Webster’s defines the word “exotic” as “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual.” The street usage, however, is varied and oftentimes inaccurate.

I’ve heard more than a few men describe their affinity for “exotic” women. And by men, I mean brothers, ’cause that’s who I’m really concerned with. And by “exotic,” they often times mean biracial African-American women with White, Latino or Asian parentage. Kind of weird how someone with a Black American and White American parent from Boise, Idaho could be considered “exotic,” but okay. I’ve heard the word used to refer to non-Black women who weren’t exactly White girls, but weren’t sisters either (think: the Kardashians, Eva Longoria) and also to describe Black women from other parts of the Diaspora (i.e. Somalia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic).

Put aside any agreement or disapproval of interracial dating, that’s not today’s topic.

We know the drill at this point: a brother who shouts from the rooftops that he prefers dark-skin Black women with what we consider to be “traditionally” African features, is a good brother who loves his race and his mama. But if that same man had, instead, a light-skinned preference . . . then he’d be color struck.

We are pretty doomed, right?

So what about when a brother fancies Black women, but specifically those from other parts of the Diaspora? Is “Ethiopian women are the baddest” as bad as “Light-skinned women are my favorite”? But it’s better than “Give me a White girl over a sister any day,” right?  What do we say of a brother who has a preference for Black women who are Black, just . . . different than say the Black women who raised him?

How many times have we heard the term “regular Black girl” used to describe a woman who doesn’t have such traditionally European features as, say, Halle Berry? Why is it that Kelly Rowland is called “regular,” when she’s stunning? And how is it that Beyonce is “exotic,” despite being the African-American child of two African-American parents, with features that aren’t really so uncommon amongst Black people in this country?

And it makes the relationships between women all the more difficult at times, doesn’t it? Once I was made aware of the fact that Ethiopian women were fetishized by a number of African-American brothers (in particular, those who weren’t so excited by Black women who aren’t considered “exotic” or who wouldn’t go for an African sister who had darker skin and kinkier hair), I experienced a period of resentment toward them. It took me some time and some serious thought to realize that a sister is a sister and that I should not hold it against them that there are some men in our community who may value one sort of Black beauty over another one. Do I like it? No. I know that preference doesn’t always have deep roots, but I do know that certain hair textures and facial features (typically, those that are associated with European beauty ideals) get an inordinate amount of props from some of our people.

Full disclosure: I have also been described by some as “exotic” looking, a label in which I certainly take no joy. I’ve encountered men with whom I’d never have had a chance if I were any darker. Definitely not something I celebrate. I’ve also dealt with sisters who treated me a bit less than kindly because of the way I look. Does it make me angry? Yes. Do I understand it? To some extent. Again, if you aren’t exposed to the information you need to get past these issues, it’s hard to imagine how you would. Who’s feet get held to the fire then? Well, we aren’t the architects of our own pathology, as the ever-brilliant Esther Armah once quipped. Our conditioning has been conditioned, etc.

Once someone has the information available to help them to question their preference or bias and they still don’t see an issue with said preference, perhaps, then, there is more room to criticize.

I told y’all this was complicated.

In an era where representations of Black beauty in the media are more diverse than in the past—yet still skew toward certain aesthetics—how do we collectively even out the playing field regarding the ways in which we judge beauty? Where do we find the space to teach ourselves not to make one sister “regular” and the other “exotic”—and to abandon the tendency to fetishize the mixed woman over the non-mixed one, or the East African stunner over the West African honey? Are we doomed to keep up a litmus test for Black beauty that still has the stain of Europe written all over it?

  • http://katnaturally.blogspot.com Kat

    Well written and very true. I love your openness on the topic. Too much has been swept under the rug regarding this particular issue, but your approach really allowed for a proper platform. I’m black woman and I’ve experienced issues with “some” black men that border on self-hate and hate for their own people. I think black women no matter the shade are some of the most exotic women created on earth. I’m not really saying that from a bias standpoint. Even if I was another race I would most likely have the same opinion. I get mistaken for an Eritrean all the time but both my parents are black. This is just how I came out. Having these features and this curly hair which people would say gives me a first class ticket to be admired by black men has not. I’m not upset by that because I think today a lot of black men not all, have been bamboozled into thinking that if a woman looks like say Kim Kardashian or Halle Berryy that maybe they’ll get some “pass” or “dap” from other men like they’ve made it into society somehow. It’s an ongoing slave mentality we’ve got going on now. I’ve been disregarded by a lot of black men because I’m not “exotic enough, mixed looking enough, close to white enough, Asian enough or even hot enough”. They’ve been geared by western standards like we all have, to worship those non black women on the cover of magazines, and on television. We are saturated with the fact that we aren’t white and never will be. They smear that filth on television in our faces and we have lapped up the lies since birth. Now I have my blinders off and can see society for what it really is and how it has brainwashed the truly “weak minds” into thinking that other than themselves is something that they should buy into. I love being a black woman. We are the original exotics!

  • http://exoticbeautiesversusregularblackgirls easter

    I honestly don’t understand it all myself I have heard all my life I am exotic,especially my skin color trust me I never gave it a second thought until a couple years later. I actually stood in the mirror and looked at my skin complexion true its a different shade sorta like a Brazilian caramel t I never really cared until people pointed it out that I was exotic in my eyes and the whitemans eyes I’m always gonna be considered back and I’m one with that. But this regular black girl stuff is sad and ridiculous honestly black is the only race in my book that is dominantly beautiful sorry that’s just my opinion I wish black women stop relaxing there hair and bleaching themselves,they have no real idea how beautiful they truly are