Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interracial Dating And The Disparity.

Are Asian Male Concerns Justified?

There was an interesting discussion over on the bigWOWO website that began as a post about the increasing visibility of black female and white male pairings in popular cultural productions. Naturally, the discussions moved rapidly onto the Asian-American disparity in interracial dating. The most interesting point to be raised concerned the idea of whether there is merit to the, sometimes, zealous, concern exhibited by Asian men for the reportedly-higher-than-usual-outmarriage/dating-rates-of Asian women and the documented reluctance of women of all races to consider Asian men as suitable partners. Or, is the subject unworthy of exploration, that can and should be dismissed as mere navel-gazing for a "privileged" demographic?

Some suggest that by way of comparison to other issues like discrimination in the workplace and race-engendered poverty, the complaints of Asian men on their stereotype-hampered dating and marriage opportunities are merely trite distractions from more significant issues. On the face of it, the idea that discrimination in the workplace is more significant than attitudes in dating choices that discriminate against specific racial groups seems logical. Denying or hampering people's opportunities to find gainful employment or be treated fairly in the promotion process seem vastly more important than whether any given Asian man is able to get a date. Yet, the two issues are interconnected and more similar than most of us are willing to acknowledge.

Institutional racism no longer exists. There are no laws that mandate racial discrimination in employment and housing - in fact, those found to have pursued a practice of prejudice can be, and often are, levied with penalties and legal judgements for doing so. What this means is that in the hiring/promotion process, housing, and any other activity of society, prejudice is only - can only - ever be practiced as a matter of personal choice. If an employer decides before he or she has interviewed an applicant that they will not be hired because of the race of said applicant, then that is personal-choice discrimination, which may be based on ideas and beliefs derived from cultural stereotyping that shape the employer's attitudes and willingness to work or live in close proximity with minorities. The similarity to racialized partner choices is obvious.

Stereotypes and preconceived notions shape people's decision making in hiring and housing just as much as they shape their decisions in personal relationships. Refusing to hire or rent to a minority person because you don't want to spend eight-hours a day with them in the office, or see them next door every morning and evening when you come and go from your home, is fundamentally the same process as dismissing minorities as life partners. This is especially true when both actions could arguably be the result of an adherence to casual media racial stereotypes that propagates ideas of things like minority criminality or diminished masculinity.

Ostensibly, it might seem absurd to consider dating and marriage opportunities to be anywhere near as significant as workplace and housing discrimination. Yet, underlying dating and marriage is the biologically-driven function of procreation and partnering, which happen to be one of the primary functions of most of the animal and plant life on the planet. In fact, apart from the survival instinct, the drive to procreate and partner is probably one of the most fundamental drives in human nature - and sometimes the drive to leave progeny outweighs even the survival instinct, as evidenced by accounts of people risking their own lives to save their own, or even other people's, children. Concerns about prejudices and derogatory stereotypes that hamper one's capacity to find a partner and engage in the function of procreation taps into and threatens an extremely profound human physiological function. Clearly, this is not a laughing matter, nor is it necessarily less significant than issues of discrimination in other areas of life, and neither should these concerns be summarily dismissed as merely the whines of men who can't get dates.

In fact, there is no moral difference between personal race-based preferences in employment and housing and in personal race-based choices in whom people choose to date and marry. The difference is one of legality, yet, it raises uncomfortable questions about the role that civil society plays in maintaining racist attitudes and hierarchies, particularly in the creative arts industries that possibly exert the greatest influence over society's conception of racial minorities and these minority's capacity to fully enjoy the fruits of democratic life.

A comparison to the struggle for gay marriage rights and illustrates the powerful role that civil society can play in bringing about political change. Promotion of gay marriage rights has occurred both in the legislative and judicial branches of government but, interestingly, has also seen a strong promotional drive amongst private institutions particularly cultural institutions. In other words, not only has the fight for gay marriage rights had a legal component, there has also been a significant drive within civil society to promote it, especially in the media.

An article in the online magazine Wired suggests that this drive in civil society to present positive images of gay men and women that normalize their life-choices has correlated with an increase of tolerance and acceptance of gay marriage. This is what it says...
Back in 2008—clearly a big year for LGBT rights—the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and a research team from Harris Interactive did a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults 18 and older and found that two in 10 of them had changed their views of gays and lesbians in the previous five years to a more favorable one. 
Their reasons? Some said it was because they knew a gay person, some said news programs shifted their views, others noted that family or friends had persuaded them. Also, 34 percent said their views were influenced by seeing gay or lesbian characters on TV, and 29 percent said it was by a gay or lesbian character on film.
What is significant here, is this interplay between the work of governing institutions and the activities of civil society. Healthy democracies adhere to a strict separation of government influence in civil society, yet, as the article above illustrates, the activities of civil society have the potential to create shifts in public opinion to the extent that it can affect the degree of support any given issue receives and, hence, the political dialogue itself.

Since the fight for gay marriage rights has involved, both a political activism to legalize it and the social activism of civil society to create more positive perceptions of, and accepting attitudes for, gay partnerships in general, it is inconsistent to claim that society and politics view people's personal relationships - or more specifically, their opportunities to pursue relationships unhindered by political or societal sanction - as somehow irrelevant or less significant than other issues. The two-pronged assault on anti-gay prejudices that is legally discriminatory and socially hampers their pursuit of meaningful and open relationships offers a clear indication that both politics and civil society views freedom to pursue relationships, unhindered by prejudices, as a significant issue.

Thus, Asian men's concerns about the negative impact that racist attitudes and civil society-driven stereotypes have on their capacity to pursue meaningful relationships are far from insignificant. It is merely a measure of the marginalization of the Asian-American experience that these concerns are scorned by both the mainstream, but even more significantly, within Asian-America itself. What this amounts to is that even Asian-Americans are utilizing the structures and sensibilities of mainstream America to participate in the marginalization of Asian men.

The process of choosing a partner is one of the most significant decisions one can make in life, and is arguably the most important decision that many people will ever make, and for most people is the single most defining decision of their lives. Is it funny or deserving of eye-rolling impatience when Asian-American men notice that this primordial drive, that is fundamental to almost all biological existence, is being hampered and hindered by a civil society that normalizes dehumanizing stereotypes of them, and a political culture that plays off xenophobic doubts of Asian humanity to win votes? After all, limiting the growth, influence, and identity of any minority through demeaning them culturally is as serious as racist immigration policies that seek to do the same.

At this point, it is worth noting that there may be a specific demographic component that contributes to the heated nature of much of the dialogue on this issue that takes place mainly on internet spaces. My observation and sense is that those Asian men who complain the most vehemently about the disparity seem to hail largely from one of two age-groups; the mid- to late-teens (or high school graduate age), or the late-teen to early-, mid-twenties age range.

If this observation is accurate, this is significant because such young adults represent a demographic that we could call the "pre-accomplished" and that partnering anxieties amongst Asian men in this demographic may be amplified and interwoven with the normal maturation stage experienced by men of all groups during which they strive to discover a mature identity. In other words, at an age when there is a biological and cultural shift into a life stage when it is normal to notice and want to connect with the opposite sex, young Asian men discover that culture and society have created an environment that hampers this normal process.

What this could also suggest is the possibility that the shift from childhood into young adulthood, and from high-school to college, for Asian-American men marks a first direct acquaintance with the outcome of gender-specific anti-Asian racism. That is not to say that young Asian-American boys do not experience racism prior to high-school graduation - which many, perhaps most of us, do. It means that for many young Asian-American men the shift into the college and young adult environment comes with a realization that all of that casual racism they may have experienced throughout childhood from peers reflects far more than merely "kids being mean", and may, in fact, reflect a pervasive conditioning process for American society that demeans Asian people and their cultures, but also normalizes and legitimizes mainstream America's intrusion into our personal and private sexual particulars as well our opportunities to fulfill fundamental human drives like partnering and procreation.

Those (specifically, within the community) who condemn and ridicule young Asian men for reacting angrily to such a process are not only skirting the negative side of moral behaviour, they are launching a fundamental attack on the wider process of Asian-American empowerment and efforts towards normalization of our community issues. For instance, we pay lip-service to the poor state of mental health awareness within the community and decry the culture of shame of this issue within Asian-America. Yet, all too often - actually more often than not - Asian men are dismissed as pathetic and annoying for reacting angrily to what is an injustice as significant as workplace discrimination. All of the emotional and possibly psychological processes that go hand-in-hand with that be damned.

In summary, given that personal choice drives both workplace discrimination and partnering choices, it seems arbitrary to claim some kind of moral primacy for one issue over the other. Thus, Asian male concerns about the cultural and social hampering of their partnering opportunities are legitimate concerns - as legitimate as concerns about cultural and social stereotypes that make some people not want to live near or hire minorities. Both are about personal choice. Granted, the aggressive and sometimes abusive approach of some Asian men - usually on internet spaces - is not conducive to dialogue, but to label even this type of reaction as merely some kind of bitterness or lack of game, avoids the possibility that there may be a poorly mapped road for how to deal with anti-Asian racism in general, and gender-specific, anti-Asian male racism in particular. In short, a summary dismissal of the subject is tantamount to marginalizing a demographic because they have not figured out a way to address the racism in their lives.

Asian male concerns about casual racist beliefs that hinder their partnering opportunities arguably derive from the same process that drives workplace discrimination, and, thus, deserves a more empathetic response from the community, as well as a more significant place in the Asian-American dialogue on our racialized experiences. To do otherwise is to uphold racism.