Social death and the mixed-race experience

“Social death” is defined by cultural and social philosophers as the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. Throughout history, the term “social death” has been applied by many historians and scholars to marginalised groups that find themselves isolated by society, often first unofficially by other out-groups and then officially sanctioned by institutions. Notable examples include the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany and Apartheid in South Africa. Social death in its simplest sense is therefore the neglect and ostracism of a particular identity group who do not fit in to the mainstream social norm.

Although by no means to the same degree of severity as the Holocaust or Apartheid, the Eurasian – and other mixed-race groups – experience is, in its own unique way, a form of unofficial social death. This social death that modern day Eurasians feel is a nuanced and invisible (to the public, but not to the individual Eurasian) form that marginalises the Eurasian for not “fitting in” to the acceptable conventional racial in-groups. For example, mixed-race Eurasians in the United States often feel marginalised due to their inability to be accepted by both the white community (who see them as fundamentally Asian due to their looks) and the Asian community (who see them as part of the “Other” due to their non-Asian heritage). This is even more severe if the Eurasian individual cannot speak the Asian language. Eurasians thus have a higher “bar” to “qualify” for “Asian-ness”; by virtue of ethnicity, full Asians who do not speak their language are usually by default fully accepted by the Asian community and are considered as “Asian-American.” Many Eurasians are not.

The social death of Eurasians is not confined to the context of the United States; rather, it is a phenomenon that has historically been widespread. Vicky Lee’s Being Eurasian expounds in great detail the extent to which Eurasians in Hong Kong felt isolated and excluded from both the white colonial and the local Chinese community. Utilising American sociologist Robert Park’s “theory of the Marginal Man”, Lee highlights how Eurasian achievements were neglected and how their alienation, separatism, and social neglect transcended class and background. The person of “mixed blood” is “one who lives in two worlds, in both of which he is more or less a stranger” (Lee 52). The Eurasian is the “mulatto in the United States”, a Marginal “whom fate has condemned to live in two societies and in two, not merely different but antagonistic, cultures.” Joyce Symons, a Eurasian woman born in Shanghai and principal of the Diocesan Girl’s School (a school created primarily for Eurasian girls), wrote extensively in her memoir Looking at the stars about Hong Kong Eurasian culture. Eurasians were inclined to tilt towards the West, but due to their adoption of Chinese practices, could never be accepted. Lifestyle and dress code was mainly Chinese, but education and culture was mostly Western. This antagonistic combination meant that “Eurasian culture” was a marginal creation unique to the colonial context Hong Kong. Eurasian families, who lacked the wealth of pure white expatriates but were nevertheless of a higher economic class than most Chinese, fell within an unprecedented socioeconomic category. Even more severe, Eurasians with Chinese fathers and white mothers were excluded from the category of Eurasians by the founders of the Welfare League, who considered the children to be purely Chinese due to paternal lineage, contrary to their physical, social, and mental experience.

Contemporary Asia is not much better. In 2009, Lou Jing, a half-Black  half-Chinese girl entered the Shanghai’s “Go Oriental Angel” program and reached the top-five in the Shanghai region. Despite being born and raised in China by a single Chinese mother and therefore completely imbued by Chinese society and culture, Lou was subjected to intense racism by Chinese netizens. Many commenters referred to her with racial slurs such as xiaoheigui (小黑鬼 xiǎohēiguǐ; trans: Little black devil), and other bloggers publicly called her “shameful” for even participating in Go Oriental Angel as a “non-Chinese contestant.” By virtue of her family background and skin pigment, Lou is considered by many to be “non-Chinese.”

In the United States, many people of mixed-race heritage find themselves compelled to orient themselves towards the acceptable social norm stereotypes. On the popular dating show Bachelorette, a Eurasian mixed-race contestant remarked “I’m half Chinese and half Scottish. But luckily for me, I’m half Scottish below the waist.” In a simple sentence, the contestant becomes the worst kinds of stereotypes – that Asian genitals are unsatisfactory; that this is something to be ashamed about; and that “whiteness” is something that should be aspired to. This can be traced to colonial times; Robert Young’s magnificent work Colonial DesireHybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (1995) highlights how notions of hybridity in British colonies were predicated on whiteness and (British) white culture. The colonial self-image as a civilising force – a white man’s burden – created a “desire” for inter-mixing in order to “improve” the “darker” races. The drive for English global cultural supremacy, therefore, fuelled a desire for inter-racial sex. This drive is a contradiction with the other Western mindset, that of disgust for the “Other.” Due to this contradiction, British-colonial hybridity was simultaneously seen as an improvement but also disgusting, a phenomenon internalized by both colonials and natives.

Eurasians are not the only mixed-race subcategory to experience social death. Other mixed-race groups also experience social death. Afro-Latinos in America for example are one such group. In a 2015 Huffington Post article entitled “What it means to be Afro-Latino” many Afro-Latinos in Puerto Rico remarked the difficulty of fitting in.

“It was always difficult because I was never Boricua or Black enough. Other Puerto Ricans didn’t accept me because I wasn’t a fluent Spanish speaker and too brown. I also wasn’t ‘dark’ enough to be Black. These Black girls tried to jump me in the third grade because my Taino roots gave me long, wavy hair and they wanted to ‘tear it out and prove if was a weave.’

What is the solution? For one, mixed-race social death calls for a reflection and a rethinking of how we conceptualise in-groups, out-groups, and identity. As evidenced by the experiences of mixed-race individuals, identity is no longer simply confined to skin colour – it is also rooted in culture and language. Although these categories are historically inseparable with racial ethnicity, intermarriage between different ethnicities and cultures have dampened the prominence of skin colour as identity. As L. Tamar Minter remarks in the Huffington Post article:

“Black is the racial group, while the pan ethnic identification of ‘Latino’ refers to language, culture, and nation of origin. To be a Black Spanish speaker in the Americas means to feel, taste, hear, see, etc the West African heritage at all times in our phenoytype, in our music, in our dance, in our rhythms, in our food, in our language/daily lexicon, etc. We are the manifestation of our cultural memory. Often overlooked, when the very aspects of our culture that are praised as being ‘Latino’ come from the African influence on the Americas. We transmit the knowledge passed on to us from our ancestors through our very being; the very act of us living, surviving, and thriving is an act of resistance in the face of white supremacy in both the United States and the rest of the Americas. Sometimes this means living life on the hyphen, to borrow from Professor Juan Flores, neither being perceived as ‘Black enough’ nor ‘Latino enough’…but we’re Afrodescendientes and proud.”

(Emphasis added)

The very existence of the mixed-race condition challenges the pervasive and often harmful conceptions of race in modern society. To be mixed-race is to embody multiple cultures, multiple cultures, and multiple experiences fused into one unique identity that is different for every single mixed-race individual. As the experience of each mixed-race individual is fundamentally different due to the variety of ethnic and cultural mixes, what links mixed-race individuals together is the abstract sense of diversity. Difference becomes unity. Identity politics must therefore catch up to the rapidly changing dynamics of individual identity, or risk perpetuating the very identity marginalisation that it purports to defeat.

The origins of white sexual imperialism

In 2013 a music group consisting of three white guys released a song entitled “Asian Girlz”featuring the lyrics “I love your sticky rice; Butt fucking all night; Korean barbecue; Bitch I love you; I love your creamy yellow thighs; Ooh your slanted eyes.” The music video featured model Levy Tran stripping down throughout the song while line after line of degrading Asian stereotypes blasted.

Although there was an uproar that led to the official music video being taken down by the band itself, the lack of ensuing discussion surrounding Asian stereotypes is something to be alarmed. In the twenty-first century, racism is supposedly not tolerated, saying the word n****r is (and rightly so) lambasted, and history of America’s role in slavery and racial discrimination is widely studied. America has made leaps and bounds regarding racism towards Blacks in the last century, but its systematic racism and sexism towards Asians still has a long way to go. In 2005 Jane Hyun published a book entitled Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. Jane highlights individual, cultural, and organisational factors that hinder Asian American career progress inside organisations. In 2010 the Asian American population accounts for about 5.6% of the total population in the U.S. but only 0.3% of corporate office populations. Asian Americans have the highest number of associates at top New York law firms, yet the lowest conversion rate to partner. Silicon Valley, supposedly the beacon of the Asian American “model minority” trope, comprise a disproportionately small percentage of upper management and board positions. Statistics show that despite one-third of all software engineers in the Silicon Valley being people of Asian descent, they make up only 6% of board members and 10% of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. Let’s keep in mind that these are not immigrants; they are American citizens born and bred in the United States. In university settings, Asians are barred from many organizations. When Greek life at Alabama was accused of racism against blacks for denying two black girls, all hell broke out. No one mentions that Asians are almost entirely excluded from fraternities, sororities, and other social organizations.

But this post is not about the systemic racism against Asian Americans that is invisible to much of the public. This post is about white sexual imperialism; specifically the white sexual imperialism that created the modern sexual stereotypes directed towards women that is still widespread among college campuses and the workplace. Everyone is familiar with these stereotypes: Asian women are submissive; that they love white people; that white sexpats go to Asia just to have easy sex with women who throw themselves at them. Everyone is aware of mail-order bride websites that is rife throughout Southeast Asia.

But when did this phenomenon begin? While the general broad notion of “white worship” has its roots in the nineteenth century, white sexual imperialism is a rather recent phenomenon. Nevertheless, the modern stereotype of the submissive, docile Asian women who throw themselves at burly white men has its history in war, colonialism, and American imperialism at the turn of the twentieth century.

Sunny Woan’s article “White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence” contains a detailed examination of the origins of white sexual imperialism. Woan argues that the degrading stereotype of Asian women began in America’s colonisation of Philippines in the late 1890s and was exported to the rest of South East Asia, and later East Asia, after the political and military turmoils as the twentieth century progressed. American military presence in the Philippines (and later Korea, Japan, and Vietnam) created a market for poor uneducated local prostitutes and brothel owners, similar to the British in Hong Kong and India. Unfortunately for these women, the soldiers treated them as disposable toys. In true imperialist militaristic fashion, the soldiers’ manly bravado on the battlefield translated into their treatment of these sex workers: many of these sex workers reported being treated as if they were “a toy or a pig by the American [soldiers] and being required to do ‘three holes’ – oral, vaginal and anal sex” (p. 285) and were referred to by the soldiers themselves as “little brown fucking machines powered by rice” (p. 283). Moreover, Woan reveals that “[The local] women are usually the creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing” (p. 282). Woan goes on to show that these imperialistic tendencies were sanctioned by a perversion of morality:

From 1894 until his presidency in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt wrote and lectured widely on taking up Kipling’s “White Man’s burden. He called imperialism a “manly” duty that American men must take up. Civilized men had a “manly duty to ‘destroy and uplift’ lesser, primitive men,” namely Asians, “for their own good and the good of civilization. Roosevelt’s express and blatant collocation of colonizing Asia and labeling that act as “manly” illustrates how throughout American history imperialism in and even Western scholarship on Asia has been viewed in a sexualized context. (p 282).

Such trends can be found in other forms of colonialism, but is most pronounced and best documented in the American cases. In Vietnam, despite the backlash back on mainland US the role of the military was still clear, and the American military made it their first priority that the US soldiers were not affected by the accusations of immoral warfare back home. Woan notes:

During the Vietnam War, five U.S. military bases stationed in Thailand sheltered 40,000 to 68 50,000 American GIs at any given time. Between 1966 and 1969, as many as 70,000 U.S. soldiers came to Thailand for “Rest and Recreation” (“R&R”) and ignited a sex industry. R&R facilities have been, and continue to be, a vital component of the U.S. military policy. With pervasive disregard for human rights, the military accepts access to indigenous women’s bodies as a “necessity” for American GIs stationed overseas. (p. 284).

After the Vietnam war, there was a massive marketing campaign by tourism industries in the United States and in Southeast Asian countries targeting White men to sustain Thailand’s sex industry. By the 1990s millions of American and European tourists went to Southeast Asia specifically for its sex industry, something that is still widespread today. Woan hammers home the point: “in 1995, for example, a study reported that sixty-five percent of tourists to Thailand “were reportedly single men on vacation.” It was this form of sexual imperialism that created the modern stereotypes today.

But what does this mean? What are its implications? Are all relationships founded on the internalization of these stereotypes? What is certain is that these issues need to be discussed.

Although most educated, global minded, and self-reflective people would consider themselves to be beyond these kinds of stereotypes, many times these stereotypes are internalized and perpetuated by these people themselves. This article for example highlights the ways in which the stereotype has turned from white worship due to sexual imperialism to white worship based on the idea that western cultures are “superior” to Asian ones. Nothing can be further from the truth. Asian identity in America has, in my opinion, infused sufficiently with mainstream American culture such that it has become something closer to Americanism rather than its Asian roots. As such, to claim that white worship or aspiring to whiteness in the West is the same – or similar in severity – is in my opinion incorrect. This distinction is extremely important.

But what does this mean? Does this mean all Asian females buy into the stereotype? Of course not, but one thing is for certain: the modern stereotype needs tackling. While there may be some truth to the “WMAF” relationship founded on these stereotypes, I believe that many critics – most notably those on Reddit and certain Eurasian bloggers – commit the error of lumping all forms of WMAF interracial relationships as coming from the same strand, and thereby incorrectly lumping all women under the same generalisation of “white worship.”

Given the wall of text above, it may seem to some readers that I am, like some Hapa bloggers, fiercely against the WMAF relationship. Nothing can be further from the truth. What I am against is WMAF relationships predicated upon these stereotypes. What I am also against are baseless generalisations that all WMAF relationships are racist. I do not for a second believe that, because I myself am a product of a WMAF relationship in East Asia, and my parents certainly did not buy into those stereotypes. The historical complexities of interracial relationships go far beyond mere racism.

Emma Teng’s book Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842–1943 (2013) dispels the “one-way street” that all interracial relationships were shunned and rejected by Americans due to racism. In fact, as she points out, in the latter half of the nineteenth century the number of white women who married Chinese men were astronomical. Due to the number of white men in America for employment on the railroads (among other things), the lack of Asian women meant that their interactions with women tended to be white. As a consequence, many of the first settlers in Chinatown were Eurasian children with Asian fathers and white mothers from working-class backgrounds.

Beyond the working-class, Emma Teng also discusses upper-class marriages of Yung Wing, the first Chinese graduate of Yale, who wed Mary Kellogg. Huang Tianfu,a rich businessman’s son who later became Republic of China’s consulate in San Francisco, who married Mae Munro Watkins and moved to China. These were all successful marriages. Emma Teng also finds that of the many interracial marriages in Shanghai, their Eurasian children identified not with the “desired” race trope of whiteness, but simply by their father’s ethnic orientation. Again, this shows the race and gender dynamic of intermarriage, rather than simply racial terms.

Evidently, not all interracial relationships in history are a one-way street of white men prowling on easy Asian females. In fact, there is a whole other dimension (surprise surprise) to interracial relationships. Nothing is simple

On Eurasian Writer’s blog, he writes a post painstakingly detailing that loads of white nationalist racists have Asian wives, and this by extension that must mean that all white men who pursue Asian women are by definition racist. Eurasian Writer goes on to offer proof that all Asian preference for white men is rooted in their desire for white looking babies. Not only is this a severe case of post hoc fallacy (just because some of them do does not lay any ground for extrapolation without a wider data set) but it is a dangerous oversimplification that goes against the complexities of history. As I have painstakingly tried to point out, sexual imperialism does indeed exist, and there does exist a severe issue of white worship in some cases. It is simply foolish to make sweeping generalisations, and asserting that all WMAF relationships are founded on white sexual imperialism is as ridiculous as asserting that all WMBF relationships are a product of a master/slave relationship. We simply cannot reduce complex intercultural human relationships into a simple abstract normative assertion. Japanese sexual imperialism existed in Korea and in China during the Second World War. Would you say all Japanese male and Chinese/Korean female relationships in the modern era are founded on Japanese masculinity? Media certainly portrays Japanese people as more refined and cultured than Chinese people, so why does that assertion sound so ridiculous?

Historically speaking, white sexual imperialism does exist. But it is equally historical as the sheer numbers of white women who married Chinese men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of whom even moved to China and had to discard their American identity due to racism on both sides. In the complex veins of history, one cannot and should not generalise. Sure, white sexual imperialism is historically grounded. Certainly, Asian women’s “aspiration for whiteness” does have a historical basis (more on that in future posts). But so does the fact that white women have historically married Asian men, to the blessings of both sides of the family. These are not insignificant numbers either. Many of them also went on to become extremely successful members of society. The gender/race orientation of these Eurasians did not matter much either – Sir Robert Ho Tung Bosman was an extremely successful WMAF child, as was Ernest François Eugène Douwes Dekker.

Therefore, I argue it is clear that one should not look at the racial orientation of interracial relationships. Rather, one should look at the circumstances and social orientations of the relationship. Rather than claim all WMAF relationships are a product of racism due to the fact that white nationalists have Asian wives, we should identify the circumstance of the interracial relationship. How did they meet? What are their backgrounds? These categories are much more useful in helping us understand why some interracial relationships are so broken, whereas others have blossomed.

The situation at large

The Eurasian (Hapa) condition is largely absent from mainstream media, and certainly absent in social justice circles. Most alarmingly is the lack of inclusiveness that SJWs have for Asians in general. There is white feminism, Black feminism, POC groups, BME groups, but rarely do we find groups that are geared towards Asians (or Asian Americans) in general, at least not to the extent of the BLM or anti-Islamophobia movements. Even when Asian support groups do exist, they rarely tend to incorporate Hapas or other mixed-race individuals. Of course, I am not suggesting that racism against Blacks or other People of Colour have been “solved” – there’s still a long way to go – but the fact is that racism against Asians often flies under the radar, and sometimes even tolerated. And that is a fundamental problem.

In Asia (where I am from) there has been an increasing trend in the fetishisation of Eurasians since the turn of the twenty-first century. In East Asia in particular, many Eurasian models and celebrities are praised for their beauty and charisma. In the early 2000s, an online blog by a blogger in China delved into the reasons that Asian women “aimed” to marry a foreigner and have mixed babies, suggesting that hybridity could “improve the Chinese race.” Time ran an article in 2001 detailing the “Eurasian invasion” and how being Eurasian is the new trend. So surely, being Eurasian is interesting and harmless, and can actually be beneficial, right?

Many people regard being Asian as having certain privileges in East Asia, but if we delve deeper into this notion we realise that it is far more sinister. It is no secret that white men, and especially sexpats, fare better in Asia. Internet sensations like Xiaxue have audiences of over 180,000 coo over her handsome white husband and their Eurasian “Chanel baby” with its blue contact lenses. Cheryl Tan’s novel Sarong Party Girls details in all its glorious satire how Asian women in Singapore seek to marry an “Ang Moh” (foreigner) in order to elevate their social status. All around us we see instances of the worshipping of “whiteness” – that “whiteness” is the desired standard of beauty, and it is excusable under the guise of “Asian-ness” that is exhibited by the fact that the individual is not fully white. The sexpat issue is also similar – given the fact that some children are products of white “yellow fever” and Asian “white worship”, what does this mean for their offspring, and for the relationship dynamic itself? Does this mean that interracial relationships should be forbidden? Should we only allow Asian males to “date out”, and discourage female Asians from doing so?

But not all of is that simple. The Japanese mixed-race candidate who became Miss Japan faced enormous backlash and racism by the Japanese public. How do we make of this? Is this white worship? Or is this anti-white xenophobia? Whatever it is, it demonstrates the extremely complicated nature of the mixed-race condition.

Across the Pacific, the situation is vastly different. The relative recency of the Hapa condition coupled with the lack of actual academic research evidence renders any concrete conclusion impossible, but the situation is no less severe. Where do Hapas fit in? Are they white? Or are they Asian? The range of appearances that constitute what a Hapa “looks like” has created the dichotomy of “white passing” and “Asian passing” (although in some occasions they fall into the category “mixed”). In my opinion these categories must be broken down. The fact that we still live in a racially oriented and polarised world renders Hapas – which I consider to be of a “post-race” phenomenon – extremely difficult to fit in. This, coupled with the fact that many interracial relationships tend to be dysfunctional, has created a unique kind of family toxicity that has hitherto been unprecedented. Blogs such as this and this have revealed the problem loud and clear: Hapa issues are very real, and need attention. The subreddit r/hapas is also full of anger and hatred for interracial relationships, and such hatred comes from Hapas themselves.

What little research that has been conducted is indicative but insufficient. There is research conducted that point to Asian females having a higher STD rate than Asian males due to interracial relationships, but this does not offer any bearing as to just why Asian females tend to date other races more often. Is it because of white worship, or Asian patriarchy? Contrary to what many on the internet think, we can’t pinpoint white worship as the cause of this phenomenon. Research has also found that Hapas with Asian male fathers and white mothers have better mental psychology, less distress, and tended to be healthier mentally. But the vastly disproportionate number of white male and Asian female couples compared to vice-versa means that we must take these numbers with a pinch of salt. They do not definitively say anything. Perhaps somewhat problematically, however, researchers at UC Davis have found that Hapas have twice the rate of mental illnesses than their monoracial counterparts despite their lack of numbers. This indicates that there is something negative to the Hapa condition, at least in the United States.

Horrendous articles such as this expose the often damning dynamics that exist in interracial relationships. Indubitably, people like that would have children, in turn having a higher chance of creating mentally afflicted serial killers and manipulators such as Elliot Rodgers and Hanna Stoyova. For those of you unaware, Rodgers’ manifesto wrote in detail how he saw evil society not recognising his “Eurasian beauty”, that all Asian women are evil for not seeing him as such and instead dating awkward, loser white men, and that his whiteness elevated him above conventional Asians. This extremely disturbing mentality is, unfortunately, pretty common from what I’ve seen. You can see for yourself just by going to the subreddit r/hapas. A more famous Eurasian online presence, Eurasian Writer, has a Youtube video which details the way he sees Asian feminism as a cover for white worship. Irrespective of its truth, it needs to be addressed. Hapas are hurting, and part of that hurt stems from the societal neglect felt by many of them.

It doesn’t help when neither Asians nor whites see Eurasians as part of their “in-group.” From my experiences in Asia, no matter how fluent I am in Chinese, how well-versed I am in Chinese history, I will still be seen as an “outsider” to an extent. In the West, I will indubitably be seen as Asian. This is just a fact. But should this be the case? Should Eurasians be grouped as either Asian or Western? Does self-identification matter? Or should “Eurasian” be a separate group altogether? If we take a look on Reddit (which, I admit, is not a reliable source pool) we can see the problems that Eurasians face in identifying with being Asian despite being seen as Asian in Western society. From Hapas not being accepted by college campus POC groups to Hapas are not Asian if they are not “pure”, these instances suggest that there needs to be a serious self-reflection within social justice circles such that Eurasians are accommodated. Are half-white half-Asian people people of colour? Yes, of course they are. History supports that in overwhelming fashion.

But even so, not all is dire. Not all interracial relationships are predicated upon white worship, and certainly not all Eurasian children are Elliot Rodgers. Fundamentally, the problem lies in the lack of actual academic research that goes into these kinds of issues. Although there are preliminary statistics – such as 40% of Asian American women marry outside their own race – there isn’t sufficient research to draw social conclusions about the underpinnings of interracial relationship dynamics. There have been steps in the right direction, but one thing is for certain: the existence of r/hapas on Reddit, Eurasian Writer and HapaFeminist’s blogs, and the disproportionate amount of violence conducted by Eurasian teens demands more attention to be brought to the situation. In Asia, aspiring to be white, the sexpat issue, and the fetishisation of Eurasians also demand attention.

I believe that despite these complexities, being Eurasian is a positive thing, irrespective of parental dynamics. Although this may seem callous at first, I hope to use this blog to argue my case, that the Eurasian condition is worthy of study, of recreation, and of self-reflection.