Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Drake's Impersonation Of Manny Pacquiao

Is It Offensive?

There's a video that has been making the rounds that shows the singer, Drake, impersonating Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao. The skit shows Drake - as Pacquiao - in the recording studio talking about his love of music amongst other things and, well, just watch......

What do you think? I thought the skit was hilarious and not in the least offensive or racist, but the video has apparently caused offense amongst some Filipinos. The Facebook site of the Philippine newspaper, Inquirer, has asked readers if they consider the skit to be racist, to which most have answered "no". This link shows some reactions to the skit - mostly positive, but a few not so much. Another Filipino blogger has written a post explaining why he thinks the skit was racist - here - calling it a type of blackface.

Whilst I understand the sentiment of those who are uncomfortable with the skit or have found it racist or offensive I don't agree with them. Where I agree with those who are offended is that we have a responsibility to examine these kinds of representations of Asians in the media because the vast majority of the time those representations are overwhelmingly demeaning and negative. In this case, however, I think that we have to look at the context and the big picture in order to be able to truly assess the intent of the skit.

There is a major difference between the Drake skit and the typical "comedy/satire" that mock and demean Asians. We have to remember that the usual demeaning representation of Asian people de-individuates us, meaning that this kind of racism relies not so much on observation of particular individuals, but rather draws from the library of stereotypical and racist conceptions of Asians - some of which are decades old - that are based more on the product of the mainstream racist imagination than on any real interaction with Asian people. After all, you cannot know Asian people and be their friend if you interact with them the in the way modeled by the media. So, all the "ching-chong" representations of Asians are not based on observations of individuals, but are mostly drawn from mainstream-created unrealistic stereotypes the purpose of which is to demean and dehumanize Asian people.

Drake's impersonation of Manny Pacquiao, by contrast, does the exact opposite to the above. Firstly, it is an impersonation based on the observed behaviour, mannerisms, and speech of a real person and not merely a regurgitation of tired stereotypes. Manny's love for singing is parodied, and his "renaissance-boxer-man" approach to life is cleverly satirized, and it is all delivered using an accurately executed Filipino accent and a well-observed Pacquiao humility. In other words, whoever wrote the piece actually bothered to observe aspects of Pacquiao's character and demeanour and was thus able to produce a clever personalized parody of a real, individual, Asian person instead of the typical dehumanizing allusions to slant eyes, and gibberish language imitation.

That to me is the crux of why the piece was not racist; instead of saying the usual "look! An Asian! Ching-Chong!", the piece was individualizing an Asian man through parody, instead of de-individuating and dehumanizing him. Whether this was by design or if it was merely a happy accident I do not know but I think that, in a sense, the skit  is one of the most normalized depictions of an Asian man that I have ever seen, simply because it is based on the actual observation of a real, individual Asian man.

H/T FlipFob

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weren't The First Chinese-Americans....

.....Mostly Men?

I came across an article in the Huffington Post today that reports on a photographic exhibition taking place in New York that examines the lives and contributions of the early Chinese immigrants to the US. The exhibition is called "Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion" and looks to be an interesting show. The HuffPo article is also very interesting, but in a different way. In light of two recent posts - one dealing with the downgrading of the anti-Asian male violence nature of the Isla Vista killings, the other dealing with the need to promote Asian-American history through culture - the HuffPo article does a good job of illustrating the tendency of commentators to do the former, as well as the necessity to enact the latter.

The article begins thus.....
It wasn't easy being Chinese American in the early days. From exclusionary laws to the racist caricatures that dotted newspaper comic pages, America wasn't exactly laying down the welcome mat.
Although the above statement is true, it is also - paradoxically - false. The falsity occurs in what is omitted in the description of the experiences of the first large-scale Chinese immigrants in America. As I wrote in a previous post - here - the lives of the early Chinese immigrants were characterized by savage violence inflicted upon them by white Americans. This is what I wrote in that post, which I titled "Driven Out - An Asian-American Holocaust"......
The stories of violence and manifestations of hatred are almost unbelieveable - they are so savage, brutal, and sadistic, that the perpetrators and the violence that they committed sounds like little more than a caricature of a medieval warlord and his mob of rampaging peasants. If one were to write a novel - or make a movie - with these kinds of incidents, most people might find the characterizations to be too far-fetched. But these things did happen, and the sadistic brutality was real, yet, the entire episode has almost disappeared from the American consciousness...... 
Mobs of men (but sometimes including women and children) would enter Chinatowns, forcing the Chinese out of their homes and businesses, they would be beaten (or killed) and then made to walk miles to the coast or railway stations where they would be forced onto trains and ships and removed from the town. Then the homes of the Chinese would be ransacked and burned. In some instances, Chinese homes and dorms would be set on fire with the Chinese men still inside, who were then shot at and murdered as they tried to escape the flames....... 
In the six or so decades between the 1850's and the early 20th century, there were hundreds of such incidences, that drove Chinese communities out of dozens of American West Coast towns, killing many Chinese men and injuring thousands more. Following the so-called "dog-tag" laws in the 1890's that required the registration of all Chinese, the idea was floated that any Chinese who could not show that they were legal should be placed in "enclosures" - a disturbing foreshadowing of Japanese internment.
Most of the information for that post was taken from a book - that all Asian-Americans should be made to read - called "Driven Out", and it paints a far more horrific picture of life for America's first Chinese immigrants. Although exclusionary laws and racist caricatures in the media were significant - and serious - issues facing the first Chinese-Americans, the pervasive violence that accompanied it deserves to be remembered, documented, and imprinted, even, in the consciousness of both Asian-Americans and the mainstream.

But why is it necessary to remember these terrible historical episodes when the Chinese men who went through it were themselves reluctant to record these experiences, preferring to forget the horror of it all? Well, firstly, if we forget exactly how extremely difficult it was made for the early Chinese immigrants  to establish communities, and then thrive, then it actually diminishes the successes highlighted in the HuffPo piece. For example, it is an achievement that there was a Chinese-American WWI pilot (highlighted in the HuffPo piece), but if all the community that she came from had to overcome were some mean caricatures and racist immigration laws (which by her very presence, she had gotten around), then her achievement seems less of one.

By contrast if we acknowledge that in order for her to be able achieve what she achieved, her antecessors had to resolve to carry on after being violently expelled from homes and businesses that they and taken years and decades to build, and watching friends, family, and acquaintances, being rounded up, beaten, and murdered, in the process, lends a whole new level of significance to her success. Overcoming racist caricatures and immigration laws to achieve success is good, overcoming a six-decade period in which your community was were subjected to expulsions from dozens of towns, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and suggestions that they should be placed in "enclosures", is far more significant achievement.

The second reason to remember the violence perpetrated against the first Chinese-Americans is that we can see echoes of the relationship between anti-Chinese/Asian political rhetoric, racist media depictions, and racist violence and behaviours, that is still with us today. Often our racial experiences are shaped by rhetoric driven by political tensions between the US and some Asian country that manifests as racial hostility or violence against Americans of Asian descent. Vincent Chin was one such victim of this process. It is possible that political rhetoric empowers and enables the expression of casual racism against Asians in the media which in turn empowers and promotes demeaning racist behaviour and perhaps even violence towards Asian people. This process was a problem for the first Chinese Americans -with deadly results - and it remains a significant issue today, and one that we still struggle to deal with. This is a disturbing reminder that however far we think we have come as a community, there still exists in America a cultural phenomenon and process in which politics and media combine to shape behaviours and attitudes towards Asians that are still largely hostile, dehumanizing, and casually racist.

The third and final reason to remember the violence perpetrated against the first Chinese is not to do entirely with white racism, but has more to do with how we tend to collude (both intentionally and unintentionally) with the mainstream to marginalize uncomfortable history and those who experienced it. The facts of history tell us that the first Chinese communities in America were made up almost entirely of Chinese men. Of course, what this means is that the vast, vast, vast majority of the victims of the expulsions, round-ups, beatings, tortures, and murders, committed by white-American mobs all along the West Coast were men - Asian men. What this means is that by not making mention of this period of ethnic cleansing against the Chinese we are erasing one of the most monumental episodes in history that lies at the root of and defines America's cultural conceptions and attitudes towards Asian men (just think of all the Asian men we still see being slaughtered by the dozen in American films), but we are also erasing - and as a consequence, dishonouring - the bravery, steel, and determination (qualities often associated with masculinity) exhibited by these 19th century Chinese men.

They are the ones who were violently expelled from their own homes, and who did not give up but instead starting again somewhere else, sometimes several times over. They were the one's who survived beatings and violent round-ups, and witnessed their friends being murdered, but who persevered. By their perseverance and bravery, these Asian men made possible the successes of later generations. If they had not fought back against their persecutors, there would have been no "later generations" of Chinese or Asians in America worth talking about. Yet, their story is marginalized. The reasons for this may be complicated.

Some of us may have internalized America's refusal to associate Asian men with qualities of bravery, perseverance and masculinity, and are, thus, unable or unwilling to view this period of Asian history in that light. Some of us may also have internalized America's discomfort with strong Asian men, the idea of which may seem threatening. Some of us may simply be ignorant of this history. More disturbing, perhaps, is the possibility that the story of these Chinese men, who overcame extreme brutality, is somehow a victim of the Asian-American divide that places the genders in competition for a share of mainstream attention and acceptance. It could be that it does not fit the narrative to acknowledge that Asian men laid the groundwork for the subsequent growth and thriving of Asian-Americans - the preferred narrative and the one most readily accepted by the mainstream (i.e. white America), the one that defines Asian men almost entirely by their attitudes towards, or treatment of (real or made-up) Asian women.

The result is that we are left with an Asian-American culture that largely avoids the uncomfortable episode of ethnic cleansing that targeted the first Chinese immigrants but also continued in the form of pogroms and race-riots that targeted subsequent communities of mainly male Filipino and Japanese immigrants. By allowing ourselves to forget, allow our community to be ignorant of, or deliberately downplay the experience and history of Asian men overcoming decades of racial violence, then we are guilty of colluding with white supremacy. Firstly, we are basically allowing Asian-American history and thus Asian-American culture to be feminized in an unhealthy way - a type of feminization that does not uphold Asian feminine power, but rather patronizingly views Asian feminine power as somewhat passive, cute, and girly. Secondly, we are allowing mainstream sensibilities and apathetic acquiescence to racial stereotypes to be the main factor in defining the elements that are important to the cultural development of Asian-Americans and, hence, the factors that drive our identity.

It could be that the resilience of these early Chinese immigrants does not fit our own mainstream caricature-derived notions of Asian men and their masculinity. The Chinese men who overwhelmingly comprised the first Chinese immigrant communities, had to display a kind of courage and depth of determination that one would not believe possible if we were to take our references for Asian male masculinity from America's cultural depictions. Consider this; over a six-decade period, these men were targeted by mobs and individuals for violence and abuse. They were dragged out of their homes, beaten, their homes ransacked and their belongings stolen, then often their homes and places of business were burned to the ground, sometimes with the Chinese men in them.

Those who were not murdered were rounded up, and marched at gunpoint - sometimes for miles without being given food or water - and were forcibly put onto trains and ships where they were told never to return to the towns that had just expelled them. Now, remember that none of this even speaks to the daily occurrence of racism that they endured - like verbal harassment, personal violence, white customers taking goods and services from their stores and refusing to pay, not to mention racial murders, separate from those committed during the expulsions, that were never investigated, or when they were, resulted in no charges or only perfunctory sentencing for the perpetrators.

Our racist concept of Asian masculinity that is America's culturally appropriate way of viewing Asian men that we have internalized, might make us believe that the response of the Chinese men might be to slink away in fear, complaining unintelligibly in funny ching-chong accents, and cower in fear. Yet, this is not the case. Even after being threatened with death - by local politicians as well as local labor thugs - if they returned to their burned out homes and communities, these Chinese men, did just that to reclaim their belongings, homes, and even to seek justice from their attackers. Others simply re-settled elsewhere and started over, arming themselves for defense. The real nuance here is that even in that time, these Chinese men found ways to negotiate with their white neighbours - some of whom were sympathetic, others not so much - and build a strong connection and even community that included non-Chinese friends and benefactors that helped the communities to survive. These Chinese men were smart as well as tough.

This is how it was possible for Asian-America to exist and we have Asian men to thank for it and the subsequent successes that we have come to enjoy. Let's try to remember them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Background Noises.

The Asian Male Victims Of Elliot Rodger.

I have held off on in-depth commentary on the Elliot Rodger murder case for several weeks out of a desire to not take advantage of the suffering of grieving family and friends of the victims and push an agenda of any sort. In the first few days of the killings it seemed as though some observers were paying sympathetic lip-service to those who suffered, only to seemingly push a political or sociological agenda of some kind. From gun-control and white privilege, to pick-up artists and Asian misogyny, the analyses flowed freely. I'm not saying that people were wrong in their analyses, just that all too often, victims and those they leave behind, become the background story in their own murder case.

Anyone acquainted with my blog should not be surprised that in the Rodger murders, it is the Asian male victims who seem to have been really, really, pushed to the background in the various analyses of their murders. Of the three Asian men murdered by Rodger, two, Cheng Yuan "James" Hong and Weihan "David" Wang, were his roommates, and the other, George Chen, was a friend of the other two who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The manner of the men's deaths warrants some attention - all three were stabbed to death, with some reports suggesting that the stabbings were so violent that they describe the bodies as having been mutilated. Elliot Rodger seems to have really hated them, doesn't he? As this article suggests, Rodger's hate was so intense, a single murder weapon did not suffice......
.....evidence taken from the apartment makes them think that Rodger may have used a machete, knives and a hammer to kill their sons.
That article also suggests that the parents of the three Asian male victims are also noticing how their son's (and the other victim's) deaths have received scarce interest in the media. It is of little surprise to me that the violent deaths of three Asian men seems to barely rouse the consideration or interest of the mainstream media, but what is saddening is that the Asian media itself has offered few analyses of the specific racial dynamics surrounding the murders. Although mention has been made of the specific cultural emasculation of Asian men and how this might, could, or did, drive Rodger's violence, it seems that the angle that Asian observers are most comfortable with is the narrative that highlights how Asian male misogyny is being fostered by gender specific anti-Asian racism. Then of course, there are the circling justice activists owning Rodger's "Asian-ness" seemingly excitedly relieved over another example of how we are absolutely not the model minority.

None of this does anything to address the fact that even in death, the three Asian male murder victims - specifically the racial dynamics surrounding their murders - are largely rendered invisible and marginalized in the tragedy of their own demise by both the mainstream and Asian-American media alike. Just as in life, Chen, Wang, and Hong, might have noticed that our American culture had little room for empathy or consideration for the experiences of men who looked like them, in death they are similarly denied a cultural voice. I can understand the mainstream media's comfort with maintaining the empathetic distance from Asian men - after all, that is what they do - less understandable is that the Asian-American media has dropped the ball on honoring the racial aspects of the men's murders and modelling the kind of behaviour towards our own that we demand of the mainstream.

It is an interesting question why as a community we have seemingly been unable or unwilling to attempt any in-depth analysis of the dynamics involved in these men's deaths. One possibility is that we are so attuned to a culture that absolutely denies - or only grudgingly affords - a specific voice for the Asian male experience that we ourselves find it difficult to find the empathy within ourselves that one might expect would naturally emerge. On the other hand, as I have written about in a previous post there is a sentiment that discussions on the experience of Asian men are only credible if they are included as part of an all-encompassing anthology that references and alludes to issues outside of the issue of Asian men's experiences, such as Asian women's issues, the black experience, or some other random issue. Given what I observed in that linked post, it comes as no surprise to me that a racially driven murder directed at Asian men, by a perpetrator whose hate was so intense that he apparently mutilated their bodies, is only approached in a holistic manner, that overstretches the narrative such that the specific act of violence towards Asian men is downplayed. That, to me is the fundamental issue here.

It seems to have escaped our notice that the brutality of the murders of Chen, Hong, and Wang, bears an eerie resemblance to the kind of casual brutal violence perpetrated in the racist fantasies of American film and television. The violent stabbings of these three Asian men has an eerie echo of the frenzied baseball bat killing of Vincent Chin, and the more recent biker mob frenzy of violence against an Asian-American motorist. This type of frenzied anti-Asian violence seems largely reserved for Asian men and is a concept that America is extremely comfortable with - it is common to see Asian men's brains being bashed in, and their bodies being shot to pieces, or the life being squeezed out of them, in some of America's most popular cultural productions. The disturbing part is that at least Elliot Rodger could claim insanity, or cognitive handicap. American culture, on the other hand, depicts frenzied violence against Asian men as an often justified norm. But we, as Asian-Americans, can't really talk about that because it leaves out issues faced by other groups or is somehow marginalizing other identities to focus on Asian men and the cultural fantasies of violence against them that occasionally bleed over into real-life.

What this means for the Asian men butchered by Elliot Rodger is that they have to make do with being the background figures of their own tragedy. The fact that the brutal manner of their deaths is one that is played out over and over again in fiction as well as fact in American culture - in which violent, savage, deaths inflicted on Asian men is normalized and, perhap, even celebrated - is a subject largely missing from the commentaries. Most commentaries that I have seen have neatly skirted around the subject - for the mainstream to do so is expected, for Asian-Americans to do so is inexplicable.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reclaiming Asian History

One Story at A Time.

A call went out a while back from photographer, Corky Lee, asking for volunteers to participate in a photo-shoot that coincided with a decision by the Department of Labor to induct the Chinese rail workers who constructed the US railways back in the 19th century into their Hall Of Honor. Once the railroad was completed, the Chinese laborers were excluded from participating in the official photograph ceremony, and their contribution was more or less wiped from the historical and, more importantly, the cultural consciousness. So this is a long overdue acknowledgement of the Chinese contribution to American history and development.

In addition to the above mentioned efforts to bring Chinese railroad workers to historical recognition, other articles highlight the lack of historical recognition for Filipino activists in gaining rights for farm workers, the poorly understood and recognized atrocities of American imperial aggression in the Philippines in the late 19th and early 20th centu─▒ries. Also, recently, Canadian authorities issued an official apology for racist policies of the past, and in New York's Chinatown a street was renamed in memorial of Private Danny Chen, the US soldier who committed suicide after being racially bullied by fellow soldiers.

I am always a little shocked whenever I am reminded that Asian-American history is so invisible, misunderstood, or its general facts and details unknown, outside of the Asian-American community. For a country like the US - which is the most significant power in the Asia/Pacific region - to be basically ignorant of the Asians in their midst is frightening to contemplate. As a nation and leader in the entire Pacific basin, our policies and attitudes towards the various races of Asia can - and do - have significant repercussions in the region. Yet, America - as evidenced by its cultural dehumanization of Asians - is largely content to view Asian-Americans through the purveyance of demeaning stereotypes and certainly not through the accurate or empathetic cultural understanding of their historical experience.

There may be a number of reasons for why Asian-American history and historical experience remains so invisible and unknown in the popular cultural consciousness of America. First and foremost, there is little empathy amongst mainstream America's cultural gatekeepers for Asian subjects in general - seeming to prefer promoting demeaning images of Asians outside of any historical (or social) context at all. Secondly, Americans may have a general ignorance or general lack of interest in history of any kind. This second point is of particular significance because without a grounding in the facts of history, it may be via the platform of popular culture that mainstream ideas about history in general and Asian-American history in particular are being generated.

This is important because the third possible reason for Asian-American history being so invisible and unknown could be that Asian-Americans themselves may not, to any large degree, be promoting Asian-American history through creative cultural endeavours. Simply put, Asian-American artists seem to not be pursuing many creative historical narratives that tackle, or allude to, the extremely uncomfortable (for mainstream America) developmental pattern of violent and xenophobic anti-Asian prejudices that over the years have evolved into the kind of casual, "second-nature", anti-Asian bigotry of the present.

In order for the Asian-American historical and racial experience to be taken seriously and become integrated into the fabric and consciousness of the wider American mainstream it it is up to Asian-Americans to themselves integrate those same experiences into their own cultural consciousness. In other words, if we want our Asian-American historical experiences to become simply American experiences then we have to set about promoting that history. Of course, this presents a significant challenge for Asian-American artists of how to produce creative work that is original in scope, sufficiently interesting to attract a reasonable audience, but also stays true to the Asian-American historical narrative in such a way that it might appeal to audiences beyond the Asian community itself.

Those who think these "audiences beyond the Asian community" is a reference to white people, then give yourself a slap, because white people are not the only audience beyond the Asian community that could be potential audiences for Asian-American arts. In fact, an exploration of the Asian-American historical experience through cultural endeavours that seeks specifically to attract audiences from other minorities may well be more likely to be successful since such work might - if it were to be historically accurate - strike a chord of empathy with the shared experience of prejudice that is common to all of America's ethnic minorities.

This approach could solve two problems; firstly it would enable Asian-Americans to explore their own history of oppression at the hands of white supremacy without having to compromise historical truth in order to appeal to a white audience that simply might not want to be reminded of past brutalities committed in their name. Secondly, it seems logical that other minorities who have themselves experienced oppression would be more open to viewing historical narratives that echo their own narratives of oppression. The outcome of such an approach could be a major game-changer for Asian-Americans in that it could open up opportunities for artists that are not forthcoming from the white mainstream, but even more importantly it could serve as the basis for greater unity, understanding, and cooperation between ethnic minorities that could have positive repercussions beyond the artist/audience dynamic. In some ways, this approach is a movement towards a counter-culture that can challenge mainstream domination and control of the Asian-American historical narrative.

To summarize, true mainstreaming of the Asian-American historical experience can only occur if and when we make it integral to our own cultural endeavours. This means that Asian-American artists need to concern themselves with exploring our historical narrative through culture as a means of cementing our place in the cultural consciousness of America. Furthermore, by striving to appeal primarily to the non-white mainstream - as opposed to the white mainstream which we seemingly tend to do - we could be laying the groundwork for greater understanding and commonality between us and other oppressed groups, whilst simultaneously slowly mainstreaming our history.

Furthermore, the whims and tastes of white audiences have often been cited as explanations and excuses for the invisibility and stereotyping of Asian-Americans in the media and, thus, may itself have served as a deterrent for Asian artists who have sought to explore Asian-American history. This means that it is possible that the only avenue to disseminate the knowledge of our historical experience beyond the classroom and into the popular consciousness is by prioritizing its appeal to other minorities, as opposed to the white mainstream.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Emasculation And Asian Male Sexuality.

Are We Afraid Of Free Choice For Asian Men?

In the wake of the recent tragic shooting in Isla Vista, in which Elliot Rodger murdered his two room-mates and their friend as well as three random people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a spate of blog posts and news articles were published that sought to make sense of the tragedy. What I found interesting is the way that writers with different agendas focused on their own specific aspect of the tragedy; feminists focused on Rodger's misogyny, black folks focused on his anti-black racism, gun-control advocates focused on his guns, and gun-control opponents focused on his mental illness.

One interesting perspective came from Jenn over at the Reappropriate blog, who coined a new word - misogylinity - to describe what she views as an unhealthy adoption by a segment of Asian-American men of hyper-sexuality as a means to define their masculinity as a response to America's cultural emasculation of Asian men. In short, Jenn suggests that this creates an environment of "woman-hate" - the kind that Elliot Rodger latched onto to justify his misogyny - that leads this particular group of Asian men to disrespect and demean women. Whilst acknowledging the need for a positive response to the emasculation of Asian men, Jenn question whether we should be more nuanced about the kind masculine ideals we should (politically) push for. Her suggestion is to somehow "de-link" sexuality from masculinity such that sexual conquest does not come to define what it means to be a man.....
But let’s be clear: this sex-based masculinity is not actual masculinity. It is something else: let’s call it “misogylinity”..........................Too often, we narrowly (and sometimes uncritically) promote pop culture images of Asian American men in sexual or romantic roles (where the character’s explicit heterosexuality alone defines the character as empowering and masculine). Too often, we revere characters like JT Tran, who sells an Asian American-specific version of pick-up artistry workshops, and David Choe, who hosted a popular Asian American-focused podcast that intended to subvert Asian American emasculation through real or manufactured tales of sexual conquest (where he also allegedly confessed to rape).
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that the first half of that paragraph above is somewhat at odds with my own experience. I don't ever remember any Asian-American - male or female, and certainly no-one of any significant influence whatsoever - actually promoting any Asian male media character based solely on their heterosexuality alone. On the contrary, almost all commentators on the subject seek to promote Asian male (and female) characters in the media who are well rounded and human. People seem to want to promote Asian male characters who are physically strong, emotionally complex, and yes, not devoid of sexuality. But it is certainly a stretch to claim that Asian masculinity is being promoted by way of sexuality alone.

At the same time, does it really need saying why there is (and should be) a focus on Asian male heterosexuality? How about this; it is specifically Asian male heterosexuality that is being maligned and demeaned by American culture? I am not aware of any habit or practice within mainstream culture of demeaning gay Asian men based on their homosexuality. So, suggesting that there might be other ways of addressing sexual dehumanization of Asian men is somewhat absurd - akin to holding you hands over your groin protectively to defend against punches to your face. What other Asian male sexuality is or has been under attack? That aside, the main thrust of the piece is that Asian men who adopt a hyper-sexualized identity as the basis for their masculinity are, basically, to be marginalized by the community at large.

In the latter half of the paragraph, two men in particular are offered up as examples of the kind of Asian man and Asian man behaviour we should eschew. Pick-up artist, JT Tran, and Korean-American artist, and sex fantasist, David Choe, are presented as the kind of slimy characters we would all do well to avoid. The argument is that we should not be giving time to, or supporting, those Asian men - like Tran and Choe - who promote the idea of sex and sexual conquest as some kind of remedy to the emasculation of Asian men. The reason is that they are - it is asserted - misogynists (both) or possible-rapists (Choe) whose hyper-sexualized personas are implicitly "oppressing" other identities....
Do we sometimes let the fight to reclaim Asian American masculinity rationalize the recreation of systems of oppression against other Asian American identities?
I am not going to defend Asian PUA or Choe (still not sure what his sin was), but what I do find disturbing is the puritanical and un-nuanced judgment that hyper-sexualized Asian men or simply the pursuit of a hyper-sexualized lifestyle as an expression of masculinity is somehow morally reprehensible and something we should marginalize out of the community. The piece never gets around to explaining why a masculinity that is heavily informed by hyper-sexuality is implicitly bad. The closest it comes to an explanation is to suggest that hyper-sexual Asian men are somehow implicitly misogynistic, but a broad-brush assertion is a weak argument for a proposal that seems to seek to interfere in individuals' lives on the grounds of our own presumed ethical superiority.

The first problem here is that we live in 21st Century America, and there exists a rather vibrant culture of casual sex and casual pick-up in which both men and women are happy and eager to participate and both sexes use eachother. Bars and clubs (not to mention the college campus bars and notorious spring breaks) all over the US are packed every weekend with single people whose goal is to hook-up - and it is entirely consensual. This means that there is an environment where people like Tran who choose (or merely possess) a highly sexualized identity are welcomed - so in order to imply a moral transgression by Tran, one would have to make sweeping moral judgements on the lifestyle itself. Good luck with that, and if you succeed, then welcome to Taliban USA. Sadly, it is difficult (and unethical) to to impose our own set of ethical values on the actions of willing consensual adults, but even worse, this idea that hyper-sexualized Asian men are a threat seems to merely echo white -supremacists ideas of the sexually rapacious Asian man who presents a threat to white womanhood.

The point here is that that lifestyle is a choice - and insinuating some kind of moral judgement on people who make different choices to ourselves is simply a repression of diverse individualities and nothing more. But worst of all, the idea that an identity that is based largely on sexuality is implicitly something to eschew is never argued effectively for in the post. The only way to answer this is with a question; why? Why is pursuing many sexual partners something we should pour moral scorn upon, and why is it wrong to have an identity that is based on high sexualization? The answer is that it is not - you just can't get passed that consenting adult issue.

Jenn's post calls on the community to redefine what we mean by, and how we present, Asian masculinity whilst inserting the caveat that sexuality based masculinity is to be avoided which, ironically, is an example of oppression of other Asian identities. Who made the judgement that says that masculine identity based on sexuality is wrong, inappropriate or, even, not empowering? Should we make highly sexualized Asian men into some kind of pariah caste because they have made a choice that - for whatever reason - has made some of us uncomfortable? Or, is it better to mind our own business and not try to control and judge other people's choices? How on earth can anyone claim to know that what individuals claim gives them a sense of empowerment is not actually giving them a sense of empowerment?

It is especially confounding that we are even talking about this since - as I pointed out in this comment - Asian feminists have for years presented an aggressive and independent sexuality as a means of empowerment - they (rightfully) choose their own sexuality and they can attach whatever importance to it that they choose; if Asian feminists choose to frame their sexuality as socially and culturally empowering, then so be it, and who are we to argue? Likewise, if there exist Asian men who feel their sexual conquests assuages America's dehumanization of them, who are we to tell them it does not? Jenn seems comfortable leaving room for the possibility that Asian female sexuality and the expression thereof can be politicized and empowering, yet erects (no pun) a moral barrier at the thought of Asian men finding empowerment through the exploration of their sexuality.

Here is where the problem with painting with a broad brush comes back to haunt you. Sexuality, for many people, is hugely integral to their character. People who have been in long-term relationships may still view their identity as highly sexualized and even base their sense of masculinity (or femininity) on their sexual endeavours with their partner. In fact, that sense of "conquest" of your partner does not necessarily go away for people in long-term relationships, and I would guess contributes greatly to the sense of femininity for women and masculinity for men. Are these people to be stigmatized too? Is getting many fucks out of a single partner equally as morally reprehensible as getting single fucks out of many partners? I need more convincing.

Of course, the argument that PUA offers a snake-oil remedy for Asian men who struggle to get dates that ultimately backfires is a legitimate one, and Jenn's piece makes much of the fact that Elliot Rodger felt even more desperate after apparently failing with PUA techniques - although it is not entirely clear that Rodger actually took any PUA classes. Regardless, the focus on that point (although valid - false advertising is false advertising, after all), for the purpose of supporting a vague moral argument to marginalize Asian men with high sex-drives also, sadly, deflects attention away from the fact that the field of psychotherapy also failed to reach Rodger. Yet, no-one has suggested that the failure of psychotherapy to create a meaningful psychological shift in Elliot Rodger reflects any failure on the part of the profession itself.

In the context of Asian and Asian-American mental health, the psychotherapeutic process is complicated by racial and cultural factors which have been documented to impede therapeutic success. Now, as a community, we sound off about Asian-American mental health, yet, in one of the clearest examples of an Asian-American whose mental state made him unreachable, we somehow conspire to miss the opportunity to highlight the unique challenges facing Asian-Americans with mental health issues. From what I understand, Rodger had been in therapy since childhood, and even though I cannot possibly know the specifics of his therapeutic plan, it is worth considering the possibility that the unique experience of cultural marginalization, normalized cultural dehumanization and emasculating stereotypes that promote demeaning behaviours and attitudes, might perhaps have been outside of the realm of experience for his therapists to address, even if they were Asian themselves.

All of this highlights some disturbing facts about emasculation and how we conceive of its character and effects on Asian men. Because Rodger focused his ravings on sexual conquest it is natural to consider his feelings of sexual disempowerment as the fundamental cause of his sense of emasculation. But this is merely narrow thinking. Rodger was - throughout his entire life, possibly before sexuality even became a factor for him - emasculated, even in childhood. This came about through bullying and marginalization. The emasculation of Elliot Rodger quite possibly had as much to do with an inability to assert himself in his social environment, or his inability to find an empowered voice that could enable him to assert control over his own experiences, as much as any inability to get laid. Are we really choosing to believe that Rodger killed mostly because he could not get laid, based on his arguably mad rantings?

If we do choose to follow this narrow understanding then we miss the opportunity to realize that emasculation is a form of dehumanization that attacks and demeans every aspect of a man. This includes their sexuality, but also other equally important aspects of their identity such as their sense of confidence, ability to provide for their family, or their opportunities for participation in the cultural life of their society. For example, men have rampaged when they have lost their job because being economically fruitful is implicit in a masculine identity. Emasculation is not just about sex if it was, then  how can we explain that fact that black men are hyper-sexualized, but there are still voices in that community who argue that this society emasculates black men by capping job opportunities, or stigmatizing their educational abilities.

The point here is that emasculation of minority men occurs in a number of ways, and as I pointed out above, there any number of qualities that we positively associate with masculinity that when compromised can lead to violent or misogynistic behaviour, so focusing on ideas of Asian male hyper-sexuality as being a dangerous echo of Elliot Rodger's type misogyny simply does not add up, and to think of it that way might serve an agenda, but does little to improve our understanding of the nuanced nature of racially inflected emasculation.

We should not lose sight of the fact that emasculation is about control, or more specifically about the power to control a man's life, social identity, and opportunities, being in the hands of people other than the man himself. It is emasculating for black men that their opportunities in employment and education are often unfairly limited by factors outside of their control. It is emasculating for Asian men that some nameless and faceless media types are able to define what it means to be an Asian man in an apparently arbitrary and defamatory way, that they have no control over.

This is a point that requires more consideration - the root of Asian male emasculation is the appropriation of our capacity to define ourselves within the context of our culture and society - everything else is secondary to that. For example, I view jokes about Asian men's dicks as emasculating because they represent the capacity and power of others to arbitrarily define and describe our bodies - the joke itself is meaningless. It, and every other derogatory stereotypes are merely symptoms of the problem, and not the problem itself. Just like rape is considered less about sex and more about asserting power, emasculation is fundamentally the capacity to assert arbitrary power over other men.

This is why personal choice is all important in the struggle against emasculation. It is, therefore, ironic that a blog post that seeks to promote "healthier" conceptions of male masculinity, seeks to do so by controlling and limiting some self-definitions and choices simply because we don't like it. Even worse, is the irrational fear that such hyper-sexual masculinity when skewed could lead to more Elliot Rodgers, when the fact is that any masculine quality (any human quality, in fact) can lead to tragic events when we abuse them.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Donald Sterling And Racism In America....

.....And Why Asians Have Nothing To Answer For.

There is an article in Slate that has been making the rounds written by a couple of Asian-Americans on the recent furore over Clippers' owner Donald Sterling's racist remarks about African-Americans. The piece parses the bigger picture of Sterling's racist attitudes and does a good job of contextualizing his supposed "love" of Koreans as merely another way of expressing a racialized and racist way of thinking.

As one might expect, the article goes to great pains to highlight the idea of the Model Minority myth as a cause of this way of thinking, noting that racism is not always - in fact is never - only about hatred, but can be expressed even as one expresses love and admiration.
While it’s not quite on par with degrading other minorities as lazy or filthy, Sterling’s praise for his hardworking Korean tenants and the “Asian way” reveals how racism can be a collection of contradictory impulses. Love and hate, praise and condescension—they are all engines of exploitation.
Oddly enough, this notion of racism being expressed through love is not new, and was most eloquently described by none other than Frank Chin - the largely marginalized and under-appreciated Chinese-American writer - whose brutal directness and unwillingness to compromise on historical and cultural truths has made him an anathema to the far more prominent historical revisionists within Asian-America. Personally, I like the guy. Way back in 1972, Chin wrote a piece called "Racist Love" that encapsulates with great eloquence and directness this idea that racism does not necessarily thrive on hatred alone, but is just as equally upheld by "love". Read it and weep.

Of course, the Slate piece should be read as a refutation of the idea that the "model minority" is a positive thing, and in that regard I wholeheartedly agree. What I find problematic about the piece - and about Asian-American commentary on the model minority stereotype as a whole - is that we always fail to point out the most uncomfortable truth about it. When Asian-Americans talk about the model minority the usual trope is that the stereotype upholds the idea that racism can be overcome through hard work as proven by Asian "success", whilst simultaneously faulting other minorities - black and Hispanic - for not doing the same. The story goes that since Asians - supposedly - don't complain about racism and just put their heads down and "get on with it" that this is a good model of behaviour for all minorities to follow - hence Asians are the "model minority". In other words, the stereotype implicitly and explicitly justifies racist attitudes towards blacks and Hispanics by blaming them and not racism for their inability to succeed.

The typical Asian response - naturally, perhaps - is to decry the stereotype for its racist love and for its detrimental effects on other minorities, criticize Asians who "embrace" the stereotype, and most significantly of all, to criticize Asians who might embrace the stereotype or simply fail to speak out against it. The reasoning goes that Asians who embrace or are silent about the stereotype are implicitly upholding white racism and in return are given "privileged" status or simply given just "privilege". I have written about this notion of Asian model minority privilege elsewhere, but the story goes that by participating in white supremacy - that is, by accepting privileges (often unspecified by critics) that enable Asians to "prosper" - and not challenging the structures that uphold it (presumably by quitting college or jobs, perhaps?), Asians are being complicit in anti-black/anti-Hispanic white supremacist racism. As the article notes....
The housing case brought against Sterling in 2003 includes black, Latino, and white plaintiffs but no Korean-Americans. We have not been able to find prominent public complaints against Sterling by any Asian-American individuals or groups. There are also troubling stories of Sterling at one point replacing his security team with “Korean-born guards who were hostile to non-Koreans.”
Although there is no explicit criticism of Asian-Americans in the piece for not speaking out against Sterling's long list of racially demeaning statements and activities, pointing out that Asians have not made any substantial complaints about him is, to me, an implicit observation on supposed Asian "passivity" when it comes to speaking out about racism directed at both Asians and non-Asians alike. As other prominent bloggers have suggested, because Asian privilege is - supposedly - unique in that we are afforded opportunities to prosper not given to other minorities, then we are uniquely required to be more vocal about racism.

This way of thinking leaves us with a substantial elephant in the room. As I pointed out in  my other model minority post, if it is true that to succeed requires complicity with white supremacy, then it must also be true that for any minority to succeed, they have to also be complicit with white supremacy and, in fact, many non-Asian minorities do succeed. In fact the Sterling case is an awkward illustration of this notion in action. Although Sterling has a long history of expressing racist opinions and enacting racist policies in his work, and although lawsuits have been brought against him by aggrieved parties, the fact is that for at least the two plus decades that Sterling has been expressing racially charged opinions and discriminating against blacks and Hispanics, there has been - as far as I know - almost no complaints or activism from black or Hispanic employees within his Clippers organization about his prejudices.

That is, aside from the most recent on-court, pre-game, "protest" by Clippers players against Sterling's most recent transgression, the black players, coaches, and whatever black support staff he employs, have been largely silent in challenging Sterling's prejudices which have been out in the open for years. In other words, they have been guilty of "model minority" behaviour - accepting the status quo in exchange for "privileges" and the opportunity to prosper. I am not criticizing the apparent passivity of black employees of the Clippers organization here, but merely pointing out that speaking out against structural racism is far more complex and difficult to do than merely following a set of college-learned ideals and imposing that set of ideals on real people in the real world (with families to support and children to feed) and finding imperfection in those people because they have to make real-world choices.

Clearly, Asians are not alone when it comes to keeping quiet and keeping their heads down instead of confronting racism head-on, the only difference is that  whereas blacks and Hispanics have a strong cultural and social voice, Asians have a weak cultural, social, and political, presence and it is, thus, easy to label us and make it stick. As I have shown, no-one is faulting black Clippers employees for their years of apparent silence over Sterling's racism.

But even the idea that Asians don't speak out about racism is clearly false. Blogs like my own, and even other Asian bloggers whose focus is not the racial experience include commentary and speak out about racism. Often, in the aftermath of yet another racist media slight, Asian journalists or writers will post articles in mainstream publications speaking out about racism. So why we have this idea that Asian don't speak out about racism I don't know because clearly, we do. But this perception itself illustrates just how excluded Asians are from the processes by which perceptions of us are formed. Despite the fact that Asians regularly speak out about racism, the wider perception is that we don't, which is probably because the images and statements that are  given the most gravity are made or created by non-Asians, often relying on formulaic and derogatory conceptions of Asian people, and who have the full power of the media apparatus at their disposal. All of this means that to buy  into the idea that Asians don't speak out about racism is to in some ways hold Asians responsible for their own exclusion and invisibility in mainstream culture. Even worse, to suggest that Asians are uniquely and specifically more disinclined to challenge racism's structures is merely more stereotyping.

Asians have very little to no control over America's race dialogue on Asians - this is a simple fact. That is why it is important that we refrain from an intra-community dialogue that over-simplifies our race experience and our responses to it. As the Sterling case has shown, any and all minorities once integrated economically into the system will overlook racial indignities and transgressions committed by the white power structures - Asians are not alone in that.
But the ultimate beneficiaries of this racial typecasting are the people who invoke the model as a bludgeon against others. Sterling’s admiration for his Korean tenants is actually a kind of scorn. After all, he still subjected Korean tenants to the same degrading treatment as everyone else—the only difference is that the Koreans seemed willing to take it.
That final sentence seems to be trying too hard and does not specify how Sterling's behaviour was degrading to Koreans, but it illustrates my points clearly. Nothing I have read anywhere says that Sterling degraded the Koreans, just like black players and staff at the Clipper's organization were not personally degraded (as far as I know) by him. Perhaps if there had been incidences of personal degradation the Koreans might have reacted, just like the black employees at the Clipper's organization might have reacted if they had experienced personal degradation - they certainly did not seem motivated to to speak out or protest on behalf of the victims of housing discriminatio─▒n in Sterling's rental properties. The point is, that all minorities act the same when they become economically integrated, suggesting that expecting such economically integrated people to approach anti-racist activism like Malcolm X might not yield the desired results, or even be the desired approach.

The real damage here, though, is to suggest that there is something uniquely Asian about not speaking up against discrimination when they are not directly, or personally, affected by it. Clearly, all minorities who have achieved some degree of economic integration for one reason of another will not challenge discrimination unless they are personally affected by it - the Clipper's employees illustrate this. By implying that this is a uniquely Asian phenomenon is simply incorrect and only serves to deflect the dialogue away from any meaningful attempt to find a course of action that empowers minorities - not just the Asian ones - to embrace their economic success or integration, whilst challenging discrimination from within.

Pointing the finger at Asians only allows the very significant fact to go unnoticed that almost no minority groups who stand to lose what little piece of economic advantage they have attained will rarely jeopardize it to stand up for ati-racist ideals. This notion is too simplistic on top of being wrong - much like the kind of stereotyping we are targeted with - and in order to improve the Asian-American cultural, social and political footprint we need to offer dialogue about ourselves that is primarily accurate, and nuanced.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Asian-American Reactivism

Engineering Our Own Demise.

Anyone who has been around kids would probably agree that you can tell a child anything, but unless you actually model the behaviour that you insist upon in the child, then they will just begin to think that you are just a hypocritical adult bullshitter. "Do what I say, not what I do" does not get you very far. But this principle holds true in all human interactions - if  you go through life not practicing what you preach then, soon, you will lose credibility. You have to practice what you preach as individuals but it is also especially pertinently significant for a racialized group, like Asian-Americans.

A couple of events that have taken place in recent weeks have left me wondering if Asian-America can be criticized for not walking its talk, and failing to provide an appropriate model of behaviour of a kind that we insist mainstream America follow. We want our dignity to be respected, we want to be seen as individuals and we want (at least I know I want) reason and nuance to guide attitudes towards us. Yet, I think that all too often in our intra-Asian dialogue we seem reluctant, unable, or simply fail, to model this very thing.

I came across an extremely well-written and witty article, written by Arthur Chu - of Jeopardy fame - in which he very cleverly gave his thoughts on the "#CancelColbert" movement and its initiator, Suey Park. Viewing Park as a necessary and welcome evil, he writes the following....
I’m glad that we’re increasingly living in a world where nice people can be nice people and jerks can be jerks and game show villains can be game show villains without the need to be a “credit to your race.” That, slowly, haltingly, through a lot of debating and arguing and fighting and hashing tough shit out, we’re finding the freedom to just be ourselves.
Sounds good, except that earlier in the piece Chu wrote the following...
Suey Park is crazy. She does not represent us. She does not speak for us. She doesn’t speak for anyone except her fellow denizens of Angrytweets, USA, a community whose sole import is random entertainment news and whose sole export is intoxicating outrage.........I’m glad she’s out there. Because Asians need more villains.
What I find difficult to reconcile here is this idea that somehow being angry makes Park into a villain. Even worse, Park is crazy because she is angry. What seems to be happening here is that Chu is celebrating some kind of eccentricity that is not usually associated with Asians - which is true - but instead of letting Park's actions and behaviours speak for themselves - as he seems to want - , he actually seems to want to shape perceptions of her, so that it does not reflect back on him. He accomplishes this by stereotyping her as villainous and crazy.

Although I am critical of white celebs contextualizing America's race dialogue by getting it completely wrong, I have not agreed with the manner of Park's activism but she is not crazy for being wrong, and she certainly is not a villain for taking the wrong approach. The problem here is that Park is a living breathing human being who - by my reckoning - made and makes mistakes and I am simply uncomfortable with her being labeled because of it. Doing so does not sound like being genuinely open to a diverse, warts an' all conception of Asians because part of that process of acceptance of our warts is to leave open the possibility and hope that as individuals who make individual choices, some wrong, some not, we have the capacity to change. After all, isn't racism predicated on the idea of immutable, often negative, racial characteristics?

But there is a more profound issue here that I find troubling - even in cases where minority anger is justified, America still manages to stereotype it and mock it. We have stereotypes about the Angry Asian  Man (and now, perhaps woman), and we have stereotypes about black anger, and we laugh at them, and in the process diminish any legitimate concerns that  sparked the anger. Yet, white anger is taken seriously and given weight, and in no way is implied to reflect on any one other than the person expressing it, and rarely, if ever is white anger mocked via stereotype.

Of course, the cherry topping is the caveat that Park "does not represent us" and "she does not speak for us". Shouldn't it go without saying that it is reasonable to presume that Park's opinions represent little more than her own thinking? Why would Chu have to even say such a thing...unless...unless...there is some kind of process by which Asians are held to accountability as a group for the actions or behaviour of one of them? Maybe Park isn't so crazy after all.

But this tendency to pile in and beat each other down - even when we think we are doing the opposite - took an even more sinister and disturbing turn more recently when Korean-American artist, David Choe, told a story on his internet broadcast show that left many listeners believing that he had committed rape. Basically, the story goes like this; Choe claimed that in a "high-class spa" - that is a legitimate non-sex oriented spa - he pushed his female massage therapist's head onto his penis to make her perform fellatio, after which she proclaimed her previously unspoken sexual attraction for Choe, and requests his telephone number so that she can, you know, make it happen again - nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Of course, Choe is not interested, and gives her a false number.....uh-huh. That sounds believable.

My first reaction when I heard Choe telling the story was that he sounded like a fifteen-year-old boy, boasting to his friends about sexual encounters that never happened except in his own fantasies, or as an embellishment of a story he read in his dad's Playboy mags. Nothing about the story rings true, nothing about it made me think that I should take it seriously as a reflection of an actual incident, and even the manner of the telling came across like Choe was improvising the whole thing - badly - such that all I could think was "it did not happen".

But in the aftermath of the broadcast a furore erupted with accusations being made that Choe had actually committed rape and was effectively admitting to doing so. In the wake of this wave of repugnance for Choe, a petition was created - here - requesting that the White House remove Choe's paintings from its walls because.....
On 10 March 2014, David Choe aired an episode of a podcast called "DVDASA" describing a sexual exploit at a high-end massage parlor. Choe commented how the massage therapist, "Rose", did not want to be physically touched, responded "no" to his requests, and ultimately resulted in him physically pushing down her head onto his erect penis............While Choe has since recanted his remarks, stating he had made up the story, his commentary still has a significant impact due to his fame and perpetuates the myth that there is a rape spectrum, that no doesn't mean no, and rape is not always rape, but merely "rapey".......Choe may not be a rapist, but his painting of our President Obama does not deserve to represent his community at the White House.
Choe may not be a rapist, but his painting of our President Obama does not deserve to represent his community at the White House.
A previous version - the above has been updated, I believe - called on the White House to issue a statement on its stance regarding "alleged rape" (incidentally, what are the ethical considerations when one asks people to sign a petition and then one changes the wording of the petition after it has been signed?). Whilst I can certainly understand the negative reactions to Choe's comments and decry his gross insensitivity on a subject that is painful and very real for women, the fact is that he has not actually been proven to have committed or even charged with a crime.

In a court of law, the concept of reasonable doubt serves as a guiding principle for how we judge the accused - we apply reason, logic, and rational arguments to evidence and subsequently judge impartially. Furthermore, reasonable doubt also safeguards against abuses of judicial power by ensuring that evidence itself is not arbitrary (I feel, without evidence, that someone is guilty, is not reasonable evidence, for example), or that charges do not serve a political agenda. So, reasonable doubt is a hugely important aspect of guaranteeing our rights and protecting them from abuse.

With that in mind, it is disturbing that anyone would participate in a petition try to leap-frog the judicial process by calling on the Executive Branch of our government to basically treat Choe as though he were already convicted of a crime, and do damage to his reputation and possibly his livelihood by removing his work from the White House. In other words, the Executive is being asked to mete out punishment to Choe, effectively in lieu of his right to due process, and all based on a dubious story (subsequently retracted), and (somewhat) popular outrage.

Asian-Americans, of all people, should be painfully aware of the dangers of populist outrage, and popular sentiment in relation to the denial of due process, and I would not be surprised if many of the Asians who signed the petition would - with a completely straight face - decry Japanese internment and their denial of due process during World War 2. They too were punished without ever being convicted of any crimes, and it was done via an Executive order and with popular consent. We cannot have it both ways.

Sure, people are free to choose to boycott Choe, but to demand that the White House play a part in punishing or censuring someone who has not even been convicted of, or even legally charged with, any crime, does a greater disservice to Asian-Americans than Choe's stupidity. The petition states that Choe "does not deserve (emphasis mine) to represent his community", which carries with it an implicit call for the White House to make what amounts to a moral judgement - to be accompanied by a "punishment" - on a civil society matter, thus expanding the scope of the Executive role to include moral proclamation. It is a staggering irony that people who casually demand that an individual's right to due process be infringed upon by an Executive that also issues moral judgements, could somehow believe themselves to be the arbiters of what, or who, could be a deserving representative of our community.

No, these folks are far, far, far, worse, and Asian-America should distance itself from any hint of vindictive action that unapologetically seeks to punish someone who has not even been charged with a crime, and who seek to muddy democratic principles because someone said something upsetting. And this is what is so disappointing; by participating as Asian bloggers, writers, or signatories of a petition, in any activity that supports steamrollering someone's democratic rights, then we have effectively set the standard for how we ourselves can and should be treated in the eyes of the law and society in general. That is not to say that those angered by Choe's douchebag story should merely let it go (on the contrary feel free to take action within the realm of normal civil society activity if you wish), but it does mean that we should shoulder a responsibility to insist that nuance and reason guide behaviours towards any Asian, not emotion and vindictiveness.

This is because nuance and reason are the qualities most often absent from the behaviours and actions of mainstream America towards its Asian minority. We saw this during Japanese internment, and more recently in the Wen Ho Lee case. If Asian-Americans are not prepared to approach issues relating to Asian people with nuance and reason (and modes of interaction that uphold human dignity), then how can we demand it of others? In other words, if we want to be treated with respect and have our human dignity respected (even in cases where there is potential for crime, more so in cases where a crime has only been inferred to have been committed), then in a society that makes a point of not respecting our human dignity, we must surely be obliged to provide that model of behaviour that we insist mainstream America abide by?