So, She Wants To Defend Asian Fetishism

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."

Versus:

"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 Rumpus.net:

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.”

Hilarious.

'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.

A Potential New Stereotype: “Asian Men Hate Shirts”

With all the buzz surrounding K-Town on the blogosphere, Jen over at Disagrasian warns us to tone down the joking. And she’s right — this is serious, folks. Jen warns that K-Town could invoke a new, very harmful, stereotype against Asian Men…

that Asian Men hate shirts.

I applaud Jen for being vigilant in this matter. As she describes in her post, the consequences of this stereotype to hard-working, honest Asian American men is profound. We could be talking about scores of Asian men turned away by employers who require shirts be worn every day of the week — even Casual Friday! Thousands of Asian men might find themselves applying for jobs in fields where they won’t be unfairly penalized due to the anti-shirt stereotype. Do we really want our Asian brothers forced to work as strippers, cabana boys, and life guards?

Think about the self-hate and shame that will be invoked amongst decent, well-meaning Asian men when they hear phrases like, “Hey, dude, chill out! Keep your shirt on!” or “What are you, a nudist who lacks commitment?” Think of the pain Asian men will have to endure when they become targeted by new racial slurs, like “shirt-hater”, “Chippendale”, or “nipple-flasher”. And will Asian men who take their shirts off — even while performing reasonably no-shirt activities like swimming or taking a shower — be accused of being sellouts for perpetuating the shirt-hating stereotype?

But, I do disagree with Jen on one thing: let’s put the blame where it belongs. The “shirt allergy” stereotype against Asian men did not begin with Peter Le, Young Lee or Joe Cha. No, these boys are mere symptoms of an institutional stereotype that just hasn’t received sufficient media attention until now, when K-Town finally exposed the stereotype’s full impact on our Asian brothers. These poor souls are only acting as they think they’re supposed to, because the “Asian men hate shirts” stereotype has been so deeply internalized into their self-identity. In a way, these men are heroes, for bravely shedding light on a silent oppression.

Consider how many other innocent Asian men have fallen victim to this syndrome:

So, you ask — whom should we really be blaming?

Well, I think the answer is clear — the blame lies squarely on the man who first brought this dastardly stereotype to American audiences.

That’s right: Bruce. Effin’. Lee. That frickin’ nipple-flasher.

Act Now! I’m declaring August 1st to be National Asian Male Shirt Solidarity Day. Wear a shirt and show your support. Spread the word.

TMZ Has “K-Town” Cast Video

TMZ has a “K-Town” cast video to go along with the leaked Facebook images. It’s truly as crazy as we thought:

Click the picture to open the video in a new window. Why? Because TMZ sucks and won't let me embed the video.

Now that we have moving images of these eight people, I think I was mostly right about the cast… except for Scarlet and Jasmine. I called Scarlet as the sane Girlfriend archetype with Jasmine as the Nympho, but I was totally wrong. Scarlet may have the role of The Nympho, while Jasmine may be the sanest one of the girls (a female version of The Class Clown?).

Other stuff we saw in the video: I totally called Steve as the normal nice guy (he must’ve been the one to get off at the wrong subway stop), Joey may be a little too pleasant to ‘roid rage (so, strictly tail-chasing?), Violet and Jennifer (I think) are already feuding (Violet’s a hair-puller at the end of the clip!), and could Jennifer have a drinking problem?

K Town: Giving the Bird to the Model Minority Myth

 
These are true Asian American heroes — bustin’ the model minority myth one shot of Grey Goose at a time.
 

Y’know what would really give the middle finger to that pesky stereotype that Asian Americans are goody-goody math nerds? Tyrese (aka Black Ty) has the answer: a Jersey Shore-style reality show following the booze-fueled antics of eight ridiculously good-looking Asian Americans being the trashy, promiscuous, melodramatic, and shallow people we’ve come to expect from MTV.

Damn. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?  

ChannelAPA reports that filming of a pilot for the proposed series, tentatively titled “K Town”, took place this past weekend in L.A.’s Koreatown. Eight Asian American twenty-somethings — four male and four female — partied at several local establishments, taking part in stereotype-busting activities like binge-drinking, shirt-stripping, and karaoke.

And in the tradition of such high-brow fare as Real World and Jersey Shore, K Town looks to have chosen its cast based around the same 7-8 archetypes developed since the first fateful day when seven strangers were picked to live in a house and have their lives taped.

This is all just my speculation, based on superficial generalization and assumptions from the shoot photos “leaked” onto Facebook, but let me know if you think I might be onto something here.

THE GUYS

The All-American Jock
This guy has incredible upper-body definition, and the classic Asian guy ‘do (fade around the sides, spikes up front). He’s gonna be the sorta shy “nice guy with the amazing body” that the girls will lust after, ‘cuz he doesn’t know his own pretty.
Played this season by: Peter Le

Peter Le

The Class Clown
What he lacks in “good guy charm” he makes up for by being the entertainer — which involves shoving alcohol down the throats of all his castmates. Don’t worry, his flamboyance hides his secret insecurity and inner geekiness.
Played this season by: Young Lee

Young Lee

The Playa
What he lacks in muscle-rippling physique (and he would argue that’s all relative), he more than makes up for in game. When he’s not chasin’ tail to prove his manliness, he’s ‘roid ragin’… to prove his manliness.
Played this season by: Joe Sugil Cha

Joe Sugil Cha

The Playa Hatah
Desperately trying to compete with the other larger-than-life personalities, this is the guy who thought he was jock-ish, clown-ish, or playa-ish enough to be on the show… until he met the rest of the cast. But he’s too sensitive, too funny, or generally too much of a real person to be on this show, so he’ll fade into the background by episode three (and only re-surface when he has something catty to say in the Confessional). Don’t worry, tho’ — the playa hatah is either completely forgotten, or ends up being the secret fan favourite. 
Played this season by: Steve Kim

Steve Kim

THE GIRLS

The Princess
This is the girly-girly chick that all the guys on the show — and all the show’s male fans — wish they could boink. She likes bikinis and shopping, spends half her on-screen camera time in the communal bathroom, and is possibly just a little bit whiny. The Playa Hatah or the Class Clown may have a crush on her, but she will probably end up hooking up with the All-American Jock by episode 6, followed by relationship angst for the rest of the season.
Played this season by: Jennifer Field

Jennifer Field

The Sassy Drama-Queen
She stirs up drama like it’s her second job. Count on her to say the shit no one else would say about her castmates, and possibly to get into a screaming match with anybody who challenges her. Her arch-nemesis is usually The Princess. She could be a hair-puller, or even a biter. She might also be the one to dance on the bar by the end of the night.
Played this season by: Violet Kim

Violet Kim

The Nymphomaniac
No season of reality TV is complete without a Tila Tequila-type girl who just loves having fun — with her castmates, with producers, with random people she meets in the club. The All-American Jock may try to save her from her hypersexualized ways with soulful conversation, but she’ll probably be too busy in the hot tub with the Playah to notice. Don’t worry though, her free spirit tendancies also make her the most fun castmember on the show. She’s possibly also a nudist.
Played this season by: Jasmine Chang

Jasmine Chang

The Girlfriend (With the Off-Camera Boyfriend)
Often, this is the level-headed girl who seems to have gotten off at the wrong subway stop and found herself on the set with seven drunk morons. She’ll be the most rational and reasoned — which means that the camera will quickly forget about her. If she doesn’t have hormone-soaked drama involving cheating on her off-camera  boyfriend with an on-camera roomie (which is what all the producers are hoping for), she’ll end up spending most of her time sneaking away with the Playah Hatah for a smoke on the patio to lament how she ended up in a house full of crazy people. If she does end up having monogamy issues, count on her to rack up the most time in the phone booth room having very long, awkward, tear-soaked conversations with a disembodied male voice.
Played this season by: Scarlet Chan

Scarlet Chan

 So far, K Town is just a pilot shopping for a home. I’m sure we’re all waiting with bated breath to see if it gets picked up.

The Words of Asian American Men

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHIi11HX0tE

This post also appeared on Racialicious. This post was one that was lost to the ether during my domain migration, and I’m delighted to be able to restore it from Racialicious!

A little less than a month ago, a panel discussion was put together by The Asian Society focusing on Asian American male identity. The panel, consisting of three prominent Asian American men in pop culture today: The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, the single best Asian American writer of contemporary pop culture, Jeff Yang, and the ever so swoon-worthy Yul Kwon of Survivor: Cook Islands (whom this blog dubbed the real Super Asian Man back when his show was on the air). These three men chatted for a night on issues affecting Asian American men, and The Asia Society graciously put an edited “clip show” of the event on YouTube for us to view.

Continue reading “The Words of Asian American Men”