Cindy Hoang deconstructs the myth of the “Asian bias”, the bizarre stereotype where dating outside your race automatically equates to discarding your cultural identity.ndy
“Oh, you’re one of those Asians,” my friend laughed, shaking her head.
“What do you mean one of those Asians?”
“You know, the kind that dates white guys.”
“You’re saying that I only go for non-Asians?”
“I just thought you’d prefer Asian guys.”
When my parents told me that dating someone from another culture would be complicated, they lied. There’s nothing inherently complicated about dating someone from another culture any more than being friends with them. After all, as a second-generation Vietnamese Australian who grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, it wasn’t like there was a language barrier, or that our values would be so different as to render us incompatible. The most cultura’ thing about me is that I speak two languages and I eat different foods – which, judging by the growing popularity of Asian cuisine – wouldn’t be that much of a deal breaker anyway.
So, at sixteen, when I first started dating an Australian guy I didn’t think about the fact that we were culturally different, nor was I attracted to him because of his non-Asianness. He was interesting and cute and we had good conversations. Race was never an issue for us, but it seemed like it was for other people. Society saw us as the “interracial” couple – a term applied to couples with visible signs of difference, reminding everyone that they are not from the same race. Our friends, though accepting, still thought of it as weird. We were both marked by our ethnicity and no one could see past it. We weren’t just a couple, we were a mixed couple. Interracial. They couldn’t understand why I would be attracted to someone who wasn’t Asian, as though being Asian was the top quality they looked for in a partner. This is where I remind you that I’m living in post-2000 Australia, conversing with people also born and raised in Australia who can barely speak their parents’ language. Talk about irony.
There was an unspoken rule I had broken; an ingrained, born-with-it disposition towards Asians that I had somehow missed out on. Those stereotypes of us being more disposed towards mathematics and career paths of medicine and law? Well apparently it extended to the type of people you date – the “Asian bias” as one of my colleagues pointed out to me.
As the years went on I became jokingly known in my circle of friends as “one of those Asians.” It probably didn’t help that I was drawn to humanities and chose to pursue a career in Arts/Communications, or that I continued to date outside of my culture. I dated within too, but it was short lived and didn’t go anywhere, though I attribute that to life being the inconvenient way it is and not because I wasn’t subconsciously attracted to him enough. Besides, I’m way too young for my dating history to be history enough to contain a pattern. Ask me in ten years and I’m certain it will tell a different story.
It was never about resisting my ethnicity or discarding my cultural identity – or any internalised self-hatred of my Asian-ness. It was just dating and I find it bizarre and frustrating that everyone automatically assumes I must have some fetish for foreignness; that I’m subconsciously perpetuating a neo-colonialism that sees me give into historical power dynamics of Western colonialism of the Asian continent (you’d be surprised by how often that one comes up). If you’re going to take that meta-perspective, couldn’t you also say that in dating Asians I’m merely reproducing the social structures of my heritage and the patterns of my ethnicity? And somehow this is more OK because it’s how we’re meant to be. It seems that the rule and the exception are interchangeable depending from the point you look at them.
That’s not to say that fetishes for foreignness don’t exist. On the contrary I’m all too aware of the perverse stereotypes when it comes to dating Asian women. I’m talking about guys describing you as exotic or oriental looking; the assumptions based on your ethnicity that you’ll be feminine and demure, chaste and petite; the seemingly innocent enough pick-up lines that begin with “Oh you’re ‘so and so’? I love Asians!” and the creepier “You’re like a little oriental porcelain doll.”
The worst are those who ask you right off the bat what nationality you are and then proceed tell you that their ex was Asian or that they’ve dated a lot of Asians in the past, as though this won’t send red flags all over their intense fixation, their own “Asian bias”. You might wonder how is this any different to me dating outside of my ethnicity. Wouldn’t my own dating history come across as a fetish? But as I’ve been explaining – in this article, to my friends, to my family – I don’t like someone just because they are non-Asian nor do I exclusively date within a particular ethnicity. Approaching people with “What background are you/what’s your cultural heritage?” gives off the impression that you are interested simply because of their ethnicity and not because of the individual in front of you.
So as tempting as it might be to impress someone with your broken pronunciation of Asian languages, your tales of backpacking across Asia or your wealth of cultural knowledge – don’t. Ask us if we like the music that’s playing, what we study or what we do for a living. Ask if we’re a tea or a coffee person, a book lover or a movie watcher. Have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around bloody phở. Everyone is more than their background, so quit defining certain peoples by it and quit making a big deal out of dating someone from a different one.
As for me, come the end of January I’ll be moving to France and the city of love for a year, hoping that I won’t have to worry about Asian biases or creepy and racially charged pick-up lines.
Who am I kidding.