You wouldn’t go up to a random stranger on the street and ask them, “What are you?”
But on dating apps such as Tinder, these types of questions are typical when your ethnicity is not immediately obvious. I’ve been courted this way on several occasions on such apps—I identify as mixed race (I’m Salvadorian, Filipino and Thai, so my outward appearance can be racially ambiguous), which often results in me being on the receiving end of such patronizing questions. I will usually respond with, “I’m human, aren’t you?” This often prompts them to clarify that they are asking about my ethnicity. (“Where are you from?”) What comes next is a comment that is equally, if not more, imperious than the first: “That’s so exotic!” or “I’m really into Asian women!” or “I’ve never dated a Latina before.” Thanks, I guess.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence, either. A quick Google search provides similar anecdotes from many other non-white women (mixed race or not) detailing their own similar experiences. Dating apps have a race problem. It has been engrained over generations through systematic racial profiling and stereotypes, resulting in racial microaggressions. (MTV’s “Look Different Campaign” against racial, gender and LGBT bias defines these as “brief and commonplace statements or actions that can be intentional or unintentional. They communicate slights and insults, and can have a harmful or unpleasant impact on the person experiencing them.”)
Calling someone exotic, then, would fit into that description. By definition, exotic means “originating in, or characteristic of, a distant foreign country.” In other words, foreign. When you call someone exotic, you’re putting them in the same category as objects and places—lumping people in with non-human things like food and vacation spots—which is completely insensitive.
What’s more, this whole mixed-race fetishization has led to the creation of Mixy—a dating app that works just like Tinder—that connects non-white people to individuals from other races and cultures. It’s said to promote “interracial relationships” (which I’m all for), but it comes off as a platform based on the aforementioned “What are you?” question and magnifies racial microaggression behaviour.
Don’t tokenize others for their ethnicity. Nobody wants to be reduced to a crass stereotype or their physical appearance. V