Why Yellow Fever Is Different than “Having a Type”
I'm one of the many 20-something East Asian women living in the Bay Area. Because of that fact, I've lost count of how many guys have walked up to tell me that their ex-girlfriends are Asian. Racial pickup lines such as "Konichiwa, Hello Kitty!" sadly have ceased to surprise me at all.
Recently, a Tumblr called "Creepy White Guys" with screencaps of real messages received by Asian women from men on OkCupid rose to mainstream fame with BuzzFeed coverage. I don't think it's fair to make it sound like only Caucasian men are this lame, but those particular comments definitely earn a high spot on my list of "Most Racist Things I've Seen This Decade." I cannot comprehend what makes men choose to say things like "Unlike white women, [Asian] women remember what it's like to be a woman: to be docile and submissive and respectful to a man." This is how they woo the ladies they're presumably fond of?!
Last year the documentary Seeking Asian Female was released by local filmmaker Debbie Lum. It captures an American man's obsession with finding a Chinese bride. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I did start watching Lum's related web series They're All So Beautiful, which offers discussions about Yellow Fever – an uncontrollable desire for Asians that is so powerful, having it is comparable to contracting an illness – and racial fetish, where people choose partners based solely on race. I recoiled as I watched multiple men offer such insane generalizations about Asian women as "Asian females are willing to listen, willing to adapt, willing to accept what the guy says." In my mind, though, these are sleazy, incompetent guys I'll never interact with. I'm comforted by that separation – it's okayish for them to act and think like this, since I won't let them influence my life.
However, what astonishes me to this day is when some of my educated and amicable guy friends and male coworkers say that they don't understand what's so bad about Yellow Fever. They say things like, "I would be stoked if anybody said they have the hots for me! Why can't you just be glad that somebody likes you?" or "I'm Jewish – if a girl tells me she has a thing for guys with big noses, that's the same as Yellow Fever. What's wrong with that?" Some dudes even find the idea of becoming the target of a racial fetish flattering. Or at least they think they'd be flattered. Even better, they believe they could use that fetish to their advantage as a fool-proof strategy for getting laid or landing a date. Nothing negative about that, right?When it happens to me, I feel cheapened and offended instead.I've had to lay down my rationale for why I find these comments offensive so many times that I've realized maybe my logic hasn't gotten through to these guys. So I'm taking another stab at clarifyingwhy these remarks and thoughts are wrong.
Let's say you were born into a family of hardcore Giants fans.You had no personal choice in the matter. You are and always will be a Giants fan until the day you die – you know you might as well never go home if you change the team you cheer for. In fact, you have a Giants logo birthmark on your forehead ("It's in your blood!" your parents say proudly each time), and you do not plan to surgically remove it.
You grow up to be a handsome, confident man with various passions in life. One day a cool girl (we'll call her Lindsay) hits on you at a bar. After dating her for a few weeks, you meet her friends for the first time. Y'all are having a good time, when your gal excuses herself to the restroom. One of her friends, who is a bit too drunk, then smirks to the group, "You know, this is just like Lindsay to go out with another Giants fan." The others quickly shoot this friend dirty looks. You laugh awkwardly and ask, "What do you mean by that?" The friend scoffs, "Oh, don't tell me you didn't notice! All of her ex-boyfriends are Giants fans! She moved to SF because there are so many of you here." You're trying to process this info when Lindsay returns, and a new conversation topic starts, thankfully. Later that week, you're still thinking about what her friend said. Details that seemed insignificant before begin to leap out at you now: Why does Lindsay already claim to be completely in love with you when she doesn't even know what you do at your job? How come she never asked you about your hobbies? When you two passed by a group of LA Dodgers fans on the street, didn't she start a random rant on how they are the worst and said that you are "so much classier and just manlier," when she knows you have many friends who sport the blue and white? Also, she did ask if you have any single cute Giants fan homies or cousins for her friends to go on a baseball date with.The question that keeps lingering in your mind and unsettling your stomach is this: Does she really like me for who I am, or does she just have a Giants fan fetish?
Race to the Bottom
Personal preferences in dating or sex are not the same thing as fetishes. We can't help who we're attracted to, and a lot of us "have a type," but no one should project the kind of personality, behavior, and values they like in a romantic partner onto someone else, let alone an entire ethnic group.
For instance, it is true that I tend to be drawn to well-dressed men who are taller than me, but I don't assume anything about them besides the fact that they are well-dressed and taller. But just because I'm Asian and female, why do some men make the automatic assumptions that I am quiet, docile, great at domestic tasks, eager to please men, and my vagina is more magical than average? And, I am supposed to feel complimented when those people are attracted to me?
Being in love with the idea of someone without actually getting to know the person as an individual is unfair and disrespectful. It's an awful feeling to realize that the cute guy who approached you is as interested in you as he is in every other girl who shares your race: You're as special as millions of others.
That's totally cool if you think straight black hair and almond-shaped dark eyes are beautiful: I like them too! But if you find me physically attractive because of that, and try to learn more about me, you can decide whether my personality is equally charming – just like I have the choice of deciding if you're worth my time and company. But someone expecting me to fulfill all the cultural stereotypes of my race that he's infatuated with? That is called prejudiced ignorance and refusal to recognize me as a complex real human being. It doesn't matter if the person is Asian himself or not. If you want to date me or have sex with me, with the expectations that I'll carry out your pre-conceived notions of Asian women, then you have Yellow Fever.
Racial fetish is also different than other types of kinks because it's not just about a self-chosen lifestyle (S&M, for example), a self-determined action (thanks for making Golden Shower well-known, R. Kelly), or sexualizing a body part (feet fetishism seems pretty prominent). Yellow/Jungle/Salsa/Curry Fevers are about exotification of groups of people based on a part of their identity that they have no control over.
Also, I would like to think the participants of these sensual activities have a mutual agreement of doing so! If one day I want to dress up as Catwoman in bed, that is my personal choice – and I would ask my partner if he's cool with wearing a Batman costume for a while. But I have this face with Asian features on it 24/7, and I do not ever consent to play anyone's pretend Dragon Lady, submissive geisha, or exotic Oriental Sex Machine. What it all boils down to is that it's important to distinguish between treating someone like she's your dream girl and making her your fantasy. Fantasies by definition are unrealistic, irrational, and not meant to be sustained, while dreams are the hopes and high goals we strive for and then keep. We all have the right to be seen as more than one-dimensional characters, and we all deserve to have fulfilling relationships in which we understand our multifaceted partners. Wouldn't you agree?