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Is Reverse Racism Real and Affecting My Dating Life?

Welcome to Hola Papi! An advice column by writer, Twitterer, and prolific Grindr user John Paul Brammer, in which he downs several glasses of rosé and answers your most burning questions relating to the LGBTQ experience.

John Paul is a vehemently gay Latino whose columns and essays have been featured in BuzzFeed, Vulture, NBC, Teen Vogue, Vox, Slate, and the Guardian. He is currently in the process of writing his first book, which will also be gay and Latino. He can be found in New York City wherever bodega poppers are sold.

If you want his advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!

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Hola Papi!

I’ve never really been attracted to white guys, and have only been in serious relationships with Latinx men. Some people call me “reverse racist,” but I know that’s not a thing.

What I’m worrying about is that I’m fetishizing black and brown men by pursuing them over white guys. How do I know where preferences stop and fetishization begins?

Potential Love Racist

What a wonderful question for my very first column, PLR.

I can’t think of a better premise to make someone else’s problem entirely about me. As a gay Latino who experiences his fair share of fetishization (I got the name Hola Papi from white dudes hitting me up on Grindr), I feel uniquely equipped to help you out on this one.

Let me start by telling you about this well-intentioned white guy I went on a few dates with. Let’s call him Bradley, because this is my column, and I have that power here. Bradley loved Latinos. Like, really loved them. He studied abroad in Colombia for a year. He was super into “authentic” Mexican cuisine. He was even aware of the existence of Adobo and its myriad culinary uses.

And you know what, reader? Call me problematic, but I liked those things about Bradley. I thought it was cool that he knew so much about Colombia. As a Mexican American who was actually raised on Pizza Hut, I had no problem with him taking me to restaurants I wouldn’t have found on my own. When he cooked for me for the first time, I watched with bated breath to see if he would reach for any spices after salting and peppering the chicken, and when he did, I was relieved.

But as you might guess, there was trouble in Anglo paradise. I started to notice things Bradley did when he was around me that raised some concerns. He started using me to practice his Español like I was Duo Lingo or something. Never mind that I wasn’t raised with Spanish and learned it in a classroom.

Even worse, he would put on this awful, performative, condescending voice when he spoke it to me. Reader, I shit you not, this guy was digging for accents in “u’s” and “o’s” like there was pre-Columbian gold in them. We were riding on the subway once, and instead of asking me “are you hungry?” like a normal human being, he said “qúírēs cómídã?” or some hate crime along those lines.

The frijole that broke the burro’s back was at one of those “authentic” Mexican restaurants I mentioned earlier. Bradley thought it would be cute to prove to me that he could handle eating a spicy chili pepper in front of me. When he challenged me to do the same, and I respectfully declined, he said: “Sometimes I think I’m more Latino than you.”

It was in that moment I realized: This dude isn’t doing any of this for me. He isn’t speaking Spanish or taking me to these restaurants or eating chili peppers inches from my face for my benefit. He was doing it for his. I was just an unwilling accomplice to his burgeoning identity as a spicy white person.

Chipotle mayo, if you will.

The point is, dear reader, that there definitely is a line between appreciation and fetishization. We often talk about how people of color are stigmatized as less attractive in a society that prizes whiteness. But we don’t often talk about the other side of that same coin: That people of color are hypersexualized, that certain aspects of their culture are stereotyped and hyped up to satisfy certain appetites, like the “spiciness” of Latinos or the hypermasculinity of black men.

I’m not saying we should have to erase our differences to get along. Differences are great. Differences make relationships interesting and give us opportunities to explore and learn about one another. It’s not about “not seeing race.” It’s about treating people like the fully complex, completely multi-dimensional human beings that they are and not centering yourself in a dynamic that’s built for two.

So you find yourself attracted to nonwhite men. So you look back at your dating history and you notice your exes are mostly black and brown. That’s all perfectly fine! No one needs your affirmative action, mija. You were with them because you liked them, and they were with you because they liked you back.

But every once in awhile, it’s good and healthy to ask yourself: Am I treating people like an accessory? Am I seeing this person through a lens that reduces them down to just their race or just their culture? Am I Columbus-ing people?

I’ll end on this positive note. I’m so glad you’re being honest with yourself about this. Because, really, regardless of where we come from or the color of our skin, we’ve all grown up in a society that conditions us to devalue people of color. That’s true of people of color too, by the way. Self-hatred is a thing.

If you somehow made it through that process without consciously or unconsciously inducting any of its harmful messages, well, kudos. You’re a superhuman, a mutant, an X-Man or some shit. For the rest of us, including myself, it’s a process and a struggle.

But it’s a process that can’t start, dear reader, until we’re willing to confront it.