Experiencing fetishization as a mixed race WOC and dealing with it

As an Asian woman of color (I’m half Taiwanese, half white), I’ve unfortunately fallen into the trap of dating men who fetishized and exoticized me because of my race. I’ve had my personhood reduced to a checkmark on various men’s metaphorical “fuckit” lists. I was convinced that these men saw all of me, that they understood me and respected me, and while perhaps they did understand and respect me to an extent, they did so while fetishizing my race; and therefore, my existence.

Before I continue, here’s some quick definitions in case any of these terms are unfamiliar:

  • Racial fetishism involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying people whose bodies are stereotyped, and at times their cultural practices. (from Wikipedia)

  • Exoticizing is to regard or represent as foreign or exotic, especially in a stereotypic or superficial way (from The Free Dictionary)

  • Yellow fever is a term usually applied to white males who have a clear sexual preference for women of asian descent, although it can also be used in reference to white females who prefer asian men. (from Urban Dictionary)

Photo by Becca Xu

Photo by Becca Xu

To clarify, sexual preference is ok, but racial fetishization is not. In other words, having a preference for a certain race (or excluding a certain race from your sexual preferences) is not ok. For example, I’ve always found tall, brown-haired men attractive, but I don’t only date tall, brown-haired men. After all, these characteristics don’t define who a person is and aren’t the deciding factors in why I date someone.

In the case of racial fetishism, a person, usually a women of color, is reduced to a one-dimensional trait: their race. Rather than caring about their personality, the interested party only cares about the person’s culture and race and views this as reason enough to date/sleep with them.

I prefer to celebrate my culture through Chinese folk dance, rather than allowing others to fetishize myself and my culture.

I prefer to celebrate my culture through Chinese folk dance, rather than allowing others to fetishize myself and my culture.

I’ve been told “Oh, I’ve always wanted to sleep with an Asian girl!” and I’ve even been told that by sleeping with me, a guy would now only have a black girl left to sleep with before he could tick off all the boxes on his list. I was a freshman when the guy I was seeing told me this. I didn’t think too much of it, naive to the fact that I had just experienced fetishization. I hadn’t realized that in fact, throughout my life, I had already experienced exoticism and fetishization and would continue to for the rest of my life. Two years later, and I’ve come to the harsh realization that my existence has and will always be seen by certain people as “exotic”.

As a result of being half Taiwanese and half white, I’m fetishized and exoticized by white men, while my whiteness is glorified by white men. At the hands of white men, I experience yellow fever. For them, I’m an exotic Asian woman that can bring them excitement by sleeping with me. For Asian men, I bear the Eurocentric features that Asian women often strive to achieve, making me a desirable sex thing. There’s a major difference in the racial dynamics in this scenario (white privilege, y’know?) so it’s not yellow fever and isn’t even much of a racial “fetish” so much as an example of the glorification of whiteness, but it’s equally disgusting and dehumanizing.

Still not your exotic plaything // photo by  Jie Lan

Still not your exotic plaything // photo by Jie Lan

To be clear, not everyone does this to me. Not even all men do it to me. I’ve met many people who respect me and view me as human, rather than an exotic half white half Taiwanese girl. I’ve even received genuine, well-meaning questions from people (white men included) about how I navigate my mixed race identity. I live in with one foot in American culture, and another in Taiwanese culture. This space is entirely familiar to me and even comfortable. In fact, an entirely important part of my identity is my simultaneous existence in these two worlds. It is only when I become a fetish, a kink, that this space becomes toxic.

When I am reduced to my race, I lose my humanity. My race no longer resonates as part of my cultural identity, and instead is who I am, rather than part of the experiences that have made me who I am today. When men reduce me to my race, I become their plaything, something that they’re eager to “experience” in order to bring excitement into their lives. I become a conquest in their search for excitement and otherness to add to their lives. I serve as disposable spice, something men want to sprinkle onto their own lives until I’m exhausted and have nothing left to give.

Photo by  Savannah Wallett

It’s to the point where I’m often (usually) cynical of men for this and other various reasons. It’s incredibly frustrating having my racial identity, something I have worked so hard to foster and forge into something I am comfortable with and even proud of, something so crucial to who I am as a person, reduced to a man’s conquest.

And yet I’ve met men, such as my current boyfriend, who have proven me wrong and given me reason to stay hopeful. My race has never come into question or even been brought up unless I explicitly bring it up to discuss my own culture, not even race, and I never for a second doubt that I’m anything but fully human to him.

Other things give me hope, too, and remind me that I’m not bound to the label of “exotic” or otherwise. I never experience such dehumanization when I’m with my friends, especially my women of color friends and other female friends. We view each other in our entireties and understand that our race is part of our identity, but not all we are.

No, I will not love you long time // photo by  Matt De La Nuez

No, I will not love you long time // photo by Matt De La Nuez

Back in December, I also bought this shirt from Soft Asian Boys that says “No, I will not love you long time.” on the back. It refers to the Asian hooker stereotype often seen in movies, especially ones from the mid to late 1900s, in which Asian women are oftentimes depicted as extremely docile and subservient, yet presumed to be “wild” in bed. This shirt calls out yellow fever and subverts the power dynamics underlying fetishization by placing power in the hands of the person wearing it. It’s amazing.

Nice t-shirts aren’t necessarily the best ways to subvert fetishization, though. If you’re a WOC (Asian or otherwise), learn some warning signs of fetishization so you can both avoid dating anyone with yellow fever or otherwise and also be able to call racial fetishists out. Thanks to Lillian from @thefleshlightchronicles for some of these ideas. Check out her advice highlight for more.

Photo by  Savannah Wallett

As with my own experiences, if a guy is telling you that an Asian/black/Indian/Latina/Hispanic or otherwise chick is at the top of his “fuckit” list, he’s probably (he is) fetishizing your race. If he’s only dated a string of WOC from a singular race, he’s probably got a racial fetish. If he calls you exotic, if he says he wishes he were more exotic like you, he’s fetishizing you. If you bring up your struggles as WOC and he doesn’t wanna hear it but does want to watch the latest Japanese anime or try the new Chinese place downtown, he’s got a racial (racist) fetish.

If any or all of these warning signs (or others I didn’t list) come up, spare yourself and don’t date the mofo. I don’t care how cute he is or how good he is in bed, there is someone out there just as cute and good in bed as him, if not better, that will not fetishize you and strip you or your humanity. Even so, if you’ve fallen into the trap of dating fetishist, practice self love and forgive yourself. Pick yourself back up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you come across someone who’s set on reducing you to a one-dimensional caricature of your race, call them out on it and leave them in the dust. You don’t need that! Tell yourself and believe that you are more than your body, more than your race and that, as such, you deserve to be treated as such.

Instagram post on  WOC's bodies  // photo by  Cassidy Davidson

Instagram post on WOC's bodies // photo by Cassidy Davidson

Beyond taking care of and treasuring yourself, take care of other WOC by reminding them of the same things. Read up on the struggles of other WOC and work to lift them up alongside yourselves. Call people out for not just fetishization of yourself, but of others. Go beyond this and call people out for all forms of racism, not just fetishization. Only through action can we effect change.   

Only through action can we effect change.

That’s all for this post bbs~ Feel free to read up on fetishization, whether it’s a personal issue for you or not, through the various link throughout my article. I’ve included a few at the bottom, as well.

Love you all lots! Remember to be bold and be powerful.