The 8Asians blog recently published a post in which Eugene Lui, the founder of a political group called the Asian Conservatives, gave an interview in which he talks about how Asian-Americans might fit into the landscape of American politics via the ideology of conservatism. Also discussed was how he, as a conservative, conceives of the issue anti-Asian racism in the media, as well the reasons for the apparent dearth of Asian-American conservative bloggers. Here is what he has to say about perceived anti-Asian racism in the media......
Well, I think “racist” has been used so much in the mainstream media these days that the word has lost its meaning........The Civil Rights Movement — that was about racism. Somebody calling me names and making fun of my slanted eyes — that’s just an immature moron stating the obvious..............................Okay, I’m going to say it: Dear libs, stop being so sensitive to every. little. thing. If a popular sitcom doesn’t have an Asian actor, that doesn’t mean the viewers don’t know that Asians exist. If an Asian actor portrays a nerdy student in a Hollywood movie, that doesn’t mean everybody thinks we’re nerds (do you think blacks — ahem, African Americans — are nerds after falling in love with the Steve Urkel character?). It’d be an issue if Asian American citizens were denied voting rights. It’d be an issue if Asian Americans were being persecuted as a follower of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Falun Gong, or some other religion. It’d be an issue an Asian Americans were being taxed differently than other ethnic groups. It’d be an issue if Asian American parents were prohibited from making babies. .......Remember: Life, Liberty, pursuit of Happiness.I was quite surprised by this response for a number of reasons. The idea that media portrayals can challenge traditional family values is a prominent notion in conservative thinking. It is a conservative view that media depictions of glamourized casual sex, casual drug use, and homosexuality, can and do have negative affects on the thinking, moral decision making, as well as the behaviour, of America's youth in particular and society in general. Even foul language and explicit language in songs might be viewed as a potential threat to the morality of the traditional family.
The gist of such thinking is that culture influences (or even directs) public opinion and behaviour, and normalizes activities that run counter to traditional values of moral thinking. Thus, such unwholesome cultural endeavour is seen to play a major role in how individuals within a society views themselves, what they consider appropriate morally and behaviourally, and ultimately shifts the compass away from traditional concepts of moral and upstanding behaviour. Additionally, culture is also a reflection of what is actually socially acceptable - popular cultural depictions merely mirror the realities of social interactions. So whilst popular culture can direct opinion and behaviour, it also reflects the reality of how people within the society may actually be behaving and thinking, as well as identifies the ways in which individuals view themselves in relation to others within the society.
If the conservatives are correct that permissiveness in the discourse of popular culture has the capacity to alter individuals' social behaviour, then it must logically follow that negative depictions of Asian people have the capacity to promote and normalize negative behaviour towards Asians. Many people seem to believe that pornography and some depictions of casual sex in film and television can lead people to have sexist attitudes towards women which might ultimately contribute to an environment conducive to harassment, rape, or even violence. It should follow that any media representation of any given group that promotes a demeaning one-sided view can lead to negative social attitudes and behaviours. In order to deny that demeaning and negative stereotyping of Asians contributes to negative behaviours towards that group one must necessarily question or deny that media pornography or casual sex, violence, foul-language, and casual depictions of drug use, can negatively impact moral decision making, or normalize such activities. This runs counter to the claims of conservative moralism.
It is impossible to deny that most representations of Asian people in the American media are one-sided and tend to be derogatory, xenophobically histrionic, and generally dissmissive of any value in Asian people or contemptuous of any contribution of their cultures to the richness of the human experience. Whether it be movie characters, politicians looking for cheap votes, or celebrities trying to be controversial (paradoxically, without stepping on any important toes!), the general tone is the same - Asians are demeaned or dehumanized, ridiculed or mocked, villified or dismissed. Given this general conservative belief that the media and influential personalities can impact people's ability to make responsible moral decisions, and thus affect behaviour, it seems naive (or maybe dishonest in some cases) to offhandedly dismiss derogatory images of Asians.
Of course, one could read this post and think to oneself; "So what?!" Aren't Asian-Americans outperforming everyone in universities, the workplace, income levels and so on and so forth? Isn't it trite to complain about the media when Asians are so successful in America? Surely, our success is an indication that the negative attitudes and racism propagated by American culture do not affect our ability to prosper? Whilst I cannot disagree that some segments of the Asian-American community do succeed, such an attitude reflects a lack of nuanced thinking common amongst Asian-Americans that, I believe, is almost as big a detriment to our prosperity as are racist attitudes.
History shows that when a society promotes negative attitudes and stereotypes about an unpopular group, then the result is usually unpleasant - even in situations where the target group has acheived a degree of integration. The Jews of Nazi germany provide the best example of this. In the years before the Nazis came to power, Germans of Jewish descent were amongst the most prosperous and highly educated people within German society. Yet, the Nazis were able to exploit negative attitudes, behaviours, and stereotypes that had persisted about the Jews to bring about the holocaust. Smilarly, the South Indians of Uganda were a prosperous minority, but persistent hostility towards them led to their eventual expulsion.
Then there are the Americans of Japanese descent who, prior to Pearl Harbour, had become a somewhat integral part of west coast life. Their slow but definite progress towards prosperity was rudely interrupted by an internment process caused by paranoid fear, and enabled by the persistence of racial hostility and resentments. The point should be clear. Any minority against whom negative attitudes and resentments are harboured, are likely to fall victim to some kind of backlash. Unfortunately for us Asian-Americans, we live in a society whose culture actively, cynically, and deliberately, promotes harassment of Asian people.
In short, it's difficult to see how one can hold to the belief that the media and it's personalities can influence the moral compass and behaviour of American society, whilst downplaying the idea that media mockery, and misrepresentation of Asians can lead to negative outcomes for Asian people. For this reason, conservatives of all people should understand this better than anyone else - Asian conservatives even more so. It is simply avoidance to characterize as "stupid' or "immature", the casual and routine racism enabled by the cultural normalization of anti-Asian harassment. In fact, the culture of harassment of Asians is so integral to the American psyche, that it is even normal for America's children to routinely express hostile attitudes towards Asians. It may be true that many Asian-Americans have achieved prosperity, but given the fact that attitudes of resentment and distrust are spitefully promoted in American culture, any prosperity seems built on a weak foundation.