I was in the eighth grade when I first encountered a self-hating Asian. The person in question was a 1.5th generation Korean girl and one of the few other Asian students in my nearly all-white Canadian high school. Being (heterosexual) teenaged girls, we naturally spent a lot of our time together discussing cute boys. I can still remember her reaction when I mentioned that my long-time crush was the boy who sat in front of me during my after-school Chinese classes.
“Oh, so he’s an Asian guy,” she said dismissively. Seeing the confused look on my face, she quickly added, “It’s just that they’re always so nerdy, you know? And most of them are kind of ugly, too.”
My friend wasn’t alone in holding these views. Since then, I’ve listened to countless Asian women sing their excuses for why they refused to date within their own race. Between the never-ending chorus of “It’d be like dating my own brother” or “I just happen to have more in common with white guys,” I began to understand that these excuses were simply an expression of their internalized racism. Rather than confront these feelings, they chose to craft a narrative where Asian men were too [fill in the blank with an undesirable characteristic of your choice], thus absolving them of personal responsibility for their dating decisions.
Of course, on closer inspection, it was clear that their rationalizations were riddled with inconsistencies. For one thing, in order for their collective testimonies to be true, Asian men would have to occupy a very paradoxical position on the spectrum of male undesirability—vilified as patriarchal overlords by one woman and then mocked for being geeky losers by the next.
Moreover, while these women vehemently resisted being labeled themselves, they couldn’t recognize their own hypocrisy in stereotyping other groups. Take, for example, this article written by an international student from Hong Kong attending university in the UK. She discusses the ethnic stereotypes she has encountered and ultimately reaffirms that people are just “individuals with variety after all.” She then ends her piece by remarking that Chinese men are, in fact, “smaller” than white men.
This article ties into a larger trend of Asian women publicly vocalizing disdain for their Asian male counterparts. Gina Choe and Jenny An both felt compelled to broadcast their Asian-exclusionary dating preferences on public platforms. Comedian Esther Ku routinely exploits (false) stereotypes of Asian men during her shows. A couple months ago, she even tweeted a video thanking United Airlines for assaulting Dr. David Dao. I want to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be in an interracial relationship. There’s everything wrong with having to insult the men of your own race when you do.
Our current racial climate is inherently hostile and discourages anything that fosters a strong sense of self-esteem among all POC living in the West. Whiteness is often the unspoken prerequisite to success and respect, which incentivizes minorities to seek further inclusion into white society. For some Asian women, this involves disassociating themselves entirely from Asian men. These women are certainly not representative of the average Asian woman from any country. However, we also can’t deny that this vocal minority has swallowed up a disproportionate amount of room in what little space is granted for our voices. And there’s been minimal effort on our part to censure them.
Taken in the collective, the actions of these individuals illustrate the broader failure of our community to facilitate open discussion on issues like internalized racism. As a diverse and immigrant-heavy population, the development of our racial consciousness remains in its fledgling state. The foundation of our activism, therefore, depends on our ability to solidify a positive Asian identity—and we can start by calling out the self-haters among us.
(Written by Yuenting J. Yuenting is a third generation Chinese-Canadian currently attending university.)