Everyone loves Constance Wu. She has a sick, no-nonsense TV persona. She’s one of the few public figures who’ll cuss out the white kids saving China with a Tumblr-like vengeance. A couple of weeks ago she took a picture with her white boyfriend’s lips glued to her face, smiling like no one’s business. The yellow boys started out asking what she was doing with this “mediocre” Moby Dick. Someone made a Reddit page called “Constance Wu and her average white boyfriend.” The yellow boys got called out because men shouldn’t feel entitled to women’s bodies, or we live in 2016, or Wu really seems to be in love.
Love’s workings should be unrelated to those of politics. But at the same time, there’s nothing more political than deciding whom you mess with, whose experiences you take on as your own. It seems in every public context other than Asian-American activism, partnerships are factored unapologetically, essentially, into identity. Who did not point to Melania’s plagiarism as a display, also, of Trump’s inadequacy; her immigrant status as contradictory to his nativist rhetoric? Who does not view the Bill aspect to Clinton’s presidential run as significant, a contribution to her identity as an insider? We talk about the social significance of Michelle Obama’s skin color, darker than the president’s. There are sociologies and national histories and tropes that solely exist to define who cuffs you up, because there are white trophy wives to rich black men, skinny yellow boys to hallyu’d-up white girls, black girls to hip-hop posing yellow boys, and of course, white boys to yellow girls. There are forces beyond fluffiness and attraction that bring people together.
In some ways, the yellow boys are asking the same question as the rest of us: Is it ever possible to love an idea, a country, a cause, as deeply or completely or powerfully as you could love another human being?
For yellow females, it is simple to paint the white-boy-yellow-girl pairing as a place in which we are always, continually, and forever victims. We claim we are fetishized; we sing about misogyny. We say we are judged unfairly, because yes, love is not activism, sex is not an essay. But yellow fever doesn’t explain our complicity. Locking away the opinions of the people we represent is not calling someone out. In our models, we critique the opinions of everyone except for our own because our models are based on denial. We need to utilize a model of the world in which we have control over our bodies. Agency is a timely, weighted concept.
The backlash against Constance Wu’s boyfriend is not just, or even mostly, about Constance Wu. It is, instead, a response to seemingly continual proof that love is not possible without whiteness. It would be ignorant to deny that our community’s identity lies in the forces that bring a disproportionate amount of yellow men and women to white lovers. Even our love poetry contemplates whiteness, on how we can hate whiteness but love its people. Jenny Zhang asks, “How could I have loved these men who wanted a living China doll instead of a three-dimensional woman?” In a bone-hard personal essay, she concludes that it is possible to really love a fetishizer and to be really loved by one. Because to some extent, we are always, no matter the color of our lovers, imagining our partners wrong, buying into the illusion that convinces us of their worthiness. Because our racialized desire to be accepted is also a part of us, a want we can’t separate from our intangible needs. Ocean Vuong, who pleads to his partner, “Say autumn despite the green in your eyes,” will never stop writing poetry in which his small-Vietnamese-boyness does not surround his language, his desires. What does it mean if, in our poetry, a partner’s climax is equitable to surrender? What does it mean if we imagine ourselves next to Trevors who are “too fast & not enough” or who toss “panties in the lake for fun;” what if we really are “yellow & nearly nothing”? Yes, there are Asian-Asian couples as well: Helen Zia and Lia Shigemura, MC Jin and Carol Au-Yeung, Randall and Jae Suh Park. But these relationships are not presented as thought-over, snuck-into, poeticized, sexed-out, or struggled as their interracial counterparts. They do not compose our poetry, our romance, our big bad dreams.
But we cannot ignore the forces that may drive an interracial relationship: the tendency to fetishize and the desire to be accepted, the integration of stereotypes into illusion and the adoption of whiteness as ideal. And though it is generally coarse, rash, and misdirected, the critique of Constance Wu as “hypocritical” is not illogical. Because the representatives of our community truly do contradict themselves, in ways that demonstrate superficial advocacy for our community but never real love for it. Like when, on Season 6 of America’s Next Top Model, Gina Choe talked about representing Asian Americans in the modeling world, then claimed that she didn’t date Asian men because they were “too short” for her. Even I wonder how strong, deep, a person’s sense of identity can be if too much of it revolves around explaining it to someone incapable of feeling it. I wonder how much of our activism’s language is created with white partners as the implied audience. Because I know when I talk about representation, fetishization, emasculation, I am pleading to be seen. For my people to know that they are as good, as beautiful, as interesting lovers as white people.
I talk about love because I know the power of two bodies with the same glisten as the hotel room’s fade. I know what’s behind the picture. When I see you see me. To yellow kids who know. With you, everything I touch turns to gold. I didn’t choose you for comfort. Not because I was supposed to. I chose you because you see me. And when you closed your eyes I was loving the tear marks on your cheeks.
Christina M. Qiu ‘19 lives in Mather House. Her column usually appears on alternate Mondays.
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