“You’re really pretty for an Asian girl” is not a compliment.
Even if the intention is coming from a good place, you may want to consider exactly where that place is and think about what you’re saying.
This statement, regardless of delivery, is offensive and racist.
What this really says is, “Wow, I’m surprised you’re attractive because I have it in my head that Asians as a whole aren’t” or “Hey, you’re pretty decent by western standards.” And it’s not okay.
This speaks to conventional beauty standards — crafted by white media, and statements like this seek to offer inappropriate social approval on an aesthetic that is different than the round or light coloured eyes folks are so used to seeing. It’s suggesting that though Asian features may not offend you, they deviate from an optimal concept of beauty you’ve accepted.
There’s a difference between acknowledging differences amongst groups of people as opposed to promoting a hierarchy that places some as superior than others.
Comments like this were frequent when I was turning tricks in a bar. Floating between high top tables with a tray filled with glassware — men in suits and women on a lunch break thought they were offering their idea of kindness by serving this type of back-handed compliment.
Through a tight awkward smile, I’d reluctantly offer a confused ‘thanks’. To be clear, it was never well-received and because of the situation, getting into an explanation was off the table (most of the time).
Public transportation has also been proven to be a platform for this type of statement. And while it’s easy to chalk it up to ignorance — this doesn’t excuse it.
“You’re really pretty for an Asian girl” is just as inappropriate and distasteful as saying enthusiastically, “You’re so white for an Asian.” It shouldn’t be so shocking that this isn’t a compliment either.
Because in my veins, the blood of many Chinese generations stream. I wear the genetics of my Asian parents on my face — and though there is no accent in my voice, there is no shame in who I am or where I come from.
Just because you know someone in one social context doesn’t erase all that they are. Perceptions are subject to change and praise for a projection of identity demanded by society in certain environments you’ve misinterpreted are frustrating. To be clear, being awesome isn’t about being white. To suggest otherwise is insulting.
In any situation you are suggesting a racial hierarchy — don’t. Just stop. It’s never okay. Packaging it as a compliment doesn’t make it any better. Just don’t do it.