Once again, IR crept into the discussion. This time it’s the same discussion that has happened many, many times over the years. Asian American feminists and their non-Asian boyfriends are using the same argument that they’ve always used to dismiss the IR disparity: “This is my body! You have no right to question whom I date! To do so is sexist and patriarchal! How dare you! Ethan (or Biff or Whitey) is an individual, and that has nothing to do with my activism.” It’s the “my body is separate from my politics” argument. It’s an argument that has been made ad nauseum since the 1970’s. I don’t think I’ve ever had a post dedicated to the argument, so here it is.
First, I’m cool with anyone dating anyone, and everyone else should be cool with it too. An Asian woman can fall in love with a White guy because he’s a great individual, and I’m cool with it. An Asian woman can fall in love with a White guy because she loves the White race and thinks that the White race is superior to all other races, and I’m cool with that too. As individuals, we have to go for what makes us happy. None of us controls what turns us on or makes us feel fulfilled, and no one has a right to criticize another person’s choices, especially not when it comes to marriage. Whom you marry is a very personal choice, and in our individualistic society, you get to choose your own partner.
But given the current world where Asian men are often denigrated and assigned lower values in American (and Asian) society, if an Asian American woman marries a non-Asian (usually White) man and then claims to be an advocate for all Asian Americans, the question of public image and personal understanding become important. That’s not to say that Asian women who date or prefer White can’t be leaders, but the public has a right to ask questions. It’s no different from any other area of politics or activism. If you’re a person who is pushing an agenda or asking for the public’s trust, the public will question whether they trust you. To respond with “You don’t have the right to question my personal choices” is not an argument that most people will accept. This argument fails both logically and emotionally. Logically, it fails because normal people need a reason to trust you. Emotionally, it fails because so many people, both men and women, are hurting from the affects of the IR imbalance. They’re asking lots of questions about the cause of their pain.
A useful analogy is the environmentalist who owns a second home or drives a Hummer. Both second homes and Hummers are bad for the environment. Both are also very personal choices. If one of the leaders of Greenpeace drove a Hummer, owned multiple homes, and owned an oil refinery, people would naturally question his personal choices. He could respond with, “It’s my personal life, so stay out. You have no right to ask.” I think most people would agree that he has a right to a personal life, but does he have a good reason to get angry at the public for asking? After all, he was the one who asked for the public to trust him on his agenda or leadership. The conversation has to go both ways. Now imagine what the world would be like if almost all environmentalists drove Hummers while preaching the evil of greenhouse gases. Imagine a world where it was rare to find an environmentalist who drove anything other than a Hummer. That’s similar to the world of Asian American feminism, where finding an Asian American feminist married to an Asian man is like finding a unicorn with an egg allergy.
For me, the main question is one of understanding. Certainly there are Asian women married to White men who get it. Karen Ma, for example, is one of my favorite writers on The Issue. But more often than not, activists who don’t date Asian, including the vast majority of Asian American feminists, are incredibly ignorant on the topic of Asian men. Many harbor terrible prejudices against Asian men, prejudices and biases that come out in their writing and speeches. People have a right to ask why they hate Asian men so much. If they don’t have Asian men in their personal lives, people have a right to suggest that they try to be more inclusive. It’s not sexism; it’s common sense.
Nobody likes a witch hunt. Everyone wants people to have their own private lives. But if one’s outward personal life contradicts one’s political message, one should not be surprised if one faces a backlash, especially with an issue like the IR discrepancy, which has been the most significant issue in Asian American culture for years. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but if you’re asking for the public’s trust, the public has a right to question whether they trust you.
My advice to Asian American feminists married to non-Asians is just to own it. Be proud of it. Say exactly what happened, and make no apology. You can still earn people’s trust. But at the same time, if you happen to be one of these Asian American feminists who is completely ignorant on the topic of Asian men, own that too. Fix the gaps in your knowledge, and then you can move forward.