My friend Maya and I lock our bikes simultaneously on State Street, stationed at a pole in front of Espresso Royale. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a man standing and facing us a few feet away. After pushing my lock closed, I look up and make eye contact with him. It seems he was waiting for the prompt to profess: “White people love you.”
I perceive this middle-aged white man say it to me like it’s scripture. Half of me is sure of the sentiment, the other half suspended in disbelief; maybe I’ve heard him wrong.
“White people love me?” I ask, and as soon as the words are out of my mouth, my uncertainty dissipates.
“White people love you,” he repeats, looking me in the eyes urgently. I feel my insides deflate as I take in his words. He walks away before I can shape a response, and Maya and I go into Espresso. She whispers, “That was so strange.”
If Maya hadn’t been present, I probably would have shared this event with a spare few. I would have brushed it off while being aware I was brushing it off. I still took it lightly; it was a declaration about something of which I was already aware. White people, particularly white men, do love Asian women, for the simple fact that we are Asian women. No great revelations made.
However, this interaction solidified knowledge: Not only do fetishization, sexualization, tokenization of Asian women exist, but this man confirmed they’re also as prevalent as I suspected. That he formulated this thought and felt it strongly enough to share it with me reveals how this is an established sentiment.
His declaration makes me feel like a walking, talking opportunity for men, particularly white men (because unfortunately, the man on State Street spoke accurately), to ogle at, to freely superimpose images of sexualized East Asian women. It made me realize that this is why I avoid sexuality. This is why I try not to attract men by the way I dress, the way I behave. This is why I question every romantic relationship I’ve had, wondering if they’re seeing past the surface of my race.
As a generation, we are realizing there are subconscious choices we make, tugging us in certain directions, guided by media and historical discriminations. However, I feel very little power to combat them. The majority of the people I have dated are straight white men. They are who is available, but also whom I deem attractive. I despise knowing that some, if not all, of this attraction is derived from constant images of white men as the leading protagonists in a majority of romantic narratives.
I seethe, knowing how much I have tailored my behaviors to this consciousness. How much I attempt to dissuade sexualized, racialized attention. How much this defines my interactions. This symptom stays with me, measuring the sincerity of every act in an exhausting stream of analysis.
Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.