Up until my twenties, I had known only two Asian American men who married black women. One was my granduncle who was half-black himself. He was my grand-uncle not by blood, but by the fact that he and my grandmother and granduncles had grown up together. Wayne Boc spoke Cantonese fluently and knew everything about Chinese culture. I’m too young to remember, but I think he may have kicked my ass in Chinese chess. The story was that his father had opened a laundry in the middle of a majority black area in New York and had fallen in love with a local African American woman. Think about that–Wayne Boc’s was my grandfather’s age, and my grandfather was born in 1924. His father married a black woman around the time my grandfather was born, and then Wayne Boc himself, who was my grandfather’s age, married a black woman. How revolutionary is that?
The other was an educator in the New York public schools who oversaw mostly majority-black schools. This man (I can’t remember his name) was my father’s generation. He grew up in Chinatown but had always been interested in African American culture. After getting his masters, he became a schoolteacher and a school principle, mostly in predominantly black areas. He mostly dated black women, and eventually he married a black woman.
When I learned several years back that some Asian American men wrote and performed hip hop music, I learned that many of these performers were also dating or married to black women.
Which makes sense. When we talk about IR and other interracial relations, we often understate the role of culture and instead see things as purely racial. Certainly racial prejudices, perpetuated by media and stereotypes, can help to encourage or discourage interracial relationships. If, for example, Asian women are seen as having an attraction to White guys, and if there is a community of Asian women that advocates for this attraction, it stands to reason that more White men will approach Asian women. Or if black men are seen as having large schlongs and an unquenchable addiction to white women, it might embolden white women who are into black guys.
But there’s a deeper issue that we don’t discuss enough, and it’s this: we don’t just fall in love with individuals; we fall in love with cultures. We fall in love with everything that comes with culture–a lifestyle, a way of seeing the world, a style of personal interaction, a history that goes way back beyond any one individual, possibly a different language. We instinctively (and correctly) assess a future where a spouse from that culture will bring more of that culture. In that context, we shouldn’t be surprised when Asian male hip hop artists fall in love with black women or when students of Arabic falls in love with people from the Middle East. We shouldn’t be surprised when American judo fighters fall in love with Japanese women or when American actors in China fall in love with Chinese women. We shouldn’t be surprised when upwardly mobile people of color who want to be a part of the Northeastern elite marry into The Club. If we recognize that people fall in love with cultures, it makes sense that they marry into cultures so that they can experience more of that culture. There are cultures we find attractive, as well as cultures we find less attractive. A lot of this depends on individual temperament. Not everyone likes Chinese culture, the same way not everyone likes hip hop.
Within cultures there are also subcultures: an extreme liberal black person comes from a radically different culture than, say, Herman Cain or Ben Carson. Among Asian Americans, Korean American culture is radically different from, say, Hong Kong American culture. Yes, Korean Americans were born into a different culture than Hong Kong Americans, but the way they interact within that culture is very different. When a Hong Kong American marries a Korean American, for example, both often experience some culture shock. Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, and David Henry Hwang belong to Asian American college liberal culture. Their views and lifestyles are different from the culture of, say, your average Chinese American stockbroker. Most Chinese American male stockbrokers probably hang out with Chinese American men in finance. Most of them are conservative. These cultures form on their own.
Even among people of similar ethnic backgrounds, new cultures form. Recently, someone suggested that I read a nonfiction book by a certain Asian male author. I had read essays by the author, essays in which he talks about how he never dated Asian women and or hung out with Asian people until later in life, and how he made these decisions by choice. In these essays, he spouted some incredibly (in my opinion) ignorant pronouncements about Asian American identity, which is unsurprising, given that he hasn’t spent much time with Asian Americans. For me, the lifestyle in which Asian Americans shun other Asian Americans, though I know of many who live it, is completely unattractive to me. Although I’m sure this author’s different perspective would have shown me a different way to view our culture, I decided to pass on the book. I have no doubt that this author’s success has come about in part because of his attraction to the culture that is most influential in the American publishing industry, as well as the industry’s attraction to him. The truth is that love goes both ways. People who are part of the culture that runs the publishing industry needs Asian Americans who love the “high” culture which exists outside of Asian America, and these Asian Americans need the culture that runs the publishing industry. There needs to be some reciprocal love to allow communication to go both ways.
So what is the point of this blog post?
The point of this post is that we can view ourselves as being individuals, but it makes sense to also view ourselves as being parts of a culture or cultures. Just as we have relationships with other individuals, we also have relationships with other cultures, and it helps to know where we come from. Sometimes we like cultures, sometimes we love them, sometimes we have only a passing acquaintance with them. We love cultures because we love the values they espouse or the worldview they perpetuate. They often become a part of who we are and how we feel about the world. Like a living person, they teach us. They change in relation to the actions of the individuals who comprise it, like living people, they evolve. It might even make sense to name those cultures. Perhaps by naming subcultures, we can have a better idea of where people stand in terms of values and views.
One more thing: We often see the excuse from people from different subcultures saying stuff like, “I don’t date Asian because I had bad experiences with my Asian girlfriend/boyfriend.” Critics point out that White mainstream people often have lots of problems with their White mainstream girlfriends/boyfriends and never turn against the culture. Many say that it’s because White-centric mainstream people may not see race when they’re dating within their race. This is correct, but it’s also correct among Asians who are part of an Asian-centric culture–they don’t see or blame race either. People who love a certain culture will rarely turn against that culture, no matter how bad an individual experience they have.