My Discomfort with Asian Women and White Men Couples
A few weeks ago, I, a Vietnamese American woman, posted a cheeky caption of a green-faced nauseated emoji along with a picture on Instagram showing two Asian women and white men couples seated behind me and my partner at a restaurant. Upon seeing this, my cousins messaged me on the family group chat. One posed to me, “Well, who else should they date?” and another cousin went on the attack, with follow-up posts on her IG account about her love for her white husband. Another, who’s in a relationship with a white man asked, did you not think about us when you posted that? In all honesty, no.
I stumbled my way through explaining that the emoji was a political comment on the prevalence of Asian women and white men couples, but it did not assuage their anger. I am disturbed (and nauseated) when I abruptly see the pairing, even as someone who has dated white men and have quite a lot of Asian American women friends who date white men. However, the conversation was fruitless as it was too charged because, for them, it was personal. (Admittedly, Facebook messenger is not the appropriate platform to have these conversations.) So I disengaged.
In the weeks that followed, I reflected on my own personal experiences and I came to realize how much trauma I had from dating and interacting with white men. For the most part, my previous partners who are white treated me fine. But it was the insidiousness of those relationships that I could not overlook. White men who took too many trips to Asia, who had several exes who are Asian women, and sometimes it was the canyon-sized differences in how we saw and experienced the world. In my own family, my cousins’ white boyfriends have made racist remarks to me and in many instances I stood silent. Paralyzed by the fear of being looked as the unreasonable one, which my family has also made me feel. A cousin’s ex once told me to go back to Vietnam after I expressed criticisms about the US; and in a recent exchange, another one of my cousins' boyfriends sent a racist picture and after I told him the picture was problematic, he photoshopped my face on a white woman calling the police. My cousins didn’t say anything about any of it as it happened. So, like all lived experiences, the personal becomes political for me.
Yet, I know that I actually care less about white men and these incidents and remarks, which do not cut me as deep as the years I’ve endured seeing my family place white men on pedestals and silenced my criticisms. They have paraded white men dressed in aó dài around my grandma’s house; laughing as the white men butcher our language in their mocking voices, grunting out words their mouths can never hold. Worst of all, the stealing of and handing over my culture to these foreign faces - white men trying pho recipes and gobbling down my aunties’ food, in exchange for their grilled cheese sandwiches.
These experiences are further exacerbated by the political landscape I see in nearly every city I’ve lived in. I go to brunch in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, and it’s everywhere: Asian women and white men. What’s more, I am too familiar with the history of the raping and fetishization of Asian women by white men throughout the US wars with Korea and Vietnam. There’s a whole immigration policy to allow white men who were soldiers during the Vietnam War to claim their forgotten children in Southeast Asia. How can I, or we, not interrogate the prevalence of these relationships in the context of history?
While it does weird me out, Asian women and white men relationships are now a part of the Asian American experience. I’m at a point of wanting to have larger dialogue that’s fair to Asian women, that isn’t sexist or gendered, and to be analytical about how race plays out in the US. In the same vein, I want to challenge Asian/Asian American women, like my cousins, to scrutinize their own dating, relationships, and marriages. I do believe this social phenomenon is rooted in racism, whether we are aware of it or not. Our own thinking on socio-economic mobility, class status, or access to capital is all a part of our decision-making process in dating and love.
Note: I appreciate my Asian American friends and people in relationships with white men, who have been open to discussing and dissecting these experiences. These conversations are not easy, and the connections I’ve made helped me know that I’m not alone in my discomfort.