Racial fetishizing is not flattering
Published: Sunday, September 26, 2010
Updated: Sunday, September 26, 2010 23:09
Women of color face double the amount of stereotypes, subject not only to sexism, but racism as well. What often happens to us is that we become objects, fetishized in different ways depending on our race. But whether we are oversexualized or undersexualized, seen as wild or seen as tame, our agency is being undermined.
The New York Times recently published a piece describing the newest trend for Western men, mostly white men in their 50s, 60s and 70s, settling down in areas of Thailand with Thai women.
This story includes quotes from some of these men, such as Joseph Davis, a 54-year-old man from California. "‘Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago,' said Mr. Davis, before they discovered their rights and became ‘strong-headed and opinionated.'"
These are men who go overseas to seek what they think is an easily tamed wife-child. They take no time to learn the culture or even to consider that not all women are receptive to being colonized. Most of these men don't realize that you don't just pick up a Thai woman and marry her. Many of these women have the expectation that their families will be taken care of as well. Asian cultures tend to have closely-knit extended families in close proximity, and anyone from an outside culture ought to do their research beforehand.
When I type "Asian women" into Google, the entire first page of results, and most of the second, are all sites offering Asian women more or less for sale, or offering advice on how to snag one of these elusive, exotic creatures. Well, Google searchers, look no more. I've got some advice for you. How about you treat us like human beings and not expect us all to be quiet little women who will obey your every command.
No matter what your race, all minority women face the challenge of being boxed up in a category. For black women, it is being bombarded with constant images of other black women being caged, chained and dressed in animal prints. For Latina women, it is similar, but with the added facet of being seen as fiery and hypersexualized. And for Asian women, it's being seen as the docile, domestic doll.
The women of color fetish, whether it portrays black women as wild animals (known colloquially as "jungle fever") or Latina women as "spicy," or Asian women as delicate and subservient (also called "yellow fever,") leads to weak relationships that are based on false expectations. More than half of the marriages like the ones mentioned in the Times article fail because of the lack of cultural understanding.
As an Asian woman, I take particular umbrage to these stereotypes. I've been called many things in my life, some flattering, some not so much. But by far the most heinous offenses are those based solely on my race or gender and not my personality. I may consider myself an American, but I do have expectations that my partner understand my cultural background. And I absolutely dabble in these newfangled notions of having opinions and equality.
Ultimately, these attitudes cause a real problem for women of color. How are we to know whether someone is flirting with us because they have a genuine interest in us as people or because of their completely unfounded imaginary picture of minority women? Of course, there are plenty of men who fall into the former category, but the history of colonization makes it that much harder for women of color to pick them out. We are not exotic beings from another species; we are all human and all different. These racial stereotypes make us into interchangeable, replaceable objects with no personal desires.
Many like to pretend that racism has ceased to exist, or at least that its impact is negligible. But I would caution that racism is a nebulous concept that can manifest itself in a multitude of manners – and that fetishizing is one of the few remaining socially acceptable forms of racial stereotyping.