Maybe we all do and maybe it’s just part of our lengthy list of sexual preferences. But because of the negative connotations associated with yellow fever’s other, more troublesome definition, the label is disrespectful to every smart, funny, kind, beautiful, and wholly wonderful Asian women I’ve loved.It suggests that their race was more important to me than their other attributes.Back then, the term was shorthand for someone white who had a crush on someone Asian, and at our school, it applied to the girls as much as it did the boys.I didn’t think much about yellow fever at the time, though, because my 12-year-old brain was a veritable encyclopedia of crude lingo.Friends are once again teasing me for having “yellow fever,” and as far as facts are concerned, I can’t argue with the designation: My current partner is Chinese-American, while my most recent ex-girlfriend is Vietnamese-Canadian. I can dismiss their playful ribbing the same way I dismissed most name-calling during elementary school—after all, there’s nothing wrong with dating women of Asian descent—but “yellow fever” isn’t an innocuous, empty label. Friends may just be having fun, but to my ears, I’m being called a deviant. Google “yellow fever,” and you’ll see that many Asian women have taken back the term to shame white men who fetishize them based on racial stereotypes.Such men believe all Asian women are docile and hypersexual, and happily project these qualities onto potential romantic partners.
Some are completely outlandish and some are, well, a little more spot on. Census Bureau, 40% of Asian females will marry a non-Asian male, whereas 20% of Asian males will marry a non-Asian female. In fact, there’s even a website which acts as a forum for asian men reclaiming their “asianalitiy” – and they are pissed that their potential asian wives are shacking up with non-asians.When strangers and acquaintances casually accuse me of having yellow fever, it’s both personally insulting and racist towards my Asian partners.That’s because, one, they wouldn’t have doubted my feelings for these women had they been white, and two, they’re implying that these women date men who only value them for their skin color.In other words, they prey on Asian women simply because they’re Asian.
But this essay isn’t about that type of yellow fever. While I’m sympathetic to the plight of Asian women who are exotified by awful white men, this new, zeitgeisty application of the term “yellow fever” hasn’t replaced the way it was used in my schoolyard all those years ago: as a catchall term for Asian person.
By accusing me of objectifying women based on their race, I felt compelled to do just that.