I Didn't Surrender My Asian-American Identity When I Married A White Man

Asian-American women do not surrender their “AZN Membership Card” at the altar.
Luke Chan / EyeEm via Getty Images

An internet troll developed a particular infatuation with me a few years ago. His obsession wasn’t so much with me as with what I’d “done.” I’d gone and married a white guy.

To him, this made me a race traitor. There was no way I could love my “Asianness” and also love my white husband. It wasn’t a partnership, but a conflict in which I’d surrendered.

Identifying himself as half-Asian and half-white, he told me I was a “whore” to the white male patriarchy, and that my “half-breed” abomination children would loathe me for not keeping their Chinese bloodline pure.

The joke’s on you internet troll ― my husband and I don’t want kids!

Here are the usual insults slung at Asian-American women who partner with white men: You have betrayed your race, you hate yourself, you hate your heritage, you are only interested in status, you’re too old and ugly to get a good Asian man, you’re a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside).

What bothered me more than the fury of a man who needed help was the response that some folks gave me when I told them about my troll.

A little while after he slunk back under his bridge, I was at a mixed gathering ― Chinese-American, Japanese-American, white, black ― gabbing with a group of people who I thought were of a like mind with me.

I told them about my experience with the troll, expecting disgust, horrified disbelief, sympathy. And that’s mostly what I got, except from one fellow.

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” he said, then hesitated. “That dude sounds terrible, but… can you kind of understand where he’s coming from?”

After my initial surge of rage, I willed myself to speak evenly with this near-stranger, whom moments before I had deemed to be good company. Though he calmly spoke of cultural stereotypes, false equivalencies, and the racism visited upon Asian-American men and women since we first stepped foot in this country, his message was not new: To be an Asian woman in a relationship with a white man is not only taking an active part in the subjugation of Asian-American men by white culture, but it is also surrendering your voice in the fight for Asian-American equality.

Whether you’re an internet troll trying to bully me or a “thoughtful” guy at a party trying to mansplain your way into making me see reason, no, I do not agree with you. My status as an Asian-American woman is not enhanced or compromised by my marriage to a white guy.

But this is a controversy in the Asian-American community.

There is a belief, largely perpetuated by certain Asian-American men, that Asian-American women who date and marry white men are opportunists trying to elevate themselves in white culture ― a culture that historically tries to erase Asian-Americans, notably diminishing, “emasculating” and dehumanizing Asian-American men. (It does this to Asian-American women too, but the shock of dehumanizing women is still largely lost on American culture.)

Behind this argument is the idea that Asian-American men are somehow owed the companionship of an Asian or Asian-American woman. That we ought to be with men of our own race if we truly feel Asian pride. How can we support Asian-American rights if we participate in white patriarchy through interracial marriage?

But this argument forgets: Nobody owes anybody marriage or partnership.

Yes, white culture has long fetishized Asian women, long held them up as exotic prizes to be won by white men. No Asian or Asian-American woman I’ve ever met is not aware of this. You develop finely tuned “yellow fever” radar as an Asian woman who interacts with non-Asian dudes.

Men who rant that their “Asian sisters” shouldn’t allow themselves to be “prizes” in white men’s racist boner parties are assuming that, one, we have no choice in the matter and, two, we’re nothing but objects.

If you’re one of these men, isn’t your anger over not being able to “get” an Asian-American woman also a form of objectification?

Who do you think we are?

“There is a belief, largely perpetuated by certain Asian-American men, that Asian-American women who date and marry white men are opportunists trying to elevate themselves in white culture.”

But what I find more insidious is the belief that an Asian-American woman cannot be a proper advocate for Asian-American rights if she has partnered with a white man. That it nullifies her advocacy and renders her a hypocrite.

Asian-American women do not surrender their “AZN Membership Card” at the altar. I didn’t. If anything, my marriage has made me double down, in no small part because of the people who question my Asianness.

Having an up-close perspective on how my husband and his family move through the world, versus how my family and I do, is eye-opening. I get a peek into the things they take for granted; the ease with which he and his brothers and sisters navigate most areas of American culture. And, yes, I am “one of them,” I get to go along for the ride. Sometimes I feel like a spy.

But seeing that side of America, one that isn’t so accessible to people who look like me, who have my background, who sound like my parents, has lit even more of a fire under me to speak up about Asian-American equality. Perhaps in a way, being married to my white husband has afforded me a privilege that I didn’t previously have, but having just a glimpse of that privilege has made me even more cognizant of racial inequality.

And, frankly, I’ve influenced my husband to be more aware of how Asian-Americans are treated, how we are discriminated against. He cared before we got together, but I’ve made these issues a reality for him. It goes both ways.

The thing is, while Asian-American women bear the burden of culturally imposed expectations and prejudice, so do Asian-American men. Characterized in white American culture as nerdy, impotent and “emasculated” by binary standards, Asian-American men have had to work doubly hard to prove their worth as mates.

It is a stereotype that goes back over 100 years, to a culture that actually viewed Asian men as a threat to their white counterparts. The portrayal of Asian men as shifty and less than human, as sexless bachelors ― and in the case of Asian women, as “whores” to be bought by white men ― continues to be a part of the institutional racism contemporary America accepts.

And with the rise of toxic masculinity, Asian-American men must exist in a culture that continually challenges them to prove that they are indeed “men” as defined by white standards. “Hot Asian men” are treated as the exception rather than the rule, whereas the stereotype for Asian-American women is sexy, uber-feminine and desirable. It’s no wonder there is tension.

Attractiveness is currency in America, and the stereotype that plagues Asian-American men often leaves them broke.

It’s gross. It’s unfair. In this way, I can completely understand why Asian-American men are angry. I’m angry too, for all the ways that we are portrayed.

Just like with the model-minority myth ― a creation of white culture meant to keep Asian-Americans happy and well-behaved, and to promote in-fighting among Asians and with other minorities ― the controversy around Asian women partnering with white men serves a purpose: It keeps us divided.

“It’s gross. It’s unfair. In this way, I can completely understand why Asian-American men are angry. I’m angry too, for all the ways that we are portrayed.”

Maybe people within our own community perpetuate it, but the source of the turmoil comes from being reduced to stereotypes through a white cultural lens. Men are discredited because they are “less than men” and “sore losers” in the race to get an Asian female partner, and women are discredited because they are absorbed into their partner’s whiteness.

So, no, internet trolls, I don’t hate being Asian-American and I don’t hate Asian-American men. I did not lose my identity or my beliefs when I married a white guy. My husband does not dictate my politics or worth. I do.

Living in America, we are constantly asked to prove how American we are. Why must we also be forced to prove how Asian we are?

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