Asian Girl Problem #110: Goodness or White Savior Complex

My friends tried to set me up a couple months ago–which I consider the highest honor–and I’m still getting shit for it because I was incredibly disinterested and trippin’ over another dude that night.

“You just took one look and was like ‘Nope!’ Geez, sorry he was wearing his work clothes because he had to come straight from helping underprivileged families.

In fairness, I didn’t know I was being set up with the 30-year-old social justice attorney from Harvard. Not usually a type that pops up on my relationship-stunted radar. Rather than a blind date, this was just a case where I was left the in the dark. I found out months later that my well-meaning friends had showed this guy a photo of me and convinced him to make an appearance at their party after a long day of work to meet me because they thought we’d make high-achieving mixed babies together.

I still hear about him once in a while.

“He’s awesome, not stuck up like some other Ivy leaguers at all, he helps families stay in America, he’s tall, and lezbehonest, he’s easy on the eyes. He has an amazing smile.”

Oops, maybe I was too caught up with other things to see the amazing person in front of me.

“Oh I think he started dating some other Asian girl last month.”

So long, ladyboner.

It shouldn’t matter, but it does. It should matter why white people are trying to do a righteous thing for other communities, but it does—one of my friends spent the better half of the past year wondering if her ex-boyfriend, a social justice law student with a penchant for wooing women of color (and I say “woo” because he didn’t always want them, just wanted to confirm they would bang him) had White Savior Complex.

Her ex was staunchly against the accusations and meant well, so I tried to see it from his point of view and often defended him. But I knew how hard it was not to entertain the possibility and ask the questions. If even the slightest behaviors suggest someone has a complex or fetish, we conscious types can’t help but ring the alarm, and it takes a huge toll on relationships—because unlike in a courtroom, a dubious person in a relationship is usually going to be guilty until proven innocent.

We try as best we can to see each person’s path and pathology as an individual case. But nothing can be completely isolated from the structures and systems that raised them. We all have different pain points and limits—I don’t know mine until I feel them pushed. But I never get tired of hearing about others’ experiences and approaches.

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On a side note, while I’ve read a dozen articles on the Ferguson tragedy, I’m uncomfortable taking an emotional/prescriptive stance on it. But this article helped me get a little closer to it.

In regards to my discomfort—I want to get over it.

Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger

Asian Girl Problem #109: Verbal vs. Tacit Love

Though I certainly know some exceptions, the majority of my Asian-American friends say “I love you” and hug their parents without giving it a second thought. It’s easy to love in America—I love donuts, strangers’ tattoos, a bookmark. I love at the end of phone conversations, to avoid awkward conversations, and when I’m trying to ingratiate myself with someone I pissed off. When I’m feeling sarcastic, I love things I actually hate.

When I was a kid and visited my dad at the university science lab where he worked, I yelled “Bye, I love you!” from down the hall every time I left. It became such a habit I’d often forget that sometimes he wasn’t in the lab when we went to look for him, so my declaration sounded like it was only meant for his grad student, Sean. I was only slightly embarrassed.

I never say “I love you” in Chinese, and hugs are few and far between when I visit my relatives in the motherland. I’ve never hugged any of my uncles or male cousins, and embracing my grandma whom I’m crazy about is reserved for the first and last time I see her of every visit. Instead, we say “like” for everything, including people we want to date. Or, in my case, “really like” for donuts and tattoos.

Rarely seen or used outside of tattoos on white people.

From a chapter in “Couples on the Fault Line” by Esther Perel:

Most cultures tend to gravitate toward one pole or the other in [the spectrum of “high-context” and “low-context” societies.] Another way to conceive of the spectrum is individualism versus collectivism. In low context societies such as Germany, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, England, Australia, and the United States (often countries rooted in Protestant Calvanism) people compartmentalize personal relationships and work, and focus on short-term relationships. Factual information is stressed and is explicit verbal expression. The high-context societies are more rural and less industrialized than then low-context societies. In Latin America, Africa, the Mediterranean countries, the Arab world, India, China, and Indonesia extensive information networks exist among family, friends, and colleagues. This shared experience allows for a greater degree of tacit understanding. People are often involved in close and lasting personal relationships.

For the first time ever, I’ve been saying/writing the words (in English, or course) to a person I’m boning. When it first came up, it took me a month to reciprocate, and I still feel a jolt of confusion and hesitance every time I say it—although writing it feels easier? Sometimes I even have to rationalize in my head that the context I’m using it is no different than when I say it to a close girl friend.

Other times I’m just like, who the fuck cares. Spoken word are so easily made and easily broken. I want his time, energy, effort, thoughtfulness, touch—basically every other “love language” than words. That’s how I express my love, but sometimes I forget that my language goes unnoticed by people who didn’t grow up feeling the deep meaning behind the saving the last bite for someone else or going 30 minutes out of the way to see them for 5 minutes. (Not that I’m saying my dude doesn’t do either of these things.)* But how sad and drab not to notice and revel in those subtleties. Wouldn’t you say that the more we evolve, the more ways we should be able to express affection?

*Okay, there are definite drawbacks, i.e. how my family loves to whine about the sacrifices we make that go unappreciated by others.

Asian Girl Problem #86: Plight of the Asian Dude

My friend got an OKC message that makes me burst into laughter whenever I think about it, because the only other option would be to cry.

“I am of Asian descent, but do not be alarmed.” Shot in foot successful. Half of me wants to help the guy, should I ever meet him, and the other half wants to run in the other direction. Which is probably why in dating, the sexy get sexier and the losers get more lost.

Despite my complaints, I love the idea of interracial dating. Same-race hetero couples might go under my radar, but I always notice interracial (and queer*) couples, and they make me happy about where things are heading.

But to date an Asian guy is almost more revolutionary, after growing up in area of only white and black people and now living in a city with somewhat of a “White male seeking Asian female” reputation. Asian guys are up against some dismal stereotypes, many culturally-ingrained and requiring constant dedication to override. Some get jacked, some take swag classes, some lead with their money, some do none of these things…The ones I know who have their “masculine” energy on lock are often taken, by girls of all colors.

How can one not be more sympathetic to Asian males’ attempts at dominance? Because whether consciously done or not, they’re active “fuck you”s to the status quo. I know race is just one factor of a person’s identity, but you’d think that as we second and third generation immigrants are reaching adulthood, wielding more cultural, financial and political power,  the numbers would budge more when it comes to dating. Alas, sexual power is the last and ever-distant frontier.

*I wish I could offer some perspectives from non-hetero relationships, and I might try in a later post. Also, this post took me days of stewing and rewriting because it’s been impossible to organize all the conflicting thoughts I have on the matter. Indicative.

Asian Girl Problem #80: The Male Me & A Couple Articles

“When I’m with a black girl, it kinda feels like she’s my sister.”

I wanted to jump up and scream “YES!” and tell him all about the times that same hang-up has arose from my dates with Asian guys. Like this one I had last year at the movies:

I guess because the couple on screen is kissing, it’s acceptable to assume your neighbor is in the mood. In the awkward silence, I asked, “What time is it?” and he said “9:45. Are you tired?” “Not really” (even though I hella was) and all of a sudden his hand was on my leg and he’s hovering over me, his Asian face getting closer and closer to my Asian face. And planted one on me. I sort of kiss back but my lips felt like wood and I tried to smile but it was a grimace. It felt incestuous. He tried to go in again and I managed to stop it without running away or cracking up. It wasn’t right. Asian people simply don’t kiss in my world. If they liked each other, a family representative could send word, and then after the wedding, Buddha delivered them a child.

…None of this bothers me as much as this internal racism I seem to harbor. I’ve been lightly accused of it in the past and I don’t know if it’s valid or because it’s I just like making fun of people, and the easiest target is always your own kind. In some ways I’m intensely close to my Chinese-ness, feel responsible to defend it and will always navigate the world through a yellow-colored lens. But I also feel like I straight up kissed my brother, and I could not wait to get home and brush my teeth.

But it was a first date, so I didn’t jump up, but probably exclaimed. Still no closer to understanding this rationale. I will say that the two Asian guys I’ve met since the beginning of this new dating journey are the only ones who have not been interested in a second round.

Also some interesting articles as of late:
The East is Feminine
Why people can be less sensitive to physical characteristics of other races
Changing cultural expectations of taking care of our aging parents.
Finally a show with an Asian main character who isn’t “Asian.” 

Asian Girl Problem #70: My Ugliest Feelings about Interracial Dating

Ever since I became more sensitive and proud of being Chinese-American (about four years ago), I’ve developed a lot of issues with interracial dating. It never comes into play when other couples are concerned, but it affects my own dating M.O. in many negative ways. I hate that I feel these things and don’t think they reflect well on my personality or enhance my life in any way. But I can’t control them any more than I can control my skin and hair. Just a sampler:

– I want to “represent” by dating someone Asian. I think we look better aesthetically and probably have more in common culturally, but I rarely meet an Asian guy who’s a good match for me.
– If not Asian, dating a person of color means something similar to me. That I didn’t bow down to the white man.
– I don’t want to perpetrate the played-out Asian girl/white guy combo that is rampant everywhere in California. The times I feel this strongest is expressing PDA with a white guy.
– If a white guy says he likes Asian food or has taken any sort of college course on an Asian language or history, I want to run away.
– I can’t help but think white guys who have had a majority of Asian girlfriends are the worst.

“I can’t really control who I find attractive–it’s like being gay.”

A white guy I think I could really like said this on our second date last night, after we had made out on my couch, when I asked him if he had an “Asian thing.” He had a pretty good explanation for it, but this was the part that annoyed me. I know we were keeping the tone casual and he was being jocular, but the comparison unearthed a lot of my anger. All I wanted to do was write out a list of reasons why accepting a strong predilection for people of a certain race is not like accepting the decision to like someone of the same gender, and why you can’t ignore that this issue brings legitmized pain to communities.

I don’t know if I can ever wonder if part of why he likes me is for political/cultural/inborn reasons that I have no control over. Or feel like I’m in competition with every other Asian girl. Or what happened in childhood in his 90% white neighborhood led him here.

But what is he supposed to do to repent? Learn everything he can about an Asian country to understand more? Racist. Only date within his race? Racist. Claim he doesn’t see color? Ignorant.

It’s not hard for me to like white men, at least before. For lack of variety, I had crushes on only white guys up until high school. When I went through a day without seeing my reflection, I felt like I was just as white as my classmates. But somewhere during my re-Asianification I consciously tried to program myself to like people of color, and it worked. Nowadays, 8 out of 10 guys I “like” on OkCupid are at least half-Asian and 100% are POC.

Giving someone less credit because they’re white feels really wrong on my part. So does giving someone more of a chance because they’re Asian. So I guess this week is all about feeling kind of wrong, because I eagerly accepted a first date with an Asian guy this morning, as if it would wash away my guilty feelings of dating a white guy with “the problem.”

I’m going to keep dating guy #1 because he has been awesome so far in almost every other way. But if it’s to go anywhere, I’ll need to change something inside.