Dear World, ‘He’s Good-looking, For an Asian Guy’ is Not a Compliment. It’s Kinda Racist.

Dear World, ‘He’s Good-looking, For an Asian Guy’ is Not a Compliment. It’s Kinda Racist.
Grace Buchele Mineta
January 23, 2017
To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to write this post. It’s been sitting in my “daft” box for about six months now. With the lull in activity since I finished my book, I figured it was now or never.
You see, there’s this phrase “Your husband is pretty hot, for an Asian guy,” that bothers me. I don’t even know why it bothers me. Because it does. Bother me, I mean.
I’ve gotten it from men and women, Japanese, American (and plenty of other countries). The phrases range from “I don’t normally find Asian men attractive, but Ryosuke is cute!” to “Your husband is good looking, you know, for an Asian guy.”
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It’s weird. Or, more specifically, why the need to add a qualifier?
Can’t he just be attractive, and leave it at that? Or funny? Or whatever else people want to compliment him on – but inevitably bring in race.
Why do people often find the need to tack on “… you know, for an Asian guy?” He has nice cheekbones, a symmetrical face, a flattering haircut, abs that most actors would kill for, a great smile, and excellent posture. And those are just the physical bits – his killer personality makes him 250% more attractive.
I don’t understand why being Asian counts as a strike against him. And I don’t like it. On anyone else (and by anyone else, I mean on another white person like me, because I guess that’s what the standard is…?), those characteristics would inspire a league of secret admirers.
On my husband, it just makes him hot, you know, despite his race/ethnicity and all. Like he would somehow be more attractive, if only he didn’t have the unfortunate characteristic of being Asian. Or despite the unfortunate and unavoidable fact that he was born Asian, he still manages to be attractive.
I’m sure I’m reading into this too much – but the sheer number of times I’ve been told this, from people of all ages, genders, and nationalities has started to hit a nerve.
I asked my husband if this bothers him (since about half the time, Ryosuke is standing right next to me when he/I get that backhanded compliment). He thought about it for a second and was like, “Eh? Not really.”
“Why?” I asked, curious.
“I just hear that I’m sexy. And then I stop listening when they add stuff on the end.” I love his simple outlook on life. It’s a refreshing comparison to my own overly-analytic, anxious outlook on life.
Whenever people tell him he’s good looking (for an Asian guy), he’s always like “I know, right? Thank you!” And then we laugh about it later.
I think one of the most uncomfortable instances I’ve had in the last month was when one of my Japanese (female) friends commented “For a Japanese man, Ryosuke is attractive. I can see why you picked him over an American.”
Like… thank you? How do you want me to respond? I feel so massively uncomfortable right now. Please stop.
Before you tell your friend “Your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is hot/cute, for a [insert ethnicity],” stop for a second and consider the fact that the phrase your about to utter is actually kinda racist. Your intentions might pure(ish), but the execution is a bit lacking.
My husband is attractive. There is absolutely no reason to add the qualifier “you know, for an Asian guy.”
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[Edit: To the surprising number of people who have messaged me furious with my “cultural appropriation” because of this photo – it was an engagement photo my Japanese husband and I took, in a rural prefecture of Japan, at the urging of his very traditional parents who speak absolutely no English. They display this photo inside their house, along with similar engagement photos of my husband’s older (married) brother and sister (and their respective, Japanese spouses). I thought it was touching they wanted to include me in this family tradition.
The kimono was his cousins and had been in the family for quite a while. So before sending me threats, swearing at me, and calling me a “white supremacist,” realize that I live in Japan, this was a family tradition, and I really do understand the significance of this photo.
/end rant]
This post originally appeared on Texan in Tokyo.
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