The other day I was working at my coffeeshop and this white hippie woman comes in. She had two short braids and a number of necklaces adorning her neck and chest. She orders a double espresso over ice and as I take her money she says, “You are very beautiful.” I smile and thank her for the compliment but she wasn’t done. “Yeah,” she says, “You are so exotic looking. You have a very exotic beauty. Where are you from?”
It was like a record needle screeching to a halt. I blinked twice. How did this “compliment” start off so lovely and end so disastrously? I give her what she is asking for, if only to get rid of her, “My mother is from Colombia,” I say.
She replies, “Oh yeah. Your people are so magical. They really had it figured out. I went to South America to study with some shamans…”
At this point, it’s all I can do from throwing scalding hot coffee in her face and tell her to go fuck herself.
This is just one example of the objectification and commodification of PoC and non-Western cultures for the easy consumption of white folk. By labeling me “exotic” and calling my people “magical” she was otherizing me and my people. I’m a fucking first generation American, not some noble Native princess. In trying to give me a “compliment” she only succeeded in stripping me of my humanity and reduced me to a caricature. She completely erased all of my struggles, fears, triumphs, hopes and dreams and placed me in this tiny little box so that she could feel comfortable with my brownness. My otherness challenges her whiteness and so she erases my personhood to feel comfortable with me.
The reason for this is because being “exotic” means that you are not natural. My brown skin, full lips and wild hair are all aberrations from the norm. I am not white, so I must be from some mystical, far-flung land. I am not strange or unique. And most importantly, my brownness makes me an object to be consumed by my white counterparts.
And she did this to not only me but also to South America and all of its inhabitiants. Because, you know, we are all magical and different countries/nationalities don’t exist when you are magical!
And she can do this because she has the societal power of whiteness.
I am so tired of being a stranger in a land that, in all honesty, I have more of a right to than these white folk whose ancestors colonized mine. And the worst part is that if I called her out on her racist bullshit, she either would have started crying or get defensive or turn and call me racist! And that is one of the most egregious aspects of white supremacy today; if you call bullshit, the white folk deny that they are complicit in it, and they call you a racist for accusing them of racism! It’s so hard to engage with white folk on their racism because they have been taught to not see it. And so when it’s pointed out to them, all they can do is point it back at the victim. Its a fucking catch-22. You grind your teeth and bear it with silence or you call it out and get your experience erased.
Either way, headaches and heartaches will ensue.