It usually goes like this: I’m out with friends, laughing it up like I’m in a Crest White Strips commercial because I’m a confident woman living her dreams in New York City, and a guy approaches me. I’m not always interested, but as a woman — especially an Asian woman — I’m seemingly beholden to certain etiquette. So I entertain him. He’ll comment on my hair (I have short, blunt bangs that often garner comparisons to a Harajuku Girl) or something I’m wearing. Thanks!
Next question: “So, where are you from?” I was adopted from China when I was nine months old, but to avoid an unnecessarily personal conversation with a stranger, I say New York City. After all, I’ve lived here for 21 years and three months of my 22-year-long life. If he doesn’t press the issue any further, I’ll stick around for a couple more minutes before politely excusing myself.
But more often than not, the dude follows up with this dreaded question: “no, like, what’s your race?” Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll respond in one of three ways. I’ll answer and then leave, I’ll answer with attitude and then leave, or I’ll ask his race and then leave. At this point, the guy will realize, albeit confusedly, that he said something wrong and will blunder back to his pack of friends.
It goes without saying that straight-up asking about my race as a pickup line is, in short, un-woke.
It goes without saying that straight-up asking about my race as a pickup line is, in short, un-woke. However, intrusive questions about my race and ethnicity are a surprisingly common occurrence, even in a city as diverse and progressive as New York City. In my dating experience, I’ve gotten questions about what race I prefer, whether most of my friends are also Asian, and “compliments” on how I don’t fit Asian stereotypes. It’s racism thinly veiled as conversation starters. If I respond negatively to comments or questions of that nature, the guy often gets defensive. “I’m not racist, I’m just curious!”
Honest discourse about my race and ethnicity are fine, even essential, once I get to know someone, but upon first meeting a guy, race-related questions always raise the suspicion that he has a creepy Asian fetish.
Here’s the bottom line: these “conversation starters” would never be used on a white or white-passing woman. Honest discourse about my race and ethnicity are fine, even essential, once I get to know someone, but upon first meeting a guy, race-related questions always raise the suspicion that he has a creepy Asian fetish.
I’ve come across the argument that all men have “yellow fever” to varying degrees, and that it’s impossible for men to love Asian women for themselves and not for the stereotypical qualities they represent. American men are born into a culture that provides selective representations of Asian women — as Tiger Mothers, sultry Geishas, quiet, mousy schoolgirls and mysterious side-kicks. It’s a disheartening reality, but I still believe there are guys out there who will love me for me, who will listen to my experiences as an Asian woman, and who will view my passion for writing and art not as a unique deviation from stereotypes, but simply as me.
The question is: where can I find them?
Alexandra Pauly is a New York City-based culture and fashion journalist. Her work has been published by StyleCaster, Galore, WestwoodWestwood, The Untitled Magazine and of course, Salty. When she’s not writing, you can find her unearthing hidden gems at Goodwill, papering her apartment with magazine tear sheets and debating the most iconic moments of RuPaul’s Drag Race. You can find her on Instagram at @paulybyalexforalexandrapauly.