exotic = offensive? - Mothering Forums
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Multicultural Families > exotic = offensive?
tiffani's Avatar tiffani 08:09 AM 06-29-2009
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!

MCatLvrMom2A&X's Avatar MCatLvrMom2A&X 08:26 AM 06-29-2009
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.
tiffani's Avatar tiffani 08:29 AM 06-29-2009
but would you ever call a blonde-haired-blue-eyed person exotic?
MCatLvrMom2A&X's Avatar MCatLvrMom2A&X 08:37 AM 06-29-2009
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.
Keria's Avatar Keria 10:41 AM 06-29-2009
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.
jjawm's Avatar jjawm 10:48 AM 06-29-2009
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!!!
IsaFrench's Avatar IsaFrench 10:58 AM 06-29-2009
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" ...
mtiger's Avatar mtiger 12:02 PM 06-29-2009
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.
Sarah W's Avatar Sarah W 12:36 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
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!
Sarah W's Avatar Sarah W 12:39 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
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.
SeekingSerenity's Avatar SeekingSerenity 05:00 PM 06-29-2009
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.
ShwarmaQueen's Avatar ShwarmaQueen 05:03 PM 06-29-2009
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.
Fyrestorm's Avatar Fyrestorm 05:10 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
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.
SilverWillow's Avatar SilverWillow 05:14 PM 06-29-2009
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.
WC_hapamama's Avatar WC_hapamama 05:15 PM 06-29-2009
Totally not offensive to me. Matter of fact, i've been called "exotic" myself.
SilverWillow's Avatar SilverWillow 05:17 PM 06-29-2009
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.
sh0rtchica's Avatar sh0rtchica 05:47 PM 06-29-2009
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.
katie9143's Avatar katie9143 05:51 PM 06-29-2009
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)!!

photo

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.
SilverWillow's Avatar SilverWillow 06:07 PM 06-29-2009
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.
EdnaMarie's Avatar EdnaMarie 06:20 PM 06-29-2009
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."
feministabarista's Avatar feministabarista 06:38 PM 06-29-2009
Same here, EdnaMarie. I totally agree with you.

These words can sometimes fracture a multicutural person's self image (from personal experience.) I struggle daily to become all parts of self due to years of being called "different", "exotic", "unique", and constantly being asked that intolerable question, "Where are you from?"

I am from the states. Originally and ancestrally.

Beauty is not dichotomous. It encompasses all.
tiffani's Avatar tiffani 08:26 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtiger View Post
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.
I actually read that before I posted and considered taking it out, but he's a good friend of ours, and they kind of have that relationship -- my dh is 42, friend is 25. In his defense, he said he meant exotic as "special, unique" but like others have pointed out here, that's not really what it means, if you go by the dictionary definition.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarah W View Post
We're all interesting to someone!
We are all interesting, and different, and a novelty somewhere, but that is very different than what the word "exotic" means. I found it interesting that most people who replied were blonde/white, and had tales of being found an oddity in other places. That is very true -- in cultures where there aren't a lot of blondes, people are fascinated by blonde hair, and white people in general -- BUT!!! I would argue that the actual term "exotic" would not be used, nor would the word used about the white person be an equivalent to the word "exotic". In parts of Africa, the words used to describe people who are not from there are more equivalent to "traveler" or simply "white person". Here is an interesting blog post I found from a Nigerian woman on the topic...

SilverWillow sums it up for me in her first post -- if you look at the actual definition of the word exotic, it is basically defined as "other", and why are white people "normal" and everyone else is "other"? it's funny, MCatLvrMom2A&X, because after I posted I did think of the fact that white women with sharp features are sometimes called exotic looking -- what does that really mean, though? the first thing that popped into my head was that they almost look alien or animal, with their very striking features -- not "normal" like everyone else, right? The term exotic, though, is often applied to women (not men, for the most part -- I've never heard it applied to men) of color who are also lovely to look at. Almost universally, I would bet that if you asked "pretty" women of color if they've ever been called 'exotic', the answer would be yes. there are models on the runways who are of all different races who are a little on the odd looking side, and they're there because their particular beauty is considered "exotic" whereas the odd looking white girls are called "unique" -- it's a double standard that I'm not comfortable with, and I know there are many others who aren't either, so I would choose not to use it.

Essentially, for me, "exotic" is a loaded term, and I don't think it should be applied to people. Plants, animals, locations, sure, but it's really objectifying and imperialistic to call a person exotic, imho.
tiffani's Avatar tiffani 08:33 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedOakMomma View Post
Why do I find it offensive? I think it's one of many words that is used to label women from other cultures as hypersexual, submissive, seductive, etc. It's a word that smacks of cultural colonialism, going back to the days when white men oogled women from other cultures...seeing them as less than human but valuable for their exotic/native sexuality or beauty. It's objectifiying, in a racial and dominating way that I find inappropriate.

If someone used the term to describe my daughter, I'd have words for them.
I took this from the adoption forum, where I cross-posted this topic, because it explains my feelings on it really well. you can always count on RedOakMomma to explain your feelings better than you can!
Green Eyes's Avatar Green Eyes 09:26 PM 06-29-2009
dup
Green Eyes's Avatar Green Eyes 09:26 PM 06-29-2009
I've always taken "exotic" to mean rare, beautiful, or exciting - a compliment. But somewhere along the line the term "exotic dancer" was coined and has added an erotic element to the word.
cappuccinosmom's Avatar cappuccinosmom 09:59 PM 06-29-2009
Quote:
I've always taken "exotic" to mean rare, beautiful, or exciting - a compliment. But somewhere along the line the term "exotic dancer" was coined and has added an erotic element to the word.
This. It doesn't bother me, wouldn't bother me applied to my children, because I understand it as meaning what's in the first sentence, and a compliment. Even if it's not the dictionary meaning, it's a colloquial meaning. Language changes, as do meanings.

But because of the language change that refers to a certain type of dancer as "exotic", eh, I'd be hesitant to use it.

Personally, if I were to think of someone as "exotic" it wouldn't be because of their being a particular race. It would be a combination of features that made them stand out among others as particularly and eye-catchingly beautiful. And yes, I have thought that of white women as well as women of color.
EdnaMarie's Avatar EdnaMarie 10:20 PM 06-29-2009
I think that there is a time for using exotic, but because it is rude to make comments on personal appearance in general, it should not really be used for people. Exotic dress, exotic shoes, exotic music, fine. Exotic woman (whom you don't know so it's obviously a comment on appearance)? Nah.

That said, a white person in China or Africa IS exotic and foreign most of the time. It's considered quite rude to stare here but I don't know about those countries. If it is rude, some people don't seem to mind as much, or possibly cannot help it due to the novelty.
Keria's Avatar Keria 12:06 AM 06-30-2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by tiffani View Post
I took this from the adoption forum, where I cross-posted this topic, because it explains my feelings on it really well. you can always count on RedOakMomma to explain your feelings better than you can!
Hmm well from that point of view, while I am "white" I am latin american and from the third world and all of that, and I really hate when other people choose to be offended for me for things I couldn't care less, now it may be different when you adopt your child as at first you'll be his/her voice, but to choose to be offended for a woman in a restaurant it's a little too much.
MCatLvrMom2A&X's Avatar MCatLvrMom2A&X 01:49 AM 06-30-2009
Quote:
Personally, if I were to think of someone as "exotic" it wouldn't be because of their being a particular race. It would be a combination of features that made them stand out among others as particularly and eye-catchingly beautiful. And yes, I have thought that of white women as well as women of color.
:

This topic has made me think once again how I am afraid to make reference to anyone for fear of offending them without even knowing it I would never intentionally say something that I felt was hurtful to someone in a racist way but it is a big fear of mine.
tiffani's Avatar tiffani 02:19 AM 06-30-2009
Quote:
Originally Posted by TropicalGirl View Post
Hmm well from that point of view, while I am "white" I am latin american and from the third world and all of that, and I really hate when other people choose to be offended for me for things I couldn't care less, now it may be different when you adopt your child as at first you'll be his/her voice, but to choose to be offended for a woman in a restaurant it's a little too much.
I wasn't offended for her, I was just pointing out to my friend that if he were trying to woo a lady, calling her exotic might not work in his favor. I wouldn't call someone exotic, when 'beautiful' would suffice, and with the word exotic, you run the risk of making them feel alienated.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MCatLvrMom2A&X View Post
:

This topic has made me think once again how I am afraid to make reference to anyone for fear of offending them without even knowing it I would never intentionally say something that I felt was hurtful to someone in a racist way but it is a big fear of mine.
that's why we talk nicely about these things! how else do we learn what might offend people? If it's coming from a good place, you won't likely offend anyone, but I like to know what phrases and ideas are found to be offensive to people -- usually when I think about their reasoning, it makes sense, and then I choose other ways to describe people.
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