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:
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?
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:
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?
After all, argues Chen, sexuality is all about objectification, isn’t it?
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.
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:
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.
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”.
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:
(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.
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:
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.
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