Hey all, I have a guest post over at Feministe! Go and check it out. For those of you who may be too lazy to click the link, I’ve also posted it down below.
Fun fact: Interracial marriage in the US is on the rise. According to the infographic, whites are the least likely to marry a person of another race, whereas Asians are the most likely. Black men are both more likely than black women to marry a partner of another race; ditto for Asian women as compared to Asian men.
As a Chinese-American woman currently dating a white man, this got me thinking. There’s a lot to unpack about interracial dating. First, there’s the perception that racial fetishizing is flattering – a notion I try to disabuse people of as frequently as possible. I’ve known white men who say that they are just “more attracted” to Asian women (not too long after these remarks, I slowly edge out of the room). But of course that’s not true. They’re “more attracted” to what they think Asian women are — that is, what they want Asian women to be. As soon as they find out that I am as far from a docile, domestic doll as can be, I’m not Asian enough for them anymore.
I can understand being attracted to certain appearances. I’ll fess up: I’m particular about facial structure (mmm, strong jaws), hair, and I’m a sucker for a pair of nice arms. But though the current beau fulfills all this criteria, previous ones haven’t always. As a matter of fact, my “type” isn’t very definite. I stumbled upon my middle school diary a few months ago, and it turns out seventh-grade me was surprisingly not shallow: The only requirement I had was that I “could look at him without cringing.” Huh. No mention of race there. Nonetheless, I have only ever dated one type of man: White ones.
I’ve had some head-scratching moments about why I always dated white men. After all, I consider myself to be a progressive feminist, and as I disdain white men who fetishize Asian women. I’d be pretty horrified to find out that I am a white male fetishizer.
So why I have always dated white men? Because I’m surrounded by them. I grew up in the most typical suburban area imaginable. Almost everyone is white – I was one of three people of color in my graduating class. For better or for worse, I still have a weakness for Oxford shirts—and don’t even get me started about Oxford shoes. Honestly, there aren’t many options for men of any other race.
I also realized that growing up in such an insular environment necessarily impacted what I defined as attractive. This aha! moment came when I went back to China to visit my relatives the summer before my junior year of high school. My female cousin, who was only a few months younger, kept on pointing out guys to me, asking if I thought they were cute. “Meh,” I would respond loftily, turning up my nose. “Wait a minute, that one is!” I pointed to a young man sitting in the window, in the “Thinker” pose. My cousin looked over at him, looked back at me, and went, “Meh.” Only after I came back to the US did I realize why I found that guy acceptably attractive: He looked white.
Forty years ago, Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage in all 50 states. But only two years ago, a Louisiana justice of peace would not marry an interracial couple, claiming that, “There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage.” (Guess he hadn’t heard about one of the most famous biracial people in our country yet).
And then there are articles asking questions like “Can Soul Mates Come in Any Color?” We still see interracial dating as navigating the Other, exoticizing unfamiliar races and usually pigeonholing people into trite, tired roles. Interracial dating doesn’t have to be this mystifying — it’s dating. And sure, dating is hard, and if you’re a different color from your partner it may be more likely that you will have cultural differences, but that’s not a necessary condition. My expectation is that my partner learn Mandarin, but requirements like the ability to speak a native language can also be true intraracially. Were I later-generation Chinese, I might be even more Americanized than I am. As it is, I am happy balancing my Chinese and American identities; I imagine the same would be true if I were French or German.
Although I’ve never asked them, I’m sure my parents have had dreams of me finding a nice Chinese boy who has 15 degrees, graduated college at age 16, and is working on finding the cure for cancer. But I don’t even think that’s due to any sort of ingrained racial preference—they just sort of assumed that because they’re, well, from China. There wasn’t a lot of racial diversity in my parents’ youth, and they probably didn’t realize how that affected them—and how it would later affect me.
Now that they’ve become accustomed to my partner, they’re quite fond of him, as they’ve realized that it’s not his race that is important, but his personality and beliefs.
And after some thought, this is what I’ve decided. I hope that everyone can come to the conclusion that my parents did. I hope that we can reach a day where we can celebrate all of our cultural differences, not just in personal relationships, but as a country. And I hope that we can arrive at a day when interracial dating doesn’t need statistics or stories, because it’s become just as acceptable if not commonplace as intraracial dating.