I Hope You Catch Yellow Fever and Die
I’m not your fetish. I’m not easy for you to obtain, and I’m not an object of your affections.
I am a Chinese girl with a dark complexion, green hair and a loud mouth. I am a Chinese girl who has spent most of her life living in the city of Brisbane, a predominantly white populated city in Australia. I’ve tackled bullying and ignorance and ostracisation, and I’ve been hated because of the pigment of my skin. But I’ve also tackled with the other extreme – I’ve been loved because of my brown complexion; I’ve been completely adored.
I’ve spent the last few weeks living in Japan, and I’ve seen millions of faces perpetually pass me by, sometimes animated and sometimes still. These faces share physical features similar to mine. This is a rare few weeks where I no longer look like the token, no longer look the minority. It is liberating to see billboards and advertisements where I see beauty products that cater to the tough Asian hair and makeup that flatters my almond shaped eyes.
Nah – I’m not going to thank you. It’s not a compliment. This double edged sword really only has one side to it. Its sharpness seems dulled, but really, it cuts through you like a knife. By coming up to me, a complete stranger, and making such a broad statement, I am being sliced open by the concept of interchangeability. I am being dehumanised in a way that I am seen through rose-tinted glasses that make me blend into the next flower in sight. I am one of the same, and the fetishiser is the person who gazes at me “lovingly” because I fit into this pool of women that they have decided to invent and drown in.
Have you ever been greeted with “I love Asian women” the first time you met somebody? Have you ever been greeted with a sentence so general, so broad, that it goes over your head? You hear said statement and you’re thrown into a mode where you wonder, Is that a compliment? You do a double take. How do you respond? “Thank you?”
In a society where my looks are no longer considered “exotic”, where my eyes aren’t made fun of and my features are not other-ed, I still see non-Asian people making it a point to become involved with locals. I see mediocrity and low self-esteem rear its head and lurch itself at me: they think I’m going be enamoured – flattered, even – that a Western man is giving me attention.
I have become romantically involved with men who have fetishised me. They have referred to me as Ling Ling, made rude comments about my eyes, facial structure and family. I have heard the familiar greeting, “I love Asian women,” whispered into my ear, making the hairs on the back my neck stand. For a while I thought “I love Asian women” meant “I love you”, but what they see does not reflect me, and what they say does not reflect love. They see a cookie cutter version of a woman wearing a traditional “Oriental” dress, speaking in tongues, fading into the distance or disappearing behind a book.
I have seen men talk about their Asian girlfriends as if they were trendy accessories while incessantly and condescendingly educating them on Asian culture. I am traumatised and exhausted, and have had to question my identity through the lens of somebody whose comments seemed to drip sweet like honey, but really, were sticky and heavy like tar.
We are not the same; we are multifaceted. We are individual, and for anyone to dismiss our uniqueness with a sentence as harmful as what they perceive as a form of flattery makes Asian women draw comparisons with each other. The box they place me in is suffocating – I can barely breathe. I am expected to be non-confrontational; I am expected to be quiet and nod my head and blush and giggle. My cheeks are only red with fury, and the whisper that they think is going to come out of my mouth is going to be a scream.
One may think that racism only manifests itself in the form of immediate acts of violence, loud insults and foul impressions of another race – but it can take many forms, even when disguised behind what looks like love. Actively seeking a romantic partner of a certain race is an act of dehumanization, because there is a failure to recognise that one race cannot possibly possess a singular trait. One race cannot produce prototypes of the exact same person.
Yellow fever is not a preference. Yellow fever is a disease. A disease that plagues the Earth and haunts me and many Asian women. To fetishise any race, to exoticise and hide this form of toxic racism behind a mask of love is something that needs to be cured.
Cover by Jim Flores; illustrations by the author