Assortative mating is the selective mating between individuals whose choice of marriage partners is determined by similarity of social environment. (It’s a form of homogamy, the mating of like with like). One example is the preference to mate with individuals of the same race. Take this case:
Is it racist when a white woman declares, when asked out on a date, that she will only date white men? … She, a white women, took her boss, an African American, to court on sexual harassment charges. During the hearings, he commented that she had said to him that she did not date African Americans, and he maintained that that was racist. (source)
Let’s not focus on the African American man’s apparent attempt to deflect harassment charges by playing the race card. That’s not what I want to discuss here – and, anyway, the story cited above doesn’t provide sufficient information to allow us to judge the intentions of either party. Let’s instead take the general case of a person of one race refusing to date and marry a person of another race for no other reason than race.
Is this kind of assortative mating racist? I think it is. It shows a general dislike of people of another race. It’s prejudiced and bigoted and it implies writing off whole groups of people on the sole basis of their skin color. However, is it also discrimination? I guess not. If it were discrimination, we would be allowed to use the power of the law to fight it, and no one wants the law to mess with people’s mating choices as long as both partners are consenting adults. (Polygamy may come to mind as a counterexample, but my view on the legality of polygamy is much more liberal than the conventional view; I’ll explain in another post).
No one has a right to his or her mate of choice, and no one can use the force of law to compel the consent of this mate of choice. Hence, there’s a lot of racism and bigotry that we can’t fight with the force of law and thus have to accept. We can try to change people’s minds over time, educate future generations and so on, but if this doesn’t convince everyone to regard all individuals as potential mates then there’s no more we can do.
I argued here that we can only speak about discrimination when there is a violation of rights. The account above is yet another example.
More posts in this series are here.