Last week, I was interviewed on triple j radio for the program, The Hook Up. The show explored listeners’ experiences of sexual fetishisation and prejudice in relationships, as well as what it’s like being partned with people from minority backgrounds. A few minority-background callers described feeling reduced to only one facet of their identity due to sexual racism. An Indigenous woman talked about the explicit and implict racism she faces as someone perceived not to look and act like a “typical” Aboriginal woman (despite the diversity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people). A woman of Indian background felt no strong cultural connection to India but was often placed in the position of being tokenised because of her heritage.
The discussion featured the talented Zambian-Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker Santilla Chingapie. She reflected on her SBS documentary Date My Race, where she shared her personal experiences being discriminated against as a Black Australian woman on dating apps. White Australian counsellor Sue Pratt talked about the challenging patterns that interracial couples experience as they attempt to work through cultural differences, as well as strategies to manage intercultural respect in relationships. Andy Trieu, Australian-Vietnamese co-host of the SBS TV show, Pop Asia, discussed how the only women who respond to him on dating apps are from similar Asian backgrounds. He expressed a curiosity about dating White women and why they may not be interested in him as an Asian man. Shantan Wantan Ichiban discussed the racist implications of the question “Where are you from?,” which is often used as opening line in bars and other pickup situations.
I discussed how people often try to frame sexual fetishes as a positive compliment, but that this is misguided. Racial fetishes are the twin side of the same coin of racism; on the one side are stereotypes that emphasise exotic otherness and on the other side are those same people who must navigate multiple experiences of being discriminated against as they go about their daily lives. I note that one thing we can collectively do to start tackling sexual racism is to start having broader conversations about race and racism in Australia. Most of the people who have racial fetishes and those who exclude being open to dating particular groups have never had to think about their race. There are many resources available, including on social media, that are produced by minority groups, that help us all to better understand other cultures without fetishising differences and which break down negative biases.
Listen to the discussion below on Triple J.