Dear Ms Understanding,

How can I help my white friend understand that his “preference” to only date white women is racist? Can I persuade him to at least be a bit more open minded?

I don’t understand how he can justify his “preference” to himself? How can he not realise that he’s only attracted to white women because society tells him he should be?

Thanks in advance. 🙂

Dear Friend,

I really hear you: You are worried about his taste in women because you think it’s unfair for someone to dismiss a whole group of people based on warped ideas about race and beauty. So, let me begin by reassuring you that women of colour will be fine without him.

One of the common mistakes white people make is to overestimate their importance in the lives and imaginations of people of colour. Racism matters, and microaggressions are important because they often impede our ability to function in the world with ease by stopping us from conducting basic activities like driving, shopping, or even just walking down the street.

But at the level of whether a particular white person is interested in dating us or not, I think you would have a hard time finding any woman of colour who would be even mildly concerned about this.

Having said that, of course you’re right, your friend’s “preference” isn’t random. Like many white people in western societies, he has been socialised to think about beauty through a very narrow lens. I feel bad for him: one of the burdens of whiteness is how much it stunts the lives of those who buy into its deceits. White people like your friend are missing out on many aspects of the human experience of fellowship, friendship, pleasure and beauty.

The beauty industrial complex almost guarantees that no matter where you live or what your skin colour and hair type, you are subject to the pernicious ideas about beauty. These warped ideas are bad for everyone, including most white women. However, in my experience, if you grow up in a community that is ethnically diverse or in a country where white people are not the majority population, you are less likely to centre whiteness in such an uncritical manner and therefore you probably have more diverse and interesting tastes when it comes to sexual attraction.

The bigger question you need to ask yourself is whether your values and his still align. Surely this is not the only area where his attitudes on race show up. Indeed, the fact that this is a live conversation between you says a lot about who else might be in the room when you are having these debates.

I would guess that there isn’t a lot of ethnic and racial diversity in your friend group, and if that is the case, then your concern about who he dates addresses a symptom, rather than the root issue. This might be a sign that you’ve grown apart, and that’s the real issue here.

In the meantime, I genuinely hope your friend finds love where he is looking for it, because women of colour already have enough problems without dealing with men who have to be convinced to give us a chance. Any Black, Asian or Latinx woman he dates will have to put up with weirdness about their race, and honestly I don’t know how many people have time for that in their love life.

Good luck as you consider the friendship and how to move forward with him.

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  • Sisonke Msimang is a Guardian Australia columnist. She is the author of Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home (2017) and The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela (2018)