For example, if someone were to say 'Whenever those Aboriginals are around, things go missing', quite a few people would (hopefully) jump and retort, that those statements are really racist. If, however, we held our wallets close to us, or hid our belongings while we were in the presence of indigenous persons, these bodily movements or actions would not be considered (as they are not often conscious) to be considered motivated by racial (or racist?) assumptions that we have internalised.
I'll begin with a short anecdote to give a context to my argument:
It is my first time in Stonewall. The humidity is overbearing…I am sweating…there are too many bodies here. Wait…that’s a good thing, more potential guys for me to scope out I think. My body longer hunches but perks up with that revelation. I decide to move towards the bar; maybe someone will notice me and buy me a drink. I move forward, filled with expectation. I wait…and wait. What seems like a frustrated and drawn out process seems to be worth it when an amazing, white male, dressed in a v-neck shirt and tight blue jeans approaches the bar. He’s looking around, just like me I think (looking for someone to flirt with)…maybe he’ll notice me. He looks around, our eyes meet, his gaze pierces mine, and then it happens. His mouth grimaces, his eyes turn away and he moves away from the bar. It is in that moment my body is cut violently by the combination of the look and bodily rejection.
So what does this encounter 'do' to me? Put simply, another's gaze (non-verbal communication) and bodily movement 'away' from me, is shaming. While there is no way to trace the the reason for the shift, the gaze assumes (racial) significance in a specific context where 'whiteness' organises the club space. This is evident in terms of what images are screened (posters etc) as desirable, the kind of music that is playing and the way space is physically segregated by typically non-white bodies occupying the perimeters of the dance floor. 'Asianness' becomes an undesirable trait and prohibits my capacity to engage with certain kinds of people. I am not trying to suggest that intimate attraction should be 'egalitarian' or that we have agency to 'choose' who and what we are attracted to. I am more concerned with the ways race infiltrates the most intimate parts of our lives.
The encounter discussed above is not a one-off, in many online social networking sites, the terms 'not into Asians' or 'ONLY INTO CAUCASIANS' post-scripted by 'sorry, just a preference' play a crucial role in how gay Asian men come to understand and negotiate their masculinities. Where their racial aesthetic alone discounts them from being desirable, many often find themselves put in a marginal (sexual) position in online and physical queer communities.
Contrastingly, 'Asianness' can also be a (sexual) commodity, where some people eroticise individuals solely on the basis of their ethnic characteristics. Some gay (white) men date 'exclusively' gay asian or black men. While this may not seem too concerning, some of the statements evoke a neo-colonial history, where the asian men are characterised in a feminine and subordinate role to the typically older gay white male. Being Asian becomes a kind of fetish to be desired.
Attraction is a funny thing, it is almost universally understood as a natural 'chemistry' at the level of intimacy or desire. While I am in no way suggesting that we 'force' ourselves to date people we are not attracted to in order to be politically correct or egalitarian, I think it is important to draw attention to how race and culture works to structure our bodies and desires.
We need to be more self-reflexive and think about what or why we desire particular people. Are we motivated by 'what' (muscular, white, male etc) they are or 'who' they are? In this specific context, race is a structural and institutional problem, but it is also a bodily one. When we cringe at certain people, or walk away from them, or are unable to look them in the eye, we need to ask why?
While there is no problem in stating one's sexual preferences or otherwise, it is always important to keep in mind respectful ways of doing so. Comments such as 'NO ASIANS' or dirty looks or vilifying conduct can be avoided by paying more attention to how we express our desires and understand the force (or not so) of our attractions.
To cite an apt second-wave feminist epithet: the personal is (indeed always) political.
For further reading on this issue, read: Caluya, Gilbert (2007) 'The Gay Scene of Racism: Face, Shame and Gay Asian Males,' Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies e-journal 2(2).