The Implications of Dating White

Uh-oh, does dating this white guy make me more American and racist against myself?

The taboo topic of Asian American women dating outside their racial circle was reignited recently by Jenny An’s “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man,” where she bluntly announced that she’s a racist because dates white males to make herself more American. Certainly I understand An’s internal angst about feeling like an Other in a white America, but does dating someone white validate my the “American” in “Asian American?” As an Asian American female dating a white male, I couldn’t disagree more with An’s philosophy.

If Jenny An wished for a white man to reaffirm her Americanness, I find it to produce an opposite effect. Going to predominately white communities with my boyfriend, I wonder if people look or treat me differently than they do him sometimes. Having a white boyfriend isn’t a “get out of jail free” card in America. People still say racist things, including “Your English is so good” or “Where are you really from?” Like most Asian Americans (and likely any other Americans who aren’t white), regardless of gender, we’ve had to negotiate these feelings of being treated as an outsider. Having a body-guard works as well as putting a Band-Aid over a fracture. Jenny An should probably start with figuring out how to be okay with her own skin rather than using her boyfriend’s as a shield.

There has always been a tension between assimilation and giving up your “ethnic” culture. Clearly, An doesn’t have too much of an issue cutting out her Chinese side. She writes, “My pale, white-bread boyfriend jokes that I’m one of the whitest people he’s ever met. And that’s probably not by accident.” Abandoning her racial and cultural differences do not make An physically more white or necessarily accepted in America, so she should probably focus on accepting who she is racially. She brags about knowing Spanish better than Chinese, but her article demonstrates a self-inflicted distancing from anything “Chinesey.” But I wonder if being racist against herself and her male counterpart makes her any happier than being seen as a foreigner. Because, after all, if she doesn’t love herself, who will? 

My boyfriend is white. But this statement isn’t a judgment made on white or Asian guys. There have been white guys interested in me before who I could never date, and there have been Asian guys I have dated. The white guys I had no interest in were the ones who spurn racial and cultural variances instead of embracing them. One guy bled red, white, and blue and basically stood for white dominant  “Americanness.” But he made me feel like it was my fault for caring about racial difference, like I was some overly sensitive Asian girl. My current boyfriend couldn’t be more different. While others refrained from my home cooked Chinese food, he ate it with relish. That being said, he’s not dating me because I’m Chinese either. My boyfriend isn’t a metaphor for all white men, just as I’m not a metaphor for all Asian women. He doesn’t want to change me – that would defeat the point of dating me.

Does dating another race “betray” our Asian American males? I can see how someone might come to that conclusion. I greatly sympathize with Asian American men, who have long battled with the effeminate stereotype. In American culture, they get the short end of the stick when people stereotype their sexuality and masculinity. America doesn’t quite embrace Asian males the way it does Asian women, it seems – but I would argue that sticking together and only dating among one another defeats the purpose of being Asian in America. Besides, before Asian men hate on Asian women for dating outside of their racial pool, it seems very unfair that an Asian male who can date white women gets high fives and are seen as achieving something for Asians, while for Asian women dating non-Asian males, it’s a betrayal. It’s sexist, really. I disagree with Asian women who purposefully don’t date Asian men (like An), but dating is about who we are attracted to, who we want to be with, and who we are compatible with. And sometimes, it has nothing to do with race or politics.

Does race play into my interracial relationship? Yes and no. Asian males argue that their female counterparts benefit from the Yellow Fever phenomenon because we women can use it to advance in the dominant white society. While I understand the difficulties of Asian men in the interracial dating compartment, being treated as a sex object to fulfill someone’s dream of an exotic, subservient toy is not enjoyable (unless that’s what you’re into). No one likes being treated as a thing. If I knew that my boyfriend were dating me because he wants that blushing, timid, cosplaying Anime girl – I’d be out that door before you can say “Konichiwa” with peace signs.

My boyfriend and I often have deep and serious talks about race. He has learned from me how difficult it can be to look different and not fit the norm. I’ve shared stories of discrimination. On the other hand, I’ve learned that in some ways I, as someone Asian, can take the word “racist” and fling it at white people and destroy them. He’s shared experiences of how being white makes it difficult for him to voice opinions about issues such as affirmative action without being labeled “racist.” We learn from each other.

I asked my white boyfriend if he ever thought of me as “exotic.” He looked at me with raised eyebrows and firmly answered, “No.” If anything, we forget that he’s white and I’m Asian. We’re not colorblind, but color doesn’t define us.

11 thoughts on “The Implications of Dating White

  1. I guess J. An will get over her defensive attitude. There’s no need to be so defensive to the rest of the world of who you love fall in love…especially if it’s long term love and intimacy.

    I’ve been with my partner who is of German descent…for the past 22 years. But I have dated Chinese guys in the past. It hasn’t worked out and I haven’t analyzed why. If the spark just isn’t there, there’s no point pushing it.

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    • Alice L says:

      You provide a very mature answer: we fall in love with who we fall in love with, and there’s no real need to push it. But I feel that that’s the perfect answer in a colorblind world, where race isn’t pertinent. Today we all like to think of the world that way, but it really isn’t quite there yet. I guess I wanted to explore the topic because the whole “yellow fever” and “Asian-White phenomenon” has been around for a while, and Asian men and women are still very sensitive about the whole thing. But in the end, even if we all try to analyze our relationships, I do like the answer you provide: we love who we love. If the spark isn’t there, it isn’t. …Actually that’s really good advice for anyone who is hung up on someone else. Anyway, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Carla says:

    This was such a great article. One important point that resonated with me is that “dating is about who we are attracted to, who we want to be with, and who we are compatible with.” Oftentimes, interracial or intercultural couples have to deal with being politicized by their family and friends. It becomes a decision you have to defend. As a Portuguese-American, I have seen several friends settle for Portuguese-American guys for the sake of their Portuguese-Americanness. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with dating someone from your own culture; that doesn’t make you a cultural exclusivist. But there is something wrong with the way inter-cultural couples are often made to feel as though one or the other partner is betraying their culture. I have never dated a Portuguese-American guy (though I did take one to prom ;-P) and that, to me, is not a sign that I am ashamed to be Portuguese-American. I take pride in my culture and I enjoy sharing it with others. When it comes to dating, I choose the person based on genuine interest, not to make a statement. Unfortunately, inter-racial and inter-ethnic dating is treated like some contrary political decision, like voting for Ralph Nader (lol, something I also have done). For folks like myself who relish nonconformity, I take on my defense of my non-Portuguese exclusive dating with the same passion that I defend Walt Whitman against Ezra Pound. But I see the way this prevalent attitude of identifying inter-ethnic relationships as “rebellious” or “self-hating” decisions causes so much unnecessary harm to relationships. And it is my hope that America will eventually achieve a post-ethnic dating scene, one in which culture is celebrated and shared, not being used as a fence to keep some in and others out. Anyway, this is a great article and it voices, I think, the frustrations of many folks who have dated outside of their own culture. P.S. I owe David Hollinger some thanks for giving me some of these ideas through his book: “Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism.” It’s a great read for anyone interested in a vision of an America a bit more complex and inclusive than the so-called “melting pot.”

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  3. Mixed cultural dating does have it’s reason which is rather challenging the identity. What inspires me to think more of the Joy Luck Club is the second generation/ Asian daughters who born in the States, they way they were searching for their own ego. Among the four daughters two date & marry white, one date a mixed, (the last one-June- was single). White American guy might not exactly really more “Americanness.” But Asian woman much easier to be stereotyped in some way, which i guess, is why intelligent Asian woman always, and will eventually prove that her own significance is beyond the colour.

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  4. Laila says:

    Love this post! You touched upon all the major implications of Asian-Americans dating white 😛 I’m a first generation born ‘Desi’ American, but with us the situation is very similar. I have to repeatedly defend my dating choice and insist that I’m not trying to denounce my ‘origins’.

    I HATE the word ‘exotic’! I think some people think they are complimenting us when they describe us this way, but it just makes us sound like some wild plant species. Why not just tell us we’re pretty/beautiful if they think so? :/

    I do get the impression that, in general, girls – across the spectrum – have it a lot easier when it comes to dating. Desi and Asian males are frequently portrayed as nerdy, but the girls are considered hot (even if it is in some creepy sexually objectified way.)

    In the end of the day, I hope people just realize that cultures and cultural identities are always fluid, rather than fixed, and that people’s personal choices aren’t constantly politicized. I have had to deal with antagonisms from both sides of the fence (the “white” side and the Desi side). Both sides seem to advance the “perpetual foreigner myth”, insisting that I will never be fully American and that my original home is in South Asia (nevermind that I was born and raised in the states.) My boyfriend’s dad is German but no one ever insists that he is originally European (to put it bluntly: his American identity is never questioned because he is white.)

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  5. joshua liu says:

    I’m an Asian Canadian guy and I have problems dating. The society is too racist and people are too ignorant, their IQ is beneath me. How did you overcome your dating issues (if any) and how can they help me? Any input would be nice

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    • Alice L says:

      Hey Joshua, I will write a post in response to this, because I do think you bring up a very interesting point (aka Asian American or Canadian dating issues), but to get a better grasp of what exactly you are struggling with, would you mind expanding a little more on what you’ve been having problems with exactly? The racism? The ignorance (and if so, ignorance to what? Asian culture?)? And when you say their IQ is beneath you, what exactly are you talking about? Grades, conversation, racial ignorance? I wanted to ask because there are so many dating issues in the world! And some of them are related to us being Asian, and some of them are universal. So to give the best response, it’d be helpful to know! 🙂

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  6. Hi, that was a great post. I appreciate you sharing your views, and to the extent that one person can do so, validate your experience. That is, I agree that at the higher levels of intimacy, race as well as any social construct seems to fall away.

    What is troubling is that despite the contemplation, so many Asian American and Asian Canadian women still show a disproportionate preference against men of their own demographic, acknowledging the social stereotypes that operate against Asian American and Asian Canadian men.

    Latest social science studies indicate that even knowledge of the stereotype will cause a person to act in ways that support the stereotype weather believed or not. It seems that instead of investigating this phenomenon, there seems to be more of a conversation on why it is okay to continue going on more or less as we have in the sex and marriage world.

    Your thoughts and impressions would be appreciated.

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