My name is Brian. He/him pronouns. I am a straight Taiwanese-American male, an avid dancer (nowadays into fusion), and I find quality, evidence-based data to be quite…tantalizing. Let’s chat about some, hmm?
While research on the subject is relatively limited, the concept of “racial preference,” similar to that of unconscious bias, is based on the idea that our current perceptions of the world and the people around us are based on our past experiences and exposures. Included in these experiences are those that we seek out and recognize as being influential to our perspectives, as well as those that we don’t even notice, the “background noise” so to speak. Our perspective is always changing, whether we recognize it or not, and we are rarely the same person every single day.
Amidst the turmoil of this constantly shifting world, it is not unreasonable to believe that we gravitate to that which is familiar. It has recently been demonstrated that infants as young as three months old will prefer a caretaker that is of the same ethnicity as them…but only after previous exposure to others of that ethnicity. Along that vein, Car-Haim et al. (2006) demonstrated that a group of infants of Ethiopian descent at an adoption center did not show ethnicity-based caretaker preference when equally exposed to Caucasian and African caretakers. Now, this data is based on eye tracking (a fairly common technique for evaluating attention in young children), but I don’t think it would be too far of a leap to say this also applies to other methods of eye catching. Might one develop a “racial preference” in romantic and sexual attraction, simply based on differential exposure? And if there is a lack of exposure to a certain racial group, wouldn’t that factor into “preference?”
You probably see where this is going. Of course, this is a blog post, not a place for me to simply quote research that I hope you look up and evaluate for yourself (as one should for all scholarly referenced articles). This discussion barely skims the surface of the nuanced cultural interplay of race and preference. But simply being aware of just how nuanced it is might serve as a starting point.
Perhaps my personal anecdote will provide more context for why I bother with all this jargon about racial exposure and preference. As an Asian-American, born in the United States, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, the majority of my own “Asian” exposure was actually from mainstream media. And how does mainstream media portray my specific demographic: Asian men? As this site is about body positivity and embracing one’s sexiness, let’s jump to that. For Asian men in American media, “sexy” is not the first adjective to come to mind. Oftentimes, it doesn’t even come close to making the list. In fact, a fun challenge is to name a Hollywood movie with an Asian male as a romantic lead. Any thoughts?
Asian men are often invisible, or if portrayed, desexualized and consistently represented in the “socially awkward, model minority” roles. Whether this image exists because American media portrays Asian males as such, or if American media simply reflects the stereotypes of its followers…well, it’s a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Stereotypes often reflect some degree of truth, but if every single exposure is in the form of a reductive stereotype, it creates a certain kind of identity trap. As it did for me. As long as I was an Asian male, I could never consider myself “sexy.” After all, that is the message that was provided to everyone, myself included.
“Oh, I’m just not into Asian guys.”
“Wow! I didn’t know Asians could dance!”
“You’re really cute, for an Asian guy.”
Hearing these themes repeatedly from a young age is, quite frankly, developmentally stunting. A compliment is not reassuring when shrouded by the qualifier of being Asian, and suggests that being Asian is inherently disadvantageous, at least when it comes to attractiveness. Without role models and representation, one can begin to feel lesser and excluded, simply due to the immutable fact of their race.
But wait! What about Taiwanese pop-stars? Isn’t there representation *back home*?
The problem is that Taiwan isn’t my home. I’ve visited on occasion yes, but even then, my own family members often comment on how American I am, sometimes not even speaking with me in Mandarin. When I contemplated joining the Taiwanese Student group as a freshman in undergrad, I was made uncomfortable with comments that I was “really white.”
So, neither white enough to be considered an “American,” and not Asian enough to be considered Taiwanese. It’s a bit of an identity crisis at times, but also a unique position that I’m learning to be more comfortable with (it’s a work in process, and also why I was not brave enough to do this alone – shout-out to Eric for his magnificent support in this endeavor!)
TLDR; representation is important. Diversity in representation is important. A Taiwanese guy might be a nerdy, introverted techie and a bit awkward in the social setting. *And* he might be the witty, flirtatious fellow who is the charming life of the party. There shouldn’t only be one mold.
Is that why I am doing this? Of course, it isn’t that simple. I’m also not going to deny the fun and confidence one gains when being a model for a photoshoot, a first for me. But I do hope that I offer another perspective. Or maybe just offer a bit of hope.
For me that is saying something, as hope is not a metaphysical concept I indulge in regularly. It causes one to strive for impossible goals, to persist beyond what is practical. And yet here it is.
My hope is that we can cut the qualifier in the compliment “You’re sexy, for an Asian.” My hope is that one will also no longer feel reduced to their race in comments “I think Asians are sexy.” My hope is that, bearing in mind our own biases, for we all have them, we can simply say, “I find YOU sexy.”
Side-note: It would be remiss not to emphasize that the inverse of what I discuss is just as debilitating. Considering an individual to be attractive, solely due to their race, is no different that choosing to reject someone due to their race. Any of those reductions are painful and insulting. Additionally, I can only speak specifically about my own individual experiences, and my own personal struggles are not intended to diminish the struggles of any other individual or group.
Oh hey you’re still reading. Awesome! Well here are my sources. I hope you read over them and don’t just take my word for the data. Evaluate and double check everything!
Chien SH, Wang JF, Huang TR. Developing the Own-Race Advantage in 4-,6-, and 9-Month-Old Taiwanese Infacts: A Perceptual Learning Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology 2016; 7:1606.
David J. Kelly, Shaoying Liu, Liezhong Ge, Paul C. Quinn, Alan M. Slater, Kang Lee, Qinyao Liu and Olivier Pascalis. Race Preferences for Same-Race Faces Extend Beyond the African Versus Caucasian Contrast in 3-Month-Old Infants. Infancy. 2007; 11(1): 87-95.
Kang Lee, Paul C. Quinn, and Olivier Pascalis. Face race processing and racial bias in early development: A perceptual-social linkage. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2017 Jun: 26(3): 256-262.
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