A friend of mine in Canada was telling me about her co-worker who was being rather stubborn and insensitive regarding race relations in the office. When he was confronted about this, his defense was he lived in Asia for a couple of years and is therefore sensitive to the plight of minorities since he was fully immersed living in Korea. This is bullshit, folks.
I’ve been living in Seoul for many years now. Pardon the generalization, but I can definitely say that white people, and white men in particular, live in a privileged bubble in Asia. It is not uncommon to hear white, male expats complain about racism and xenophobia after experiencing the most minor slights or inconvenience. You would think that you’re listening to Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They ignore the fact that besides the occasional racism and xenophobia when living in another country, doors are opened to them solely by being white in Asia. The most mediocre white man from Scottsbluff, Nebraska has an edge over the populace and even other expats of color simply by the color of his skin. He is seen as more knowledgeable, more experienced/adventurous, and even more attractive. Just walk around tourist-heavy cities in Asia, be it Hanoi or something more metropolitan like Tokyo or Hong Kong, you’ll always spot the most mediocre white guy walking with someone who is far too young or attractive to be with him. (I know this is very judgmental…. But really…)
Of course, some people in Asia target foreigners thinking that they’re rich or they’re the key to moving to another country. White men just happen to be the most visibly western-looking compared to people of color. However, even if they’re not particularly wealthy, white men could produce mixed-race kids, and by having children who are perhaps a little lighter-skinned or western-looking, the children gain an advantage over other children. They would look like worldly children who must have some connection with the west, or children whose parents don’t have to spend to much time working under the sun. To put simply, they would look richer, a sentiment that is the result of white colonialist history.
This is not to say that this privilege is solely the domain of the white man. White women as well as other foreigners enjoy perks by living in Asia as well, but they are often burdened by other problems and stereotypes. White women and foreign women in general can be subjected to more unwanted attention (“Riding the white horse” anyone?). Women of color can be subject to negative stereotypes. I myself, being a person of color, sometimes have to unnecessarily prove my qualifications even my Canadian-ness to people, even to other Canadians! I remember one time, a friend of mine visited me from Switzerland and introduced me to another Canadian who’s only been living in the country for a year. After being gracious with dinner, as soon as I leave, the other Canadian asks my friend, “Joe’s Canadian? But really, where is he from?”
I doubt if my Canadian-ness would raise suspicions if I were white. Perhaps I sound bitter, but it doesn’t make my observations any less true. I know I live in a privileged foreign expat bubble. I enjoy it and I take full advantage if it. But white men, they live in a far different bubble, and to claim that one is fully-immersed in the culture and fully understand the feelings of minorities is pure white arrogance.