Racial fetishism

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Racial fetishism involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying people whose bodies are stereotyped, and at times their cultural practices.[1][2][3] This can include having strong racial preferences in dating. For example, an Asian fetish focussing on East Asian, Southeast Asian and to some extent South Asian women is quite prevalent in Australasia, North America and Scandinavia.[4][5][6][7][8]


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.[9]


White women[edit]

Fetishism of white women in China[edit]

Slavoj Zizek (2009)

Following the globalization of China, the perception of Westerners changed drastically. As China opened up to the outside world, representations of Westerners shifted from enemies of China to individuals of great power, money and pleasure.[10] The white woman, according to Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian psychoanalytic philosopher and researcher at the University of Ljubljana, has become fetishized in modern Chinese society as a result of her perceived role in the globalized commodity culture.[11] In a study of Chinese advertisements from 1990 to 1995, marketed solely to the Chinese people, it was concluded that in China, white women are symbols of strength and sexuality. The body language expressed by Chinese models demonstrate subordination, defined by the covering of faces and the canting of heads. On the contrary, Chinese advertisements depict white women as powerful and uninhibited. They stare straight into the camera, do not cover their mouths while laughing, and hold their heads high.[10]

According to Rey Chow, cultural critic and professor at Duke University, the fetishism of white women in Chinese media does not have to do with sex; instead 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.[12] On the contrary, Perry Johansson, author of the Postcolonial Studies Journal article, "Consuming the other: The fetish of the western woman in Chinese advertising and popular culture," argues that the racial fetish of white women in Chinese culture does have something to do with sex. White women represent a shift in the power dynamics between women and men. As a result, white women are a source of fear.[10]

Asian women[edit]

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.[13] 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.[13] 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.[13]

In media, there have been a variety of examples of the fetishism of Asians. In the film, Charlie's Angels, Lucy Liu's character says, "At your service," before massaging a man's feet.[14] 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."[15] Both of these instances exemplify the stereotype of Asians as submissive.[16] Margaret Cho has labeled Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls as a "minstrel show" because they represent fetishized East Asian stereotypes.[17] The girls follow Stefani around on tour and are contractually obligated not to speak English in public.[18] The performer had "renamed" them corresponding to her album title and clothing brand, L.A.M.B.: Love, Angel, Music, and Baby.[18]

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.[19] Ball specifically targeted these Asian students because he thought that they were submissive and were less likely to report sexual abuse.[20] 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.[21] According to a Princeton student[relevant? ] following the Lohman case, "It's the image of Asian American women being exotic and passive and won't fight back and speak up. Predators think they have free rein with Asian American women."[21]

Black women and men[edit]

After the Civil War, black men were more commonly falsely accused for the rape of white women compared to white men. Sexual relationships between black men and white women were frowned upon partly because these relationships threatened the white man's power.[22] The black male body has been fetishized after the success of The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 silent film. Since then, the black male body has been depicted as overly sexualized and animalistic with excessively large penises in a variety of pornography videos and magazines, for the purpose of isolation and demonization, as a threat to white social and economic power.[23][dubious ] The implications of zeroing in on the black male's penis are dehumanizing to the man as a whole and reducing his entire being to a body part.[23][dubious ]

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 fetish 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.[12] However, in Mapplethorpe's photos of black men, the subjects are not doing anything but existing as nude bodies, they are hypersexualized by the camera, therefore they become the fetish objects.[3]

In popular media, cinema and porn, the black male body commonly demonstrates hypermasculinity and hypersexuality through large, muscular bodies. In Alex Proyas's film, I, Robot, the viewer's gaze is directed towards Will Smith's body as he lifts weights and showers with strategic lighting and camera angles that emphasize the shape of his body. In addition, Smith holds, or is surrounded by objects, of a phallic resemblance, such as a gun, suggesting his sexual prowess.[24][relevant? ]

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 hypersexual delinquents. These labels solidified into what is commonly referred to as the "Jezebel" stereotype.[25]

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 it 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 believe that this song continues to reduce black women to be the focus of the male gaze.[26]

Latinos and Latinas[edit]

Latino men are often portrayed in porn and other forms of visual media as exotic, hot-blooded, and passionate lovers who have an insatiable sexual appetite due to their primal desires. A very common role of Chicano/ Latino men is the macho man who originates from an urban area and has street-smarts but nothing else to offer. This role combined with the ideas that Chicano/Latino men are primal and exotic creates a tourist attraction for those who are not a member of the race. This misguided perception is viewed and taken in, only to be forgotten and cast aside after it has served its purpose.This practice only reduces the sexuality of Chicano/Latino men to the shock value of their class and existence as an other. Through looking at the sexuality of someone who does not fit into the majority as other, it causes their sexuality to be viewed as unbridled sexuality, leading to the fetishism of their bodies and culture.[27]

Latina women also face racial fetishism much more than their male counterparts. They are seen as something that is tropical. Through media they are portrayed to always be in bright colors, having long brown hair, red lips, curvaceous figure, and revealing clothing. Unlike Latino/Chicano men, Latina/Chicana women have hypersexualized bodies.  A perfect example of how Latina women are depicted is Jennifer Lopez. When she is on a magazine cover or in a photo shoot, her butt is what is emphasized in the picture. Her butt is seemingly abnormal, because it exceeds the standards for a "normal" white butt. This hyper-buttocks places Jennifer Lopez in the category of the other. It is interesting though, because the fact that Latina/Chicanas are in the category of the other, it makes them more desirable. They are perceived as an exotic race that is hypersexual. This tradition excludes Latina/Chicanas from being a part of the norm and they are forever to be viewed as foreigners and a threat to "true" American culture.[28]

Another example of a Hispanic woman who is often racially fetishized for fulfilling "exotic" and stereotypical roles is Sofia Vergara's character in the show: Modern Family. In this show, Sofia Vergara plays a sexy, but ditzy Colombian woman who married a rich, white man who could be old enough to be her father. There has been discourse around Vergara's controversial role in the show as it perpetuates the idea that Latina women are often fiery and passionate, which are traits that are often sexualized and thus fetishized. This portrayal of Hispanic women in the show Modern Family became especially problematic in the episode "Fulgencio", in which the Latina characters are depicted as dramatic and uninformed as one Hispanic character asks where the nearest river is so that she may wash her clothes, making her seem uneducated just because she came from a developing country.[29]

According to work of George Gerbner, through extended exposure to the very consistent and persistent ideas expressed on television, people tend to view what is being broadcast as a reality with no regard for it veracity. Supposedly the more television someone watches, the more likely they are to see the world in the same lens as the televised world. This means that any ideals in regards to certain races, can influence the way people perceive said races. The way that Latino/a men and women have been portrayed in the media has created a racial fetish on their bodies and culture.[30]

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. Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP. 
  4. ^ Alolika. "Playboy Petrarch: Racial Fetishism and K-pop". SeoulBeats. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  5. ^ King, Ritchie. "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "'Yellow fever' fetish: Why do so many white men want to date a Chinese woman?". 
  7. ^ Cherian, Anne (8 June 2009). "A Good Indian Wife: A Novel". W. W. Norton & Company – via Google Books. 
  8. ^ "Why are western men marrying Asian women?". 
  9. ^ "Cross-cultural dating: Why are some people only attracted to one ethnicity?". News. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  10. ^ a b c 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. 
  11. ^ Zizek, Slavoj (1997). The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1844673032. 
  12. ^ a b Chow, Rey (1991). Mohanty, Chandra Talpade; Russo, Ann; Torres, Lourdes, eds. Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Indiana University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-253-20632-9. 
  13. ^ a b c Woan, Sunny. "White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence". Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice. 14 (2). ISSN 1535-0843. 
  14. ^ Charlie's Angels. Dir. Joseph McGinty Nichol. 2000. Film.
  15. ^ Yellow Fever. Bloodhound Gang. 1996. Song.
  16. ^ Okumura, Ritsuko. "Yellow Fever". The Asian/Pacific American Women's Journal. 10: 25. 
  17. ^ Cho, Margaret. "Harajuku Girls". Margaretcho.com. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  18. ^ a b Ahn, Mihi. "Gwenihana". Salon. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Local News | Rapists bet on victims' silence - and lose | Seattle Times Newspaper". community.seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  21. ^ a b "For Asian women, 'fetish' is less than benign". Retrieved 2017-04-23. 
  22. ^ Hodes, Martha. White women, black men. Yale University Press, 2014.
  23. ^ a b DINES, GAIL (1998-06-01). "King Kong and the White Woman: Hustler Magazine and the Demonization of Black Masculinity". Violence Against Women. 4 (3): 291–307. doi:10.1177/1077801298004003003. ISSN 1077-8012. 
  24. ^ Gilligan, Sarah (2012-06-01). "Fragmenting the Black Male Body: Will Smith, Masculinity, Clothing, and Desire". Fashion Theory. 16 (2): 171–192. doi:10.2752/175174112X13274987924050. ISSN 1362-704X. 
  25. ^ 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 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ "Hot and spicy by Christopher Ortiz". www.ejumpcut.org. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  28. ^ Guzmán, Isabel Molina, and Angharad N. Valdivia "Brain, brow, and booty: Latina iconicity in US popular culture." The communication review 7.2 (2004): 205-221.
  29. ^ Moreno, Carolina (2013-01-28). "'Modern Family' Latino Stereotypes: 'Fulgencio' Episode Criticized For Perpetuating 'Ignorant' Portrayal Of Latinos (VIDEO)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-24. 
  30. ^ Mastro, Dana; Behm-Morawitz, Elizabeth; Ortiz, Michelle (2007). "The Cultivation of Social Perceptions of Latinos: A Mental Models Approach". Media Psychology. 9 (2): 347–365. doi:10.1080/15213260701286106.