Artist Takes on the Casual Racism of “Yellow Fever” in Eight Images

New York artist Donna Choi wanted to create a “weird, memorable way” to discuss fetishization of Asian women, so she put together a satirical series about how to diagnose Yellow Fever—the specific obsession many Western men have with Asian culture.

The over-the-top series is a discussion of race crafted for the attention span of the Internet.

Image is naked woman and says "Is your boyfriend suffering from yellow fever?"

Image says "is he always looking for authenticity?"

Image has a woman serving dog and says "but nothing too authentic"

"And is dissappointed you were born in Texas."

But he will forgive you because he is now an expert on your culture

He relates to you through your food

"And through other Asian people"

Most importantly, he doesn't see race.

In fact, he's the most "post racial" person he knows.

I emailed with Choi about her thinking behind the Yellow Fever series.

SARAH MIRK: Why did you decide to create this series? Were there specific events in your life that you were drawing on?  

DONNA CHOI: I’ve always been interested in the intersection of love and race, two things that can be difficult to define and talk about. You can love someone but still internalize certain ideas about this person—be it based on race, gender, income level, family, etcetera. It’s very human, we’re all socialized to think this way. I think that acknowledging our inherent bias is the first step to overcoming it. But it’s especially hard to overcome when attempts at discussion are often met with that feel-good, willfully-blind mantra: “Everything’s fine, I voted for Obama! I don’t see race and neither should you.”

There’s that, and I also spend embarrassing amounts of time looking at cats falling off chairs and other amazing things on Buzzfeed and Reddit. So what if you combine that offbeat humor with a genuine desire to converse on a deeper level about race, power, and romance?

Is it hard to have these kinds of conversations in person? How does making this art compare to talking this over in person?

It can be hard to articulate without making accusations, especially if there’s feelings involved. I’m not interested in villainizing white men, or all men who date Asian women, or to say that Asian women have it the hardest. I think it’s a deeper issue than that.

On a personal level, making this series allowed me to explore my own thoughts on the issue and share my findings in a way that is meant to be entertaining and thought-provoking. This work also makes a more holistic argument than what I might make in person. I wanted to connect Asian fetish to a larger discussion about cultural commodification. For me, it’s not necessarily the attraction between Asian women and white men that’s the issue—after all, we all have preferences. Love is complicated and imperfect, so it’s absolutely not my place to judge.

The problem is the willful denial of race and privilege. Both of those things fundamentally affect how we perceive and treat others, and how others perceive and treat us. You can see it on a macro level in the relationship between the Western world and the developing world. And I believe that problematic dynamic takes root in the most simple, everyday circumstances- in a relationship between two people.

How did you decide how far to push these images? Are you worried that people won't get the joke and will just be offended by them?  

I think that parody works best when you take it 200 percent to the extreme while making sure your message is really, really focused. It's shock value with a mission. I know how short my own attention span can be, so it was a priority for me to create imagery loud enough to compete with all of the gloriously lurid things happening simultaneously on the Internet. 

I also really admire comedians and performers who can entertain while talking about dark, divisive issues. That's a beautiful, important skill. By the time the show is over, you don't know or even care that you've been schooled because you had such a good time. This approach makes difficult issues that much more accessible, and it's something that I admire and aspire toward.

Related Reading: New Video Series “They’re All So Beautiful” Digs into Asian Dating Stereotypes.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Could somebody explain the

Could somebody explain the "He relates to you through food" one to me? I really don't get that.

I think what she meant...?

I think what she's getting at is the idea that some people thing they can understand an entire culture or even an individual person through eating/liking certain food. For instance, I am Mexican-American and I have had people try to relate to me by overenthusiastically telling me about how much they love Mexican food or this one Mexican restaurant, or whatever. I love food so I often relate to people about food, but in the cases I am referring to, the other person was conflating cultura understanding and sensitivity and relating to me as an individual with "I eat such and such food." That's my interpretation of it, relating it to my own experiences.

Me too please! I don't

Me too please!

I don't understand that blobby thing with the breast and a nipple. TY!

I think the blobby thing is

I think the blobby thing is supposed to be some sort of steamed meat bun. I think her point is that you can only relate to her by actually talking to her--the human. In other words, you aren't actually having a relationship with a meat bun, let alone having sex with one. Does that makes sense?

What she means is...

Pretty much what ilenethealeph is saying.

Bitch magazine published another article called "Craving the Other" which talks about cultural appropriation of food from the Asian culture (and how people from outside of the culture often take elements of it out of context and without an authentic understanding of those elements and fuse it with other types of food in a way that exoticizes their experience with the dish).

What often happens is people who are fond of certain dishes of a culture believe that by enjoying that dish, they are sincere allies of your culture and can wholeheartedly relate to me by that connection. They believe that they have adopted the culture into their lives, exude everything that encompasses that culture, and can understand everything about who you are just by being a fan of that particular dish(es). I am of Chinese descent. I have seen people learn a few words of an Asian language, say it to me as though they are culturally enlightened, and think I will be impressed by the "ni hao" and the "konichiwa." I have also had people ask me where I'm from (implying where my family originated from a.k.a. not the U.S.). As soon as I say, my family is from China, they go, "Oh, I've been to China. Lovely place. Love X, Y, Z landmarks," or "I love Chinese food especially General Tso's chicken/eggrolls/wonton soup/dim sum."

The flaw there is I can't relate to that. I did not grow up in China nor was I born there. I also didn't cook that food you enjoy so fondly. While I'm happy that your few experiences with that food were great, I can't take credit for something that someone else cooked and put their own spin on. Therefore, I am happy for you, but I am not genuinely flattered. I will be awkwardly flattered, because you believe I should be excited you appreciate my culture and are more integrated in it than I am.

I'm the white half of my

I'm the white half of my interracial relationship, and I lol'ed at the the "authentic, but not too authentic" images. I'm usually pretty adventurous when it comes to food, but I definitely lose my appetite when I'm staring it in its face!

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