This is part 2 of two posts on yellow fever. Here is the first post, “Say NO… to Horny Men Who Have Yellow Fever.”
Yellow fever, also called Asian fetish or orientalism, is an (oftentimes exclusive) attraction non-Asian people have towards Asian people, typically women, and/or cultures. Since the phenomenon complicates the common understanding of racism, less-informed folks tend to think of it simplistically, as merely an “attraction” or “preference” and thus perceive it to be a positive dynamic. At most, if people who support yellow fever are called out, they erect a wall around it, calling it a personal issue that others have no right to comment on. By the way, that is how patriarchy often works—oppressors hide and individualize their problems, such as in cases of domestic violence. Thus, an occurrence of violence is made to seem like a one-time issue, not a reflection of a larger systemic problem, so that abusers can keep up their abuse.
Yellow fever is a difficult subject to broach for me because I react viscerally when I see it. Not only am I tired of my direct experience with this oppression, but I am also tired of explaining it. To be fair, this is tricky business. It is not immediately obvious that racist desire is still racist and often patriarchal. Yellow fever reduces Asian women to just their race or nationality, attributing all attractive aspects about them to their race. Asian women are stereotyped to be submissive, exotic, and shy yet sexual objects to be dominated. Thus, the connection between the stereotype and the fantasies of sexual violence is apparent once you explore the implications of these ideas. If Asian women are sex dolls who do not know any better, who is all the better to rape them than racist non-Asian patriarchs?
The objectification also reduces women’s nationalities to something static and uncivilized, which is central to the idea of orientalism. Asian women are supposedly products of the mysterious “Orient,” which is a savage, one-dimensional land of patriarchal samurai and dancing women in hijabs who need to be freed from these patriarchs. Yes, I purposefully mixed up the different cultures because to people who actually subscribe to these notions, there are no differences among the various Asian cultures. Neither are there complexities to the manifestation of patriarchy in Vietnam, for example, as opposed to that in the Philippines. To those with yellow fever, the solution to ending patriarchy in all of Asia is to enforce their own version of patriarchy.
I dated a white man briefly and noticed that he had an inexplicable attraction towards East Asian women and cultures. Since he was a self-proclaimed radical, I decided to take up the issue with him. Okay, I admit that his arrogance also annoyed me, so I wanted to bruise his ego at the very least.
He did not deny that he had yellow fever, although he said he was not an orientalist. As an aside, I do not see the difference between the two. For more on orientalism, check out this YouTube video, “On Orientalism,” which explains Edward Said’s position on how the stereotyping of Arabs and other Asian peoples justifies imperialism.
Edward Said is pissed about orientalism
The white man gave the classic defense that he could not control who he was attracted to and tried to divert the conversation numerous times, saying, for instance, that white worship is hard on him, too. (Sorry, boy, that’s a tough sell!) When he found that I was not easily distracted, he asked me, what was he to do, not date people who attracted him?
Finally, as the kicker, he was angry about the way I phrased the problem, instead of engaging with the content of my argument. He said, “I wouldn’t even be defensive if you said to me, ‘90% of the desires you have are complete bullshit,’ but you’re like, ‘I don’t like people.’” For the record, the discussion started when I said that I like it when people don’t have yellow fever. During the conversation, I advised that “it helps to fight yellow fever if you deconstruct your desire and read good racial analyses, especially as they link to patriarchy, imperialism, and the like.” I never said I hated anybody. And even if I did, how does that negate the validity of my argument? How smart of him to throw down all the defenses that people typically use to avoid self-criticism!
I have been uncertain that yellow fever can be cured, but what is racist desire and hatred but two sides of the same coin? They are both dehumanizing, rooted in the desire to control and consume the minds, bodies, cultures, and resources of the oppressed. If racial hatred can be torn down by humility, open-mindedness, good analysis, and practice that feeds the analysis, such as when people of different nationalities struggle together to win workers’ rights, so can racist desire. I had told this guy that it helps to deconstruct his own desire and read good racial analyses. I am now more convinced that it is not only a good starting point but it can end the yellow fever as well. But oppressors have to start by breaking their silence and admitting their faults. Guilt does nobody any good. We have to move beyond that and truly fight for the self-determination of the oppressed, starting with addressing our own complicity.
This is part 1 of two posts on yellow fever. Here is the following post, “why yellow fever is fucked up!”
I was at my first demonstration a few months ago when I met a male activist through a friend. He was one of the leading organizers. I was new to everything — how to organize, activist lingo, political discussions outside of the classroom, and other activists. This guy that I met – let’s call him Allen – knew this and volunteered to “take me under his wing.” I did not hesitate and gladly welcomed his help.
As a womon — and an Asian Amerikan womon at that — I was vulnerable to men hitting on and harassing me. The stereotype of Asian womyn as submissive is pervasive and leads men to think “she can’t say no to me.” Naïve as I was, I thought that male activists would know better than to fetishize Asian womyn. How wrong was I to assume that! My illusion was quickly smashed when Allen spoke to me online soon after I met him.
He would be very flirtatious with me even when I did not reciprocate. For men, this should be a clear sign that the womon that you are speaking to is uncomfortable. Eventually, Allen asked me if it was a good idea if he asked me out. Without hesitation, I said no, I think it is a bad idea.
It was a bad idea for the following reasons:
(1) The power dynamics of the relationship is similar to that of a teacher and a student. He knew that I was new so he could take advantage of me in any way that he wanted to. His eagerness to want to “help” me should have been a warning sign. Not to mention, he is at least 10 years older than me. After speaking to some other activists about my experience, they told me that it was a common thing that womyn activists generally face — getting hit on by male activists. Tell me how you can go out there and protest about a big cause and NOT be critical of your own practices!
(2) It was obvious that he had Asian fetish. He had a “particular” type of womon that he was fascinated with: North Korean traffic guards. (Those were not the only pictures he showed me.) When he showed me those pictures, I felt objectified. After that, I tried to avoid having other conversations with him. However, I realized that shutting him out was not the best thing to do for me. Instead, I should have confronted him and heavily criticized him.
For Asian womyn, I think speaking out against yellow fever is empowering. You have to tell those bastards to back the fuck off! How else would you have control over your space and body?
The few exchanges that I had with Allen led to me an important conclusion: male culture in activist circles is no different from male culture outside of activist circles. It needs to be overthrown and replaced with a new culture that respects womyn.
I think Asian womyn can initiate this new culture by speaking more about our experiences with Asian fetish and coming up with ways to obliterate the problem. Concretely speaking, what we can do is to organize among ourselves. You know how guys gather together and cat call sometimes? Well, we can pull that shit on a guy who has yellow fever and is unwilling to change. Gather together and embarrass the shit out of him in public together.
However, if a guy realizes that yellow fever is wrong and wants to change, then a discussion might be helpful. These kinds of discussions, especially those initiated by Asian womyn, need to be public because it can help other Asian womyn.
But for starters, we need to flip the finger at those horny pricks who think that they can fuck with an Asian womon! Who said that Asian womyn are quiet and submissive??