This article explores the struggles and confusions of a young Asian woman Kiwi (New Zealander) as she attempts to persuade her parents to accept her white boyfriend over a span of several years. I highlight the larger picture of the high rate of Asian female – white male couples reminding us that if we are not aware of the oppressions in our lives then we are in danger of being ignorant ourselves.
Here are the article’s 3 main points:
- The filmmaker doesn’t realize she herself is being as biased as her parents. She accuses her parents of being narrow-minded and conservative in not accepting her white boyfriend. But she does not realize her own bias towards white men.
- Roseanne, the filmmaker, naively assumes she lives in a bubble and doesn’t consider the racism she’s living in that has set her up to not want to learn about her heritage and identity as a Chinese woman.
- She connects everything Chinese to her parents. She thinks she is not interested in or like Chinese culture because she does not agree with her parents. She does not think about all the young people in China and Taiwan and Hong Kong who too are rebelling against their parents!
1. The filmmaker’s own bias towards white men
After watching the 115-minute documentary, “Banana in a Nutshell”, about a young Chinese Kiwi (New Zealander) woman trying to convince her parents for years to accept her white boyfriend, I was feeling extra frustrated. Somehow I almost related more with her conservative, immigrant Chinese parents than with her. I too am a Chinese American girl who has grown up primarily in a Western country. (I assume she was born in NZ whereas I was born in Taipei and came to the U.S. at age 6.) At age 12, I declared to my mother—to her shock—that I would never, ever date an Asian man—not having had a good first impression with my first abusive dad. Then things changed. I met and had an amazing connection with a beautiful, tough, sensitive Nepali man for a few years. I have since dated and slept with Asian men and believe them to be terribly attractive, smart, brilliant, funny and get me off.
I cannot but feel extreme frustration—and even a bit pissed—when I see an Asian female Kiwi dating a white guy and criticizing her parents because they simply will not accept their white boyfriend/fiancee. How can you condemn your parents for their supposed conservatism and bias when you too are discriminating yourself? I feel so many Asian women are loathe to openly admit their strong preference for white men. The problem is, it’s not just a general preference when it’s all that they date. That’s not a preference (nor is it reverse discrimination)—it’s internalized racism. Internalized racism is when, as a person of color, you start believing the racism that has been targeted at you and your own people or another people of color group. So while this twentysomething (?) Chinese girl with a New Zealand accent is crying and complaining about the cruelty of her parents not accepting her several-year relationship with a white man, I assume that she probably has never dated an Asian guy nor wants to. But she wouldn’t want to admit that either.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Asian women had the second highest percentage of marriage to a group outside of their own: 529,000 Asian women married to white men. Asian male and white female married couples were less than half that at 219,000. That statistic I was not surprised to find. However, this I found quite telling: “Asian Americans of both genders who are U.S.-raised are much more likely to be married to Whites than their non-U.S.-raised counterparts.” (Why is that? Is that “natural” or something we should be concerned about?) The site also notes that the rates of marriage between Asian Americans and whites have declined in the last several years. Wonder why?
The difference between Asian female and white male couples is that society’s oppressions—namely racism and sexism—has set them up to prefer each other. American society has demasculinized Asian men and due to racism raises white men up as the idyllic partner, in terms of status and power in society. Whereas Asian male and white female couples actually have to fight against society’s oppression to be together: White women need to see Asian men as human and not believe the demasculinization stereotype of Asian males. Asian men need to not believe it as well to have confidence to pursue white women who are also held up as ‘better than’ and the ‘ideal’ partner to have. (And there is, of course, the all too common stereotype of the size of Asian male private parts, etc.)
2. Her only connection to Chinese-ness is her parents
Another mistake the filmmaker made was in confusing the two issues of generation gap and cultural differences together and then drawing incorrect conclusions from them. Every kid experiences the generation gap. It is also called young people’s oppression (which I talk about here, here, and here) when we want to rebel against our parents, having been under their thumb, and feeling powerless and frustrated about not having a say in our lives all those years just because we weren’t 18 yet. And she was confusing this with the extra cultural difference that she has with her parents as well. It’s hard enough just dealing with one’s parents as a teenager. But when they are from an extremely different culture as the one you grew up in (for example, children of immigrants) it makes your relationship seem almost impossible.
So not only is it a generation gap of 30 odd years that all kids have to deal with with their parents, and a different technology age, and controlling parents, etc. They are also from a completely different culture—and she cannot and does not want to understand where they’re coming from. I can see a similar thing on my younger brother. He grew up predominantly in the U.S., so not only is he very Americanized but he doesn’t really understand how my mom grew up. He gets annoyed at her nagging and doesn’t understand why she’s so worried about so many things so much of the time.
And so the filmmaker wants to rebel against her parents and have her own choice in her boyfriend. A common teenager problem across all races. However, she subconsciously rebels against her parents and (intentionally?) at Chinese culture at the same time. She thinks it’s the same thing. Because she doesn’t have any other reference to things Chinese except her parents. She’s mad her sister got off the hook by marrying a Chinese guy—who subsequently doesn’t speak a word of Chinese.
So Roseanne’s mad at her parents because she feels they won’t just let her be happy and have true love. They’re mad because she won’t accept her Chinese identity. At the end of the movie they accept her white boyfriend to become their son-in-law, on the grounds that she will learn to read and write Chinese along with him. Kind of hilarious, kind of tragic roundabout way of showing to her this is what they really wanted all along—for her to embrace and love her Chinese identity. It wasn’t really about her white partner after all. Maybe it took them several years to figure that out for themselves too and accept her for who she was. Maybe they’re not as conservative and rigid as she thought.
3. Because of racism she is not interested in learning about her identity or even aware of her disinterest
Roseanne is so westernized to the point that she is not interested in learning more about her Chinese identity (a study abroad or trip back home could help) and is not aware of her own biases against dating Asian men. (Dating is one of the most obvious places of seeing where our “preferences” or discrimination lies. If we have racism towards black people, then we certainly wouldn’t date them. If we have an Asian woman fetish, then that’s mostly whom we’d try to date.) Has she dated Asian men before? Is she even willing to give them a chance at all? Let’s say she really did meet the love of her life at age 20 and really should be with him for the rest of her life. Is she aware of the phenomenon that so many Asian women date white men instead of Asian men, and that this is not a coincidence?
This phenomenon is connected directly to racism in society and to Asian women’s internalized racism and so when she makes her own individual choice of who to be with for the rest of her life (fine, it’s great her parents are finally letting her be with who she wants to be with) it would be extremely beneficial to her to realize that.
It’s naive of her to think it is only about her parents being more open and accepting her for who she is. It would be greatly beneficial to learn about the affect that racism has had on her (as well as her parents) in affecting her choice of who she feels close to, why she relates to white men more than Asian men, and why she’s adverse to Asian men.
She also could learn more about her parents’ background in China, what their childhoods were like, what their parents’ expectations were of them, how they immigrated to New Zealand and their struggles starting out.
I also felt like this when I was a kid—before I moved back to Taiwan for middle school—that I hated Chinese culture and I hated my parents ‘forcing’ me to do weird Chinese things. To me, everything related to Chinese was connected to them. Whereas if I had grown up in Taiwan, it’s not like I wouldn’t rebel against them—I’d still be my own person—I just wouldn’t be hating everything Chinese. I would just be ‘hating’ them like all teenagers go through at some point in their lives.
We are not living in bubbles that are oppression-free. We make individual choices but we are also simultaneously affected by societal oppressions. Like advertising, its powers lessen when we are aware of them.
I appreciate the filmmaker’s attempts at putting her story out there, honestly and openly. I hope it can be a model for other Asian women to put their stories out too, including how racism and other oppressions has affected their lives.
Author’s note: I usually hate being preachy or “lecturing” too much, but the filmmaker’s ignorance was just a bit too infuriating.
Asian Nation: Asian American History, Demographics & Issues
Interracial Marriage in the United States