You may have seen High Expectations Asian Father, the meme also known as Asian dad. If not, its image is of a stern East Asian man, only his head, no neck, coupled with demands for things like higher grades and other achievements. There’s also the Tiger Mom meme, with the image of an East Asian woman who’s noticeably younger than Asian dad. Her entire upper body is visible. She is slim and wears a fashionable dress. Like Asian dad, she is demanding, obsessed with success, and cold.
Unfortunately, too many believe these memes are reality in terms of racial stereotypes about Asians and their roles in society. I thought of this when I read “The alt-right’s Asian fetish,” Audrea Lim’s opinion piece in the New York Times. Lim explores why prominent white supremacists, such as Richard Spencer, date or marry Asian women. It stems from “two popular racial myths,” Lim writes. One myth is that Asians are the model minority, and the other is that Asian women are submissive and hypersexual.
She’s right. It should come as no surprise that white men of the alt-right like — and sometimes favor — Asian American women.
Along with being stereotyped as hypersexual and submissive, Asian women are also presumed to be aggressive when it comes to propagating family success, which may ultimately be an attractive combination of stereotypes for some white supremacists.
These days, many people want a meme rather than the real, and for some white supremacist men who are ultimately concerned with their survival and power, the tiger mom may be just the thing.
The tiger mom, a trope popularized by scholar Amy Chua, is a variation of the model minority, which mythologizes the role of parenting, family structure, family values, and ethnic pride as the primary determinants of minorities succeeding in a competitive and hostile society. As a model minority type, the tiger mom is demanding, has extremely high expectations of her children, and––relevant to white supremacist anxiety of self-protection––ethnocentric.
Ethnocentrism can be important to white nationalists in their quests for survival. The manifesto reportedly written by Dylann Roof exemplifies this. While Lim notes that the manifesto said Asians would make “great allies of the White race,” she doesn’t mention what preceded this point:
“I have great respent (sic) for the East Asian races,” Roof wrote. “Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.”
Yet Lim’s piece isn’t about relationships between white men and Asian men, whether as lovers or bros. It is about a specific interracial relationship informed by the stereotype of the “subservient, hypersexual Asian woman.”
According to Lim, the interest in submissive Asian women is partly spurred by the alt-right’s anti-feminism and the belief that white women have become too empowered.
Scholar Susan Koshy encourages us to consider why Asian women may be considered viable alternatives to “empowered” white women by anti-feminist white men (not just open white supremacists) in ways black women are not. While it may seem obvious — after all, white supremacy’s primary target is black people— Koshy emphasizes how racist discourses of black femininity, such as that circulated in the Moynihan Report mentioned by Lim, depict black women as bad wives and mothers and contributors to a presumed “tangle of pathology” among future black generations.
These specific stereotypes of black women help us better understand the fetishizing of Asian women as, in Koshy’s words, simultaneously “hypersexualized and marriagebly feminine.”
The transition to “marriagebly feminine” is relatively new given that historically, a series of laws regarding immigration, citizenship and mixed marriages targeted Asian women, who were often depicted as threatening to the white family and nation. Sociologists have long assumed interracial marriage is a sign of racial progress, which more scholars are challenging. Yet theories of Asian Americans becoming white still circulate and some might see the preference for Asian American women by some openly white supremacist men as proof––a point Lim challenges.
Yet, as Koshy concludes, white womanhood as the ideal is not displaced, nor are long-standing racial and sexual stereotypes of Asian American women or Asian Americans in general. Indeed, we can consider what stereotypes of Asian American masculinity operate in the white male fetishization of Asian women, as Asian men are often depicted by white people as excessively patriarchal and violent towards women. How then, might white supremacist men see themselves as simultaneously rescuing Asian American women from what is assumed to be excessive and distinct Asian patriarchy while “appreciating” aggressive tiger mom-ish qualities and ethnocentrism they find useful for their own agenda?
Something must also be said for Asian American women who choose to date or marry white supremacists whose disdain for black people and other groups is palpable. That decision, while involving Asian women’s agency, does not empower anyone of political conscience or who is truly racially oppressed.