Recently, freelance writer Jenny An caused an online firestorm with her confessional essay I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man for xoJane. But is it her defense of interracial dating or the way she defends it that's stirring up so much controversy?
Interracial couple holding hands, Credit Image: Shutterstock
An starts her post by declaring, "It's simple: I'm a racist," then goes on to profess her disdain for the patriarchy and racism she perceives in Asian culture. She continues with a declaration of love of white men, whom she views as an American ideal:
I date white men because the term "model minority" grosses me out. I date white men because it feels like I'm not ostracizing myself into an Asian ghetto and antiquated ideas of Asian unity. I still see myself as a minority. And with that, pretty soon comes connotations of "outsider." And I don't like that.
It's not so much that An is saying anything people haven't heard before, but she pushes so many hot buttons about issues that can quickly turn into a war of words between ethno-cultural groups: the high rate of dating between Asian women and white men, the model minority myth, and the hypersexualization of Asian women. She even takes the ultimate below-the-belt shot, hinting at differences in penis size between Asian and white men.
But perhaps her main goal was just a shocking headline, rather than a well-thought post. Commenters certainly accused An of link-baiting to draw attention to the site. This isn't the first time that xoJane has been called out for such behavior; BlogHer Health Editor AV Flox reported on similar accusations about ex-staffer Cat Marnell.
An complains about the pressure to perform within Asian culture, although her example does not show how this has anything to do with patriarchy or cultural sexism, as Asian women are expected to achieve just as much as Asian men. She also hints that white men -- the very ones she prefers to date in order to escape “patriarchy and cultural racism” -- have some sexual stereotypes about Asian women, too:
But as long as men tell me over dinner, "I've always wanted to be with an Asian girl" and then still think they're getting laid, and as long as during beauty countdowns white girls are called "beauties" and Asian girls are called "exotic beauties" -- well, then white will still be the societal standard.
To be fair, An did raise an issue experienced by a lot of people of colour, especially immigrants and children of immigrants: the feeling of “un-Americaness." Despite living in America and adapting to North American culture, they are made to feel like they do not, and never will, belong. But dating white men is not going to help. Especially if they are sexually fetishing you.
Responding to the comments (1,291 as of the writing of this piece), most of which were overwhelmingly negative, An wrote a mea culpa that essentially backfired. Distancing herself form the first-person voice of the first essay, she says this:
Writers create characters. Call it first-person character, a writerly persona, performance art, whatever. Stir in some strong statements to make it more bloggable, call it a troll if you will. Or call it saying: I'd never, ever, ever do this, but it's just, yeah, I don't do it all that often. The character embodies thoughts of self-race annihilation I've considered, especially when I was younger, because it would take a lot stronger of a person than I am to never wonder, "Would my life have been easier if I were white?"
A commenter on An's response posted this:
“I understand the need to frame an article so that it gets hits and grabs attention and all that, but by saying you were creating a character and not speaking fully as yourself.....well, I feel disappointed and slightly betrayed, frankly. And how on earth can you be credible to me in this second article when you've admitted you weren't being your full self in the first? Maybe this is just your conciliatory persona, framed to moderate the negative feedback your first article received? If you felt that while writing your first piece your views were not being thoroughly expressed, why not say so?”
One interesting response was by JT Tran from Asian Men White Women. Tran, nicknamed the "Asian Playboy," is no stranger to controversy in the Asian American community; his website is dedicated to helping Asian men date white women. While Tran dates interracially, he questions not only xoJane’s decision to publish a trollish title, but also An’s belief that she is perceived as an outsider in American culture:
But you forget: being AMERICAN is about cultural diversity. Chinese food isn’t really Chinese food, cheeseburgers came from Germany, my cab driver is Jamaican, and the waitress at my favorite Korean restaurant is white. So how the heck does dating white men mean getting accepted into American society, when America is already a big fat melting pot of multiple cultures? If anything, dating a person of MULTIPLE races would be considered getting accepted into American culture, because low and behold, not all of Americans are white. Big surprise.
Of course, many articles encouraging women to date outside their race have faced criticism. One of the most notable cases is the popular book, Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture & Creed. In July, Clutch Magazine first went after Swirling and other proponents of relationships with white men:
It would seem that the myth of the White Knight is alive and well. Relationships “experts” have been weighing in on why a larger number of black women should consider dating outside their race for quite some time now. In and of itself, this notion isn’t entirely terrible, although it does assume that a majority of black women are resistant to the idea of interracial dating (which isn’t necessarily the case). But when the advice is tied to mythical ideas about the superior morality, dating practices, and values of white men, it’s highly problematic.
Recently, one of the book’s co-authors (and BlogHer Publishing Network member), Christelyn Karazin, questioned the black critics of her book, including a Clutch writer who questioned the term “swirling” (and to be honest, it kinda bugs me too as it simplifies a much more complex situation):
Many times the very people who claim to be exhausted of all the interracial dating talk are the ones who give the members of such relationships so much flack. On one hand, they say go ahead with IR, but they don’t want to hear about it. Sounds a lot like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” military policy we once had, doesn’t it?
Karazin also mentions that interracial relationships have long existed. And there have always been people who question the motives who date outside their race.
The real story behind the negative reaction to An’s essay may be that it shed light on the reason why people have an issue: the worry that minorities choose to be with someone outside of their culture because they are ashamed of their own. Dating decisions are no one’s business but the people involved, so why do we, as the observers, have such a vested interest in their couplings? Do we think that one of our own "defecting" to another side is a reflection on the perceived inadequacies of our cultures, inadequacies we have tried to correct within our own lives?
An was right about one thing: Some people DO perceive Anglo, or white, culture as the most normal and desired culture. What she misses is that society -- including the things we read and the images we see in the media -- perpetuate those ideas. We are socially conditioned that Western notions of beauty, dress, diction, and behaviour should be the norm. Her issues with self-esteem and maturity may just be a dirty reflection of some of our own.
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
Pre-Order My Book ! What Are You Doing Here?
More from living