Racial fetishism

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Racial fetishism is sexually fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a specific race or ethnic group.[1][2][3]


Homi K. Bhabha explains racial fetishism as a version of racist stereotyping, which is woven into colonial discourse and based on multiple/contradictory and splitting beliefs, similar to the disavowal which Freud discusses. Bhabha defines colonial discourse as that which activates the simultaneous "recognition and disavowal of racial/cultural/historical differences" and whose goal is to define the colonized as 'other,' but also as fixed and knowable stereotypes. Racial fetishism involves contradictory belief systems where the 'other' is both demonized and idolized.[1]

Feminist writer Anne McClintock is interested in opening up the discourse of fetishism to stray away from the phallus and the scene of castration. One of her central arguments is that although race, class, and gender are all different and articulated categories of being, they always exist "in and through relation to each other," and therefore discussions of racial fetishism also always have to do with class and gender as well.[2] McClintock does

not see racial fetishism as stemming from an overdetermined relation to the castration scene. Reducing racial fetishism to the phallic drama runs the risk of flattening out the hierarchies of social difference, thereby relegating race and class to secondary status along a primarily sexual signifying chain".[2]

Fetishism can take multiple forms and has branched off to incorporate different races. English naturalist and geologist, Charles Darwin, can offer some observations in regards to why some people might find other races more attractive than their own. Attraction can be viewed as a mechanism for choosing a healthy mate. People's minds have evolved to recognize aspects of other peoples' biology that makes them an appropriate or good mate. This area of theory is called optimal outbreeding hypothesis.[4]


White women[edit]

Rey Chow argues that the fetishism of white women in Chinese media does not have to do with sex. Chow describes it as a type of commodity fetishism. White women are seen as a representation of what China does not have: an image of a woman as something more than the heterosexual opposite to man.[5]

Perry Johansson argues that following the globalization of China, the perception of Westerners changed drastically. With the Opening of China to the outside world, representations of Westerners shifted from enemies of China to individuals of great power, money, and pleasure.[6]

In a study of Chinese advertisements from 1990 to 1995, marketed solely to the Chinese people, Johansson concluded that, in China, the racial fetish of white women does have something to do with sex. Chinese advertisements depict white women as symbols of strength and sexuality. The body language, expressed by Chinese models, demonstrates subordination, defined by the covering of faces, the tilting of heads, and looking away from the camera. The body language, expressed by white women, demonstrates power and inhibition. White women do not cover their mouths while laughing, hold their heads high, and stare straight into the camera. White women represent a shift in the power dynamics between women and men, which has to do with sex. As a result, white women are a source of fear.[6]

Asian women[edit]

An Asian fetish focusing on East Asian, Southeast Asian and to some extent South Asian women has been documented in Australasia, North America, and Scandinavia.[7][8][9][10][11]

According to an article from the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the "Asian fetish" syndrome is born out of the male desire for dominance and the stereotype of Asian women as individuals open to domination.[12] For example, following the 1970s and a peak in the American feminist movement, many white men turned to mail-order bride companies in search of a loyal, understanding, and subservient partner. They saw women of their own race as too career-oriented and strong-willed. Asian women were the antithesis to their perception of white women.[12] While white women resisted powerlessness and subjugation to the white man, Asian women were seen as open to the subjugation, even depicted as enjoying it.[12]

The song "Yellow Fever" by The Bloodhound Gang includes lyrics such as, "She's an oriental rug cause I lay her where I please," and "Then I blindfold her with dental floss and get down on her knees."[13] Both of these instances exemplify the stereotype of Asians as submissive.[14] Margaret Cho has labeled Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls as a "minstrel show" because they represent fetishized East Asian stereotypes.[15] The girls follow Stefani around on tour and are contractually obligated not to speak English in public.[16] The performer had "renamed" them corresponding to her album title and clothing brand, L.A.M.B.: Love, Angel, Music, and Baby.[16]

Furthermore, there have been many cases of Asian fetishism leading to criminal activity. In one case in 2000, two men, David Dailey and Edmund Ball, abducted and blindfolded two Japanese girls in Washington, one who was eighteen and the other who was nineteen.[17] Ball specifically targeted these Asian students because he thought that they were submissive and were less likely to report sexual abuse.[18] In another case, in 2005, Michael Lohman, a doctoral student at Princeton University, was charged by the state of New Jersey for reckless endangerment, theft, harassment as well as tampering with a food product. Michael had cut locks of hair off at least nine Asian women. He also poured his semen and urine into the drinks of Asian Princeton students more than fifty times. In his apartment, Michael also had mittens filled with hairs of Asian women.[19]

Black women and men[edit]

In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe had a photographic art show titled Black Males, showing photographs of naked black men exclusively. This work has been highly criticized for fetishizing the black male body, notably by Kobena Mercer in his aforementioned essay. Though it was not necessarily the artist's intention to portray these men as fetishized objects, they have been perceived that way by many audiences, especially in relation to some of his other works concerning gay male BDSM practices. The latter works examine an actual subculture of sexuality that is enacted by the photographic subjects: the men in the photos are wearing/using their own gear and clothing, putting their fetish(es) on display.[5] However, in Mapplethorpe's photos of black men, the subjects are not doing anything but existing as nude bodies, they are hyper-sexualized by the camera, therefore they become the fetish objects.[3]

The fetishization of black women expanded during the Colonial Era, as some white male slave owners raped their black, female slaves. They justified their actions by labeling the women as hyper-sexual property. These labels solidified into what is commonly referred to as the "Jezebel" stereotype.[20] The opposite of this "Jezebel" identity or persona is the "Mammy" figure who loses all of her sexual agency and autonomy, and becomes an asexual figure. L.H Stallings notes that the creation and identities for the Jezebel or Mammy figures are "dependent upon patriarchy and heterosexuality." [21] An example of racial fetishism within the colonial era is that of Sarah Baartman. Sarah's body was utilized as a means to develop an anatomically accurate representation of a black woman's body juxtaposed to that of a white European woman's body during the age of biological racism. The scientist studying her anatomy went as far as making a mold of Sarah Baartman's genitalia postmortem because she refused him access to examine her vaginal region while she was alive. The data collected on Baartman is the origin of the black female body stereotype, i.e. large buttocks and labia.[22]

Charmaine Nelson discusses the way black females are presented in paintings, with an emphasis on nude paintings. Nelson argues that every nude painting feeds into the voyeuristic male gaze, but the way black women are painted has even more undertones." The black female body defies the white male subject's desire for a single subject of 'pure' origin in two ways: firstly, through a sexual 'otherness' as woman, and secondly through a racial and colour 'otherness' as black. It is the combined power of these two markers of social location which has enabled western artists to represent black women at the margins of societal boundaries of propriety." The black woman is considered a fetish in these paintings and she is only viewed in a sexual lens.[3]

One of the more recent popular discourses around the fetishization of black women surrounds the release of Nicki Minaj's popular song, "Anaconda" in 2014. The entire song and music video revolves around the largeness of black women's bottoms. While some praise Minaj's work for its embrace of female sexuality, many[clarification needed] believe that this song continues to reduce black women to be the focus of the male gaze.[23]


Latinos being categorized as a separate section or category within the pornography industry is an example of racial fetishism. The website Pornhub provides a service where emojis are associated with specific categories of pornography, and the taco emoji was tied to Latina pornography. This is an example of how the fetishism of Latinos is often stereotypically tied to Mexican food.[24]

In her book Sex Tourism in Bahia Ambiguous Entanglements, Erica Lorraine Williams published the first full-length ethnography of sex tourism in Brazil. The tourists who come solely to participate in sexual tourism are a form of racialized fetishism. One of the tourists interviewed described his experience, “I’ve had a thing for latin, brown-skinned women since my early twenties. I’m from [a place] where there are a lot of blond, white girls. Whatever you have, you like the opposite --they’re exotic, intriguing.” [25]

In BDSM[edit]

There is also a practice in BDSM which involves fetishizing race called "raceplay".[26] Susanne Schotanus defined raceplay as "a sexual practice where the either imagined or real racial background of one or more of the participants is used to create this power-imbalance in a BDSM-scene, through the use of slurs, narratives and objects laden with racial history."[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bhabha, Homi K. (June 1983). "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourses of Colonialism". Screen. 24 (6): 18–36. doi:10.1093/screen/24.6.18.
  2. ^ a b c McClintock, Anne (1995). Imperial Leather: Race Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.
  3. ^ a b c Mercer, Kobena (1993). "Reading Racial Fetishism: the Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe". In Apter, Emily and Pietz William (ed.). Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
  4. ^ "Cross-cultural dating: Why are some people only attracted to one ethnicity?". News. Retrieved 2017-04-22.
  5. ^ a b Chow, Rey (1991). Mohanty, Chandra Talpade; Russo, Ann; Torres, Lourdes (eds.). Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Indiana University Press. pp. 86. ISBN 978-0-253-20632-9.
  6. ^ a b Johansson, Perry (1999-11-01). "Consuming the other: The fetish of the western woman in Chinese advertising and popular culture". Postcolonial Studies. 2 (3): 377–388. doi:10.1080/13688799989661. ISSN 1368-8790.
  7. ^ Alolika (2014-02-21). "Playboy Petrarch: Racial Fetishism and K-pop". SeoulBeats. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  8. ^ King, Ritchie. "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  9. ^ Ren, Yuan (July 2014). "'Yellow fever' fetish: Why do so many white men want to date a Chinese woman?".
  10. ^ S. Chou, Rosalind (5 January 2015). Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 65. ISBN 9781442209251.
  11. ^ Ashoka Bandarage (1998). Women and capitalist development in Sri Lanka, 1977-87 (Report). Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. p. 73-74. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  12. ^ a b c Woan, Sunny (March 2008). "White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence". Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice. 14 (2): 275. ISSN 1535-0843.
  13. ^ Yellow Fever. Bloodhound Gang. 1996. Song.
  14. ^ Okumura, Ritsuko. "Yellow Fever". The Asian/Pacific American Women's Journal. 10: 25.
  15. ^ Cho, Margaret. "Harajuku Girls". Margaretcho.com. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
  16. ^ a b Ahn, Mihi (2005-04-09). "Gwenihana". Salon. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  17. ^ GERANIOS, NICHOLAS K. (2000-12-31). "Abduction and Rape of 2 Japanese Students Outrages Spokane". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-04-22.
  18. ^ "Local News | Rapists bet on victims' silence - and lose | Seattle Times Newspaper". community.seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2017-04-22.
  19. ^ "For Asian women, 'fetish' is less than benign". Retrieved 2017-04-23.
  20. ^ Carolyn M West. "Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and their homegirls: Developing an "oppositional gaze" toward the images of Black women" 4thNew YorkLectures on the psychology of women (2008) p. 286 - 299 
  21. ^ Stallings, L.H (2007). Mutha is Half a Word: Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth and Queerness in Black Female Culture. Ohio State University Press.
  22. ^ The gender and science reader. Lederman, Muriel, 1940-, Bartsch, Ingrid, 1958-. London: Routledge. 2001. ISBN 0415213576. OCLC 44426765.CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ Lhooq, Michelle (2014-08-23). "Shocked and outraged by Nicki Minaj's Anaconda video? Perhaps you should butt out". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  24. ^ Moreno, Carolina (2016-04-25). "Pornhub Reduces Latinas To A Taco Emoji, Because Stereotypes". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  25. ^ Williams, Erica Lorraine (2013). Sex Tourism in Bahia Ambiguous Entanglements. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.
  26. ^ "Exploring the controversial fetish of race play". Metro. 2017-11-03. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  27. ^ Schotanus, Susanne (2017-04-20). "Racism or Race Play: A Conceptual Investigation of the Race Play Debates". Zapruder World: An International Journal for the History of Social Conflict. 4. doi:10.21431/Z3001F.