Many whites now celebrate diversity, but American culture at large has a certain center stage, and that stage is almost continuously occupied by whites and white standards. If Asians make an appearance there, it's almost always peripheral. Throughout most of American history, white people have both respected and belittled Asians. On the one hand, Asians are held up as examples of a hardworking "model minority" in order to ask, rhetorically, why other minority groups don't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps too. On the other hand, their men are desexualized and the women hypersexualized, both of which also belittle Asians.
When white men write bestselling books about Asian women, they write about exotic, sexy women, and they don't publish bestselling books about strong, virile Asian men. Pop star Gwen Stefani recently continued the belittlement by flanking herself with identical, mute "Harajuku Girls" (that's her and them in the photo above). She described these girls as mere figments of her imagination. Stefani's reduction of people to self-aggrandizing props elicited widespread protests from Asians, but not from others, since the rest of America is pretty much okay with reducing Asian women to dolls and sex toys. And with virtually ignoring Asian men.
MiHi Ahn describes well the problem with Stefani's use of these women:
They shadow her wherever she goes. They're on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, she even dedicates a track, "Harajuku Girls," to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they're not real but only a figment of her imagination. They're ever present in her videos and performances -- swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That's right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" pose.
Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. She's even named them "Love," "Angel," "Music" and "Baby" after her album and new clothing line l.a.m.b. (perhaps a mutton-themed restaurant will follow). The renaming of four adults led one poster on a message board to muse, "I didn't think it was legal to own human pets. But I guess so if you have the money for it."
--MiHi Ahn, Salon.com
Asian men appear far less often on the peripheries of the big center stage, and when they do, they, like the women, almost never do so as full-fledged human beings. If you watch closely, you might see a baseball player here or a basketball player there, a helpful computer expert here or a silent martial arts expert there. It's enough to make one wonder, why didn't George Takei's steady role on Star Trek set more of a precedent?
As always, some white people seem to see the problem. Perhaps such white folks exist, for instance, among the makers of MADtv, who in this sketch nicely satirize the common white tendency so egregiously exemplified by Stefani.
Many white people know and work with actual Asian people, and in fact often seem to prefer them to other minorities. After all, there's less with them to feel uncomfortable and vaguely guilty about. And, apparently, more to fantasize about.