Sep 12

I’m Racist!. . .Or Am I?

I’m not sure it’s even worth giving this article any additional virtual ink, but I’ve been thinking about it, so I guess it is.

First off, I don’t really see anything wrong with the piece. The author, Jenny An, says she won’t date Asian men and is fully aware of the reason: because she’s racist toward other Asians. In a nutshell:

I date white men because the term “model minority” grosses me out. I date white men because it feels like I’m not ostracizing myself into an Asian ghetto and antiquated ideas of Asian unity. I still see myself as a minority. And with that, pretty soon comes connotations of “outsider.” And I don’t like that.

I see where An is coming from. When I was growing up in my Italian-Jewish hometown, I felt the same way. There were so few Asians in my school, and I hated when anyone assumed that I was dating the one Chinese guy, or that I was related to the one Korean girl. I hated being pigeon-holed. I hated when people assumed I was a good, quiet girl who got good grades simply because I was Asian. I wanted to break out of that stereotype, and I did so by deciding to be a writer and proclaiming that I didn’t like Asian boys, that they were too much like cousins or other relatives.

In college, I went in the opposite direction. I became an Asian American activist and proclaimed that I’d only date Asian or other men of color. I wasn’t going to be one of those Asian woman-white man couples. I didn’t want people to think I was being fetishized or that I was giving into the idea that white was better. In the end I married an Asian American man, not because he was Asian, but because sometimes that’s how love goes.

But I did fall in love with a specific kind of Asian man. He was very Americanized like me, and even more so in some ways: he had few Asian friends, and sort of hated that whole Asian American activist thing. In a way, it made perfect sense that we’d end up together. We were two bananas from the suburbs who liked to curse and watch action and SF movies. (Well, more than that, but you know what I mean.) Eventually we divorced. I could say part of the reason was that he was Asian, with very strict Asian parents and a lot of Asian guilt, and that his parents and my parents, with their Korean and Chinese cultures, respectively, were at odds with each other. But all of that was just part of it. It was, as all marriages are, much more complicated.

After my divorce I dated four different men, all white. I didn’t plan on it. My dating profiles were always “race doesn’t matter.” But while I was open to dating Asian guys, it seemed that Asian guys weren’t into dating me. In the two and a half years between my divorce and meeting my current boyfriend, exactly one Asian guy contacted me. (And he wasn’t, as An describes as an Asian stereotype, “geeky, scrawny and without muscles.” He was in fact kind of a meathead and not the sharpest knife in the drawer.) I don’t know why Asian guys didn’t contact me. Maybe the site I was on had fewer of them. Maybe I wasn’t conservative enough for some, and too conservative for others. Who knows? I’m just speculating here. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did contact a handful of guys, of all races, and none resulted in a date.

In the end, I fell in love with a white man, and five years later, we’re together still, because sometimes that’s how love goes.

Then yesterday, An posted a follow-up to her piece, and I got confused.

Because let me blow your mind here: I’ve dated an Asian guy before. I know! Shocker! Writers create characters. Call it first-person character, a writerly persona, performance art, whatever. Stir in some strong statements to make it more bloggable, call it a troll if you will. Or call it saying: I’d never, ever, ever do this, but it’s just, yeah, I don’t do it all that often.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

So what she wrote in her other piece wasn’t true? She was exaggerating to be controversial? Or is she just backpedaling now because of all the haters? She also writes, “The character embodies thoughts of self-race annihilation I’ve considered, especially when I was younger.” When she was younger, but not now?

A lot of people are pissed off at her, at least it seems that way from the comments. They’re pissed because of the race thing, or because of the “performance art” thing. I’ve no right to judge her either way. I’ve been racist to other Asians. I’ve based my dating preferences on political ideology (how romantic!). And I know that when writing non-fiction first person, a gap exists between the writer in real life and the writer as character on the page.

In that way, An is right: first-person essayists create a character of sorts, but like all characters, fictional or not, it should be well-rounded, not a cardboard cut-out or a caricature, which means including all pertinent pieces of the story. And if the writer initially had no intention of sharing said pieces, she shouldn’t reveal them later, especially if they undermine what she was trying to say.

I said I wouldn’t judge, but there, I did.

Maybe An’s intention was to write a rant from an angry Asian girl perspective, and thought including, “Well, I dated Asian guys too,” would weaken her argument. But witnessing her journey (presuming there was one) from racist angry Asian girl, to self-aware, to accepting might have been a more interesting, and truthful, read.