly one as archly-conservative as Fox. It's not hard to imagine producers telling Joe/David to feel free to eliminate the black girl, no offense, nothing racist, just, y'know, we feel, not we, me, but we, the network higher ups, y'know, the whole play in Peoria thing, just go ahead, there are so many other girls, they all love you, y'know how it is, don'tcha?

But I think that would be a bit too easy as well, although I have no doubt that producers twist the contestants arms as much as they can without breaking them. My worry, I guess you could say, is that the problem is much more insidious. I first became aware of the problem when I realized that, while many of my friends had hooked up with a member of the sex they don't normally hook up with, I was one of very few people I knew who had hooked up with someone of a different race.

Actually, let me backtrack, because I'm hiding behind the word race. What I mean to say is that I am one of the only one of my friends, almost all of whom are white, who has had sex (hot, steamy, fantastic sex) with a black person. Granted, this was a few years ago, and I'm hanging with a different crowd now, but when I had that realization that bisexual behavior was more common than interracial dating/shagging, I was surprised.

I began feeling around for answers, not only among my white friends, but among friends of all colors, and in some cases I simply got the answer "Well, it's not for lack of wanting to, I just haven't had the chance yet. Why, do you know someone who's interested?" Which, fair enough, hope you get the chance someday. However, there were other answers I got that made me cringe.

One common one, that usually came after a lot of prying, was, "Look, I know this is going to sound bad, but I'm just not attracted to (insert race here) people." Usually, the inserted race was "Black/African-American." To which I respond with, "Um, okay, I believe you, but, huh? What?" Seriously, I get the point but I do not get the picture. Um, Halle Berry? Taye Diggs? Denzel Washington? Erykah Badu? Lauryn Hill? Tyrese? Beyonce Knowles? Vivica Fox? MeShell NdegeOcello (a certain Philly lesbian is with me on that one)? Tyra Banks? Mekhi Phifer? Som'more? Mos Def (okay, that one might just be me, I think he's sooooo cute!)? Yeah, I don't know how anyone would be attracted to them, they're so ugly, especially that Taye Diggs with his smile and his voice and his musc . . . excuse me, I need a moment. Not to mention the gorgeous African-American men and women I know personally, some of whom I would LOVE to have LOADS of sex with. I can understand not being attracted to someone of the wrong gender for you, or even, maybe, the wrong body type for you (not that I necessarily agree with either of these things being a reason not to shag someone who IS tickling your fancy despite your notions about yourself), but point out to me what it is about all of the above people that could make them all unattractive besides their color, which isn't one single color to begin with!

And by the way, people of color, don't think I'm letting you off easily. I'll get to you in a minute.

The other answer that I got that made my skin crawl was, "I just don't see them as part of my dating pool." Again, huh? Seriously, why not? I don't see the little rope and row of floaties that separates your pool from theirs. Oh, wait, my bad, I'm not supposed to see it, I'm supposed to hear it. I've heard lines from members of all races and all cultures--from aryans to Jews to the African diaspora to, believe you me, fellow Latinos--about keeping culture intact and strong, about histories of oppression, apartheid, or genocide that require that the next generation marry within their race, culture and religion. Even if individuals don't feel this way, they might be concerned enough about the person they are interested in feeling this way to never pursue it. My big problem with this is that it keeps race and culture defined by a struggle of Us vs. Them, and if you're an Us in that situation you'd better hope the Them doesn't have bigger guns.

Now, it's true that interracial or intercultural couples have it rough. I knew a young woman in college who's mother was white, Jewish, and American and whose father was black, Catholic, and Haitian. Both sides of her family despised the other and her, because she was either too light or too dark. Wedding invitations were sent out to individuals, with spouse and children pointedly excluded. I learned all this when she did a performance piece about growing up hated for being the representation of her parents' love for one another, and I watched with admiration as she tore up cards labeled "Black" and "Jewish." You could feel her liberating herself from someone else's prejudices, and in that moment she was absolutely luminous. It saddened me that two cultures were so unwilling to accept a child who might have embraced and celebrated two cultures with rich and powerful histories, been both a Jew and a Catholic, a Haitian and an American, but who now was forced to define herself as someone who has overcome these labels. It is not her fault, nor her parents. It is the fault of her family.

My little niece might have to go through some of the same things, because her mother (my sister) is Latina, and her father is half Anglo-American, half Korean-American. That's an all-American girl if I ever heard of one. She's already so beautiful, like so many children of mixed heritage are. Fortunately for her, neither side is staking a claim on her blood. I don't know what my sister's plans are, but I want this girl to grow up speaking at least three languages--English, Spanish, and Korean--and I want her to take pride in all the people who have come before her. And I hope anyone who would dare suggest to her that she's some sort of mistake will promptly die a horrible, fiery death.

Now, throughout this whole thing, I make it sound like I have a bunch of racist friends, and I don't. The word racist is a powerful one, and like "child molester" it is one that can leave a deep stain even after it's been recanted. I'm not friends with racists (for obvious reasons), but I do know a lot of people who have conscious and unconscious boundaries about who they are willing to sleep with, or share a life with. And all I ask is that anyone who has ever said "I shouldn't date that person of a different race/creed/color/religion" ask themselves one more time why they've made that choice, and what would change their mind.

If you want to drop me a line about this and know my e-mail, feel free. If not, leave a note on Diaryland. If you are neither a Diaryland user nor a friend, I am going to try to get my diaryland e-mail running today or tomorrow. I know I've said a lot of things that might push the wrong buttons, but when I have members of my own family to think about, I tend to put my foot down. Addendums since eating lunch: 1) I realize that a person might not be able to truly embrace two religions. However, I think that it can either be sorted out between parents, or a child can choose on their own which religion to follow. In the case of my Jewish/Catholic friend, I'm not sure which one she chose, but I know that neither side gave her any incentive to embrace their own faith. 2) I don't mean to say that minority groups constructing themselves as Us vs. Them bring racism on themselves. Usually, they've already had good reason to start thinking of Us vs. Them. However, I think the key to ending racism is to take out the vs in between the two, and start thinking about Us and Them together, against the Evil Warlords of Planet Zebulon 5 who . . . I'm sorry, switched to sci-fi mode again. But yes, I think that perpetuating an idea that an oppressed minority group should keep itself racially or culturally pure can have its own negative consequences, not the least of which will be on that culture itself.

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