On a recent date with a non-Asian man, I mentioned that I wanted to read more about Asian women’s struggles, especially in America. He scratched his head and wondered out loud, “Asian women’s struggles?”
To him, Asian women did not struggle. Data shows that we are favored by men on dating apps, and stereotypes suggest that we are “smart” enough to get ahead in the world, “docile” and “submissive,” and “small,” “cute” and non-threatening. How could we struggle, right?
My date did express sympathy for Asian women who are harassed and assaulted on the streets, as well as sadness about the recent deaths of Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee in New York. But he didn’t appear to grasp the oppression and erasure that Asian women experience regularly, outside of physical violence. Much of the anti-Asian sentiment that we can’t see serves as a seed for physical violence. But even when it doesn’t, it hurts and it holds us back.
Therein lies the problem with #StopAsianHate. It has a limited definition of what racism toward us looks and feels like on a daily basis. Many acts of hatred toward Asian women are rooted in Asian misogyny, which is often disguised as a popular and accepted narrative about “loving” or preferring Asian women. Without looking at how Asian women in America have been regarded throughout time, we can’t really understand (and destroy) the current ecosystem of Asian hate.
While it sounds counterintuitive, receiving love as an Asian woman can involve the residue of a specific type of xenophobia. Some white women, for instance, fought to keep Asian women in America when it was popular to exclude them. But their intentions weren’t exactly noble: Without Asian women’s domestic service, their homes would have been a mess, and, well, they would have had to mop their own floors.
Some of these white women claimed that they loved Asian women. But their “advocacy” reflected a stereotype that harms us to this day, instilling the idea that we are no more than service workers, a labor force both disposable and cheap. And despite Andrew Yang’s jokes about Asians being good at math (which implies that we’re predominantly highly employable, white-collar workers), in 2020, Asian Americans made up the highest share of long-term unemployed workers in America.
It’s a warped, transactional and dehumanizing 'love' of Asian women that leaves us vulnerable as our community remains divided and as people deny, overlook, forget and erase our journey.
Wanting and appreciating us as submissive assistants isn’t real love. Recognizing only parts of us without seeing us as whole humans deserving of equal rights isn’t love. Real love, to my ancestors, would have looked like a collective fight for their rights to citizenship and social and financial equity, not just for their ability to serve white households.
It’s time for us to recognize that unchecked mentality that still exists today. People may want to date us — because they fetishize us as exotic, hypersexual, and excited to submit to a male partner. But we are rarely voted for and are unlikely to lead entire organizations at which white people work. In dating and at work, there’s a palpable difference between being desired and being valued. Many Asian women have experienced the former quite intensely. Very few have experienced the latter.
Asian women have yet to be seen for the totality of our humanity, supported in our ambitions and lifted from our assigned place as secondary so we can lead the masses. It’s no accident that feminist activists of the Asian diaspora such as Grace Lee Boggs, Patsy Mink, Mabel Lee and Evelyn Yoshimaru are not household names. We deserve to strongly influence the public discourse and make decisions that impact millions. Relegating us to the back is a form of violence, and in order to actively stop Asian hate, we have to unearth every form of it and address it head-on.
Truly loving Asian women also means letting go of the model minority myth. We are not and shouldn’t be expected to be people of silent resilience whose suffering is effectively erased to attack another minority group. White supremacy, if you haven’t noticed, “loves” Asian people.
A U.S. News and World Report published in 1966 read, “At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negroes and other minorities, the nation’s 300,000 Chinese-Americans are moving ahead on their own—with no help from anyone else.” White supremacist propaganda like this perpetuates systemic oppression of other minority groups, all while denying the struggles of the Asian people. Deeming us a model minority is an implicit recruitment of Asian people into a group that oppresses without removing our own minority status in any other real ways.
The uptick in assaults on Asian American women has awakened the country in some ways — but we’re only beginning to surface other types of violence we experience on a day-to-day basis. It is frustratingly challenging to convince people that the Atlanta shooting was racially motivated when it’s obvious that the victims were seen as disposable.
It is equally frustrating to always remind people to ask themselves “why her?” whenever an Asian woman such as Michelle Go or Christina Yuna Lee is harassed, attacked, stalked and murdered.
It’s a warped, transactional and dehumanizing “love” of Asian women that leaves us vulnerable as our community remains divided and as people deny, overlook, forget and erase our journey.
For those who want to be a better advocate from within the community or outside of it, examine how you may be participating in systemic oppression. A step toward progress might come from determining whether your love serves us or just holds us back.