I went on a date with an LAPD officer because we both moved to LA from New England, because he seemed really nice and non-threatening via OkCupid, and because I really like going on dates. What followed was a personal case study on racism and fetishism under the guise of “colorblindness.”
This young, white, self-identified “liberal” flung around racially-charged generalizations
“Oh, you’re in Glendale? There are a lot of Armenians there…” ‘
“Working in the ghetto kind of made me realize that most stereotypes about black people are true.”
“Filipinos are like the Mexicans of Asia.”
The last one really confused me. I asked him to explain further, and he said it’s because we have dark skin, are poor laborers. Then he looked confused and said,
“But also there are a lot of Filipino Muslims, too!”
It was as if the Filipino was the dirtier second to the pale-skinned, culturally-definable, pure East Asian. I signaled for the check because I was so fucking done, walked out and sent him a text that read, “Thanks for coffee, I don’t really think we should go out again.”
Whenever I meet a guy who is interested in East Asian studies and takes a liking to me, I give him the side-eye. Well, you do know that southeast Asia is a different beast, and every time you tell me how fucking awesome Japan is, it plays over my grandmother telling me that she completely denies her Japanese heritage because it resulted from a rape during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II? In Chinese films, a dirty Filipino man falling in love with a lily-white pale Chinese woman is used as comedic relief because it’s just so preposterous and hilariously futile!.
But guys who want to fuck me often tell me that they’re really into brunettes. And I wonder: doesn’t that imply whiteness? Because that’s how I see my porn browser separated: blonde, brunette, Asian, Latina, or “ebony.” That’s it. So if they’re into brunettes but also me, does that mean that since I read as East Asian, it’s as good as white? Or, if they’re into east Asian girls, is their fetishism satisfied by my body? My body that, when actually in east Asia, is immediately recognized as not east-Asian, and often second-class? Does that matter in an individual’s sexual race politics?
My father moved around a lot as a kid. His family was mostly based in the Philippines, but they spent many years in Saudi Arabia. In high school, he spent a year in south Jersey. This was in the 70’s. My father said,
“Me and this black boy were the only kids in the whole school who weren’t white. We had to sprint to my house after school every day to avoid getting the shit beat out of us. It was only a few houses away, so he stayed over until his parents could pick him up after work.”
The stories that my aunt told me, however, were different. She was in middle school, and she not only received threats of violence, but sexual violence in particular.
This, as a child, was something I could not reconcile. If people are so disgusted by us, why would they want to have sex with us? I didn’t understand then what I’ve learned over the years: that power and rape are a mechanism to dehumanize and humiliate a cultural community into submission of their roles and treatment as second (third, fourth, fifth)-class citizens.
My father is still very young. His parents could have been put in jail in America for having an interracial relationship. He grew up in the seventies. Not that long ago.
Even fresher in my bloodline is my own rape and my experience with sexual racism and the institutional protection of white male rapists. When I was 12, I sat across the desk from my white guidance counselor who leveled with me.
“You are a smart girl, I know that, but he’s a prominent member of our community—a very respected teacher, president of the Kiwanis society, and the head of our music education program. You’re a very young girl with a tendency to act out, and you just moved here from the Philippines.”
I walked out wondering if things would be different if I were east Asian, if I had been born in America, if I were well-behaved. Would anyone listen to me if I were more palatable?
More than a decade later, I know that times have changed. In my father’s lifetime alone, interracial couples can marry. My baby brother walks home from school without his life in danger. Progress is good. I think it is important to look forward, but I am so painfully aware of what is nipping at our heels. It wasn’t long ago when people of color couldn’t even gather in a group to discuss race politics without needing a lookout in case a gang of white people decided to barge in and kill them all, knowing full well they’d be invincible from the law.
I’ve been the victim of a man who was invincible from the law. And I went on a coffee date with the law the other day.
It made me realize that I am Filipina. And I will always be, whether I am a victim of sexual racist violence, privileged enough to occasionally read as an east Asian “model-minority,” or navigating social mobility across national borders. My existential woes as a woman with brown skin run deep. In a discussion with a friend of mine, she said,
“To be other-ed is to have a complicated, multi-faceted relationship with one’s identity. I don’t have the luxury or the privilege of maintaining a singular sense of self. I’m not just a woman.”
Sometimes I wonder if being an “other” means that I am fractured in a way that is less than the sum of my parts. My identity is multi-faceted and muddy. But trying to assess how I can or have become palatable buys into the myth that a Filipino cannot naturally be so.
I am saying, “No.”
–Sara David, Contributor