Spouse Selection – Am I racist?
Meeting so many fantastic people over the past few months has challenged many assumptions I’ve had about the future – one of which being a possible desire to marry an Armenian girl. In a walk through Christiania, Copenhagen’s alternative “society within a city”, I had the pleasure to spend time with my friends Nika, Zach, Corey, and Angad. I asked Angad, who is Sikh, if he wanted to marry a Sikh girl or if that parameter did not concern him. “I’m open to love,” he responded. “And besides, there’s something racist about choosing your partner based on their race or religion.”
Angad did not really consider this issue one worth the time of personal philosophical reflections, but the way he described it really struck me and made me think about what I want in a future spouse and what that says about me. Am I, in fact, racist for wanting to marry a girl because she is Armenian, because she belongs to a certain race? What are the racist implication of my excluding non-Armenian women of my love, commitment, and devotion?
My first reaction was to take a step back. If one is overtly racist, I reasoned, then there are no doubts about it. I do not feel like my race or any other race in this world is superior or better than others. I truly believe that if an individual is racist, then it is obvious. We can see it in the way they look at others, describe others, and interact with others. I have respect and love for all people of the world, of all races, all religions, and I refuse to create any type of objective hierarchy which is often, and sadly, subtly imposed on me by a variety of societal and cultural forces.
But what is to be said about using race as a parameter to select a spouse? There is indeed an implicit racism in this. At first, I argued that one can make a racist decision without being racist. My example would pertain to this category as someone using race as a parameter for spouse selection. Yet this does not alter my outlook towards the world and people of other cultures, nations, religions, and races. I love them all.
But then I realized that, no, selecting a spouse based on race is not a racist act because discrimination is the very foundation of the spouse selection process. When choosing who we want to mate and spend the rest of our lives with, or even who we are attracted to, we use discrimination as a tool to (sorry to put it so bluntly) weed out individuals who possess undesirable traits and focus on those who possess the qualities we desire. Some discriminate based on physical features including weight, muscularity, eyes, nose, face, etc. etc. Others discriminate based on personality types, political stances, hobbies, on and on, until we reach race and religion. When it comes to spouse selection, I believe that race and religion belong to a laundry list of parameters we discriminate among to select with whom we want to mate and spend the rest our lives. Accepting that we use race and religion as parameters for spouse selection does not imply that one is racist. So how do we define racism? What is race? How does it differ from ethnicity? Is discrimination an evolutionarily adapted trait that promotes human survival and longevity?
Applying History Lessons to Contemporary Issues
When history is taught, it ought to be connected to (potential) contemporary applications. History can maintain its distantiality from the present and simultaneously shed light on current affairs. For example, in my junior year of high school, we learned about the “trail of tears” where president Andrew Jackson (the twenty dollar man) ordered the evacuation march of thousands and thousands of the indigenous Indian population. This is an absolutely critical lesson in history because it describes the injustices committed in the establishment of the land of the free and home of the brave. However, I think that when we study this injustice as history and then “move on to the next lesson”, we implicitly tell our students that these wrongdoings belong to the past and not to the present. But the fact is that these indigenous Indian populations still live in America, their ancestral homeland, and they continue to suffer injustice committed by the American government. But this is not taught in history classes. We need to link such history lessons to contemporary issues and emphasize how history informs and sheds light on the present.
In the Netherlands, instead of saying “45 minutes”, the Dutch say “3 quarters of an hour”. What does this say about how different countries perceive time and how language influences how we think about time?