Judging Us by Our Covers

I followed the Trayvon Martin case as a spectator. I read the official news. I read the progressive commentary. And the president’s comments on the case. Especially this:

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? (via Garance Franke-Ruta)

If Trayvon Martin could have been the son or the younger self of our president, what could he have been to me? I’m not black, not male, not living in Florida. I’m just a little mixed-race woman living in Seattle. I’m nothing like Trayvon Martin, right?

Of course. If a strange man followed me in his car and then confronted me, what would I have done? What would I have been expected to do? Probably scream and/or mace him and/or kick him in the nuts before running like hell. Because as a small woman living in urban areas, I’m not the threat. Never assumed to be the threat. Strange men are the threat to me because I’m trained to be afraid of rape.

Whereas if Martin had kicked Zimmerman in the nuts and ran? I have a nasty feeling that would have been considered an attack. Or proof of guilt. Or at least a justification for Zimmerman fighting back. But if Zimmerman had followed me, confronted me, and then shot me because I maced him? We would have a very different conversation on our hands.

See Asia Like Asians Do

Usually I don’t repost things from Angry Asian Man, because if you read my blog, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen his first. But this one I saw, and I was like “Oh? Oh. Oh!”

At first I thought the ad was copying some nonsensical approximation of… Korean? It wasn’t until I saw the accompanying pictures of people pulling their eyes into slits that I realized the gimmick.

 

I think we should all agree that giving this ad a headline like “OMG! Worst racism ever!” is a bit of an overstatement. Ignorance abounds. Enforcing stereotypes and acting like they’re fun is ignorant. And ultimately hurtful.

 

But let’s keep our heads on. What’s the best response to ignorance in a case like this? Should we acknowledge it and move on to more flagrant offenses? Is this a time to be mildly indignant? I remember being told on multiple occasions to ignore bullies. Ignore them and they’ll stop. I also clearly remember that being bad advice. It seems to me that bullies escalate until they get a response from their victims. What’s the solution then?

Same Old

I am constantly blown away at how often some conversations come up, no matter how many times we try to beat them down. Today, the conversation hinged around the question “What’s wrong with the model minority myth?”

What’s wrong with it is that it’s a massive generalization that obscures the nuanced realities of Asian American communities, encourages them to act and be certain ways instead of others, and makes interracial unity difficult. If you really want an answer to the question, Frank Wu’s book Yellow is more eloquent than I could be here. Or Don Lee’s fictional Yellow, although you’ll have to work a little harder with the fiction.

What interests me is why. Why did this question come up today, and why does it continue to crop up? I think the question that people really want to ask is “Why are you complaining? Aren’t you successful and isn’t that good enough?”

This past week, the question came from a young African American man, who wanted to know if the model minority myth actually affects my everyday life. The question he framed was “I’m a black man, and people see a dangerous, aggressive black man when they look at me. What do you have that’s comparable?” He could accept that we experienced classism and sexism, but racism? Asian Americans get off pretty easy on that count right?

Maybe it’s all the feminist theory I’ve been reading, but my racial experience can’t be separated from my other identities. It’s not white experience plus Asian experience equals mixed race experience, or Asian experience plus female experience equals Asian female experience. It’s an experience peculiar to the Asian American/mixed race/woman.

My racial experience is not one of people assuming I’m amazingly intelligent or a kung fu master. My racial story is one of assumed sexual submissiveness and availability. Since moving to DC, I’ve had a man at a public pool touch me, and then when confronted by the pool staff he claimed that he was flirting. I’ve had a homeless man grab my arm through an open bar window, and when I turned around in shock, he put his finger to his lips and whispered “Shh.” These are not isolated experiences. This is my lived reality, in which many men think that they can do what they like and I won’t say anything about it. The assumption of my availability and silence. Peculiar to the Asian American female, even when mixed.

Yellow Peril, Coming for You

I wish the world would be considerate enough to stop the offensive, racist crap, at least until I’m done with this quarter of grad school. I don’t have time for you, Pete Hoekstra. I really don’t.

So many things wrong with this ad– who thinks that a rural factory worker is getting rich off what used to be American jobs? Why does the background look oddly like Vietnam if you’re not trying to invoke anti-Vietnamese feelings too? Why is yellow peril such a perennial political favorite? Why did someone cast an Asian American woman speaking fake broken English? And why is she flirting with the camera?

Look At Me! More Stuff That Doesn’t Deserve My Time, But Gets It Anyway

Hey, Wesley Yang, thanks for your perspective on the heterosexual, East Asian heritage, male racial crisis. And thanks for framing your perspective as the big issue facing all Asian Americans. Let me summarize your ELEVEN PAGE article in a few sentences to save my readers the trouble of finishing it:

Asian Americans are good at academic achievement because they are raised to be hardworking followers. This doesn’t prepare them for the real (corporate) world because success in the real world is based on how white you can act. This leaves us with unhappy Asians who go to classes to learn how to pick up white women. Bagging white women and being promoted is called living the dream. If you don’t think this is fair, you should ditch the corporate ladder, start your own company, and make lots of money by being your own boss. Like that guy who started HotOrNot.com.

Now, let me add a few thoughts of my own because the only reason I talk about articles like this is to use them as an excuse to generate tags that trick people into reading my opinions– in an effort to assert his own individualism, Yang continues to perpetuate a false binary of East v. West where the East represents the traditional, emotionally suppressed, emasculated, overachieving automaton and the West represents the virile, socially adept, naturally successful alternative. He collapses the world into an America in which the only visible races are Asian and white. These oversimplified, homogenous racial identities are the basis for a worldview in which he is able to represent a superman who has transcended this racial crisis.

In other words, Yang acts like everyone around him thinks that you have to be either an unhappy, overachieving Asian American who follows Asian cram school culture or you have to learn to be white. Then he acts like he’s the only person who’s ever considered a third path, where you’re not Asian or white washed (even if he acts like a Twinkie), you just ARE. I’m so tired of this argument! Being Asian American is great. And liking your cultural heritage doesn’t mean being Amy Chua (see my post on her). And really people, WE HAVE BIGGER THINGS to talk about.

Let’s talk about homophobia and sexism and mental illness and undocumented immigration and compulsive gambling within our communities. Let’s look at racism and sexism and heterosexism and classism as causes of underrepresentation and disenfranchisement in society at large. Let’s talk about the self-loving, well-adjusted, Asian Americans of all ethnicities that are working to make this world a more just environment for our people to live in.

Let’s talk about that.

Competing Stereotypes

How is it that so many stereotypes contradict each other? Stereotypes of Asian American men are a perfect example. According to one, Asian American men are supposed to be quiet, unaggressive, unsexy computer nerds. To fight a stereotype like this, wouldn’t it make sense to show that Asian American men can be strong and assertive people who can stand up for themselves? NO! Because then they would play into another stereotype– the super kung-fu master. And back in the day Pilipino men were stereotyped as super sexy threats to the purity of white women. This brings us to a big question: how to best combat stereotypes?

Should we commit ourselves to being the opposite or popular stereotypes? Then we run the risk of playing into or creating another stereotype, and we’re still being controlled by the stereotype because we’re afraid to be ourselves.
Should we just be ourselves then? That seems like ignoring the problem, like saying “In a perfect world, the race of my partner wouldn’t matter, so in this world, I don’t think its a big deal that so many Asian women would rather date white men than Asian men.”

All stereotypes begin in the truth– after 1965, US immigration law targeted highly  educated Asians for their technical skills (read, the US only let Asian engineers and scientists come to the country, so its seemed like Asians were smarter than everyone else. Asian men are often relegated to the role of fighters in action movies, rather than emotional leads in movies, which reinforces the stereotype of Asians as martial artists, rather than complex characters.) Combating stereotypes requires highlighting people who don’t fit the stereotypes, as well as the complexity of people who fit into aspects of stereotypes.

Stereotypes do affect the way individuals think about themselves for sure (if all our role models are doctors, we’re more likely to be doctors), but we can’t measure real change that way. An individual can be anyone anyone they want. Some of us will resemble stereotypes and some of us will not. Being a doctor is awesome! Being a doctor because you think that’s what you’re supposed to be is not awesome. To measure real change, we shouldn’t measure success by how many people change their minds and stop being doctors, but by how large patterns change.

We Can’t All Be Classy

In April, a casting call went out for an Asian American Jersey Shore. Earlier this month, the cast was announced, and this video was leaked:

Some people are saying that this is good news for Asian Americans– its breaking the stereotypes of the quiet nerdy Asians, and showing the world that we, too, can act like the lowest common denominator. Detractors say that being depicted as trashy is even worse than being seen as a stereotype, and that the characters in the show should be ashamed to portray the Asian American community like that.

Reality shows are parodies of real life. Casting directors pick the people with the most explosive personalities who are most likely to do anything they can to get some screen time, or otherwise embarrass themselves. It’s true, whether the show is Jersey Shore, the Bachelorette, or the Real Housewives of _________.

Most people don’t believe that reality shows really reflect reality, so why should this show really reflect Asian America?  I hope that if/when this show gets picked up, people don’t watch it and think all Asian Americans are that shallow.

Let’s look at the damage anyway, at this group of twenty something Asians, partying every night in K-town:

The men are tall and muscular and confident. Between handsome FBI agent John Cho on fast forward, awesome dancer Harry Shum Jr. on Glee, and Bro #2 Kendall Cho in the Mentalist, Asian American men might be breaking away from the slim super brain stereotype.

The women are petit and sexy. Two of them include semi-nude pictures of themselves on the cast reel. Between overachiever Sandra Oh on Grey’s Anatomy, sexy half-Asian Michaela Conlin on Bones, and shy girl Jenna Ushkowitz on Glee, Asian women everywhere are petit and sexy! And dating non-Asian men! I miss Jin and Sun from Lost. And I wonder if the girls of K-town will be chasing Asian boys.