We all have our physical preferences when it comes to finding a romantic partner. Some women want men to be tall, broad shouldered, and dark haired. Men may want a big-breasted blonde. We objectify those we find attractive to some extent, but what are the implications of preferring someone of a different race?
After reading an article a friend sent me, A White Woman Explains Why She Prefers Black Men, I realized that there's a big implication: the desire could be based on racial assumptions and stereotypes that, just because they're "positive," don't make them any less pernicious, objectifying, or, to put it bluntly, racist. Want to find out about racial fetishism? Then
Whether you have "jungle fever" or "yellow fever" (you date blacks or Asians exclusively), you would be described, in the parlance of the day, as having a "fetish." One thoughtful person has explained a fetish this way:
Sexual fetishism in general is the sexual attraction to something which is not in itself a sexual object, such as feet or leather. Sexually fetishizing a person or group of people however means reducing them to objects, important only in their sexual function or interest to the fetishizer. Race fetishization means effectively reducing all members of a racial group to a monolithic whole, only valued in terms of their racial stereotypes. You are hearing racial fetishization when people talk about how black men have big penises, Asian women are exotic and submissive . . . just because a stereotyped characteristic is a "good" characteristic, that doesn't mean it's not racist.
So how does our White Woman (who is also a sex columnist) Who Prefers Black Men rate on the racial fetishizer scale? She's off the charts, a textbook case. Here are some salient bits from her essay.
That phrase, "Once you go black, you never go back'" is all about the feeling of the skin . . . Black men have more energy, style and edge than white men . . . something white guys don't have anymore: confidence in their masculinity, their sexuality . . . I am sure there must be some black men who aren't good in bed. Personally, I have not experienced one who isn't . . . They look better than white men, they touch and kiss and make love better than white men. Statistically, their penises are only a fraction of an inch bigger on average, but they seem bigger and harder . . .
Obviously, this white woman likes black men — a lot. It's all about sexualizing them, though, reducing all of them to their skin, to their presumed sexual prowess, their instinctual energy and innate masculinity. If racism is about assuming things about people based on their physical traits, how is this not racism? More disturbingly, her desire, conscious or not, participates in the kind of sexualization of black men that once justified their persecution and even murder.
So what to do about these nonpolitically correct desires? Censor them? Pretend they don't exist? One of my favorite sex columnists, Dan Savage from Savage Love, provides some intelligent advice. He never argues that we should police our desires, just that we be aware of where they're coming from and what they could mean in how we treat our partners. "There's nothing wrong," he tells one person seeking advice who has a fantasy of having a black man have sex with his wife, "with treating someone like a piece of meat during sex . . . some people enjoy being treated like pieces of meat . . . Consent is . . . always and everywhere the magic ingredient . . . As long as you understand the cultural forces that shaped your fantasy . . . there's nothing unethical about realizing your fantasy."
One wonders if these black men who Susan Bakos hooks up with know that she views them all the same way. (One wonders if she thinks viewing them this way is problematic at all.) The heart may want what it wants, Woody Allen said euphemistically about hooking up with his adopted daughter, but that desire can have ripple effects far beyond the couple in question, particularly when one woman's desire is presented, without any qualms or self-questioning, in an essay many people will read.