Exotifying is seeing someone as exotic or unusual — and with that, romanticize different stereotypes that are connected to who you think the person is. The term describes a process in which you attribute a set of stereotypes to a person based on their appearance and how they fall outside of the norm. People who are racialized as non-white, LGBTQ people, or people who have a disability are often exposed to exotification.
How can racism be expressed on the internet
Not everything is a compliment.
Often, people who are privileged and normative assume that people who are exotified appreciate hearing comments or remarks about their bodies, attributes, or expressions, but it is important to understand that exotification is an example of everyday racism, ableism, or transphobia. To be objectified or assigned opinions based on your body and stereotypes related to your appearance is mentally exhausting and an exclusionary practice.
Exotification from a postcolonial perspective
Exotification of people who are racialized comes from colonialism and how the western world described, attributed, and justified colonialism by assigning different groups certain attributes and personality traits. This is a so-called postcolonial heritage that is often difficult to understand or make visible because it is so normalized in our society today. This means that white, Western Europeans often find it difficult to accept criticism or understand that they are exposing people to this.
Exotification affects different groups in different ways
People with disabilities or people who break the binary gender norms also experience exotification that has to do with stereotypes and ideas about bodies, identities, and expressions that do not follow the norms. Do research on how to be an ally and avoid offending people who go against norms of whiteness, ability, and/or binary gender!
Six tips to avoid exotifying other people
Advice Everyone has the right to their own personal integrity
It's good to be curious, but do not ask personal or private questions based on your assumptions about the person's culture, ability, gender or backgrounds based on their appearance. Google to learn more!
Advice Don't comment on other people's appearance, bodies, or expressions
Don't give people compliments based on physical attributes. Just like how no one with breasts ever likes to hear "nice breasts" from a total stranger, people who often experience exotification don't like to hear comments on their bodies, disabilities, skin tone, hair or style – even if your intentions are good.
Advice Having privileges in relation to others
Think about who you are and what privileges this leads to in relation to people who are often subjected to exotification, i.e. ethnic minorities, people who are racialized as non-white, people with disabilities, trans people or other LGBTQ+ people.
Advice Never demand answers from people
Just because you do not have the knowledge or you want to know more about people who are exotified because its exciting or interesting, you do not have the right to demand answers about their lives or their background, or pressure them to explain more about the group that you are categorizing them in. Google instead!
Advice Understanding how exotification is experienced
Think about the last time someone had prejudices, preconceived notions, or thought that they knew something about you – how did it make you feel? Be aware and do not subject other people to similar treatment. People who are exotified experience this almost on a daily basis, and it is tiring.
Advice When you have exotified someone
If someone points out that you have exotified them, do not become defensive. Listen, accept the criticism, and apologize. Do not excuse the situation and do not try to convince the person that you didn't mean any harm. Being defensive and in denial only makes it more difficult to save the relationship or move on from the situation.
Tired of no one understanding the problem?
Use our micro activism posters! Send it anonymously, hang it up in the coffee room, or spread it on your social media. Exotification is real!