On Being A Mixed-Race Woman

One of the lecturers I had in one of my first classes at the University of Helsinki was a gender studies PhD candidate who did her master’s thesis on perception of Southeast Asian women in Finland, and she told us that whenever Asian women go out in groups, they’re often asked "how much?".  One of my friends later explained that Finns’ perception of women from the region stems from stereotypes of ‘visa-wives’ and what they see when they go on holiday. Despite the explanation, I was still quite disgusted, but I eventually forgot about that lecture as time went on. However, when brainstorming for this article, I remembered a few interactions I’ve had when I went out.

Something to note is that my friend group here consists of Finns and white North Americans, so when we go out I’m usually the only visibly non-white person in the group. I’ve had men approach me at the bar counter or on the dance floor and start talking to me, only to back away when they noticed I was with a group of non-Asians (or whatever race they perceive me as). Of course, this could be me looking too much into the situation, but it was still interesting to notice in light of that lecture.

But my being a visibly non-white woman has also created weird situations even back in the United States, where I lived in some of the most diverse places in the country. My father is essentially the opposite of me: tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. Meanwhile, I’m short with dark brown hair and eyes, and tanned skin. I cannot count the number of times when we have gone out, just the two of us, and received weird looks, or even the occasional comment about us being a couple. The discomfort in being asked if you’re your dad’s wife is so bizarre and makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Finally, there have been comments from interested men who use delightful phrases such as ‘exotic’ and ‘beautiful creature’, which feel quite dehumanising. Also, is exotic really the best you can come up with? That comment bothers me less when it comes from someone who is not used to seeing women like myself, but coming from someone who lives in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York, it feels unoriginal at best and racist at worst, depending on how it's said.

I’ve never experienced blatant racism, and I feel quite comfortable in how I identify as, which I am incredibly grateful for. However, these microaggressions show that there is still a need to combat racism that goes beyond racial slurs or institutions. The phrase ‘stereotypes exist for a reason’ is partly true, and I’m always down to laugh at light-hearted jokes poking fun at stereotypes that I embody, but asking "how much?" or the less serious but still annoying "where are you really from?" only goes to fuel negative stereotypes, which should be combatted.