Fetishism, Invisibility, and the points in between

Like many of you, I’ve been following the lengthy, intense, simultaneously disheartening and encouraging thread at Ji-in’s blog regarding a topic that’s been a bit taboo on my blog: white men and Asian women. Together.

**Let me put a disclaimer here in the beginning: like Ji-in, I’m commenting here on the social phenomenon of white men and Asian/APA (Asian/Pacific-American) women dating. I’m not trying to attack individuals or say that every white-man/Asian-woman relationship is a certain way. I don’t want my many APA female friends who love/date/are married to white men feel like they have to defend their relationships to me . . . I’m not trying to question legitimate love and happiness.

I’m not going to get into actual statistics here, but let’s face it: the white-man/Asian-woman thing is a common social phenomenon. Globally!! I grew up assuming I would marry a white man. My first “real” boyfriend in college was white . . . and I discovered shortly into our relationship that I was the fifth Asian girl he’d dated. And we were living in Nebraska. Now, considering that APAs only make up about 4% of the American population, how is it that there are so many white guys out there with similar track records?

When I asked my college-boyfriend why he’d dated so many Asian women, he couldn’t come up with a good answer. I find that guys like that get immediately defensive, like I’m about to call them what they don’t want to be labeled . . . a fetishist. “Yellow fever,” what have you. I’m not here to slap labels on anybody. But I think it’s constructive for people to ask themselves–what is it about the “idea” of an Asian woman that is so appealing, beyond just the physical?

I’m not going to get into a laundry list of the ways Asian women have been fetishized, exoticized, infantilized, etc. etc. in the media, literature, and so on. But it’s the reason why I got messages on Match.com that said things like, “I looooooove Asian women!” It’s why I get “friend requests” on My Space from guys who have 500 “friends” already–all Asian women. (It’s almost like I’m a trading card or something, and these guys are collectors.) It’s why while in Vietnam, the following took place: we were at a beach resort, and there was a couple staying next door to us–a fat, sunburned, Speedo-ed, middle-aged, white Australian man with his very young, very beautiful Vietnamese wife (a rare couple combo in SE Asia–NOT). I mentioned that I always saw her in the dining area, sitting alone, looking sad. My white male friend/traveling companion said, “Oh, I just thought she was cute.”

Please believe me when I say that I don’t think any of these guys are evil or bad people. I’m not attacking people here . . . I’m attacking the -ism–Fetishism. There are so many subliminal messages in society that can affect us in ways that we don’t know, to varying degrees.

Fetishism. Fuck fetishism. As Anida and Emily from 2Tongues said, “Stop masturbating in your own glory. Stop masturbating in my culture.”

*************

Asian guys aren’t attractive. They’re also mostly quiet, boring, and short. So, its not so much that asian women are the trendy arm-candy (tho its true!) as much as it is simple Darwinian laws applied to the social scene. . . . Not to hide behind my wife, but my words were actually hers, and she (Korean) dated asian through college, but then stopped. Nothing against them personally, but she said it felt like she was dating her brother. She told me a lot of asian women actually feel the same way, and this is leading to what she describes as the social evolution of the dating and marriage scene in America, and thus the interracial imbalance.
–“Rolf,” commenting on
Twice the Rice

A lot has been said about the ignorance and idiocy of Rolf, so I’m not going to address that here. What I am going to address is what saddens me even more–the fact that the views expressed by his wife have been voiced to me by other APA women and men. How have we become invisible to each other? To paraphrase Ralph Ellison, we “not-see ourselves, as others see-us-not.”

I’m not saying that everything needs to match; I’m not saying that Asians must date other Asians, white with white, etc. And I’m not saying that every Asian woman with a white man feels the aforementioned revulsion for Asian men. But what strikes me is that there are people who feel this way.

Last year, I met a fellow Korean adoptee, who proudly told me that he wanted to eventually become a professor of African-American studies. I had no problem with this proclamation–props to him for that. What bothered me was his reasoning: “‘Cause you know, Asian-American studies is just boring. It’s like, Chinese workers on the railroad–‘Who cares?'” To him, the history of the APA community simply was not as “sexy.” Well, there you go–mainstream America’s perspective on APA history in a nutshell.

So what did I find encouraging from the thread at Twice the Rice? The fact that there are witty, articulate, smart APAs to put ignorance in its place. It gives me hope that there will be less self-hate voiced within the Asian-American community. That we can see each other. Instead of not-seeing ourselves, as others see-us-not.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Fetishism, Invisibility, and the points in between

  1. Standing O to you, woman. If I had set out with the intent of making my impromptu Oscars post-let into a more coherent statement about interracial white/APA relationships and APA invisibility among APAs, I could not have said it in a more articulate fashion. Your words ring so true with my experience as well.

    I’m out of energy today on my own blog. Can I just redirect my blog URL to yours instead? 🙂

  2. well, since i’m not nearly as active in the blogsphere as others, it’s nice to know that there are others honing in on the objectification of asian american women, as well as asian american men.

    good post, sarahkim. especially since you mentioned 2tongues and ralph ellison 🙂

    p.s. i feel like i kinda already responded in a more specific way on the group blog.

  3. Well said… well said.

  4. I wish I could also say that I am “spent” on the subject, but really, I’m not. I think years of pent-up rage regarding both the emasculation of the Asian male in America and the commodification of the Asian female throughout the world have built a permanent livid complex somewhere in my cerebrum. When it boils down to it, I care less and less about how appealing I’m not out of virtue of my race in this country–marginalization part and parcel of life as a minority here–what drives me mad is what is happening to the women of our Asian cultures. I’m not sure how many more fat, sunburned, Speedo-ed, middle-aged, white men with their very young, very beautiful, very forlorn southeast Asian wives I can observe before I am going to risk [their] life and limb. Honestly. No really, “honestly” as in “this is not hyperbole”, not “honestly” as in a grammatical ejaculation. Part of me asks myself, “who am I to assume” but the rest of me yells back “this isn’t an assumption, it’s a social pandemic”.

    Bruce Cumings, author of our Korean history textbook Korea’s Place in the Sun, had the audacity to say:

    If a destitute Korean woman finds an African-American soldier in the insouciant darkness of Tongduch’on, that is capitalism. When she marries him and goes to the States, and they raise seven children and she ends up directing all the registered nurses at a large urban hospital, that is survival, hard work, ethical conduct, maybe even a remnant of Confucian virtue.

    I’m not too sure what to say about that at this point, but my gut is telling me that Bruce will be getting a passionate rebuttal in my next blog entry.

  5. Amy

    Wha?! You mean all of those pasty, anime-watching, fluent in Japanese white guys I’ve dated weren’t attracted to me because of my sparkling wit and stellar moves on the dance floor? And, when my ex asked me to serve him tea while I wore my hanbok that one time? I thought he was just interested in my culture! You’re shattering my fabric of reality, Sarah. Maybe I just need a new pick-up line. “Me so horny, me love you long time” always brought me heaps of whiteys. Really, though. Haven’t we reached a point in society where we know not to base relationships on the color of the skin, but rather the size of the bank account and firmness of the ass?

    In all seriousness, I’m really glad you wrote this entry. Not that I have anything intelligent to add to the conversation, on top of what we had talked about the other night. Obviously, I don’t like when other people to see me as “that girl,” but I do think that there are too many complications, factors, and exceptions to make anyone really “right” on the topic. And I’d rather not have to defend myself all the time. Personally, I find those overly critical Asians to be just as bad as the self-loathers. But it is important to keep people aware and talking about these cultural fetishes. So, right on.

    I think I’ll just sleep with someone from every race that I possibly can. Some might consider that slutty. I like to think of of it as cultured and informed.

  6. hahahhahahahahahahha to amy. i don’t know you but i love what you wrote.

  7. 🙂 echo. though i don’t know you either, funny comment, amy…

  8. love this post, sarah!

    btw, i hope you have in sf this weekend if you’re still going. i was hoping to, and maybe see if some fellow KADs/bloggers could meet up, but it turns out i can’t make it. bummer.

  9. You’re so on the board of trustees. Or was it board of directors? Whatever. You’re so on a board.

  10. if only asian men were eroticized ~sigh~ 😉

    here is a funny little video i found:
    http://jeffinkorea.blogs.com/ruminations_in_korea/2006/02/why_so_few_asia.html

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