When Asian girl meets white boy
Reactions to my non-Asian boyfriend surprised and disturbed me
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These are confusing times when it comes to racial issues, and I’d like to address one subtopic that’s gained attention: interracial couples—or more specifically, the increasingly criticized trend of Asian women dating white men. It’s a divisive issue fraught with emotion and misunderstanding, and weighed down with historical, cultural, and social baggage. It’s also one I’ve hesitated to write about, partly because I didn’t know what to think about it myself.
You see, I’ve been seeing more articles with clickbait titles such as “The Alt-Right’s Asian Fetish,” “I’m an Asian Woman Engaged to a White Man and, Honestly, I’m Struggling With That,” and “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White.” According to the first two authors, the prevalent trend of Asian women dating and marrying white men is problematic because it harkens to a long history of white supremacism. The third article was written by a Latino man who felt pressured by today’s “woke” society to stop dating white women.
The basic idea is that “racial dating preferences” is just a code word for racial stereotypes and prejudices, such as the degradation of black women, the criminalization of black and Latino men, and the feminization of Asian men in Hollywood and the media, trends that sociologists trace back to colonialism. When it comes to Asian women, the myth is that they’re the “ideal” female: submissive, docile, and sexually eager to please. These stereotypes absolutely exist, and they are harmful.
For me, it hits close to home. Conversations about racial stereotypes might not pop up in certain social circles in America, but they do in mine. Plus, I am a Korean American woman dating a blond, blue-eyed, German-blooded man born and raised in North Dakota to a baseball-obsessed, Baptist, Republican family.
In terms of cultural background, David and I couldn’t be more different. I grew up as a missionary kid in Singapore; David grew up in a middle-class suburban home with a pool in the Midwest. My omma served me homemade kimchi and chili-laden noodles; he dined on Cap’n Crunch and Mom’s buttered knepfle and can’t eat anything mildly spicy without hyperventilating. I watched Korean dramas and practiced taekwondo; he watched DuckTales and chowed pretzels at baseball stadiums and air-guitared to Blink-182. But still, we somehow clicked. And now, more than two years later, we’re discussing marriage.
The fact that David happens to be white didn’t bother me ... at least, not until I started receiving comments whenever I mentioned that David’s previous girlfriend was also Korean American. “Oh, I see. He’s got yellow fever,” one friend remarked. Another friend said, “Well, he’s obviously got a type.” Yet another acquaintance said, “Yeah, you’re the type white boys will go for.” These reactions all came from fellow Asian folks.
Each time, I instinctively became defensive, and I would hasten to add, “Well, he’s dated white and Latina women too …” Even as I said that, I got annoyed at having to respond to such comments. But I can’t deny that these interactions always left me with a strong distaste—the sort that clenched my stomach and shrunk my heart. From the pit of my gut came complex feelings of irritation, fear, and ... shame? That bothered me. I understood why I would get irritated when people imply that a man would find me attractive simply because I’m Asian. But where do the fear and shame come from? So I’m in love with a white guy—what’s fearful and shameful about that?
I traced those feelings back to when I first arrived in the United States as a teenage immigrant. I remember my Asian American friends warning me to watch out for boys with an “Asian fetish”—an ugly term for a non-Asian man who’s attracted to Asian females, presumably due to stereotypes. The way they said it—always with a disgusted scowl—seemed to suggest anyone who dates too many Asians is creepy and abnormal, akin to perverts who watch kinky dwarf porn in a dank basement. When that’s your introduction to your own community’s feelings about non-Asian males pursuing Asian females, it leaves a negative impression that’s hard to scrub off.
As I grow older, I’m observing the ripple effects. I remember a Korean American friend asking me one day, “Do you think I’m a self-hating Korean?” I was surprised: “What do you mean?” She hesitated, then replied, “I’ve never really dated Asian men. When I was dating a Jewish guy, I started noticing that there were a lot of couples like us: white or Jewish man, Asian woman. And there’s this stereotype of Asian women who date white guys—that they’re dating them because they worship whiteness, because they despise their own Asianness.” Then she got very honest: “When I see other Asian-female/white-male couples, I instinctively stereotype them. Then I started wondering, ‘What if other people think the same about us?’”
Nowhere are racial stereotypes more prominent than in the online dating world. When a Japanese American friend began dating online, she expressed skepticism about a white guy who wrote on his profile that he had lived in Japan and likes anime: “I’m just not sure that he’s just interested in me because he’s got an Asian fetish, you know?”
These are muddy, uncomfortable thoughts. That’s why when I see articles that seem to address them, I click and read, because I want to understand why these thoughts exist. The problem is, the more I was reading such articles, the more they confused and upset me. Suddenly, I had to bear the weight of bulky terms such as “Asian fetish,” “white worshiping,” “colonial mentality,” and “internalized racism”—terms that, frankly, don’t describe my relationship with David, or the relationships of other interracial couples I know.
When I mentioned the Asian female stereotype to David, he laughed: “That’s crazy. You’re the least submissive and most stubborn person I know!” When I try to discuss more complex racial issues, he gets uncomfortable, and I get it: In today’s “woke” culture, a white, straight male can never say anything right, and that’s not good. But like most white Americans who still represent the nation’s majority demographic, he also rarely thinks about his skin color—a privilege that minorities in this country don’t have. For us, we’re rarely seen as just American. It doesn’t matter how Americanized I am, people will always see me as a Korean American. The reality is, I can never forget the color of my skin, and that’s why people of color think and talk and wrestle more with racial topics. I think it’s good to be self-aware and educated on such matters … but when does it go too far?
Recently, a friend sent me an Invisibilia podcast episode in which an Asian American woman interviews another Asian American woman who mostly dates white men. When Asian men harassed her online for her “racist” dating habits, she felt badly about herself, so she decided to stop dating white men and intentionally date non-white men. In doing so, the interviewer proclaimed, she would “decolonize her desire” and “fight back against centuries of racist U.S. policies and Western colonization.”
As I listened to this interviewee and her self-congratulating, patronizing, “woke” mission, I felt shaken awake: What in the world is going on? Have we really come down to this—marking racial check boxes in our romantic pursuits? Nowhere in that interview did I hear her talk about being equally yoked or seeking commitment, mutual respect and trust, sacrificial love, and open communication. Instead, she focused on skin color, sociology, and how it made her feel about herself.
Today, people are free to date and marry whomever they want, regardless of skin color—yet somehow, we’re still slapping taboos on certain kinds of interracial dating.
Racial prejudices are real and serious sins. In the United States, it’s been only a few decades since the Supreme Court overturned laws banning interracial marriage in some states. Today, people are free to date and marry whomever they want, regardless of skin color—yet somehow, we’re still slapping taboos on certain kinds of interracial dating. That New York Times column by the Latino guy who broke up with his white girlfriend describes his internal angst with such clarity:
“How did we get here? If everyone is so woke, why are things so terrible? Maybe everyone isn’t so woke. Anyway, what am I supposed to do? How do I love as a brown body in the world in a way that makes everybody happy? I fell for a white woman and she fell for me—simple as that—yet I feel as if I’m doing the wrong thing by dating her.”
Ironically, by trying to break free from racial oppression or internalized racism, we sometimes construct new racial prisons for ourselves. Interracial marriage is something joyous and beautiful—two individuals breaking the barriers of cultural and ethnic differences to become one flesh in a relationship representing the holy union of Christ and the Church. For believers of different races, Christ Himself has become “our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
In my case, even if David and I aren’t in a covenantal relationship yet, that means loving him for his God-gifted qualities—pale skin and blond roots and sensitive personality and silly humor and all. It also means learning from one another: So far he’s taught me to become a Dodgers fan, while I’ve pushed him out his comfort zone into foreign places. As a result, he’s tasted the joys of exploring new cultures, while I ... well, I’m still waiting to reap the rewards of rooting for the Dodgers. Maybe this year. Third time lucky, eh?
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