Hi Patrice. You look so badass in your pictures. That's the first thing my boyfriend Tian Jun ever said to me. The year was 2016. The place: my Tinder inbox. His bio matched the charm and wit of his message and his photos suggested he had good looks, an eclectic social life, and a dope job that required creativity, grit, and ambition. So I messaged Tian Jun back, which led to a casual text exchange, which led to him asking me out, which led to our first date at Butter & Scotch bar and bakery two weeks later. After breezing through standard routine chit-chat, we discovered that neither of us were on Tinder looking for a significant other. We were merely two busy writers — him for television, me for journalism — who enjoyed meeting new people while also exploring the best city in the world and stuffing our faces at restaurants and bars we'd bookmarked on Yelp.
And yet once we got settled in the cozy Brooklyn establishment and disarmed by boozy cake-stuffed milkshakes, our meandering conversation soon anchored itself in our shared geekdom for all things pop culture and a spark was lit. Have you seen this movie yet? Are you watching that show? The realization that we were actually running late for our respective post-date plans forced us to surface from our deep dive and close out. Afterwards, Tian Jun walked me to the Franklin Street subway station, and right before I headed underground, he pulled me close and kissed me. Just like in the movies...kind of. You see, it's not often my boyfriend and I watch a major studio rom-com or rom-dram starring people who look like either of us playing the role of desirable love interest. Decades of racist, one-dimensional stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood and the media have apparently convinced our society that black women are either angry and emasculating, or sex objects, whose beauty is considered “less classical” compared to white women, and that Asian men are unfuckable, effeminate sidekicks with small dicks and a knack for martial arts or STEM fields. Both undateable. Both undesirable. This representation has undoubtedly seeped into the dating realities of black women and Asian men, making it significantly more difficult for us to date compared to our peers.
Insecure creator and actor Issa Rae put it best in her 2015 book The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl: "If dating were an assortment of Halloween candy, black women and Asian Men would be the Tootsie Rolls and candy corn — the last to be eaten, if even at all,” she wrote. “This is why I propose that black women and Asian men join forces in love, marriage, and procreation." That same passage resurfaced on Twitter earlier this year and, of course, people had a lot of thoughts. Rae later explained that it was all a sarcastic joke she wrote in 2010 when "all these news [headlines were] like, ‘black women have no hope,’ ‘educated black woman, there’s no chance for you,’ ‘black men [don’t want you].'" Yes, Rae was joking, but then again where is the lie? As a black woman living in America, I know exactly what kinds of hopeless headlines Rae is referring to (e.g., "Why Are There So Many Single Black Females?," "Black Women: Successful And Still Unmarried," "This Is Why More Black Women Aren't Getting Married."). Tian Jun and many other Asian men have seen their fair share of news articles, too (e.g., "Online dating is harder for Asian men. Here’s how some have found success," "On Dating Apps, Casual Racism Has Become The Norm For Asian Men," "The Race Dynamics Of Online Dating: Why Are Asian Men Less 'Eligible'?"). There's even a 2014 OkayCupid report that confirms Rae's statements, revealing that on the dating website most non-black men rated black women as less attractive than their white, Asian, and Latina peers, while Asian men were rated the least attractive by most non-Asian women. If you're thinking "well, at least they've got black men and Asian women," a 2017 Pew study disclosed that black men are twice as likely as black women to have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, while more than one-third of Asian newlywed women have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity compared to 21% of Asian newlywed men. To be clear, I love black love and its radical, revolutionary nature. And I do recognize the complex relationships and histories of racism, discrimination, and bias that exist between black and Asian communities and the subgroups within them. And still neither of those things makes Rae's observations or these statistics any less true.
Preference is a word that always comes up when talking about race, dating, and love, and understandably so. Most people have lists of what they want and don't want in a potential partner, so it's easy to point to the personal when it comes to whom we find desirable. Yet the gap for black women and Asian men is so HUGE and so pervasive that it's hard to believe this preference or attraction isn't rooted in racial bias. And biases, like preferences, aren't simply born out of thin air or conceived in utero. They're written, portrayed, sung, filmed, photographed, mass marketed, digested, and learned by billions worldwide. And so it's these same biases that Tian Jun and I find ourselves challenging two years later. The same passion for TV and movies that we discovered while sipping on boozy milkshakes has blossomed into a shared commitment to creating multifaceted representations of Asian and black people on our respective platforms. For Tian Jun, that involves writing television pilot scripts that showcase nuanced, fully-fleshed out Chinese characters who aren’t stereotypical. For me, that involves covering people and stories that often go underreported or unrecognized. Together, we text new trailers and casting announcements back and forth to each other daily and we coordinate large group trips and date-nights to support films like Get Out, Bao, Black Panther, Crazy, Rich, Asians, and Searching on opening night. We’re partners in love and in representation.
But what I love most about our relationship are those in-between moments, when instead of writing about the lives of others, we're simply living our own. Creating our own nonsensical language consisting mostly of the sound "mehhhhh," "MEH," and other equally distinct variations. Facetiming each other while binging The Haunting Of Hill House because we started it together and must absolutely finish it together, temporary long-distance be damned. Defusing one another's perfectionism by proof-reading any and everything one last time and insisting that it isn't, in fact, trash. Introducing one another to dishes we can't imagine having lived without, like Sichuan boiled fish and Escovitch fish and festival. And how he lets me slide my perpetually frozen feet underneath his t-shirt onto his warm belly and I let him turn on the AC when it's really not even that hot to be quite honest.
These moments of loving mush and quirks are just as revolutionary as any TV show or news article. I know this because I've witnessed that shifting of assumptions first-hand, the look of confusion, then surprise, then wonder, and (sometimes) acceptance that washes over most people's faces when they realize the Asian man standing beside me isn't only with me, but with me. So whether it's a first kiss outside the subway or an awkward date scene starring HBO Insecure's Yvonne Orji and Alexander Hodge, diverse images of desirability do, in fact, have the power to provoke a fundamental change in the way others think; and not just about desiring and dating Asian men and black women, but also casting a certain type of person, promoting a certain type of person, renting an apartment to a certain type of person, or even calling the cops on a certain type of person. So here's to hoping for—and writing—more multidimensional, diverse movies and TV shows that actually mirror the rest of the world in 2019 and beyond.