“I love diversity. Can I have your phone number?”: Interracial illegibility, legibility, and culturism

On a scale of 1 to 10, rate the men above on their respectability.

On a scale of 1 to 10, rate the men above on their respectability.

A rather surprising year so far. I have never been popular or socially adept, especially not where romance is concerned, and therefore I’m always surprised when someone (especially someone operating in the range of sanity*) finds me attractive and want to pursue a relationship. Recently I’ve been even more surprised that African American men can find me attractive. This seems like a weird thing to be surprised about, and I suppose it is, but the questions I have to ask myself now are why am I surprised and what did I expect? Do my personal background (as opposed to my ethnic /cultural background) justify my surprise? I’ve thought of myself as fairly open-minded and un-racist, but does my surprise mean that I do hold certain limited and limiting stereotypes of race and ethnicity? If so, is it too late to change these ideas and how?

In this post I am trying to be as honest as I can about race and racism, and there might be some content readers might find offensive. Also, it is going to be more personal than my other posts, and I put it here instead of in the journal blog (ideogrammatica) because my experiences recently might say something about wider social issues. But this is not going to be me at my analytical best, so please skip this if you don’t like tortured ranting.

(A note on terminology: This is still an academic post, dammit! I will being using both “Black” and “African American.” For example, Chinese people have stereotypes of Black people without really caring about whether they’re African Americans or not, and in that context I’ll be using “Black.”And if I want to highlight physical appearance.  If I want to foreground something socio-cultural specific to North America, I’ll be using “African American.” That includes Canada too. Sorry. I tried to use “Asian North American” in my MA thesis and in the end it just irritated the word count. And I tend to capitalize words like Black and White if using them for race and ethnicity to highlight that it’s a loaded word and not just a colour.)

I. Where’s an Asian girl gonna find a place to stay? Chinese attitudes towards Black people

To frontload identity categories, I am a Chinese-Canadian woman in my mind-twenties doing a PhD in University of Southern California, LA.  I live close to Leitmert Park and Crenshaw in LA, which is an area with a predominantly African American population.   I would like to live in a neighbourhood of Asians but that would only be for the food, and I’m close enough to Koreantown so I can take care of that easily. And there’s really nothing about living with White people that appeals to me – they’re everywhere already, so why bother?

Before I moved here, I was warned not to because it wasn’t safe, but it didn’t seem any more dangerous than any other part around South Central LA, and I wanted to within biking distance to campus. The previous family I stayed with briefly before I moved here lived in a predominantly Latino neighbourhood, and when they have other Chinese students asking about safety they usually say “Mexicans aren’t unruly at all. They’re very family-oriented,” implying  that they’re culturally close to Asians (My dad would chip in “and they’re afraid they’d be deported”).  Anyway, while I didn’t actively seek out an African American neighbourhood, it doesn’t bother me either. Basically what race my neighbours are don’t factor at all into where I decide to live. (But for living in the same house, I’d rather live with Chinese people, and I’m renting from Chinese people now even though they don’t live here. Chinese renters tend not to ask for references and credit checks, which makes my life a lot easier. Plus  I do things like boil a  smelly vat of Chinese herbal medicine every other day, shower at night as opposed to in the morning, and other life habits that are hard to explain to people who don’t know about them.)

My parents have not been happy about where I live, because they’d rather I live with Chinese people or White people, and I had to send them photos of my street to prove that I didn’t live in a ghetto. In our graduate seminars on ethnicity, I think we read someone as saying that blaming Asians for being racist exacerbate the problem of ethnic division and plays into White supremacy. I understand that Asian Americans who have live in North America for generations alongside other ethnic groups may not be racist, but I’ve always agreed that at least post-1965 Chinese immigrants, and Chinese people in China,  are quite racist and it would be a poor decision to turn a blind eye to this. When I was teaching English in China, another native Chinese English teacher said she went on an exchange to a country in Africa and liked it there better than in China, and the way she was explaining it was “You’d think Black people are dirty, but they’re really not. The dorms were really clean with only 3 or 4 people sharing them, not like us cramming 8 students into tiny rooms.” While she herself is probably not racist, the way she talks implies that she understands most of Chinese people as being racist.

My neighbours in this duplex are a couple of Chinese-Canadians. Now, in terms of ethnic consciousness, my neighbours are quite interesting, but about one of their friends first. Their friend is what you might call an FOB, a Chinese student who just came to America. I’ve met him twice and each time he complains about how unsafe he feels in the neighbourhood and how disturbed he is whensomeone on the street asked him for change. Once he arrived before my neighbours were home, and he refused to wait in the car because he felt like he was in danger, and wanted to wait in my side of the house. I let him but wasn’t impressed. Anyways, about the neighbours. I assumed that because they live here they aren’t racist towards Black people, and when I saw them interact with our neighbours I didn’t detect any racism either. However, when speaking to me in Chinese they often make pejorative remarks about Black people, for example calling our neighbours “老黑” (lao hei, lit. “old black,” after linguistic formula in Chinese of “Old + X(usually a last name)” as a casual way to refer to adult male friends). Once, the electricity went out in the neighbourhood while they went grocery shopping, and came back and reported to me that “all the Black people are walking around the streets like gorillas.” I sort of don’t know what to make of my neighbours. Their speech is racist but their actions are not, which is probably better than their speech being not racist and their actions being racist. I’ve decided that they aren’t racist, just very very politically incorrect.

When I just came to LA, I was involved as a witness in a police incident where a White young man who had some kind of paranoid psychological disorder (he looked like he was homeless) called the police on a Black commuter (he was pretty young and looked like a college student) in the subway station, which I wrote about here. What I first saw was the White man harassing the Black man, and I left to take a bus assuming they could handle it, but after the bus didn’t arrive I went down to the subway again, and by this time the Black man was handcuffed and sitting in a corner. This being LA and me being in Ethnic Studies, I stuck around to give testimony. Anyways, I’ve tended to think of myself as being not racist and politically correct at the same time, but recent events have made me wonder.

II. Is illegibity racism or just ignorance? Especially in Romance

I wasn’t going to write about interracial issues at all if not for recent events. One is that a few weeks ago, an African American classmate wanted to date me (more on this later). Over the weekend I went to get a haircut, and the first barber shop I stopped at refused to do it because they said they didn’t know how to cut hair like mine. Then, today a man started talking to me in lineup of the checkout in what I thought was an overly intimate way. “I love diversity,” he proclaimed, and I said I did too, hence I’m not living in Monterey Park (where post-1965 Chinese immigrants gather). I don’t remember what he said in between, but he tried to lean in close and speak in my ear, and touched my arm, and all sorts of things that a reserved Chinese Canadian like myself thought a breach of my personal space. He then proceeded to ask for my phone number (after “Would you like to communicate?”), which I didn’t want to give him. His excuse was pretty good though – I already said I was sort of new to the neighbourhood, and he offered a chance for me to learn about the neighbourhood. I actually DO want to communicate with him but I don’t want to “communicate” with him. In the end I partially caved and gave him my email, which I hope would make any communication between us of a strictly ethnographic nature. He asked me to wait for him while he was checking out his groceries after me, which I declined, and left.

(Oh, and in between him trying to pick me up, a middle-aged woman in line saw bok choy in my groceries and asked me how to cook them, so I was trying to have two intercultural conversations at once, trying to convince one correspondent that I was a cultural insider for Chinese cooking and trying to convince the other that I wasn’t interested in him, and trying to pay for my groceries and use the supermarket member’s card. It was a very good exercise in mental multitasking.)

When I first moved here, another Black man on the Subway showed me how to stand my bike so it wouldn’t roll around, and also proceeded to ask for my number. Men on the street would call me “Mama,” which I STILL don’t understand, either linguistically or otherwise. As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t spent a great deal of time around Black people, and hence I don’t understand African American culture very well. I left China when I was 7 years old and went to Galway, Ireland for 2 years, and the whole city probably had only 1 Black person. I know that there were only about 3 Chinese families at that time. The only time I had extensive contact with Black people was for the first year I moved  to Canada, where I went to an inner city elementary school in Ottawa. But my parents quickly moved into the suburbs, which was pretty White. I went to high school in Vancouver in a school that was composed of 50% East Asians, 30% South Asians, and 19% White, and 1% Black or Latino, and I lived in a South Asian neighbourhood. In undergrad, I went to the University of Toronto but in the Scarborough campus,  which was also filled with East, Southeast and South Asians, and students with Middle Eastern backgrounds. More Black students, but still not many, and being an English major and hanging out with the Anime Club didn’t put me in touch with many Black students either. I can tell you how a Muslim man might wear his turban and beard differently from a Sikh man, but I don’t know the difference between various kinds of hiphop music. This lack of awareness of African American culture is exacerbated by my parents being Chinese “intelligentsia,” meaning oftentimes they subscribe to European high culture (classical music, ballet, oil painting, Victorian novels etc) as the ideal. My parents are divorced, and my mother only dates White men.

I’d like to think that my limited experience with Black people hasn’t made me racist, but just that African Americans people and I aren’t mutually legible; we just don’t overlap culturally or fall on each other’s radars. When the first barber shop I stopped by refused to cut my hair, I didn’t think it was discrimination and I wasn’t offended. For me it made sense that he wouldn’t cut my hair, and I thought it was hilarious. I did find another barber, though after I got home from the second barber I found, my housemate proclaimed “They cut your hair like a Black person!” – Which they did (hard to describe…sort of helmet-like and really short at the back, something Chinese barbers have been refusing to do), but weirdly enough the barber also cut my bangs really straight, probably as a last-ditch effort to Asianize my hair. We joked that it was a mixed-race haircut. Also, the first time I went out with my classmate, we ran into an African American man whose car ran out of gas and needed someone to help him get his car from the street into the parking lot. I thought that it would be impolite to stand by while they pushed, so I also helped. Interestingly, after the car was in the lot, the owner clasped my classmate’s hand and said, “Thanks, brother,” but didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. I wasn’t offended from being ignored, but just thought that the guy didn’t know how to thank an Asian girl in this kind of situation and defaulted to saying nothing.

And so I do not understand why African American men would find me attractive. If Western culture (including Black people living in the West) has an idea of Asian women’s attractiveness, I doubt my appearance and comportment are aligned with it. From what I understand, it’s mostly Lotus Blossom or Dragon Lady, in other words either a demure, pretty/cute, and childlike Asian girl or a exotic Asian femme fatale. On the other hand,  I usually have very short hair, and wear jeans and sneakers and leather jackets, and get mistaken for a man on a regular basis. I do this to upset stereotypes of Asian women, and also in defiance of a bunch of narrow-minded boys in high school who thought I was transsexual and wanted to beat me up for it. Basically, with this getup and my reserved attitude in front of people I don’t know well, I don’t see how any man would find me attractive, period. Maybe if they were slightly gay.

The classmate who wanted to go out with me explained that perhaps African American women tend to be more masculine, so me being more masculine than other Asian women actually makes me more legible for African American men. I suppose in a stereotypical sense, African American women tend to be tougher and more outspoken than Asian women are (I don’t think this true though), and if those are “masculine” qualities, I guess African American women are more masculine. However in terms of stereotype, I would think that African American women are more hypersexualized than Asian women. (Actually I never understood why there’s a stereotype of Asian women as hypersexualized. Maybe it’s my post-1965 Chinese  consciousness, but I always thought that if there’s a stereotype of Asian sexuality, Asians of both genders ought to be desexualized. Maybe it’s the Chinese Communist education thinking.) But anyway, what I’m still puzzled about is that while African American women can be seen as more masculine and I am legible in this framework, African American women are also seen as sexualized, where I am not legible at all. As I said, my dress and deportment get me mistaken for a man a lot. I am taller than the stereotype of Asian women, and this might be too much information, but I’m rather flat-chested, and even if I have wide hips compared to most Asian women, they’re evidently not wide enough to prevent people from thinking I’m a man. Basically, I don’t present myself as being sexualized in any way, so I can’t see how African American men would find me attractive just based on me being masculine. And the people who have hit on me are emphatically not gay either.

An interesting response from my classmate is that he has a different set of standards for the attractiveness of Black women and Asian women, but they also work across each other; he said something like a Black woman who is small and skinny and an Asian woman who is curvy would also register as interesting to him.  I think he’s in a good place in terms of interracial legibility, but I’m still confused about what’s been happening around me, and there are two possibilities that I can think of. Apart from my classmate, who’s very culturally aware and also very aware of Asia, other African American men who hit on me either see past my masculine deportment and still map stereotypes of Asian women onto me, or they just don’t think about any ethnic stereotypes and find me attractive anyway. Somehow I have difficulty believing the latter, because I’m just not very attractive; I’m small-featured and plain, and frankly for the past few years I’ve had terrible skin and look like a zombie sometimes. Do let me know if you think there are other possibilities besides the two.

III. Back to theoretical stuff and angsting about status of my soul

I mentioned that I didn’t think I was racist, just that I don’t understand. But I am beginning to wonder about this. A question: if the guy who tried to pick me up at the supermarket wasn’t Black, would I still be as offended? I think I would still be offended. After all, my discomfort with invading what I think of as my personal space and being pushy about “communication” is not a discomfort that he was Black, but it’s a set of behaviour that I don’t find appealing. There have been Black people I find attractive, as opposed to my mother, who, when I told her that someone likes me who is Black, sort of freaked out and then said something like “Maybe some Black people can be attractive too.”

But this is where it gets sticky with race/ethnicity/culture. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, ever since the post on commercials featuring multicultural consumers. I can analyse my attitude as: I am not racist as long as the person in question behaves a certain way. This seems to be fine, however what counts as “proper behaviour” is often prescribed by White people, and the argument that X racialized group is “uncivillized” has been just as destructive, if not more destructive, than arguments that X group looks different. Another issue is the level of intimacy. I have asked a friend about this, and her response is that if you can work or be friends with people of other ethnicities, but you don’t necessarily want to pursue a romantic relationship with them, this doesn’t count as racist because people naturally want to find a partner who is culturally similar.

I think cultural similarity is very very important for compatibility in the long run, but I also think that friends and co-workers are usually in contexts where there are certain social prescriptions against certain social behaviours, and hence cultural differences aren’t as readily apparent. And also, I do believe that certain ethnicities (along with gender and class etc) have certain cultural attributes (at this point in time, given cultural formation through history) that makes them behave a certain way, even if there is no inherent differences between races that are tied to their biology. For example, I just got a new housemate, who moved away after her old landlady refused to turn down her TV, causing my new housemate a lot of difficulties sleeping. Since she left without fulfilling the term of the lease, the landlady understandably was upset. However the landlady  yelled at her and harassed her constantly. I never met her but I once called her an “bitter old White woman” as a joke, and my housemate corrected me and said she was Black, and “If she was White, she wouldn’t have gotten into my face like that. She’d sue my pants off in court.” (My housemate is definitely not racist – she’s an activist on behalf of ethnic minorities and is doing her PhD on interethnic solidarity). Anyways, racism is always racism about behaviour, like the “uncivillized” argument, so if we discriminate based on behaviour and culture, to me that’s practically the same as discriminating based on race, just couching it in a slightly politically correct manner. It might be even worse, because then there is pressure to ethnic minorities with different cultural behaviours to change to be a yuppie or hipster or something like that.

In my post on multiculturalism in commercials, I said this was “culturist.” All races are fine now, but you all need to behave in a certain way. This is problematic, for example the argument in France that Muslim women should not wear head coverings because they have to conform to Western feminist notions of what it means to be “free.” I understand this culturist expectation is wrong, however in finding a romantic partner, I don’t think I can get over it. I am not someone who can date on attraction alone – I have to take into account compatibility with culture and values. And certain behaviours I just find unattractive, for example when men are too hypermasculine or crude, or when they try to touch me in a cashier line up. I don’t necessarily think that refinement is necessary (Maybe it is? childhood upbringing with classical music and oil painting and Victorian novels etc…), but a certain degree of restraint and respectability seems important. And I have a feeling that respectability, probably tied to upwards mobility, is more important to certain ethnicities than others, so that if I choose a romantic partner with respectability as a parameter I will be discriminating based on race/ethnicity by association.

Maybe I just have to resign myself to being “culturist.” But I think in a certain way I might also be racist. After studying psychology in undergrad and taking methods courses in how to get around people’s cognitive defences, and reading about the implicit association test (IAT) for racism (good explanation here), I have devised one about race and culture, which is the images at the top (Of course, if this was a real psych test, the images would have to be controlled for size, quality, facial expression, camera angle, colours, etc, perhaps with other ethnicities, and we’d also need to figure out whether to give all of them to one person or only give them 1 to rule against the possibility they’d catch on to what the test was measuring. All this nit-picking deception is the reason I ultimately didn’t go into psychology). My hypothesis is that the average response from Asians and White people would rate the Black businessman at a lower rating of respectability than the Asian one, and the Asian rapper as more respectable than the Black one. Unfortunately, I think that if I were given this test out of the blue, I would also give a similar response. What such test results imply is that people feel that the bar for respectability is higher for a Black person, that they need to work harder to get to the same rating. While this response shows that people do not believe that respectability is a biological fact but it can be changed, somehow Black people still start “lower” and it’s almost the same as saying they are somehow inherently less respectable than people of other ethnicities.

This kind of test is also applicable to attractiveness. My mother conceded that “Maybe some Black people can be attractive too,” but this doesn’t mean a lot. There isn’t a pan-racial and objective scale of attractiveness, but I have a feeling that if there was one, a White man at an attractiveness of 5 would register as attractive to my mother whereas a Black man would only register as attractive if his rating was 10. As for what I would answer to a survey like this, I have no idea. I think I still find other East Asians more attractive than any other race.

So, what to do about being a racist/culturist? I think increased exposure works for racism, because chances are the experiences one encounters will be much better than the negative stereotype one holds. I’ve noticed exposure working for me. When I first went to Toronto for undergrad, and also when I got to LA after spending 2 years in China (with a stopover in Vancouver), I was afraid that I was racist because I always seemed to be more alert if I saw Black people. But I think I was just visually not used to Black people, because this went away after a week or so. Similarly, when I first got back to Vancouver from China, looking at White people scared me (even though proportionally  there weren’t that many White people in Vancouver to begin with…). This also went away, but I think it took less time for me to readjust my visual schemas for White people than for Black people, perhaps because White people are everywhere in the media and many of my colleagues in China were White.

I’m not sure increased exposure works for culture or behaviours that one doesn’t like. Rationally I understand that certain behaviours do not reflect the morality of the person in question, but I still don’t want someone to get touchy-feely at the checkout. People behaving what I consider to be crudely makes me revolted, even if I understand that they are good people. For example, I find many of my peers use swear words a lot more than I do and do it quite casually. I know that it doesn’t mean they are bad people, but talking to someone who says the F word a lot still makes me uncomfortable.  In this case, increased exposure would just make me more revolted. Increased positive exposure to people of other races can cancel out negative stereotypes because new cognitive schemas replace the stereotypes and co-exist with racialized appearance, but you can’t get “good” behaviour to co-exist with “bad” behaviour and still have the former replace the latter. Something needs to happen to change cultural and behavioural expectations, and I have a feeling this can’t be changed very easily because it depends on how people are brought up. For example, Chinese men like to spit a lot in public, and my grandfather also did this until my mother talked him out of it. He’s a very careful and respectable otherwise, having worked as a middle school principal and a journalist and written vast treatise on the origins of Chinese medicine, but in a Chinese upbringing for his time, being very educated and proper didn’t conflict with spitting on sidewalks, whereas for me those things would be mutually exclusive.

Do let me know how to get over being a culturist.


*There was a guy in high school who had some social dysfunction issues (not sure what he had, but he had difficulty completing his sentences and tended to stalk and frighten people), and then there was a guy in university who’s slightly antisocial, in that he had no understanding of social norms.


5 thoughts on ““I love diversity. Can I have your phone number?”: Interracial illegibility, legibility, and culturism

  1. This… is the third time I am typing this out. I believe your blog crashes my computer.

    In any case:

    First off, I really enjoyed reading this personal, analytical essay. The themes you discussed – culturism, racism from racial minorities, pre- vs post-1965 Chinese immigrants – were very fascinating. The problem is, if it can be called such, you brought up so many topics that I despair at being able to respond to every single one that caught my attention and set my mind off while reading your essay. I also doubt I will be able to go into each topic with the depth it deserves.

    I believe that Asian supremacy exists. It’s just not widely known outside of Asian culture because the older Asians subscribe to a culture of modesty and the younger Asians either wantn to emulate Caucasians or Blacks, or they dismiss other races as below their notice entirely. Also, Asians will often use racial slurs and stereotypes against Caucasians, Blacks and Native Americans (but if any of the aforementioned racial groups dare to use a racial slur against the Asian..!) only when talking to others with the same mindset – group think – and a big part of this, I think, is that they subconsciously recognize taht if they say it to someone who would disagree with them and challenge them to defend their views, they would find their position rightly indefensible. How do you imagine your Chinese Canadian neighbors would react if, after making pejorative rmarks about Black people, a nearby Black person referred to them as a “Chink” in conversation with their friends?

    As for the remark “You’d think Black people are dirty…” i find it interesting to note that the Whites thought that way too when they were subjugating the Blacks, primarily due to the color of their skin and the less-advanced status of their civilization. In present day (and I only recently learned this), Hollywood movies still present African nations as backwards and rural, contributing to the misconceived perception that oil-less African countries as a whole have yet to be civilized. Asians are also much more sensitive to dust/outside dirt than Caucasians and Blacks. For instance, every single Asian I’ve known to date takes off their shoes at the door to walk barefoot inside their home (unless they’re in a hotel/motel/student accommodations, etc). I am personally amused to observe that even while visiting people who wear shoes inside their home, I feel more comfortable if I remove my shoes at the door.

    I personally hate the gorilla simile, because I think it stems from Africans tending to have a facial structure where their jaws jut out. I wonder how they would feel if they heard the Blacks/Caucasians commenting, conversely, that “..All the Asians are walking around the streets with their pastry pancake faces.” Especially when the comment doesn’t seem to have any relation to the electricity being out.

    You’re more generous to your neighbors than I. I’d probably judge them to be ignorant, close-minded and ethno-centric.

    In romance, however, I would be less harsh a judge, albeit not for the explanation that we are attracted to those with a similar culture. Personally, I can look at a Black or an Indian, for instance, and say that yes, objectively they are physically good-looking, but they are not attractive to me. The one exception to the African rule are South Africans – there’s something about them that contravenes the general rules and attract me. I can’t figure out what it is, but I have an n of 2. In addition, I am really not attracted to Asians. Again, I can look at some and say, yes, they are cute or I can see why some people would think they are good looking, but there’s no real attraction. This is actually quite perplexing to me, because even though I can look at a picture of an Asian and say, yes, they look really attractive, when I meet them in person, there is nothing. I’m not engaged, I’m not attracted, I’m not even tempted to try going out with them.

    I wonder if the middle-aged woman was trying to rescue you from the older gentleman hitting on you.

    In regards to the owner of the car you helped push, I think that your being quiet and not demanding recognition conformed to his stereotype of Asian women being submissive, dociile and demure. If I were in your shoes, I hope I would have the presence of mind to protest that I had helped, too. A handshake and a verbal thank you are not valuable, but to me, it would have been the dismissal/fading to the background. Then again, I am going through a rather feministic streak right now. For that reason, and because I am also female and do not wish to parrot the “you are beautiful the way you are”-esque cliches of our generation, I will not comment on your disparaging your physical attractiveness.

    However….Here’s a question for you. The men you have been attracted to in your life – were they all good-looking according to mainstream standards? Was that all that attracted you to them – their physical appearance and its adherence to Justin Bieber or, I don’t know and do correct me here, Edison Chan or Jay Chou (I think I butchered one of those names). You may be reserved, but you have a unique personality, and no, I’m not saying that “to be nice”. You’re not a “Lotus Blossom” or “Dragon Lady”, a Pamela Anderson or Lindsay Loan, nor are you Rihanna or Beyonce. You’re you. Would you like someone simply because they look or act like Brad Pit, Orlando Bloom, or ?

    I haven’t known you long, but my feeling is that you wouldn’t. You’re not one of the masses, nor do you wish to be, nor are you someone who would hold up a sign saying “Bono/Luongo/George Clooneys of the world – I’ll have your baby!” Why is it so hard to believe that males exist who also feel the same way albeit about the female sex? (This is something I’m currently working through myself).

    And by the way – those who don’t see your hips are blind or perhaps in a kinder view, just not observant or astute enoough to go traipsing around Thailand just yet. I watched Albert Nobbs, a movie about an Irish woman living her life as a man because she didn’t want to end up in the poor house as an unmarried woman dependent on the state with a very dear male friend of mine. At one point, when she was forced by the proprietress to share her room with a painter contracted at the hotel, my friend took one look at the painter lying on his side on the bed and declared “That’s a woman!” When I questioned his statement, he simply replied, “Men don’t have hips like that.”

    I’d also like to point out that the androgynous look can be attractive. Also: women dressed in men’s clothing is apparently sexually fascinating to men. Perhaps that’s the physical category you fall into, if you so desire to pigeon-hole yourself. I would also like to connect your statement of reservation in public with the perceived docility of Asian women and present this as a way in which you do “fit the Asian stereotype”.

    In response to your half-assed psychology test, I question your definition of “respectability”. I think people define respectability in different ways. If you asked me who was the better rapper/more successful musician, I’d say the Black one, not because I like Black rap, but partly because that’s what I’m more familiar with due to my very low level exposure to mainstream music, but also partly because I’ve heard some Asian rap years ago and found them to be pathetically hilarious. If you were to ask me which businessman I trusted more, I may say the Asian one (that is the most honest answer I can give), but if you were to ask me which businessman I would rather interact with, I would say the Black one. Whether at the bank or waiting in line at the grocery store, I find I usually prefer to communicate with a non-Asian than an Asian. I grew up in Richmond, BC, and while I recognize white supremacy, I don’t believe I am enamored with the less-pigmented races.

    Our mutual Krispy friend feels that I’m rather liberal, and I would agree because it reinforces my image of who I would like to be, but I would not take well to a stranger who’s touchy-feely in a fliratious manner at the check out. I don’t care if they’re a “good” person or not, they’re making me uncomfortable and they have no right to do that. I also don’t care if it’s their “cultural norm” to behave that way; body language that says I’m discomfitted by your behavior, please stop that, is universal, understood by everyone, and should therefore be respected by everyone. Of course, I understand that this only holds in an ideal world, but I do expect everyone to be able to tell by their acquaintance’s facial and body language whether or not their behavior is making them uncomfortable. If they choose to ignore it, that is their right – as it is my right to tell you off, outright reject you, or ignore your ignorant harassment.

    I don’t think there is a problem with being a culturist. I know a Serbian who is very much against patriotism because he saw it tear his country apart. I know a German who doesn’t like Caucasians – Westerns, Europeans, etc – because they’re too stubborn and proud. And I suppose I am an Asian who dislikes Asians because of their cultural duplicity. None of us were ever a tabula rasa, and cultures change. They morph and are a representative of the moral, ethical and aesthetic values of their geographical and chronological region. Ethnicities, race – those are unchangeable, parts of you. Culture isn’t.

    Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors.

    – PIE

    • Sorry about your computer crashing. I’m not sure why it would do that – WordPress should be a pretty well-build suite.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, and with thoughtful comments. I’ll try to respond to your points:

      About the representations of Black people in Hollywood, I’ve recently discovered a whole slew of stereotypes about them, some of them seemingly quite positive at first glance. A classmate was criticizing The Vampire Diaries for depicting the stereotype of the “magical negro,” which I didn’t really know existed. And you’re absolutely right about the representation of African nations as rural. That causes a double-edged knife problem for organizations that try to garner aid for the poor in Africa, because making the poor visible also has a way of reinforcing the idea that it’s Africa’s defining quality.

      What you said about objective vs. visceral reactions of attraction is interesting. I guess that’s a parallel problem to being a culturist – to me conquering racism within one’s subjectivity means at all levels, cognitively, emotionally, and everything else. I remember reading a example from psych classes about White people who shake hands with Black people and cognitively understand they’re not “dirty” but can’t help feeling an inner shudder. To me attraction is similar, so finding a whole population unattractive viscerally even if one finds them attractive objectively is still a problem. This doesn’t necessarily apply to not finding someone attractive in person after meeting them though, because their behaviour might turn you off.

      In helping to push the car, I didn’t demand to be thanked, but I wasn’t silent the whole time either. Before I started helping I asked whether I should help, and after getting no response, just jumped in. After the car was in the lot I said the equivalent of “there you go, that wasn’t too hard” and before we left I said bye and good luck. To me that would have elicited some response in any other regular conversation, but in that situation there was none, and therefore the situation stuck with me, and I’m rationalizing it as interracial illegibility. Anyways, thanks for pointing out that reservation might contribute to the stereotype of Asian docility. Right now I’m struggling with the balance of talking too much vs talking too little.

      As for “Why is it so hard to believe that males exist who also feel the same way albeit about the female sex?” – I do believe both genders are capable of feeling attraction and affection that is not based on physical attractiveness. However when you’re getting hit on in a supermarket lineup, whoever’s hitting on you doesn’t have your personality or intelligence to measure you by, and hence they’re probably going on how you look. That said, I do believe that men and women tend to prioritize different attributes in romantic partners. Men rarely like women for their intelligence, especially if it’s the scientific kind, and I again in a psych textbook I read that a survey on how many hits a woman’s profile gets on a dating website, having blond hair would increase her hits as much as if she had a bachelor’s degree. I used to be bitter about this, but not anymore – this mate selection system is too engrained into evolution for me to rail against it, and if I fit the system I wouldn’t be railing against it.

      Good point about “respectability.” That was one thing that I thought I should put into the parentheses on things I need to consider if this was a real psych test. However, there is a set range of understanding for “respectability,” and being a good rapper usually isn’t in that definition; it’s more about wearing clean and reasonably stylish clothes, holding yourself so as to not invade other people’s space, not slurping while you eat, speaking in a conversational volume without excessive cursing, etc. Your range of questions that impinge on behaviour makes me think, though, that if it were a psych test, there should be a lot more questions about more specific behaviours and aggregate them to produce a rating.

      “I also don’t care if it’s their ‘cultural norm’ to behave that way” – I would love to be as decisive as you and say that, but I’m struggling with it. Of course, I do feel more justified if it’s something that impinges on me directly, like touching, but what if it’s not? For example, talking during a movie, willingness to discuss yourself with strangers, small things in life that aren’t indicative of morals but just doesn’t quite suit one’s “upringing”? I would feel justified in rejecting someone based on these small things if it wasn’t so tied to ethnicity and race, and also class. Having given the disclaimer that I don’t understand African American culture very well, I do think that small gestures for working with “the system” (eg wearing a button-down shirt to school) aren’t as important for them as for Asian Americans. Where do we draw the line? “I don’t think we’re compatible because your culture is freer with physical contact and I’m not comfortable with it” seems justified, whereas “I don’t think we’re compatible because your culture doesn’t privilege wearing a shirt to school” sounds ridiculous.

      Anyway, didn’t mean to write a sequel here! But thanks for providing stimulating grounds for thought, and thanks for trying so many times despite problems with the blog. It’s rare for people to think about things deeply nowadays, and your willingness to respond to this social problem is greatly greatly appreciated.

      P.S. hope you stay in your feminist streak! Maybe we can talk about that some time – feminism is something else I struggle with.

  2. Pingback: The Personal and Political, Chains of Oppression, and Afterlives of Empire (Or, how Commodore Perry can still strain relationships today) | Radical Compounds

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