I was born in a small port town in Japan and moved to Eugene, Ore. Friends casually called us racial slurs.
I brushed most of these comments off as well-intentioned, if misguided, jokes. And old stereotypes about Asian men persist.
Grace Kao, a sociology professor at Yale University, has been tracking how Asian American men fare in the dating pool for years. Her research offers a look at how much discrimination Asian American men face when dating. The data also showed that Asian women were half as likely to be unpartnered, compared with Asian men. She also found, in a paper she co-authored, that gay Asian men in America face the same discrimination in their love lives.
Kao says the statistics show a clear hierarchy based on race that leaves Asian men on the bottom rung. Back then, Chinese people were portrayed in ugly caricatures with buck teeth and slanted eyes. During World War II, the same caricatures were used by cartoonists in an effort to drum up enthusiasm for a war against Japan. During the yellow peril era, the notion that Asian men were feminine or asexual also took root, says Connie So, an American ethnic studies teaching professor at the University of Washington. So says the stereotype started because, along with building railro, many of the first male Chinese immigrants to the U.
Later waves of male Asian immigrants from Japan and the Philippines also worked these types of jobs, and the stereotype grew into one of the strongest prevailing ideas about Asian men in America, So says.
In many popular American films and TV shows, Asian men have been portrayed as weak or unattractive caricatures that could never be the serious love interest of a white woman. Yes, there was Bruce Lee, who played strong, fierce characters, but he was the exception to the rule, highlighting just how few Asian male characters were in films and TV shows at all, and how those few roles were mostly for weak or comical characters.
And So points out that Lee was rarely seen in romantic or sexual situations. Because of these stereotypes perpetuated by the media, many of her Asian American male students have poor self-esteem, So says.
I entered high school without having had my first kiss, shy and insecure, trying to subdue my Asianness as much as I could. One way I did that was by only trying to date white girls. If I could date a white girl, I thought, I would be normal and accepted. In my freshman year of high school, I had my first kiss with a white girl, of course. And as I moved up the grades I casually dated white girls and eventually got my first serious girlfriend, who was white, near the beginning of my senior year.
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I had mixed feelings about that. Being told I was hot was an enormous relief after years of thinking I was unattractive. I started to believe that despite my Asianness, or maybe because I was only half-Asian, there were white girls out there who found me attractive.
But at the same time, it still felt like being Asian was something I had to fight and overcome to get girls to like me. It still meant that I would have been regarded as better if I was white. Having grown up with so many movies and TV shows that presented white women as the pinnacle of beauty, of white society as the norm and the top of the racial hierarchy, I thought that dating white girls would mean that I was successful, that I had made it to the top of the hierarchy, too.
After so many years ignoring or even actively suppressing my Asian identity, I felt guilty and wanted to reconnect with my Japanese roots and talk to my Japanese extended family members, none of whom speak English.
Though UO is in Eugene, it has a slightly higher Asian population 6. In that environment, I felt less abnormal for being Asian. The summer after my freshman year, I studied Japanese at a university in Tokyo and got to know my relatives better.
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My internalized white supremacy was degrading an immutable part of who I am. Asian male representation in the media has come a long way from when I was a kid.
Not really — at least it seems that way anecdotally from the experiences of Asian men in the Seattle area who I talked to. Some Asian American men even think the K-pop phenomenon, which is often heralded as a boon for Asian male representation, is causing a fetishization of certain types of Asian men that complicates their love lives.
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And though the rise in hate crimes against Asians was painful to see, it helped create a widespread acknowledgment of the discrimination Asians, including Asian men, still face in America. I think this acknowledgment is a good first step toward fighting this racism. If people acknowledge that discrimination against Asian men exists in the dating pool, they might question the reasons for their own sexual preferences and eventually overcome the racism that warps their choices in romantic partners.
Wednesday, August 18, Follow The Columbian on Instagram. But has that changed things for regular Asian American men who are dating?
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