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When Asian girl meets white boy

Reactions to my non-Asian boyfriend surprised and disturbed me

When Asian girl meets white boy

A stock image of a young couple. (iStock)

These are confusing times when it comes to racial issues, and I’d like to address one subtopic that’s gained attention: interracial couples—or more specifically, the increasingly criticized trend of Asian women dating white men. It’s a divisive issue fraught with emotion and misunderstanding, and weighed down with historical, cultural, and social baggage. It’s also one I’ve hesitated to write about, partly because I didn’t know what to think about it myself.

You see, I’ve been seeing more articles with clickbait titles such as “The Alt-Right’s Asian Fetish,” “I’m an Asian Woman Engaged to a White Man and, Honestly, I’m Struggling With That,” and “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White.” According to the first two authors, the prevalent trend of Asian women dating and marrying white men is problematic because it harkens to a long history of white supremacism. The third article was written by a Latino man who felt pressured by today’s “woke” society to stop dating white women.

The basic idea is that “racial dating preferences” is just a code word for racial stereotypes and prejudices, such as the degradation of black women, the criminalization of black and Latino men, and the feminization of Asian men in Hollywood and the media, trends that sociologists trace back to colonialism. When it comes to Asian women, the myth is that they’re the “ideal” female: submissive, docile, and sexually eager to please. These stereotypes absolutely exist, and they are harmful.

For me, it hits close to home. Conversations about racial stereotypes might not pop up in certain social circles in America, but they do in mine. Plus, I am a Korean American woman dating a blond, blue-eyed, German-blooded man born and raised in North Dakota to a baseball-obsessed, Baptist, Republican family.

In terms of cultural background, David and I couldn’t be more different. I grew up as a missionary kid in Singapore; David grew up in a middle-class suburban home with a pool in the Midwest. My omma served me homemade kimchi and chili-laden noodles; he dined on Cap’n Crunch and Mom’s buttered knepfle and can’t eat anything mildly spicy without hyperventilating. I watched Korean dramas and practiced taekwondo; he watched DuckTales and chowed pretzels at baseball stadiums and air-guitared to Blink-182. But still, we somehow clicked. And now, more than two years later, we’re discussing marriage.

The fact that David happens to be white didn’t bother me ... at least, not until I started receiving comments whenever I mentioned that David’s previous girlfriend was also Korean American. “Oh, I see. He’s got yellow fever,” one friend remarked. Another friend said, “Well, he’s obviously got a type.” Yet another acquaintance said, “Yeah, you’re the type white boys will go for.” These reactions all came from fellow Asian folks.

Each time, I instinctively became defensive, and I would hasten to add, “Well, he’s dated white and Latina women too …” Even as I said that, I got annoyed at having to respond to such comments. But I can’t deny that these interactions always left me with a strong distaste—the sort that clenched my stomach and shrunk my heart. From the pit of my gut came complex feelings of irritation, fear, and ... shame? That bothered me. I understood why I would get irritated when people imply that a man would find me attractive simply because I’m Asian. But where do the fear and shame come from? So I’m in love with a white guy—what’s fearful and shameful about that?

I traced those feelings back to when I first arrived in the United States as a teenage immigrant. I remember my Asian American friends warning me to watch out for boys with an “Asian fetish”—an ugly term for a non-Asian man who’s attracted to Asian females, presumably due to stereotypes. The way they said it—always with a disgusted scowl—seemed to suggest anyone who dates too many Asians is creepy and abnormal, akin to perverts who watch kinky dwarf porn in a dank basement. When that’s your introduction to your own community’s feelings about non-Asian males pursuing Asian females, it leaves a negative impression that’s hard to scrub off.

As I grow older, I’m observing the ripple effects. I remember a Korean American friend asking me one day, “Do you think I’m a self-hating Korean?” I was surprised: “What do you mean?” She hesitated, then replied, “I’ve never really dated Asian men. When I was dating a Jewish guy, I started noticing that there were a lot of couples like us: white or Jewish man, Asian woman. And there’s this stereotype of Asian women who date white guys—that they’re dating them because they worship whiteness, because they despise their own Asianness.” Then she got very honest: “When I see other Asian-female/white-male couples, I instinctively stereotype them. Then I started wondering, ‘What if other people think the same about us?’”

Nowhere are racial stereotypes more prominent than in the online dating world. When a Japanese American friend began dating online, she expressed skepticism about a white guy who wrote on his profile that he had lived in Japan and likes anime: “I’m just not sure that he’s just interested in me because he’s got an Asian fetish, you know?”

These are muddy, uncomfortable thoughts. That’s why when I see articles that seem to address them, I click and read, because I want to understand why these thoughts exist. The problem is, the more I was reading such articles, the more they confused and upset me. Suddenly, I had to bear the weight of bulky terms such as “Asian fetish,” “white worshiping,” “colonial mentality,” and “internalized racism”—terms that, frankly, don’t describe my relationship with David, or the relationships of other interracial couples I know.

When I mentioned the Asian female stereotype to David, he laughed: “That’s crazy. You’re the least submissive and most stubborn person I know!” When I try to discuss more complex racial issues, he gets uncomfortable, and I get it: In today’s “woke” culture, a white, straight male can never say anything right, and that’s not good. But like most white Americans who still represent the nation’s majority demographic, he also rarely thinks about his skin color—a privilege that minorities in this country don’t have. For us, we’re rarely seen as just American. It doesn’t matter how Americanized I am, people will always see me as a Korean American. The reality is, I can never forget the color of my skin, and that’s why people of color think and talk and wrestle more with racial topics. I think it’s good to be self-aware and educated on such matters … but when does it go too far?

Recently, a friend sent me an Invisibilia podcast episode in which an Asian American woman interviews another Asian American woman who mostly dates white men. When Asian men harassed her online for her “racist” dating habits, she felt badly about herself, so she decided to stop dating white men and intentionally date non-white men. In doing so, the interviewer proclaimed, she would “decolonize her desire” and “fight back against centuries of racist U.S. policies and Western colonization.”

As I listened to this interviewee and her self-congratulating, patronizing, “woke” mission, I felt shaken awake: What in the world is going on? Have we really come down to this—marking racial check boxes in our romantic pursuits? Nowhere in that interview did I hear her talk about being equally yoked or seeking commitment, mutual respect and trust, sacrificial love, and open communication. Instead, she focused on skin color, sociology, and how it made her feel about herself.

Today, people are free to date and marry whomever they want, regardless of skin color—yet somehow, we’re still slapping taboos on certain kinds of interracial dating.

Racial prejudices are real and serious sins. In the United States, it’s been only a few decades since the Supreme Court overturned laws banning interracial marriage in some states. Today, people are free to date and marry whomever they want, regardless of skin color—yet somehow, we’re still slapping taboos on certain kinds of interracial dating. That New York Times column by the Latino guy who broke up with his white girlfriend describes his internal angst with such clarity:

“How did we get here? If everyone is so woke, why are things so terrible? Maybe everyone isn’t so woke. Anyway, what am I supposed to do? How do I love as a brown body in the world in a way that makes everybody happy? I fell for a white woman and she fell for me—simple as that—yet I feel as if I’m doing the wrong thing by dating her.”

Ironically, by trying to break free from racial oppression or internalized racism, we sometimes construct new racial prisons for ourselves. Interracial marriage is something joyous and beautiful—two individuals breaking the barriers of cultural and ethnic differences to become one flesh in a relationship representing the holy union of Christ and the Church. For believers of different races, Christ Himself has become “our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

In my case, even if David and I aren’t in a covenantal relationship yet, that means loving him for his God-gifted qualities—pale skin and blond roots and sensitive personality and silly humor and all. It also means learning from one another: So far he’s taught me to become a Dodgers fan, while I’ve pushed him out his comfort zone into foreign places. As a result, he’s tasted the joys of exploring new cultures, while I ... well, I’m still waiting to reap the rewards of rooting for the Dodgers. Maybe this year. Third time lucky, eh?

Comments

  • Susan P
    Posted: Mon, 04/22/2019 04:30 pm

    Thank you, Sophia, for writing deeply, and from a uniquely Christian perspective about relationships. We are all learning to get along and love people who are not us. God has made us all beautifully, wonderfuly and very differently, on purpose, to illustrate for the world what reconciliation and unity are really about: NOT sameness! We are each enabled by the same God, Son and Spirit for His purposes.

  • Kingdomnetworker's picture
    Kingdomnetworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/22/2019 09:30 pm

    Sophia,

    In Christ, we are free to marry "in the Lord". Thanks for sharing a bit of your life. In our church (in a university town) there are many "interracial" couples, Asian, African, white, etc. But, we don't think of them that way. They are our family and friends in Christ.  Our society is hung up on racial identity, whereas, in Christ, we are focused on identity in Christ. Big difference! May you and others find the one to marry with whom you can serve Christ well.

  • Rich277
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 06:51 am

    A good, honest article; thanks for sharing this with us.  I was wondering as I read—how much has social media contributed to your angst?

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Wed, 04/24/2019 05:39 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. Very good article.

    I would add that we should not label this, or view it, as something peculiar to our society or just somehow related to the impact of the so-called "woke" culture. Racial differences and angst, and even hostility, permeate every society and culture and can be traced throughout history. It even exists among peoples of similar skin tones. There is seemingly always something that our sin nature can come up with as a reason to dislike someone else. In regards to dating, and marriage, one must remember that we marry a person and the family is part of the package. There will be issues regardless of the color of one's skin or racial heritage. This ripple effect is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Our response and how we handle it is the only part that we have any control over. And here, we have to fight our own inner demons. 

  • KIMBERLY JOHNSON
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 08:53 am

    thank you so much for sharing this issue.  I am a white adoptive mom of a daughter from China and a daughter from Colombia.  When we were working on the adoption paperwork, we had to fill out questions about interracial dating.  At the time, I remember thinking that I still hadn't figured out how I felt about my daughters dating at all (and I had 16 and 13 year old daughters at the time).  My daughter from China came home at age 14 and is now a college student.  She hasn't dated, so I don't know if she has encountered this, and I had no idea that this was such a wide spread issue.  We've taught our girls that if the men they chose to marry live for Christ and love them deeply, the rest doesn't matter, but I can see that there may be other pressures.  As an aside, I always read your articles for the insights about Asian culture and happenings in Asia, especially China as it helps inform my prayers for my daughter's friends (known) and family (unknown) in China.  Thank you again for your transparency and courage in sharing.

     

  • Bob C
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 10:25 am

    Sophia, I think the gender differences, male and female, is way more significant than any racial difference.  Yes, racial differences can be an added challenge.  The one key is learning to understand, accept and work with your differences no matter where they come from.  The other key has been our Faith in Christ and Trusting Him to get us through the rough times.  It has been nothing short of miraculous.  I think our 40 plus years of married life is a testimony to those truths.

  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 01:11 pm

    I can remember many years ago, one of our close family friends went to Korea during the conflict (war?) there.  There was some really negative talk about his bringing home a Korean wife - and we were all Christians!  They are the most beautiful Godly couple, with lots of children and a stable, loving-Jesus family.  I babysat for them as a teenager for many years.  Funny thing, lots of the whites complaining about the mixed marriage are now divorced!  I wish we could stop looking at our skin to determine who we are or how we interract with others.  Granted, there are cultural differences especially in the older generations who were raised up more deeply steeped in their cultural ways than their Americanized offspring.  Still, I know of so many mixed marriages and relationships where it just doesn't matter.  Different strokes for different folks!  As an added benefit, Asians and whites make the most beautiful babies ever!

  • blzgrl
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 01:16 pm

    As a black woman married to a white man for almost 35 years, I found it very interesting to  see this issue from an Asian perspective. There are many similarities of, as you said, historical, cultural and social baggage.

  • JACKIE PARFET
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 03:40 pm

    I was intrigued to see similar issues portrayed in "Crazy Rich Asians" where the Singapore family say the American love interest as "yellow on the outside, white on the inside" The issue of racial/sociological differences seems to be pretty universal, not just present in one country...

  • Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Tue, 04/23/2019 07:40 pm

    I used to work a blue-collar job of whom most of my clients were senior citizens and many of them were in mixed-marriages, for lack of a better term (I simply call it marriage). Incidentally, most of the mixed-marriages were Asian/Caucasian. Why? Considering the generation, many of the male clients had served in the military. They brought home Japanese, Philipino, Korean, Hawaiian wives. Great! MLK Jr. would commmed this development were he alive, no doubt. We, in America, have largely defeated systemic racism. The Left, however, is never happy, and it is due to the Left’s influence that people think in terms of skin color again, therefore, the “yellow fever” comments and the like. Christians should care less what others think about us in our relationships, or anything else for that matter, especially when we know that we are pursuing good things in a godly way. And if we do this with one voice, we’ll likely start the trend to throw off this new “woke” racism. 

  • nxlcsdeo's picture
    nxlcsdeo
    Posted: Wed, 04/24/2019 12:34 am

    Sofia, you are an awesome writer! And this article proves it--you have long been one of my favorite World columnists, but I perceive you also have the gift of sharing your most personal thoughts in a way that simultaneously instructs and entertains me.  Thank you! I truly admire your candor. 

    I, a white Pennsylvania Dutch girl similar to your David, married a Latino--a man from Guatemala who immigrated legally to the US at age 19 and eventually became a citizen.  During our three-year courtship, my mother was suspicious of both his accent and his (non-Calvinist) theology.  An older lady at church once pulled me aside and whispered, "Be careful--if you marry him, you might have a black baby." But my parents finally gave their blessing and we married.  It was amazing to see my (sometimes prejudiced) mother hug my husband one day years later and say to him, with tears in her eyes, "I'm so glad you're part of our family.  God has changed my attitude, and I see how much we have in common!"  We've been married 35 years now, and have raised 11 children.  Love is still winning out!

  • Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Wed, 04/24/2019 12:44 pm

    "Racial prejudices are real ...How did we get here?"

    We got here because of a lie.  Modern anthropology has declared that there is no such thing as race.  Science and the Bible agree on this.  The way to combat racial prejudice is with the truth.  

    Asian is not a race, but a geographic origin or family group.  Our ethnicity has to do with our lineage, i.e. being from one family or another.  The Johnsons have characteristics different than the Jones, but it isn't racial.  It's familial. 

    Every time Jesus used the term Son of Man, he was saying Ben haAdam, which in Hebrew or Aramaic means human.  It literally means child of Adam, which is what we all are.  There is only one race, the human race.  Christians should stand against the lie of race by shouting the truth from the rooftops.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Wed, 04/24/2019 06:48 pm

    Thank you, Sophia,  for sharing the above, surely not an easy topic to address. I'm old, so it's hard for me to imagine the heavy-with-angst, looking for "invisible cats", kind of atmosphere that you describe surrounding you and your beloved. I tend to think huge progress in race relations has been made in my lifetime but your perspective reminds that there is still much to pray about, much to reconcile. Again, thank you!

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Thu, 04/25/2019 12:42 am

    This is a very well-written and timely column.  It is saddening that there is still so much tension over interracial dating.  Biblically, if a Christian finds a godly member of the opposite sex, is attracted to them, and is willing to sacrificially love them, then race should not be a barrier to their relationship.  It is wise to evaluate the cultural baggage and character of the person one is dating, but those who would advise Sophia to shun a man merely because of his skin color are behaving in a way no better than the segregationists of old.  In recent years, I have been disheartened to find that among the very people who promote diversity, wokeness, social justice, etc., the same spirit of segregation that has plagued cultures throughout human history is still manifesting itself.  Indeed, I find that some of the so-called social justice movements seem to be merely replacing one sinful, racially discriminatory hierarchy with another one.  Sophia is wise to critically evaluate these matters as closely as she clearly does, and I wish her the best.    

  • CALVIN COLLIN
    Posted: Wed, 05/08/2019 12:08 am

    Dear Sophia Lee,

    I’ve long enjoyed your articles in World Magazine.  I teach in an international Christian school in Indonesia and have often thought that I would like my students to turn out like you, a mature, vibrant young Christian impacting the world for Christ through her vocation.

    Your recent op-ed “When Asian Girl Meets White Boy” hits on several topics that I want my students to be aware of and develop Biblical perspectives on, like race obsession in the West, romantic/sexual love, and marriage.  Two ideas you expressed are hugely important, that marriage is a holy one-flesh (covenantal) relationship that somehow reflects the “holy union of Christ and the Church” and that Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [between races and between men and women].”

    Some of the things in your article brought up some questions.  You write that negative reactions from various friends and aquaintances provoked “complex feelings of irritation, fear, and ... shame?”.  Of course few of us are as strong or quick witted as we’d like to be, and I often think of the brilliant things I would say to people long after the chance to say anything has passed, maybe a month later, maybe years.  But I wonder, about those who suspected your relationship of being based on twisted motives and corrupt desires, were they Christians or non-Christians or both?

    I ask because it seems to me that there are things about your relationship that would be far more offensive, to non-Christians or even immature Christians, than the racial difference.  I’m reading between the lines here, reasoning based on your profession of Christian doctrines to certain Christian practices and other Biblical truths.  Perhaps I’m wrong in my assumptions.  If so, please forgive me, but I think my assumptions are helpful to follow this trail further.

    How would your friends respond if you told them that you and your boyfriend have not and will not engage in any sort of sexual activity until marriage?  And that at your wedding you will sincerely and happily vow to love and obey your husband?  That at some point, probably soon, career will have to take a backseat to child rearing and raising?  And that if your marriage produces more pain than pleasure, you will not divorce because you will have vowed to be faithful to your husband “in sickness and in health, for better or worse”?  I think these things would be much more disturbing than the whole Asian girl, white boy thing, which strikes my students as a petty, ridiculous thing to get worked up about.  I see it (the racial difference) as a potential source of marital difficulty, but not likely in your case as you and your boyfriend seem to be very much on the same page culturally.

    Many Christians, and this is true of my life, are in such a Christian bubble that we rarely have much interaction, much less close relationship, with non-Christians.  So it’s easy for us to dismiss the fears of those who, like you, are “in the arena.”  After the Apostle Paul’s spectacularly succesful and difficult first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) he faced a hostile response from respected Jewish Christian leaders from Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-2, 5) who were more displeased by racial mixing than they were pleased by the fulfillment of centuries old prophecies concerning the Christ and His kingdom.  So Paul goes from pagan Gentiles who stone him (Acts 14:19) to fellow believers who are trying to discredit him.  He suffered, but he seemed to maintain a cheerful confidence in the face of virulent attack from all sides.

    So maybe if you get anymore flack for your relationship you can respond with, “You don’t know the half of it.  It’s way crazier than you could even imagine.  Let me tell you more...”.  I say this not as someone who thinks I could do your life better than you, but as someone who wants to imitate the things you’re doing well and encourage you in the fight.

    Blessings in Christ.

    A Fan,

    Calvin Collins