Growing up, one of my favorite shows was Everybody Hates Chris. I found the show to be super entertaining, and I loved to watch how Chris screwed up every episode.
One of my least favorite characters on the show was Ms. Morello. I found her to be subtly racist. She threw many backhanded compliments at Chris while continuously discussing his color.
One of the running jokes on the show was that she had “jungle fever.” This was my first introduction to racial fetishization but I didn’t know it yet.
At the age of 12, I didn’t know what that meant, but the show taught me. At the time, I did not see an issue with it because I thought “everyone has preferences.”
It wasn’t until, at the ripe age of 22, I saw a girl on TikTok talk about racial fetishization.
She used the concept to explain why so many states look down on people of color while simultaneously exploiting their culture.
But I still felt I hadn’t grasped the concept of what racial fetishization was.
That is no longer the case.
After hours of research, I now understand that our society overlooks and ignores racial fetishization.
We normalize it by disguising it as a “preference” when in reality, it is a micro-aggression. It is dehumanizing and degrades individuals to common stereotypes used to fulfill other people’s sexual fantasies.
- Racial fetishization is a micro-aggression
- It degrades POC individuals to just a stereotype instead of an actual person with real characteristics and emotions
- Racial fetishization is a form of positive racism because you are novelizing someone’s race as something to be sought after.
- It’s not a compliment and can lead to violence because POC individuals are not seen as human beings but instead as objects present to fulfill a sexual fantasy.
What is Racial Fetishization?
In its most concise definition, racial fetishization is “a person’s exclusive or near-exclusive preference for sexual intimacy with others belonging to a specific racial out-group.”
In layman’s terms, it means to prefer someone from a specific racial group because of the stereotypes associated with that group.
For instance, Ms. Morello (example above) specifically seeking out black men and talking about them as if they are these exotic things from far away lands.
Notice how I said things instead of people.
People who are fetishized are not viewed as people but instead as objects that fulfill someone else’s sexual fantasy.
This is a form of micro-aggression because people perpetuate a negative narrative about a culture, but what makes it a thousand times worse is that “it is disguised as a compliment.”
Difference Between Attraction & Fetishization
Before we dive any deeper into this subject, I want to discuss at its core what is the difference between fetishization and attraction (aka preference).
The line between these two is so blurry to the point that you can no longer see the line.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines
Attraction: the action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something; a quality or feature that evokes interest, liking, or desire
Fetishization: have an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with (something).
Now let’s apply this thinking to a real example to highlight the difference between the two.
Example: A white girl who wants to date an Asian woman.
Just happened; not something she chased; maybe she likes how she looks, but that is not the only reason she wants to be with her. She ended up having a real connection with her because they share the same affinity for video games and philosophy.
She wanted to be with her because she is an Asian woman. Obsessed with her racial background and how “exotic” and “foreign” she looks, she just had to have her.
Notice the difference?
In one scenario, she is attracted to a woman who happens to be Asian.
In the other one, she has made her racial background the end all and be all. She has made her an object of lust because that is all she is. An entity that takes part in her sexual fantasy.
She is no longer her own person with her own thoughts and personality; now she is just an Asian woman and everyone knows all Asian women are submissive in bed (standard stereotype, not my thoughts).
As intense as it is, the example above is something many people, including POC, think is not a big deal.
I say this because I know I didn’t.
I used to think, “what’s so bad about being desired because I am Latina? So what. It’s human nature to be wanted and lusted after by the opposite sex (in my case), right? If anything, it’s a compliment.”
To that, I now respond, in a manner.
Desiring someone is one thing, but objectifying and forcing a person to fit a stereotype because of their race so you can get off is something completely different.
Still, this society has combined them into one, and we know it as positive racism.
Racial Fetish Break Down
As we all know, racism is discriminating or being prejudice against someone because of their skin color. Right?
Positive racism converts race into something desirable.
As Bustle puts it, a person’s “existence is seen as a trivial yet alluring prize or worse something that needs to be saved and conquered.”
So you as a person are not enough, but the color of your skin makes you enough.
See how fucked up that is.
Now I know that if someone dates me because they love Latina women, it’s because they expect me to be fierce and fiery.
They want me to yell at them in spanish all while food is on table, the house is clean, and have enough energy to fuck them like the god they think they are.
When in reality, I don’t identify with any of those stereotypes.
But someone who is chasing that idea will condemn me because I do not fit the stereotypical role they are projecting.
And that in itself is dehumanizing.
Deep Roots in Society
As I stated before, racial fetishization is ingrained into our society. It’s in our media and our social interactions. It’s how we talk about one another.
“Did you see that black guy? I bet he’s got the BBC!”
“They all do! But he’s probably got a baby mama.”
“Ugh, still though! I love black men.”
Or something of the sort. We generalize people off their skin color, and it’s not just in today’s society. It’s been around for centuries.
In an article by Rachel Kuo, she examines the historical connotation of “yellow fever” and its impact on Asian women in the US.
She traces back the “double stereotype” of Asian women being the “sexual servant or the sexual adventure” to the Silk Road.
If y’all know anything about history, that was a long-ass time ago.
She concludes that since then, Asian women have been perceived as submissive commodities.
We see this in the statistics of sexual violence towards Asian women and how they are typecast by the media as either the Dragon Lady or the Lotus Flower (click here to read her article).
That’s what racial fetishization does; it empowers people to be violent towards POC for not conforming.
Porn & Racial Fetishization
Now I am not here to chastise you for watching porn because nearly everyone and their mother does it, whether they want to admit it or not.
But porn is a great example to demonstrate how the United States, in particular, views people of color.
On Pornhub’s US top searched terms in 2019, you will see that the trending top words are ebony, Asian, BBC, and Latina.
These terms dehumanize people of color to just that, the color of their skin.
The map represents how Americans are okay with seeing people of color as sexual objects to fulfill their sexual fantasies but have no place in society.
This harmful perspective is what leads to the high rates of violence and sexual assault among POC.
The fetishes are the embodiment of racism because you view POC as sexual objects, and porn, unfortunately, perpetuates the idea.
2020 Election & Black Lives Matter
I felt that I could not talk about the concept of racial fetishization without addressing its ties to the BLM movement and the election.
Seventy-four million people voted for Trump’s reelection in 2020. Millions of people marched to protest police brutality and racially charged violence towards black people in America.
These are facts.
But the thing that ties these two events together is racial motivation.
Trump is a racist and a white supremacist. He has shown this to be accurate multiple times, but 74 million people still voted for him. They believed that he would continue to push an agenda in support of white supremacy.
While the US tries to close its eyes to that fact, it commodifies POC, especially black people. It shows in politics, in our statistics, and in our trends.
Our society cherrypicks attributes from a POC culture and profits off of them while discriminating against the people who created the trend—leaving them to suffer consequences because of their skin color.
Racial fetishization helps push the narrative further that people of color are only there for white people to consume, whether sexually or culture-wise.
It dehumanizes them to nothing more than a commodity instead of complex human beings.
Media & Racist Trends
Now for the media. Let’s be honest. The media has its hands so far up America’s ass that they are the ones who are doing the talking and thinking for us.
As you read in my introduction, it was a tv show that introduced me to the idea of “jungle fever.”
After doing all of this research, I questioned why I never asked how someone like Ms. Morello could be so subtly racist while still craving black men.
My conclusion is that the media and society do not make it a big deal because that is how they view people of color.
As far as I know, in America, we learn to treat a person according to their racial background.
One perpetrator that comes to mind when discussing racial fetishization is the infamous photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe.
Using his position as someone of influence, his work hyper-sexualized and degraded black men to a stereotype.
In an Instagram post by Cahleb Eliyah (@cahlebb), he discusses Mapplethorpe’s “twisted obsession with Black” bodies.
He states that Mapplethorpe “saw [black men] as primitive and sexually available” and how it is a “symptom of society’s fetishistic consumption.”
So the media’s portrayal of POC encourages people to act and degrade POC how they see fit.
The irony is that society consumes POC culture, makes it a trend, and profit from it but then penalizes actual POC.
For instance, the Fox Eye trend.
For many decades, people would discriminate and mock Asians because of their eye shape.
Suddenly, it is now cool and fashionable because Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner do it.
Terms Of Racial Fetishism
We’ve all heard them, and some of us have used them. You know what I’m talking about. The derogatory words used to describe someone’s attraction to a particular race:
- Yellow Fever: Being attracted to Asians
- Jungle Fever: Being attracted to Black people
- BBC: Big Black Cock (pretty explanatory)
- Dip into some chocolate: Having sexual relations with a black person
These are the ones I know, but I’m pretty sure there are more. I bring this up because I want to point out how easy it is to objectify people of color.
We’ve reduced loving a person of color to a derogatory term and sentenced them to be representatives of their race and nothing more.
These “terms have historical connotations that loving a POC is barbaric“. It is as if something is wrong with someone for wanting to date a person of color.
What’s worse is that many people use these terms because the idea that it’s no big deal is continuously reinforced every day.
Impact on People Of Color
We’ve talked about the World vs. POC, so let’s now talk about the battle within the races.
Believe it or not, people of color can be much harder judges on each other compared to the rest of the world.
We know the obvious:
- Racial fetishization has led to minorities being victims of sexual assault and violence.
- POC do not count as human beings but instead of as sexual objects.
- POC culture is profitable and trendy but only when white people do it.
We know this. But what many people don’t see is how POC treat each other because of how society views us.
We are judged not only by society but also by each other on how well we fit into our racial stereotype.
I am going to use myself as an example.
I am Latina, but I was born and raised in America.
To be considered Latina enough, I need to have all the characteristics of a Latina born and raised in my parent’s home country while being able to fit into American culture.
So by Latin community standards, I am not “Latina enough” and don’t deserve to call myself Latina.
But according to American culture, I don’t belong there either because I don’t look like them.
So here I am in the middle because I do not fit the stereotype that society is projecting on to me.
Moreover, since many older generations push younger POC to assimilate to white culture and have trained us to believe that “white is right,” there is so much colorism within our own groups.
So we are fighting for a place within each group, and racial fetishization promotes stereotypes that many POC don’t identify with, making us feel less than.
Are You Part of The Problem?
The truth is, you probably are. I know now that I was, but I didn’t realize it. Never going as far as dating, but definitely referring to people from different races with derogatory terms that perpetuated stereotypes because I believed they were harmless.
I didn’t know the consequences that using those terms brought, but I do now.
I will not pretend that I am a saint because I am not, but I now recognize that I can and must do better.
It’s important to ask yourself the same.
But don’t get defensive and use phrases such as “well, everyone is doing it” and “it’s not a big deal.” While it may not be a big deal to you, you are perpetuating stereotypes that impact how someone can live their life, and that’s a big deal.
Questions to Ask If You Are Fetishizing
If you are ever in a situation where you are unsure if you or someone you know is fetishizing someone based on their race, here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Are you genuinely attracted to this person? If so, why?
- Do y’all have common interests?
- Do they fit into a certain stereotype?
- If so, does that get you off that they fit these stereotypes?
- Are they similar to people from your past relationships?
Grain of Salt
In all honesty, this piece was challenging for me to write because it’s a difficult topic. I was afraid that I would write something offensive or miss something super important that tied the piece together.
Still, I felt that with everything going on, it would be best.
I want everyone to know what racial fetishization is and how it hurts people.
It seems like a tough topic to grasp because of how embedded it is in our culture, but when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s clear as day.
Fetishization is a power move made by people who think they are superior, and it’s not a compliment.
People of color’s existence is at stake because a big portion of the population does not recognize them as complex human beings with their own lives and personality but instead as sexual conquests.
While this post mostly focuses on racial fetishization, it can be directed to someone’s body size, gender, or any attribute that dehumanizes someone from being an actual human being to just that characteristic.
I would love it if y’all could comment and let me know what you think.
- 34th Street|Dating While Asian At Penn: The Fine Line Between Fetish & Preference
- Medium|It’s Not A Compliment: How Racial Fetishism Has Colored Online Dating
- The Rocky Mountain Collegian|McWilliams: Fetishizing People Of Color Isn’t A Compliment, So Don’t Act Like It Is
- The Daily Pennsylvanian|Ton Nguyen: Be Conscious Of Fetishization
- Everday Feminism| 5 Ways ‘Asian Woman Fetishes’ Put Asian Women In Serious Danger
- Bustle|Racial Fetishization Is A Big Problem Online. Here’s What Dating Apps & Users Can Do
- Color Bloq|They AREN’T Just Preferences: Questions Around Attraction, Objectification, and Fetishizing
- Pornhub Insights|The 2019 Year In Review
- 34th Street|The Fox–Eye Trend Isn’t Cute—It’s Racist
- Cahleb Eliyah|Let’s Talk About Racial Fetishes