Dating is a minefield for anyone, equal parts wonder and horror. When you’re a Mash-Up facing entrenched cultural stereotypes and racial fetishism, sometimes the latter outweighs the former. [Editor’s note: Amy has a “First Asian Only” dating policy for a reason.] How do you protect yourself without turning into a racist yourself? How do you reap the benefits and beauty of an interracial, interfaith, intercultural relationship without going crazy when someone “jokingly” calls you a slur? Our Korean-American Mash-Up Joanne Lee shares her story. Hint: Humor is required.
I was in seventh grade when I started “dating” my first “boyfriend.” He had blonde hair, startling blue eyes rimmed with those thick dark lashes you read about in Sweet Valley High, and a Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker. His best friend told my best friend that he liked me, which was conveyed to me during homeroom via a handwritten note folded up like a crane (we didn’t have cellphones back then). By third period, we were “going out.” By lunch, we were making out in the hallways. By seventh period, we were madly in love.
Two days later, destiny came to a screeching halt when he declared over the handlebars of his Schwinn bike:
“I’m dumping your chink ass.”
Life lesson learned early: Dating is like digging through a pile of turd for the non-turd.
“I’m dumping your chink ass.”
Sadly, this was neither the first nor the last time an (inaccurate) racial epithet would be hurled in my direction. I have been called an “Asian prostitute,” a “gook,” and — my personal favorite — “The Shanghai Lady of the Night” at various points in my life by friends, lovers, and strangers.
A strong dose of humor is my survival method: “Sorry, I’m not a chink. Why? Do I look like one?”
I am, by no means, suggesting that all white dudes are cut from the same cloth. They are not: I’ve dated white men who could quote Fanon to me while downing three shots of soju right before picking up a pair of chopsticks. Unfortunately, they live alongside the white men who fixate on my shiny black hair and want to talk to me about how much they love kimchi and how they, you know, really relate to Eastern religion.
(I’m a Christian.)
Dating is hard enough without having to watch out for the Asian fetishist or the oblivious/charming racist, or worse, quietly morphing into one yourself. As with many things in life, it’s the wounds that leave a mark.
So, why not just date only Asian men? It’s something I hear a lot from my Asian girlfriends. Admittedly, there are a few less hurdles — emotionally, sociologically, and psychologically — when dating an Asian guy. But my ex-husband was Korean-American, like me. And at the end of the day, marrying within my own culture had zero bearing on the relative success and failure of my marriage.
And, the God’s honest truth is that racial sensitivity is a two-way street. I’ve learned that stereotypes about white people can be as detrimental as those leveled at me. The most pernicious and one of the stupidest? White people are all racist, and that racial insensitivity is somehow built into their DNA and inherited with their trust funds.
Because when you’re in a consensual adult relationship, it’s not about race. It’s about trust, and nothing dismantles trust faster than judging a book by its cover — whether that cover is yellow, black, brown or white.
Besides, I’ve never been a fan of sticking to only one flavor of pie.