In an interview with Stylist, journalist and author of Mixed/Other Natalie Morris breaks down exactly why racial fetishisation is damaging for mixed people.
In her debut book, Mixed/Other, Natalie Morris details what it means to be mixed in today’s Britain. Consisting of thorough research, interviews with over 50 mixed people and her own experiences, Morris shines a light on the reality of being mixed in the UK today.
One particular area of interest is racial fetishisation and she discussed all of its problematic details in an interview with Stylist.
In a nutshell, for those who may be unaware, what is racial fetishisation?
Natalie Morris: It is a real, documented strand of racism and can be experienced in different ways. Simply put, it’s the phenomenon of being sexualised specifically because of your racial features and how you’re perceived in terms of your race. That can be your skin colour, hair texture or body shape, but also can be related to archaic stereotypes about a certain racial group. For example, Black women being presumed to be more sexually adventurous or promiscuous. Or South Asian women being presumed to be more subservient in the bedroom. These are the kind of things that people hold on to and project onto people of colour.
Fetishisation and sexual racism are specific areas where it’s very easy to hide your racism and paint it as a preference or a type, when actually it’s something much more problematic. Saying you like Black, mixed or Asian women is not the same as saying you like tall or blonde women.
NM: Because your race is a protected characteristic. It’s the characteristic that can put you at risk of discrimination and makes you a minority. There’s a power dynamic at play when you’re a white person saying that your type is a non-white person, someone who automatically has less power than you do because of white supremacy.
What kind of fetishising language has been used towards you?
NM: It’s usually edible terms like caramel, honey, chocolate. Also, ‘exotic’ and ‘Amazonian’ I get a lot because I’m tall. It’s dehumanising and grim on many levels.
You detail how racial fetishisation should never be viewed as a compliment – why?
NM: Being racially fetishised is stripping away who you are, taking your personality out of the equation and telling you that you’re attractive or desirable because of something that is completely out of your control: something that’s just inherent. And that’s not a compliment; it’s not a positive thing.
We don’t often hear of the lasting impacts of fetishisation. What do you think those can be?
NM: It really does a number on your self-esteem and your self-worth. It makes you question compliments and not trust what people say because many of these ‘compliments’ are so deeply weighted with problematic energy and stereotypes. You don’t have to dig very far into them to see that they often come from the place of a fetish.
As you’re in a relationship, you write about your sister’s online dating experiences. How has constant fetishisation impacted her behaviour on these platforms?
NM: She’s incredibly defensive now as she’s often on edge waiting for these men to say something that’s going to reveal what they’re really thinking. They’ll casually mention that the last three girls they’ve dated have all looked like her. You have to ask yourself: what is this actually about then? Do you like me, or do you like this collection of racialised features that you’ve decided I am?
Some of the things she tells me, as recently as last week, are just so brazen and that’s what shocks me. Guys exoticise her and say that they’ve never been with a ‘woman like her’. They make presumptions about the kind of sexual encounter they may have or what her body might look like because she has Black heritage. It’s incredibly demoralising and makes her feel despondent about dating.
In Mixed/Other, you mention the unrelenting questions you and your boyfriend get regarding the appearance of any future children. How does it make you feel?
NM: It’s super creepy. Guessing what my future child will look like feels like this weird voyeuristic spectacle. It feels like people are saying, “Your kids are going to be beautiful because they’re not going to be too Black (my boyfriend’s white) and they might have green eyes; how amazing would that be? It’d make them even more beautiful!”
Why is that so interesting? It makes me nervous because it shows you how much importance is placed on the features you end up with as a mixed person. If the child doesn’t look like what they’re wishing, are they going to be less worthy in their eyes?
You write that racial fetishisation, as a mixed person, “all comes down to proximity to whiteness”. Do you think that’s the main problematic factor?
NM: 100%. Very often in these conversations, we’re talking about people mixed with white. People are often praising the dilution of your minority heritage and elements of exoticism, as they see it, without being ‘too far’ that way, where they feel uncomfortable or threatened. And also, you’re not too far away from what they recognise. It’s that palatability that, a lot of the time, people are pedestaling and praising.
We have to be very careful about celebrating mixedness as a concept because there are all these theories about mixed people being some kind of golden generation, that we’re going to save the world and stop racism. All of that is also wrapped up in fetishisation, because even on a smaller scale, people celebrating how beautiful you are because you’re mixed or how beautiful they think your kids are going to be is so unsettling. For me, that very much feels like they’re saying, “You’re beautiful because you’re not too Black.”
It’s always this sliding scale of white supremacy, with whiteness at the top and everybody else underneath. When you have white heritage, you’re not at the bottom of that scale. There are going to be privileges that you’re feeling and that can make it quite alluring to lean into and want to be part of that celebration. Really, it just bolsters that hierarchy and you can’t talk about fetishisation, in terms of mixedness, without talking about colourism.
Do you think in order to understand fetishisation, it’s imperative to understand colourism as well?
NM: I think so, yes. When I mention this proximity to whiteness, I’m also talking about the privileges that come with lighter skin and more Eurocentric features, looser hair texture; that stuff that’s positioning you as a more palatable version of a non-white person. A Black woman, in my case, for example. Colourism is at the very heart of that.
The constant sliding scale means Black women are often at the very bottom. For mixed people, you’re somewhere in the middle navigating all of that weirdness. It’s important to talk about the weirdness without ever losing sight that there are Black women and monoracial minority women and men who have it much worse.
Mixed/Other by Natalie Morris, £16.99, is published by Orion Books is available to buy in hardback now.
Images: Getty/Orion Books/Natalie Morris