If I say, exotic beauty, who is the first person you picture? I'll be honest and say it's the Brazilian Victoria's Secret model, Adriana Lima. Dark flowing hair, full lips, tanned skin, and cool bluish-green eyes. A look that is exotic, otherworldly. Which is precisely the problem.
According to dictionary.com, exotic is defined as "strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance." And this is where the issue arises according to racial microaggressions researchers. Sue and colleagues (2007a) describe racial microaggressions as:
"Simply stated, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocuous," (p. 72).
Sue and colleagues (2007b) find several common themes regarding forms of racial microaggressions. One example is inscription of intelligence. A hypothetical offense would include asking an Asian person for help with math. Another theme is colorblindness, and would include the belief that America is a melting pot; the problem with this supposition is that an individual's unique cultural experiences are denied, with the assumption that they will take on the dominant culture.
One theme explores the idea that minorities are second-class citizens and would be demonstrated by an individual mistaking a person of color as a service worker. One might also implicate there is one dominant communication style, and accordingly ask an African American why they are so animated when speaking, or an Asian American why they are so quiet. There is of course one of the most common microaggressions: denial of individual racism. For example, it would be akin to me stating, "I'm not racist toward Mexicans. I'm friends with two of them."
How does this relate to Adriana? Calling her exotic assumes she is essentially an other and somehow different, though the connotation is not particularly positive. While many intend it as a compliment, when you really break it down, an exotic beauty is not the same as a true beauty. Therefore, it is ultimately a discriminatory sentiment.
Sue, D.W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A.I., Nadal, K.L., & Torino, G.C. (2007a). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 72-81.
Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C.M., Torino, G.C., Bucceri, J.M., Holder, A.M.B., Nadal, K.L., & Esquilin, M. (2007b). Racial microaggressions in everyday life. American Psychologist, 62, 271-286.