Last Friday night, three of my friends (two of whom are Chinese-Americans) and I were hanging out in my room. After a few random topics, we started chatting about our love lives and romantic interests. It soon became clear that both of my Asian friends in the room prefered White guys over anyone else. In fact, one of the them stated, as if she were joking, that she wanted to marry a White male because she wanted to “have cute mixed race children.” That evening, I learned that my friends didn’t find any males of their own race (that they’ve encountered) attractive and that most of their romantic encounters involved White males. Before this class, I probably would’ve overlooked their comments and considered them normal or unsurprising because I have had multiple friends of color express this preference. I had never scrutinized it until now; I began to wonder what led my friends to think this way. By thinking in this manner, are Asian-American females contributing to our own stereotype when we denote a White man’s attention to desirability and attractiveness, or are we conceding and internalizing a stereotype created by White hegemonic structures by believing it is representative of the world around us? For instance, in The Motel, it is obvious that Christine ignores Ernest, an Asian male and friend, during the scene with the White teenagers, but it is not clearly understood as to why Christine prefers the White males and why she gives them more attention than Ernest. To understand this feeling of attraction, I will analyze a recent opinion article, written by Indian-American college student Nikita Singareddy at Columbia University, and delve into the problem of navigating these “rules of attraction” as an Asian-American while rejecting racial biases and upholding a sense of self.
“It was instilled in me early that to be beautiful was to be white: foibles aside, my glaring fault was a strange, almost mystic heritage.” – Singareddy
Given Singareddy’s experience, it seems to me that through objectification, an Asian-American female finds herself closer to totality in the face of the White heterosexual male, a location where she’ll supposedly find a suitable romantic partner (Shimizu). From what I see, and based on the opinions of Asian-American college females, light-skinned women are more desirable, and to compensate for the presence of unwanted colored skin, Asian girls (perhaps unconsciously) feel the need to garner attention from White heterosexual males to rectify and establish their value and existence in society. White heterosexual males reside at the top of the hegemonic structure because Whiteness is the standard that drives symbolic order (Eng). And in a way, since White men “are the barons with maximum dispositive power”, their acknowledgement and possible attraction to colored women can provide more attention for the minority group (Singareddy). From this lens, Eng’s theory makes sense: deviations from the White heteronormative standard (which is invisible because it’s the norm), such as interracial couples, become more visible. So when “White men receive more solicitations than any male racial group” and are “more selective in whom they respond to”, is it really the White man’s fault when he uses his hegemonic power and privilege (as Singareddy claims) or is it the Asian woman’s fault for thinking that a White man’s gaze is more important than someone else’s? Granted, I do not fully know whether my friends genuinely prefer White males or if, in the midst of chasing after society’s idea of perfection, they developed that outlook. Singareddy mentions she can never understand romance like that in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which is true); however, if there are Asian-American females who prefer one race over another, they are, in a small way, a reimagined Holly Golightly, except instead of having aspirations of a rich husband, they have aspirations for a White husband (see White Fever). Overall, Singareddy identifies the problematic relationship between race and attraction, two things that shouldn’t be related but unfortunately are.
Gopinath posits that the recent hypervisibility of South Asian female “exotic” bodies to the increased heterosexual White gaze in Bollywood causes the invisibilization of South Asian male bodies, which is similar to the stereotype East Asian females endure (Gopinath 161). Although Singareddy does not probe the racial tensions underlying romance for Asian-American males, her article reflects these establishments because she has experienced White male fetishization of exotic bodies. This is what leads her to conclude and feel that she is a statistic– a mere casualty and object upon which the “barons” of society can inflict pain and rejection. Thus, without serious thought and action, White racial frames will remain the driving force in romance, impeding the path of acquiring self-love and self-worth in America.
It doesn’t take an ethnic studies class or Singareddy’s article to realize that Whiteness is the standard of beauty; I’ve also instilled that stereotype. However, what happens when colored girls internalize and chase after this beauty standard is interesting and important because how we view ourselves affects how we are treated. Singareddy shows us that for her, it was (and is) tough to separate racial structures from romance, especially when it came to defending her own self-worth and self-concept. When she noticed her insecurity of being the “other” in her interracial relationship and her internalization of her skin as a penalty in the world of romance, she became more aware of the inherent prejudice on her “inclusive” campus. Given this, how can Asian-American millennials navigate romance in America virtuously and reach a place of security when society blatantly forces racial structures on our bodies and minds? How can we truly appreciate ourselves for who we are when society tells us otherwise? For Singareddy, she expresses agency by displaying resistance in order to appreciate herself and her skin color first, even if suffering lies on the road ahead. She questions her thoughts and actions; she acknowledges and tries to reject racial biases. By developing this attitude, she becomes closer to infinity and a place where she can discover her individuality.
In redefining home in a space where generational, cultural, sexual, and racial differences interplay, the White gaze might be increasingly important to Americans of color, but it shouldn’t. And the more attention people of color give to White hegemonic standards, the longer the White, heterosexual male remains at the top. Thus, by informing our friends of their prejudice and expressing agency, like how Singareddy writes her op-ed, Asian-Americans can discover love for what it truly is.
Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Duke University Press, 2001.
Gopinath, Gayatri. Queer Diasporic Critique In the Aftermath of 9/11. Duke University Press, 2005.
Singareddy, Nikita. “A Brown Body ‘tryna’ Understand the Rules of Attraction.” Columbia Daily Spectator. 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
Shimizu, Celine P. The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene. Duke University Press, 2007.