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Racial fetishism involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying people whose bodies are stereotyped, and at times their cultural practices.[1][2][3] This can include having strong racial preferences in dating, for example, fetishization of East Asian, Southeast Asian and to some extent South Asian women in Australasia, North America and Scandinavia is quite prevalent.[4][5][6][7][8] Racial fetishism has been theorized in academic discourse in relation to Freudian sexual fetishism and Marx's notion of commodity fetishism. The term has not been largely discussed in academia, however, because Freud's theories of sexual fetishism have become so influential since the late 19th century.[9] Some writers who have extensively discussed racial fetishism include Homi K. Bhabha, Anne McClintock, and Kobena Mercer.

The notion of "fetish" has been around for a very long time, and in fact, the origins of the word itself arose within imperial, racialized tensions. From there, fetishism has evolved to be defined as "the pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to an object or bodily part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification".[10] According to William Pietz's The Problem of the Fetish, I, characteristics essential to the notion of fetish include the fetish object's irreducible materiality which resides in its status as a material embodiment, the theme of repetition compulsion, and the dependence of social value on specific institutional systems.[11] The repeated "co-occurrence of virtually any stimulus (e.g., a high-heeled shoe or an image of an elderly person) and sexual satisfaction could turn a previously neutral stimulus into a conditioned stimulus"[12] that can cause a sexual reaction. This process can lead to fetishism or deviant sexual behavior. Over time, race has became a factor in arousing sexual desire.

Racial fetishism involves the desire for a person of another culture often because they are dissimilar, and thus "exotic". With the white, heterosexual, male gaze being the norm, non-white people are often pursued for their different physical traits and cultural habits. These distinctions have sparked sexual interest, and the term "exotic" was used to describe their desire in attempts to make the sexual interest in different cultures seem positive. Asian women, black men and women, and latina/os are often described as exotic, which is further discussed in Examples of Racial Fetishism. As Matthew W Hughey discusses in his article, "Making Everyday Microaggressions: An Exploratory Experimental Vignette study on the Presence and Power of Racial Microaggressions", Asian and Latino/Hispanic people were most likely to experience exoticization. The term exotic, and being sexually interested in someone for their exotic traits, has become problematic when describing persons of color as it marginalizes their culture, reminding them that they are not a part of the norm, and their traits (physical and cultural) are considered as a part of the other.[13]



Many theories have been presented in regards to fetish. Today's concept of fetish stems from two very different modes of analyses — one originally formulated by Marx, the economic or social; the other by Freud, the psychological or personal. Marx's In Capital described fetish as a "mysterious thing that serves as the object of capitalist exchange".[14] He is arguing how infrastructures affect the way people interact and view one another. As a result, the relationships between people are more of economic relations. Marxist fetish theory, also known as commodity fetish, states that "false consciousness based upon an objective illusions...[can turn] material objects into commodities concealing exploitative social relations, displacing value-consciousness".[11] Additionally, this view of fetishism is situated as the point at which objective institutional systems are "personified" by individuals.

Freud offers a different interpretation of fetish which is more anchored in the ideas of self-identity, sexuality, and its repression. In his essay, "The Sexual Aberrations", he stated: "No other variation of the sexual instinct that borders on the pathological can lay so much claim to our interest as [fetishism], such is the peculiarity of the phenomena to which it gives rise."[14] The Freudian meaning of fetish encompasses the idea of when an object (e.g. a foot) stands in for the sexual "other". He argued that the fetish had two complementary functions. First, it serves as a "ritualized articulation of repression, a powerful...defense against the terror of castration complex (for males)." Second, it is a highly personalized object or practice serving as an "eroticized substitute for the true object of desire".[14] Freud's phallocentric fetish story has remained largely influential. However, Homi Bhabha points out the fact the Freud does not address race and skin in his theories of fetishism, elaborating racial fetishism as a version of racist stereotyping, which is woven into colonial discourse and based on multiple/contradictory and splitting beliefs, similar to the disavowal which Freud discusses. Bhabha defines colonial discourse as that which activates the simultaneous "recognition and disavowal of racial/cultural/historical differences" and whose goal is to define the colonized as 'other,' but also as fixed and knowable stereotypes. Racial fetishism involves contradictory belief systems where the 'other' is both demonized and idolized.[1] Anne McClintock criticizes Bhabha for not challenging the phallocentric version of fetishism.[2]

McClintock is interested in opening up the discourse of fetishism to stray away from the phallus and the scene of castration. One of her central arguments is that although race, class, and gender are all different and articulated categories of being, they always exist "in and through relation to each other," and therefore discussions of racial fetishism also always have to do with class and gender as well.[2] McClintock does

"not see racial fetishism as stemming from an overdetermined relation to the castration scene. Reducing racial fetishism to the phallic drama runs the risk of flattening out the hierarchies of social difference, thereby relegating race and class to secondary status along a primarily sexual signifying chain".[2]

Fetishism can take multiple forms and has branched off to incorporating different races. English naturalist and geologist, Charles Darwin, can offer some observations in regards to why some people might find other races more attractive than their own. Attraction can be viewed as a mechanism for choosing a healthy mate. People's minds have evolved to recognize aspects of other peoples' biology that makes them an appropriate or good mate. This area of theory is called optimal outbreeding hypothesis.[15] This hypothesis can be applied to why some people are sexually attracted to others who they believe to have the best genes in order for them to produce offspring who are likely to survive. The most common forms of racial fetishes are Asian women, Black men and women, and Latinos/as.


White womenEdit

Fetishism of Caucasian women in ChinaEdit

Following the globalization of China, the perception of Westerners changed drastically. As China opened up to the outside world, representations of Westerners shifted from enemies of China to individuals of great power, money and pleasure.[16] The Caucasian woman, according to Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian psychoanalytic philosopher and researcher at the University of Ljubljana, has become fetishized in modern Chinese society as a result of her perceived role in the globalized commodity culture.[17] In a study of Chinese advertisements from 1990 to 1995, marketed solely to the Chinese people, it was concluded that in China, Caucasian women are symbols of strength and sexuality. The body language expressed by Chinese models demonstrate subordination, defined by the covering of faces and the canting of heads. On the contrary, Chinese advertisements depict Caucasian women as powerful and uninhibited. They stare straight into the camera, do not cover their mouths while laughing, and hold their heads high.[16]

According to Rey Chow, cultural critic and professor at Duke University, the fetishism of Caucasian women in Chinese media does not have to do with sex; instead Chow describes it as a type of commodity fetishism. White women are seen as a representation of what China does not have: an image of a woman as something more than the heterosexual opposite to man.[18] On the contrary, Perry Johansson, author of the Postcolonial Studies Journal article, "Consuming the other: The fetish of the western woman in Chinese advertising and popular culture," argues that the racial fetish of Caucasian women in Chinese culture does have something to do with sex. Caucasian women represent a shift in the power dynamics between women and men. As a result, Caucasian women are a source of fear.[16] Geremie Barme, director of the Australian Centre on China in the World and professor of Chinese History at the Australian National University, studied the Chinese television series, A Beijing Man in New York. In the series, a Chinese protagonist loses his position and social status, falling to the bottom of the American social ladder. Eventually, he is able to work his way out of poverty and buy a night with a Caucasian, blonde prostitute. To Barme, to consume a Caucasian American represents revenge for Western imperialism and the growing power of China in the global market.[19]

Asian womenEdit

According to an article from the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the "Asian fetish" syndrome is born out of the male desire for dominance and the stereotype of Asian women as individuals open to domination.[20] For example, following the 1970s and a peak in the American feminist movement, many Caucasian men turned to mail-order bride companies in search of a loyal, understanding, and subservient partner. They saw women of their own race as too career-oriented and strong-willed. Asian women were the antithesis to their perception of Caucasian women.[20] While Caucasian women resisted powerlessness and subjugation to the Caucasian man, Asian women were seen as open to the subjugation, even depicted as enjoying it.[20]

In media, there have been a variety of examples of the fetishism of Asians. In the film, Charlie's Angels, Lucy Liu's character says, "At your service," before massaging a man's feet.[21] The song "Yellow Fever" by The Bloodhound Gang includes lyrics such as, "She's an oriental rug cause I lay her where I please," and "Then I blindfold her with dental floss and get down on her knees."[22] Both of these instances exemplify the stereotype of Asians as submissive. They are but objects to men.[23] Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls also portray Asian women as objects. Margaret Cho has labelled the Harajuku Girls as a "minstrel show" because they represent fetishized East Asian stereotypes.[24] The girls follow Stefani around on tour and are contractually obligated not to speak English in public.[25] The performer has even "renamed" them corresponding to her album title and clothing brand, L.A.M.B.: Love, Angel, Music, and Baby. This presents them as far more likened to Stefani's accessories rather than human beings who are her friends or collaborators.[25]

Furthermore, there have been many cases of Asian fetishism leading to criminal activity. In one case in 2000, two men, David Dailey and Edmund Ball abducted and blindfolded two Japanese girls in Washington, one who was eighteen and the other who was nineteen.[26] Ball specifically targeted these Asian students because he thought that they were submissive and were less likely to report sexual abuse.[27] In another case, in 2005, Michael Lohman, a doctoral student at Princeton University, was charged by the state of New Jersey for reckless endangerment, theft, harassment as well as tampering with a food product. Michael had cut locks of hair off at least nine Asian women. He also poured his semen and urine into the drinks of Asian Princeton students more than fifty times. In his apartment, Michael also had mittens filled with hairs of Asian women.[28] According to a Princeton student following the Lohman case, "It's the image of Asian American women being exotic and passive and won't fight back and speak up. Predators think they have free rein with Asian American women."[28]

Black women and menEdit

Black men and women alike are subject to fetishization.

After the Civil War, Black men were commonly falsely accused for the rape of White women compared to White men and sexual relationships between Black men and White women were frowned upon partly because these relationships threatened the White man's power.[29] The Black male body has been notably fetishized after the success of The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 silent film. Since then, the Black male body has been depicted as overly sexualized and animalistic with excessively large penises in a variety of pornography videos and magazines, for the purpose of isolation and demonization, as a threat to White social and economic power.[30] The implications of zeroing in on the Black male's penis are dehumanizing to the man as a whole and reducing his entire being to a mere body part.[30]

In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe had a photographic art show titled Black Males, showing photographs of exclusively naked black men. This work has been highly criticized for fetishizing the black male body, notably by Kobena Mercer in his aforementioned essay. Though it was not necessarily the artist's intention to portray these men as fetish objects, they have been perceived that way by many audiences, especially in relation to some of his other works concerning gay male BDSM practices. The latter works examine an actual subculture of sexuality that is enacted by the photographic subjects: the men in the photos are wearing/using their own gear and clothing, putting their fetish(es) on display.[12] However, in Mapplethorpe's photos of black men, the subjects are not doing anything but existing as nude bodies, they are hypersexualized by the camera, therefore they become the fetish objects.[3]

In popular media, cinema and porn, the Black male body commonly demonstrates hypermasculinity and hypersexuality through large, muscular bodies. In Alex Proyas's film, I, Robot, the viewer's gaze is directed towards Will Smith's body as he lifts weights and showers with strategic lighting and camera angles that emphasize the shapeliness and beauty of his body. In addition, Smith holds, or is surrounded by objects, of a phallic resemblance, such as a gun, suggesting his sexual prowess.[31]

The fetishization of black women expanded during the Colonial Era, as white men sexually terrorized their black, female slaves. They justified their actions by labeling the women as hypersexual delinquents. These labels solidified into what is commonly referred to as the "Jezebel" stereotype.[32] Since then, this stereotype has found its way into hip hop culture and music videos; scantily clad, bodacious Black women commonly in the background of music videos, suggesting promiscuity.

Charmaine Nelson discusses the way black females are presented in paintings, with an emphasis on nude paintings. Nelson argues that every nude painting feeds into the voyeuristic male gaze, but the way black women are painted has even more undertones."The black female body defies the white male subject's desire for a single subject of 'pure' origin in two ways: firstly, through a sexual 'otherness' as woman, and secondly through a racial and colour 'otherness' as black. It is the combined power of these two markers of social location which has enabled western artists to represent black women at the margins of societal boundaries of propriety."  The black woman is considered a fetish in these paintings and it is only viewed in a sexual lens.[3]

Popular white artists such as Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha have been critiqued for fetishizing black hip hop culture through their performances. They have been criticized for their appropriation of black culture with their costuming choices as well as the words they sing and the way they dance.[33] Dagmar Pegues discusses another notable instance of black cultural appropriation that led to the fetishization of the black female body is of Kate Chopin's portrayal of the tragic mulatta stereotype in her stories, especially The Awakening.[34] Kate Chopin is critiqued for appropriating black culture and over-sexualizing the characters, further adding to the racial fetishization of black women.

One of the more recent popular discourses around the fetishization of Black women surrounds the release of Nicki Minaj's popular song, "Anaconda" in 2014. The entire song and music video revolves around the largeness of black women's bottoms. While some praise Minaj's work for its embrace of female sexuality, many believe that this song continues to reduce Black women to be the focus of the male gaze.[35]

Latinos and LatinasEdit

Latino men are often portrayed in porn and other forms of visual media as exotic, hot-blooded, and passionate lovers who have an insatiable sexual appetite due to their primal desires. A very common role of Chicano/ Latino men is the macho man who originates from an urban area and has street-smarts but nothing else to offer. This role combined with the ideas that Chicano/Latino men are primal and exotic creates a tourist attraction for those who are not a member of the race. This misguided perception is viewed and taken in, only to be forgotten and cast aside after it has served its purpose.This practice only reduces the sexuality of Chicano/Latino men to the shock value of their class and existence as an other. Through looking at the sexuality of someone who does not fit into the majority as other, it causes their sexuality to be viewed as unbridled sexuality, leading to the fetishism of their bodies and culture.[36]

Latina women also face racial fetishism much more than their male counterparts. They are seen as something that is tropical. Through media they are portrayed to always be in bright colors, having long brown hair, red lips, curvaceous figure, and revealing clothing. Unlike Latino/Chicano men, Latina/Chicana women have specific aspects of their bodies that are hypersexualized and they are their hips, butts, and breasts. All of which symbolize fertility and sexual desire, but also symbolize the disposal of waste and which brings up the idea that they can contaminate a race.  A perfect example of how Latina women are depicted is Jennifer Lopez. When she is on a magazine cover or in a photo shoot, her butt is what is emphasized in the picture. Her butt is seemingly abnormal, because it exceeds the standards for a "normal" white butt. This hyper-buttocks places Jennifer Lopez in the category of the other. It is interesting though, because the fact that Latina/Chicanas are in the category of the other, it makes them more desirable. They are perceived as an exotic race that is hypersexual. This tradition excludes Latina/Chicanas from being a part of the norm and they are forever to be viewed as foreigners and a threat to "true" American culture.[37]

Another example of a Hispanic woman who is often racially fetishized for fulfilling "exotic" and stereotypical roles is Sofia Vergara's character in the show: Modern Family. In this show, Sofia Vergara plays a sexy, but ditzy Colombian woman who married a rich, white man who could be old enough to be her father. There has been discourse around Vergara's controversial role in the show as it perpetuates the idea that Latina women are often fiery and passionate, which are traits that are often sexualized and thus fetishized. This portrayal of Hispanic women in the show Modern Family became especially problematic in the episode "Fulgencio", in which the Latina characters are depicted as dramatic and uninformed as one Hispanic character asks where the nearest river is so that she may wash her clothes, making her seem uneducated just because she came from a developing country.[38] Therefore, the main positive portrayals of Latina characters in this show, and popular media, being their sexy personalities is problematic as it leads to racial fetishization, and not having an adequate,or accurate understanding of the actual culture.

According to work of George Gerbner, through extended exposure to the very consistent and persistent ideas expressed on television, people tend to view what is being broadcast as a reality with no regard for it veracity. Supposedly the more television someone watches, the more likely they are to see the world in the same lens as the televised world. This means that any ideals in regards to certain races, can influence the way people perceive said races. The way that Latino/a men and women have been portrayed in the media has created a racial fetish on their bodies and culture.[39]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Bhabha, Homi K. (June 1983). "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourses of Colonialism". Screen. 24 (6): 18–36. doi:10.1093/screen/24.6.18. 
  2. ^ a b c d McClintock, Anne (1995). Imperial Leather: Race Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge. 
  3. ^ a b c Mercer, Kobena (1993). "Reading Racial Fetishism: the Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe". In Apter, Emily and Pietz William. Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP. 
  4. ^ Alolika. "Playboy Petrarch: Racial Fetishism and K-pop". SeoulBeats. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  5. ^ King, Ritchie. "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "'Yellow fever' fetish: Why do so many white men want to date a Chinese woman?". 
  7. ^ Cherian, Anne (8 June 2009). "A Good Indian Wife: A Novel". W. W. Norton & Company – via Google Books. 
  8. ^ "Why are western men marrying Asian women?". 
  9. ^ Pietz, William (Spring 1987). "The Problem of the Fetish, II: The Origin of the Fetish". RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. 13: 23–45. JSTOR 20166762. 
  10. ^ "Definition of FETISHISM". Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
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  12. ^ Imhoff, R; Banse, R; Schmidt, A. F. (2017). "Toward a Theoretical Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Sexual Motivation". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 46 (1): 29–33. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0881-5. PMID 27787637. 
  13. ^ Hughey, Matthew W (February 15, 2017). "Making Everyday Microaggressions: An Exploratory Experimental Vignette Study on the Presence and Power of Racial Microaggressions". Sociological Inquiry. 87 (2): 303. doi:10.1111/soin.12167. 
  14. ^ a b c "EBSCOhost Login". Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
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  16. ^ a b c Johansson, Perry (1999-11-01). "Consuming the other: The fetish of the western woman in Chinese advertising and popular culture". Postcolonial Studies. 2 (3): 377–388. doi:10.1080/13688799989661. ISSN 1368-8790. 
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  21. ^ Charlie's Angels. Dir. Joseph McGinty Nichol. 2000. Film.
  22. ^ Yellow Fever. Bloodhound Gang. 1996. Song.
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  25. ^ a b Ahn, Mihi. "Gwenihana". Salon. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  26. ^ GERANIOS, NICHOLAS K. (2000-12-31). "Abduction and Rape of 2 Japanese Students Outrages Spokane". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  27. ^ "Local News | Rapists bet on victims' silence - and lose | Seattle Times Newspaper". Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  28. ^ a b "For Asian women, 'fetish' is less than benign". Retrieved 2017-04-23. 
  29. ^ Hodes, Martha. White women, black men. Yale University Press, 2014.
  30. ^ a b DINES, GAIL (1998-06-01). "King Kong and the White Woman: Hustler Magazine and the Demonization of Black Masculinity". Violence Against Women. 4 (3): 291–307. doi:10.1177/1077801298004003003. ISSN 1077-8012. 
  31. ^ Gilligan, Sarah (2012-06-01). "Fragmenting the Black Male Body: Will Smith, Masculinity, Clothing, and Desire". Fashion Theory. 16 (2): 171–192. doi:10.2752/175174112X13274987924050. ISSN 1362-704X. 
  32. ^ Carolyn M West. "Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and their homegirls: Developing an "oppositional gaze" toward the images of Black women" 4thNew YorkLectures on the psychology of women (2008) p. 286 - 299 
  33. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-04-24.  External link in |title= (help)
  34. ^ Pegues, Dagmar (2011-03-16). "Fear and Desire: Regional Aesthetics and Colonial Desire in Kate Chopin's Portrayals of the Tragic Mulatta Stereotype". The Southern Literary Journal. 43 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1353/slj.2010.0000. ISSN 2474-8102. 
  35. ^ Lhooq, Michelle (2014-08-23). "Shocked and outraged by Nicki Minaj's Anaconda video? Perhaps you should butt out". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  36. ^ "Hot and spicy by Christopher Ortiz". Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  37. ^ Guzmán, Isabel Molina, and Angharad N. Valdivia "Brain, brow, and booty: Latina iconicity in US popular culture." The communication review 7.2 (2004): 205-221.
  38. ^ Moreno, Carolina (2013-01-28). "'Modern Family' Latino Stereotypes: 'Fulgencio' Episode Criticized For Perpetuating 'Ignorant' Portrayal Of Latinos (VIDEO)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-24. 
  39. ^ Mastro, Dana; Behm-Morawitz, Elizabeth; Ortiz, Michelle (2007). "The Cultivation of Social Perceptions of Latinos: A Mental Models Approach". Media Psychology. 9 (2): 347–365. doi:10.1080/15213260701286106.