"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, November 24, 2013

speak now #31: racism & sexuality

“Fetishes, on their own, aren’t harmful, wrong, or shameful things. Whatever floats your boat is fine—as long as it harms no one. The important element to fetishes that don’t harm people, though, is that they all involve a degree of performance and the ability to move in and out of fetish space. If you have a thing for people wearing ostrich-feather tails, your partner is free to prance around the house in hot pants and a tail as often as she likes; and when she’s not into it, she can put the tail away. 

Racial fetishes, however, are based on objectifying someone because of her race, which isn’t something she can control. An Asian woman can’t choose to take her Asianness off for the day, a Black woman can’t decide to not be Black while she walks down the street. These are lived, inhabited identities that cannot be turned on and off; there is no safeword for race. You live these identities throughout your life, experiencing the good and bad things associated with them, interacting with your community through and around this identity. 

Someone who says he (and it is usually a he) ‘prefers’ women of a specific race isn’t exercising a preference based on orientation or experience. He’s viewing certain kinds of women as dateable material on the basis of racial discrimination; and it’s telling that most men with racial ‘preferences’—which are really racial fetishes—use very racist, stereotypical descriptions when talking about why they ‘prefer’ women of specific races. Asian women are meek, say, or Latinas are fiery, or Black women are exotic and know how to deliver in bed.”

I explain non-heterosexuality to people by saying that my body does not define the bodies of those I am attracted to - having a female body is not a prerequisite to loving someone with a male one. So when I'm tumbling around with a tall pretty white boy and he says - probably well meaningly - 'so you do like white boys!' I can't help but feel a little...used.

What has my Asianness and his whiteness have to do with anything? Because I am Asian, am I expected to only be attracted to other Asians? Does he consider himself somehow special, because he is so different to what I am supposed to be attracted to - so attractive that I have broken out of my race rut? Why isn't he confined to just white women? 

It is a running joke that I have 'racist hormones', in that I have not been particularly forward with Asians as I am with men of other races. Allow me to clarify - my experiences of attraction are my own and it is not my obligation to justify them. But I have had many experiences of attraction towards many Asian people, which is the grounds of my dislike. In my experience Asian men take part in this racial fetishism more than white men; instead of cultural concord on which to build a steady relationship I've only found a series of cliches and stereotypes, and someone hellbent on making me conform to them. I've long mused that I would perhaps end up with someone like me - a second generation immigrant, faced with discrimination not only from Anglo-Australians but people from our motherland, too. But my experience of being turned into a tragic fetish extends above and beyond my encounters with white people, and I'll not excuse Asian men of their implicity in the racial fetishisation of Asian women. 

In our multicultural Australian society there are people of all races and backgrounds, and you will have to learn to see them as people and not as colours. If you judge me by the racial stereotypes held by our society you're in for a bit of a nasty shock - and you're in for a nasty shock whether someone is 'fresh off the boat' or a fifth generation Australian who just happens to be - shock horror - brown. Stereotypes are derogatory and one dimentional and idealistic and people are complicated and multi-faceted and imperfect. In our society of 90% white people, we've learned to not have too much faith in racial stereotypes of white people - white people are seen as people, people almost without race. Do the same for other people. Meet, love, fuck, marry, create people. Ethnicities are not fetishes. 
I think a lot of people don't realize the harm of racial fetishisation, which starts with 'I prefer Asians/Blacks/Latinas/etc.'. It is above and beyond liking a specific hair colour or body type. It is even above and beyond preferring a specific personality or character trait. It is imposing racial stereotypes on someone and expecting them to conform to your fantasies, purely based on race. And as the quote above says, other fetishes are not permanent identities that one must embody 24/7 - race is. 


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