Stepping out of Mainstream White Culture and “Experiencing the Other”
White people view people of color’s cultures as exotic, and appropriate POC’s cultures to spice up their lives
The lifestyles or the appearances of white people have been labeled in this society as boring or bland; however, the racial differentiation among people of color and white people reinforces the notion that whiteness is the norm. Any person or group that falls outside whiteness is perceived as sensual, exotic, or labeled as the “Other.” In Bell Hooks’ “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” she compares the “Other” as seasoning, and that white people appropriate other cultures to enhance their so-called plain lives.
“Cultural, ethic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate- that the Other will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten” (pg 39). -Bell Hooks
White people believe that experiencing the Other develops a connection to other races, and that through these experiences, they’re working towards diminishing a white supremacist culture. However, experiencing the Other doesn’t hinder the dominance of white culture at all. Being in touch with people of color is experienced as a fantasy, or part of fulfilling a sensual desire. Hooks states, “within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice” (pg 21), which alludes to whiteness finding pleasure through other cultures because it adds “flavor” to their lifestyles. While whiteness is associated with vanilla (vanilla is viewed as bland or plain), other ethnicities are labeled as other spices or different flavors. When white people complain about being bland, “it is like they are complaining that they are the racial majority and that their culture is the standard.” Therefore, other cultures compliment whiteness, and white dominance is still preserved because it’s still perceived as the norm.
“If it ain’t foreign, it’s borin:” POC are not exotic
A prevalent example of how white people seek the Other as an experience is through sexual desires with people of other races. They believe that having sex with people of color will be more exciting and intense, and that these sexual encounters will add “flavor” to their so-called bland lives. Hooks mentions a time where she overheard white male students from Yale talk about how many girls from other ethnic groups that they could fuck before they graduate (pg 23). People create stereotypes for different groups of people; that black women, asian women, indian women, and native american women all possess this identity of Otherness and exoticism. In addition, it’s perceived that fucking women of different races is not normal because it’s supposed to lead to some sort of “out of this world experience.” Labeling people as exotic contributes to racism because it sets the idea that there is a “normal” standard of beauty. As said by rappers Sir Michael Rocks and Kodak Black, “If it ain’t foreign, it’s borin,’” implying that people of different cultures offer “something new,” and that they are placed outside of what is considered normal. As a Filipino woman, I have been told numerous times that I look exotic, and I’ve also been told: “You’re pretty for an Asian girl” or “You’re pretty because your eyes aren’t that chinky.” Okay…What’s that supposed to mean?!?!
In addition, the idea that having sex with women of certain races are all distinct experiences from each other enhances the white normative. There is a certain normative of beauty, and that if a feature isn’t similar to a white woman’s, then it was considered exotic. According to Rachel Kuo, although women of color don’t experience racialized sexism in the same ways, “[their] bodies are still under scrutiny.” The Other continues to be dehumanized and having sexual relations with them are exploited as trophies or something that they can just cross off the bucket list.
Throughout history, the interracial relations between white people and people of color were shamed and unlikely. White men historically fucked women of color or harassed black women’s bodies to feed their dominance. However, white men today don’t see themselves as that; they view themselves as non-racists because they openly discuss their desires to have sex with people of color. “They see their willingness to openly name their desire for the Other as affirmation of cultural plurality” (pg 24). Although they may feel like they’re not perpetuating racism, they still place people of color in a separate category; that being part of POC is out of the norm. White men believe they’ll experience a pleasure that differs from if they were to stay within their own racial group. They intend in making the exploration of the Other as a life-changing experience, which only marginalizes them more by enforcing their differences. Condoning the fetishization of the Other to fulfill personal sexual desires enforces the “status quo that makes identity fixed” (pg 22).
Exoticism and cultural appropriation
Experiencing the Other and enforcing exoticism are the catalysts of cultural appropriation. White culture attempt to season their culture by appropriating from other cultures; however, this is problematic because it simplifies the cultural practices and appearances of Others. In addition, white’s appropriation highlights their dominance by their intentions of wanting to be exotic or unique. The problem of a white person appropriating black culture, asian culture, etc. is that these groups are constantly oppressed and shamed for their appearances and customs, yet white people will have sex with them or try to adopt their hair, their tans, their bodies, and their style to make themselves feel exotic. People of color already feel like they don’t fit the standard of beauty, so the fact that white people can just take their hair, their clothes, and their styles without acknowledging the oppression that they face reinforces their superiority.
Black women get labeled as “ghetto” or “ratchet” for their hairstyles and their clothes, yet white people are copying their appearances and making their look a “trend.” While white people are getting praised and are labeled as “trendy” for appropriating other cultures, marginalized groups of POC feel as though that their tropes, symbols, styles, and bodies are just spices to add flavor to the normal white life. If white people continue to appropriate their cultures and adopt their customs as their own, the Other will be continually commodified and eventually forgotten.