Asian Women Have Every Right to Reclaim the Term ‘Yellow Fever’
Editor’s Note: Ranier Maningding is a copywriter and mastermind behind the social justice page “The Love Life of an Asian Guy“. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely his own.
While most people are logging onto Facebook on their tippytoes, trying not to read any spoilers for the Avengers: Infinity War movie that came out this Friday, I’m frolicking barefoot through this social media minefield, going out of my way to find spoilers. I want to the movie to be spoiled.
Why would I do such a thing? Why would I want to spoil a movie that’s been a zillion Marvel movies in the making?
Because I haven’t seen the other Marvel movies and I don’t want to sit through Infinity Hours, then watch another three hours of Avengers: Infinity War. I got shit to do. You know how much crap I have in my Netflix queue that I have to finish before I can bother with Marvel? Priorities, fool.
If I were like the rest of America and I finished watching all eighteen movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you bet your ass I’d be in line with all the other comic book normies because the payoff for seeing Infinity Bore would be maximized.
“Wow, sweet! It’s Captain America for the millionth fucking time! I haven’t gotten tired of this one-dimensional character at all!”
It all boils down to the time you invest in something versus your reward. You see, I’ve been trying this new thing mental health regimen called the ‘Maxine Waters’ method where I reclaim my time. If I don’t like an activity and it’s not essential to a greater good (my hygiene, career, family, or social welfare), then I’ll reclaim my damn time and I’ll walk the fuck out.
That’s why I walked out of Justice League. And it’s also why I’ve chosen to stay out of my feels over the ‘Yellow Fever’ restaurant outrage. You see, there’s a fundamental confusion when people discuss the offensiveness of a term like yellow fever and it all depends on how you’ve been impacted by the phrase.
On one hand, yellow fever is often a sexualized term used by racist frat boys who “collect” Asian girlfriends like they’re playing a game of sexual Pokemon. Or maybe you’ll see this with western internationals who pay for sex in Asia, come back with a grin on their face and say, “Oh yea bro, I totally caught me some yellow fever!” You see this type of language in dating apps and on college campuses. It’s a big problem but it’s only one side of the equation.
On the other hand, yellow fever is also used to minimize the relationship between Asian and non-Asian partners. I’ve met many Asian interracial couples (I’m in one myself) where the non-Asian partner is mocked for having yellow fever. It’s a fucked up thing for people to say to you, especially when you’re in the relationship yourself and you know with 100% certainty that your partner has never been the type to “collect” Asian partners.
It’s fucked up to say you have yellow fever, but it’s even more fucked up when you’re the Asian partner on the receiving end. It’s fucked up because it makes you feel like the love you received wasn’t “legit” and that you were only loved because you were fetishized.
In this case, I can totally see why someone like Chef Kelly Kim, or any Asian woman would be valid in their their desire to reclaim yellow fever.
When you’re on the receiving end of racialized terms like yellow fever, you can either reject, accept, or reclaim it. How you deal with such terms is less a testament to how woke you are, but rather an indication of how you, a person of color who has to deal with racism to begin with, managed to handle a yet another shitty racist situation.
Some of us are fighters and if we hear a racialized term we wanna extinguish it from everyone’s mouth for eternity. Others choose to accept the racism and pretend like everything is okay. And others decide to take the trash that others throw at them and turn it into something new.
The bitter truth is that reclaiming a word will always, always result in debates and contested opinions. That’s why reclaiming is known as a radical behavior. It’s not common, and it’s definitely not comfortable. Hell, not all women agree with reclaiming the word ‘bitch.’ Not all Black folks agree with reclaiming the n-word. Not all Asians will agree with reclaiming yellow fever.
Do I like the name Yellow Fever for a restaurant? Not really. Will I boycott the business because of it? Hell no. Do I think Chef Kelly Kim is justified in trying to reclaim the term? Of course. Asian women more than anyone else on the planet are the target of yellow fever insults. If they wanna reclaim it, who the hell are we to say they can’t?
In the case of the Yellow Fever restaurant, it’s also worth noting that the person who has the most to lose is Chef Kelly Kim, and the person who stands to win is…
Maybe one of you can explain this, but I really can’t pinpoint how people of color fighting Kelly Kim on her use of yellow fever will have any positive net impact on Asian treatment or representation in America. I give Kim all the credit for coming up with the name for her restaurant, but forreals though, the term yellow fever has been around long before Kelly Kim came up with it.
If you wanna fight this issue, fight the racists on Tinder who message Asian women and say they have yellow fever. Drag them. Post screenshots. Get messy. I don’t give a damn. But targeting a business run by a woman of color? You wanna get mad at an Asian woman, someone who’s probably on the receiving end of yellow fever jokes more than anyone else in the world?
No one wins that battle. Not us, and especially not Kelly Kim and the people of color employed by her company. If you wanna destroy the toxicity of the term yellow fever, go after racists and misogynists who abuse Asian women, don’t come for Asian women themselves.
Support our Journalism with a Contribution
Many people might not know this, but despite our large and loyal following which we are immensely grateful for, NextShark is still a small bootstrapped startup that runs on no outside funding or loans.
Everything you see today is built on the backs of warriors who have sacrificed opportunities to help give Asians all over the world a bigger voice.
However, we still face many trials and tribulations in our industry, from figuring out the most sustainable business model for independent media companies to facing the current COVID-19 pandemic decimating advertising revenues across the board.
We hope you consider making a contribution so we can continue to provide you with quality content that informs, educates and inspires the Asian community.
Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for everyone’s support. We love you all and can’t appreciate you guys enough.