Open Question: Defining the Racial Fetish

white-black-racial-fetishFetish — the term is used to describe many a situation or intimate relationship. There are various ideas on what a fetish is and who is likely to have one. Some fetishes are more controversial — or more common — than others, such as the racial fetish. But what is a racial fetish, exactly?

Narrowing it Down

A fetish is usually defined as an undue fixation or obsession with an object, person or situation.This could be anything — whatever you could think of, there is someone who has a fetish for it.

In regards to relationships, the racial fetishist makes a partner’s racial and ethnic make-up is of the utmost importance — often, the fetishist has a strong preference for people of a certain background to the exclusion of all others. The fetishist tends to have firm beliefs about a certain culture, appearance or background which places it above others in areas that are important to the person holding the fetish.

Who Has a Fetish?

While it is simple to define a racial fetish in theory, deciding how it plays out in reality and who actually has a fetish is much harder. Does having a preference for partners of a certain race make you a fetishist? Does placing any significance on your partner or potential partner’s race make you a fetishist?

In my view, a person could only be considered to have a racial fetish if the race of their partner is more important than the partner themselves. That is, if their partner could be replaced by another of the same or similar background or appearance, the partner holds biased thoughts which make them partial to their partner’s racial background, or the partner’s background becomes the main focus of the relationship so the person in most situations will refer to or include their partner’s race, whether it is significant to the matter or not.

Thus one  who prefers partners of a certain race or ethnicity is not necessarily a fetishist, any more than someone who prefers blondes or tall men. It is the importance of or motivation for the preference that makes a racial fetishist.

How do you personally identify a racial fetish and do you have experience with racial fetishes?

Article Response: Kanye Isn’t Coming Back

kanye-west-styleAnd even if he were, you don’t need him to.

Journalist and blogger Janelle Harris at The Stir recently posted a letter to rapper and producer Kanye West entitled Kanye West and I Will Never Get Married. Like myself, Janelle is a devoted and longtime fan of Kanye West. And like myself, Janelle decided to write an open letter to Kanye to express her disappointment in his massive backslide.

However, Janelle’s issue with Kanye stems not from his changing musical style or erratic behavior. Janelle calls Kanye to the table for his changing choice of women. As she muses, Janelle touches upon an often-discussed topic in some circles: colorism and the apparent exodus of black men via interracial dating and marriage:

My Dearest Kanye,

Eight years, six albums and several public fiascoes ago, I was introduced to you via “Through the Wire” and I was smitten — with your flow, your word choice, your honesty, your expressiveness…As you turned verses into albums, I really connected with not just your music but with you as a person, like kindred spirits…

So it’s been hard to watch you spiral into a stereotype that bulldogs so many Black men when they ascertain a high level of success: they dump us for the once-forbidden, still-taboo allure of the world of white girls and, if they aren’t quite bold enough to do that, they brandish the good ol’ fashioned colorism card that makes trophies out of light-skinned women. The more racially ambiguous, the better.

The bigger your name — and, can we be honest, your ego — got, the more you started interjecting little quips about race and complexion into your songs… I’m gonna need you not to be sucked into the played out patterns that too many big pimpin’ black men have perpetuated.

I understand that love can come shrouded in any color. Sure as I’m sitting here writing this, some sour commenter blinded by the overarching topic of interracial relationships is going to insist that it’s your right to date whomever you darn well please. And that it is, my dear. You certainly wouldn’t be the last brother to cross that color line and never come back… But the hem of your inner self-conflict is showing, and I think you can be saved.

The other day, my friends and I debated whether you would ever link up with another black woman…I’m wondering if a regular black girl or a chocolatey “Kelly Rowland” could ever be that masterpiece of perfection you like to praise…Look at a picture of your mama and tell me that you don’t find beauty in black women anymore…

I’ll always be a fan, Kanye. But I will be disappointed if you don’t put all that mouth to use to say something that the world needs to hear expressly said about black women: we’re desirable and sexy and art-inspiring, too.

Love, Janelle

While Janelle’s letter was well-written and honest, her concerns are not new and don’t look to be resolvable anywhere in the near future. As such, I’ve written my own letter in response to Janelle:

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Colorblindness and Other Myths About Interracial Dating

interracial-approval

Pew Research Survey of Americans' Views on Interracial Unions (2010)

“Love knows no color.”

“The heart wants what the heart wants.”

“It doesn’t matter whether a person is black, white, pink, or purple.”

When it comes to interracial dating and marriage, most people claim they are color blind — that they don’t consider the perceived race or ethnicity of potential dates. Many in mixed societies such as the United States will also add that race has become a non-issue in dating or is quickly becoming so. Yet nearly every study and anecdotal evidence of how and who people actually date and marry shows otherwise.

Love is not [color] blind

Colorblindness as a social concept is largely a myth — people notice immediately and make judgments on superficial characteristics such as gender, dress, and yes, race. In activities as personal as dating, people use perceived race or ethnicity to make instant assessments about a person’s interests, attractiveness, and even personality.

As physical appearance is the most readily noticeable trait about a person on first meeting, it can be a determining factor in whether one chooses to romantically approach another or accept an approach. In mixed nations where divisions (and hierarchies) are made based on race, race influences perceptions of physical beauty, whether one is aware of it or not.

In any case, few people are blind to differences in physical aspects such as weight, height, and style of dress — these are important factors to many people in assessments of potential dates. So how and why would they disregard an equally noticeable trait such as race or ethnicity?

Social Trends in Interracial Dating and Marriage

Trends in interracial dating and marriage show clear patterns. The most noticeable pattern being that interracial relations trail far behind intraracial relations, especially in the United States. Socioeconomic divisions are one cause of this disparity, but it can’t be the only cause — three quarters of Americans live in urban areas with a racially diverse group of residents. If most people live in areas with a sizable amount of people of various races, why aren’t there more interracial unions?

The same is true for the interracial unions that do take place — certain trends persist. Some pairings greatly outnumber others, and are disproportionate to their members’ percentage in populations. Other pairings are almost non-existent, and not for lack of available participants.

Studies on interracial dating show that while most people date intraracially, members of certain groups are more open to, or even prefer interracial dating, while others strongly prefer not to interracially date. How could this be if love knows no color?

Colorblindness was never particularly convincing as a social idea, but in interracial dating and marriage it seems it simply does not apply.

*Other myths include “Common Pairing = Natural Attraction” and “Racial Preference is Personal”

See also:

Jill Scott is a Bigot or How to Misunderstand Racism

jill-scottBigotry and racism, they’re easy to understand, right?

A bigot is a person who is partial to their own group or way of thinking and intolerant of others. A racist is someone who believes that a person’s race is the primary deciding factor in their character, capabilities, and worth.

Sounds simple, yet it’s not.

Musicians and recent White House guests Jill Scott and Common have come under harsh criticism for comments they made in past interviews and songs. Both artists were personally invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to perform at the White House’s Poetry Night in early May 2011. And both artists have been called racists and bigots for their comments about interracial dating and marriage, particularly those involving black men and white women in the United States.

The criticisms of their comments, while well-meant, offer a perfect opportunity to show how racism and bigotry can be easily and boldly misunderstood when a person lacks proper background knowledge and experience.

First, the comments. Jill Scott comments in the April 2010 issue of Essence Magazine:

My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy…I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn’t marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit…wince. I didn’t immediately understand it.’

And Common’s comments in an interview with Touch Magazine in 2005:

I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race but it’s almost like a stereotype that if you’ve got dreadlocks you go out with a white girl. I just feel like, as black men, we do have to be aware that every time we step out with some woman it’s setting an example for our daughters and it’s also representing something for our mothers. If you can’t really love your own, how can you really love others?

“My whole thing is that black women have been so put down – whether it’s due to the oppression of a white government or we [black men] putting our own women down. When dudes say they only gonna focus on white girls, to me, it’s like a slap in a black girl’s face. I still feel like because I’m an artist and I say certain things, I have a responsibility to let people know what I mean.”

Then, the criticism. Conservative blogger and journalist Patrick Courrielche’s response is typical:

“If [Jill Scott’s] words were put in the mouth of a Caucasian, the viewpoint would reek of bigotry.

Should Jill Scott and Common be uninvited to the White House Poetry event? At this point, probably not… But the First Lady should ask that Common and Jill Scott renounce their statements, and use the opportunity to help the black community see that many of their icons are big contributors to the racial divide that they so obviously abhor.”

What is wrong with the response of Patrick Courrielche and others? They assume that black Americans and white Americans are in equal positions in American society. That similar statements made by black and white people somehow have the same basic meaning and origin.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Overused Terms (2): Sellout

black-woman-white-man-swedenNote: This is part 2 of a series on overused terms

Racial sellout is a term applied to a person who is disloyal to their racial background and history in order to gain economically or socially. The racial sellout can be a person whose political or personal beliefs, or way of acting and thinking differ from the majority of their race, or one who denies their racial heritage. The racial sellout can also be a person who dates or marries outside of their ascribed racial group.

In the case of the interracially involved person, the term is often applied to a non-white woman dating or married to a white man. Presumptions are made about the person’s motive for dating a person of another background. These assumptions include the person dating or marrying for social or economic advancement, the person discounting their racial background, and the person desiring a partner who is not of their race. When examined closely, these notions don’t hold up to scrutiny:

1. Interracial marriage equals economic and social gain

Economics

It is assumed that interracial marriage, particularly that of a white person to a non-white person, brings financial gain to the non-white partner. This is not so, according to studies on the subject. Interracial marriages, especially interracial marriages involving a non-white woman, most commonly take place between people of similar income levels. Research has shown that as a person’s socioeconomic level increases, their likelihood of dating or marrying interracially also increases. This suggests that greater income should be seen as a result, at best, of interracial marriage, and not a cause of it.

Social

Interracial marriage and dating does not change a person’s racial or ethnic status, or any social factors that may come along with it. If a marriage includes a non-white person and a white partner, any children they have will not have the racial status of the white parent, but more likely be perceived as closer to the non-white parent.

indian-woman-white-manAs a result of their perceived racial status remaining unchanged, the interracially married person will also likely incur social stigma for marrying outside of their race. Stigma such as being presumed a racial sellout.

2. The interracially involved person discounts their racial background

The term sellout implies that a person is trading in their racial heritage for gain. But being interracially married does not mean that a person has to disregard their own background. In fact, an interracially married person may be closely involved with their cultural background and people of their ascribed race and have a strong sense of ethnic pride. They may bring this awareness to their marriage and any children they may have. Historically, several leaders against racial discrimination have been interracially married. Their marriages did not diminish their attention to pressing racial matters.

3. The interracially involved person desired a partner who was not of their race

As always, before assumptions are made, the reality that a person may sincerely love a person of another race; without ulterior motives or racial self-loathing must be acknowledged. Despite the racial inequalities throughout many societies in the past and present, some people don’t view race as a factor or see beyond it when choosing potential partners.

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Yet Another Interracial Online Dating Study

race-online-dating-mouseIn the fall of 2009, dating website OKCupid published a semi-controversial study on racial preference in online dating. Now, another group ventures to provide insight on the way race impacts online dating in the United States. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a study analyzing stated preferences and online dating patterns. The study has yet to be published but has some results available in a university press release. It concludes that the United States hasn’t yet reached a post-racial era. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

The study, following the method of OKCupid, considered the online preferences of more than one million subscribers to a mainstream online dating service. Each subscriber stated a dating preference: for someone of their own race, for someone outside of their race, or for someone of any race. The researchers’ focus was on the racial preferences of blacks and whites, with secondary concern given to other racial and ethnic groups.

So who was the most willing to online date outside of their race? The study found that young, black, and male daters were the most likely to state they had no preference and were open to dating women of any race.

Women were most likely to state some sort of preference, as were whites and older people. But what was more interesting was that even the white men and women who claimed to have no preference had initiating and response patterns which indicated preference for other whites.

white-race-preference-datingWhite men and women were more likely to contact whites than they were to contact other groups. Upwards of 80 percent of whites who stated “no preference” contacted whites. On the other extreme, around 5 percent of these “no preference” whites had any contact with black daters. The numbers were even more imbalanced when it came to initiating contact. While the percentage of messages sent by whites to others whites was the same as the number who had any contact with whites, only 3 percent of contacts sent by whites were to black subscribers. However, blacks, especially black women, also initiated contact with those of their own race more than they initiated contact with whites.

The lead researcher, psychologist Greg Mendelsohn, offers a simplistic theory for why blacks were more likely to contact whites than the reverse: social gain. He says that blacks may be trying to move up in social status by intermarrying with whites. He neglects to mention that there may be some self-selection involved — blacks on a mainstream dating website may be more open to dating interracially than blacks on majority black dating websites. That wouldn’t be the case with whites who make up the majority on dating websites. Depending on the percentages of each race involved, ratios must also be taken into account.

The UC Berkeley study is scheduled to be released in the near future. Until then, a more thorough analysis of the methods and results will have to wait.

See also:

Overused Terms (1): Self-Hating

self-hatred

Note: This is part 1 of a series on overused terms

Self-hating, or self-hatred, is a disliking of oneself and/or one’s ethnic or racial group.  The term is often used in a belittling manner to describe non-white people in interracial relationships, including those who date exclusively or mainly outside of their race. The basis for this charge is the idea that the person in an interracial relationship wishes to escape their race or ethnicity by uniting with their partner.

In accusing a person in an interracial relationship or marriage of self-hatred, several assumptions are made. These assumptions are made without knowing if they are fitting of the situation:

1. The accused person has a strong sense of racial or ethnic identity

In accusing an interracial dater of self-hatred, the accuser assumes that the person has a sense of themselves as a member of a particular racial or ethnic group. This is a faulty assumption.

Although many non-white groups living in majority white countries are aware of their racial status, this is not always the case. Some non-white people do not consider themselves to be essentially different, or do not consider this difference to be important to their sense of self and identity. How can someone loathe themselves due to their race if they don’t identify with their race?

asian-woman-self-hatred2. The accused person identifies with the opposite gender of their race

Accusers consider the two genders of a racial or ethnic group to be inherently the same or similar. But the person in an interracial relationship may not view the situation the same way, even if they have a strong sense of racial identity. For example, a black man may see himself as essentially different from a black woman. He may like or love everything about himself yet dislike everything about the opposite gender of his race. He wouldn’t be a self-hater because it’s not himself he loathes, but the opposite sex of his group.

3. Interracial dating allows a person to escape their race

Interracial relationships may not provide a way to leave your race behind. Instead, interracially dating can cause a person to become more aware of their race. It can be hard to ignore the stares, disapproval, shock, curiosity, and of course, the accusations of self-hatred. As far as race goes, it would be easier to be in an intraracial relationship — ideas about race would be less of an issue.

4. The accused person sought out a partner of a different race

Above all, many of those in interracial relationships or marriages did not set out to be in one. While there are certainly those who looked for a partner of a particular race (or not of a particular race), many more did not. They simply found someone they loved and were compatible with and did not allow race to become a barrier to establishing a lasting relationship.

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Red Flags in Interracial Relationships

red-flags-in-interracial-relationshipsInterracial relationships, while essentially like any other type of relationship, come with their unique joys and difficulties. The addition of different cultural backgrounds and appearance creates circumstances which are less likely to occur in intracial relationships.

Some of the less obvious red flags a person may be tempted to ignore or may not realize are warning signs. So by request, here are some of these red flags in interracial relationships.

1. You haven’t met your partner’s family and close friends

If after several months (or years) you haven’t even made plans to meet your partner’s parents, siblings, immediate family members, or closest friends, this may be an indication that your partner doesn’t want you to meet them. He or she may be afraid of their reaction, embarrassed of you, or may not have told them they were in a relationship, much less an interracial one.

2. Your partner says “I only date [your race/ethnicity here]”

To some this may not at first seem like a red flag. However, if your partner is only interested in dating people of your perceived race or ethnicity, it’s a hint that he or she has less of an interest in you as a person and more of an attraction to your race. In other words, you are easily replaceable — one size fits all. In addition, it shows they hold preconceived notions about the characteristics of people of your race.

3. Your partner consistently makes negative remarks about the opposite gender of your race

You may or may not take these remarks personally, but if your partner makes a habit of this, its an indication that he or she holds some prejudices about the people of your perceived race. What happens if or when you have children and they are considered to be or identify with the group that your partner thinks so little of?

4. Your partner refuses to participate in your cultural events

If you participate in events specific to your culture (holidays, foods, etc) and your partner is reluctant to go along with you, you may not think much of it. But you should — later on it may cause problems in the relationship or with family members when cultural considerations become more important.

5. Your partner wishes your children look like them (or expresses disappointment that they look like you)

Beyond mere vanity, if your partner shows a strong desire to have any children you have together look like them, or more particularly, less like you, they may not want children of your perceived ethnicity or race. It may not be obvious at first, after all they are in a relationship with you, right? But your partner may not see you as an extension of them, which is how they undoubtedly will view any children they have.

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White Men Don’t Like Black Women? Says Who?

black-woman-white-man

Note: Some may take offense to this post. My goal with this post is to be honest.

That white men don’t desire black women as romantic partners is a concept accepted –in fact, promoted– by many black Americans, without questioning. Ask a random black person in the United States what they think of relationships involving black women and white men and you’re likely to get responses which lead back to this theory; the theory that white men simply aren’t attracted to black women.

As a black woman who has been in relationships with men from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and whose current partner is white, I was at first puzzled by these statements. Besides that I was completely unaware that as a woman of African descent I was supposed to be considered undesirable to men I was regularly involved with, two aspects of this phenomenon impressed upon me. (1) It wasn’t only racist whites who were encouraging the notion that white men aren’t attracted to black women, but blacks; even black women and (2) not only did blacks believe this idea, but they forcefully try to convince anyone who disagrees that their belief is the set in stone truth.

But why? Why are blacks spending so much time advocating this idea? I’ve analyzed this phenomenon and have concluded that its basis lies in three major areas:

  • Internalization of Eurocentric Beauty Standards
  • Black Women as Competition
  • Control of Black Women and Black Women as the Backbone of the “Black Community”

Internalization of Eurocentric Beauty Standards

Among racially aware blacks there is much talk that standards of beauty are heavily centered on a European appearance; that this is one of the main reasons why white men aren’t attracted to women of African descent. But what is less mentioned is the extent to which blacks themselves have internalized these standards.

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Racial Preference, Dating, and Relationships

black-woman-white-manWhen it comes to race and dating, I have always emphatically stated that I do not have a preference. I could not have one even if I tried — I love men, in all their forms. The only preference I seem to have is for taller men (6 ft 2 in/188 cm or taller), but even so, most of the men I’ve dated have been shorter than that. Yet I am asked from time to time if I have a preference, usually in the form of a question such as “So, you’re into white men?” or “Why don’t you like black men?” I sometimes wonder myself if my relationship has changed my preferences, i.e. created a preference.

Since I’ve been in my current relationship I’ve realized I notice white men more. If I enter a room and there are (attractive) men of all ethnicities, I will tend to look first at the white men, then everyone else. This has not always been the case, and I believe it has to do with my relationship and the familiarity of it. Since I’m in a relationship with a white man, I’ve become more accustomed to the looks of white men, so I notice a good-looking white man before I notice an attractive black man, Asian man, or mixed Hispanic man. I’ve always believed this is where preference starts — familiarity, whether through environment, media, or other outlets.

Still, I would not say I have a preference, at least not in the way that most people seem to refer to preference — an attraction to certain type(s) to the near exclusion of others. I am still attracted to other men, and I don’t think white men are inherently more attractive, I just notice them before others. When others claim to have a “preference” I am wary because it usually does not mean that they actually prefer a certain type of individual, but that they are pretty much only interested in those types. Which makes their attractions not preferences, but requirements.

Do you have a racial preference? What do you think of racial preferences, in general?

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