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The Problem(s) with Racial Fetishism


Right now I am fortunate to work for a company with many inspiring employees. This post, for example, was inspired by a co-worker...we'll call him...Herman Wyatt to protect his privacy.

Wyatt is one of those people who is blissfully unaware of his actions and his choice of words. In some ways I'm envious, but for the most part, I am very disappointed that he doesn't understand how his words and actions come off, betray him or make him seem like he's more...ignorant than anyone would want to be perceived.

One of Wyatt's favorite things in the world is Latin women. I know this because he's voiced his opinion about our greatest assets and his uncanny ability to discern where we're from just by our phenotypes. This is of course, absurd, and while I was visibly offended and seething, I began to think about the bigger problem: racial fetishism. This is an ideology, yes--an ideology, that happens when a person sees someone for the sexual stereotype that the viewee is associated with in the mind of the viewer. For example, African American women are seen as strong and sassy and are perceived to have large posteriors, while Hispanic or Latina women are seen as "spicy" *gag* and are a handful in the bedroom and Asian women are seen as submissive. This makes the initial attraction based on an unfounded assumption of a person based on their skin color and ethnic makeup.

Racial fetishism is nothing new, but it is not talked about nearly enough, so due to Wyatt's inspiration, I felt like I should explore this topic. I will examine the hypersexualization of minority women in the United States and will be focusing on African American, Hisapnic and/orLatin@s and Asians.


In the past, there was a term for African American women who were seen a s desirable to White men; that term was "jezebel." This was typically reserved for fair skinned African American woman whose features were more European. That doesn't mean that this term could not also apply to daker skinned African American women. For example, Dr. Pilgrim of Ferris State University says:

It is true that the "tragic mulatto" and "Jezebel" share the reputation of being sexually seductive, and both are antithetical to the desexualized Mammy caricature; nevertheless, it is a mistake to assume that only, or even mainly, fair-complexioned black women were sexually objectified by the larger American society. From the early 1630s to the present, black American women of all shades have been portrayed as hypersexual "bad-black-girls" (2012).

The assumption that all African American or Black women are hypersexualized may have something to do with the fact that fairer skinned or mulatto women were sold into prostitution (Pilgrim, 2012). However, Blacks were perceived as sexually lewd due to Europeans finding them in Africa with little to no clothing. Instead of considering culture and climate, their nudity was seen as promiscuity. Reports back about Black natives prompted anti-Black sexuality sentiments and stereotypes such as the Black woman as a whore, or a jezebel.

During slavery, Blacks were property and because of such, they could not be raped. Their dehumanization was their undoing as many Black women were raped by their masters and were subsequently thought of as whores.

What is interesting about the jezebel construct is that it exists to identify two types of others: the exotic other and the pathetic other (Pilgrim, 2012). "The pathetic other, like the Mammy caricature before her, is drawn to refute the claim that white men find black women sexually appealing. Yet, this depiction of the African woman has an obvious sexual component: she is often placed in a sexual setting, naked or near naked, inebriated or holding a drink, her eyes suggesting a sexual longing" (Pilgrim, 2012). While the exotic others, although portrayed as physically attractive, were also perceived as culturally deficient, being seen topless or completely nude.

This notion has continued to persist and can be seen in films such as Monster's Ball. The movie in which Halle Berry becomes the first African American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress. *Things that make you go "hmm..."* Black women and their bodies have not been valued as evidenced in the case of La Belle Hottentot (Hottentot Venus). She was put on display, literally, for people to ogle. She resorted to prostitution and eventually died. Her remains, such as her skeleton, brain and genetalia were put on display in a museum and were not buried with the rest of her until nearly 150 years later. Fetishism is not a compliment.

Moving right along...The Spicy Latina...

The Spicy Latina sounds more like a dish than a person. This specific exotification of Hispanic and Latina women makes them sound like they are something to be craved and devoured, not treated like a human being. It is their difference, their marginalization, in essence, that makes them desirable, according to this perception. Their attractiveness is thus based on inequality. This also tends to perpetuate the idea that all Hispanic and Latina women are promiscuous and happy to be so.

Another problematic fetish is that of the subservient Asian. Many non-Asian men have said that they prEfer Asian women because of their small frames and submissive. In a recent study, researcher Bitna Kim was intrigued by the pairings of White men and Asian women and set out to understand it. She interviewed many non-Asian males ad found the following:

"Almost all of those interviewees started with a sentence that negates Asian women as submissive, but, nevertheless, they all mentioned, in one way or another, that Asian women are submissive: ‘Women serve the men; they do things for him that the western culture has long forgotten. It's hard to pinpoint, and I'm not saying that western women don't take care of their men, it's just the way Asian women go about it. The presence, the mannerism, the movement of their bodies that are attractive to some of us. And again these things I am speaking of don't pertain to all Asian females, but this is the general belief or idea, I think that ... we men want a princess in public and a whore in the bedroom. Simple as that....'" (p. 237)

The prevailing assumption among interviewees was that women serve the men. This can be a dangerous perception as it may skew men's perceptions of who they are in a relationship with: the real person or their stereotyped view of that person

This issue of racial fetishism is global among many different cultures and societies. One could argue that I did not mention the fetishism of White women by minority races, and I know it happens. Many minority men desire a White woman as a status symbol. The body of research on this is paritcularly low as it was a punishable offence if a man of color spoke, touched, or whistled at a White woman for many, many years. White men, however, were able to prey upon African American Women, Hispanic and Latina women, and Asian women. I did this from the perspective of marginalized peoples, but do feel that the perspective of those in power should be consider in conjunction with this piece; then we can examine the intersectionality of social capital, power, race, sexuality and gender identity. Wouldn't that be something?

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