Post the Sixty-Ninth or On Why Exotic is NOT a Compliment

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.

About witchymorgan

I'm a 22 year old womanist, sex positive, pansexual, polyamorous, queer, bruja, transwoman. Social justice activist by day, social justice activist by night. Fun! View all posts by witchymorgan

29 responses to “Post the Sixty-Ninth or On Why Exotic is NOT a Compliment

  • Amy

    I would like to begin by saying that I am Hispanic (brown),Scottish (white) and African (black). I am very proud to be multi-racial! That being said, what I see missing here is accountability on YOUR part. You have somehow managed to take a loving and kind gesture and turn it into a hate spewing, violent rant all the while crying out against the very behavior you are condemning. You have very successfully role modeled the reason why hatred and racism keep on thriving. If that compliment seriously made you want to throw “scalding” coffee into another human beings face then CLEARLY the problem of hatred and exclusion is not growing within her, but festering within you. I grew up walking a no mans land of racism and heartache because of people like you. When I finally removed myself from that, my ethnicity was embraced and yes, it was because I was unique. And don’t assume I have identity issues. I know exactly who I am. I absolutely love being called exotic and in the spirit of love, kindness and tolerance I will reciprocate with grace and sincerity. You may keep the hate. Gonna chicken out and delete my opinion?

    • biyuti

      Since you seem clear on saying that your response and manner of living is perfectly valid…

      I’m not sure where you get off on policing witchymorgan’s behaviour. She is certainly allowed to think, feel, and respond to anything in whichever way she feels. Just as you are allowed to think, feel, and respond to anything in whatever way you feel.

      And do you not note that witchymorgan did not actually throw coffee on that racist white woman? That she simply made a blog post expressing her feelings?

      Even if you weren’t utterly wrong in every way about what you wrote, witchymorgan has no responsibility to make your life better by being less angry.

      And you’ve successfully role modeled exactly what happens when a PoC becomes white-identifying and lives to support white supremacy.

    • witchymorgan


      Clearly you do not understand the literary uses of the hyperbole. In actual fact, I didn’t do or say anything to her. I smiled, gave her her coffee and moved on. I find it interesting that you think I’m being hateful. All I did was talk about and expose this woman’s privilege and subconscious racism. I didn’t call her names. I didn’t attack her. And my writing certainly did not do her any harm in the long run. I expressed my anger in a way that felt good to me. Who are you to police that? And who are you to say what is and isn’t a compliment is to me? I do with my blog what I like.

      Further, you seem to skip a few classes in Racism 101. Racism is a system of power that privileges whiteness of PoC. And PoC just don’t have the systemic power to be racist against white people. Am I prejudice against white people? Yes. But reason isn’t because I think that they are inferior or less than me. It isn’t because I want to commit genocide against them. It isn’t because I want to enslave them and then scatter them from their homeland. The reason why I’m prejudice against white people is because they have a 400+ year history of doing this to me and my people. I have to be prejudiced against them because its to dangerous not to. I need to keep myself safe. After 400+ years of dealing with this mess, I’m tired of it. I just don’t want to do it. The context when I say it is completely different from the context of a white person saying it.

      Sister, I implore you. Don’t drink the white supremacy kool-aid. ‘Cause that shit will kill you.

      • humansarehumans

        How old does that make you… “After 400+ years of dealing with this mess, [you’re] tired of it.” You must have found the fountain of youth or something.

        Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
        Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary.

        Nowhere in that definition do I see whites being held above any other race.

        Why can’t everyone just accept mankind as the same and not differentiate one another by color? Every race has been screwed over some way or another in the past.. Everybody needs to get over it and work towards making the future a place where people don’t have to worry about acts of kindness being received as acts of racism.

      • witchymorgan

        Ima need you to come with some documented evidence that white people have been screwed over by PoC in any systemic, institutional or historic way. Otherwise, this is the only thing I have to say to you.

      • humansarehumans

        Okay, take acceptance into school systems for example. Schools need diversity. Let’s take two people, they have pretty much the same academic standing, extracurricular activities, etc. The only difference is the color of their skin. The colored person will get priority over that white person. Also, even if that colored person had a lower academic standing, that person would still be accepted over the white. You see this in things like scholarships as well.

        For being someone intelligent, I didn’t expect name calling in the slightest… But I guess since you’re over 400 years old, you can’t help but revert back to being a child when challenged.

      • witchymorgan

        Notice that between 1976 and 2009 that most college students are white? It seems to me that you are out of touch with reality, boo boo.

        You present no challenge to me. Just another white person with the same tired shit to say.

    • Matt Smith

      humans – That’s one simplistic definition of racism. There’s more than one. If you only know the one, you don’t know enough to follow what Morgan has to say.

      It is racist and patronizing and cliche to hold such romantic admiration of conquered cultures having some deep, “magical” connection to the spiritual that’s missing from our culture. And whenever someone says “you people” or “your people,” that alone is a pretty great indicator of a racially idiotic attitude. Hard to explain this if you haven’t thought about it before – probably would need a face-to-face conversation, not a blog comment.

      • Matt Smith

        Also, humans – using “colored” as an adjective for people makes you sound like you’re having a 1950’s discussion of racism. It doesn’t mean you’re racist. But it makes you sound ignorant on this subject. Nobody paying attention could make that mistake in 2012.

        Colleges treat non-White racial background as a plus because they’re trying to counteract the history of racism in this society. Trying to make amends when you mistreat someone is the only decent thing to do. Ignoring race starting today would be like saying, “Oh yeah, I know I ran you over, and now you’re lying on the ground bleeding, but can’t we just forget that ancient history and start fresh?” Starting fresh works a lot better if you make some effort to make amends, like helping the person up off the ground, getting them some medical attention, etc.

        I understand it’s got to be frustrating for a White kid to see someone else favored who’s got the same qualifications, or slightly worse. And on some level, it’s unjust. But that’s not the biggest injustice here. The biggest injustice is what brought us to the point where we needed a remedy like affirmative action. As imperfect as affirmative action is to serve as a remedy, I don’t see anyone proposing any better ideas.

  • kundawicce

    Thank you for finding this way to express your anger and frustration even though the depth of it is to me fearsome, frightening.

    I wonder how often I have offended you without knowing. I wonder if it is foolish of me to continue to attempt a relationship with one so bruised and angry that my presence alone probably causes fantasies of striking me.

    This may be a surprise to you, but even as a privileged white young person I had anger for many years. I still consider the rape and destruction of our home world and its diverse expressions of life as egregious as our dehumanizing of fellow humans. In a way I enjoyed being angry. Decades later I am now saddened and regretful that my anger reduced my own personal effectiveness to bring about the change I so deeply cared about. I still struggle with my failure to really hear and be heard.

    As an older white woman of privilege, since reading this post I have been enjoying fantasizing your some day responding to such a woman: “You will be surprised to hear this, to stand in my shoes for a moment, but to call me exotic is not a compliment. It emphasizes to me that in your white privileged eyes I am something separate – not American but something else. I am not ‘exotic.’ I am part of the whole. Something to think about, eh?”

    Yours in continuing to find ways to be understood and to understand. If you choose to delete this post or to unsubscribe me, I will understand and accept.


    • witchymorgan

      Hey Kunti,

      I’m sure you enjoyed people tone policing your expression when you were younger just as much as I do. That is to say, not at all. I have never had any desire to strike you. Speaking out against privilege and oppression has never made me want to hit those I consider friends. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

      En la Lucha,

      • kundawicce

        What a relief. The anger expressed was so strong yet hidden from the protagonist that I thought surely sometime in our acquaintance I too could have/must have ignorantly done/said something and not known the hurtful result.

        I trod a fine line in sharing my personal submergence in anger while in my 20s and 30s and alas into my 40s, and stepped over the line in describing my feelings today so many decades later. Lesson learned. The wisest elders know it is best to watch and support.

        You ARE beautiful in all your aspects, young Vajrayogini.

      • witchymorgan

        Interesting how you call the white woman in the story the protagonist when I wrote the piece for myself, with my experience centered in the story.

  • biyuti

    This was a great post. I *hate* being called exotic. It is sincerely one of my least favourite things to hear from white people. So utterly and completely dehumanizing.

    They also make it clear that their white gaze is how you should understand yourself. That you should feel complemented for their appreciation of your body’s deviation from white standards of beauty.

    It is disgusting.

    And it is *so frustrating* that whenever shit like this goes down, you basically have to smile pretty and nod, because it is often too dangerous or just not worth the effort.

    • witchymorgan

      Yes! This happened at work and you know that if I had tried to break it down to her, she would have gotten defense and I might have been accused of being a racist. I could have lost my job for being “rude” to a customer. One of my co-workers, when I told her what happened, didn’t even get why I was so upset! And this lady can go on with her life completely unmolested and thinking that she was justified in getting me fired.

      • biyuti

        Aw, that really, really sucks. It is the worst when this stuff happens at work.

        Because, yeah, you keep you job. But now that lady gets to live her life thinking that treating people like they are subhuman is totally okay!

        The things we need to do to survive in this capitalist society… 😐

  • Kunda Wicce

    oh shit, wrong word. LIterary lightweight here. Was thinking that was right word for the bad guy.

  • Off the Beaten Path: From Human Zoos to Neighbourhood Safaris « PLUG

    […] a kind of musée imaginaire; as though one should be able to collect and appreciate them.” The “exotic,” be they people or things, has often been collected and displayed for the amusement, titillation […]

  • Anna

    “It’s so hard to engage with white folk on their racism because they have been taught to not see it.”

    White folk.
    THEIR racism.
    THEY have been taught not to see it.

    So it is a horrible sin for a white woman to classify you as an exotic creature from a magical land, but it is perfectly okay for you to classify “white folk” as a whole as blissfully ignorant and racist?

    While I see at least why could get angry, this blog could have been written in a way that would enlighten people who say things like this. Instead, the easiest reaction was, “She got that angry and wrote a long blog with expletives just because someone said a few stupid lines that may or may not have conveyed underlying racism.” And I’m not even white, so I have no reason to feel defensive.

    One time, when I was just a kid, I was riding my bicycle around a basketball court at the local park. And another little girl said to her sister, “Don’t talk to that girl. She’s Chinese. Those people are weird.” I am not Chinese, and those were her exact words. And you know what? She wasn’t white; she was African-American.

    Also, my relatives are Asian, and they are SO racist. Not quietly racist like the woman you were describing. I’m talking out loud, talking about how Indians worship fly gods, in an Indian restaurant, racist.

    Racist is not a white characteristic. It is a HUMAN characteristic. No matter how much we all deny it, we are all racist to some extent.

    So rather than writing a blog that attacks the “white folk,” that seems to characterize all of them as small-minded racist bimbos, use that writing talent of yours to EDUCATE those that do think that way.

    • witchymorgan

      Ummm… Yes. It is absolutely justified. Because this isn’t the only time that this has happened. This isn’t the only time white folk have committed acts of racism. And the reason for this is because they, as well as PoC, have all be socialized to act and think in ways that are racist. We receive messages from all over the place, all of the time, telling us that racism is ok. And it is subtle. It is more than just calling someone a slur. Look at the stats and you will see why I’m justified.

      I’m really sorry that that happened to you as a child. But what we must understand here is that the source of that is white supremacy. Your relatives and that child have internalized and continue to support white supremacy with their actions because the only ones who benefit from those actions are white people. Horizontal oppression is totally real and it is harmful. But the answer isn’t than defending white people, it is holding white people accountable to the ways that they are racist, even if they don’t know any better. And it also means challenging those PoC who have internalized racist ideas and get them to see the truth.

      Finally, it is not my responsibility to educate anyone. This is my blog. And I will write on it however I choose. I don’t do this for anyone’s benefit but my own and if some folks learn something, well thats awesome. But I’m gonna do whatever I want and you can move the fuck on.

  • Constantina GK

    A helpful formula for all the people on here accusing you of racism because you have prejudices: We all have prejudice. As is discussed at length at any e-race training one might go to, racism = prejudice + de jure or de facto systems of oppression. The ability see difference is what makes us human- without differing cultures and the ability to notice it, we would have no art, no appreciation of beauty and novelty. However, when you are regularly reminded that you “don’t belong” because of the color of your skin, structure of your name, or accent in your voice, it becomes tiresome and frustrating.

    I’m first generation Greek-american. I was born in this country. When I first meet people, the first words out of their mouth are almost universally, “what a long name! what ethnicity is it?” And then comes our most beloved question, “where are you from?” I say, “Boston, MA.” and then the c-c-combo breaker, “no, like, originally where are you from.”

    To me, those kinds of questions about my upbringing and ethnic heritage are totally appropriate… for old friends to ask. When strangers ask, suddenly you cease to be a real person, and become some fascinating specimen of some exotic culture to be dissected and examined by curious white folk.

    I have had people compare me to Grecian goddesses or statues (because every woman dreams of someday being compared to a lifeless piece of alabaster), I have had multiple professionals deny me access to certain government supports in times of need because they assume I am not a US citizen (I am, I was born in the states), my name doesn’t fit on standard forms and is a constant source of chuckles and light teasing from people trying to read it, and I am always being asked my opinions about the Greek debt crisis (and then asked to speak more broadly if I oblige and talk about my fears for my family).

    Ask me again where I’m from, it’s such a pleasure to be treated like an outsider in my own country of origin.

    Your ally in ethnic ambiguity,
    ~ Constantina Galatea Karathanasis

    PS Thanks for writing this post, it felt really good to get that little rant out :3

  • Sarah

    sometimes people can’t see beyond their limited understanding until someone shows them the way.
    next time use your voice to correct her. with a smile — so you don’t lose your job. ; )

    also, these are pretty awesome:

  • Shannon Johnson

    I am called that most often by white people as well. I take it as a compliment. I use to think it was odd, as when I hear exotic I think of oddly kept pets and not people. I would rather someone just say, “you are pretty” and leave it at that. Maybe they think exotic is more of a compliment?

  • Theora

    I definitely feel what you are saying. That so called “exotic” compliment became a death knell to my “me-ness” when a man who I’d been dating said one day, “I thought you were going to be more exotic”. I am an ordinary, fun-loving, healthy Canadian woman. Period. And he was dissappointed. Laughable all these years later but at the time, it hurt.

  • alyssa

    I love you! I just exerienced something similar tonight. a white male tells me I look exotic (not american he exclaimed) because my cheekbones are high….. ummm and exactly what do “American cheekbones” look like?? I proceeded to tell him why the word exotic is NOT a compliment…. he cuts me off mid sentence and blows his cigar smoke in my face….

    I proceeded to slap the shit out of him.

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