Okay, in all candor, I don’t think the dudes depicted in this clip are a fair sampling of the full universe of white men who are attracted to Asian women. It’s honestly hard to imagine finding a more creepy selection of bachelors purely at random: These guys come off as sweaty, snaggle-toothed, dead-eyed; they sport learner’s-permit goatees or scrubby pornstaches, and if I were a woman of any race who stumbled into a blind date with one of these fine specimens of the male species, I’d sneak a peek beneath the table to make sure he wasn’t sporting an ankle monitor.
The point I’m making is that not all white men who date Asian women, or even exclusively date Asian women, are as Walking Dead-ghastly in appearance, personality and character as this clip makes it appear. I have plenty of friends, and yes, extended family members who are white males who have dated mostly Asian women over their romantic careers, and these guys happen to be average-to-handsome, smart and charming and funny, and generally free of embarrassing facial hair. They’re out there, people. They exist. And apart from their interest in Asian women, they’re pretty normal in every other respect.
Heck, even that interest is normal, because Asian women are totally awesome. I’m all about Asian women. Since graduating from college, I dated mostly Asian women, and finally even married one of them. Can I get a what-what?
Of course, I happen to be Asian American, and the women I’ve dated also happen to be Asian American. Which means I haven’t had to scale the barrier of language or immigration status. And I’ve generally been in relationships with partners of similar class and educational background. So there aren’t structural and historical imbalances of power or entitlement to navigate (other than those that have been baked into the social roles of men and women, that is).
If you’re Asian and you only date Asians, no one accuses you of having a “fetish,” because it’s seen as a given that we’ll stick with “our own kind.” But there’s something terribly reductive about assuming that race is what defines “our kind,” isn’t there? And there’s something dubious about assuming that we as Asians don’t make our own sets of distinctions that can result in adopting similarly distorted filters in our quest for the perfect partner.
I know Chinese American men who only date Korean American women for incredibly sketchy reasons, and Chinese American women who only date Korean American men for equally questionable ones. I know Asian American men who seek out immigrant Asian women, using rationales that are horrifyingly similar to the reasons that men of any other race do — fantastical projections of docility, subservience, “traditional values,” the desire to please and cater to their men.
And I know all too many Asians who, in the pursuit of pointing out the gross, stereotypical beliefs of guys like those interviewed in this vignette, use shiveringly unpleasant language to describe the Asian women that date them, while sweeping all interracial couples into the same steaming midden of contempt.
Let’s step back from the precipice, people. Sex is complicated; race, even more so. There are relationships built on real love that cross every line, and an equal number constructed out of falsehoods. Blanket terms like “yellow fever” and “Asian fetish” don’t do anything to help us understand the real pathologies behind the illusions of men like these. That requires a serious analysis of media and political history, and the deep structure of orientalism — far more than can be conveyed in a sensational, quick-cut four-minute-long YouTube clip.
Here’s hoping that people put in the time to make that study, rather than responding by reflex. Because you know what? Knee-jerk reactions usually just make you look reactionary.
Read Professor Celine Parrenas Shimizu’s take on the implications of history on Organic Asian American Sexuality here.
Jeff Yang writes the column “Tao Jones” for the Wall Street Journal and is the Editor-In-Chief of the graphic novels Secret identities and Shattered. Follow him on Twitter at @originalspin.