They say nothing comes without a price. However, in the case of being one of the only coloured girls in my city, nothing comes without a race.
I live in a predominately white city. Not by choice (I'm from Toronto), but to attend university. When I first got to the city, I thought people would be incredibly racist and I'd be excluded and snubbed by my peers. Well, the opposite happened.
Arrogance aside (I promise), everywhere I went, I was white men's object (emphasis on object) of desire. And it wasn't just white men -- all races of men I've never encountered, but white men seemed the most enthralled by my presence. But the initial adoration and my swelled ego soon subsided after I realized that men were not attracted to me for being just a "pretty face" -- I was being objectified, exoticized and sexualized for being one of few coloured girls in a sea of white men. I felt alone. And more importantly, I felt disgusted with myself.
Feminist, social activist and African American author bell hooks terms this kind of attraction to the 'Othered' body as "Eating the Other." This is the phenomenon where white men as well as the media view coloured women's bodies, especially black women's, as a site of difference. The coloured body is stereotypically everything the white woman's body is not: she is not "pure," "fair," or "docile." Rather, her body represents deviance, darkness, temptation, evil, and hypersexuality. This detrimental image generates a deep sense of desire and adventure within the white man -- a desire to colonize her body -- 'eat' it up, and use it to come to know himself.
Through a coloured woman, the white man transcends his 'whiteness' and innocence, moving into more experienced and dangerous territory. Literally through her body, he learns what he is and what he is not. He gains access to cross the border into a dark territory that only he, of all his friends, has yet to venture to. But after 'consuming' her multiple times, he becomes sick and repulsed, as with any overconsumption of food, and spits her out.
I found hooks' theory to be overwhelmingly comforting. It came at a time when I was trying to make sense of what was happening to my body and how it was being perceived. It especially came at a time when I found out the guy I had been seeing had a white girlfriend and was sleeping with me to finally make his fantasy of black girls come true (wasn't I lucky to be the first?). As a mixed-race girl, I also found it unsettling that the colour of my skin allowed people to label me as "Black," or as something tropical and exotic -- it was always one of the two. I was getting sick of being approached at bars by white men, changing their pick up line from "Are you an angel? 'Cause it looks like you fell outta heaven." to "I love black people. I have black friends, you know -- now can I take you home?"
Sometimes it was more of an excited squeal, a wide-eyed gawk, their hands shaking as they coyly tried to place their hands on my ass, exclaiming, "I've never danced with a black girl before," looking at me the same way one would attack a Quarter (Dark Meat) Chicken Dinner at Swiss Chalet. Dressing up in cheetah print made it worse. My skin colour and mixed heritage had given me a label I didn't like -- that "Black" girl at the bars, that "Island girl" on the bus. Nobody knew what I was, so I was immediately placed in a stereotypical category that both separated me from others and made me mysterious. I was always that girl, not just a girl.
After months of self-hatred, feeling dirty inside and out and wondering what I was doing wrong, I finally started to come to terms with what was happening around me. Being a racial minority female in a city of racially dominant men made me exotic. I was a hot coloured commodity in a rather colourless city, because they had so few "people like me." The exotification of women comes from being that racialized woman -- the Other kind of woman who does not carry "white" features or practices "white" culture.
It is not a compliment, because like eroticization, it sexualizes, objectifies and racializes the female body, jamming it into a tight space where hypersexuality, primitiveness, danger, temptation and difference are forced upon us. The exotification of the racialized body is a way for non-racialized subjects to, like hooks reminds us, come to know themselves. By casting coloured women as different, they maintain the status quo of race and sex dominance while marginalizing, sexualizing, and dehumanizing coloured women.
This is not to say I have become the mad mixed woman in the attic and have cast off all white men. It's also not to say that this can't happen with all races of men -- I just have yet to find an interracial relationship where my difference isn't at the forefront. I have yet to find that guy who hasn't used me to see if sleeping with me makes him a new man, or a guy who hasn't made the wretched "I love black people" disclaimer upon meeting me.
Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong place. But I am speaking to something more structural than just the colour of my skin and people's reactions to it; I am talking about privilege, racism, colonialism -- systems and institutions of power and hierarchy that allow for women of colour to be exotified and Othered; to be treated as sex objects and animals instead of humans. To be treated by non-coloured men as cheapened territory that becomes a game of conquering. Until I find that guy and regain my trust in white men, I've saved myself from being checked off someone's "To Do" list again. And although I could be missing out, it's a good feeling to know I'm finally in control. And it feels great.