So … what’s your type?
Admit it: You probably have one; most of us do. No harm there. We like what we like, right?
Now that we’ve broken the ice, do you have a fetish?
Too personal? Well, how about this: Six months ago I decided to stop side-eyeing my singlehood (read: my painfully clichéd status as a smart, sexy and successful, yet single, black woman) and actively explore my options … online. Since I also happen to be a glutton for punishment, I dove straight into the deep end—otherwise known as (cue: Law & Order sound effect) Tinder.
If you’re unfamiliar (lucky you), Tinder is a handy little app that streamlines the search for true love. It’s now only a swipe away! (OK, it’s a little less romantic than that, but it sure is efficient!)
As a member of what is purportedly the least-pursued demographic online (smart, sexy and successful, yet single, black women), I was understandably leery about what—and whom—I’d encounter on an app best known for “hookups.” But in the interest of adventure, I braced myself for potential encounters with predators, grade-A creepers and flat-out racists.
I wasn’t prepared for the fetishists.
Online daters often wear their preferences on their sleeves. While this helped me easily weed out the riffraff, it quickly revealed that there’s a fine line between a “type” and a fetish.
(Note: There are myriad fetishes. But for our purposes, let’s focus on racial fetishism—loosely defined as having an unnatural preoccupation or obsession with cultural and/or physical characteristics of a race other than one’s own.)
Full disclosure: I became an equal-opportunity dater in high school. Since black boys in suburban Minneapolis seemed primarily interested in blondes and Asians, I, too, became an early adopter of “the swirl.” But my experiences dating “across the aisle” were no preparation for the highly racialized world of online dating.
There were, of course, obvious offenders: the white guy whose profile pic was a “Black Girls Only” meme, the black guy whose profile declared, “NO Black girls,” and the ever-classy “I’ve always wanted to date a [insert race here] girl … ”
Thanks for sharing, guys. Good luck with that.
But in my experience, fetishists often use a more nuanced approach. If you miss the cues, you might get charmed into your own objectification. Here are a few I’ve encountered:
1. The Celebrity “Double”
“You’re really hot. You remind me of … [insert random celeb I bear little or no resemblance to—outside of race—here]”
Clearly, this is meant to be complimentary, but it’s suspect. First, it implies a very limited scope of “acceptable” black beauty. Basically, it’s the romantic equivalent of the “paper bag” test.
Second, if the scope of beauty is that specific, it begs a question of exposure: Exactly how many black people has this person encountered—let alone found attractive?
Third, it screams: Exoticism! Enough said.
2. The Same-Girl Game
They’re open about having a type (fair enough), but a roundup of their exes resembles a lookalike contest—on paper and off.
Case in point: a dude who, upon learning of my modeling career, casually prattled off the names of several other models he’d dated.
Fun fact: Not only were we all the same physical type, but we also worked with the same agency. Apparently he liked one-stop shopping—and his women interchangeable?
Way to take a “type” to the extreme … right into fetishism.
3. The Bonding Fail
It’s that awkward moment when an attempt at bonding becomes fetishistic, usually through unsolicited but enthusiastic declarations of interest in “urban culture”—which, of course, I share because I’m … “urban”?
“Don’t you love that new Kanye?”
Umm … no. But of course I’m up on the latest hip hop/R&B/reggae/trap music/line dance/episode of Love & Hip Hop: Whatever: I’m black!
Nothing more to say here, except they mean well.
4. The First-Timer
“You know, I’ve never been attracted to black men/women before, but … ”
Well, please don’t make an exception on my account, because I’m not attracted to anyone who has previously disqualified an entire race from consideration.
In an atmosphere that’s often overwhelmingly white (*cough* online dating), making me a concession isn’t complimentary. So, no, your interest does not make me feel special. And no, I’m not interested in confirming or dispelling myths about “my people.”
Please. Take your race-curious ass on somewhere.
5. The “Down-for-the-Cause” Fetish
This last one is delicate, because as much as I love and appreciate white—or any color—allies, submitting an activist résumé is not required for this particular position. It’s dating, dude.
“You marched with BLM—and your parents were Freedom Riders? Great. Oh, you minored in African-American studies? Cool! You’re rereading Between the World and Me? Awesome!”
We just met, and already I’m exhausted, because the idea of becoming an accessory in someone else’s activism sounds like a full-time job: fetish enabler.
Want to be down for the cause? Treat me like a human being entitled to the same rights and protections as anyone else.
Fetishism is real, y’all … and especially rampant online. If you’re into being objectified, great; do you—and them. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and recognize it before you swipe right.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.