A recurring subject among my housemates is the racial categorization of sexual preferences. My housemate once complained to me that people call her “exotic” because she is a black woman and that they often want to get with her only because she has curves. My other housemate told me he feels fetishized by women for being an Asian man, as women like to mess around with him because they don’t expect him to be sexually assertive. My blond friend also once told me some people aren’t attracted to blondes because they don’t think blondes are exotic enough.
This conception of exotic beauty is a Western ideology that is assigned to people of color. As explained in a blog on PsychologyToday.com, the conception assumes white phenotypes as the standard and defines exotic beauty as deviant from the norm. From this notion springs widespread stereotypes about people’s sexuality based on their race, like subservient geisha Asian girls, passive Asian boys, feisty Latinos and exotic, domineering black people.
In a lecture on racial inequality, UC Berkeley sociology professor Szonja Ivester defined racism as “a set of beliefs and social practices in which people are accorded advantages and disadvantages on the basis of culturally defined racial classifications,” which often involves “linking evaluative judgments to these classifications.” So even when someone claims he or she like the aggressiveness of black males or the passive nature of Asian males, that person is still being racist because he or she is attributing personal traits on the basis of race and treating those people differently.
Racialized sexualization is perpetuated by people of all races. There are many white guys with yellow fever and white girls with jungle fever. There are Asian girls who are only down to date white guys and people who refuse to date members of their own race. There is also a stigma against those who choose to date people outside of their own racial groups. The issue with racial labeling of sexual preferences is that it makes individuals feel like people aren’t attracted to them for whom they are but rather what color they are.
Our society needs to be rid of racial stereotypes about sexuality, but one effect of race that should be taken into account is privilege. All people grow up with different types of racial privilege. Many of us care about the colonization and oppression of our ancestors from around the world and don’t wish to perpetuate racial hierarchies. Those of us who enter intimate spaces with partners of different races must take such historical factors into account, acknowledge societal power dynamics and try not to uphold racist standpoints in our relationships.
For example, I dated a damn good-looking white boy recently. We got along fine and had great conversations and debates. But there were instances in which he would express privileged positions, such as calling something distasteful “gay” or blaming affirmative action for why a person of color was chosen as the winner of a beauty pageant. By saying things like that as a straight white male to a queer woman of color, he made me uncomfortable, and it kept me from developing deep feelings for him. Needless to say, we aren’t together anymore. But this experience did show me that my future partners need to acknowledge and understand their positions and privileges relative to mine and that I should do the same in order for us to feel completely comfortable around each other.
Individual experiences make us who we are. Race is something that influences our experiences, but we can’t assume anyone’s experiences based on race. This also goes for sexual experience, in which someone’s race won’t make him or her freakier in bed, have a bigger dick or just be better at sex in general.
There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to particular physical traits, like dark hair, tan skin or almond-shaped eyes. But claiming to be attracted to people of just one particular race is not only discriminatory but also shallow. Your choice in sexual and romantic partners is a personal matter, and your individual preferences should be respected; but race isn’t the only trait you should base your preferences on, because that’s inherently racist.
If we truly want to be a society that claims to look beyond race and physical appearance, race cannot affect our views of sex and, of course, individual people. Upholding sexual stereotypes defeats the objective of finding individuals attractive for whom they really are.
So next time anyone expects me to be some cute, passive Asian schoolgirl, I will whip you hard enough to cure you of your misogynistic yellow fever.