The answer to this question is yes. A woman of color who is complimented as “exotic” is being fetishized.
Now let us examine the semantics of the word itself. “Exotic” literally means: “Originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country”, “attractive or striking because colourful or out of the ordinary..
So.. if you are “exotic”.. You are simply not “ordinarily encountered“.
But what to make of the use of the word in our modern vernacular? First and foremost, the term “exotic” is exclusively reserved for women of color. WoC have a long history of having their ethnicity be a fetish.
Some WoC do not find a problem with the term, and that is perfectly acceptable. But many of us do take if offensively and here’s why: It sets an entirely new standard of beauty that ultimately alienates WoC.
Just because our beauty is not “white”, does not mean our beauty needs to be a subcategory. Especially one that has not been appropriated by WoC. Who arbitrates what is, and isn’t “exotic”? Is it WoC themselves? In most cases, no.
The “exotic” category renders us almost subhuman. “Exotic” women of color.. Like the exotic animals section of the zoo.
Even worse, it is used as a compliment. Something we are to smile and nod to. I mean after all, isn’t it great to be strikingly, mysteriously and excitingly different? No.
Many WoC find that they are not defined by their ethnicity. They have many other characteristics that they would like you to pay equal attention to other than their fetishized ethnicity. They do not wish to be trivialized by this single aspect of them.
You are not paying a WoC a compliment by stating that she is “exotic”
You are telling her that she should be somehow pleased with being in a different category of beauty that YOU have created for her. After all, WoC have not consented to be part of an “exotic” sub-set of human.
WoC already find themselves hyper-sexualised in modern day-to-day culture. Young WoC– African Americans and Latinas especially– are depicted as having some degree of patholigized sexuality from the get-go.
The fetishization of WoC is an extension of the already existing sexualisation of their identities in the media and in modern culture. This is not fair on WoC. We call upon you to stop fetishizing us.