“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they’re untrue but they are incomplete.” — Chimamanda Adichie
Let’s play a game. It’s called Guess The Race.
Gentleman A was a hard partier. He did a lot of drugs and drinking in his youth. He almost failed out of college. He had a tumultuous relationship with his parents. He was in tremendous debt. He had a huge sense of entitlement. As he got older, he rarely exercised and gained weight. He cheated on his wife.
Gentleman B never drinks or does drugs. He prefers an evening at home programming or watching TV. If he stays out late, it’s to see a movie, listen to music, or talk about computers with his friends. He graduated from college in three years. He’s extremely fit. He always carries heavy loads. He cooks.
Which one is Asian? Which one is white?
Based on an article by Clarissa Wei, you’d think the arrogant partier who cheated on his wife couldn’t be Asian, while the loyal and unassuming programmer surely is.
And you would be wrong.
Wei’s piece, “I Am an Asian Woman and I Think Asian Boyfriends Are Superior,” is in response to another article, “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man.” This latter piece is, as one blogger puts it, “a crazy jumble.” The author, Jenny An, says that while she likes the stereotypical Asian male qualities of “geeky,” “scrawny,” and “effeminate,” she still prefers white guys, and that as long as “Asian girls are called ‘exotic beauties’ … white will still be the societal standard,” so, um, she’ll only date white guys? Because she wants to be exotic and objectified? But wait, I thought she hated “patriarchy and cultural sexism”?
Anyway, despite An’s jumbled-ness, it was clear to me that this was her story. Yes, I’m not sure why she’s even talking about Asian guys if she’s never dated one, and I agree with An that her rationale – basing her boyfriend choices not on the quality of the individual but on some pseudo-political philosophy – is “fucked up.” But it’s her fucked up rationale.
Then she followed with a piece that basically said “Just kidding!” She admitted to having dated an Asian man before, despite saying otherwise in the first piece, and writes off this initial piece as “first-person character, a writerly persona, performance art,” claiming that by making that character racist, she “was stating that the position [she] was presenting was in the wrong.”
In contrast, Wei’s piece seems positive. “Asian men are the best ones to date,” she says. “Chinese men make the best husbands.” (Why? Because “divorce still carries a huge stigma in Asian culture.” Totally a plus!) Asian boyfriends, hers in particular, are superior because they’re hard-working, financially stable, loyal, modest, generous, and fit.
These seem like good things (although “obedient to parents” won’t feel so great when your mother-in-law is telling your husband you should quit your job and have babies), but they’re not the only things. How about hot, funny, daring, artistic, or athletic? Some might argue that these are not “typically” Asian qualities, but why not? There are a fuck ton of Asians in the world. A whole lot could be any of these things, or none of these things, or something in between.
I understand where Wei is coming from. She wants to give props to Asian men, but she does so in a way that disregards those who have had different experiences than her. When I say my Asian dad is awesome, I’m not saying all Asian dads are awesome. I know that people have had a variety of experiences with their Asian fathers, and I won’t deny their stories. I’m also not saying that Asian dads are superior, the way Wei says Asian boyfriends are superior, in other words better than all you non-Asian losers, which sounds kinda racist to me.
On top of all this, Wei doesn’t even seem aware that the stereotypically Asian qualities she loves in her boyfriend are the very ones she herself has rebelled against. Like An, she grew up with “a self-loathing attitude of [her] own race” and hated her community’s “conservative attitudes” in which everyone seemed “set on being a doctor, lawyer, [or] engineer.” She sacrificed her parents’ happiness by giving up “a scholarship for pharmacy school to pursue journalism.”
But at the same time, part of the appeal of Asian men for her is that they’re professionals who make “lots of money,” even “the most money.” She likes that her boyfriend “bombards” her with gifts. So while she rebels against the idea of being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, she prefers a boyfriend who is one. While she loves her boyfriend because he’s “obedient towards [his] parents,” she herself has gone against her parents’ wishes.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Contradictions are what make people interesting. But she doesn’t seem aware of her contradiction, at least not in this piece.
I don’t doubt Wei’s affection for her boyfriend, but I also don’t think she’s giving him enough credit. He’s an upstanding guy because that’s who he is, not because he’s Asian. To attribute his qualities to his “cultural upbringing” discredits him as an individual and the choices he’s made because of or in spite of that upbringing.
He is, as we all are, more than the values we grew up with. We’re what we decide to do with those values. Obey or rebel? Accept or reject? Resent or move on? This is what makes each of us unique, what makes each of us a person and not a type. What gives each us of our story.
As you guessed, Gentleman A, the arrogant partier, is Asian, and Gentleman B, the unassuming programmer, is white. Does this mean all Asian men are like A, or that all white men are like B? No. A is my ex and B, the man I’m with now. Does this mean I was like Wei and now I’m like An? Hardly.
Who I choose to be with has nothing to do with skin color, the patriarchy, or cultural upbringing. It’s both simpler and more complicated than that. It has to do with love.
But that’s just me.