|Why Do Asian Women Date White Men?|
By Alan J. Hu
This is a subject that refuses to die, and it always brings out all sorts of racist stereotypes, demeaning prejudices, obnoxious comments, and brainless posts (as well as wonderful, reasonable people like myself :-) ).
OK so, here's a first crack at what will probably become my standard response to these questions.
Glossary of Abbreviations
AAM = Asian-American Male
Note that we are talking about Asian Americans, since this is soc.culture.asian.american, so we won't worry about things like Third World economic development here.
1. What do you all think about interracial relationships?
(Frequently, this is a polite phrasing of "Don't you think it sucks that all ____ only go out with _____?")
OK, let's spell this out. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with an interracial relationship, as long as the relationship is healthy in general. It's far, far more important that the participants are honest, trustworthy, loyal, etc., etc., that they care about each other, that they communicate, and so forth. Race should be an irrelevant triviality, as irrelevant as the number of letters in a person's name or the Mersenne-primality of one's birthdate. If two people are really into hockey, ancient Chinese literature, and neo-Marxist theology, why should their respective races matter at all?
2. So why do people always make a big deal about interracial relationships?
People make a big deal because people are racist. People make all sorts of assumptions about culture and personality based on superficial ethnic observations. Furthermore, nothing brings out racism the way interracial dating does. My experience, both first hand and indirect, indicates that it's usually men of the same race as the woman in the interracial relationship that get the most upset. A plausible explanation for this behavior is that American (and Asian and Latin and European and Islamic) culture is VERY male-dominated, so much so that men are socialized into thinking of women as property to be obtained, kept, and used. Thus, interracial dating pisses people off because one of THEM is stealing OUR women.
3. Wait a second, you (the author of this post) are always whining about interracial relationships. So you're admitting you're racist?
Well, yes, I'm still racist, but I'm trying hard not to be. But interracial relationships is not an area that's problematic for me. See Question 1. What many of the old-timers on s.c.a.a are talking about is the disparity between the number of AF/CM couples versus AM/CF couples. According to an article in the San Francisco Examiner [Look folks! Real live hard data, not just someone's anecdotal evidence.] AF/CM marriages outnumber AM/CF marriages by 4 to 1 in San Francisco. In Sacramento the ratio is 8 to 1.
So what, you may ask. Well, anyone with statistical training knows to look for explanations anytime something deviates from randomness. If someone reports that a whopping 86% of people born on Tuesdays marry people not born on Tuesdays, I don't go looking for birthdate-based-self-hatred problems among Tuesday's children to explain this outmarriage rate; one seventh of the population was born on Tuesdays, so an outmarriage rate near 6/7 = 86% suggests no birthdate-based influence. Similarly, if a community has a 10% Asian-American population, you'd expect to see an outmarriage rate of around 90%. The actual rate appears lower, suggesting that Asian Americans are not well-integrated into the rest of society, that Asian Americans prefer to stick together, or that being Asian American correlates with some other causative factor, like shared life experiences, for example.
Given that the male/female ratio in the population is roughly 1 to 1, the 4:1 and 8:1 ratios cited above deviate significantly from randomness. Thus, we reject the null hypothesis and search for explanations.
4. That's easy to explain -- Asian guys are too sexist, or Asian guys look feminine, or Asian guys have language and social-skill problems, or Asian guys are geeks, or Asian guys are wimpy, or Asian guys have small penes. Besides, it makes sense that Asian girls are in heavy demand, since they're oh so sexy and nice and, like ultra-feminine, and they know how to treat a man right, and if there are any hot Oriental I mean Asian babes out there, please send me some email, 'cause I'm a really nice guy. Right?
Wrong. These are some of the standard lame things people say whenever this topic comes up. Let's deal with these one at a time.
"Asian guys are too sexist." Well, granted Asian culture is more overtly sexist than modern American culture, but we're talking about Asian Americans here, so this is irrelevant, except that the general confusion between Asians and Asian Americans means that these stereotypes haunt Asian-American men. Personally, I know plenty of sexist and non-sexist men. They come in all sizes and colors. The real problem is that MEN are too sexist, but that doesn't explain the lopsided dating ratio.
"Asian guys look feminine, or Asian guys are geeks, or Asian guys are wimpy." Caucasian guys who look "feminine", geeky, or wimpy abound. Anecdotally, the CM I see in CM/AF couples are not usually body-building testerone-crazed types anyway. And there are plenty of Asian-American netters who are huge, muscular, and have threatened to beat the shit out of anyone who insults them like this. Again, it appears that these are not real problems, but the perception of a problem may be.
"Asian guys lack necessary language and social skills." Again, this is irrelevant, since we're discussing Asian Americans.
"Asian guys have small penes." Sex researchers have repeatedly documented that penile size has no relevance to sexual satisfaction. Fixation on penile size appears to be more of a trans-pubescent adolescent male fantasy, rather than anything significant in social settings.
"Oriental girls are meek and submissive and treat a man right and know all sorts of exotic Oriental sex secrets to keep their man happy." This is the classic stereotype. It needs no further refutation than going out and actually meeting some real Asian-American women and being willing to see them as human beings rather than as sex toys that also cook and do your laundry.
"I'm looking for an Asian-American penpal." These usually come from men with non-Asian-appearing last names. Some people are direct enough to ask "Where are the women?" I've actually responded to a couple people who weren't overt in specifying the gender of the replies they were searching for. None has even bothered to acknowledge my email. I wonder if they'd be really friendly if my name had been "Ellen Hu" instead. Given that I'm root on my workstation, I might run an experiment someday...
5. OK, those are stupid things. What are some reasonable explanations?
There's two I remember offhand as liking. The first is that since we're living in a sexist, male-dominated society, with sexist, male-dominated dating rituals, the males of the socially dominant ethnic group (Caucasians) have a built-in advantage.
The second (my personal favorite) I've hinted at already. If you believe that AAM are more sexist, for example, you will never give one enough of a chance to disprove your stereotype. Whether or not an AAM is actually sexist won't matter; the stereotype has already poisoned the interaction. These problems go all directions and can even have second-order effects: if I believe all AAF hate their ethnicity and only want to date CM, I'm committing the exact same stupidity.
6. So how do people end up with these warped perceptions that have no relationship to reality?
People seem to form stereotypes as heuristics to guide their behavior based on past experience. What we actually experience first hand, though, is fairly small compared to the amount of information we receive through books, magazines, newspapers, radio, the net, etc. Furthermore, our current stereotypes further color our perceptions, influencing even how we perceive first hand experiences. Now, let's suppose that the media has a pervasive bias. Something like, say, "Women are dependent and not very smart," or "Blacks are criminals." Wouldn't this have an enormous effect on our perception of reality?
Well, it just so happens that the pervasive media bias about Asian Americans coincides exactly with many of the problems Asian Americans face. To a first-order approximation, in the media, Asian Americans do not exist. This belief generates many of the Asian-Americans-as-foreigners racial problems that we face. At a more detailed level (with Asian Americans lumped with Asians, since that's what the media does), we find a marked gender-based difference in stereotypes. Asian men are portrayed as: asexual martial arts masters, asexual Viet Cong guerillas, asexual servants, and asexual geeks. Asian women get to be prostitutes, geisha, repressed-daughters-named-May-Ling-of-cruel-oppressive- emporers-(there's another male role)-waiting-to-be-sexually-liberated- by-a-real-(white)-man, and recently, newscasters. Strange, there seems to be some similarities between what we observe here and the stupid explanations given in question 4. As another data point, look at the (infrequent) interracial couples in films: the man is almost invariably white.
7. Media bias shmedia bias, that's just for weak-minded people.
What is the circumference of the Earth? How do you know? Who is the president? How do you know? Who first invented movable-type printing? How do you know?
If you were able to answer all of these questions based entirely on first-hand knowledge and your acute mental powers, I'll be thoroughly impressed.
My point is that everything we know is shaped by the media.
8. You seem to harp on media bias a lot. Why the personal vendetta?
Confession time. My name is Alan Hu, and I'm a media-slave. From the time I started dating in high school until half-way through undergrad, I exclusively dated Caucasian women. In my high school in rich, white suburbia, you could attribute my dating preference to my lack of interest in the two available Asian-American females. But at Stanford (where the Asian-American percentage was floating between 7 and 9 percent thanks to racist bias in the admissions process), there were plenty of intelligent, assertive, articulate, artistic, athletic, beautiful, and successful (traits I find attractive) Asian-American women. Somehow, I still only dated Caucasian women. It wasn't until Junior year, when my (militantly Korean) roommate jokingly called me a twinkie for my dating preference that I started wondering. At first, the knee-jerk answer, "well, I just find white women more attractive" popped up. But the key question became "Why do I find attractive what I find attractive?" After considerable soul-searching, I realized I had internalized a standard of beauty that excluded all but Caucasian women. (Charlie's Angels had been the definitive standard of beauty in my formative years.) I had been swimming in media bias all these years without realizing it. I consciously examined my standards of attractiveness, considerably broadened my dating behavior, and became much happier.
So I have little patience for people who say "I just find X attractive; it's like ice cream flavors." People are NOT ice cream. I only ask that you ask yourself WHY you find attractive what you find attractive.
9. Well, that may be a fine analysis, but don't just sit around and whine.
Excellent point. On a societal level, look around you and look into yourself. Recognize media bias and attempt to counteract it. If you see something egregious, point it out, write a letter to the editor, do something. If you see racism and prejudice in yourself, attempt to eliminate it.
On a personal level, if you're happy with your social life, great, more power to you. If you find yourself having difficulty forming relationships, here's a few suggestions I've found helpful over the years:
May all of you be happy in your relationships...
It's a growing trend in the Bay Area's new multicultural world. But these relationships can bring with them social and psychological complications.
By Joan Walsh
The multicultural Bay Area has long prided itself on its relaxed attitudes about race. This spirit of tolerance extends to interracial love - a subject that still raises blood pressure to bursting in many parts of the country but one that's old-hat here. Few raise an eyebrow, let alone a fist, at the sight of mixed-race couples. But as the Bay Area grows ever more racially diverse, and intermarriages consequently increase, new questions and tensions are emerging.
Most of them have to do with the hottest interracial pairing these days - white men with Asian women.
Part of this trend can be attributed to simple demographics - after all, whites and Asians are the area's two largest racial groups. And many mixed-race relationships are, of course, free of racial meaning - the result of the timeless, colorblind democracy of love. But others involve murkier motivations.
There's no better place to take the dating temperature of the Bay Area than the personal ads section of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In these teeming pages, being a woman of Asian descent is a marketing plus, the female version of being a straight man who wants kids. Unfortunately, as a 35-year-old romantic shopper named Ana Reyes learned, it also attracts men who might enjoy a Bangkok sex tour or import an Asian mail-order bride - men who, in other words, have some offensive notions about Asian women. "You should see some of the letters," groans Reyes, a saleswoman of Philippine descent who ventured into the personals market after a long-term relationship ended. "Some of them made me want to write back just to tell them off."
There was the Marine who reminisced about his tour of duty in the Philippines, where his Filipina girlfriend did his laundry. "He said he liked Filipinas best, because they really know how to treat their men," Ana recalls. Others were hot for the "exotic Asian look," she says.
This is 1990, in an increasingly Asian city, where Asian-American women are visible as newscasters, judges, political power-brokers, university professors. But judging from the letters she received, Ana concludes, a lot of white guys still think "we're all nice girls who cater to men." (In fact, the notion that Asian women are "nice" may be the 1990s update on the stereotype that they're "submissive," the term is heard so often in discussions of Asian-white dating.) Of the 60-plus respondents to Ana's ad, all but three were white. Some seemed to be professional personals-correspondents ("The letters looked xeroxed, like resumes.") Some were professional Asian-daters. Ana wasn't pleased.
"When a man tells me he usually dates Asian women, I tell him I'm very concerned about what that means," she says. "I know some are looking for "Cherry Blossom' girls," inspired by the company that imports Asian women for marriage with traditional-minded American men. "Then there are the ones who are just into the "exotic' look. I want to blow their stereotypes."
Ana shatters at least two stereotypes - that of Asian women as submissive, and personals advertisers as rejects. Analytical and articulate, the college-educated Reyes is also beautiful, with looks at the intersection of Hispanic and Asian. It's a look that she knows is in vogue now, and she's ambivalent about her current popularity. "Some of these guys who write, all they want to know is what I look like, and it really bothers me. But I guess I'm sort of asking for it by advertising that I'm Asian." Why did she put her race in the ad, I ask. "Everybody else does," she says. "To leave it out would seem dishonest." It would also be a marketing mistake. In the competitive world of the personals ads, hyping your assets is key, and being Asian gets results. Ana recognizes the contradiction, and shrugs. She's hoping to reconcile with her old boyfriend anyway.
Ana's old boyfriend, and the boyfriend before that, are white. Despite discomfort with stereotyping, Ana and other Asian women are dating white men in increasing numbers, leaving some Asian men and white women watching with growing frustration from the sidelines.
High-profile women of Asian descent reflect the trend: writers Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, newscasters Connie Chung, Wendy Tokuda and Jan Yanehiro - all have Caucasian husbands. The phenomenon is spawning its own jargon. White men who prefer Asian women are said to "like rice"; they have "Asian-women syndrome"; they're "Asian-women-aholics" or "rice queens" (a term borrowed from the gay world, where white-Asian romance is also hot).
The high number of Asians in the Bay Area, along with their high education and income levels, makes some of the cross-cultural romance inevitable. In California, American-born Asians are more likely to marry outside their own group (or "outmarry," to use the sociological term) than any other race - in some Asian ethnic groups, the outmarriage rate is as high as 80 percent. And when they do outmarry, their partners are most likely to be white. But there's more to Asian-white romance than demography. If numbers told the whole story, Asian men would just as likely be involved with white women as the reverse. They're not, by a long shot. A recent sampling of marriage records for San Francisco County showed that four times as many Asian women as Asian men married whites, says Sonoma State University professor Larry Shinagawa; in Sacramento the ratio was 8 to 1.
Dating trends are similar. Great Expectations dating service reports a 10 percent increase in white men choosing Asian women from its video introductions in California over the last three years (with only a tiny jump in Asian women members) and no such trend involving white women and Asian men. Glance at Bay Guardian personals, and it's clear Asians are by far the top choice of white men seeking women of another race. And when women of Asian descent advertise in the Guardian's voice-mail personals, "they definitely get more calls than other women," says classifieds manager Julia Loftis.
This "new" trend has very old roots, of course. Fantasies of Asian femininity have been imprinted on the American male psyche for generations, thanks to three major wars in the Pacific and a constellation of U.S. military bases there. Since the 1940s, more than 200,000 Asian women have married U.S. servicemen, helping spread the G.I. gospel that Asians make "good wives." You can see the exotic-erotic appeal of Asian women in American films, from The World of Suzie Wong to Full Metal Jacket (albeit in stereotypes offensive to most Asians).
But today, a merger of old and new cultural myths is making white-Asian romance as much fact as fantasy. Asian female "exoticism," for instance, is serving as a potent antidote to over-familiarity between the sexes. In an age when men and women are studying, working and parenting side by side, cross-cultural romance is reintroducing "otherness" into relationships, for those who need it. And alongside creepy stereotypes about Asian female passivity (or "niceness," to use the '90s euphemism) there's a new mythology - and reality - of Asian power, in which the energy, intelligence and economic vitality of the Pacific Rim is personified in its women, making them objects of desire and status.
Karen Shimoda might be the "new" mythic Asian woman. Bright, attractive, assertive, the 35-year-old second-generation Japanese-American is the sales manager of a thriving consumer electronics firm. "My mother always asks me, "In a family with three brothers, how did you turn out to be the most driving and ambitious?' " she says. I ask her the same question, and she thinks for just a moment.
"Probably because of my mother. She wound up divorced, on her own at 30, with four kids to support and no clue about what to do," she recalls. She became a legal secretary and made a decent living, but then she married again, "a traditional Japanese guy who didn't want her to work. And it was hard for her to break with tradition." But after quitting her job, Karen's mother was miserable: "She thought she had always wanted someone to take care of her, but she realized she didn't." She filed for divorce after six months and she returned to work.
Her mother's example made Karen resolve to be independent, and her desire for independence, she believes, rules out dating Asian men. "There are very few Japanese men who are attractive to me. The Chinese are even more conservative. The cultures favor men, and the traditional ideas seem to stick with them." In her teens, she recalls, one of her brother's friends showed some interest in her, "But my brother told him, "Forget it, buddy, she'd blow you away.' It's that I'm not quiet. I argue."
Karen's fiance, 34-year-old Ted Henry, is not your standard rice queen - all his previous girlfriends have been white. He may be even more typical: a white man whose dream woman just happens to be Asian. Geisha-girl stereotypes make Ted laugh, since he does most of the cooking and cleaning in their house. He's the one who gets up to freshen my drink, as we sit in the dining room of their Richmond District home. Ted is making a career transition, and only working part-time; Karen's the primary breadwinner in the relationship. She's serious, almost to the point of solemn; Ted, ironic behind his egghead glasses, is the joker. "It's my job to lighten her up," he says.
Still, he's had to cope with the stereotypes of some friends when they learned he had a Japanese-American girlfriend. "I heard a comment or two: "Is she going to cook for you?' - that kind of thing," he says. They don't know Karen. "She's a great equal," he says admiringly, with a sense of being in on a happy secret.
Like Ted, my friend Eric scorns stereotypes of Asian women as submissive domestic goddesses. He says take-charge Asian women are behind the surge in Asian-white romance. "White men have always wanted to date Asian women," he tells me, with a self-mocking leer that implies white men have always wanted to "date" anything that moves. "But now it's the Asian women who are taking the initiative. Ten, 15 years ago, you couldn't get the time of day from an Asian woman. They were more traditional - you know, eyes down, shy. Now it's like women's assertiveness has caught up with them too. It's OK for them to go after men, especially white men."
Eric, 38, speaks from experience. He dated Lydia, an immigrant from Taiwan, for three years and got to know her circle of Taiwanese friends, all of whom hoped he'd fix them up with other white men. Eric's friends thought Lydia was nice, if a little quiet, and reasonably attractive; he thought she was a knockout. He admits to having "a thing" for Asian women's looks: "They have the bodies that modern clothes fit really well." Lydia, he claims, was lured in part by rumors about the sexual endowment of white men - white men are reputedly to Asian men what black men are supposed to be to whites. (I heard this piece of folklore from four white men and no Asian women, and I was unable to confirm it personally.) Stereotypes of Asian female subservience, Eric says vehemently, played no role in their attraction. "She didn't cook for me. She didn't do my laundry. She had a career. I went out with her because we had a great time together."
For her part, Lydia had left a traditional, restrictive marriage to another Taiwanese immigrant and was looking for someone easy-going, who extended her a measure of independence. Like Karen Shimoda, she believed white men would allow her more autonomy than Asians. "We got along because I treated her nice," Eric says. He's telling the story after dinner at my house, with my infant daughter finally quiet, in bed. The evening has been punctuated by baby-feeding, baby-diapering and baby-coddling, much of which, to Eric's amusement, my husband has attended to.
"White women don't know how good they have it," he tells me. "In what other cultures do you have the men cleaning up the baby barf?"
Asian women appreciate white men, in a way many white women don't, Eric believes. And while all evening he has denied that social or psychological factors influenced his attraction to Lydia, now he owns up to one subterranean motive: "Dating between the white sexes is a minefield these days. Sometimes white women just seem really mixed up. They want a relationship, but they don't. They want a nice, sensitive guy, but they also want a brute. They want a mellow guy who doesn't work all the time, but they sneer at anyone who doesn't wear a suit and drive a BMW. Somehow Asian women don't seem to get caught up in all that - or at least they don't talk about it."
Here's where discussions of white-Asian romance get sticky, and it's time to make some crucial distinctions. There's no proof that most white men who date and marry Asians are fleeing white women; many, like Ted Henry, may just happen to fall in love with someone who happens to be of Asian descent. (Eric, in fact, wound up marrying a white woman.) But among those who only date Asian women, or who voice strong preferences for Asians, there's frequently an undercurrent of frustration with feminism.
Mike Arnold describes himself as "maladroit" with women. He blames it on his father, a child abuser he likens to Hitler. Thanks to subtle sexual belittling - "I should write a WASP Portnoy's Complaint," he says - Mike didn't date until college, and then only fitfully. Now, at 42, he dates only Asians, with chilling self-awareness about his motivations.
"I get some breaks from Asian women. Their standards are lower," he says matter-of-factly. "It's a Darwinistic world, dating-wise, and I have an inferiority complex with white women. Most of them have a big chip on their shoulders, and I don't care how liberated they say they are, they're not interested in someone who doesn't make much money. I eventually realized that being white, I could make it with an Asian woman who's more physically attractive than I am, just because she's got a cultural inferiority complex."
Mike discovered his attraction to Asian women while living in a San Francisco residence club favored by Japanese tourists. But in the hierarchy of Asians, as he sees it, Japanese are at the top, and he had little luck with them. A Chinese woman he dated was "emotionally muscle-bound - she had a high-powered job and that's all she talked about." Romance with a Korean woman fizzled. Now the balding, blue-eyed retail manager mostly dates Filipinas, some of whom he meets through dating clubs that specialize in white-Asian pairings. He's most comfortable with recent immigrants, despite language difficulties (he speaks some Tagalog). "Sometimes I think a wife with a language barrier might appreciate me more. She'd say, "Oh, he tries so hard, he studies my language, he wants to understand me,' instead of, "Oh, he's so emotionally remote, he's an iceberg.' "
Tom Knight has had more luck in love than Mike has, with white women as well as Asians, but he too finds it difficult being emotional with some white women. "Men were raised to be tough, and though I'd like to be more emotional, there's a fear there with women I feel too much equality with." That's part of why he prefers dating Asian women.
"I see something of a feminist backlash in it," admits the fortysomething art professional. "I don't really understand it, but I know I feel less threatened by Asian women. I grew up in a culture where men acted a certain way and women acted a certain way, and I'm more comfortable with Asian culture, where interpersonal relations are more ritualized, and women are graceful, polite and considerate." Traveling in China cemented his preference for Asian looks. He started thinking of white women as "big, overweight Amazonians, with no bra, frizzy hair and lots of freckles. It made me feel kind of ugly myself."
When he met his first Japanese-American girlfriend, Tom recalls, "I liked looking at her. She didn't look threatening, mean or sad. She was pretty, but not beautiful - beautiful is threatening too. I thought, I could live with this person." He did, for six years. "She did a lot for me: She had tea ready when I came home, she scrubbed me in the bathtub. I liked it - you probably would too. My friends thought it was sick, but it made me happy. I think the Western world is too into individuality, and with her I had a mutual striving for harmony."
Eventually, though, the relationship ended. "There's such a thing as too much "otherness.' We couldn't communicate. We weren't mental equals. Her whole world was her relationship with me." His new girlfriend is Japanese-American too, but she's a high-powered broadcasting professional who is also "really nice." Tom confesses: "I want everything."
To some white women, Tom's quest for a "nice" career woman and Mike's dating Darwinism confirms their worst fears - that white men are going AWOL from the battle of the sexes by dating Asians, leaving them alone with the cold comforts of asexual equality.
Sherrie Thompson, for instance, moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest, where Asians were few. But in the night clubs of San Francisco, she discovered that Asian women were numerous, attractive and in high demand. The 27-year-old organizational consultant was unprepared for - and not too proud of - her negative reaction.
"I have to admit I felt threatened," she recalls. "Asians seem kind of like what a man would say "the ideal woman' is - you know: small, thin, fragile, almost doll-like." At five-foot-one and 110 pounds, Sherrie is no Amazon herself. But some men prefer Asians "because they seem more chic, exotic," she says. "I know it's my own insecurity talking, and that behind their appearance they're probably smart, interesting women, with ideas, with opinions. But I just felt like most guys were into their appearance - and stereotypes about how they treat men."
Sherrie isn't alone. At the University of California campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles, where Asian enrollments have climbed sharply in the last decade, the hottest interracial pairing is white men with Asian women - to the chagrin of some white women. Both white and Asian students at Berkeley told me about white guys signing up for Asian-language courses and joining the Asian Business Association, just to meet Asian women. "We call them eggs - white on the outside, yellow in the middle," says Serene Ngin, a Berkeley student. (Asian women who date white men are sometimes dismissed as "twinkies," yellow on the outside, white within.)
Their new popularity is a shock to a lot of Asian women. "Until I came to Berkeley, I never felt like white guys were interested in me. I felt like Asian women weren't that attractive," says Karen Co, 21, a Berkeley senior of Chinese descent, who is in fact strikingly beautiful. "When I got here and saw all the white guys with Asian girls, I couldn't believe it. I would just stare at these couples walking through campus, holding hands."
For white women, the surprise is similar and not entirely pleasant. Some talk of an "Asian-women fetish" that is spreading among white men, some of whom are quite open about preferring Asians. Researchers at UC-Berkeley's Diversity Project found strong resentment of the trend among some white women, who "feel they've been displaced by Asians as the fantasy object of desire," says sociologist David Minkus.
Of course, white women are disadvantaged by the defection of white men for Asian women - unless they're willing to date Asian men in comparable numbers. And generally, they're not.
"It's Asian men who really get the short end of the stick," admits Elizabeth Crandall, 20, a member of Berkeley's Alpha Phi sorority. "Asian women are with white men, but white women don't date Asians." That's not exactly news to Asian men at Berkeley. Doug Nishida, president of the predominantly Asian fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon, pulled together a group of his friends to talk about the Asian women-white men phenomenon. Our conversation flashed back and forth between sociological theories and personal angst. Of the four, only Doug has a girlfriend right now, a trend they attribute at least partly to the preference of Asian women for white men.
"It's a big deal," says Doug, who is a 21-year-old integrative biology major from Monterey Park. "Whenever Asian men get together these days they talk about it, make jokes about it." Dave Nakamura cuts in sharply: "I don't think it's funny."
All four have discussed the trend with friends, with family, in Asian-American Studies classes. They believe American culture - white culture - has sought to emasculate men of color, and see the same impulse that insulted black men with the term "boy" neutering Asian men. "Look at the Rambo movies, or The Karate Kid," says Bryan Nobida, whose heritage is half-Chinese, half-Filipino. "Look at all movies and TV. Asian men are either celibate, sexless or else we're rapists, someone that a white man should save a woman from. The Asian never winds up with the woman."
Like many Asian men (and some women), all four believe an urge to assimilate is behind the attraction to white men among Asian women. For Japanese-Americans in particular, the bitter experience of internment during World War II led to "shame about their culture and a strong desire to assimilate," Doug says. His parents were interned, as were Dave's. Both believe that traumatic experience helps explain an outmarriage rate of over 70 percent among Japanese-American women, and it disturbs them.
"If a Japanese-American man wants to preserve his culture, his choices are becoming increasingly limited," observes Dave, who has two uncles who are bachelors. "As an Asian-American, I can't complain," he says, because he thinks all races should be free to date whomever they want. "But as a man, I get very upset. It wouldn't be as bad if white women were dating Asian men, but they aren't." Of the four - all good-looking, funny, articulate - only Doug has ever dated a white woman, which shocked me, even though I know the statistics.
"So it's pretty upsetting," Dave continues. "It's a sexual thing, it's very primal - it's like your turf is being invaded, and it makes you angry."
The others laugh at his bluntness, but they mostly agree. "It wouldn't bother me as much if Asian women were also dating black men or Latino men," Bryan says. "But it's white guys. I've heard Asian women say they only date white guys. And it's because we live in a white culture. They do it for status. It's self-contempt."
Bryan's friends agree that the preference for white men among large numbers of Asian women reflects a self-loathing born of racism. Their consensus is a little too glib - it reminded me of gripe sessions with my girlfriends, in which we trash wayward boyfriends and other feckless men for "being threatened by strong women," "not being ready for a real relationship" and other mantras of self-protection, to mute the pain of personal rejection. But I felt for these guys nonetheless.
Ana Reyes and I are sitting over soft drinks at the Blue Danube, that Caucasian island on Chinese Clement Street, trying to analyze her preference for white men over Asians. At times, she's almost as pained by it as Doug Nishida and his friends. "I'd like to at least have a balance, date some Asians, date some whites," she says. "I mean, how thoughtless can I be, just seeing whites? I know it has a lot to do with socialization - the images of masculinity in our culture are definitely not Asian."
But, reluctantly, she blames some of it on Asian men. There's the sexism problem, but most important, for Ana, is what she calls Asian "conformity." Most Asians, she believes, are striving "for a mainstream life. They're heading towards yuppiedom. They're materialistic." Just then a horn starts blaring outside the cafe. A cherry-red Mazda RX7, just off the lot, has a short-circuit and the fade-coiffed Chinese-American youth at the wheel seems embarrassed but a tiny bit proud at the attention his new car is getting. We have to laugh. "See what I mean?" she jokes.
Yet the stereotyping Ana and I indulged in can feed on itself. It also gives white men more credit than they deserve: There are plenty of white guys driving around pricey phallic objects, but nobody ever thinks it's particularly white of them. "People tend to compare all Asian men to the top one percent of white men - the most elite, the most sophisticated, the most liberal, the most educated," observes Sonoma State's Larry Shinagawa. "They aren't less sexist or whatever because they're white, but because they've had more social opportunities than Asian men, and they're not limited by stereotypes."
Shinagawa has a theory about intermarriage that is near-heretical, in a country that scorns ideology and idealizes romance. Where most of us see only love and attraction, Shinagawa sees hierarchies of race, class and gender mucking around in our marriage decisions. The high outmarriage rate of Asian-American women only points up the ambiguous social status of Asian-Americans in this country, he believes: On the one hand,that whites marry Asians far more than any other race shows the extent to which Asians have "arrived"; on the other hand, that it's mostly white men marrying Asian women shows how prejudice and stereotypes persist, despite progress.
Shinagawa and colleague Gin Yong Pang, a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley, have coined their own term, "hiergamy," to explain intermarriage patterns, including the tendency of Asian-American women to marry white men. Hiergamy, says Shinagawa, holds that in marriage, people "try to maximize their status opportunities, and their sense of wholeness, in the context of a society that's stratified by race, class and gender."
That's a mouthful, but it works like this: Given a choice between Asian men - who have some economic clout but less social status - and educated white men - who have economic clout and social status, as well as the more liberal attitudes social acceptance can bring - many Asian women would choose the latter. The concept also explains why many white men marry Asian women, Shinagawa says: "They are bright, educated and articulate women, but in the racial fantasies of white men they have always been portrayed as submissive, domestic and sexy - qualities they think white women have abandoned for feminism." White men, in other words, are trading a little public status for some private happiness, a reasonable compromise under hiergamy.
Shinagawa's theories have been interpreted as implying that Asian women are social climbing by marrying white men, an inference he vehemently rejects. It's easy to see how he's read that way, though, since he tends to stress socioeconomics in explaining how hiergamy operates. He believes the improving fortunes of Asian-Americans, for instance, can be measured in rising rates of inter-ethnic Asian marriage - Chinese-Filipino or Korean-Japanese - and in stagnating outmarriage rates for higher-status Japanese-Americans, who were once thought to be in danger of fading into white America. "It's mainly socioeconomic," he says - or in other words, Asian men are becoming better catches.
But hiergamy governs everyone, Shinagawa says. "We all marry to make ourselves happy and to maximize our opportunities," he notes. "Asian women, like Asian men, are responding to the way society treats them. No one can second-guess their choices."
Some people do, at least a little. At UC-Berkeley, where assimilation is politically incorrect, so is interracial dating. Though it's increasingly popular, some Asian women are bucking the trend.
"I don't see how Asian women can take Asian-American Studies courses and learn about how American culture has "feminized' Asian men, and then continue to date white men," says Susan Kim, 21, a Korean-American Berkeley student who only dates Asians and wishes more Asian women would do the same. She gathered a group of her friends who share her beliefs for a frank conversation on Asian-white relationships.
Susan seems to see a little of Mike Arnold, dating Darwinist, in every white man. "I'm not comfortable with white men," she says. "I don't know why they're asking me out and I don't trust them. I know the media images they put on me."
Susan bluntly questions the motivations of Asian women who date white men. "I know you can't generalize, but what I see is a lot of Asian girls dating white guys to be accepted, to assimilate," she says. Reluctantly, she agrees with other Asian women that white men "are less sexist than most Asian men. There's an extreme devaluing of women in most Asian cultures." Susan is involved with Doug Nishida, the Lambda president, and she finds Japanese-Americans "less patriarchal than Korean men." Even dating Doug required some soul-searching on her part, because of traditional Japanese-Korean enmity as well as "a sense of guilt" over high outmarriage rates among Japanese-Americans.
Many of Susan's friends share her commitment to dating only Asians. "I want someone who speaks Chinese, someone who family is really important to," says Karen Co. She also shares Susan's squeamishness about lurid white-male fantasies of Asian women. In fact, most of the women seemed to harbor stereotypes of whites - males as well as females - as sex maniacs, as contrasted with modest Asians. "Whenever you see couples making out on campus, or at a shopping mall, they're always white," says Karen. "It's a really white thing to do." Betty Chiu, 20, recalled how "in the dorms, the whites all had a lot more sexual experience than I had, or most of the other Asians had. I was really kind of shocked."
But some on campus are beginning to be bothered by the stigma attached to white-Asian couples. Cindy Nakashima, 27, an Asian-American Studies doctoral candidate whose mother is white, is pained by it. In an increasingly multiracial California, where intermarriage will only become more common, such attitudes are "dangerous," says Nakashima, who has started a support group for mixed-race students and those in interracial relationships. "Instead of focusing on what's wrong with interracial dating and marriage, maybe we should look at what's right: that some people haven't been so distorted that they can't fall in love with somebody who isn't like them," she believes.
I mostly agree with Cindy Nakashima, but I think we're both a little naive. Increasingly, "what's wrong" with interracial romance has less to do with old-style racial prejudice than with cultural anxiety produced by dramatic demographic changes. Soon no racial group will hold a majority in the state, and many Asians, blacks and Latinos are pushing to retire the melting pot of assimilation. There will be more, not less, criticism of intermarriage from the politically correct in the coming years.
Many white women are at a loss to respond to California's new demographics of love. Openness to intermarriage has been a badge of white liberalism; but jealousy is precisely the reaction of many white women bugged by "Asian-women syndrome" among white men - jealousy and a sick feeling that the "syndrome" is a new name for an old malady, the inability of men to have intimate relationships with women they see as equals. Then, too, educated Asian women are formidable rivals, and some of the tension may reflect the larger anxiety - felt by white men and women alike - about losing socioeconomic status to up-and-coming Asians.
It's a weird spectacle: men and women bickering, but casting their complaints in terms of race. But in California, race is a growing part of the bedroom dialogue. Whether innocent or influenced by subterranean motivations, relationships between white men and Asian women are increasingly a part of the contemporary sexual landscape - one that's here to stay.
Ana Reyes and other names marked with an asterisk in this story are pseudonyms.Quote this article on your site