Recently, I read how a woman described herself as ‘exotic’ on Social Media. When I asked about this descriptor, she replied that’s what she is: from Latin America, from the jungle! In my personal experience, exotic is usually used ethnocentrically, by people who describe people different than themselves. For me, it has a racist connotation, but is at least strongly biased. Was she so used to be called exotic that she described herself with the same word? Or is she trying to own this word, reframe it?
A few months ago, I was freelancing at a job where I was in charge of oral exams. Every time I do this, I and the respective person I examine with usually have a brief chat with our examinees when they enter the room: of course, they are nervous. This day, after just a few sentences, my colleague left the room. I was puzzled. Apparently, the examinee was doing the examination for someone else. He knew her from before, doing the same exam. The head of the school came in, asked for the examinee’s ID: “We cannot really tell from your ID’s copy. You people look all the same in black-and-white copies.” (It’s horrible, I know.)
The examinee was Black. After the head had made this comment, I was wondering if the examinee used the unwillingness of many white people to see the differences of Black people’s faces. To see the actual features of Black people. And it makes me so sad that people are still blind. That people do not want to look beyond their whiteness and think that every non-white person looks alike. I don’t think that anyone should take an exam for another person. But I think that she was kind of right: if white people refuse to see her individuality, her uniqueness, why should she even bother? If ‘all Black (Latinx, Asian, etc.) people look the same,’ why wouldn’t one exam for all suffice?
Marginalized people have to fight so much. We have to fight for expressions—it sometimes feels like every neutral word we have for a marginalized group is finally devalued. Becomes a horrible slur. Stereotypes are barely surmountable. It doesn’t matter if this concerns race, gender, sexuality, class, age, disability, … And this is so maddening. We are so educated, but we still live in a world where harassment is central, where people are marginalized for superficial reasons.