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I’m going to celebrate in New York City the weekend of July 14, if you’re around please join! We can get bonchon or barbecue!
Trungles is a male-identified, queer-identified Asian American illustrator living in Minnesota. Fascinasians is a female-identified, straight Asian American feminist and blogger living in New York. This is based only off of our own personal experiences and we don’t attempt to speak for anyone else. This is obviously not a complete discussion so we welcome your input and comments!
Let’s talk interracial feels. What brought them up for you today? I saw the ask, oh my god.
Well, in the past week Angry Asian Girls United's gotten quite a bit of messages about Asian women worshiping white men and it's either demonizing and hating them for dating white men or being like “oh of course you should do it, they're the best”. Which, first off, not only completely erases other interracial relationships (they assume that white is the norm) but it makes me feel really uncomfortable being in my relationship with a white man. I'm trying to figure out why exactly I feel uncomfortable.
Right, yes. I mean, is it because you feel like your relationship should be indicative of something of yourself?
In some ways, yes. But it’s also almost like I feel guilty for dating someone white, like I’m betraying the Asian American community somehow. Whereas at the same time I know I shouldn’t have to justify my relationship and feel obligated to date someone Asian or non-white because I’m an AAPI advocate. Whenever I tell someone from the AAPI activist community that I’m dating someone non-Asian, there’s this certain vibe and attitude I get.
I mean, it is a relationship that was entered into with mutual parameters, and I’m sure you know the power dynamics of it all, too, so I wonder if all this strangers’ speculation is taking away how much agency you have over your own personal life?
That actually hits it right on the mark! What are your thoughts on interracial relationships?
Oh good! We’re on the same page.
In my experience, interracial relationships are really hard. I have to pare down my selection to just the guys who don’t see me as some kind of sexual prop. And even beyond that, when we’re in the relationship, there’s this tendency for them develop this comfort, this ‘familiarity,’ with my Asianness that tries to pass itself as support, and that’s when I need them to take a step back and reassess.
This is all before we even get to the part about what other people think about it.
Yeah, my current partner is completely new to Asian culture/dating someone Asian which is good and bad. He doesn’t assume to know anything or give off that entitlement vibe about my identity and culture. But it also means that there are some things that need to be discussed and aren’t a shared experience. Luckily he’s really open to learning and talking about what’s right, wrong, comfortable, appropriate, respectful, etc. Do you ever ask potential dates/partners if they’ve dated someone Asian before or if they have an Asian fetish?
Always. I used to take a lot of time to carefully and tactfully try to glean that information from them. In recent years, I just ask them directly, “Hey man. Are you an Asian fetishist?”
Same! I’ve actually become so paranoid about being objectified as an Asian woman, I’ve even looked at their internet/porn history to see if they watched racialized porn (if they watch porn at all, which is also a warning sign).
And there is a distinction between asking, “Are you an Asian fetishist?” and asking, “Do you have an Asian fetish?”
That’s a really good point. What would you say is the distinction, exactly?
Well, I used to ask, “Do you have an Asian fetish?” and people sometimes thought I was being playful and somehow implicitly approving of Asian fetishism. I suspect it’s because it separates the act from the person.
Asking, “Are you an Asian fetishist?” got me down to the dirty right away. When you use language that conflates an action with the person in a way that is inextricable, they are suddenly faced with the odd prospect of having to take very real ownership of their actions.
Asking the latter made some people angry, and the former sometimes comes off to them as flirtatious, creepily enough. If people wanted to talk about it after I asked them the latter, that was a good greenlight. If people go defensive right away, I knew there was some white supremacist bullshit that they didn’t want to address.
Ahh, I like that a lot.
I think it’s strategy thing for me, and I do that very deliberately.
In terms of when the relationship’s already going and people are side-eyeing it out of context, that’s tough. And the responsibility of understanding the power dynamics somehow shifts from the white person, who people will presume to be ignorant of PoC issues, to the PoC.
Which would explain the pressure to feel guilty.
Yes! And it’s a consequence of being Other’d, I think - everything we do is politicized, whether we want it to be or not. Even our most personal, most intimate desires and endeavors - love, crushes, sex, families - become a platform for discourse and debate.
A weird thing that is complicit in taking away our agency is when other people, well-intentioned as they might be, co-opt our personal dealings as props in a political tussle.
Every single thing we do/our existence becomes a political statement. And I’ve seen people deliberately make their personal life a political issue but it’s super problematic for literally everyone else.
Like, yeah, I’d love to talk about interracial relationships in all their political complications, but I think it’s disrespectful to make an example of someone else’s personal relationship to serve my own ends, you know?
And when other people do it with their own, that’s their thing. But it’s hard to backpedal from it and reclaim the private, intimate nature of that relationship, right?
Definitely, there are a lot of online examples that showcase interracial relationships and maybe I read too much into it but I think websites like that come close to blurring the lines between celebrating the realities of our diverse and interracial relationships and turning them into ads and poster-children for a colorblind society.
Yep, happens all the time. Suddenly our relationships and intimacies are reduced to fodder for someone else’s agenda.
And yeah, sometimes we would purportedly benefit from some of those well-meaning agendas, but the bottom line is that when our intimacies are taken from us, that’s our agency taken away.
That’s being complicit in the problem.
It’s a major violation of our lives. We end up not having ownership over anything, even the most intimate parts of our relationships.
Another conflict for me are the realities of interracial dating (for me), which I wrote about before when I wasn’t dating my partner and I was talking about how nice it’d be to be with someone who I didn’t have to educate on my culture and everything. I sometimes feel like there’s huge obstacles in terms of language and communication with my extended family, traditions and customs that all have to be taught and learned, foods to be accustomed to, future for kids (linguistically and culturally), etc.
For example: in the future, how are my grandparents and parents going to communicate with my partner if they’re not Chinese? And certain things like taking off your shoes, or eating rice porridge when you’re sick, or just little things our families do are completely new to them.
And I understand that this applies to inter-Asian relationships as well, like my grandpa hates Japanese people. And other people of color. And even with other Asian and Pacific Islanders, the culture and language thing would be a struggle too. Dating is so hard!
Right? And I don’t even have the future-family thing on deck. I think the most pressing issue in my relationships is just simply the whole ideology thing. I think it’s actually more of a me thing, not an Asian American specific thing, but not being able to engage in any oppression discourse at all is a big no-no. But more specifically, I have a pretty deferential personality sometimes. And it comes from growing up with very strict behavioral parameters, not speaking unless spoken to, revering elders, that sort of thing. And the whole honorifics thing, too.
I’ve dated men of color before, but I’ve never dated another Asian man before.
And sometimes I’m overly cautious in trying not to overstep my bounds, and then by comparison my partner is just kind of stepping everywhere like he owns every space, physical and conversational.
I almost wish I had a little more experience exploring those relationship dynamics in my personal life, but I rarely get past the “Asian fetishist” conversation before I know it’s not gonna work out.
Yes yes yes, actually I’ve never dated someone Asian; most of my exes were white when I was in Arizona. And I’ve only dated one person since I’ve moved to New York. So I feel you on the more experience with relationship dynamics. I also tend to date older so the power dynamics with an older white male and me are challenging at times. It’s important to talk about it. And the Asian fetishist conversation is usually a deal-breaker.
It’s the biggest deal-breaker for me!
It’s interesting….many Asian American advocates I know end up dating non-Asians and then get shit for it all the time.
Yeah! I see that all the time.
In conclusion, let’s run away to SF together!
Shoutout to my wonderful, amazing, and supportive partner. Lots of love <3
I just got home from the Drawing the Asian American panel held at NYU earlier tonight and wanted to jot down these thoughts before I forget:
1. G.B. Tran, a cartoonist born to Vietnamese refugees of the Vietnam War, said that he doesn’t consider himself an Asian American artist, and that he has only recently begun to explore his identity as one who is. This is mainly because he never cared much about his Vietnamese heritage growing up as a Vietnamese American, and that he only started to care about learning his family’s history and why it matters when he was in his late twenties. T. and I were talking about it afterward, and I said that maybe some artists who are Asian American don’t always want to be defined solely by their Asian American identity because they don’t want their work to appeal only to other Asian Americans, but to everyone. It’s just hard because while you know you feel that way, you can’t stop other people (potential viewers of your work) from assuming what your work must be about and therefore not being interested in it.
2. Wendy talked about artists who are afraid to include POC in their work because they worry they can’t properly depict POC or accurately represent POC experiences, and said that they should consult with POC who have the same ethnic background as the characters the artists want to draw. I agree, as long as it’s done respectfully. I wanted to add that including POC in your work shouldn’t be that big of a deal or scary to try, in the sense that non-POC artists shouldn’t think that POC experiences are so different from non-POCs’ that our life experiences revolve solely around our race/ethnicity. Yes, race/ethnicity do inform our day-to-day lives, but we also have experiences and problems that have nothing to do with our cultural backgrounds. That can vary depending on where you live and the cultural diversity (or lack thereof) that you’re surrounded by, but generally, we all have experiences that are and aren’t race-related. Wendy’s comics are a good example of this, because she has some featuring herself that depict the problems that come with being an Asian American woman, and some that don’t. The ones featuring her original characters are like this as well.
3. Juliet stated that she wears the title of “angry Asian feminist” proudly, and I wanted to ask her if she’s ever lost any friends because they found her too angry, too intense about her feelings on oppression, representation of Asian American women, and things like that, but I was too shy, lol. She also mentioned her posts about the “YouTube Mafia” of Asian American men who have been racist toward other POC which I wanted to talk about, especially since I’d read about how she reacted to David So’s racist joke about Latin@ women at this year’s ECAASU, but that was a discussion for another time.
Other things: I bought a postcard-size print of her infamous “Kawaii White Boy-kun” comic, and I didn’t win Mr. Brontosaurus or a copy of Vietnamerica. :( But T. won a manga drawing kit!
Hello! Sorry for the late response, I have a bad habit of not checking my tag.
I’ve definitely lost a lot of friends because they thought I was too intense, too angry, too dramatic, too MUCH in general. However, that’s really taught me what kind of people are good for me. I may have lost friends, but that was most likely meant to happen because if they can’t understand such a crucial and integral part of me, then how can we be good friends? If something like fighting the oppression that weighs on my very identity as an Asian American woman is “too much”, then how much do they really care for me?
I surround myself with people who aren’t embarrassed by my anger, but instead stoke the flames!
Feel free to message me about David So, Youtubers, and other things! Thanks for coming to the panel.
Something I’ve heard a lot in the Asian American community when it comes to discussing methodology and strategy is the black/white rhetoric of using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as the be-all-end-all examples. I’ve lost count of how many times people have compared anyone even remotely more “radical” than themselves to Malcolm X. This is dangerous rhetoric because it not only paints Malcolm X as some dangerous idealistic criminal, it also erases the more moderate and radical beliefs for Malcolm X and MLK Jr. respectively. It creates an us-or-them mentality where people who are interested in social justice or Asian American social justice in particular can be alienated because they’re too radical for some circles and too moderate for others.
Quick history lesson: Martin Luther King was a radical. He was an anti-capitalist labor organizer and racial justice activist. People throw around his quote that only love can conquer hate, hate cannot conquer hate. And yet, MLK often included direct actions and civil disobediences in his organizing and encouraged others to do the same. He grew increasingly radical as he saw the consequences of capitalism, imperialism, and a slow moving civil rights movement. In 1968, he said "For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values." In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, MLK says:
“I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”
Contrast to Martin Luther King’s progressing radicalism, Malcolm X’s views changed drastically after leaving the Nation of Islam. He advocated for more international human rights justice rather than a black/white segregation issue. Towards the end of his life, Malcolm also reconsidered his lifelong argument that Black Nationalism means completely segregating from white America. Here is a quote from when he spoke at a voting rights rally in 1964, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“And I think that the people in this part of the world would do well to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King and give him what he’s asking for and give it to him fast before some other factions come along and try to do it another way. What he’s asking for is rights and that’s the ballot. And if he can’t get it the way he’s trying to get it, then it’s going to be gotten one way or the other.
Others use Mahatma Gandhi as an example. I swear, people are desperate for any kind of social justice icon who preached reformatory tactics. They’ll accuse people of being too angry and unable to communicate because they’re “too radical”. And yet Asian America works in the racial justice sector – a community that isn’t exactly devoid of radical activists. Why do we all do the work that we do? Because we’re angry with the state of society. We’re angry about discrimination and hate crimes and microaggressions. A good friend of mine once told me that they don’t associate with people who are embarrassed of their anger. The more I think about it, the more I agree.
Many people use MLK as a poster child of a “good black man” and demonize not only Malcolm X’s teachings, but also radicalism as well. This divides communities into those who are “too passionate, too radical, too extreme” and everyone else. I’ve discussed what the word “radical” means with several leaders of prominent Asian American organizations and each time I hear it defined differently. I’ve heard it exalted as an ideal to live up to, but I’ve also been told that it’s a negative word and that we as Asian Americans should strive to find a more appealing word. Excuse my language, but cut it out with the fucking semantics! Just because you call it a different word doesn’t change someone’s ideals or actions.
Something else I’ve heard is that I’m “too radical” to be a part of an organization. But then I read books by Helen Zia, I read some Frank Wu, I read some Grace Lee Boggs. All three are extremely respected figures in Asian America who colleges pay thousands of dollars to invite to speak. You know why I love reading their texts? Because I feel a kindred connection to them. I look at their words and it feeds the flame in me that wants to fight oppression. So my question is: what is the “right” kind of radical”? Is there some kind of magical X Factor that makes a person somehow just a little bit more acceptable? How do you even measure radicalness anyway?
My personal opinion is that everyone’s radical. We’re radical for imagining a more equal and just world than the one that we currently live in. We’re radical for using the term Asian American. We’re radical for attending conferences and designing workshops and reading books and listening to music. We’re radical by having immigrant parents and grandparents. We’re radical by using names that people butcher and mispronounce, but still hold up in pride. We’re radical for eating our food!
We’re radical simply by existing. There is no good or bad radical, so if you think I’m “too radical” for your group, I want no part of your “activism”.
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