the trials and travails of the white female tourist in brown countries
“Hey! White girl! I love you! You are beautiful!”
Shouted to me on the street 15+ times a day during my study abroad experience in Nicaragua. I never truly understood what it meant to feel objectified until this experience.
been reading a lot about racism/white anti-racists/cultural appropriation/how to not be a super shitty privileged person today and i’m not sure this microaggression is a good/right thing at all. like…this person may have glimpsed one kind of objectification through this experience but i don’t know about the whole idea of a “white girl” being “objectified” by people in Nicaragua during their study abroad (implies college/post-secondary education, some level of financial privilege) and the whole idea of “understanding” as a way of showing that white people can be oppressed too (i feel like the leap from “objectification” to “oppression” is a pretty small one here/one that can and will be read into it by other people as an example of how POC can be racist against white folks)? because just by the sheer fact said person was white and in a place where non-white people were catcalling them does not mean they were being oppressed? i don’t know, can someone smarter than me talk more about this, if they feel like tackling the issue? sometimes debating things with myself too long gets tricky because i’m not sure how to factcheck myself (googling “is this thing i think racist/oppressive” doesn’t work well at all)
so glad I’m not the only one who had a problem with that microaggression. being praised for fitting into the western/Euro-centric beauty model is nothing compared to the struggles POC face for not fitting in this model in the US and other majority white countries. being told that you’re pretty is not oppression. yeah, it’s objectification, but it’s objectification based on the beauty ideals the west has exported around the world.
I wouldn’t call any of it oppression. if being called beautiful is the worst thing that happens to you when you’re abroad, then you’re lucky. when POC go abroad, from what I’ve heard, they face much, much worse. so this microaggression reeks of privilege and really isn’t on the same level of racial oppression compared to the other ones they post.
but if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me in terms of POC experiences abroad.
Yes, thank y’all! I read that with mytongueisforked and both of us were giving that an OH HELL NO.
Yes, you could call that objectification, i.e. a woman’s body is being assumed to be public property/a commodity/open to commentary. But, is objectification on its own oppression? Linked with something larger, sure; like I’m not going to argue that white women aren’t oppressed on the basis of being women. But specifying race and location and “It was the first time this happened to me!” is way fishy, and undermines any chance this had of getting my sympathy.
My scattered thoughts on this:
- If this woman had never before felt objectified, then great! but she’s really lucky to have never been made to feel that way, let alone to feel that way constantly like many female/trans* people do. My skepticism kicks in when someone is blurting out that they’ve never experienced something that is everyday for the people they’re speaking to.
- Specifying that this happened in Nicaragua reinforces stereotypes about hypersexual latino men, that men of color lust after white women, etc. Had she never been somewhere back home that men could have said the same thing? I mean, I can picture dudes on my block saying that to a white woman; did she only encounter men of color by traveling to another country?
- And with that, it reinforces the idea that men of color are a threat because of their lust for white women, that they are dangerous, and that, just as in this example, they will put white women in deviant and dangerous positions that white men never would, e.g. being objectified on the street. This shit is serious and lethal—generations of men of color were/are lynched for this threat.
- “White girl, you are beautiful” is said EVERY FUCKING DAY. Did she never feel her skin color being fetishized when this same catcall was made by billboards and magazines and cosmetics and lynchings? If she ever overheard a white man telling a black friend, “You’re cute for a black girl,” would she feel equally objectified and offended?
- I am a light-skinned black woman in a black & latino neighborhood. When men talk to me on the street, as happens fairly often, I feel the light tanness of my skin. I don’t appreciate the catcalls, but they are telling as to how my gender is raced and vice-versa. In this situation, I have to feel my skin color and how it is being weighed against that of other black women; white women don’t have to feel this.
Is that what is so offensive, attaching a name—WHITENESS—to white women’s genders and sexual objectification? That is all I can see that is out of the white supremacy ordinary. You don’t need a study abroad program for that; go take a walk around the block.
Thanks for this, readnfight.
Every time a white friend tells me about the sexual harassment they receive while travelling in India, and they frame it as proof that they’re being objectified because of their white skin….
The thing is, they probably are, in many cases, because white skin is fetishized and prized above all else in Indian society, and well, in every society. And I’ve been there when men have made aggressive passes at my white friends, and I’ve actually had to help fight them off, and its nothing but terrible.
But refusing to see the context, refusing to place this particular example of objectification in relation to the much worse treatment that Indian women receive everyday at the hands of men in their own homes and in public places… women who don’t have the protection of money and influence and a foreign passport and even a foreign embassy willing to help out if things turn really bad… that’s where I have to step off.
Its the Oppression Olympics argument gone haywire. Some kinds of oppression are worse than others.
I don’t believe any American white woman that claims they never felt objectified until a MOC said something to them. I mean, I’m sure they tell themselves that, but I’ve seen white men in action from high school on & I have a whole lot of side eye for those claims.