Exoticism is seemingly a benevolent form of Othering. Unfortunately, it has the same effect as regular-old xenophobia.
It's something that tarnishes your closeness with another, makes you question whether you are there merely for the pleasure of "another experience." I am guilty of this at times, drawing close to others out of curiosity. And there's nothing wrong with that in itself, but you need to take it in the wider context. Exoticism is an extension of prejudice in that it dehumanises the Outsider, and this happens within white communities as much as it happens between and within all communities. I could write until you're bored stiff about experiences I've had as being an Outsider, but I'll limit it to a few events.
My house was egged/stoned and vandalised with graffiti. There was a rumour that went around that neighbourhood I first lived in when I moved to Northern Ireland that me and my husband were child molesters. The adults wouldn't talk to us, not even our direct neighbours. We were the only foreigners in the estate and felt nothing but hostility from the folks around us. We got out of that place as soon as we could, about a year and half into living there.
As I was reflecting this morning on the fact that I have been in relationships with people who have seen me as exotic, I remembered the other side of this coin. My white American husband described me as different to people we met; "She's not like other Americans," he'd say. I am a Virginia-born Yankee, with parents from Long Island who homeschooled us deep in the ravines of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one point, someone threatened to burn our house down due to a misunderstanding. We left there a year or two after that happened. We had a few friends in that place, but we were always seen as outsiders.
I remember moving to the US and sitting at a table of other women - all black women - talking about our frustrations with not getting work despite being overqualified. I mentioned that a couple of Northern Irish friends had taken the initiative and confirmed an unspoken suspicion of mine: they thought I was suffering discrimination and not being offered work, gigs, or performances that I would be offered had I been Norn Iron-born. To my intense relief, rather than meeting my assertion with disbelief or incredulity, one friend agreed: "You keep asking yourself, is it me? What's wrong with my work?"
I moved to Oakland hoping that I would find camaraderie, and I did: I felt less out of place there than I have anywhere. But still, I couldn't live down the exoticism; a lover told me I was different and fascinating, laughing at my cultural oddities and confusion. Sometimes it was friendly and I laughed, too; sometimes it was counter-productive and completely inefficient. I think he took what he could while he could before moving on. This has happened to me before: the person moves on to someone more like themselves, someone of the same nationality, etc.
Now, you could look at this and say that this is just what happens in love: we're fascinated by the Other and we want to know them. And sometimes it doesn't work out. I get that. But after living through so much Othering - not just the big events, but the daily grind of having to explain/defend your presence in a place - you become extremely skeptical of someone celebrating your Otherness. And here I am - at home now. I moved here so I could stop and blend in for a minute, only to find that I can't because of the above experiences. I can't because - well, I never did - and I don't agree and now I don't even want to blend in here. And here even I have experienced this Romantic Exoticism, perhaps as much as anywhere else.
I am not at risk of being wrongly arrested, deported, or imprisoned in this place, or subtly pushed out. It's not just the big events that make you question others' actions towards you, but the small ones. And communities that hide their narratives of trauma often do not understand or validate those who witness and share their pain.
Because what does it come down to? The desire to be seen as merely human, to be seen as a fellow human, capable of mistakes, and capable of receiving and giving true love, compassion, and intimacy.
I have no words of wisdom, no directions, nothing else to say, except that possibly in order to welcome the otherness in "Outsiders" I must first see and accept it in myself. I'm grappling for answers. Please extend a hand or words if you have any.