Dating as a Person of Color, or Tracing the Commodification of Otherness on College Campuses

 

A lot of people may  know this scenario. You see someone really cute, and maybe you ask them out or ask for their phone number. And maybe you get a yes or a no, end of story right?. However, sometimes you get hit with a ‘oh sorry I only date white guys’ or a ‘I really only go for a woman who I can bring home to my (racist white) family” or have seen the infamous grindr tagline: no fats, no femmes, no asians. Sang Young Shin, a renown Asian-American drag performer, more well known as Kim Chi,  describes this as a phrase men put into their profile to indicate they are looking for a “a generic-looking white guy” (Tharrett, 2016) However, sometimes, people who are actively looking to shake off their whiteness by targeting POC.

 

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Amy Schumer’s Milk Milk Lemonade, while trying to  stop the oversexualisation of certain body parts couldn’t help but use brown bodies to make her video seem more hip

 

But there’s also another phenomenon that is just as insidious that I want to use bell hook’s work to trace why  fetishization happens. post  on that seems to stem from the same problem of seeing POC as the other, which is when they are instead sought after just because of the color of their skin or their ancestry. Sarah Gladstone of Ravishly describes fetishization as “Fetishizing is when people are attracted to the color of your skin and the racial stereotypes that have been assigned to [people] of your race” (Gladstone, 2014)

While in the previous situation,  POC were ignored because they were othered, now they are being desired because they are the other who can spice up a white person’s life. As bell hooks describes it:

“Within current debates about race and difference, mass culture is the contemporary location that both publicly declares and perpetuates the idea that there is pleasure to be found in the acknowledgment and enjoyment of racial difference. The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling.”

In this situation there is a shift from ‘It’s not racist to have a type’ to ‘black girls are my type, they are so sassy’. bell hooks really nails down this phenomenon in her essay ‘Eating the Other’ This article brings to mind all the tv shows and movies with the cool black guy friend who gives good advice and is there to support the white lead. Music videos are also very guilty of this, if one were to take a look at famous artists such as Taylor Swift or Amy Schumer who enjoy brown bodies to spice up the background.

With this being perpetuated in mainstream media, especially by beloved artists and performers, the effects are very much felt by brown bodies, especially on college campuses, where there people are interacting with people and cultures that they would not frankly have been around in their hometowns. And with  these people in college, they can finally search for the brown datemate who can show them the world. Kovie Biakolo describes this as “‘positive racism’ [which ascribes] considerably positive ideas about a community as a part of the nature of that community.”  And the thing about positive racism, is that it is still racism, instead of seeing people of color as individuals with hopes, ambitions, and personalities, they are seen as a monolith of spicy attributes to season the bland mayo of whiteness.

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What great rhythm you have there, ‘twould be a shame…if I were to appropriate it for my music video

Which leads me to the second  point of Bell Hook’s paragraph “the commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling.” When I mentioned earlier that brown bodies were portrayed as spice, white people, while never directly stated,  also had to be displayed contrast to create this dichotomy. The ingroup was bland but familiar, and the other was foreign but exotic. To achieve this whiteness is purposely contrasted  as bland, rhythm lacking, and awkward, and the only way to be less bland would be to appropriate their culture or dating them. .Dating the other is a way to distance oneself from whiteness by  having “‘a bit of the Other” to enhance the blank landscape of Whiteness” (hooks, 372).  This distancing from whitenes is what leads to certain statements such as ‘I can’t be racist, I am dating an Asian  man’ or “I’m not racist, I love how ratchet black women are’ from white peers.

Interracial dating is already hard enough due to outside pressures, expectations, and stereotypes, but also it’s up to white peers to look internally to  make sure they aren’t fetishizing and therefore alienating their POC datemates.

 

Works Cited

Biakolo, Kovie. “The Real Problem With Fetishization (And Why You Shouldn’t Fall In Love With Someone’s Identity).” Thought Catalog. February 04, 2015. Accessed May 17, 2017. http://thoughtcatalog.com/kovie-biakolo/2015/02/the-real-problem-with-fetishization-and-why-you-shouldnt-fall-in-love-with-someones-identity/.

Gladstone, Sarah. “The Problem With Racial Fetishization.” Ravishly. Accessed May 17, 2017. http://www.ravishly.com/2015/09/07/problem-racial-fetishization.

Hooks, Bell. Black looks: race and representation. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Wade, Lisa. “Fetishizing People of Color: The Downside of Positive Stereotypes – Sociological Images.” The Society Pages. Accessed May 17, 2017. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/10/26/boring-white-guy-really-wants-a-soulful-black-friend/.

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3 thoughts on “Dating as a Person of Color, or Tracing the Commodification of Otherness on College Campuses

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  1. Gheebuttersnapps writes the following comment: “This distancing from white-ness is what leads to certain statements such as ‘I can’t be racist, I am dating an Asian man’ or “I’m not racist, I love how ratchet black women are’ from white peers.” This comment, particularly in light of our class conversation today, makes me wonder what role decontextualization plays in interracial dating.

    De-contextualization would explain the attitude “of course I can’t be racist, I’m dating a person of color” among white people in interracial relationships. These attitudes stem from the white partner viewing their relationship with the person of color without acknowledging and engaging with the structures of power structures and race that impact their relationship. It is only by erasing the times that the white partner has hurt their partner of color through racist beliefs or actions that one can present this belief.

    Decontextualization is also what allows the process of converting people of color into a spice of life in interracial relationships. This process of decontextualization strips PoC like myself from our cultures and backgrounds (and the depth by which those experiences impact us) to leave us just as this exotic thing to be had. Without this history, which reminds colonizers of the immense wrongs of their doings, it allows people of color to be used as this spice with little guilt by the de-contextualizers and colonizers.

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  2. In Moyus and Markus’ Introduction to “Doing Race”, they detail eight conversations that pervade racial discourse. One such conversation is “Variety is the spice of life”. This echoes what gheebuttersnapps writes: “While in the previous situation, POC were ignored because they were othered, now they are being desired because they are the other who can spice up a white person’s life.” “Variety is the spice of life” can not only result in this eating the other that gheebuttersnapps explicates, but also in uncritical multiculturalism. Uncritical multiculturalism is exemplified in Pham’s “Why Fashion Should Stop Trying to Be Diverse”. In each of these attempts to spice up life, one must be critical of where power is distributed and how these bodies are historied with trauma; perhaps then race is no longer a spice but valued asset.

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  3. “And the thing about positive racism, is that it is still racism, instead of seeing people of color as individuals with hopes, ambitions, and personalities, they are seen as a monolith of spicy attributes to season the bland mayo of whiteness.”

    This quote made me think of our discussions about plastic surgery, and why people of color might want to change certain features stereotypically associated with their race. As Kathy Davis writes, “cosmetic surgery is an intervention in identity rather than an intervention in appearance” (1; 98) and that a large part of the reasoning behind making “ethnic” features appear closer to Anglo-Saxon norms has to do with the respect and recognition of individuality that it might bring. Elizabeth Haiken notes that many patients of “ethnic” surgery undertake the operation to become anonymous. They didn’t want to be identified immediately as “Other”, because that effaced their individuality, as demonstrated in the quote from this post. Rather ironically, becoming anonymous and conforming to more normative beauty standards allowed them “to be seen as individuals rather than as members of a group” and gave them the power “to control what they revealed about themselves to others” (2; 189). If features that don’t conform to the white norther European standard of beauty are either criticized or fetishized, “it [is] hardly surprising that individuals with features that marked them as ‘Other’ … would want to hide visible clues that they saw as having unfavorable or stigmatic connotations” (3; 90). This association makes clear the paradox of “positive” racism: the desirability of people of color as an added “spice” to whiteness and the erasure of the identities that supposedly provide that “spice”.

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