Nori Pao

This article first appeared in the February 4, 2005 edition of the New Haven Daily.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It is not uncommon to see flyers posted around college campuses advertising rooms for rent, or babysitters for hire, however, this past fall, a series of want ads appeared on and around the Yale University campus that garnered some unusual attention.

It seemed like a simple enough dating classified — “Seeking single ASIAN female” — but it didn’t stop there. Not long after those flyers were posted new signs for a “single WHITE male” started materializing next to them.

It turns out that the initial ad for a “single ASIAN female” caught the eye of one local female resident, eliciting a most likely unintended response. We caught up with the woman, who we will refer to as Single Asian Female (SAF) as she wishes to remain anonymous, and asked her about the intent behind her flyers.

SAF is an artist who works part time at the Yale School of Medicine. She is dating a graduate student at the Yale School of Art and therefore travels to many areas of campus on a daily basis. One day back in September, she started noticing signs posted on bulletin boards and street posts around New Haven — “Seeking single ASIAN female”. She was at first appalled, annoyed, offended, angry, and then curious. “What kind of person thinks that it is okay to post this type of ad in a public space? Are they racist? Is it a fetish or just a preference like hair color and height? Am I overreacting?”

Thinking there was an opportunity to gain some insight and share her perspective, she copied the sign as closely as possible, created an email address, posted her signs up next to the originals, and waited to see if the man would contact her.

It may seem like a lot of trouble to go through on the off chance of reaching someone who may or may not be open to having a dialogue. We asked SAF about that and her reply was simple yet charged.

“Since before adolescence even, men with ‘Yellow Fever’ have approached me displaying varying degrees of inappropriateness — ranging from mildly offensive to borderline illegal. It is something I learned to deal with, then I grew accustomed to, and at some point it became the norm. I guess I just got a little tired of brushing it off. I didn’t know if anyone would even notice or pay attention, but I felt compelled to do it anyway.”

People did take notice. In fact, we learned of the story after it became the topic of a heated conversation during a seminar class on feminism and other circles around campus.

Eventually the man, who we will refer to as Single White Male (SWM) did contact her, timidly at first. SAF thought he must have been aware on some level that it was a decoy of sorts. They corresponded via email a bit and eventually she was able to broach the subject of why he posted the ad and why he was specifically interested in Asian women. Apparently he had a series of Asian girlfriends, Chinese and Thai. “He said that he ‘liked their dispositions’ which, unfortunately, is not the first time I have heard that,” she recounted.

SAF told us she thought it would be a violation of trust to share their email exchange, It sounded strange to us that she would be protective of this stranger who had, intentionally or not, discriminated against her. When we asked her about it she responded that it was more nuanced than she initially thought. “I started out wanting to expose him somehow, but I was able to express to him how I felt about what he had done and share some of my experiences with him. He seemed open to my viewpoint and through our correspondence I got to see him as a human with flaws like the rest of us. I think he heard me, or at least I’m choosing to believe that he heard enough to make him stop and think and perhaps even modify his behavior in the future.”

In the end, SAF seemed to almost gain a sense of satisfaction from the experience. “The whole process was really fascinating to go through, with a little distance of course. It was a bit of a psychological experiment. I really had no idea where it was going to lead when I started, but I knew I needed to do it anyway. Who knows, maybe I will make art about it one day.”

Editor’s note: SWM did not reply to multiple requests for comment. 

Seeking single WHITE male at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

Seeking single ASIAN female on the corner of Cedar + York.

Seeking single WHITE male on the corner of Trumbull + Orange.

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