In a previous post that discussed the dubious charge that Asian successes in education and the tech industry are indications of sneaky Asiatic conniving with whites to keep blacks down. I also pointed out the inconveniently logical reasoning that if merely doing well in education and the tech industry amounts to anti-blackness, then how much more must be the complicity and anti-blackness of the (extremely) high out-marriage and dating rates of Asian women with white men. This idea of privilege imparted to Asian partners of white men is of great interest to me and was the subject of what became one of my most read posts several years ago on the gender gap in Asian-America.
In that post I examined the ways that gendered anti-Asian racism have manifested since the first communities of Asians were established on the West Coast. I examined how restrictive immigration laws that prevented Asian men from finding Asian partners whilst the influx of tens of thousands of Asian brides of white G.Is meant that it was far, far easier for Asian women to immigrate if they were partnered with white men. I also argued that this post-war period marked a shift in which the narrative of brutal hardships inflicted upon the predominantly male pre-war Asian communities became white-washed and seemed to have been replaced by the narrative of white men as saviours of both Asia and its women. In other words, Asian men and their experience became only incidental to the Asian experience.
Julia Carry Wong's piece has reignited my interest in this phenomenon if only because if we use Wong's (and other progressives') context of making the charge of Asian privilege and complicity in cases of success and assimilation, then the biggest complicity problem that Asian-America has must be the several million Asian women who have assimilated into whiteness through marriage and intimate partnering of white men. In my post on the gender gap, I alluded to an implicit "privileging" of Asian women in the post-war period that enabled thousands to leapfrog anti-Asian exclusionary immigration laws and enter the US unhindered. In this post I will examine this process in greater detail and the notion that Asian privilege - if it exists - is also largely gendered and may even have its roots in what could be termed "Asian female privilege".
If this exists as a phenomenon, then any notions of "owning our Asian privilege" has to - by necessity - include an examination of this specific aspect of it. Why? Firstly, given that Asian advocacy has largely become a platform for dubious confessions of Asian racist complicity, consistency impels us to examine all cases where Asians have been "complicit" in white supremacy and - by way of acceptance of this privilege - in anti-blackness. Secondly, logic demands it. Wong's piece argues guilt by association - Asians who succeed economically are by association to the "whiteness" of their profession (as though success is a white quality) guilty of complicity and maintaining the racist status quo.
Yet, as is often the case, the historical record tends to pull the rug out from such grandiose, self-righteous condemnations like this and, as I hope to show, presents problems for those who ignore the gendered privileges afforded Asian women who partner white men - particularly for Asian feminists like Wong - who pass vague, sweeping judgements over an entire demographic while ignoring the substantial privileges afforded to them.
I am reminded of an interesting - and painful - post written by an African-American woman (Bea Hinton) several years ago in which she acknowledged the privileges she experiences when she dates white men....
When I choose to date a black man, I inevitably send a message to society about who I am and what I represent. When I choose to date a black man, I choose to be ignored at bars, barred from clubs, humiliated by groups of drunken white men, or passed over by taxis. I choose to internalize their experiences of undervaluation, passed over promotions and emasculation. I choose to carry the burden of [dating] black men, and I choose it often; 90% of the men I’ve dated are black.........One night, a date and I decided to hit a local New Jersey bar. As we approached the secured entrance, a white couple was also entering, walking only steps behind us. Before we could hand over our I.Ds, the white security guard informed us that we could not enter, as my date was violating the dress code; mere seconds later the white couple reached the door and was promptly let in – with the guy outfitted in the same ensemble.She goes on......
I still remember how I felt when I first dated a white man. I was welcomed into any space and important; we didn’t need to dress a certain way to prove our membership. Respectability politics were a non-factor. The burden had been lifted; we wouldn’t get turned away at the door, in fact, we always skipped the line. The ease with which this white man navigated the public sphere was simply amazing and I wanted that. Dating was just easier. Life was just easier. I implicitly signaled to whites that I was mainstream, that I shared their middle-class values, that I was civilized – that I wasn’t angry, but safe and approachable. I felt safe and free and privileged.The honesty here is admirable and I found the piece to be an intelligent insight into the vagaries of some interracial relationship permutations. What she is describing is privilege - or more specifically, being the recipient of an elevated social status that grants her access to "whiteness" and the life certainties that it offers. Hinton acknowledges that her choice of intimate partner serves as an implicit social signal and a political statement of acquiescence to white, middle-class values. She maintains that life was simply easier when in intimate partnership with a white man; the burden of racial presumptions about her disappeared and she was afforded the opportunity to navigate society as an individual rather than as a stereotyped minority.
These experiences are particularly significant when it comes to Asian-America whose female half of the population marries out - mostly to white men - at huge rates. For the most part, Asian-American women who marry out seem to want to avoid any attempt at politicization of their choices opting, instead, to view their choices as purely personal choices that have no political or social ramifications aside from as a kind of feminist empowerment. Unfortunately for them, this is no longer an acceptable position. Thanks to Asian-American progressives in general - and Asian-American feminist like Julia Carrie Wong in particular - the personal choice to date and marry into whiteness has become a political issue.
The reframing of the Asian-American racial experience as merely a reflection of anti-blackness and the insistence on condemning Asian successes and progress as complicity in anti-blackness must by necessity force us to examine the choices of those in our community who pursue intimate partnership with the white male racist patriarchy - that is, of course, Asian women.
Wong claimed in her Al Jazeera piece that success in the tech industry equals an implicit acceptance into whiteness as well as an implicit complicity in anti-blackness. For her, Asian success must mean an acceptance into whiteness which equals anti-black racism. Awkwardly, that reasoning condemns the 3-5 million or so Asian-American women who pursue or are in relationships with white men to the same charge. If we accept Hinton's claims, then dating white men implicitly confers whiteness on women of color which - by progressive reasoning - is implicitly anti-black.
I came across an interesting study recently that outlined the degree to which Asian women who marry white men have been the recipients of immense privilege in America - it has a surprisingly long history. Published in 2006, the study by a South Korean woman examined interracial marriages in Asian-American communities (primarily amongst the Chinese and Japanese) up to and including the Second World War. The findings are fascinating as they exposed the degree to which America's draconian racial sensibilities of the period were gamed in order maintain the sanctity of white male prerogative by granting the Asian female partners of white men special - preferred - status in America's racial hierarchy.
The study explores interracial marriage between first generation Chinese and Japanese and white partners covering the years 1880-1954 on the west coast. The study excluded other Asian groups since for most of the period these two groups comprised the majority of Asian immigrants. There are a couple of points of particular interest in the study: firstly, the majority of out marriages were between Asian men and white women due to the higher rate of male immigration; secondly, these marriages openly flouted anti-miscegenation laws and got around them by seeking marriage licensing in states that had no such laws before resuming their married lives in California. Even though such marriages were most often tolerated, there remained overwhelming white hostility to such marriages.
Yet, the study uncovers evidence that despite this hostility, there were significant differences in how these mixed-marriages were accepted by white America. These differences manifest in significant ways....
..........marriages between white women and Chinese and/or Japanese men were major targets of racist and misogynist assumptions about interracial intimacy in the U.S. West. Such marriages were further marginalized by federal government’s policies on Asian exclusion and on the mixed marriage families during the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. Government policies upheld a white male citizen’s ability to assimilate his Asian wife and his patriarchal prerogative to his interracial family. Pg.8And....
...........federal policies on Chinese and Japanese Americans, including immigration restriction laws and the internment of Japanese Americans, treated white men and white women married to Chinese or Japanese Americans differently. Gender gaps in interracial marriages were articulated at the level of federal laws and policies on marriages between citizens and noncitizens. These laws and policies respected white male citizens’decisions to choose their marital partners among Asians and accommodated the unity of these families. American male citizens married to Asian women could make their Asian spouses legal immigrants at a time when all persons of Asian nationalities denied entry to the U.S. According to the sources of my work, Asian wives of white male citizens were exempted from the 1924 National Origins Act and could enter the U.S. as non- quota immigrants. Pg 25-26And....
Federal laws on immigration, overseas marriage, and citizenship punished white women citizens married to Asian husbands by stripping them of their citizenship.Between 1907 and 1934, American female citizens married Asians lost their citizenship for the duration of their marriages. The 1922 Cable Act allowed American women married to foreigners to regain their citizenship by naturalization. However, American women married to men of Asian nationalities could not restore their citizenship because they were married to men who were deemed ineligible for naturalized citizenship. Pg. 26These findings from the study speak for themselves but can be summed up as follows; Asian women who married white men were afforded rights not offered to male Asian immigrants who married white women. They were given the status of legal immigrant, granted entry and residency outside of the quotas established by exclusion laws (meaning that there was no limit on the number of these female immigrants so long as they married white men), and during the Japanese internment period they had the option of remaining in their homes in the military exclusion zone, thus, keeping their families intact. Federal law and racial "wisdom" of the time supported white male prerogatives to marry Asian women at a time when it severely discouraged Asian men from marrying whites but also hindered their ability to marry within their race.
By contrast, white women who married Asian men were considered to have "left the white race" and were socially ostracized by white society. In the period between 1907 and 1934 white women who married Asian men were required to give up their American citizenship and during Japanese internment although Japanese women were allowed to leave the camps and join their white husbands in California and keep their families intact, white female spouses of Japanese men were given no such privilege and were forced to enter the camps with their husbands and children if the wanted to keep their families together.
A “Caucasian”father of mixed race children was deemed as embodying a stronger and more desirable element of the “Caucasian environment” than a “Caucasian” mother of such children. The WDC decided to respect the right of a “Caucasian”patriarch to protect his Japanese wife and minor children and so released the Japanese mothers of mixed race children from camps, allowing them to join their white or other non-Japanese husbands on the West Coast. The same treatment was never applied to Japanese fathers who had had children with white or other non-Japanese wives. Pg. 32-33In modern-day Asian-American progressive parlance, another way to say all of this is to say that Asian women who married white men were being inducted into whiteness, while white women who married Asian men were emphatically ejected from it. The privileges of easing one's ability to navigate society when a woman of color marries or dates white men that Hinto describes in her essay became enshrined in federal law and an accepted addition to prevailing social wisdom; Asian women who married white men became white (with caveats), Asian men who married white women confered a loss of whiteness on their white partners.
In the aftermath of the war these unique racial privileges afforded to Asian women who chose white men as partners continued with the historically unique passage of the War Brides Acts that effectively ruled that Asian women who were married to American GI's - the vast majority of whom were white - had special racial status; they were allowed into the US as "non-quota" migrants. This means that in theory, the only limitation to such immigration was the number of American GI's who chose to marry them. To understand the degree of privilege engendered by this policy, consider that at the time, Asian-American families were literally torn apart by exclusion laws and immigration quotas that prevented parents from entering the country to be with their kids, or kids entering the country to join their parents....
After 1924, the racial exclusion of Asians incorporated gendered difference to the legal status of Asian men and women married to Americans. An Asian man’s marriage to an American woman did not make any difference in his status; he was still an alien who was ineligible to become a naturalized citizen. An Asian man married to an American woman was under the same restrictions as other Asian immigrants were subject to after 1924. Although Asian women married to American men were not able to become naturalized citizens, the U.S. Government qualified these Asian wives of American citizens with a “non-quota immigrant” status, which exempted these women from the rule of giving no quota for Asian immigrants. This established a precedent of the U.S. government’s post - World War II policy on Asian war brides of American soldiers. The Soldier’s Bride Act of 1947 briefly allowed these war brides to enter the U.S. as non-quota immigrants. The 1952 Immigration Act resumed Asian immigration but did not repeal the quota system. Because immigration quotas allotted to Asian countries were still limited, Congress expanded the practice of recognizing Asian spouses of American soldiers as non - quota immigrants until the 1965 Immigration Act rescinded the quota system. Page 50-51
This privileging of Asian women who married white men stands in stark contrast to the loss of privilege for white women who married Asian men, and highlights the efforts of white social and political structures to discourage Asian men from miscegenation with white women. Asian women who married white men became white, white women who married Asian men were ostracized by the white community and - during the war - denied their civil and legal rights.
This war on inter-marriage between white women and Asian men continued in the aftermath of the war when white wives of Japanese men who had been forced to live in the camps in order to keep their families intact were denied the right given to Japanese internees to make claims against the government for loss of property.......
More than half of the approximately 120 white women who were married to Japanese Americans decided to evacuate with their husbands and children in 1942, and most of these women remained in the camps with their husbands until the war was over. To be with their family in the camps, these white women had to agree to assume a quasi-Japanese identity by signing a waiver form that stipulated that they would be treated “as if” they “were persons of Japanese ancestry.” However, when the U.S. government offered reparations to former internees, to compensate them for the loss of their personal property, under the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, the white spouses of Japanese Americans were excluded from the legislation and were unable to file an evacuation claim on grounds that they, as white, were not subject to evacuation orders in 1942. During the war, white women married to Japanese Americans resisted the way that government policies constructed their racial identities and challenged the white patriarchal assumptions implicit in the military’s mixed marriage policy. Pg. 34-35This can be viewed as a sort of punishment of white women for marrying Asian men. But most interestingly, these policies asserted the rights of white patriarchal power by denying white women the same rights and choices as white men. This is the most convoluted irony; a common narrative from these marriages is that they released Asian women from the hardships of oppressive Asian patriarchy, yet such marriages were only possible because of white sexist and racist privilege that not only did not extend to white women but actively sought to deny them these rights of choice in marriage.
For Asian-American feminists such as Julie Carrie Wong, who have taken up the banner of "anti-anti-blackness", and seem to have adopted - like other present-day Asian "progressives" - the bizarre strategy of deflecting attention away from white racial crimes by equating Asian success to the practices of racial injustice, this history presents a problem. These advocates seem to froth at the mouth when unarmed black men and women are shot by the police in suspicious circumstances because it gives them a chance to hijack the tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to primal scream their angst over their ninety-year-old grandmother having been racially insensitive.
It is because of this tendency to make such mountains out of molehills that Asian advocacy has developed this skewed antipathy towards Asian successes. Consider this; Wong and other Asian progressives denounce apparent Asian "successes" in education and the tech industry as "complicity" and as something that somehow strengthens white supremacy and anti-blackness, yet this simplistic notion is only possible if we deny the racial experiences of those who have attained this modicum of achievement.
We have to remember that in order to get get into high-ranking colleges and go on to high-paying jobs in tech, Asians are required to jump over slightly higher hurdles than others. Higher test score requirements in college admissions, an apparently more critical assessment of their extra-curricular achievements than would be applied to other groups, and stereotypes of critical thinking and reasoning deficits, all conspire to impede Asian progress. Then, once Asians have broken through that barrier and attained those levels of economic parity, along comes self-righteous Asian "advocates with sweeping denunciations of them as accomplices in racial injustice. Whereas we should be looking at these people as pioneers and paradigm shifters, Asian advocacy insists that we deplore them as racist inductees into whiteness.
Yet, as I have shown, no group has been inducted into this whiteness more than Asian women - and no group has been afforded such racial privilege as those Asian women in marriages with white men. At a time when anti-miscegenation laws destroyed families of Asian men and their Asian or white wives, Asian women married to white men were inducted into whiteness and allowed to keep their families intact. During the one of the worst episodes of anti-Asian hysteria, Japanese-American women married to white men were given the option of leaving internment camps to be with their children and white husbands. White women married to Japanese men had to literally forego their whiteness and allow themselves to be incarcerated in order to keep their marriages and families intact.
In the post-war period, tens of thousands of Asian women married to American GI's received honorary white status that allowed them to breeze past immigration quotas and live freely as Americans with their husbands. At a time when Mildred Loving was having the door to her home kicked in and being dragged from her bed by the police in Virginia for marrying a white man, Asian brides of white men were strolling freely through the streets of many Virginia towns arm in arm with their husbands without any fear of arrest. I see no reason to believe that this cultural peculiarity of affording Asian women privilege if they are in intimate partnership with white men has in any way dissipated. What has changed is that other groups - to varying degrees - have found their own niche in the economic ladder of white power which has made this historical privilege afforded to Asian women less apparent.
Minority feminists writers such as Hinton are honest about it - being the partner of a white man confers privileges and eases navigation through society. Your race becomes less of an issue, and you don't have to worry about being the victim of petty acts of racism that can play havoc with your psychological state but which seem like minor impediments to those who never experienced them.
Honesty is the key word here; while Asian advocates are denouncing those who have struggled with stereotypes and racism to achieve a modicum of success, they are ignoring the most blatant instances of complicity with whiteness. This only highlights the featherweight substance of Asian progressivism - it seems not to have a clear principle by which it is guided, it only has those who should be denounced and those who shouldn't. That means that Asians who overcome prejudice to succeed are denounced, Asians who explicitly seek out white men, and are inducted into whiteness when they succeed are considered progressive heroes.
Don't get me wrong here - this is not a diatribe against the IR disparity. Those familiar with my writing should know that I couldn't care less about it. What concerns me is that the weakness of Asian advocacy is so pronounced that it has few avenues to explore its own voice that it has to turn Asian progress into a negative. The problem is, if Asian privilege is achieved through "complicity" the Asian women's dating choices (that is, ahem, their apparent pursuit of
If we are to denounce the special privileges afforded to Asians by white America, then let's be consistent and denounce it across the board instead of picking and choosing our principles from expediency.