If you have ever been on a dating app, you have probably come across someone using a phrase like this on their profile bio: ‘loves Black women’, or, ‘in to mixed-race guys’.
On Love Island in 2018, two white female contestants had a frank conversation in which they openly professed that they ‘love mixed-race’ men. Just a few weeks later, the white female hosts of a popular podcast were slammed for discussing sleeping with Black men, and saying they wanted ‘a real Black guy, like, basketball player height.’
Saying that you are attracted to a specific ethnic group, or that you find particular racialised features sexually appealing, is not a compliment or something positive. This is racial fetishisation and it is a form of racism.
Racial fetishisation is a kind of racism that frequently goes undetected under the guise of ‘preference’, which makes it hard to spot and even harder to call out.
Rather than recognising the problematic nature of these attitudes, some argue that expressing an attraction for a specific ethnic group is simply what they prefer – in the same way that you might say you are attracted to tall men, or women with red hair.
But that argument ignores the specific dynamics of racial power hierarchies that make racial fetishisation different and more damaging than a simple romantic preference.
The people on the receiving end of this behaviour will usually be the first to tell you that it never feels like a compliment.
Rosie* is a Black woman with Nigerian heritage. She says she realised that her white ex-boyfriend was racially fetishising her early on in their relationship.
‘I asked about his old girlfriends, and quickly discovered that nearly all of them had been Black. That set alarm bells ringing immediately,’ Rosie tells Metro.co.uk.
‘When I called him out on it, he was smiling and told me that he has “a thing” for Black women, and then went on to list the things he likes about our bodies, like I was going to think it was a good thing. He was literally grinning and thought he was being cute with it.
‘I had to tell him that it is insulting to be reduced to nothing more than a string of “Black” features. It made me question – does he even like me, or does he just like the idea of me? And does he like the idea of being with a Black woman because he thinks it’s exciting or exotic something?
‘I stayed with him for another month or so, but I just couldn’t get past that ultimately.’
What is racial fetishisation?
Racial fetishisation is a sexual preference for members of a certain race, usually people of colour or minoritised groups.
It is a complex and insidious form of racism that can manifest as microaggressions, negative treatment in relationships and romantic interactions, dehumanisation, and even sexual abuse or violence.
‘The psychological impact of being desired or sexualised because of your ethnicity is multifaceted,’ psychologist Dr Roberta Babb tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Being racially reduced to a sexualised object can negatively impact a person’s sense of personal safety, their sense of self, self-esteem and self-worth.
‘It can also be demeaning and infuriating not to be seen as a real person who is multidimensional and who has lots of different things to offer a potential partner.’
Dr Babb says racial fetishisation can also be confusing and painful as you are seen as a commodity, something that should be tried and conquered, or seen as a prize.
‘To know that in a sexual or relational context, your social currency is not who you are, but which racial group you belong to, is also devastating, disappointing and humiliating,’ adds Dr Babb.
Examples of racial fetishisation
Expressing a preference for features that are typically racialised as Black – for example bigger lips, a bigger bum, a curvy figure.
Assuming that Black men are going to be well-endowed, perpetuating the stereotype about penis size.
The belief that Black and ethnic minority women are going to be more ‘up for sex’, or dirtier or more voracious in the bedroom.
Saying that you have ‘Yellow Fever’ – a racist term to describe a white person who is sexually attracted to East Asian people.
The belief that Asian women are going to be submissive in both relationships and sexual interactions.
‘The very thing that, in contexts outside sex and relationships, sees a racialised person experience daily injustice, discrimination, microaggressions, aggression and violence, is now the thing that makes a person tolerable and appealing.
‘It also restricts a person’s character and behaviour which can be emotionally painful and confusing. It can also impact a person’s sense of safety and trust, because being sexually desired based on your ethnicity can also put a person at risk, as to behave in ways that do not conform to a stereotype can be dangerous.’
How is a racial fetish different to a preference?
It can be difficult to understand that something you believe to be a preference actually has racist implications. But it is important that the distinction is made because the impact of fetishisation on people of colour can be extremely damaging.
It’s also important to note that it isn’t racist to say you’re attracted to a Black woman, or an Asian man, as long as you are not attracted to them solely because they are Black or Asian, or because of certain physical features that are frequently attributed to that group.
Additionally, saying you fancy women with blonde hair is not the same as saying you fancy Black women. Having blonde hair isn’t a characteristic that causes a person to experience discrimination and systemic inequality throughout their life, whereas being Black is.
So, when a white person says they are sexually attracted to Black women, or Asian women, or any minoritised group, there is an historic power dynamic at play – and there isn’t when you say you are attracted to tall men, or women with long legs, for example.
Dr Babb explains this difference perfectly by referencing the ‘racial lens’.
‘The racial identity of an individual forms the lens through which they are seen, sexualised and selected,’ she tells us.
‘This racial lens is also consciously and unconsciously contributed to by negative and unrealistic stereotypes such as hypersexual, dominant and submissive. These stereotypes also speak to inherent conscious and unconscious mechanisms of white supremacy – which dictate who is or is not sexually attractive – within this phenomenon.
‘Furthermore, it reduces minoritised people, to one dimensional objects which provide sexual services, fulfil fantasies and who cannot be hurt. This also speaks to racial fetishism’s dark and violent history which is rooted in slavery and colonialism.’
Dr Babb explains that in contemporary dating and relationship experiences the term ‘racial preference’ is often used. She says this softer and more causal conceptualisation of selecting potential partners based on a so-called racial preference is seen as more socially acceptable and ‘speaks to a choice’.
‘It is important to recognise that this is not an indicator of racial equality, and it is not a compliment or flattering,’ she adds.
‘To have a racial sexual preference means that to fulfil your sexual or romantic desire, particular people are objectified and dehumanised based on their racial identity and assumed racialised sexual characteristics or behaviour.
‘This reinforces negative and sexualised stereotypes of racialised people, and ignores the significant emotional and physical impact racial fetishism has upon minoritised people.
‘People should be able to determine their sexual profile, not have their racial identity define it for them.’
How to protect yourself from racial fetishisation
Dating can be a complex process and experience and one that has been complicated even further by coronavirus. Thankfully, Dr Babb has shared her top tips to help ethnic minority women protect themselves in the minefield that is the world of dating.
‘Dating should be an enjoyable process,’ says Dr Babb, ‘but minoritised individuals have the added dimension to consider and be mindful of which is the potential to be the focus of racial fetishism.’
Be clear about who you are
Be clear about who you want to be with and how you want to feel when you are with someone.
Listen to your feelings
Think about how you feel when you are talking to, or in someone’s company.
Do you feel listened to, and understood? Do you feel good or valued for who you are when you are with them? Or do you feel that a prize or a challenge?
The answers to these questions will help you decide how and if you want to progress with getting to know that individual.
Reflect upon your partner’s interest in your culture and cultural background
Do they ask broad general questions about your culture or people in your community, or are they interested in your experience and understanding of your cultural background, traditions and experiences?
Take the time to find out about a partner’s dating and relationship history
For example, are there patterns to their partner choice? Do they find themselves drawn to people like you?
This could mean that you are being fetishised as you are being selected because you fit an idea, not because of who you are.
Are you their ‘first’?
A person who lets you know that they have never dated anyone like you and focuses on your racial identity, may be fetishising you.
Listen to the language your potential date uses
How do they describe people? Are there negative racial or sexual stereotypes contained within their narrative and how they express their preferences and why they may feel a certain way.
Do they refer to your skin colour as food, for example cocoa, chocolate or caramel?
This may seem funny, complimentary or flirty, but they may be an indication that you are being racially fetishised as you are being reduced to a one dimensional object which has the single function of serving or pleasuring another.
If it feels safe to do so, challenge negative, racial or sexual stereotypes
For example, having your personal space violated by having someone touch your hair, or talking about racialised people in a particular way.
You can boundary inappropriate behaviour, and it shows the other person how you are to be treated and related to.
Talk to a professional such a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor
Dating can be a complex experience, and having a safe space to explore it may be helpful.
Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you.
Get in touch: [email protected]
Source: Read Full Article