“I am not your exotic country, knowing me does not make you a traveler”

Thank you, Pavana for putting into words something I’ve felt in my heart for a long time.

Traveling has its fair share of social gatherings and everyone brings their A game to later slide into your DMs (and eventually other places). As I started attending more of these things, I noticed a weird pattern taking shape. I still hear echoes of the same pickup lines today and the conversations usually go something like this:

*Upon realization, I am not a local*
Dude: Hi!
Me: Hey!
Dude: So, where are you from?
Me: Canada.
Dude: Hmm…but you’re not….
Me: Not white? I was born in Pakistan.
Dude: Oh, wow, Pakistan! I’ve never kissed a Pakistani girl before!
Me: …

When I first heard it at a party in Brazil, I thought the guy was a pretty slick flirt. After multiple interactions with this line and its cousin versions replacing “kissed” with “dated” or even “fucked”, I realized just how absurd and ignorant it all sounded. It later occurred to me that the only reason they might have even slightly shown an interest in me was because they wanted to check something off a list rather than get to know me as a person.

It’s like saying “I’m not racist, I have a *person of color* friend” when bragging about “I hooked up with/dated this *person of color*, I can’t be racist.”

As much as we’d like to think so, this is not only a problem for small towns that lack diversity. Even in the most multicultural cities, I am often fetishized for details on how my parents are so strict and how rebellious it would be to be with me because it’s outside the norm of their social circles.

What we need to understand is that an individual is not a token for an entire culture. I’ve had professors personally pick on me when discussing terrorism in class because of my skin color. It felt like they were almost waiting for an insight or an apology of some sort because apparently, I speak for an entire nation or religion.

And can we also just acknowledge how cringe worthy the word “exotic” is? When you call someone exotic, you are polarizing them. You are using the “us” vs. ”them” card to further other and isolate a population. “Exotic” implies being not white as something strange and different from the norm, or in other words, signaling POC are not normal.

It also doesn’t help that this is often said to us by white men who are insinuating sexual undertones. Racial women become sexualized commodities meant for the consumption of white men who simultaneously dehumanize us and put us on the pedestal known as “exotic”.

Building relationships with diverse people is not a crime, hell, I’ll be the first to encourage it. However, there are better ways of getting to know someone. Understanding that an individual is a person before they are of whatever ethnicity or nationality is essential in order to build respect between people.

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