Is My White Boyfriend Fetishizing Me?

Race Manners: People will put society's baggage on interracial relationships. You should just deal with your own.

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People whose pairings don't stand out to anyone are never asked to search the deepest depths of their psyche to analyze what's behind their attraction. But mix up race or age or some other major demographic factor, and you can go ahead and cue the chorus of "But why!?” and then the chorus of armchair psychologists' explanations.

But if I understand your question correctly, you aren't the one who's troubled here, or who's asking "Why?" You've said nothing about any specific actions that have raised red flags for your friends. You also didn't mention anything that suggests you believe you're being mistreated or less than fully valued.

So maybe this concern can begin and end with your friends. I think it's safe to say that the whole point of relationships is to add happiness and meaning to your life, and that you'd be doing yourself a disservice by letting your enjoyment suffer because outsiders don't share it.

And just for the sake of argument, let's say that your boyfriend came out and admitted that he was obsessed with the aspects of your appearance most closely associated with race, because of their association with your race. Or, hell, that he just really, really had a thing for black women and always had.

Even then, I'm not sure where we would draw the line to label that problematic in terms of your individual interactions. I can't figure out how we'd justify making it more of an issue than the many strong preferences that people have among and between races -- some of them hallmarks of particular groups. It's really hard -- maybe impossible -- to pinpoint when this becomes pathological, for whom and why.

Kat Chow of NPR's Code Switch captured this tension in her essay on Seeking Asian Female, a documentary directed by Debbie Lum that examines the phenomenon that some call "yellow fever" (when usually non-Asian men fetishize Asian women as romantic or sexual partners). It starred a man named Steven, whom she called "an earnest, bespectacled, white American man with an unsettling penchant for Asian females," and Sandy, the Asian woman he married. She wrote:

I came to this film thinking of Steven as "an Asian fetishist" and of Sandy as "an opportunist." Having spent a little while getting to know them through Lum's lens, I saw their nuances. Parts of their relationship -- their fights, their daily interactions, their worries -- became incredibly human, completely relatable to an outsider.


Chow ultimately concluded:

This narrative still doesn't sit well with me. The way Steven thought about Asian women -- stripping them of their individuality, layering on preconceived ideals, replacing people with types -- was challenged when he met Sandy, a real person with layers of her own. They might make the relationship work, yes, and I might even want them to. But in that case, their road to happiness feels marred with potholes that still need to be examined and considered.