Our sex lives are highly personal, so it makes sense that when certain aspects of them are scrutinized, people can become defensive. However, sex is not part of a magical separate sphere immune to social structures of oppression. Therefore, the doors of the bedroom are not a hard line where all critique disappears when it's crossed. It’s important to remember that sex is inextricably tied into the power dynamics of the outside world. What happens in the bedroom not only reflects the outside world, but can contribute to perpetuating its less than savory aspects.
So with that in mind...let’s talk about sex, race, and fetishes! Racial fetishization is when someone expresses sentiments such as “I’m super into Asian women!” or when they purposefully seek out people of a particular race for sexual experiences, while excluding pretty much everything else.
So why can’t we let excuses like “it’s just personal preference!” fly when it comes to racial fetishization? Well, our sexual desires are not formed in a vacuum. This means that when people say that they only fancy Asian girls or Black girls, they are not expressing a ‘pure’, hardwired desire. Instead, they are tapping into racist tropes, which inform how they see women of said races. For instance, connecting subservience with East Asian women, promiscuity with Black women, and insatiability with Latinas. This racial fetishism disregards the multitudes that make people of color who they are, and instead places their race front and center. It’s an example of a truly infuriating microagression. As a light-skinned Black woman, fetishization is rife for me, as well as for many other women like me. So often we are considered ‘exotic’ and desirable for sexual purposes, if not much else.
Being the subject of racial fetishization is frankly degrading and being exoticized is not a compliment. When a woman of color is called ‘exotic’, she is reduced and sexualized down to her race. The use of the term ‘exotic’ says: “I am ascribing characteristics to you based on your racial difference to me.” Consider how dominant media representations of Latinas and Black women are characterized by an emphasis on their breasts, hips, and, asses. This exemplifies one of the ways racial fetishism comes into being. It’s reductive and insulting. Simply, it makes people feel like shit.
It’s important to note that it's okay for people of color to specifically seek out other people of color as sexual or romantic partners because of shared experiences living in a world structured upon white supremacy. They can bond over cultural connection and a wish to prevent microaggressions from spilling into their personal relationships. However, when white people specifically seek out people of color out in this way, it’s hurtful. It just isn’t acceptable. Again, it’s based on the generalization that people of color all share the same sexually exploitable traits.
This kind of thinking shows up in the disturbing trend of ‘mail order brides’, whereby rich, white Western men choose women who live in places such as Thailand, China, and Columbia to date and marry based first and foremost on their ethnic background. For instance one website that seeks to facilitate such arrangements says:
“Why date Chinese women? When you watch Western TV, what type of women do you see? A lot of the women are beautiful, but a substantial portion are pushy, demanding and in general make unpleasant company...If you want something different than the above scenario, then consider dating Chinese women. Asian ladies in general are more calm, faithful, and loving; not to mention feminine.”
Suggesting that ALL Chinese women uniformly display the same traits is racist. Believing that you can tell a woman of color’s temperament by her race is racist. Fetishizing traits that you believe are race-specific is insulting and not a ‘legitimate’ fetish.
It is far from complimentary to express sentiments along the lines of, “I’m only into Black/Native/Asian people” to a person you’re sexually interested in. All you’re really saying is, “Wow you’re not white? Weird. Oh also, I kind of want to fuck you because of this novelty.” What people of color hear when you say this is, “I’m a massive dickhead.”
Racial fetishization makes whiteness a default, and people of color are placed outside of the norm. It reeks of a gawping insensitive fascination with our skin, our hair, our cultural norms. It sets us apart as if we’re subjects to be studied.
Turning people of color into ‘exotic’ fetishes that spice up sex lives perpetuates an Orientalizing narrative invented by white colonialists. They justified their pillaging, destruction, and exploitation of people of color worldwide by denoting us ‘savage’, ‘uncivilized’ and, in the case of women of color, in need of their sexual liberation. If we are exotic, we are unknown–we become the subjects of exploration, consumption, and subsumption.
When a white man takes pride in saying they’ve “fucked a Black/Latina/Asian girl,” it implies that we exist solely as props for new experiences through which these men come out as “more of a man” on the other side.
Legitimate fetishes such as leather, role-playing, bondage, and foot worship are a healthy expression of sexual desire, rather than a harmful outlet for racist fantasies. We must separate true fetishes from racism disguised as fetish. When we equate racial fetishization with sexual acts like spanking, cross-dressing, or other forms of kink/non-racial fetish, we do people of color everywhere a disservice.
People of color are not sex toys. We are fully realized people who deserve to be loved and fucked for who we are–not because of racial idealization or what our racial background means about us. Keep your fetishes free of racial stereotypes and everyone can keep having good clean(ish) fun!