Although my romantic entanglements to this day remain a short list, I cannot deny that race invariably becomes a factor in each relationship that I have. With my untraditional racial identity – part Jewish and Asian – I find that I am always in an interracial relationship, no matter what race my partner is. From the start of college with my first prolonged fling, race has played the passenger, a sort of haunting that has followed all of my romantic decisions since. Shortly after declining my first fling’s request for a more serious and exclusive relationship, I noticed him jaunting with a young woman, who – like me – was petite, nose-ringed, and most perturbingly half-asian. Abjectly, my mind wandered to a question that I think many women of color face when involved interracial relationships: am I a desired “type?”
With every subsequent relationship, my asian-ness, and at times my bi-raciality, has at one point or another become the focus. My first love, a Filipino man who largely helped me embrace my Asian American identity, caused me discomfort when he admitted his innate attraction to half-Asian women. His racialized desire is one of my largest fears: that someone will love/lust me for my appearance, and more specifically what my appearance historically and socially represents, rather than for who I am.
After several ensuing incidents including a man telling me he likes Asian women during an intimate moment, and a friend encouraging me to pursue a boy because he has a “thing for Asian girls,” I became obsessed with this highly male focused Asian fetish. I became consumed by the infatuation itself. After reading a handful of work on sexuality and desire in the spirit of race, I began noticing distinct trends that have permeated through our history as women of color, and my history as an Asian American. Like the stories, traditions, and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation, stereotypes reciprocate in the American social memory. For Asian women, they embodied the domestic home keeper, subservient wife, and sexually experienced woman, while their African American counterparts take the role of the exotic primitive and hypersexualized woman. Kumiko Nemoto, author of Racing Romance, discerns this trend in Asian American communities with an unmatchable efficiency. Following the relationships of several couples involved in Asian/white intimacies, Nemoto maps out the trajectory of stereotypes rooted in Lotus Blossom imagery, Confucian stereotypes, Orientalism, and a hoard of other factors ranging from perceptions of citizenship to our understanding of nationhood. These images, although now reworked, still remain embedded in our social consciousness as attractive attributes for a partner. They affect our desires, while distorting race as a innate identity, rather than one that is socially constructed.
It is easy for me to immediately place the blame on a longstanding history of male dominated white hegemony, yet a thorough discussion must also consider my own desire. I must question why I have dated more white partners than any other race. What does this say about my perception of white privilege? What does this say about my perception of socially valued and acceptable partnerships? As Nemoto suggests, the ethics of our desires – of all people – should be evaluated, not just of one racial group.
After having multiple conversation with people of varying races on issues of desire and interracial relationships, I have concluded how grossly misunderstood human desire truly is. For me, the personal is political: even our most intimate decisions have social and historical repercussions. Although what is revealed may not always be pleasant, it is important to review the larger meanings of our personal decisions. Surely, looking into our most intimate relationships will lead to a better understanding of the intricacies and intimacies of our own social constructions. Perhaps from there – from what is revealed in questioning our own desires – we can find a greater understanding of our society, and thus create a pathway for social change.
Rachel Ishikawa is a multiracial student activist studying Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College.