Instances of fetish-based racism happen both implicitly and explicitly. The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence recorded that of API women, 23% experienced some form of physical sexual violence, 10% experienced completed or attempted rape and 21% had non-physical unwanted sexual experiences during their lifetime.
Intersectionality, the interconnected nature of social categorizations, such as gender, race, class and sexuality, causes them to experience similar experiences regarding their ethnicity and gender.
Fetishization occurs at no particular age range which leaves many around us — classmates, friends, family and neighbors — susceptible to it.
“I can only speak on my experience as a bisexual East-Asian woman. There’s been a lot of instances where I feel like my identity has been fetishized, but the most memorable is when I was just walking around with a girl at a mall and an old white man whistled at us and called us exotic, and it’s not the first time that happened either,” a student, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
When people who do not fit into the Western concept of beauty merely exist, they become susceptible to comments such as these.
This narrative has been in America since the 19th century when Chinese people. In 1875, before the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, the Page Act prevented Chinese women, or any woman considered “oriental,” from immigrating to the United States because they were believed to all be prostitutes. Hypersexualization begins systemically and isn’t only applicable to Asians.
Though orientalism is a prominent factor in most cases of fetish-based racism, fetishization isn’t exclusive to Asians; many other people of color experience it too. Racial fetishization can happen to any person of color.
“During quarantine, I had become friends with a group of people, I started getting really close to one person … It took us a short time to become very close to each other and due to that, they shared everything with me. There was a point where they got a little bit too comfortable and shared things I deemed odd … they began to make jokes about how I was a ‘hot Cheeto girl’ because of the way I acted … then it turned into them saying I was a ‘spicy Latina,’ both of which are very stereotypical terms,” an anonynous Mexican American student said.
This is another instance where race and orientation play a role in how women of color are treated by people outside their race. The “spicy-Latina” stereotype, the trope that portrays Latinas as sensual yet loud and wild, used on a Latino is no different from people believing Asian women are docile and submissive.
“I was very uncomfortable and angry at the fact that they thought that way,” they said. “I had lost any sort of positive feeling for them and the only thing I wanted to do was educate them on why their thought process was wrong. I felt very disgusted at that point and had already concluded their intentions with me.”
When gender and racial identities intersect it leads to experiences such as these. Fetishization is almost never based on aesthetics but rather on stereotypes instead. Stereotypes on Latinas being the same; debauched and untamed were both used to characterize them. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop these comments or these stereotypes for certain.
Stereotypical tropes will always be a part of history and integrated into the media we consume. However, by consuming articles, shows and books that feature holistic and accurate representation of queer people of color, we can slowly but surely combat racial biases.