Words by: Sarah Hillman Art by: Marissa Hor
“Nah, I’m not racist! I love Asian girls!” Sure about that, pal? Sounds to me like you’ve got a case a yellow fever (and sadly not the haemorrhagic disease you get from mozzies).
It lurks in Tinder DMs, jumps out at you on the street and can unconsciously weave its way into your self-image. Ask any girl of Asian descent about yellow fever and I’m sure she will have a story or two to tell. It’s a phrase you’ve probably seen floating around the internet, describing when a non-Asian individual has an acute sexual preference for those with Asian heritage. The usual perpetrators? White men with a (creepy) thing for Asian women.
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone is entitled to have a ‘type’ and you can’t necessarily help who you are attracted to. You might like red hair or green eyes. Taller people or shorter people. But the fact is yellow fever is more than just being attracted to black hair, and those who have it are usually unaware that their attraction lies much deeper.
Racial fetishisation is constructed upon a number of stereotypes which are then applied to the entire race. In the words of an Asian fetishist himself (sent as a pick-up line on OKCupid), he prefers Asian women as they are “docile and submissive and respectful to a man”. And, to fulfil the perfect yellow fever fantasy, we are also apparently up for anything in the bedroom. You don’t have to have a PhD in Psychology to understand that this fetish is about one thing: control. However, why do some men believe that Asian women are the ultimate real-life sex dolls?
As with many of society’s issues, the roots of yellow fever can be blamed on colonialism and its ideals that are still embedded in our lives. Colonialism placed white men at the top of the food chain and other races were exoticised. Not only does this explain why these men assert dominance over Asian women, it also reveals why they insist on reducing us to the language they assume we speak and the food we eat. For some fetishists, it’s merely a curiosity. Something to tick off a bucket list: “I’ve never been with an Asian before”. Our bodies are just something to try out, somewhere to sight-see, before you give your review to your mates. These degrading behaviours are not only directed towards Asian women. Black women bear the brunt of this colonial power-play too. Their skin tones are described as food items: mocha, caramel, chocolate. Coming from the mouth of a white man, one cannot help but get the feeling that these women are just products to be consumed. While individuals are certainly able to draw the line on what they feel comfortable with, women of colour are not sexual commodities to be exploited.
Something to tick off a bucket list: “I’ve never been with an Asian before”. Our bodies are just something to try out, somewhere to sight-see, before you give your review to your mates.
In film and television, women of any race struggle to be represented as complex, well-rounded characters. However, certain races are typecast in films with only a handful of character types. An Asian woman can be the soft exotic flower or the dragon lady. A Latina woman usually has a thick accent, a bombshell body and is clad in skin-tight clothing or not much at all. These repetitive portrayals not only fuel the fetishists, but dehumanise an entire race of women, reducing them to a single sexualised identity.
It only takes a quick scroll through Facebook groups such as Subtle Asian Traits to recognise that online dating sites have given racial fetishism a platform to thrive off. Girls, bombarded with messages ranging from ‘Ni Hao’ and ‘Konichiwa’ to more explicit offers, wonder why they even bother trying to find someone genuine. When they do, the doubts creep in and they wait, paranoid, for the tell-tale signs that they have just been an experiment.
As the product of a white father and a Chinese mother, I am exoticised for my ambiguity as well as my ‘Asian-ness’. Fetishists play the Guess My Ethnicity game and any other personality traits I have fade away, obsolete. I get it, you can be curious. But the moment you sexualise anyone based on their race, you condemn them to a one-dimensional identity. Because I am not your Lucy Liu, your Cho Chang or your anime fantasy. I won’t cook you dumplings. I can’t teach you Mandarin. I am not your fetish. I am a multi-faceted individual and either you give a damn about that, or you can get out of my DMs.