Photo: Matthew Moy in Two Broke Girls with Kat Dennings
While this may be the 21st century, interracial relationships are still considered unusual, especially when it comes to Asian men dating non-Asian women. This is in part because of two prevailing stereotypes facing Asians and dating, yellow fever and the Asian man as not sexy. These stereotypes can be seen in several shows, such as The Mindy Project and Two Broke Girls while other shows such as Selfie attempt to break these boundaries. There is also the real life example of singer Lorde and her boyfriend James Lowe and the backlash they experienced concerning their relationship.
Yellow fever has long persisted in western culture with the view of Asian women as exotic, feminine, submissive and overly sexualized. This can be seen and has been discussed in numerous research studies, books, blogs and shows, which looked at the objectification and fetishization of Asian women by non-Asians. While not all non-Asian men who date Asian women are part of this yellow fever stereotype, there is still an overwhelming bias for relationships and marriages between white men and Asian women. An article in the April 2011 issue of National Geographic Magazine breaks this down by showing gender and race within interracial marriages for the year 2008 (data from the Pew Research Center). Whites and Asians came out second at about 43,100 marriages that year. More interesting is the fact that 74 percent of those marriages were between a white male and Asian female with the remaining 26 percent for white females and Asian men. The top group for that year was whites and Hispanics at about 116,000 marriages. Also interesting to note was the fact that the study found that black women were the least likely to intermarry with Asian men second.
But as Vivienne Chen points out in her article, this situation is also not entirely the fault of just white men stereotyping Asian females. Chen states that there are plenty of Asian women who exclusively date non-Asians. She says that “We have grown up in a Western culture, with Western standards of beauty and Western ideals of romance — which is why we value “assertiveness” at the bar in the first place. We prefer Western men because we grew up in a culture that prefers Western men”. One example is the character of Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) in The Mindy Project who dates only white men throughout the show. Other shows, such as Bones, Nikita, Beauty and the Beast and Scorpion also show this same pattern of white men dating Asian/biracial women. While this is a somewhat accurate depiction of the general population’s relationship as stated in the National Geographic article, this does not mean there should be an almost complete lack of other interracial relationships, specifically Asian males with white females (AMWF couples) on TV.
This is where Selfie, starring John Cho and Karen Gillan comes in, showing just how rare such couplings are and how important it is to see them on TV as well as how devastating its cancellation was to so many fans. Selfie allowed both a portrayal of AMWF couples and helped to dispel stereotypes about the unsexy Asian male. An article by Sonia Saraiya on Salon stated how Cho’s character was the first Asian American male lead in a rom-sitcom. She also said how this is especially significant considering how Asians are the least represented group in Hollywood and Asian males tend to be portrayed as asexual sidekicks. Just look at the character of Han Lee (Matthew Moy) on Two Broke Girls. He is constantly the butt of many stereotypical and racist jokes that insult Asian males at every turn. The blogger Evan at Culture War Reporters lists each of these negative images attributed to Han in the show, such as “short, cherubic, childlike, disrespected, impotent, unmanly, unattractive, gullible, emasculated, unpopular, effeminate, [and] desperate”. Another show that also contributes to this unsexy and nerdy image is the character of Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) on The Big Bang Theory, who cannot even talk to women for the majority of the show. Thus seeing Cho portray an Asian male character, who is nothing like previous versions of Asian males signals hope for breaking the interracial dating boundaries on TV and maybe someday making AMWF couples more common on TV or any Asian males with non-Asian females.
As for real life, the stereotyping and racist views of Asian males as undesirable was widely seen when New Zealand singer Lorde posted photos of her with her Asian boyfriend James Lowe and then received Lorde with James Lowe tons of tweets from angry teenagers who called Lowe many things including most commonly “ugly”. Racist comments ranged from calling Lowe “PSY gone wrong” to comparing him with “Fred Wu from Awkward” or “Mao Tse Ting (mao zedong)” and pulling out the “math nerd or something” stereotype as well as the even more racist words “ching chong boyfriend”.
In terms of their appearance as an interracial couple, many people made the similar comment of how seeing Lorde and Lowe together made them “uncomfortable”. This shows just how far removed the majority of people are from the concept of Asian males dating non-Asian females and thus how badly society needs more of these types of relationships to become known and more commonplace. If they are seen all the time or at least more than they are now, the less “uncomfortable” people would probably be regarding them.
Despite all these racist remarks, Lorde remained unfazed and mostly ignored them. She showed that it did not matter what others thought of her unusual pairing and still remains happy with Lowe. Several other such couples have also written about their experiences stating that while they have to deal with stares and racist remarks from some, they are happy and try their best to dispel the stereotypes that come with their relationships while embracing the good aspects of interracial dating.
Grace Mineta is one of those people. As a white woman married to a Japanese man, she writes the blog Texan in Tokyo and describes what it is like for her and her husband, how it is important to respect each other’s culture and be a part of the AMWF community. As for racism, she has learned to cope with questions of “Why don’t you just date a white guy?” and had to stop asking people why she should do so because they would actually give her lists with reasons. These reasons would include “he shares your culture” to “your babies can keep your eye color”. She also stated that “If you see two white people holding hands, no one bats an eye. If you see two Asian people shopping for baby clothes, no one thinks twice. […] if you see a white woman and an Asian man at a restaurant, leave them alone. Don’t press them about their relationship. Don’t judge. Don’t stare. And above all, don’t ever assume you know more than someone else about their own relationship.”
Acceptance of interracial relationships has a long way to go, especially concerning certain types of couplings. But if more shows like Selfie and couples like Lorde and Lowe can come along and present a different picture of what such couples are like , then maybe someday life will be easier for people like Grace and her husband. As has been said in the fight for gay rights, love is love. In the end, that is what really matters.