How not to talk to an Asian lady

When it comes to dating, fetishization is often confused with sexual preference. “What you like,” when it comes to dating, seems to be one of the most visible and untarnished sites of race based assumptions about the sexual prowess of your potential sexual or relationship mate. In short, it is totally acceptable for a man to say that he prefers Asian women because in their eyes, Asian women have certain innate characteristics. I recently discovered that this particular obsession with Asian women (especially on behalf of white men) is called “yellow fever.” Charming, really.

Unfortunately, in a culture where race determines so much, a race-based sexual preference is hardly innocuous, but very much tinged with racist assumptions about the characteristics of a certain group. For example, labels in the race based sexual lexicon include, black women as jezebels, white women as freaky, Asian women as submissive, Latina women as spicy, Indian women, exotic and the list goes on. You will hear these commonly used assumptions from people who you may know, trust…even respect! It just goes that deep.

Unfortunately, universal assumptions about the way a certain group behaves, especially when it comes to your genitals, is not just racist, it’s annoying.

I could go on with stories about being asked if I was a “karma sutra Indian” or “red dot or feather,” but instead, I present to you this very funny and satirical video on How not to talk to an Asian lady:

That’s so real, it’s almost not funny. Good thing I have such a good sense of humor.

via Angry Asian Man.

Related:

How to know you are dating a racist
I’m a bigger asian slut than you
Not what we mean when we say “no marriage”

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12 Comments

  1. Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    For I have known them all already, known them all–
    Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons.- T.S. Eliot

  2. Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious as to how we can help people (and ourselves) tease out whether something one believes to be a preference may in fact hold problematic racial (etc.) connotations. It’s easy to pinpoint when someone associates particular personality traits with certain physical characteristics (e.g. red-haired people are feisty, Asian women are submissive), but I find it somewhat more complicated when the stated preference is a purely aesthetic one.

    Don’t get me wrong; I realize that fetishization is problematic even when confined to the aesthetic arena (fetishization of — for example — fat women is horridly dehumanizing). But while all preferences merit mindful examination, I struggle with the idea that finding oneself particularly attracted to a particular hair colour, fashion sense, or — dare I say it — skin colour is by necessity an act of fetishization. Maybe it’s a problem when one’s appreciation for someone’s appearance trumps interest in their personality or extends to the extent of erasing their individuality?

    I spent my teen years attending a school whose student population was mostly Asian (in the Greater Toronto Area). As a result, when I was developing my sexual preferences and learning what physical and personality traits I found attractive, most — but not all — of the exemplars happened to be of Asian descent. In my aesthetic tendencies and what I find attractive to this day, I’ve got a particular fondness for (among other things) women with dark hair (bonus if it’s spiked — mmmm), and dudes with high cheekbones. The problem is that a lot of Asian guys happen to have this latter trait. I’ve had white peers accuse me of having “yellow fever” (ugh) for expressing physical attraction to individuals of Asian descent “more often than the average white girl”.

    I read this post with an overwhelming sense of encroaching guilt that I am perhaps part of the problem. Everyone is attracted to different things, and I guess I am just confused as to where we draw the line between aesthetic preference and fetishization, and looking for help in examining my own feelings.

    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I think the main difference between fetishization and having a preference or being attracted to the way someone looks are not too difficult to parse. Fetishization is not treating a person like a human being, but a stereotype, and expecting them to be available because the fetishist thinks s/he knows all s/he needs to know about them based on the shape of someone’s eyes or dark hair.

      Especially looking at the examples in the video, every one of the “don’ts” is a way of treating the asian woman like a 2-d stereotype of an asian person they saw in a movie or heard about, instead of a woman who has her own interests and life going on. So, if you’re going up to people and saying “all asians do blah blah blah that’s why I like them” it’s fetishization, which is a whole different story than walking up and striking up a conversation (or making out with them at a bar, whatever your style is).

      It’s closely related, I think, to street harassment. It’s the same kind of reason that it feels crappy when someone calls you “legs” when you walk by on the street, but it feels lovely to have someone flirt politely at a party.

  3. Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I have thought many times that it *really* sucks how that “sucky-fu**y” thing caught on. One stupid movie can ruin sh** for decades. :(

  4. Posted September 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    A guy I was dating said he liked the fact that I looked like I “should have a darker skin color” but I don’t. So he gets the exoticness without the brown skin? Two for one special, I suppose.

  5. Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m a longtime reader that registered for the first time to comment . . . I’m upset by the idea (or accusation, really) that a racial preference in dating implies racism – or that one’s racial dating preference means they assume people of a certain race have certain personality characteristics. I have a strong preference for Middle Eastern (and sometimes black, Asian, and Indian) men and for black women. I like what I like and I’m attracted to certain physical characteristics. So sue me. Just because I generally prefer the bodies of certain ethnicities doesn’t mean I think they’re all a certain “type” inside. I ended up engaged to a white guy. He’s not my physical preference but he’s my everything-else preference . . . but I’d like to think that had I continued to date people I found especially physically attractive that I wouldn’t get accused of racism. Am I age-ist, fat-phobic, homophobic, sexist, speciesist, or otherwise bigoted if I’m not sexually attracted to every living thing I encounter?

    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      Nobody’s actually said that an aesthetic preference implies bigotry. When the aesthetic preference is accompanied by some assumptions of behaviour and sexual performance, that is a problem. When these expectations are expressed in such a way that people who fit the preference or don’t fit the preference are both made to feel awful, that is a problem. As a brown woman with a lot of East Asian friends I have been treated as both the exotic and the invisible at best, repellent at worst, depending on the fetish of the person harassing me or my friends.

      Everyone has preferences. However, a preference for Asian women comes with certain expectations and expressions that are captured perfectly in the video above. If it happens enough that you can make a satirical video about it using word-for-word encounters that turn out to be universal experiences for non-white women in developed countries, then the problem is in the way the subject of that preference is represented and treated in society. You’re taking this personally, as an individual. That’s not what this post is about.

      As gently as possible, your comment here is the racial equivalent of “But what about the men?!” If you don’t think there’s an issue with your aesthetic preferences then there probably isn’t. So assume there isn’t and focus on the other side of the story, of the millions of woman harassed in exactly this way. I watched the video and recognised certain scenes as word-for-word snippets from my own life as a brown woman. I linked to it on Facebook and the first comments are from a Black friend and Chinese friend agreeing that they recognise these scenarios too. I know from talking to my family that my mother, sisters, aunts have experienced exactly these scenarios at different points over the last 30 years. It’s NOT personal. And that’s exactly the problem.

    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      But wait – did you watch the video? It’s about harassing Asian women based on racial stereotypes is bad, not how finding an Asian woman attractive is bad.

  6. Posted September 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    I used to spend a lot of time in the exchange student social circle and it was stunning to me how many creepy guys would approach female Asian exchange students looking for sex with a woman they perceived to be less assertive and more vulnerable than the white women they liked to call “American sluts” or “bitches.”

    One Chinese friend said a man approached her while she was studying and proceeded to show her American condoms and ask if they were “bigger” than Chinese ones. She said she felt extremely uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but he started telling her how often he has sex and asking where she lives.

    On vacation with a Japanese friend I noticed a man following her through a store and asking her where she was from, telling her how beautiful he thought Japanese women were– she kept muttering one word responses and trying to walk away so I went up to him and said, “You can leave now.” He walked off, but waited for us outside the store and tried to offer her a barbie doll.

    This shit is so unacceptable. “Preference” for a look is one thing– the stuff many women experience is down right scary.

    One last story– a boy invited one of my Japanese friends to his room late at night. She wanted to know what I thought and I told her to go ahead and go if she was interested, but be clear about her limitations if he tried to push anything. When he started making moves she looked at him and said, “Don’t put your dick in my body.”
    The guy asked her to leave and never called her again. His loss!

    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t put your dick in my body” is going to be the way I turn down all men from now on.

  7. Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “Black women as Jezebels”

    So their known as false prophets and the daughters of King Ethbaal, interesting stereotype indeed.

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