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exotic = offensive?

post #1 of 165
Thread Starter 
I'm cross posting this in multi-cultural families and adoption...

out for lunch with a single 25 year old male friend the other day, and he notices a beautiful woman sitting behind us, and comments to my dh and I that she was 'exotic'. I did my best to explain why that *might* be considered offensive by some, but it all sort of came out sounding like sour grapes from miss white bread USA. I tried to explain white privilege but as soon as I got to the "I would never be called exotic, no matter where I was in the world" I knew I needed to stop talking!

anyway, please explain why this word does or does not offend you, in this context, so I can pass it along to my needing-to-be-enlightened friend. More importantly, so I can "share" with my dh, who took his little friend's side -- we're adopting transracially soon, and while we've had many wonderful discussions about race, his pendulum is currently swinging more towards the side where he feels people often cry racism where it doesn't exist, and worries about how that might affect our kids. He works in an office with people from all over the world, and they are mostly young people having young people discussions, if you know what I mean . not that young people are not capable of having perfectly good thoughts and opinions, but many young *cough* men * cough* seem to have it all figured out, and fall really hard on the "everything is racist" side or the "nothing is racist" side, which leads to some rather heated debates...

anyway, love to hear thoughts on this one!
post #2 of 165
I have never considered calling someone exotic looking as racist. Maybe I am just living in a cave or something but to me exotic means someone who's features are so lovely they are almost beyond beautiful.
post #3 of 165
Thread Starter 
but would you ever call a blonde-haired-blue-eyed person exotic?
post #4 of 165
Yes actually I have seen a few woman with that coloring that I would call exotic. Taylor Swift is one who comes to mind right off the bat and I know others as well but dont know their names right off.
post #5 of 165
Yep, I have seen exotic people in every color of the rainbow, I don't see how it could be offensive, I actually think it's kind of flatering like you are special or something, while I don't consider myself exotic (I'm white and have blue eyes), In some circumstances I may be considered exotic mostly because of my accent and curly hair and I don't mind it one bit.
post #6 of 165
I know in some countries blondes are considered exotic, because they're not often seen.

I'm not offended by the word exotic. To me it means something rare and beautiful, unique. I only WISH I were considered exotic!!!
post #7 of 165
doesn't it depend on where you are in the globe ?

I mean I'm white and very plain looking ... but when living in China for a while, I was asked to pose for some family photos by total strangers in some touristy spots = I was very exotic looking to them ....

English is not my native tongue but I was told at the time of learning that language and the cuture of England that personnal comments on appearance are total "no, no" .... so if not acceptable to the person's face, then maybe that's not so polite either a comment in their back (or am I really antiquated in my notion of politeness ?)

... but then I live in a country where it's not legal to ask which race you are when you file a form of some sort ...
sure, sometimes I talk about personnal apperance with close friends but then feels it's "gossip" and not so "normal/ordinary talk" ...
post #8 of 165
Personally, I find your reference to this friend as DH's "little friend" much more offensive than the term "exotic". The latter means unique and rare. The former? Is simply demeaning.
post #9 of 165
Originally Posted by tiffani View Post
but would you ever call a blonde-haired-blue-eyed person exotic?
YMMV...Actually, a good friend of mine from Australia visited the US a few months ago. She commented on how in the US, when they'd say, "Thank you" they'd get a "You're welcome" as a response and she commented on it sounding so exotic.

: We're all interesting to someone!
post #10 of 165
Originally Posted by IsaFrench View Post
I mean I'm white and very plain looking ... but when living in China for a while, I was asked to pose for some family photos by total strangers in some touristy spots = I was very exotic looking to them ...
I agree. I lived in S. Korea and had similar experiences. Red hair and green eyes is very uncommon and people would walk right up to me just to get a good look.
post #11 of 165
DH is always referring to DD as looking "exotic." It has never really bothered me. I've also heard other people call her that. She's a beautiful mix of Hispanic and Irish, with the Latin side being very predominant (to the point where, honestly, she just doesn't look like she could be my biological child). Her Irish comes out in the sun... along with turning golden-brown, she also freckles ever so slightly, and there are deep auburn highlights in her rich, dark-brown curls. She really is strikingly beautiful. (I'm prejudiced, of course! )

My "exotic" daughter? Tootsie Pop

Webster's Online Dictionary defines exotic thusly:

1. Being or from or characteristic of another place or part of the world; "alien customs"; "exotic plants in a greenhouse"; "moved to a strange country".

2. Strikingly strange or unusual; "exotic costumes from the Far East"; "an exotic hair style".

So, strictly speaking, I guess my little girl is NOT exotic, because she isn't strange or unusual, though she is striking. She's also 100% American, and here in Texas that doesn't qualify as being from another place.

Bottom line, I don't think it's offensive, but YES I can see how someone else might.
post #12 of 165
Not offensive to me. I'm white but have probably been called the equivalent of "exotic" in DH's country (north africa). DD has been called exotic by some, I'm guessing because she's tan but with silky, curly hair and long eyelashes. Not offensive at all when in these contexts. Though I could see how if someone was already suffering from racism it might be offensive.
post #13 of 165
Originally Posted by jjawm View Post
I know in some countries blondes are considered exotic, because they're not often seen.

YUP! I spent my senior year of college in Egypt..I'm blond haired and blue eyed...I was definitely exotic..I found it amusing. I also spent a lot of time covered from head to toe to avoid the stares.
post #14 of 165
I find it offensive, because it perpetuates the idea that the empowered group is "normal" and anything that differs from it is the "other." it's also a sexualized term, and used to objectify people. people of color are termed "exotic" sometimes to relegate them to the status of animals who cannot control their sexuality in order to titillate people -- see the typical portayal of AA folks in pornography for a stark example of this. children (and all people) of color are simply PEOPLE who belong just fine exactly where they are, no matter where they are, and calling them exotic tells them at the very least that they are "other." why do it? celebrating diversity is not about pointing out that one who doesn't belong to an empowered majority "belongs" somewhere else - it's about incuding them as uniquely themselves, but just one of the many parts of "normal." exotic means unique in a way that tells a person they don't belong to normal, and that's why it's offensive.
post #15 of 165
Totally not offensive to me. Matter of fact, i've been called "exotic" myself.
post #16 of 165
white people might be considered "exotic" in certain situations or locations, but generally speaking they are grossly privileged for it -- people of color SUFFER for their uniqueness and don't have the luxury of finding it cute or amusing. just because someone uses it to mean attractive doesn't mean it isn't offensive or objectifying to the human being they are labeling.
post #17 of 165
I've been labeled as exotic, and I actually prefer it to some other labels I've received. To me, usually you call a person exotic when you can't determine their ethnic/racial heritage. As a mixed-race child, I dislike most labels because they're too confining. Exotic leaves open a lot of possibilities - it's like a grey area.
post #18 of 165
nope it doesnt bother me when ppl call my dd exotic and it happens ALL THE TIME!!

i am plain old while/blond but dh is a mix of native american, native australian, thai, and portugese.....so yes i think she has earned the title by rite of birth and she is a beautiful child (if i do say so myself)!!


oh and after i posted this pic, i happened to look down and someone else actually made a comment calling dd exotic....it also happens to be another person of color who clearly does not find the term offensive either.
post #19 of 165
hey, it's fine by me if individual people of color like the label exotic or aren't offended by it -- it's none of my business. however, expecting the views of one person of color to represent the views of ALL people of color is highly offensive. everyone's mileage may and will vary -- the point is, people of an empowered group should know and be sensitive to the fact that by using certain words they may be making a person very uncomfortable and perpetuating oppression.
post #20 of 165
Well. I might get offended because I'm really touchy.

I have to say it would bug me because "exotic" means- not native, foreign. And in fact my ancestors are native to this country mostly, or have been here for a lot longer than probably most N. and S. Americans' families have.

So yeah, mildly irritating, but I wouldn't assume someone was a racist, just thoughtless (probably doesn't really consider the full definition or implications of the word).

Many, many white people assume that "whites" are the natives here- and they aren't. Or that only whites and blacks are. Like, if you are 1/2 black decended from free blacks in the north that came over during colonial times, 1/4 native American, and 1/4 white, you are "exotic" while the white boy whose grandparents came over from Poland 50 years ago looks "normal".

Yeah, it does bug me a bit, to be honest.

But again, I'm over-sensitive and really picky about word definitions. I do think that MOST people would use the term to mean, "indeterminate ancestry and beautiful" or at worst, "unusually beautiful."
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