By Kassandra Mourikis, Sexologist at Pleasure Centred Sexology
Image by Jennifer Enujiugha via Pexels
Have you found yourself with a sexual preference for people of Colour? Are you turned on by Black bodies? Do you prefer Black lips, skin or hair? Do you prefer dating Asian women? Are you watching porn for big Black men? Are you not into fat people? Do you use the terms exotic, chocolate or spicy to describe those you want to get intimate with?
If yes, then your attraction to specific qualities, your dating preferences and your porn habits are oppressive. Race and body shapes are not types. Likening people to food are microaggressions.
Before you dismiss this or attempt to justify your interests as valuing diversity and practising inclusivity; when you have a preference for people based on racial stereotypes or skin colour, you’re fetishising those that already face high rates of oppression and racial discrimination.
Fetishising people based on race or enjoying them for their attributes is a colonial and white supremacist practice that reduces Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) down to their body parts, the colour of their skin and forcing them to into harmful stereotypes. These same beliefs and attitudes towards Black folx have historical origins and have been practised for centuries throughout slavery times when Black and Coloured people were put on display to be observed, assessed and purchased.
The process of fetishising oppressed people shifts the perspective away from seeing them as unique and diverse individuals towards othering them and viewing them as objects to take, collect or gain for the sole purpose of enjoyment; reinforcing the dominant and default human as White. The dehumanising of Black individuals or folx of Colour pressures them to conform and adhere to limited, prejudiced generalisations made against a whole race. It increases the likelihood of enacting and justifying violence and discrimination that becomes possible when groups are perceived to be different, fascinating, incomprehensible and then subhuman.
Sexualising and fetishising Black and people of Colour means having power over those bodies. Our societies are built on white supremacist, colonialist and capitalist foundations which have indoctrinated racist, fatphobic and ableist beliefs into all people through implicit messages that suggest that Black people, people of Colour, fat or disabled people are different from thin, white and non-disabled folx. We’re taught that different is synonymous with dangerous, unattractive, dirty, shameful, immoral and undeserving of safety, pleasure, comfort, connection, touch or love and see those that are different as not feeling pain or hurt in the same way as white people. Unless you’re doing the work to actively unlearn these beliefs, they will exist to some extent within your mind and body.
For example, rejection and perception of fat bodies as unattractive or the strong desire to lose weight or change one’s body comes from intense yet implicit fatphobic, weight biased and diet culture messages that we’ve all been exposed to. These beliefs that fat is bad or unworthy are rooted in white supremacy. If you’ve had the desire to lose weight, to reflect on your body or others bodies as undesirable because they’re fat, large or anything outside of being small and thin, you’re actually perpetuating these white supremacist beliefs without knowing it. Preferring thin bodies or believing thin= healthy means upholding Eurocentric standards of beauty that is anti-Black, aims to control, shame and restrict the space Black and Coloured bodies can take up while placing whiteness on a pedestal.
It includes pathologising diversity in size and labelling fat bodies as an epidemic. Body size discrimination and beliefs that fat bodies are unattractive or repulsive is not about heath; it’s about classism, racism and sexism. To learn more or to begin unpacking these beliefs, I strongly recommend reading Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings.
Sexualisation and fetishisation against Asian women are also prevalent and frequently overlooked. Predominantly white cis men refer to their preference for smaller Asian women as yellow fever. This interest is based on stereotypes that Asian women are small, quiet, submissive or hyper-feminine but wild in the bedroom. They’re not seen for their unique individualism and they’re boxed in and forced into these standards set for them.
Being fetishised can be a conflicting experience for BIPOC. So often are folx desexualised, rejected and labeled as ugly or unworthy. Being fetishied may initially feel as if you’re suddenly being valued for the same characteristics that have historically been uglified. Over time, those who are fetishised realise they hold less relational power; they’re kept as a secret partner who’s prevented from meeting friends and family; appreciation and attraction is superficial and based on physical attributes and stereotypes.
People are manipulated, controlled, overpowered, oppressed, gaslit, and dehumanised. They aren’t sure whether those they enter relationships with appreciate and value them for who they are or for how they look or based on sterotypes and unchecked misbeliefs.
Black folx are at risk every time they connect with a white partner or any partner of Colour. These encounters result in intense shame, feelings of worthlessness, anger, frustration, rage, hurt, hopelessness and their beliefs are internalised and shape the way folx perceive themselves. These experiences then predispose projection, policing and discrimination to other BIPOC and the cycle persists. Read more about the impact of fetishising on one Black woman.
Fetishising and internalising beliefs impact every aspect of one’s identity, feelings of self-worth, value and spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. BIPOC face a disproportionate risk of chronic illness, health conditions and early death compared to white people due to the impact of ongoing and chronic stress on their bodies that are linked to daily microaggressions, relational distress, fear of being killed by police brutality, doctor and nurse neglect or by their partners and the unequivocally high rates of domestic and family violence.
As a consequence of being fetishised, Black folx and those of Colour are more likely to deal with sexual challenges and struggle to notice, experience and prioritise pleasure. They’re more likely to be exposed to painful and coercive sex, less likely to have their consent and rights to safety valued by partners and often expected to perform for or serve their partner’s needs.
Attraction Is Learned So It Can Be Unlearned
These “preferences” don’t exist in isolation and we can’t examine the problems with reducing people down to specific qualities, features or characteristics without also examining the cultural context that they exist in.
Attraction is learned and what folx deem attractive is a direct reflection of social norms and Eurocentric beauty standards. We learn that white, cis, thin, non-disabled bodies that follow the narrow standards of beauty are rewarded with access to resources, power and safety. It makes sense why folx want to increase their proximity to these qualities but in doing so rejects and endangers all the people who diverge from these narrow expectations.
Trans folx, Black, Brown and Indigenous people, Asian people and those in fat or disabled bodies are fetishised, both sexualised and de-sexualised and forced to submit to serve white folx pleasures and desires at the cost of the safety and wellbeing.
If people are not open to examining and reflecting on these attractions and preferences and if they’re not open to working out where they came from, they’re perpetuating white supremacy through their desire.
Acknowledging the harm caused, even if it was unrealised and unintentional, as well as reflecting and unlearning these beliefs is the first steps towards dismantling systems of oppression. Making the decision to relearn your attraction and reshape your preferences and desire for yourself and others actively challenges the belief that certain bodies exist for the enjoyment and satisfaction of others. The best place to start is by reading and doing the anti-racism work with Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad.
Published with permission of author. Originally published on Pleasure Centred Sexology