Your Fetishization Is Not A Compliment.

Fetishization and tokenization are issues of racism and sexism. Issues that people dismiss because they can be construed in a positive light.

“How is it offensive if I like black chicks? I love black girls!”

“I don’t have a fetish, I am appreciating your culture!”

But the reality is so much more complicated than that. By ‘worshipping’ women, men often fail to respect women. By ‘fantasizing’ about Asian women, men (subconsciously or otherwise) seek them out based on harmful stereotypes and further perpetuate those labels.

But fetishization is a big, abstract, third wave feminism word. What the heck does it mean?

Fetishization of something can be defined as the sexual fascination with things that are not inherently sexual. Most fetishes are a harmless and a personal preference – not our place to judge. But the fetishization of people is problematic. Fetishizing someone simply based on their gender, race, or sexual orientation can be a means of oppression and dehumanization.

Fetishization disproportionately affects people of colour. Those who fetishize people of colour don’t see them as romantic partners, or even whole people, but simply as sexual objects. They strip them of all the characteristics that make them complete and unique, reducing them to the colour of their skin.

This racial fetishization commonly manifests by solely focusing on certain stereotypes associated with a race. This can run the gamut from ‘big butts’ of black women to the ‘submissiveness’ of Asian women.

While many who express interest in these qualities expect it to be taken as a compliment, it isn’t. Declaring that you are attracted to someone because of the colour of one’s skin or a racial stereotype is not flattering – it’s just another form of objectification.

 Fetishization dehumanizes and objectifies those individuals who are its subjects. It permits oppressors to maintain power over oppressed groups by denying them their humanity and operating as though their sexuality is for the pleasure of others.

Anything can be fetishized: looks, intelligence, or even height. The main issue with fetishization is the narrowing of a person’s worth to an immutable characteristic or stereotype. Oppressed groups all have their own stereotypes intersecting race and gender. For example, Latino men are said to be full of ‘machismo,’ Asian men are considered to be overly feminine and African-American men are often solely described by the size of their penis.

A fetish is racist because the subject is not treated as an equal. They are diminished when someone believes they are supposed to look or act a certain way just because of their race. A fetish is not a healthy attraction; it is a fixture on an individual based on their race. To fetishize someone is to strip away their own individuality and reduce them to a racial stereotype.

For example, take the expression “jungle fever,” also known as the phenomenon of men having ‘a sexual preference’ for black women. Also know as fetishizing black women. The key word in this term is jungle. When someone says they have ‘jungle fever,’ the language itself insinuates that black women are comparable to animals, thus preserving a paradigm of dehumanization and oppression. 

Men also fetishize Asian women often. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a non-Asian man dating an Asian woman, but it’s important to acknowledge that many (predominantly white) men date Asian women because they see them as docile and submissive. This perpetuates yet another racial stereotype, consciously or not. The practice of white men having sexual relationships with Asian women has a deep history of colonialism and subjugation of native peoples.

Decolonizing our mind is a lifelong effort. No matter how hard we work to check our privilege, inevitably racial conditioning rears its ugly head and we are faced with problems, perceptions and biases we thought we had tackled twenty or forty years ago.

While people of colour see the world with races, white people often ignore race because their whiteness has been constructed as neutral and they don’t confront systemic racial barriers or persecution on a daily basis. White people have the privilege of willful ignorance.

Fetishizing someone because of their race is not a compliment. It assumes a monolithic identity. It shows that what you actually want is not an equal relationship, but rather a delivery of the caricature you understand as seeped in their race/gender/sexual orientation.

If you love someone because of a singular immutable trait, you don’t really love them.

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5 comments

  1. While I do agree that some people have fetishes (whatever percent that may be) I think your mindset on this issue is too clouded by the growing narratives in the West on race, gender, sexism, etc. You make far too many general statements with no evidence and use stereotypes to back up your reasoning.

    Finding attraction in another person with a different skin colour or ethnicity isn’t fetishizing them at all. You focus primarily on white males and that they can’t possibly find a women of their own or any other race attractive because they are: A. “Worshipping and not respecting women” B. Carrying out some of internalized colonial mindset—they simply want to “conquer” and “oppress” them and not even be aware of it.

    Does your reasoning apply to black girl having “a thing” for Caucasian males? Does it apply to Asian women being attracted to black men? Or are you using this to further your narrative?

    “White men fetishize Asian women often.” How do you know that? You make many general statements like these in this post and others without actual evidence. What is your criteria for when a fetish is occurring? If someone finds a black woman physically attractive are they only fetishizing her if they are a white male? You seem to have this logic the only way non-white people can deem others people of colour attractive is through an exotic colonial lens. This is incredibly problematic.

    1. Hi Paolo,
      Thank you for your comment.
      I certainly do not want you, or anyone, to think I believe that only white men can fetishize another person. That said, a lot of fetishization rests of sphere of power, and there is a deep history of oppression and colonization of people of colour by white people. As such, there is an inherent power dynamic that rests in our society. That said, I agree that a person of colour can fetishize a white person.
      To your second point, I do not believe that a person who is attracted to someone of a different ethnicity is automatically feitishing them. Rather, if someone is attracted to another ONLY because of their background, is indeed fetishization.
      I hope that helped clear a few things up :)

      1. Well sort of… I am aware of the historical oppression of people of colour by “white” colonizers. But my concern is that you are taking historical facts and applying them to the context of dating and attraction in a generalization. “A lot of fetishization rests on sphere of power” …but how do you know that? That is a generalization.

        A fetish is on an individual basis rather than a collective. I’m sure there ARE people who may have only one criteria when seeking attraction to someone but just because someone likes a person’s skin colour doesn’t necessarily mean that is the only criteria they have for the attraction. I think most people have at least some level of physical attraction when seeking a partner. A black man can love his white girlfriend’s personality but still have appreciation and attraction for her outward appearance without fetishizing her gender or skin colour. These “one criteria” people are a very, very small minority.

        Basically what I’m asking is where you think the line is because there seems to be a large grey area. Can I be attracted to a highly intelligent woman without feitshizing her? What if her intelligence is just one of the many attributes I find attractive – is it still a fetish?

        Thank you for your time.

  2. You are assuming a lot and you don’t state evidence. Your post is generalizing and you are alleging people of things that you cannot know. I think this is harmful to people that really want to change the society for the better. In addition it is fostering an ideology of intollerance by assuming that people are responsible for their fetishes. It seems like you’ve learned nothing from the feminist sex wars.

    I like the way how you responded to the first criticism.

  3. […] touch their hair and skin while smiling and agreeing that brown and Black skin really is different, smoother, and silkier! They would agree that, yes, we’re so lucky we don’t get wrinkles easily. Because that’s all […]

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