So, She Wants To Defend Asian Fetishism

July 13, 2012
Because nothing says love like racial fetishism.

Earlier this week, a Huffington Post blogger Vivienne Chen wrote an article — So, He Likes You Because You’re Asian — which quickly made the rounds around Facebook. The basic thesis of the article is that there’s nothing particularly racist about a non-Asian man who exclusively dates Asian women. It’s not real racism, asserts Chen, but the kind of silly mundanity more deserving of our bemusement than our wrath. Further, thinks Chen, it’s us Asian women who stand to lose by calling this behaviour out as racist.

And, boy. Never has an article made me want to gnash my teeth and rip out my hair more. Writes Chen:

The problem I see is that this constant espousal of the stereotype of men who like Asian women oversimplifies complicated race, gender and sexual politics, and actually damages the dating prospects of Asian females and non-Asian males alike.

By promoting the “creepy [white] man with Asian fetish” stereotype in public discourse, we Asian women are shooting ourselves in the foot. We subtly reinforce that the predominant narrative of interracial dating between non-Asian men and Asian women is one of patriarchal, racist power structures, when we know that is not always the case. There is a world of difference between the old, ignorant fetishist and the average guy I’ve met who dates Asian women. In the areas of California where I grew up, where Asians range from 20 to 50% of the student population, a college-age male would have to make an active effort to exclude Asian females from their dating pool. And that, my friends, would be pretty racist.

But by constantly projecting this idea that men who specifically like Asian women are creepers, we risk making otherwise decent, respectable guys avoid dating Asian girls for fear of being labeled a creeper — until we have nothing but creepers left.

Now, I admit it — it’s been about 13 years since I’ve gone doggy-paddling around in the dating pool. But is this really a concern for all the single Asian ladies out there? Moreover, is this really a thought that crosses a decent gentleman’s mind while he debates asking the cute girl out?

"Man, I totally dig Jodie. But, I can't ask her out for coffee because if I do, she'll think I've internalized Orientalist and misogynistic stereotypes of Asian women as part of a long-standing fetish I have for the Eastern arts and culture, and that my interest in her is part of an elaborate ploy to engage in kinky recreations of Western colonialism of the Asian continent and its people using my recently purchased "Naughty Geisha" Halloween costume and discount foot-binding kit. Gosh, it's hard out here for a White guy."

I guess you learn something new about the male mentality every day.

Chen paints an elaborate portrait of the meager dating options for single Asian women today (one that certainly makes me relieved that this isn’t something I have to worry about). She asserts that there are two — and apparently only two — different kinds of non-Asian guys available for Asian women to date: 1) White guys who exclusively date Asian girls and who are fetishistic assholes, and 2) White guys who exclusively date Asian girls… but who are also “nice guys”. Or:

"Yeah, I only date Asian girls."


"Yeah, I only date Asian girls. But -- I also like puppies!"

I admit, I was up until this point, completely unaware that the past few years’ Recession had also hit the dating economy so hard.

Apparently, we Asian American women have so saturated the dating market that we simply can’t afford to chase away the opportunity to date the “nice” Asiaphile, lest we while away the rest of our days as elderly — if morally superior — spinsters. These are good men, argues Chen, who just happen to be attracted to Asian women (and who just happen to have a huge collection of samurai swords, who just happen to have backpacked through Asia after college, who just happens to speak Mandarin, Japanese, and a little bit of pidgin Vietnamese, who just happens to have watched all the latest anime series, and who just happens to know where all the good bimbimbap restaurants in K-town are). We can’t blame the guy who just happens to fetishize the East, right?

... I mean, maybe he's only got Stage I Yellow Fever...?

After all, argues Chen, sexuality is all about objectification, isn’t it?

But how do we as Asian women deal with an overall decent, respectable guy who doesn’t just like Asians, but likes us because we’re Asian? Is it really a dealbreaker? This gets even more complicated. A thoughtful (Asian) female friend of mine points to a quote from Stephen Elliott of The

To be desired is to be fetishized… this idea that I want someone to desire me but not objectify me with their desires is absurd. It’s like saying I only want to date someone who is not attracted to people that look like me. Here’s the thing, you already are a fetish. You are your lover’s kink, exist within their circle of desire, starting with gender, and getting more specific from there.” (emphasis added)

“In fact,” he says, “there’s no bad reason to love a person. A person is not less enlightened if they’re only attracted to their own gender, or Asian women, or skinny people, or latex, or feet. You can objectify someone without treating them like an object.”

Elliott points out that the complexities of desire, objectification and fetishization affect all of us, regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

I agree that there’s a certain amount of objectification that comes with sexual desire. Peruse any local “Love Boutique”, and you’ll find ample examples of male and female (and trans) bodies being reduced to mere objects of sexual pleasure. In particular, you’ll find sexist and racial stereotypes given lewd form — fist-sized Black dildos juxtaposed next to decapitated rubber latex female torsos juxtaposed next to DVDs scrawled with images of barely legal Asian schoolgirls screaming “Fucky, sucky, long time” in jagged ChinkyYellowface font.

That doesn’t make it okay.

In fact, there are reams of writing from women, LGBT, and ethnic studies majors who have argued about the damning consequences of pornographic objectification of the human form, be it through the lens of race or gender. Objectification is a fact of human sexuality, but that doesn’t automatically give it a pass as politically acceptable.

And for the many people who lauded Chen’s article because (apparently) you can use it to rationalize anyone’s sexual fetishes, including (apparently) heterosexuality; I think there’s a big difference between having a particular sexual preference (re: hetero- vs homo-sexuality) hard-wired into your brain v.s. having a fetish for a woman of a particular race. Specifically, there’s a difference when viewed in light of the many damaging hypersexualized stereotypes that affect Asian/Asian American women in particular.

Unless someone's going to show me the scientific data that men are born with an Asian schoolgirl fetish.
Dehumanization is still dehumanization, whether for the purposes of sex or otherwise. It doesn’t matter why you’re objectifying me; if you’re objectifying me because of my race, you are still viewing me as less than human.
And, I'm nobody's Asian fembot.

I don’t know how more plainly I can put this: the simple act of objectifying a person based on their race is, in and of itself, racist. Chen jokes:

[M]ore often than not, I find the advances of fetishists to be less infuriating and more amusing — because they are just so darn bad at seduction. Their attempts to woo me with their poorly pronounced “ni haos” and “konichiwas” are on par with little old ladies who exclaim “but you speak English so well!” to classmates who innocently ask me to translate a “Chinese” tattoo. Ignorant? Yes, but hardly worth griping over.

But, whether you want to subjugate Asian women for your latest bedroom kink, or whether you merely want to ask us to translate your Chinese tattoo, you are still seeing Asian women as mere representatives of a racial whole. Manifestations of racism, no matter how mundane they might appear to be, are still based on racism. It’s still a person who isn’t seeing past my race. It’ still someone treating me differently based solely on the colour of my skin. And, that’s racist.

Yet, Chen argues, we Asian women should be more tolerant and forgiving of the Asiaphile because we are guilty of limiting our own dating choices; thus, to condemn the Asiaphile would be hypocritical.

We Asian girls who complain about Yellow Fever know for a fact that not every guy who dates Asian girls is a creeper — as many of us tend to exclusively date non-Asian men ourselves. [Marie Claire’s Ji Hyun Lee] admits this in passing, but waves it away with the age-old excuse: “Asian guys rarely hit on me, perhaps because many aren’t raised to be assertive with women.” Bullshit. Let’s be honest: We have grown up in a Western culture, with Western standards of beauty and Western ideals of romance — which is why we value “assertiveness” at the bar in the first place. We prefer Western men because we grew up in a culture that prefers Western men.

Chen is right — it would be hypocritical to condemn Asiaphiles while exclusively dating White men. Which doesn’t mean that Asiaphiles aren’t racist; it means maybe we should interrogate how racist it is when Asian women exclusively  date White men, or  exclusively date Asian men, or any other permutation of limiting one’s mating choices based on racial qualifiers.

Let me put it bluntly: a girl (Asian or otherwise) who only dates guys (White or otherwise) of a particular race because of their membership in that race is racist. And if you want proof, look no further than the casual racism of Chen’s article, which laughs about (rather than challenges) Asian notions of “light makes right”.

Those of us who come from more traditional Asian families know our parents would faint if we brought home an African American boyfriend; I’ve seen my friend’s mother scream at her for having a Berkeley-educated Brazilian beau. Asian cultures can be remarkably xenophobic, and white people are sometimes given a “light-skinned pass.” Long before the White Man set foot in China, having light skin was a sign of wealth and status, as it meant you didn’t spend long hours toiling in the sun. Remember, Asian cultures are the ones that mass market skin-lightening creams, where people often get eyelid surgery to make their eyes bigger, i.e. less Asian.

In short, it’s perfectly acceptable to be an Asian girl who fetishizes White guys, because Asian people are just oh-so-awesomely racist like that! Or, as Chen pithily puts it:

My friends and I often joke about this study: White guy says, “I love Asian women, you’re so exotic and feminine!” Asian girl says, “Well, at least you’re not black.”


'Cuz what self-respecting Asian girl would demean herself with a guy who looks like this, right? I mean, he's just so... Black.

(Aside: Shemar Moore is insanely, inhumanely good-looking. I mean it, he is just impossibly handsome. It’s not fair to us mere mortals.)

Guess what, Ms. Chen? We all grew up in a Westernized Asian American culture that idealized Eurocentric ideals of beauty. We also all grew up with brains that are perfectly capable of challenging social programming to break out of racist stereotypes of beauty, sexuality and dating. Many Asian cultures suffer historically from deeply ingrained colourstruck programming that would discard or ostracize African American or Latino dating choices, while prizing White or Asian mates.  But we’re also supposed to be an enlightened generation of people who can move past their pre-programming and accept people for who they are rather than the colour of their skin.

Which leaves me with the crux of why Chen’s article so offended me.

Let me be clear: I am, in no way, arguing against interracial relationships. I am not denigrating Asian American women who have dated, and/or who are currently dating, non-Asian men. I make a very big distinction between Asian American women who date non-Asian men, and Asian American women who exclusively date non-Asian (or Asian) men. In short, I have a problem with the deliberate act of excluding one’s dating choices based on race.

I’ve been blogging as an Asian American female and feminist for nearly a decade. Back in the day, the issue of Asian female outmarriage was a seething undercurrent of the Asian American blogosphere (not that it doesn’t remain a hot-button issue these days, but nothing like 8-10 years ago). During this time, Asian women at-large were being typecast from within the community as being racist sellouts based primarily on the phenomenon of Asian American outmarriage. We were treated, as a whole, as folks who had internalized anti-Asian stereotypes of Asian masculinity, and this served as a real obstacle for female political participation in the online Asian American community. Gigabytes of digital type were dedicated to arguing that (all) Asian American women suffer internalized self-hate leading them to date White men, and this was why Asian American men should be suspicious of any Asian American woman’s involvement in APA political activism and community organizing. Unlike Asian American men, politically engaged Asian American women had to defend our “down-ness” with the Asian American cause in reference to the race of our significant others.

You'd be pissed too if the state of your love life was more important to some members of the Asian American community than what you had to say.

Because I am an Asian American woman in a stable relationship with an African-American man, I’ve been the target of the worst sexism that the Asian American community has to offer. I’ve been called a sellout, a hypocrite, and worse because the man I fell in love with is Black. I am part of the Asian female outmarriage statistic, and yet I still have the nerve to be involved in uplifting the Asian American community.

Here’s the difference, and it’s a critical one. I never exclusively limited my dating choices based on race. In the very brief period between when I was both post-pubescent and single (and I do mean brief — we’re talking 3, maybe 4, years?), I was attracted to men of all shapes and sizes, and all colours and creeds. As far as I’m concerned, limiting oneself to dating only a certain physical type — racial or otherwise — is as superficial as it is racist, and is almost a guarantee to miss out on the potential love of your life.

In short, Asian women who conscientiously choose to exclusively date White men are just as racist as the Asiaphiles they defend. And, as someone who has spent years defending non-racist Asian women and our right to be in meaningful interracial relationships (and to do so without having our Asian-ness questioned), I’m galled and disappointed by this blatant example of an Asian woman getting it so very racist and so very wrong. Asian American women shouldn’t have our political activism questioned based on who we date; but nor should we so brazenly embrace racism, and being racially subjugated, in our own lives.

And what pisses me off the most, Ms. Chen? In the eyes of the small subset of the Asian American male population who would rather marginalize all Asian American female voices than to listen to us — there’s no difference between you and me.

In the end, Chen’s article isn’t about arguing that Asiaphilia isn’t racist. It’s about Chen suggesting that Asiaphilia is an acceptable form of racism because it’s more convenient for her personal life to do so. Chen isn’t interested in combatting racism; she’s interested in protecting her dating options. She wants to preserve her right to be racially objectified and to call it love. She wants to leverage her race to her own romantic advantage, and be desired with a clear conscience.

Which, in the end, is nothing more than defending your right to be in this relationship:

"My boyfriend only dates Asian girls. But it's not racist because I'm his SPECIAL Asian girl."

If that’s what floats Ms. Chen’s boat, than so be it. But, please don’t make all of us Asian American women look like racist asshats while you’re rationalizing the sociopolitical consequences of your own poor love-life choices. Neither does every person in an interracial relationship have a racial fetish, nor is every Asian American woman who dates interracially tolerant of Asiaphilia. So, please stop making it seem like the case.

In closing, let me make a humble suggestion: So, he likes you because you’re Asian? Then, he doesn’t love you. Really. Maybe you should try dating until you can find someone who likes you, and who doesn’t give a fuck what you look like.

And that might even mean giving up your own racial fetishes, too.

  • Bob

    @jennreappropriate:disqus When you see a photo of Shemar Moore, and you feel, “that guy is impossibly attractive,” that is exactly how I feel about some Asian women. I just want to get this clear for once and for all — that’s not fetishism, right? If you see someone who looks kinda maybe similar to Shemar Moore in some ways but not all, and you feel, “that guy is also pretty fine,” that’s also not fetishism, right? I am trying to thread the needle between legit attraction vs treating people as interchangeable. I don’t believe that I treat people that way, but in retrospect, I have dated a whole lotta people who have come from the same countries. It’s been more than physical, of course, an amazing life’s journey, and maybe that is the point. I just can’t help feeling vaguely guilty about an otherwise amazing life with people who’ve been just as happy as I am, because I read articles online a lot that raise some red flags for me. Just wanted to join, as they say, the conversation.

  • The question you must ask yourself is whether your attraction is related to the person individually, or is related to their racial features. Are you attracted to a person because of their membership in a particular racial group? She at Moore is attractive because of his bedroom eyes, his jawline and his smile (he also seems like a cool dude based on his social media); those abs don’t hurt. None of the things that make him attractive are related to his race, and all those things can and would be found in men of other racial groups.

    If your attraction to some Asian women is in any way because they are Asian, that’s a fetish. It doesn’t necessarily make you a horrible person, but it us a bit if a reductive way to find and interact with a mate that is based at least in part on fetishism and implicit stereotyping. Rather than feel guilty, the more productive thing would be to examine what fetishism is, why it is problematic and how that relates to yourself.

    Race conversations require a personal journey. It sounds as if from your posts you are starting to embark on it. That’s a good thing — I invite you to continue participating in the blog to advance this. It also requires you to think more deliberately on yourself and your behaviors. No one here can absolve you of your privileges or biases. But you can go a long way just by starting with being more aware of them.

  • Bob

    I enjoy the opportunity to hash this out in an intelligent manner, as I’ve been thinking about it most days for several years. I’m a tough opponent when it comes to arguing with myself, so thanks for this.

    I would say this. When it comes to the strictly physical, those are features that I’m drawn to. I mean, I’m not drawn to the social construct. And I think those features are choicelessly a function or byproduct of race. What I consider bedroom eyes are … very particular and may not make sense to other people. So as you say, “the things that make the person attractive.”

    Not to mention, of course, a ferocious punky personality (the submissive thing is a total myth, my ex built her own store and employed 9 people) … funky adventuresome, fearless playful person, smart and moral, but limited too like me, vulnerable … a person who embodies actual evidence of Good and Truth in the world. To bring together all those intense feelings with the physical, that’s why I asked her to marry me, and I’ve never been happier.

    I just think back on girlfriends of yon, and yeah, … it was pretty bad. I do not know how I got there. I was the one visualizing a pretty Chinese girl with wisps of bangs, smiling in slow motion before the dawn at Guilin mountain range, with background music of the mystical arhoo… long and aching notes and an intense nostalgia about a memory that was never mine. I don’t know where it came from or what it meant, this attraction to escape my 2 cent town and go far far away, all the way to the other side of the crayon box, but I had to go. Over time what was once “foreign” became utterly normal to me, and I was able to transmute or sublimate those feelings into more mundane things — posters, calligraphy, stamps, etc. I built many real friendships living in Japan and I think that helped a lot in terms of grounding the fantasy back to reality and turning into some I think is decent and respectable.

    Any fetishism today is, frankly, it’s an option but it has to be consensual and mutually exciting. There’s nuclear power in it, but when it’s been understood and really processed, eventually it can be harnessed as a fantasy, as a means to mutual excitement. What else are taboos for if not to break them?

  • Bob

    @jennreappropriate:disqus I had written this rambling reply whilst under the influence of Ambien — let me try again! At the end of the day, I would like to get on the right side of this topic/issue. On the one hand, I feel that my feelings are valid (i.e. who i like / liked, intense attraction, etc.). At the same time I also don’t agree with broad-brush thinking either, as applied to entire swaths of people. It almost seems to me like probability, like “probably out of a group at random I’d probably been more often attracted to” … but that’s neither here nor there. It’s just a fact. The relationships are over, I’m married, it’s a moot point in practical terms. I guess all I ever wanted on this topic was to hear from the social justice “side” that, yeah, your feelings are legit, just don’t do X or Y. One thing about the consciousness-raising that kind of alienates me and makes it hard for me to join is, there’s this refrain of “creep, perv, etc” and the deliberate use of “Asiaphile” because it sounds like “pedophile” presumably, or like an illness, when honestly I would think any form on xenophilia would cure many of the world’s ills, given the xenophobia ongoing. It’s like, how could some attraction be perverted as contrasted to other attractions when these are two adults, two to tango? So that’s really my only challenge when it comes to my desire to be more of a friend to this movement. Did that make sense at all? I know there are people who write terrible things on dating web sites and the like, and I’m very against what they express.

  • Myra Esoteric

    The main problem I have with yellow fever is that it (used to) marginalize Asian men by reinforcing a colonialist narrative. IMO – if it does not marginalize Asian men or attract omega fedoras and sexpats the dregs of society I see it as less of an issue

  • White Devil

    I guess critical thinking is not part of the gender/racial studies curriculum.

  • Jayden Fong

    I think you’ve banged the nail on the head with your argument.

  • White Devil

    1) Shemar Moore is half white. nice touch 2) you completely missed the point of the article. 3) lets be honest “non-Asian men” is sloppy code for white man. 4) your article basically reads – (in a Marilyn Monroe voice) “I’m doing what a lot of Asian women do, but white guys are like so trendy and ewww. I want to show everyone how much better I am, than most Asian girls are, by being with a black guy, and righting vapid articles about how white guys are creeps and Asian girls are racist for liking them and and how disgusting it is. see, I dated the rainbow (- white) for like 3 years and married the first black guy that I could, because I took an Asian American studies class, junior year, and I learned all about how white guys are evil, and other non-white men are better, except for Asian men, because they know what its like to be an oppressed minority especially big strong blacks. I’m special now. I’m so white washed that I skipped past white guys, and went for black guys, because their cooler, have bigger dicks, and can dance better than white lames. white guys are like so corny and ewww. I have a black fetish just like white women do now. So, now I’m like a white women, and I can have black babies, and show the world how fucking awesomely non-racist I am, and can really piss of white guys too, and drink white tears because one time this white guy like asked me “where are you from”. like really! can you believe how fucking racist white guys are /- that they put Asian girls on a pedestal, and talk about how filled with sugar and spice and everything nice we are (for centuries), and shining us on in the media all the time and basically making us white. If it wasn’t for them making us so special, in the first place, my black husband would probably be chasing after a white girl like before the internet really put the WM/ AF thing into perspective, for fucking every body and their mother to see, and made all these non-white dudes thirsty because they have something to prove and cant get a white woman. I mean, I know black guys weren’t checking for Asian girls 20 years ago, and white guys have been in “racist” love with Asian girls for centuries, but fuck white guys its true love. The end. tehe!”. Middle Finger!!!

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