As a Korean-American woman, I grew up assuming that I would date, and eventually marry, an Asian man. It must have been watching all those Korean dramas that did it. But over time, I began to realize that there was no reason to close myself off from so many potential partners just based on their race. What became more important to me was that he—whoever he might be—shared my core values when it came to life and family.
Still, the confines of those cultural expectations continued to follow me. And it angered me. And I wasn’t alone. I saw it in the controversies that plagued strong, independent Asian women such as Mindy Kaling, Jamie Chung, Constance Wu, Celeste Ng and Chloe Kim. They’ve all experienced a form of harassment that manifests itself in the form of a question: Why don’t you date Asian men? Their harassers are often men, and often fellow Asians.
In August, a man by the name Joe Choi messaged Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim on Instagram, calling her a “spoiled Korean prostitute” whose “white boyfriend” couldn’t afford to take her to a nice restaurant. Jenny Han has also faced backlash for casting two white men as the love interests for a half-Korean woman in her book To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and its movie adaptation. When it was revealed that the film’s star, Lana Condor, was dating a light-skinned Cuban man, she was blasted with comments such as, “Of course she’s with a white guy.”
Natalie Tran, a YouTuber whose husband is white, has received comments calling her a “white-worshipping wench” and “white man’s bitch.” Other Asian celebrities, including Constance Wu, Jamie Chung and Celeste Ng (who recently wrote an essay about the topic for The Cut), have also been subject to similar harassment.
A woman should not be obligated to date anyone in particular nor restricted from dating any person she chooses.
It’s not just men on the internet who are perpetuating the problem, either. Take, for example, East Meets East, a dating app for Asians, which advertises its services with a video titled, “Why she NEVER dated an Asian guy!” The video features an Asian man interviewing an Asian woman about why she hasn’t dated Asian men. At one point, he remarks, “WTF. She never dated an Asian? We gotta fix that.” The implication? That the Asian woman is broken, and the only solution is for her to date an Asian man.
The notion that an Asian woman ought to “date her own kind” would be perceived as racist if it was suggested by someone of a different race. And yet Asian men continue to hurl such claims at Asian women, as if that is any less racist. It’s not. It’s also incredibly sexist: A woman should not be obligated to date anyone in particular nor restricted from dating any person she chooses.
Shaming Asian women to date Asian men—or to stop dating white men—doesn’t solve the problem.
Throughout history, there’s been a trend of colonialism and the taking of women by men as a sign of possession, power and authority. The harassment of Asian women by Asian men is rife with these themes. In a recent interview with The Cut, Lana Condor described it thus: “You are being racist unknowingly and continuing to put us in a box that we don’t need to be in,” she said. “It’s offensive to me—you’re continuing to promote tribalism.”
And, yes, there is truth to the idea that Asian men have been emasculated in pop culture in comparison to white men. But shaming Asian women to date them—or to stop dating white men—doesn’t solve that problem. “The issue here isn’t ‘internalized racism.’ The issue here is men thinking they get to control women, especially women of their own ethnicity. It’s misogyny hiding behind the mask of anti-racism. And it’s bullshit,” Celeste Ng wrote on Twitter.
Women don’t exist to serve your need for validation.
Natalie Tran was met with so much criticism for her white husband that she created a documentary, titled White Male Asian Female, on her normally humor-heavy YouTube channel, CommunityChannel. In the video, Asian pickup artist JT Tran explains that Asian boys often grow up emasculated and are told they’re not as desirable as white men, which might be why they’re raising their voices. But is harassing Asian women online and demanding their romantic affection the answer? Of course not. There’s an entitlement and possessiveness inherent in that explanation that amounts to saying, “You were ours to begin with.” Here’s some news: We were never yours. We are not items to be owned. Your masculinity isn’t quantified by how many women desire you. Women don’t exist to serve your need for validation.
What about the situation where the race-based dating restriction is self-imposed? There are some Asian women who see the fact that they have never dated an Asian man as a point of pride—and that is equally close-minded. Which may be why Constance Wu removed a line from Crazy Rich Asians in which her character refers to her “No Asians” dating policy. Using race as the primary criteria for determining whether a person is a suitable mate is fatally flawed—whether you impose it on yourself, or someone else tries to impose it on you.
Focus on raising these men up rather than putting women down.
The good news is that representation of Asians in mainstream media is improving. There’s a growing force of Asian men, including John Cho, Simu Liu, Kumail Nanjiani and Manny Jacinto, who are stepping up to actively change these stereotypes, playing diverse roles that prove Asian men have their own charms. Progress may be slow, but it is progress nonetheless. Other ways Asian men could help is by improving representation themselves, like these men, or at least showing encouragement to those who do it. Focus on raising these men up rather than putting women down.
So, would I date an Asian man? Yes, but not because it’s mandatory for me as an Asian woman. Word to the wise: The men that women actually want to date are not the ones who are busy complaining online, trying to control their love lives, threatening and disrespecting them. Shaming Asian women to date them isn’t going to give Asian men more of a chance to shine. But recognizing and respecting the independent free will of all Asian women just might.