Sunday, August 7, 2011

Child's Play

Learning The Ropes.

Any person who has spent time viewing Asian-American blogs, websites, or forums, might notice that the subjects that garner the most activity revolve around interracial dating and media representation. These subjects - particularly interracial relationships - are discussed and examined to such a degree that many people might be able to tell you the precise percentage of Asians who date outside their race, as well as the rate that this percentage has increased since the 1980's. Similarly, many of us have detailed familiarity with the dynamics of media representation and would willingly take time out of our day to protest a stereotype. Yet, as this piece of news from Angry Asian Man suggests, there is another aspect of the Asian experience that is neglected in the discourse of "mainstream" Asian-American commentary - the issue of racial bullying and harassment of Asian children.

The subject of racial harassment and bullying of Asian-American children in American schools is a theme that I have revisited throughout my blog. Several of my posts have covered the problems of racism facing Asian children in South Philly High, as well the phenomenon of racist attitudes and behaviours exhibited by non-Asian children toward Asian people in general, and Asian kids in particular. For the Asian minority, the experience of childhood racism is so universal that the subject's absence from the discourse is nothing short of bizarre. Yet, information on this subject is not only largely absent from the popular discourse, academic studies assessing the degree, long-term effects, and severity, of racism on Asian children are sparse to say the least. So, not only is the product of Asian-American culture silent about this experience, there seems also to be a lack of academic curiosity. This I believe to be a huge detriment to any notion of raising the consciousness level of an autonomous Asian-American identity and culture, but is also a major stumbling block in the struggle to overcome hostile anti-Asian attitudes.

The culture of casual harassment and racial bullying of Asian kids that exists amongst their non-Asian peers is the primary step in the marginalization of the Asian-American individual. It is hardly surprising that identity issues, a sense of exclusion, and a profound cultural shame, are so widely reported by young Asians raised within an American cultural context. All too often we are quick to point the finger at the media as the principal culprit that brings about these states, but I believe that it would be more accurate to look to the experience of school racism as the probable root of these issues - how could it be anything else? Racial bullying of Asian children varies in degree from the use of epithets to outright violence, or mockery of names and racial characteristics to physical intimidation. At the impressionable school-age, many Asian kids experience casually persistent harassment so normalized that even school employees are often unmotivated to intervene.

Despite this, the negative effects on Asian children may not even be the worst outcome of school racism. Yes, we know and understand that school racism has profound effects on the victims, but what are the effects on American society itself of raising generations of American kids who have learned in school that anti-Asian prejudice is normal and acceptable? It's a well-established belief that children who are raised in violent homes are more likely to be violent as adults, and children who are sexually abused may exhibit sexual promiscuity as adults. Clearly, if kids are raised with a skewed perspective then this is reflected in their identity and perhaps even their moral sense.

So, what then of children who are raised with the belief that dehumanization of Asian people through epithets, mockery, intimidation, and violence is normal and natural? I believe that for many Americans dehumanization of Asians is part of their growth process, and hence thinking about Asians in demeaning ways becomes an integral part of their identity. This raises the question of how this affects the moral compass of Americans and American society in their consideration of Asian people.

For the most part, American attitudes towards Asians are irrational. This is evident from the ease by which mainstream America seems to be so easily goaded by politicians and culture warriors into resentment and fear of Asia. As I've written elsewhere, it seems possible that someone (anyone!) can put forward just about any notion about Asia and its people, and it will be taken as truthful without so much as a critically opposing thought. Furthermore, American culture has created an industry out of denigrating Asians that seems to be driven by a mainstream market unhindered by the moral considerations that promote racial sensitivity and non-racist attitudes as virtues. This shouldn't surprise us; the dehumanization of Asians is a practice that begins in first grade for many American children, and that is the only way that Asians are conceived of.

The result is that when an Asian child is harassed in school, or attacked by a rampaging mob, or the Asian elderly are targeted for violence, or an opportunistic poltician calls for a boycott of Asian shops, few in American society see any reason for action because implict in the American identity is the idea that Asians do not warrant the same moral considerations. There is nothing morally wrong with abusing children if they are Asian. American culture itself promotes the idea that violence towards Asians carries with it an implicit justification - well, they are taking our jobs, or they have unfair trading practices (like invading a sovereign nation to secure oil is fair!), or they are a threat to the American way of life, or they're just not cool.

For me, not much about the Asian-American experience makes sense without understanding the scope and potential repercussions of anti-Asian attitudes that are propagated through America's children and youth. I believe it is impossible to construct an accurate narrative on an Asian-American identity without acknowledging this aspect of the experience.


  1. where do "American" children learn their racist behaviors from, if not enabled by their redneck parents who laugh at Hangover#1,#2 and talk about it with other redneck parents?

    and "American" also includes "Asians" "Latinos" and "blacks" since it's a nationality not an ethnicity.

  2. Hi none,

    Welcome and thanks for posting. I wish it were true that anti-Asian racism is the product of ignorant hillbilly type prejudice, but unfortunately it isn't. Just look at the degree of anti-Asian sentiment in America's higher education establishments and you'd soon realize that an education is no guarantee that someone will be tolerant.

    Also rednecks don't write the screenplays that demean Asians - that is actually implicit in my post. Anti-Asian prejudice is so ingrained in America's psyche that it is not marginalized to the ignorant, but is mainstream in scope.

    "America" in this post refers to mainstream America, from which Asians are largely excluded, and blacks and Latinos have only in recent decades started to have visibility.

  3. I live in a multi-ethnic city (Sacramento) and very few were "white hicks" in my school - but I still remember a Hispanic kid calling a friend "Itch my Ho" when her last name is Ichio. Everybody did it to each other, but she was the only Korean in the entire school. I found her on FB a few months ago after 20 odd years, and she still remembers it as clearly as I. I also remember a Vietnamese kid in junior high taunted by a girl, asking if he liked that song "They're coming to America". Even a city as diverse as mine, that kind of crap still goes on. Kids are ruthless, and their parents don't shoulder their responsibility the way they should. If something like that flew out of my mouth? If my Mom found out, she would've made me march over to the kid's house and apologize.

  4. Hi R.L

    I agree, the parents and adults lead by example. Much of the time, American culture itself exhibits negative attitudes towards Asia and its people. I also don't really believe that diversity itself leads to tolerance. Tolerance is something that has to be fostered and won't happen just by creating divers communities.

    You have cool blog BTW!