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.