Why Do Some Asians Prefer White Mates and Others Prefer Fellow Asians?

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More Asian-American Women Prefer White Mates
The results on race and mate preferences were very interesting. First, the numbers
show that close to 30% of the women indicated that they prefer whites compared
to only 12% of the men. Still, almost 40% of the women and 46.5% of the men indicated
that Asians were their first choice. Finally, 30.8 % of the women and 38.3% of
the men indicated “no racial preferences.”

This was not surprising since more women indicated having had experience dating whites compared to Asian American men. In fact, the disparity in interracial dating experience was quite significant--88.9% of the women indicated that they have dated White men compared to just 47.9% of men who say they have dated White women.

Why was there such a disparity in interracial dating experiences between the women and men? A lot of people assume that somehow Asian American men are more wedded to preserving Asian culture or that Asian parents frown more upon sons marrying out than daughters.

As a sociologist, my educated hypothesis is that this disparity between the sexes is due more to the attitude of whites since they are the dominant group. In other words, for better or worse, more White men find Asian women appealing as mates.

Asian-Americans Who Prefer Whites
Most interesting were the reasons given for racial preferences. The group that
indicated a preference for White mates explained their preference for Whites in
the following ways:

“Why do I like White women more? They’re more mature, more fun, vivacious, vibrant. More confident too. I like the granola girl types and you don’t find very many Asian girls like that.”

“White women are more in touch with their bodies, more outspoken, more confident, more physical. Asian women are too submissive…doesn’t make me feel alive. I want someone who’s exciting and that’s usually White women. ”

“It’s not a race thing. More a personality preference. I like the way White women look more but I think it goes deeper than that. It’s character and personality…”

“I had this Asian boyfriend once and boy was he insecure…White guys are more giving and much more confident.”

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s just individual preference. Some people like macho guys or feminine women; some like dark hair, some like light. I just happen to find White men more appealing, especially the blonde types.”

Most revealing of why some Asian Americans prefer white mates was the “White identification” exhibited by many of those who prefer Whites. Many took pains to describe themselves in ways that would clearly differentiate themselves from stereotypes of Asians. One 27 year old Chinese-American man who grew up in an almost completely White environment described himself in the following way:

“I’m really into sports…Not just casually like some Asians. An example is when I ski. I really ski hard. I go to Tahoe a lot. You see Asians there but they’re just kind of winding down the bunny slopes. Oh and I work out…”

Another, a 44 year old Chinese-American mother who prefers white men, describes her 18 year old daughter in the following words:

“She’s just completely different from all the other Orientals in her school. She’s well-rounded, not just a bookworm like the other Orientals. She’s a cheerleader, student body rep and mixes very well with the Caucasian students. She’s very athletic…into rollerblading, mountain climbing…Not many Orientals are active in the way she is…Her friends tell her they don’t even notice that she’s, you know, Oriental (smiles, with obvious pride).

Asian-Americans Who Prefer Fellow Asians

Overall, there were no significant differences between the socioeconomic characteristics
of those who prefer White mates and those who prefer Asians. Since almost all
of those interviewed came of age in the post-Civil Rights era, are middle class
and college educated, the only differences were profession, childhood and present
environments. What I found was that White-identified subjects were somewhat more
likely to have grown up in all-white environments while those who were more Asian
American identified were more likely to have grown up or gone to school in places
with more Asian Americans.

So what did those who prefer Asian American mates say about their preferences? Reasons varied but most can be classified into one of these categories: 1) comfort level 2) cultural preservation 3) acquiring “better quality people.”

Some sample quotes about why Asian Americans were preferred:

“For me, it’s the comfort level from sharing a common background. You tend to think alike and not have to try hard to overcome all kinds of barriers such as prejudice.”

A Chinese American man who was previously involved in a 15 year relationship with a White woman explained his Asian preference in these words:

“It’s hard to put your on it but in my previous relationship, _____(a White woman) was kind of, well she was very insecure but with me, oddly, she was was quite arrogant, as if I should be grateful that she ’s with me…we never talked about it. It’s one of those things that I just began to realize more and more, especially now as I’m in a long term relationship with_______(a Japanese American woman) and it’s very different. It’s more comfortable, it feels right…There’s mo re of a feeling of equality to it.”

Still others talked about how their preference for Asian American spouses resulted from their realization of racism against Asian Americans:

“I never questioned White supremacy and White culture until I went to UCLA. Then when I was in college and hung around Asians and took Asian American courses…I realized the marginal feeling I’d always felt was because of racism…I had to re-culture myself and reeducate myself about my own heritage.”

No Racial Preferences
About a third of the respondents stated that they did not have racial preferences
for spouses. Explanations ranged from being “realistic, ” belief in “color blindness”
to having had bad experiences in the past when their choices were based on race.

Some notable responses included those (mostly men) who simply felt that they faced limited opportunities:

“You have to be realistic. I may desire something but as to whether you’re going to get it, that’s another question altogether. As an Asian man in this country, your choices are limited so you have to be open.”

The explanations that touched me the most were expressed by people who felt that even though they believed in color blindness, it was hard to be color blind in America. This 49 year old Chinese American women recounted a defining experience in her youth:

“This was back in the 60s….I remember how I was really excited about a date with this cute White guy. We were in his room, and he was trying to kiss me, and then I couldn’t believe what he said. He said something like, “I’m so starved for sex because there’s this White girl in my class that I go out with but I can’t bring myself to sleep with her because she’s like a blonde goddess.” I thought, what does he think I am, some cheap Asian whore? It took me a long time to get over that one…before I dated a White guy again. I try not to let a person’s race influence me but sometimes it’s really hard because we live in a society where people are not treated as equals because of the color of their skin.”

What Do Asian Americans Think about Interracial Couples?
Beyond their own preferences, opinions about interracial relationships between
Asians and Whites were enlightening.The most important finding was that most,
regardless of their own preferences, thought that the reason why there were so
many White male/Asian female relationships was because some White men feel that
they can more easily dominate Asian women.

One Chinese-American woman put it this way:

“When I see Asian women with White men I automatically think that he wants somebody he can dominate and somebody with an exotic allure…”

Another, a young Japanese-American man, talked about what his White male friends thought about Asian women:

“When I was at Santa Barbara a few years back, my White guy friends, some, I mean, were interested in Asian women for the control…I mean they were sort of losers, socially anyway…I think they were just too insecure to date White women.”

We don’t know whether or not most white men with Asian American partners are insecure and seek to dominate. But the fact that most of those interviewed thought this to be the case is worth pondering. This was true even for subjects involved in interracial relationships themselves-they did not think it was true about their own relationships but felt that it was true in general.

Another interesting finding on general attitudes toward interracial coupling was how some of the interviewed men feel when they see Asian women-White men couples in public. The following are some sample comments:

“When I see an Asian female with a White man and particularly if she’s pretty, it sort of hits me in the gut. I feel like we’ve lost something valuable.”

“It ticks me off, and I know it’s wrong…she’s free to choose. But I can’t help thinking, what’s wrong with us. How come you’re not with one of us?”

What Should We Think About Interracial Relationships?
When I presented my findings to my students during my final year at Stanford,
what students really wanted to know was how they should use the information in
their personal lives. In the words of one of the students, “Professor Chow, this
is very interesting, but what are your recommendations…what should I do?”

I am not a psychologist nor a relationship expert. As a sociologist, I can only tell people about broad trends and patterns in human behavior. Nonetheless, I want to emphasize one point: I believe that individual level dynamics, or person to person interactional patterns are very important in relationships and much more important than race.

On a personal level, whether we are involved in interracial relationships or same-race relationships, our happiness really hinges upon how we deal with our relationship dynamics-whether we allow destructive or positive patterns to prevail.

“Tradeoffs” in Interracial Relationships
OK, that caution aside, let me say that because socioeconomic and status inequalities
have been organized around skin color for so long, when two people of different
races come together, there is the possibility that at least part of the attraction
was based on “tradeoffs” resulting from these unspoken inequalities.

What do I mean? The most extreme example of such structurally-based relationship inequalities are when white men go to Asia to look for poor women to marry. Some of these men say explicitly that they are tired of “feminist” white women over whom they have no control. Their search for impoverished Asian wives is a search for relationships in which they hold not only economic power but racial power.

One case told to me by a friend who lives on a military base in California involves a 50 something year old White man who went to Korea to find a wife. He brought his “wife” back several years ago and has kept her in his apartment as a virtual prisoner. He doesn’t let her learn English and she can’t go out without him. Meanwhile he brags to his friends that he has the “perfect” relationship since he “gets it” whenever he wants and she takes care of all his physical needs.

This is admittedly a very extreme case but available evidence suggests that “tradeoffs” may have occurred historically in marriages between Asian Americans and other races.

James Loewen, the author of Mississippi Chinese, talks about how the middle class Chinese grocers in the Mississippi who married White women before the 1970s almost always married poorer, working class women. In contrast, Chinese men who married Black women during the same era almost always married educated, middle class women. In Loewen’s own words:

When Chinese grocers married Delta whites, they selected lower-class white women, who could look “up” to their husbands as small businessmen while looking “down” upon them racially; the grocer who married a Negro usually selected a mate at least his equal in occupational class (many were teachers) and usually his superior in education.”

Recent statistics appear to indicate tradeoffs may still be at work today. For example, a recent study (Jacobs and Labov, 1995) based on 1990 Census data shows that White women married to Chinese and Japanese American men have lower educational levels as well as lower labor force participation rates than the Asian-American wives of Asian American men.

Final Remarks:
In closing, I would like to return to my students’ question about how to apply
such knowledge to one’s personal life.

I think Asian Americans should be aware that race may well influence other people’s attitude toward them but should not let race influence their own assessment of others, particularly not when it comes to choosing intimate partners.

Most importantly, we should all try hard to be conscious of our own motives and psychological dynamics. Some Asian Americans may not be aware that they have “bought into” the mindset of subconsciously valuing whites more than other races. When this occurs, you are subconsciously setting yourself up for a life that de-values who you are and you will never be at peace with yourself.

As long as relationships are founded upon individual characteristics and you are certain that race plays no part in how you and your partner value each other (as well as yourselves), then that will definitely contribute to a healthy relationship. That goes for both interracial relationships as well as same race relationships. I mean there are same race relationships founded upon racial considerations too!*

*For example some of my respondents talked about how they married fellow Asians
even though they preferred White spouses when they were young because they did
not feel that they could attract whites. These were certainly ”racially-motivated”

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