“We’re Not Here For White People’s Pleasure.” On Race, Fetish and Objectification.

“White people aren’t trying to involve you in their everyday life in any other way. Then when it comes to sex suddenly there’s a fetish."

By "Marcy_Anarchy," Wikimedia Commons

Last week's column about threesomes got a great comment on Facebook, urging me to address race fetishization when it comes to unicorn hunting.

It goes beyond just threesomes, though. People fetishize race across all kinds of sex, dating and kink activities. And it's a problem.

It's something I wanted to talk to Kevin Patterson of Poly Role Models about for this week's Humptown.

First, let's agree to terms. As Kevin describes it, racial fetishization is "othering with a sexual flavor."

"Taking a fully fledged, well rounded human and limiting them to one aspect of their being that they don't even have control over," he says. "I'm into video games, sports, running, writing, and poly activism. They don't see all of those things. They see black. They see BBC."

In case you don't know, BBC stands for big black cock, and it appears with alarming frequency on dating sites and hook-up ads.

"What are you so busy doing that you can't get to know someone you want to put your dick in?" Kevin asks.

Race isn't the only thing that gets fetishized. It also happens to folks with larger bodies, to trans folks, to disabled folks and anyone considered outside of the white mainstream beauty ideal.

But when it comes to fetishizing race, it's part of a long and troubling history.

Robin Wilson-Benson of SexAbled explains, "Black people's bodies have been fetishized since slavery. We were seen as physical beings to perform a service. Not just slave labor, but sexuality too. There's a history and culture surrounding being with a black person being seen as taboo and kinky, being looked at as bringing in a bit of 'exoticism' to spice up a sex life."

"White people aren't trying to involve you in their everyday life in any other way," Robin says. "Then when it comes to sex suddenly there's a fetish. That's not the reason we exist. We're not here for white people's pleasure."

Fetishization happens to other races, too. An Asian woman I interviewed who wishes to remain anonymous told me, "In America, I have found that people have been drawn to me specifically for my race. I suspect a lot of this is due to the residue of some past colonial hangup about Asian women being sexually submissive. Partly because of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, a lot of interaction between American soldiers and women from those countries were a sexualized dynamic."

She goes on to explain how stressful this is, and how dangerous it can be for the women targeted.

"I was recently sexually assaulted by an Asian fetishist who had sexually assaulted at least four other Asian women," she says. "This man, who is white, justified his racially targeted attraction to the 'more feminine' features that Asian women apparently had… I am doing minute by minute micro decisions to figure out if the person who is [flirting with] me is motivated because of my race or because of me. And sometimes, it is staggeringly hard to tell."

Lola, of SexEdAGo-Go, echoes the difficulties of going to events.

"Unless you're going to a specifically POC party it's going to be very white and people don't try to be better," she says. "People think because they're kinky or they're poly that they can't be racist. Like they've ticked off enough 'woke' boxes, and that's so not fucking true. So I don't have places I can walk into knowing it's a safe space. I can just walk in hoping people are going to behave and not be dicks."

All of these concerns leave people needing to figure out how to screen potential dates and play partners for their motivations.

"I tend to just let people talk, and people will out themselves," Lola says.

Kevin added, "If we're having conversations about a lot of different topics, if we're connecting on a lot of different topics, then I can get the general idea we're on the same wavelength," Kevin says. "If that's not coming together but they still want to fuck, ehhh… I know where that's going."

My anonymous source added another red flag,

"[When people] keep alluding to a generic Asian culture. This is highly amusing to me as Asia has millions and millions of people, all our cultures are different. Lumping us all together speaks to the level of dehumanization again."

So how do you do better? First of all, treat people like people. That goes a long way. Lola has more specific tips, too: "With any other fetish you'd make sure the other person is into it first. You'd negotiate. Thinking it's OK to objectify black folks without checking in that it's something the person wants is violating consent. I'd never just go sit on someone's lap and call them 'daddy' just because some people are into it. So why would you walk up to a [person of color] and assume they want to play your race games? And when someone calls you out on it? Be graceful. Take that feedback. Don't get defensive. Saying 'I didn't mean it,' isn't fixing anything. Be ready to apologize."

Want to dive deeper into these issues? Kevin Patterson's book, Love's Not Colorblind, comes out on March 30 and you can pre-order now. You can follow Robin and Lola online, too.

Have you got a burning question of your own? We're listening! Email askhumptown@wweek.com and keep your eye out for an answer in an upcoming column!

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.