Recently, I realized I know more Asian women who are married to white guys than Asian women married to Asian men. Why is that? And why does it bother me so much? (Disclaimer: I do not live in Flushing, Palisades Park, Annandale, Koreatown NY or LA, etc, where Koreans are the majority.) I am already happily married, and I know that whom one decides to fall in love with is none of my business regardless of race, sex, etc. Nonetheless, I am bothered by this trend, not on a personal level but more on a macro level. Don't know why it bothers me but it does.
Allow the Korean to open with a poem:
이불을 꿰매면서 (박노해)
Sewing the Blanket (by Bak No-hae)
As I sew the blanket cover
속옷 빨래를 하면서
As I launder the underwear
나는 부끄러움의 가슴을 친다
I beat my chest in shame
똑같이 공장에서 돌아와 자정이 넘도록
We both return from the factory; until past midnight
설거지에 방청소에 고추장단지 뚜껑까지
To the wife who washed dishes, cleaned the room
and checked the lid of the gochujang pot
나는 그저 밥달라 물달라 옷달라 시켰었다
I simply ordered, give me food, water and clothes
동료들과 노조일을 하고부터
Ever since I began the labor union with colleagues
거만하고 전제적인 기업주의 짓거리가
The deeds of the arrogant, imperialistic capitalist have been,
대접받는 남편의 이름으로
In the name of the esteemed husband,
아내에게 자행되고 있음을 아프게 직시한다
Perpetrated to the wife; this, I painfully face.
명령하는 남자, 순종하는 여자라고
Men order, women obey
세상이 가르쳐 준 대로
So the world taught me
아내를 야금야금 갉아먹으면서
As I ate away the wife
나는 성실한 모범근로자였다
I was a diligent, model worker
As I establish the union
저들의 칭찬과 모범표창이
Their praise and awards were
고양이 꼬리에 매단 방울소리임을,
Just the sounds of bells on the cat's tail
근로자를 가족처럼 사랑하는 보살핌이
Their talk of loving the workers like their family was
허울 좋은 솜사탕임을 똑똑히 깨달았다
Just a puffed-up cotton candy; this, I clearly realized.
편리한 이론과 절대적 권위와 상식으로 포장된
Like the shuddering pursuit of profit,
wrapped in a convenient theory, absolute authority and common sense,
나 역시 아내를 착취하고
I, too, exploit the wife, and
가정의 독재자가 되었다
Became the tyrant of the home
투쟁이 깊어 갈수록 실천 속에서
As the struggle deepens, in my actions
나는 저들의 찌꺼기를 배설해 낸다
I excrete their dregs
노동자는 이윤 낳는 기계가 아닌 것처럼
That, as the laborers are not the machine that lays profit
아내는 나의 몸종이 아니고
The wife is not a servant of mine;
평등하게 사랑하는 친구이며 부부라는 것을
That she is a friend, a spouse, who loves equally
우리의 모든 관계는 신뢰와 존중과
민주주의에 바탕해야 한다는 것을
That all of our relationship must be
based on trust, respect and democracy
잔업 끝내고 돌아올 아내를 기다리며
Waiting for the wife, who will return after finishing overtime
Sewing the blanket cover
아픈 각성의 바늘을 찌른다
I prick the painful needle of realization
* * *
Pete's question is common among Asian American men. It is hardly a secret that there is a massive gender disparity in interracial marriages involving Asian Americans. 5.2% of Chinese American men are married white women; 14.5% of Chinese American women are married to white men. 7.9% of Filipino men are married to white women; 27% of Filipino women are married to white men. 18.8% of Japanese American men are married to white women; 38.1% of Japanese American women are married to white men. 5.2% of Korean American men are married to white women; 24.4% of Korean American women are married to white men.
To this reality, Pete's reaction is common among Asian American men: we are vaguely bothered, even as we recognize that it is none of our business who falls in love with whom. What is going on?
(More after the jump)
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.
This trend bothers Asian American men because it is a real-life manifestation of the racism that they face in the United States. The stereotypes against Asian American men are commonly known--small, short, scrawny, nerdy, awkward. Those stereotypes uniformly point towards a single direction: emasculation. This emasculation is a specific breed of racism that Asian American men face. Racism, broadly, makes members of racial minority less of a person; emasculation, specifically, makes Asian American men less of a man.
What makes this worse is that Asian American women often internalize these emasculating stereotypes about Asian American men. This is not to give any validation to the crude charge that Asian American women fall over themselves for white guys. (In fact, Asian American women smartly recognize it when they are being blatantly objectified based on their race.) Rather, this is to say Asian American women--as does everyone the United States--subconsciously internalize the white-normative aesthetics of our society. It is not really that being white in America is particularly beautiful; it is that being white is the default, and all other races are measured by how far it deviates from the default. No one says "oxygen is my favorite air," because that would be silly. Oxygen is just normal; so is being white in America. Even as Asian American women would quickly get away from gross forms of yellow fever, they subconsciously gravitate toward whiteness simply because it feels normal.
Observing this trend as an Asian American man is frustrating, even though one may be happily married and have a strong conviction that whom people fall in love with is their own business. The frustration is difficult to articulate, because that's the defining characteristic of the phenomenon that we are seeing: the unspoken, invisible standard that devalues us. Subconscious motivation generates real results in real life. Yet when we try to capture it, it slips through the gap between intuition and language like water through our fingers. Only through critical examination that looks far below the surface can the invisible be made visible: that, even as Asian American women are making the adult decisions of selecting whom they date and marry, the process of such selection is not free from the subconscious racism that debases Asian American men.
Asian American men, however, should be ready to also critically examine the way in which we respond to this insidious racism against us. It is an eternal pattern of human history for the oppressed to turn around and create their own version of petty tyranny in the spheres within their control. Unable to precisely identify the invisible force that frustrates us, we lash out in a way that only exposes our own invisible force that we ourselves hold over others. Too often, the reaction by young, frustrated Asian American men degenerates into the pathetic cries of "They took our women!" or "Our own kind betrays us!" By doing so, we repay the debasement we experience by debasing others.
Hence, the Korean began this post with the poem by Bak No-hae. Bak is a famed labor activist and poet, who exposed the brutality of Korea's labor conditions of the 1980s in raw, powerful language. Although his poems were banned and he was sentenced to death for establishing a socialist organization, his first anthology The Dawn of Labor [노동의 새벽] reportedly reached the hands of more than a million readers. (Bak's sentence was reduced to life in prison, and was pardoned in 1998 after seven years of prison.)
In one of his most famous poems, Bak takes the needle of criticism toward himself, and reflects on how he became a petty tyrant over his wife even as he was organizing the union to fight for the laborer's wife. The line, "As the struggle deepens, in my actions / I excrete their dregs", hammers the point home. Rather than broadly fighting oppression in every form, our tendency is to perpetuate a smaller version of it, as if to compensate for our misery by inflicting more misery on those lower in the chain. Rather than cleaning up the oppression, we secrete our own and spread it to those around us.
What is an Asian American man to do? We must still be aware of racism, visible and invisible. We must be able to precisely identify and combat it, and prevent our reaction from constructing a smaller ecosystem in which we likewise lord over others. All the while being ready to recognize the superstructural understanding that holds our society together--that there is such a thing as an adult decision made pursuant to free will.
Doing all of this at the same time is not easy. But the recognition that the world is a complex place, and the ability to allocate our thoughts toward multiple moving parts at the same time, are essential parts of attaining maturity. This is the world we live in, and this is the only way to make sense of it.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.