Imagine that you and your partner have just taken a cute photo together, both immaculately dressed. Even your rarely-impressed friend tells you that the image radiates with love. Thrilled, you post the picture onto your public account. The comments come in, some supportive, but slowly the hateful words spring up here and there. They’re calling you a number of things from “race traitor” to “coward” because you’re Asian and your partner is white.
Throughout the history of the United States, Asian American women have occupied fraught positions of extremes. They are either portrayed as the hypersexualized lady of the night or the meek daughter/housewife. Women endure these stereotypes because of historical legislation and the damning portrayals of Asians in popular culture.
Historical legislation that entrenched the emasculation of Asian men
It was not until the mid-1800s that Asian migrants began to settle in the U.S. A 2013 study published by The Modern American found how certain historical policies contributed to the emasculation of Asian men and the plight of Chinese men. They were initially welcome for the cheap labor they provided on the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Once completed, however, fears of “losing jobs to aliens” prompted discriminatory acts, such as the two-decades-long Chinese Exclusion Act.
While men faced some concessions, the United States explicitly prohibited women from entering the country to prevent the Chinese from bringing over or creating families in the New World. Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen, a scholar focused on Asian American representation, explained that this prompted the feminized view of Asian men in the eyes of white Americans.
“They’re not perceived as virile because there’s no women.”Nancy Wang Yuen
The exoticization of Asian women
World War II’s hostilities against Japan and the Vietnam War during the 1960s strenghtened the anti-Asian in the U.S. However, specific attitudes towards Asian men and women diverged. Americans saw Asian men as foreign enemies and the women as spoils of war.
In 2007, San Francisco State University drama professor Celine Parreñas Shimizu researched the social consequences of Miss Saigon. This is a controversial musical portraying the relationships between local women and the American GIs. Shimizu noted that Miss Saigon portrays Vietnamese women as “voracious” dragon ladies or innocent flowers “ready to be plucked.” There is no in-between. The story’s white-savior complex is so tangible the viewer feels like they are walking through a snowstorm. The protagonist, a Vietnamese orphan forced into prostitution, ends up bearing the child of an American soldier. In the end, she reunites her son with the estranged father and commits suicide.
The themes in Miss Saigon play into sexist and racist tropes that continue to define and divide the Asian American community.
Asian American women policed because of their romantic preferences
Because of this historical legacy, Asian women remain a hot commodity on dating websites while their male counterparts are consistently ranked as “least desirable.” Miss Saigon and other pieces reinforced the misconception that Asian women prefer white men and vice versa. Consequently, Asian women with non-Asian partners — especially if they are white — endure backlash from males within their community.
Celeste Ng, the author of The New York Times’ Bestseller “Little Fires Everywhere,” revealed the public’s unending hate when they found out her husband was white. In a piece for the New York Magazine, Ng shared a photo of some hate mail she received. Brandon Ho wrote, “I’m a huge fan of watching your son develop mental illness because of your internalized self-hate. Your Asian looking son will grow up knowing his mom thinks he’s ugly, and his dad won’t be able to relate.”
Ng also highlighted the toxic harassment Asian American women face simply because of their romantic choices. She cited AZNidentity, a Pan-Asian thread on Reddit. Despite its claims as a community “against all forms of anti-Asian racism,” Ng noted the charged animosity towards Asian American women who date outside their race. Many condemn these women as self-hating Asian females, white worshipers, and a number of other derogatory and misogynistic slurs.
The test of racial “commitment”
Pawan Dhingra, a sociology professor at the Amherst College, acknowledged that a double standard in regards to Asian women and dating exists. Many judge these women for their choices. Relationships with other Asian Americans, in a sense, determines how “committed” one is to her race. Due to historical legacies and enduring stereotypes about attractiveness and appeal, Asian men tend to react more violently. They believe that by dating outside of their race, Asian women reproduce racism by affirming the idea that Asian men are not worth dating.
These false expectations have emboldened Asian men to condemn women with toxic harassment both physically and virtually.
Let them choose
While the historical conditions of Asian American men were terrible, it does not excuse or justify the actions that some have taken. Indeed, the scrutiny that Asian American women face stems from a potent mixture of white colonialism’s legacy, as well as the omnipresent patriarchal values that work to restrict their freedoms. Women of color carry a double-burden.
Sexism and internalized racism are especially prevalent in the Asian American community. While there are individuals who do fetishize people for their skin color, their experiences should not become a normalized generalization for others who do decide to date outside of their race.
In 1999, Claire Jean Kim published an article concerning “race triangulation theory,” a practice that pitted minorities against each other. Kim called for communities of color to recognize how they have been blindsided by dominating structures of power.
Accordingly, the Asian American community needs to come together and examine the racist tropes and discriminatory history that continually undermine and disempower them to this day.
Part of the solution would also be to include the dimensions of gender and sex. Conversations defining and challenging sexist ideologies would be critical in addressing women’s rights. Asian American women face so much heat because their cultures embody patriarchal expectations, thus rendering their decisions irrelevant and, in this case, racist.
Ultimately, it’s her choice. Love is love, and that should be enough.
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