To Date or Not to Date

“Oh, definitely a white guy.” There’s this game that we play amongst my group of Asian American friends. We try and predict whether our friends are going to end up with Asian/Asian American partners or…not. When it came to be my turn, there a resounding consensus that no, I would not end up with an Asian guy. I believe “white, for sure,” was the phrase that was used. Accompanying this assertion is the explanation that Asian guys “can’t handle” me…whatever that means.

I don’t really know how I feel about this. Well, that’s a lie. I don’t like it. It has me fairly conflicted. Within these sentiments are underlying assumptions about white culture, Asian culture and preferences. On the one hand, I understand that people mean that I am a strong-minded, opinionated, fiery woman. This is true. And in a predominately white environment, this is considered by most everyone as a compliment. Yet the back-handedness of it was rarely considered in a place like my high school. But how unflattering it is to male counterparts that they are considered unable to “handle” such a partner? And why should the automatic alternative be white? And does this mean I’m not feminine or soft enough? By who’s standard? When we look closer at the language used to describe relationships between people of different races, we must decide for ourselves which standards we are using for comparison. What is an ideal male or female? For those of us here in the Midwest, I urge our communities to think more deeply about the dynamics of interracial dating, inter-ethnic dating, and of course, dating within your own community and the perceptions of each romantic situation. Many of those around me see me in a relationship with someone outside my ethnic community. Specifically, they see me in a union with someone of the racial majority.

There’s an article from the Times about interracial marriage and dating by Diane Farr, who married a Korean American (their children are adorable). I love this part:

Even with a black man in the White House, it’s a fairy tale to claim we are a “post-racial” country. Not when young people still think they need to honor ugly and antiquated boundaries restricting which of their fellow Americans are worthy of their love and commitment, even if it’s only to conform to the previous generation’s biases. Because if we live by boundaries that don’t conform to our personal beliefs, aren’t we still furthering them?

The article advocates for the freedom to choose who you want to spend the rest of your life with without restrictions of your parents or cultural community. Which is great, if that’s what’s really going on. Interracial dating is a powerful way to educate others about equality and acceptance. But I think this lady is a bit off the mark.

Why? Because she is speaking from one perspective. The white one. Because I don’t actually know many people who have parents who actually bar their children from dating outside their racial or ethnic community. And because what Farr is promoting (sticking it to your traditionalist parents’ antiquated ideas of who you should marry) can quickly turn and be used as a mask to cover the shame of one’s own race. Jenny An wrote this piece stating why she doesn’t date Asian guys. Summary? She wants to be accepted as an American. A few days later, she posted this piece, to reveal the other article as a troll and round out the argument that such a stance is self-racist and perpetuates white supremacy.

I wrote this story because I’ve also been that person who says, “Oh, I’d never date an Asian guy! It’s just not my thing!” — and I’m owning my shit. And that’s just what it is. Not bragging rights. Not something to be proud of. But a reality. My own personal dumb shit that I’ve also heard from my Asian female (and male) friends before…Lots of people don’t realize that it’s a manifestation of self-racism. I wanted to show that. To admit that when I say that, I was racist, too. That is how racism works. It creates self-racism.

Sometimes, when an Asian dates a white person, this is often seen as having “made it,” as survival or even success of a person of color into majority culture. This, more than anything else, spells acceptance by the predominant culture. I’ve heard so many subtle (or not so subtle) dismissals of other people of color in favor of white folks, and it makes my heart twinge every single time. Jenny An strung us along with her first outrageous article, to open up some really uncomfortable truths about ourselves.

But it seems that there are other trends on the move. There have been several other news articles, like this one from the NYTimes (which features many Taiwanese Americans), about how Asian Americans are now marrying other Asian Americans more often than before. Jeff Yang of the WSJ wrote about Asian American marriage too (another article full of Taiwanese Americans) citing common ground and a better image of Asians in the media as general underlying reasons. This has echoed pretty closely from what I see around me. Despite my peers’ opinions about who I’ll end up with, it still floors me that I have only been on a date with an Asian once in my entire life. Don’t misinterpret me here- first of all, I don’t really date much to begin with, and second of all, it wasn’t really a conscious decision not to date Asian guys. Nor was I looking for an Asian guy in particular. But if little choice was the reason why I never became one half of an Asian American couple, then this circumstance should have changed when I came to college. My networks of Asian and Asian American friends and acquaintances have widened exponentially in the last couple of years due to my hyper-involvement in Asian American student organizations, and the once sparse choices are now ballooning in volume and variety. So maybe I have to admit to the fact that in the past, I might have held some feelings of wanting to repress my heritage for reasons of social survival. But although some of those feelings linger, I don’t think they dominate as much as they once did thanks to my immersion in the Asian American community and talks with many wiser people than myself about identity and racial relations.

This leads to a lot of shifts in thinking, for me and those around me. Many conversations with my Taiwanese and generally Asian friends often circle around the idea that it’s just so much easier to date someone who knows that they have to take their shoes off in the house, or who doesn’t think you are a child for still loving Hello Kitty. It is easier to know that this person sees you for who you are, and not what they conceive is “Asian.” Not to say that others can’t or don’t, but we all have experiences when someone thought we were someone we weren’t because of how we look. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone who understands, someone who knows where you’re coming from.

So what are your thoughts on the matter?

I’ll venture to say that interracial dating still faces a lot of stigma (uneven among people and places) but there have been some great strides. I will also claim that most (not all) people marry who they want to these days, with less conformity to older restrictions. But there is a question of why you like/want/pursue who you like/want/pursue, and we must be very self-critical about that. Furthermore, I believe that the trend of Asian Americans seeing more in other Asian Americans is not due to a pressure to preserve culture, appease parents, or hide from the majority. Not that these factors don’t play a role, but deciding who you date and marry comes about by a myriad of factors like personal choice, cultural environments, historical legacy, modern ideology, and of course, luck. I’ve just accepted the fact that whatever happens in my lifetime, I’ll be part of some trend somewhere, and show up as some statistics in the news. But as long as it is right for me, I’m okay with that.

And a big shout out to a wonderfully talented photographer, Thamar Plute, and my friends Devin Oliver, Mike Scrafford, Nick Pochedly and Edison Chen for their good looks and time!

9 Responses to “To Date or Not to Date”

  1. Interesting article… I have to say that while you do make some good points, I don’t quite agree with everything you say. Your article was also written from one perspective, which is the female’s perspective. Asian guys are typically portrayed as either super kung fu fighters or super nerds. We’re not given a lot of attractive attributes in American culture. Sure, one could argue that being smart is awesome, since we will eventually land successful jobs and earn lots of money, but who thinks of that when they’re an adolescent and experience their first feelings of love and attraction to the opposite sex? We’re portrayed as not sexy and weak. The stigma and portrayal of an inferior Asian man becomes ingrained in the heads of many by the time they want to start dating.

  2. Hi Andrea! Greetings from a fellow Ohioan! I could wear out my fingertips on this topic so I’ll just say this: No matter who you partner with, don’t ever give up being “a strong-minded, opinionated, fiery woman”! PS: Go Bucks!

  3. Justin,

    Thanks for your comment! You are totally right, I am also just writing from one perspective, obviously, mine. I did skim over the stereotypes of Asian males and the challenges they face in romantic endeavours. Trust me, the stigma has had a lot of influence on me and the people around me, particularly in grade school. But even now, many of those ideas persist. I sort of alluded to it with the notion that people thought that Asian males were ‘incapable’ of pursuing/dating me, and that often times it wasn’t seen as socially advantageous to be dating an Asian male versus someone of another race (generally, white). To come clean, I don’t think I was interested in any Asian guys at my high school. I can’t say that these perceptions were the sole reason, but I would be lying if I said they didn’t play some kind of role in my sentiments. But the point I’m trying to make is that I have seen some change over the years, (Jeremy Lin being on the scene had something to do with it) and the ideas about Asian males are shifting (at least I hope so). And the stats show that the ladies are starting to see your merits 🙂 I recommend the NYTimes articles linked in the blog post, if you haven’t checked them out already!

  4. Ah, how firm thy friendship. Thanks for your support, Lisa! O-H!

  5. I definitely think that Asian females have it somewhat better compared to Asian guys when it comes to dating in America. The stigma when it comes to Asian males also depends on what kind of Asian are you. Currently it seems “logical” or “cool” for Non-Asian females to date Indian guys especially with how certain people out there (ie. Kal Penn) portray themselves in media etc. I definitely agree with Justin. It kind of sucks to be on the short end even when your parents are pretty cool (which is one obstacle for some) on who you date or marry.

  6. Shin-Howe,

    Hmm…My stance is that that the impact on Asian males and females is undeniably different, but I don’t think girls have it better, necessarily. But I’m a girl…so there’s that. Males face demasculinizing, but females face exoticizing. Fetishizing (wow, I sure am using a lot of -izing words…) of Asian women is disgustingly common, and objectification of all women is still a huge problem and I don’t think that will ever go away completely. If someone shows interest in me, I can’t be sure it’s because of me, or the fact that I am Asian. But on the other hand, a lot of guys don’t even get a chance.
    In terms of the Kal Penn example, I think cool Asian males are on the rise! Godfrey Gao is considered the first Asian male supermodel. Again, Jeremy Lin is shattering stereotypes about Asians and their association with sports. And John Cho, Kal’s co-star is pretty darn good looking and has continued in Hollywood. But the impact of these things may be great or small, and are likely to spread unevenly if they do at all. You guys are fighting an uphill battle, but we ladies don’t have it easy either. Not to mention, this is a fairly heteronormative discussion, but I digress. Thanks for your comment, I think it adds some nuances to the discussion.

  7. Mixed Person

    Many people talk about the adversity they face. Many also talk about the stigma’s and tribulations they must overcome in today’s society. Often times people refer to the “hand they are dealt with” as if the hand dealt will always be worse than the one they deal. …but here’s the thing that no one really thinks about, and usually just gets tossed into a, “it’ll all be work out cause I’m here and things won’t be so bad in the tomorrow” that they envision.

    Forget about your problems for just one minute. Have you thought about the life, assuming you end up in an inter-racial marriage, for your children? The culture shock, the identity shock, the genetic problems… bad acne, facial and body structure, social norms, acceptance. Its not as clear cut as any NON hapa could ever understand. The looks that you get from each group that you try to attach yourself to, the looks from society when going to the motherland (where ever that may be). There are the few that are blessed with the best of genetics from each group, and those are the ones that everyone says “oh, they always look so hot, so beautiful”. But that’s just like any culture. Go talk to the ones that aren’t. You’ll find that there’s more of them then there are the picture perfect ones everyone things of.

    If you wanna think about it all, don’t just think about the next paycheck, think about the 401k. <– metaphor for those that didn't get it.

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