Real Talk Space: Addressing Fetishization and Racism in Interracial Relationships

It is no secret that intimate relationships are challenging. Between emotional support, healthy sexuality, and miscellaneous compromises, a relationship with someone is both work and reward.

 In an interracial or intercultural relationship, there lies the responsibility of understanding a partner’s point of view while checking your own biases; you may be outraged at negative experiences if you are dating someone of a different race or ethnicity than you. Your family may become rigid, worried, or even express damaging attitudes and beliefs about the person of color that you love. These things hurt, but what about you? Are you aware of the racial and ethnic bias buried deep within you?  

Being a Black woman who has experienced interracial relationship racism and fetishization in intimate spaces has been one of the reasons for my commitment to advocacy for all women of color. The pain of realizing that a partner had only held an interest in me because of an aspect of my identity, linked to a stereotype, caused a lot of conflict and pain; I didn’t realize that I was subject to fetishization.

 Fetishization is the act of making a person an object of affection based on an aspect of their identity.  For example, in the media, Black women are fetishized for our curvaceous forms which indicate to some that we are made only for sex and breeding. 

However, Black women are not a monolith. Our body types differ, we do not all feel the same way about having children, marriage, our sexual identity, or our life path. There is diversity within my culture that is all too often ignored. When intimate partners have expected me to be what society has exiled me to be, there has been a disconnect between a partner’s fantasy and reality. 

In that space between is room for intimate partner violence almost as if it is an inevitability of disappointment, a by-product of my former partner’s expectation. This is a form of racism so insidious that we all participate in it believing it is harmless.

 Instead of saying, “I am looking for a relationship that is fulfilling,” we say things like “No, they are not my type,” “I love Black boys who are athletes,” or “I only date Latinx people” or “I love how sexy Asian women are.” This may seem harmless at first, but the consequences can be grave. 

On March 17, news broke about a man, aged 21, who went on a killing rampage that targeted Asian massage parlors. Since the COVID-19 crisis, there have been increases of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate crimes because ground zero of the pandemic was traced to Wuhan, China. 

The assailant who took eight lives had something else on his mind, however. It was revealed in a press conference that the assailant killed eight people and was traveling to Florida to kill more people due to a sex addiction

The police spokesperson said, “he was having a bad day,” struggling with his addiction and decided to target massage parlors. 

This man was indiscriminate in who he killed, both men and women were shot, but he discriminated against Asian people based on a stereotype that dehumanized them, making it possible for them to be discarded. The saddest aspect of this is that this person’s attitude toward sex and sexuality coupled with the larger social positionality that hypersexualizes the Asian population is a myth that still didn’t cure him. It only continued to feed mass messaging about how we view people of color as receptacles of shame, pain, aggression and sorrow. This has to stop. 

There are many warning signs when a person of color is in a relationship that the first flush of romance can easily conceal, but the problem of racism and fetishization in intimate relationships will only grow in depth, breadth, and pressure until something breaks inside of either party. In order to celebrate the beauty of various cultures, we must be able to respect ourselves enough to admit our biases, safely explore their meaning, and then keep them in check as we develop intimate relationships with people from different cultures and backgrounds.  

As such, I am offering students on campus, regardless of sexual or gender identity, to participate in this essential conversation about fetishization and racism in intimate partner relationships. The meeting will be held April 19, 2021 at 2:00PM. I am honored to facilitate a discussion that is so important for the growth of our society as a whole.  Please register in advance for this meeting here: look forward to hearing, seeing, and honoring you, in whatever capacity you show up. 

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