Who says I might not steal your girl?

It is time to stop buying into the stereotypes that the dominant culture says about Asian men

The book was a gift, a dark joke uncovered on Amazon, purchased by one colleague for another. I saw it while fumbling through invoices in the office: How To Date A White Woman: A Practical Guide For Asian Men.

"This book is wild," I said.

"Steve has a chance now!" Joe screamed.

For those still wondering, yes, Joe, myself and Steve are Asian-American men. Steve had just been on his first date with a complicated, whole human being who happened to be white and female. Joe, in all his excitement for Steve, decided to roast him by purchasing a used copy of the book for US$20 (S$28.50).

I took a photo, posted it on Instagram and, some 8,000 likes later, the book price shot up to more than US$500 on Amazon, since there were only five copies available. There were more than 500 comments on the photo as well, but unanimously no one actually believed the book to be of any utility outside of being a gag gift.

Asian World Press published the book in 2002. If you go to its web 1.0 site, you'll see it is the only book shown among dead links for construction, business and travel guides.

Eddie Huang is the author of Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir, which is the inspiration behind the television series Fresh Off The Boat.  PHOTO: NYTIMES

Asian World Press feels like an accident and the book a severe miscalculation. But even if we agree that publishing a dating book pegged specifically to Asian men who want to date white women is unconscionable in 2002 - and much more so in 2017 - there are still people who believe Asian men are inept and undesirable to any women outside their race.

Steve Harvey is one of these people.

On Jan 6, Harvey did a round-up of dating books on his talk show, displaying an image of the cover of How To Date A White Woman, and said the book could be only one page long: "'Excuse me, do you like Asian men?' 'No.' 'Thank you.'"

He then asked an imaginary black woman if she liked Asian men and acted out her response: "I don't even like Chinese food, boy. It don't stay with you no time. I don't eat what I can't pronounce."

As my therapist would say, I have a lot of "feeling" about his sentiments.

Before ever reading about the history of discrimination against Asian-Americans - from the "yellow peril" to the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese- American internment camps to the model-minority myth to the slaying of Vincent Chin and the suicide of Private Danny Chen - every Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us.

We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we're naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millennia be a threat to steal your girl.

As a kid, you believe the things you're told about yourself. But as I grew, I started to see things unravel. I wasn't subordinate, I didn't count good, I hated bowing and, aside from downloading GIFs of MTV host Daisy Fuentes, I was terrible with computers.

My first reaction, and the reaction of everyone at Chinese- language school as well, was that I was defective and destined for life on a rack at a T.J. Maxx discount store begging to get chosen despite my imperfections.

So many Asian-Americans I grew up with bought into the expectations the dominant culture placed on them and did everything they could to meet them. I recognised from a young age that I couldn't and began to plan for life on the margins.

I realised that people on the margins aren't afforded the privilege of being complicated, whole, human beings in the United States; we have to create that existence ourselves and it is that experience that I feel fundamentally binds us.

Over time, I began to find solidarity with my singularity and difference.

Yet the one joke that still hurts, the sore spot that even my closest friends will press, the one stereotype that I still mistakenly believe at the most inopportune bedroom moments - and I know Joe and Steve do as well - is that women don't want Asian men.

Attractiveness is a very haphazard dish that can't be boiled down to height or skin colour, but Asian men are told that regardless of what the idyllic mirepoix is or isn't, we just don't have the ingredients.

That doesn't mean we give up. Steve goes to the gym; Joe buys every piece of Supreme clothing he can afford; and I've got jokes. They're the cultural modifications we see as antidotes to our issues with masculinity.

But no matter how successful I was, how much self-improvement was made or how aware I was that stereotypes are not facts, there were times I thoroughly believed that no one wanted anything to do with me. I told myself that it was all a lie, but the structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men in the real world.

That's why this Steve Harvey episode is so upsetting. He speaks openly about issues facing the black community, he is a man of God and he has a huge platform to speak. Unfortunately, he's also the type of guy who orders Krug Champagne for himself and Cook's sparkling wine for everyone else.

For his personal profit, he's willing to perpetuate the emasculation of Asian men regardless of how hypocritical it is. He isn't the only one doing this in 2017, but as I told myself on New Year's, I'm not drinking any more of this Cook's they're trying to pour, and neither should you.


•Eddie Huang, a restaurateur and television host, is the author of Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir and Double Cup Love.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Who says I might not steal your girl?'. Subscribe