The Racial Fetishisation of Women: Notes From a "Spicy" Latina
In museums and galleries around the world, one figure is beloved above almost all others - the female body. While these paintings, sculptures and engravings share with their human counterparts the qualities of being beautifully complex depictions of female heritage, they differ in one main form. They are cold and we are living. They are object and we are not. “French girls” made of oil cannot defend your assumption of their sexual openness. “African goddesses’ carved in stone cannot defy your view of them as nurturing women. Palely painted geishas gracing Japanese walls cannot speak to say they are not submissive or docile.
There is little left in us today, if there ever was, that you could trace back to the cookie-cutter definition of what a woman from a specific place, or indeed, race must be like. So, we ask: why would it be a compliment to be told you’ve finally found a woman you can carry in a dictionary?
In my 20 to 20-something years I’ve encountered many a man who thought approaching me with a bit of salsa in his step and an ‘hola señorita’ on his lips would turn out really well for him. Many can be dismissed as genuine creeps. However, the question of my smart, socially conscious friends failing to understand why their strong (by which I mean very, very strong) “appreciation” of one particular race of women was something problematic, remained.
Liking short, blonde, freckled, curvy, petite, green-eyed or any and all types of women or men is more than fine. Racial fetishes, however, are not the same as having a type and here’s why: racial fetishes presume that a series of qualities, both positive and negative, both physical and not, exist in a person simply because of their racial background. Projecting character, views and behaviour onto a person, let alone an entire ethnic group, is not the same as attraction.
To exemplify this: I like men with beards, a quick wit, and my friends often jokingly note that I have a “thing” for red hair. If, however, all these things came together in one man and I happened upon him, the only assumptions about him I would have would be that he likes having a beard, he is quick-witted, and he was born with red hair. Note here that hypothetical men can be bearded, witty and ginger, and also have many different behavioural patterns and backgrounds.
So, when you assign me the role of “spicy Latina”’ for the action of your life, you negate my individual character as separate from my race and indicate that my worth comes from my ability to fulfil your idea of what a woman from my background should be like. Not to mention, your attempts at smoothness by asserting that ‘unlike white women’ I am outgoing, energetic, can dance and season food; forces me into a position where I am in favour of women, white or otherwise, being criticised because you thought they were not the things you now think I am.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that women around me dislike the idea of being with someone who proclaims an interest in their racial background because of the simple underlying question that follows these relationships throughout- does he like me for my person, or does he like me for my race? To love a person than to love an idea of who a person could be is not the same thing.
Racial fetishes are also distinct from other sexual fetishes because they are not a choice. While you and your partners could decide that your thing is bondage and latex masks or furries or Halloween costumes, there is no taking off my race. I did not negotiate being “fiery”, “loud” or whatever else you think Latina women are. Racial fetishes are not a chosen action, lifestyle or body part, they are exoticisation and sexualisation of a group of people based on attributes they were never and will never be in control of.
Beyond this, historically, racial fetishes are concentrated on women of colour. The typical rebuttal: ‘Why aren’t you flattered? I just like the way you look and like your culture’ dismisses a simple fact. We, as minorities, have ways of being which were systematically defined and adapted by an imbalance of power in which we have no agency. This idea of appealing otherness comes from the hyper-sexualisation of a free and different beauty that is still left to be conquered. Our cultures and peoples have been continually stereotyped, and it is not, nor will it ever be, flattering to have to fulfill, resist or otherwise debate those stereotypes.
When romanticising the life experience of a woman of colour, you are romanticising the inherent struggle in having lived as such. Ultimately, the existence of paintings, statues, carvings and engravings showing Black, Asian, Latino, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Aboriginal, Native-American and White women as figures for you to collect and keep should not be an indication that their living inheritors want you do treat them similarly. They should be evidence to the historical objectification of assumed racial beauty and behaviour, and a marker for wrongs that should cease to exist today. Your racially defined modus operandi in romantic life has much to learn if it wants indeed to be romantic.