During a pretty casual discussion on interracial relationships, I was lamenting my distaste for guys who only go after girls of a certain race from the perspective of a colored girl who is often pursued primarily because of my being a ‘yellowbone’. Puke in my mouth. The dude I was having this conversation with was like “But Sindi, I’m not ashamed to say that I like colored girls because I like girls with that gooooood skin, do you have a problem with that too?” Which obviously put me on the spot because this is a mixed race dude, half-coloured and half Greek, so responding to his particular preference could not of course be angled from the perspective of “Ugh gross, this is just another fetishization of race.” In my mind, he was immediately absolved by virtue of being colored. Incidentally, dude in question is the one who imprinted the words “the fetishization of race” onto my brain and inspired this unpacking of racial preferences in the dating game. Boys can be so smart sometimes. But I digress. I went home and thought about it and realized that letting him off the hook was pretty daft because of course, fetishizing within your race is real and just as problematical doing it to another race.
But of course I first had to try and properly discern between attraction and fetishism. Basically, attraction is finding a person beautiful or sexy, part of which may be influenced by their race. A fetish however is when you find an object (or a freaking huge, diverse category that someone perceives as an object, like I dunno, say, race for example) sexy. And the issue obviously is the objectification at work here. Because first and foremost I am a human being, I just happen to be one in a women’s body which happens to have brown skin. So as such, I demand that I am responded to as a whole person, not simply a cache of racialized characteristics which fit into preconceived notions that you might have about my particular race. Yes, I am colored. But in the same way that, I do not have gold teeth/wear Carvelas, I also do not embody the fighting fire and dramatic disposition associated with colored women. Or any other random stereotypes you choose to throw my way.
When I was reading up on the fetishism of race in the context of personal relationships, I encountered super duper academic articles which placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘sacralization’ of race. Have faith, I had to look up at that word. Basically, it relates to the period during which race as a starting point for attraction is imbued with sacred qualities. Sacred doesn’t just mean godly, it can also just be things treated with great respect. Why are we respecting race this much? I’m never gonna be one to say “I don’t see race”, that’s daft. This sacralization period is of course a direct and ongoing result of our fucked up racial history.
And the issue is that admiration for certain characteristics exists on the other side of a very fine line with full blown fetishism on the other side. Fetishism is most pronounced when the object of desire is perceived as capital, sacred or forbidden. And in academic discourse, the term racial fetishism is used to illustrate the “denial of difference”, with a fixation on another race not because its different but because its ‘lesser”. I can see value in that kinda thinking. I should just throw out though that I do not exclusively think that interracial relationships are a direct result of racial fetishism. That shit needs to be destigmatized, cos I’m a huge fan of all races and their interracial loving, I’m just curious about the reasons for and unintended consequences thereof. I just think we should aware of the danger of being attracted to somebody’s “otherness” and unintentionally exoticizing them.
South Africans luuuuurve anything exotic and different. That’s why you get colored people who overplay their heritage, one uncle who married a Pora which sommer makes you tell everyone that you’re half Portuguese, rather than tell em about you very Zulu grandmother. But exoticizing race is only positive on the surface (ha ha), underneath it has the effect of “othering”, just basically reinforcing racial hierarchies, and usually in an inferior way. And the reason that interracial dating and it’s subtle fetishisms is so tricky is because it forces us to think about the racial hierarchy that we’re all obviously a part of whether we want to be or not. Like, why do Indian women love white guys and vice versa but its never white women with Indian dudes? This obviously brings in ALL sorts of gender issues but I won’t even go down that road. These are just the sort of questions floating around in my head.
And then this hierarchy gets even pettier when you think about how we fetishize with our races. Like, the preference for certain characteristics is so much more acceptable within your own race group - like colored guys who only go for girls with hair that blows in the wind, and dark-skinned black women who are only interested in light-skinned black guys. Like the dude mentioned at the start of this ramble. I think it’s because within your own race, its perceived as purely physical and purely a starting point - where a relationship is entertained because certain characteristics are attractive, not because you think that those characteristics are evidence of stereotype i.e. All Asian girls are superfreaks. I shouldn’t have to explain how that kind of appropriation of stereotypes to physical characteristics can further stereotype, homogenize, objectify, commodify, exoticize, distort and invalidate not just the race in question but the culture too. Puke in my mouth again.
Then again, on the flip side, this begs the question of whether exclusively dating members of your own race makes you racist. I am not so sure. I am attracted to people of all races and could date from all races too, cultural difficulties aside, and that comes from having been raised in an especially tolerant home, irrespective of the racial gripes my parents harbor due to their experiences under apartheid. My brother, having been raised in the exact same home, has only ever dated/hooked up with colored girls and swears its all he ever will do. Is that racist? I don’t think so, because it comes from both a physical and cultural preference for likeness. And that is logical, even though it may be boring. I want mixed race nieces and nephews maaaaan.
But THEN (all these thoughts just give me brand new thought paths ha ha) I worry about the danger of internalized racism, which may, just sliiiiightly, be indicated by presence of ideas of attractiveness which don’t include people which look the way that you do. Dating interracially based on stereotypes is objectionable, but so is dating someone because you suffer from internalized racism. And this is where the motive for dating across the color line needs the most analysis. I mean obviously, if you stay going after people with qualities diametrically opposed to your own, you either do not like yourself or else you’re tryna piss your parents off. In both cases, you need to grow the hell up. Because I dunno man, a race-based fetish can only be fun if its an experimental fantasy being lived out but it can hardly be a long lasting fun and its probably not fun at all if your partner has a race based fetish too. Like on The Boondocks once, Sara (white woman) is upset when she finds out that her husband Tom (black man) only ever dated other white women. He eventually argues back by listing all of her ex-boyfriends, all of whom have generally black names (one was apparently kicked out of the Nation of Islam for dating her). I mean its funny, but its LAME yo.
Its almost as lame as cultural fetishism. Oh you like martial arts? And you think you look a lil Asian? So now you’re only gonna date Chinese guys? I don’t see you jumping on board Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong-ism. Mxm. And then EVEN worse, people who seek out people of colour as lovers and friends for social and/or political credibility. All I have to say on THAT matter is PISS OFF. Im struggling with yellow bone fever as it is, when its motivated by social climbing, it just makes me want to squash you like the bug that you are.
I found this little list HERE. It pretty much articulates the gist of what I’ve been rambling about.
- Black/White couples are NOT the interracial paradigm. Race doesn’t exist in any biological sense. It is entirely a social construct, kind of a big stupid game of Pretend that everyone agrees to play. That said…there are other races. Further, it has been my experience that people of color who think of interracial dating in terms of White/non-White have severe internalized racism. Why? Because the idea, however unconscious, is that what is prized, and what is at stake within the tense space of an interracial relationship or interracial dating, is Whiteness and its accompanying privilege. In other words, People of Colour who chose to date each other aren’t “losing” anything…so it doesn’t “count.” Nice, right?
- Even ”positive” stereotypes are harmful. There is ALWAYS a flip side. Asians good at math, Blacks good at sports/dancing, Latinos skilled and passionate lovers…disgusting. Even non-malicious racism is ultimately harmful, because it reduces a person’s humanity.
- Dating/sleeping with someone from another race doesn’t make you not racist. If it did, this country wouldn’t HAVE a race problem. Let’s give up the ghost on this one: people from different ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds have been interacting, engaging and fucking since the dawn of bloody time. Racism persists. Next topic, please.
- Exoticizing/fetishizing is NOT flattering OR healthy. Going on about what “beautiful creatures” Black women are is demeaning. No one who objectifies you respects you or views you as an equal. This is true for White people as well, but it’s DOUBLY true for people of color. If someone is attracted to and aroused by your “otherness” – your difference – rest assured they are getting off on your oppression.
- It’s not the racism outside that destroys interracial love. It’s the racism inside. Rather, not properly addressing it, or choosing not to see it, or letting it go unchecked for fear of causing tension. There is no such thing as “colorblindness” – i.e., not seeing race. Anyone who says that they don’t “see” race is a liar. Sorry, they just are. We ALL see race. (And we should since this is the first step to removing the shame and stigma that come with being “raced”.) It just shouldn’t be all that we see.
To sum, I think that race-based dating is okay as long as race isn’t the thing bringing a couple together. Race should be the hors d’ouvres, not the main course.