Yellow Fever. Jungle Fever. No, University Health Services has not begun a prevention campaign against a new illness, but these ailments are spreading quickly and are highly contagious. I am talking about racial fetishes. The terms “yellow fever”, “jungle fever” and other equivalent terms are used to describe an attraction to a particular race. In a society attempting to rectify mistakes of the past we must work to eliminate the use of these terms because at their core they are discriminatory. Consider the term “yellow fever”. If I heard this without any context of the conversation I would assume someone contracted something vile and repulsive. That is exactly what fetishes do. It takes a person that can be viewed in a beautiful way and in turn objectifies and diminishes the value of the people that are being fetishized. Discrimination removes the individual and replaces it with a standardized version of who someone should be according to generalizations. Having a racial fetish is the same thing as discriminating.
In my own experience I see many black women have the notion that we are only attractive to those that have a special attraction specifically towards black girls. In my friend group I hear the term that someone has joined the “team” in reference to those who have begun to date black girls. But dating a black girl is not about joining a “team”, it’s about having a relationship with an individual. It begs the questions: what “team” is this person joining and what “team” were they on before? The connotation of a “fever” is that of someone deviating from a norm and my observations have led me to believe that many people see an attraction to someone outside of your race or to someone that is not Caucasian as a deviation from their expected norm. But this normative thinking that people apply to attraction is both regressive and limiting, especially given the current diversity of our country.
The worst part of racial fetishization is that people expect others to perceive it as a compliment. People will come to me and spout overarching generalizations like “But black girls have such great butts” or “Asian girls make great girlfriends because they’re so quiet and cute” (a misogynistic phrase as well). They expect me to accept these as positives, as if being sexualized and considered attractive for whatever reason is means for celebration. This relates to the issue in which many people believe that being considered attractive is of the highest value in society, but it also places a unique strain on those that belong to the race being fetishized. People don’t understand that they are simply placing people into boxes. What about black girls with flat butts or Asian girls that are not so demure? In some sense, they might feel like abnormalities, aliens to themselves because they are not what other people expect them to be.
One might presume that terms of racial fetishzation are only conferred on female minorities, but racial fetishization is not restricted based on race and gender. Some people who belong to minority groups fetishize white people because they believe they can offer them social ascension and are easier to deal with than people in their own race. Male fetishes include notions like black men being well endowed. In general, racial fetishization is not an issue with identifiable culprits and victims, but simply something in our society that needs to be addressed and corrected. We cannot expect to progress racial perceptions unless we educate others about how the allocation of names for racial attractions is regressive and discriminating. It’s time to find a vaccination for these fevers.