"I Got The Fever" -- Less About Interracial Relationships, More About Clueless Bigotry
While maybe not the most ingenious book, J.C Davies’ I Got the Fever, is interesting in two ways: Not only is it a perspective on contemporary interracial dating from a white female perspective, but it's also a stunning display of how pervasive racial bigotry can be. The former Wall Street analyst's book was described by New York Magazine as “a treasure cove of sweeping generalizations and alleged cultural truisms.” I agree: It (and especially its author) is racially ignorant.
I read about the book through the New York article. I have not read the book itself, and will not read it. There are enough chapter samples and commentary floating around the ‘Net -- not to mention what she's written on her blog -- to give me a clear understanding that it is not a book that I would want or need to spend my money on. The book has chapters titled "Salsa Fever," "Jungle Fever," "Yellow Fever," "Curry Fever" and "Shiksa Fever."
I do understand that, unfortunately, provocativeness sells, and using offensive racial stereotypes seems to sell, too ... hell, that is why I am writing this blog post. If there had not been any buzz about the contents of this self-published book, no one would really care.
Davies writes about her experiences dating men from varied ethno-cultural backgrounds, and she states that she interviewed a number of men and women from these backgrounds to solidify her offensive cultural stereotypes, such as ones that she doles out on her blog (btw, you can seek dating advice from her for $100 an hour):
As for some of the issues you raised about Asian women, let me tell you what I have learned from Asians and from Asian daters:
Asians don’t date brothers. Well we know this can’t be true because how in the hell would we have all these incredibly adorable Blackenese running around? …….Most Asians I spoke to (and those who date them) said that Asians can be pretty materialistic. ……..Of course, this isn’t true for all Asian women and I don’t want to make them seem money-hungry. I don’t actually think it’s that at all. But I do think, culturally speaking, there’s the expectation that men are responsible for the financial aspects of a relationship and that high-dollar material items are also expected. (See the “Keeping up with the Changs” section in I Got the Fever.) [Bolded emphasis mine].
What the hell is a “blackenese?” She makes biracial kids sound like cross-bred, so-ugly-that-they’re-cute puppies, rather than actually being fully functioning human beings.
From her blog post, “Old Men Dig Black Chicks:”
They found that as they got older, men were much more likely than women to date outside of their race. By age 60, in fact, 70% of women dated exclusively within their own ethnicity versus only 38% of men. This leads me to only one conclusion -- old men dig black chicks. Okay, I kid. I am a kidder. [Bolded emphasis mine.]
To me, it's obvious Davies took the discussions that she had with her interview subjects -- those that fitted her initial argument , of course -- and portrayed them as facts. It seems as though it was not because she was seeking out alternate viewpoints, but more to cover her arguments. I also question the validity of her interview subjects -- people what she must know personally (I can’t see her running up to people on the street without getting a verbal smackdown). I am personally dumbfounded that any self-respecting South Asian person would actually confirm her assumption that, because of their diet, Indian men can be smelly -- or at least say that to someone who was writing a book on interracial relationships. Or were her interview subjects being sarcastic, and she took their responses as "truths?"
From her appearance on NPR (thanks to Jezebel for the quote):
But what about black people? Do black women date unemployed men? "You know, with the sisters, I mean, they're really not going to put up with the brother that's unemployed. So, I mean maybe they need to start considering dating white women or something." ("The sisters"? Sounds like Davies could stand to listen to some of her own advice: "Don't introduce 'black topics of conversation' with your black boyfriend's parents. Don't come into the room with, 'Yo moms; yo pops. What's up?'")
Probably the best part was when Davies started to talk about the difference between blacks and "people that are part of the general American culture," and Martin interrupted her. "You mean white. You mean white -- is what you meant."
"Yeah," replied Davies blithely. "White people."
Sorry, African-Americans have had little to do in shaping general American culture? And just because you might have had sex with some Black dudes does not make it okay to use black vernacular, i.e. "sisters" and "brothers" to show how down with the brown you are.
In her defense of the book, Davies seems to blame American culture:
“Stereotypes, racist -- all those words do is shut down the conversation…They make people afraid. We can never talk about race because anything to do with race is wrong.”
Blogger Kerina Parr somewhat agrees:
I’ve had conversations with some of my white friends about how hard it is to even bring up the issue of race when you’re white. White males have told me that they hate feeling like they are always in the wrong when they bring any kind of racial commentary to the table. I understand where Davies is coming from, and I do agree that the conversation about race in America could benefit if we all took a step back from the seriously sharp knife edge it balances on. But I think that has to be done with a fair amount of finesse, to say the least.
Just like Kerina, I somewhat agree with Davies’ sentiment. It is hard to have a discussion about race and racism, as conversations between people of color and white people seem to quickly disintegrate into unconstructive arguments and hurt feelings. However, one of the reasons the words "race" and "racist" can shut down the conversation is that some do not take kindly when their experiences with racism are trivialized or dismissed by people who have never been on the receiving end, and are unwilling to view experiences outside their own. Does that mean producing a book filled with racial and cultural stereotypes and sweeping generalizations is somehow okay? Does not acknowledging that it is not just the cultural/ethnic heritage of a person, but their personal viewpoints on life, where and when they were raised, and maybe to a small extent, their education and/or profession that make them who they are, okay? (And adding a caveat about that after making a bigoted remark does not suffice).
As there are people writing in for advice on the book’s website, it seems as though some are looking for Davies to tell them how they should conduct their dating life -- which is very, very scary. In terms of "dating," we shouldn't need a book to tell us how to interact with people from a different ethno-cultural background than ours. I also wonder if some of the hype around the book is centered on the fact that the author is a successful white woman -- a “stereotype” in itself, I admit -- and grounded on the notion that they are the most desired woman in North American society. Are people more willing to listen to advice coming from the privileged? From The Root:
In that post, Davies, who boasts of her 20 years of experience dating black men, Asian men, Hispanic men and, now, a Jewish man, writes, "I am under attack a lot of the times solely because I am white." She goes on to say that the white people she interviewed for her book said they felt "afraid they might say or do the wrong thing," and concludes, "So I implore you: Don't pick on whitey." I was so incensed by the idea that, somehow, we white folks are under attack that I wanted to see if her book was equally offensive.
Kerina went on to write that, just like me, she would not be buying the book, and Davies responded to Kerina’s post with this:
I guess from you the comments seemed the most disappointing as I have found Biracials to be ahead of the curve as far a race relations go, more able to empathize and hear the variety voices and opinions of people of other races. You have “no interesting [sic] in buy [sic] a book written by a person who wants to make brash accusations,” yet here you go making them. I spent 20 years of my life dating people of different races and more than two years interviewing people of different races and cultures for my book. I think that is the “obverse with open-minding curiosity” you were speaking of? As far as “public attention” I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy. For every good thing that happens there are 1,000 people condemning you without even taking a second to learn about you. I did this book to start a dialogue, reduce the “fear” factor around interracial dating, and help women to broaden their horizons. That is it. [Emphasis mine].
Again, what the hell are "Biracials?" Lady, please, just stop lumping people into categories to make your shitty arguments seem legitimate. Stop!
In her response to Kerina, Davies mentions something that also bothered me about the legitimacy of this book. Yes, she financed and self-published it under her own publishing company, so she can do whatever she wants. But does dating a rainbow coalition of men mean that her assertions should be seen as even remotely factual?
I’m probably giving her too much credit, but I Got The Fever, the accompanying blog, and attitudes like Davies' seem more divisive than helpful in the present-day racially fraught world, as they serve to actually enforce cultural and ethnic misconceptions that many have worked hard to erase. These "conversations" that Americans need to have about race will continue to be muddled with stereotypes.
Many women and men, regardless of ethnicity, could write a book based on sleeping with a bunch of dudes/ladies…with the same amount of experience, and without having to resort to chapter titles like “Jungle Fever” to make our books stand out in the bookstore.
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
Writer: Hellbound: www.hellbound.ca