I was gchatting with a friend this weekend—we were talking about making controversial points, and the importance of making them anyway. We were talking about telling stories of communities of color into the often white myopia of academic feminism. This quickly became about fetishizing race, which quickly became about sex.
(You know, gchat conversations—they cover a lot of ground and deserve more credit than they get).
She told me about a message she received on OKCupid—from a white (Jewish) man. It went, verbatim, like this.
“Is it true what they say about Latinas?”
“I’m not sure. What is it that they say about Latinas?”
“That they’re spicy in bed.”
“Hmm. I’ve been too busy graduating from an Ivy League institution, starting my PhD at another, and shrugging off book deals to really notice. I hope you are having a nice life playing video games in your mom’s basement, and I hope that the food she cooks you tonight is spicy.”
Of course, she had the last word—what a badass.
(Oh, and way to make small talk, bro)
Unfortunately, this is not one isolated incident of extreme asshole. This is an ongoing problem—and plenty of otherwise perfectly nice guys are guilty of it. I’ve heard several men say that they want to sleep with a black girl just to “have” her. Sleep with a Latina girl because she is spicy. Sleep with an Arab girl because it feels dirty and forbidden. Sleep with an ethnic girl just because she is ethnic and not because she is herself.
It’s not only sex.
It’s life. Personally, I’ve been told that I’m radical because I’m Lebanese. I’ve told it’s hot that I’m a Muslim gone bad—which is hilarious, because like 75 percent of Arab Americans I’m Christian. I’ve been told that I’m in danger of being a martyr for my cause—I sincerely doubt this would happen if I had light hair and freckles and the cause I was fighting for was organic food for children in public schools.
Also, when was the last suicide bombing you heard about in Brooklyn?
It’s work. Some organizations and companies care about having the input of several different backgrounds in their work. Others simply want to appear to be upholding the tenets of affirmative action, all the while keeping their hierarchies alive and well. In the media world, there is a frequent fetishization of having writers from a variety of different backgrounds, who, like the men who want to fuck an ethnic girl just because she is ethnic, are wanted for their (our) race or ethnicity before our talent.
It makes it more difficult to actually open up and tell the stories that are happening in our communities or from our perspectives that are important to flesh out the patchy dialogue that often happens in our media. If we are supposed to say certain things—that then are edited—how are we supposed to actually tell our stories and have the strength of our backgrounds celebrated through the authenticity of our work?
I’ve seen writers of color be described as being able to write for a “general” audience. If it is automatically assumed that because we are of a certain background, we might not be able to write for a more “general” audience, how are we going to be heard and acknowledged in moving the conversation forward towards an inclusive and wholesome dialogue? We are too busy trying to break stereotypes and apologizing for living up to others.
If our race and ethnicity is constantly fetishized as part of our sexuality, how are we supposed to have productive interracial relationships that become the mixed babies that make world peace?
Those of us who come from a race or ethnicity other than “Mayflower White” are constantly expected to live up to our racial or ethnic standards, according to how the hierarchal alleged melting pot around us sees us. When preconceived notions permeate through the air, it feels that much more difficult to break stereotypes, start dialogues and figure out how we fit into America and the world around us, and how we can be a part of the larger picture while being proud of our backgrounds, and using this as a strength no matter what path we have chosen to navigate the world.
But now I want to open it up for discussion! Have you experienced this? How do you call it out? What is your line between celebrating diversity and tokenism? In your experience, what are the most productive ways to create an informative and productive dialogue that addresses often uncomfortable issues of inclusivity vs exclusivity of all varieties?