Tuesday, March 20, 2012

There is a Difference Between Attraction and Fetishizing

Recently, there has  been a spate of young women taking to youtube to share their racism with the world.  Who could forget the UCLA student, who decided that youtube was an appropriate venue to complain about Asians in the library?  A new video has gone viral, and instead of spouting the customary vitriol, the young women have decided to declare their love of Black men.


I am fine with people getting their swirl on -- if that is what makes them happy -- but listening as these four young women decided that fetishizing Black men equalled a compliment sickened me.  Even as I write this, I am aware that many will perceive what I am about to say as yet another complaint about White women stealing our men, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Having been in an inter racial relationship for 20 plus years, I can tell you that they take work.  Even when love is involved, race will inevitably be a hurdle that needs to be jumped repeatedly.  Robin Thicke made this point in an interview he did recently with Essence magazine, which was laced with racist commentary -- even as he told the audience about Paula Patton - his strong Black woman.  Decolonizing one's mind is a lifetime journey and no matter how much love or incentive there is to check one's racial privilege, inevitably racial conditioning will raise its ugly head, and then it will be back to square one.  Race is not some minor difference like enjoying different types of music, or rooting for opposing hockey teams; it's a fundamental part of one's person and cultural background.

People of colour are used to viewing the world as raced whereas; White people perceive race as something that doesn't apply to them because Whiteness has been constructed as neutral.  This is at the heart of the passion of these young girls.  They claim to love Black men for their beautiful bodies (note: the video is loaded with copious references to the buttocks), swagger, big lips and white teeth, proving that we haven't moved far from the time of White women wanting the services of their own personal Mandingo.

Fetishizing someone because of their race is not a compliment.  It assumes a monolithic identity and evidences that what is truly desired is not an equal relationship, but a caricature of what is understood to be natural based in race.  Each racial group has their own disgusting stereotypes to negotiate by gender:  Latino men are said to be full of machismo, Asian men are overtly feminized, and Black men are constantly reduced to large roving penises willing to please. 

When embarking on an inter racial relationship, one never knows for sure if the interest expressed is because the potential partner believes that you are attractive, intelligent, funny and great to be around.  Before a person of colour enters any room, let alone a relationship, race enters and brings with it a load of assumptions. Dating outside of one's race opens the possibility of not just having one's heartbroken, but dealing with the fact that in some cases, what the person really wants is not actually you, but the stereotype they assume you embody.

In today's faux liberal world, many will actively deny that they are racist because they avoid doing things like wearing their white sheets in public, saying slurs, and the ever popular cross burning on front lawns; however, as all people of colour know, covert racism is still vicious and pervasive.  A racist statement or action, hurts all the more when one has invested enough trust to reduce one's guard. 

When it comes to inter racial relationships, the White partner is often seen as the saviour.  For some Black men, White women are considered a trophy to be paraded around as a sign of how far one has come in the world.  For Black women, a White man is at times seen as proof of one's femininity, as well as a knight in shining armour for saving a Black woman from a threesome with Benny and Jerry's and the company of cats.  In every relationship there are always going to be inequalities, but the imbalance created by race can often reveal something significant about  ourselves, in that it evidences the degree to which one has internalized harmful information about what it is to be a person of colour, in a White supremacist world. What you are willing to put up with says as much about you, as the person spouting the racist vitriol.

As much as the video disgusted me, I think that these girls did their future partners a service, because now hopefully they will know that they are not desired for are any positive qualities they may possess, but their ability to perform Black masculinity in a fashion that these young women find attractive.  To some degree we all have to perform different versions of our identities to exist in this world, but when it comes to your partner, you should be free to be who you are.