Welcome back to the Asian panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:
N’Jaila Rhee, the mastermind behind BlaysianBytch.com (link NSFW); Elton, long time commenter and friend of the blog; refresh_daemon, blogger and occasional contributor; Christina Xu, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; Eric Zhang, occasional contributor; and Holly, contributor at Feministe.
refresh_daemon: Agreed. Plus, as far as population goes, Asian Americans are smaller and consequently less visible overall. Furthermore, I think Asian Americans even now tend to be less vocal and prominent in mainstream media, so it really has to do with our general lack of presence, combined with the perpetual foreigner concept that gets attached to us.
N’jaila: I also know a lot of Asian Americans that see themselves as “White Minorities” who don’t need to be counted outside of the White mainstream. I think these people are insane.
Elton: I agree. But when institutions treat Asians as practically white, and downplay the fact that Asians experience racism, what do you expect? Especially in higher education, there is an invisible asterisk beside “minority” or “diversity” that says *actually we mean non-Asian minorities, and our definition of diversity is “fewer Asians.”
Eric: I specifically remember the moment on Tyra when a gay interracial Asian-white couple made an appearance.
About halfway through the clip, a gay Asian man in the audience and confronts the Asian man on stage. His speech mirrors many discussions I have heard about “self-hating” Asian women, and in particular the debate around eye widening. Growing up, I had always been aware of the epicanthic fold and “double eyelids,” but it had never registered to me as a beauty standard until high school when I met Asian girls who wore eyelid tape.
Seeing this discussion on a national television show was pretty groundbreaking to me, even if I first watched it with a bit of contempt considering the kinds of melodrama that gets milked – not just on Tyra – but on daytime talk shows in general. And I think bringing these kinds of questions – about self-hate and about racism in the gay community – to a national audience is a pretty bold move for groups of people who already receive very little recognition in the mainstream (gay interracial couples, gay Asians, etc.). On the other hand, and I say this knowing that talk shows like this aren’t really the best resource for having meaningful, thought-provoking discussions, the portrayal of the relationship and of the two gay Asian men was a little hokey and did very little to talk about interracial gay relationships other than “people are racist towards us and think I hate myself.”
I think people don’t know how to speak about these issues, especially in the Asian American community, because we are taught about racism against blacks and rarely about racism against Asians. I don’t believe that many people understand that racism against Asians happens in the first place, or that interracial relationships with Asians can be strife with racist attitudes. People ask me why I consider it racist for a white man to have a “thing for Asians,” or straight up tell me it isn’t racist in the least, and I often have trouble talking about it with them.
Holly: I’m nodding my head reading everything that everyone else wrote. Racism against asians gets buried easily. You can get away with a racist restaurant name, chinese laundry jokes, stereotyped accents. I’m not saying that because I think racism against other groups should be ignored! And in fact, it’s probably true of many groups besides asians too — but I think it does contribute to asians being “invisible minorities” and a lot of asians really like it that way. They want to be the successfully assimilated immigrants, even if the “difference” stigma won’t ever really fade away in the minds of way too many people who see us always as foreigners first and foremost. There’s also an aspect here that has to do with sexuality and gender — I think the hideous treatment of black women by our culture and its beauty standards is more of a “guilty secret” that a lot of well-meaning people would immediately admit exists. Liberals feel bad about this; it’s how we got “I Love My Hair” on Sesame Street. Asian women have a different problem that doesn’t create as much liberal guilt — exotification and another flavor of ridiculous idealization, fetishization, etc. It’s the fallout of a “positive stereotype”; although most people would agree that gross anime-chasers are disgusting, they see it as part and parcel of a typical problem that any “beautiful woman” would face. And Asian men are a total afterthought, because the liberal political culture isn’t even aware that racist stereotypes are constantly affecting Asian men’s gender too. Complaints mostly surface on forums where Asian guys are complaining about how nobody will date them — and it’s way too easy, in the mainstream discourse, to simply dismiss that as a bunch of dudes whining instead of looking at it as a symptom of racism + sexism.
Until fairly recently, many Asian Americans are partnered with whites in pop culture depictions. How does this impact the view on “acceptable” dating? How does it influence the idea of the “ideal partner?”
N’jaila: When I was younger I very much felt like the “normal” group of men for a woman to like was White. I felt abnormal because I had a strong preference for Black , Brown and Yellow men. I think for many people that’s always going to be true, White partners are going to be the most accepted because in this country they are considered “normal”.
I remember in high school one of my close friends was a Latina who basically told me I was “too smart” to like Black guys. It was so shocking and deeply offensive that our friendship pretty much ended right there.
refresh_daemon: Agreed with N’jaila re: white people as the default partner. But this also brings up a bit of the point that Elton touches upon below. Until recently, the general visibility of Asian men in pop culture has been very limited and rarely in the context of relationships. Most Asian men I’ve seen in pop culture have largely been paired with Asian women as well (John Cho being the only immediate positive counterexample that comes to mind in “Flash Forward” and “Harold and Kumar”–I would like to forget about the Donger and all the Yellow Peril films of the early 20th century.) Consequently, I do think that it reinforces, to some subtle extent, the idea of Asian men, in particular, staying within Asian populations when it comes relationships.
Elton: It’s frustrating that non-white women are rarely portrayed as equally attractive as white women.
It’s frustrating when I am attracted to a white woman and have to wonder if Eurocentrism is warping my perception.
It’s frustrating to worry about whether someone I like will return my affections because I am Asian.
Being an Asian male is like perpetually seeing a “look but don’t touch” sign.
Holly: It’s just generally disgusting, although I feel like I’ve watched this grow during my lifetime. When I was a kid, there were almost no representations of families that looked like mine — one white parent, one Asian parent. When I saw this start to appear, I felt relieved and less weird — but then it became the MOST well-represented type of interracial relationship, because it’s so innocuous for a white man to have a woman “invisible, feminized minority” on his arm. These representations really hastened the rise of “I want an Asian girlfriend too” throughout my teen years, and it wasn’t really an improvement. I think it’s made it much easier for Asians to date white people, that’s for sure — and that’s an improvement my mother would have been grateful for in her early years (before she decided she hates my dad and pretty much all other white guys.) One of the most disgusting flip-sides, however, is that “dating an asian woman” is the #1 low-committment way for a white guy to show that he is Not A Racist according to some really boring, minimal, conservative definition of racism. Look, he loves people that are NOT WHITE! He eats tofu! Isn’t he amazing? And yes, I have to admit that I’m also thinking of my own father here. It’s not WHY he married my mother in the mid-70s, but it was definitely a benefit, and it still is for such guys.
Eric: If anyone has read “Paper Tigers” by Wesley Yang, from New York Magazine, he follows the “Asian pick-up artist” who holds white women to the ideal. In Romeo Must Die, Jet Li and Aaliyah had a kiss scene that was cut because audiences did not respond well to an Asian man and a black woman being in a relationship. While it is certainly the case that media representations of interracial relationships in general, not just Asian ones, typically feature a white character, I am interested in the disparity between these representations and the visibility of mixed race Asian celebrities, like Naomi Campbell, Tyson Beckford, Cassie, Bruno Mars, Nicole Scherzinger, Chanel Iman, and Tiger Woods. It’s strange that there are so many highly successful mixed race black-Asian, Latino-Asian, etc., celebrities out there, and yet we rarely see couples who could be their parents.
I will say one of my favorite black-Asian interracial couples from television is Manila Luzon (who I wrote about previously) and Sahara Davenport from Rupaul’s Drag Race, though I recognize that they are really an exception to the rule.
N’jaila: I think you rarely see discussions of Blasians because to many people they aren’t considered mixed. Not to mention there’s sometimes very negative reactions to non-Asian looking Blasians like Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford. Growing up I felt very alienated from Asians, it felt almost silly to embrace a group I was part of that I felt constantly rejected me.
Also I think most people assume that if someone is Blasian that their mother is Asian and their father is a Black guy in the military. Growing up I NEVER saw a family on TV that looked like mine.
I actually got to sit in with J.T Tran’s workshop. I actually think is a naturally sweet natured guy, but his workshop made me depressed for a good month or two. #
refresh_daemon: The cynic in me wants to say that the reason why interracial couples who would resemble the parents of those multi-racial celebrities don’t really get featured in pop culture is quite simply because a white person isn’t part of the equation and the mainstream doesn’t care if there’s not a white person involved. Also, I think the mainstream tends to ignore the Asian heritage of most (all?) of those celebrities, regardless of how they choose to self-identify.
Is there anything else you want to add that was not covered above?
Elton: The difference between the way Asian men and Asian women are assimilated into Western society manifests itself as the interracial dating disparity. The Asian man is depicted as the foreign other, while the Asian woman is more welcomed and accepted by the West. Patriarchy places a greater onus on men to carry on the family line, so the dating choices of the Asian man are restricted by Asian culture (which wants him to refrain from dating altogether until he has completed his education, then enter an arranged marriage) and by Western culture (which wants him to avoid marrying Western women). Is this why it seems to be more permissible for Asian women to date outside their race or even to date at all?
N’jaila: I don’t know if I agree that Asian women are assimilated into Western culture. I think White male privilege allows White men more opportunities to date any race he pleases. You still don’t see Asian women being seen as examples of standard beauty, something exotic maybe but Asian women are over represented as only sexual objects for White men. #
refresh_daemon: I do think that, at least earlier on in mainstream media, Asian women were more openly accepted than Asian men in the sense that they were more visible in leading and ensemble roles on television and, to a lesser extent, in film. I think as of late we are closer to reaching parity between the two genders, at least in terms of presence (particularly in commercials), but there does seem to be a lingering disparity in terms of representations of interracial relationships with Asian women and men, with Asian women more frequently interracially partnered (usually with white men), but Asian men more frequently depicted with Asian women than with other groups.
Holly: I tend to agree that commercials are leading the way, but I still don’t see anywhere near as much representation of Asian men in fiction film & television. Reality TV is a little closer to parity, for obvious reasons. And I think this goes back to the whole gender + race question, where Asians are the “feminized minority,” and so Asian women (of a certain class status and adherence to western beauty ideals, obviously) are treated as “even more feminine than white women,” a package that comes with fetishization, de-humanization, and more representation.
Elton: Is it ok if I pose a question? As we know, who we are “allowed to date” (by parents, culture, society, and just plain who returns or rejects our affections) differs from who we’re actually attracted to. Much ado is made about the Asian man’s unrequited love for white women. Do you find that there is a difference between the kind of person you prefer (whether for friendship, romance, or sex) and the kind of person you are “allowed to date”?
Holly: That’s a very interesting question, although I probably have a weird answer as a multi-racial Asian with one white parent. I think my early upbringing and exposure to racism made me think of my Asian parent as the “weird, mean one that nobody liked, who ate smelly food and couldn’t speak English as well.” But I also identified much more strongly with her in terms of how I felt relative to my peers: that I was the weird outsider. On top of that, I was also unequivocally taught by my family that inter-racial relationships and kids were a good thing, no matter what anyone else said; they wanted to make us resistant to anti-miscegenation messaging even more than they thought about more pervasive racist ideas about non-whites. So I remember thinking when I was younger that I’d be following in my family tradition if I was in a relationship with a white person, because I wasn’t white, and that my kids wouldn’t be either. (This might be have been influenced by the fact that the first person I dated in high school was ¼ Japanese.) But I’m sure I also unconsciously thought of that as “dating up.” When I got older, I dated more and more people from other backgrounds — indigenous, Latina, South Asian, and a lot of them mixed in one way or another. I guess I still thought of that as “interracial dating” since almost any pairing would be interracial dating for me, and therefore kind of positive. I’ve only dated one person who identified as 100% East Asian, though, and I often wonder why — is it because of negative messages I received about my mother when I was little? Or because I spent a lot of my youth not feeling “Asian enough” either? Probably both and more.
N’jaila: I’m in a weird position where I feel like my natural feelings are going against nature. I feel like if I say “I won’t date Asian men anymore” I’d be doing so because so many people have told me that I shouldn’t be dating them. I don’t want to live my life according to other people, but at the same time most people do. So I feel like my entire romantic life I’ve been trying to box with God, I’m doomed to fail.