Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Olu, and I am an African-American first-year student. I am also an intersectional feminist. I chose to start this column because the perspectives of black feminists are often neglected in mainstream dialogue, and I want to help contribute a dimension of diversity to the discussion of feminist issues. However, within my goals, I acknowledge that I can provide only one perspective of black feminism. It is not a monolith. There is no singular voice that can represent all black women. My views are shaped by my individual experiences, struggles, and privileges, and when I speak I am speaking for and from myself.
On that note, I’d like this column to be submission based. Email any questions you have for me to email@example.com, and each month I will choose a few to answer. Ask me about anything: pop culture, current events, racist holidays, opinions on an unsavory individual– anything you would like a perspective on that you may not fully understand.
And now, for my first topic, chosen from a recent personal experience.The Misadventures of Timothy Tinder
At the enthusiastic urging of some friends in Annenberg, I recently downloaded the dating app Tinder™. For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with Tinder™, basically, you create a profile with pictures and a brief description of yourself, then you swipe right (for “like!”) or left (for “nope!”) on a series of profiles–filtered by a specified gender–of people in your immediate area. If two people swipe right on each other, then they “match” and can message each other, and entertainment ensues. About a week ago, I matched with a white boy that we can call “Timothy.*” This is the conversation between Timothy and me that followed:
I rolled my eyes and promptly “unmatched” with Timothy, then went on with my day. Upon showing the screenshot of our exchange to the friend who suggested I download the app (a fellow woman of color) she said, “Oh yeah, I get a message like that almost everyday!”
Now this incident is problematic for many reasons. This is only one personal instance of the exotification of individuals of color that happens on a much larger scale. Exotification means objectifying someone’s racial or ethnic identity, treating that identity–and that identity alone–as what defines them or makes them desirable. “I like you because you’re black, not because you’re smart or funny or a really cool person.” Examples of exotification include these commonly heard phrases:
- “I love [insert racial or ethnic group here] because they always [insert stereotype about said racial or ethnic group]!”
- “[race/ethnicity] girls are so submissive/loud/angry/sexy/dominant/etc!”
- “Your skin is so beautiful, it’s like [insert dessert/Starbucks drink/spice here].”
Passing over my Ghiradelli-chocolate-mocha-latte-brown-sugar skin, exotification constitutes just one form of “othering” of women of color that indicates a larger, culturally-perpetuated racism, yet many perpetrators remain unaware of the nature of their actions. Like I said to Timothy, “I am a human being, not an experience.” I am not some box to check off on a “What Kind of Girls I Want to Date/Sleep With” bucket list. Treating me as such objectifies me, as it identifies being with someone of another race or ethnic group as some extraordinary exception. 1. That is not attractive, and 2. It’s straight-up offensive.
But for some reason, many men think this is something women of color want to hear. Applying a stereotypical expectation of my behavior or sexualizing me due to my race is not flattering. A huge part of this problem comes from media portrayals of women of color, where we are presented as some “exotic” alternative to the “norm,” namely white skin and European standards of beauty. I do not want to be presented as the “other” or represent a departure from someone’s normal relations. To those of you who treat women like postcards to collect from all the foreign places you’ve visited, consider this: stop. Maybe once you stop offending all the women you meet, you won’t even need Tinder anymore.
That’s it for this month– keep sending me questions, and I’ll choose a few to answer in next month’s column!
A Black FeministOlu will be facilitating and co-coordinating a Sex Week event on exotification on Thursday, November 6th from 6-8 in Ticknor Lounge.
*Name changed for privacy and slight ethical reasons