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But ______ people are just so exotic!

February 7, 2008

Is it racist to be particularly attracted to people of a particular race which is not your own? For example, if I analyzed the people who I was attracted to and found that those I am attracted to are disproportionately Asian, is this racist?

This question has been on my mind a lot lately, and I haven’t been able to completely work it out yet. On the one hand, I could answer a simple “Yes, of course it is. Race fetishization is the term you are looking for, and it is always racist.” On the other hand, though, is it bigoted if I am particularly attracted to short people? Brunettes? have asked this question to most of my friends, and I get quite varied answers. I had a friend tell me that it’s only bigoted if the assertion is negative. So, saying that Asian people are naturally great at math is not racist. Similarly, saying that women are naturally nurturers is not sexist. I had another friend argue that physical characteristics should have no bearing on our attraction – we should all be totally colourblind. Most of my friends came down somewhere in the middle, they got uncomfortable and refused to choose on one side or the other.

I guess a good place to start is with the idea of race fetishization. Sexual fetishism in general is the sexual attraction to something which is not in itself a sexual object, such as feet or leather. Sexually fetishizing a person or group of people however means reducing them to objects, important only in their sexual function or interest to the fetishizer. Race fetishization means effectively reducing all members of a racial group to a monolithic whole, only valued in terms of their racial stereotypes. You are hearing racial fetishization when people talk about how Black men have big penises, Asian women are exotic and submissive, South American women are hypersexual, or any number of other stereotypes. Let’s be clear about this: just because a stereotyped characteristic is a “good” characteristic, that doesn’t mean it’s not racist.

Feministing dealt with the concept of Asian fetishization recently, explaining that:

Myths such as Asian women are hotter, or they are more docile and therefore better wives, are not only mythical and generalizing, but they hinge on essentialist stereotypes that silence the voices of Asian women and Asian feminists that have been shouting for years about how they are not your fantasy.

Dan Savage also addressed the issue, talking to a reader who fantasized about watching his wife get fucked by a Black man

You bet your cracker ass your fantasy is racist. For centuries, white men—not all white men, mind you, but enough that all white men should be embarrassed for all time—have obsessed about the supposed sexual superiority of black men. […]

To sum up: As long as you understand the cultural forces that shaped your fantasy, as long as you don’t assume that all black men wanna bust up your wife’s chifforobe, and as long as you treat any black man who does bust up her chifforobe like a human being—and, what the hell, as long as you vote Democratic and donate $100 to the United Negro College Fund for every inch of black cock that gets slipped into your wife’s chifforobe—there’s nothing unethical about realizing your fantasy.


But is being attracted to a particular race really the same as race fetishization? There seems to be a bit of a continuum here, with Mandingo fantasies at one end, followed closely by white guys who only want to date Asian women (like this bullshit: “The Asians, without exception, are sleek, well-groomed, and dressed with an understated sexiness that never pushes trashy. Further, the Asians are what were once called “ladies,” a thought repellant to feminists but very so refreshing to men.”)

Black Male Model Wearing White Shirt, USE OF THIS IMAGE WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITEDThe other end might be more like the short/brunette attraction. Maybe I am attracted to short people, dark hair and dark eyes. Since Japanese or Chinese people tend to be shorter on average than Canadian, and since dark hair and eyes are typical of Japanese and Chinese people, I often find myself attracted to people of those ethnic heritages. Maybe I really like the look of dark skin, or almond eyes. Is is possible to be attracted to race-typical physical features without fetishizing the wearers of those features? I think so, but I might just be rationalizing my own prejudices. In fact, the more websites I read about “asiaphilia” which use this exact argument, the more I think I am just rationalizing my prejudice. I don’t know what exactly to do about that.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2008 7:35 pm

    I would relax. Being aware of our prejudices is what allows us to rise above them. We all have preferences as well, and sometimes I think we can take our likes and dislikes and turn everything into prejudice. It’s human. Awareness is key and you are aware.

    The dangerous people are the ones who claim they have no prejudices.

  2. February 27, 2008 10:11 pm

    It’s human nature to be most comfortable with what is familiar and to take note of things/people who are different from ourselves. I think this is probably an ingrained survival mechanism from the dawn of time — we are safest within our tribe, and it is important to be aware of any strangers in the area as they may pose a danger. So, I don’t think that *noticing* differences (ie, not being colourblind) is racist in itself. Racism stems from *making assumptions* about an individual person based on their physical attributes.

    So, to the extent that a person’s sexual preferences for some particular “type” (black, Asian, brunette, green-eyed) is based on their assumption of what type of person they will be because of that physical attribute, then, yes, I would say that is racism. But if a person simply likes the look of that attribute — finds it aesthetically pleasing — without making assumptions about the *person* his/herself, then I would say no, that is not racism.

  3. February 28, 2008 7:48 am

    Strawberry – that’s perfect! Thank you for that really great response, You said in several lines what it took me a whole post to talk around.

  4. February 28, 2008 8:37 am

    I have moments — moments — where my thinking suddenly comes into sharp focus and I am able to express my thoughts with clarity. And then, just like that, it’s gone, and I am back in the fog again. This, I’m afraid, is the reality of motherhood and long-term sleep-deprivation, but I read your post — a subject I have thought about before as well — and I had one of those moments where I suddenly got it. 😉

  5. February 28, 2008 12:07 pm

    Cherish those moments, then. 🙂 Hopefully as the kids get older they’ll come more often rather than less.

  6. January 16, 2010 12:43 pm

    Your post is old, but just thought I’d post a reply.

    Recently, a Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog” was released and it had some detractors claiming that it panders to PC quotas by having a black princess. To which I say, “Yeah, it does. What’s wrong with that?” Another commenter on the movie said that her young daughter’s favorite thing about the princess was that the princess was pretty and looked just like her. Examples like that are why I think people think representation in the media is so important.

    I don’t mean to turn this into a subject about representation in the media, but fact is that people tend to find images, that they are exposed to more, to be attractive. If you are a non-Asian who finds Asian qualities attractive, maybe you were exposed to a lot of Asians as you were growing up. I used to think of myself as generally unattractive because I have certain facial features that I don’t really see portrayed as attractive in America. As I began seeing more images of Asians that were considered attractive (mostly through Taiwanese and Thai movies), I began to have a more positive image of myself. I think this is because I suddenly began seeing a lot of people that were considered attractive, that shared a lot of my particular facial features.

    Images you are exposed to have a huge impact on what you find attractive. So I don’t think I would fault somebody for simply finding physical features that are more common in certain races to be attractive…Off-topic: makes me ill every time I am lead to it to read the comments.

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