I’ve never liked small talk with strangers, not because I’m an introvert, but because as an Asian person there are always the same inane questions people insist on asking to start a conversation.
From “you don’t look American so where are you really from?” to “have you ever been to North Korea?” — I’ve heard it all to the point that none of these questions amuse or annoy me anymore, I’m too tired to even react to them because they simply bore me.
However, there is one specific conversation my mind always returns to. It was a horribly rainy afternoon in Cardiff and I rushed into a taxi to avoid the wet Welsh weather. After I told the driver my destination, we sat in silence for approximately 10 whole seconds before he asked the inevitable question, “so what kind of Oriental are you then?” Before I could say anything, he interrupted with, “I know it’s rude to ask these things, but you see, my wife is Chinese, so…”
“So, what?” I asked him. His brilliant answer? — “well it’s okay then, innit?” For the rest of the journey, we sat in awkward silence. Lucky for both of us, it wasn’t rush hour quite yet.
What makes this conversation so unique was that this man was able to call himself out on his own ignorance but he seemed to view himself as an exception because of his relationship with an Asian woman.
But of course, the taxi driver was not alone in assuming this status.
Two years ago, I was at a small house gathering in college when I decided to step out for some fresh air. There was a white female student across the room who kept making eye contact with me throughout the afternoon and just a minute or two after I had left the room, she followed me outside.
We chatted about what we were studying, where we lived before we started college – you know, the usual uni student checklist for small talk, at least until she started talking about her relationship. “I’m actually dating an Asian boy, he’s Korean,”she said out of the blue. “I’m kind of known around here for having yellow fever.”
Did she want praise? Or approval? What kind of person starts off a conversation like that? I didn’t respond, hoping she would get the hint (she didn’t).
“But his mum is just ruining everything. She wants him to be with a boring Asian girl… I don’t get it; mixed babies are so much cuter,” she said looking slightly disgusted.
“Don’t you think what you just said might be a bit out of line?” I remember asking her.
She seemed confused and even a bit annoyed, “I said I had a Korean boyfriend, so you know I can’t be racist.”
I started to wonder why I kept running into people like these. Was I just a magnet for ignorant people? After years of exploring topics of discrimination and the experiences of Asians living in the west, I’ve come to realize that regardless of where I was or how I presented myself, I’d inevitably encounter people who hold racist biases against Asians while disguising themselves as allies. One of the most common attempts at camouflaging just so happens to be dating an Asian person.
While there are many white partners of Asians who don’t fetishize or demean their significant other, there is a very vocal community of those who do — whether it’s a man trying to play white savior while demonizing Asian men, or a woman fetishizing her Asian husband while demonizing Asian women. I believe they are largely emboldened to express these views because they are able to hide behind their romantic partners.
“I can’t be racist, I’m dating/married to an Asian!” Let’s be clear, being racist and dating a person of color are not two mutually exclusive things.
Just hop online and scan through comment sections or forums on platforms set up as safe spaces for Asians to share their experiences. You’ll start to see quite a few comments like these:
“As a white man married to an Asian woman, I find what you say highly racist towards white people.”
“As a white woman married to an Asian man with half-Asian children, I don’t see why Asians are offended by this.”
While everyone has a right to their own opinions, white partners who say these things — especially on platforms dedicated for POC — are attempting to delegitimize individual experiences of racism.
Ultimately, white romantic partners of Asians have no authority to say what is or isn’t racist towards Asians and what our community should or shouldn’t be offended by. Why? The simple answer is, because they are not Asian themselves and you cannot become Asian by association.
No matter how serious your relationship may be with an Asian person — and even if you have lived in Asia at some point in your life — a white person can never understand the experiences of an Asian American. Negative stereotyping, lack of positive representation, a lifetime of systematic and individual racism – these are things you can only experience as a POC.
This may appear divisive to outsiders but these discussions on race are essential for better understanding to prevent such discrimination in the future, and for Asian Americans, we are able to find comfort in sharing our stories with each other.
As much as I would love to say that we live in a post-racial world, that would be a blatant lie. Asian Americans still face discrimination and micro-aggressions in their day-to-day lives; therefore, to erase this dialogue would be a gross act of silencing a marginalized voice. Like other immigrant and minority ethnic communities, we deserve to be able to share our experiences without outsiders playing devil’s advocate.
When these non-Asian romantic partners use the existence of their significant other or their mixed-race children to establish their authority in arguments and get away with making insensitive remarks, they are reducing their “loved ones” to mere bargaining chips.
While I admittedly question the logic of these Asian men and women who choose to stay in such relationships regardless of the clear lack of respect or even the most basic understanding, it’s not my place or anyone else’s to tell another person who they should date. In general, I don’t view interracial relationships as problematic – like with most situations, it’s the select few that exhibit toxic traits.
With that said, it’s important to understand that dating an Asian person does not automatically give you a free pass to make insensitive comments or grant you the authority to speak on issues facing minority ethnic communities. Questions and comments that were previously considered to be ignorant are still off limits, regardless of who you date.
If you truly respect your partner and care about the Asian American community, perhaps try listening to what other Asians have to say and allow them to speak their opinions instead of trying to get the last word in.