Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Is A Time For .....

...Sex, Bingo, and Dried Fruit and Nuts.

You wouldn't think that Christmas would be celebrated in a Muslim country, but here in Turkey it has become a fairly major shopping season celebrated by many. Of course, the religious component is absent - no reference to JC, the Virgin, or Magi - but, instead, has been re-termed the "Yılbaşı", or "New Year" festivity. Everything is the same in the seasonal celebration - Christmas trees, house decorations, and even Santa (after all, St. Nick was born in Turkey), are included, and the period of the celebration is the same, roughly from mid-December through to early January, gifts are exchanged and everybody has Christmas cheer.

Of course, not everyone shares this enthusiasm for this Christian celebration. Some - presumably hardcore minded Muslims - encourage the faithful to avoid participation in general, and joint participation with Christians, in particular. Since we live in a relatively conservative area, we are, naturally, exposed to some of this opposition to Christmas. Last year someone was kind enough to leave several extremely well-made, and expensive-looking flyers in our building that warned believers of the unsavoury nature of Christmas.

The flyer sought to discourage participation in Christmas celebrations by warning believers that Christians celebrate by having sex, playing bingo, and eating "kuruyemiş" or dried fruit and nuts. I was shocked because if I had known about the sex, then I would have attended midnight mass more regularly as a youth. This kind of makes me think that this tactic might ultimately backfire - which man isn't willing to endure a bit of bingo and dried fruit if sex is available as part of the package?

Of course, I remained confused about this notion that bingo and eating nuts and dried fruit were in some way morally suspect or irreligious. Luckily, I have an acquaintance who belongs to a community known as "Levantines" who are of Italian or Greek ethnicity but were born and raised in Istanbul. This acquaintance and his wife are an older couple, who have lived through some extremely turbulent and harrowing times as members of a minority group, and were able to shed some light on this dried fruit and bingo debauchery. The reference to the dried fruit and nuts was a mockery of an Orthodox Christian tradition of exchanging these items as a symbol of unity and sharing. The bingo allusion was an insinuation that gambling is an integral part of Christmas - and gambling is frowned upon in Islam.

Naturally, I found these characterizations ludicrous and laughed, but my friends were clearly rattled and disturbed by all of it, and seemed confused by my lack of concern about such obviously (to them) inflammatory bigotry. What enabled me to be casual about this bigotry was that I had simply not shared their experiences and, therefore, couldn't find an emotional attachment to them. Amongst Americans of Asian descent in the US, this is a similar phenomenon to our own - when first-generation immigrants (or Asian observers in Asia) don't see how or why American born or raised Asians would feel disturbed or dehumanized by racial slurs or racial mockery in American culture. To them it is something that they are, perhaps, emotionally detached from because they were not exposed to it since childhood.

What this shows me is how closely history - personal and group experiences - are intertwined with culture and identity. Without acknowledging that history, it is almost impossible to find commonality or understanding between either individuals or groups - even groups of similar ethnic background. For my Levantine acquaintances, these seemingly (to me) innocuous jibes represented a far more serious historical culture of hostility (that has now, thankfully, significantly receded) than I knew. Likewise, because the Asian-American historical experience - both personal and communal - is culturally invisible, our life stories seem to get lost in the wider cultural context of American society, hence, an ongoing perspective of Asians as outsiders and foreigners with whom there is little commonality.

So, in some ways, integration and acceptance of minority groups depend to a significant degree on the integration and acceptance of a minority's historical narrative. In fact, calls to end ethnic studies highlight the importance of the minority historical narrative and can be interpreted as a way to avoid integrating such narratives into mainstream culture and consciousness, whilst at the same time weakening the all-important foundation of identity; historical experience.

For example, imagine an America that does away with narratives surrounding Thanksgiving, July 4th, or even the Boston Tea Party. These histories reflect and represent the very foundation of what we Americans believe about ourselves and which informs our American national identity. Thanksgiving reflects a religious bedrock narrative of America as a manifestation of divine providence, and religious freedom. The Independence Day and the Boston Tea Party narratives remind Americans that their refusal to acquiesce to an unrepresentative and despotic monarchy reflects their fundamental nature as freedom loving individuals and whose personal and national identities are informed by this nature. These historical experiences and narratives are fundamental to the American identity and to end such narratives would significantly alter the way Americans feel about themselves and hence American culture. This is why most authoritarian governments aggressively control historical narratives - doing so shapes the national identity and creates a more easily manipulated public whose uniformity of opinion diminishes dissent.

In this light, it is easy to understand the sentiment amongst some Asian-Americans of feeling disconnected or "cut adrift" from mainstream America. Our histories and experiences are often white-washed such that it becomes normal to accept that pervasive anti-Asian racism is actually only an anomaly perpetrated by ignorant individuals - even though casual racist caricaturing and stereotyping normalize such racism in the first place. Without even the most rudimentary knowledge (let alone acceptance) of our historical experience as Americans and as targets of colonial expansion, it is hardly surprising that American culture continues to view us as outsiders.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wrong Again!

The Folly Of Taking Asians For Granted.

One of the more surprising outcomes of the recent Presidential election was the overwhelming support shown for Obama by Asian-Americans. Almost invisible during the campaigns (particularly in the Romney camp) the way that Asians voted went against all expectation. my sense is that this is because, as I've written before, much of the commentary that I have read that has been written by western "experts" on Asia and its peoples often seems made up or largely coloured by preconceived ideas that can only be described as chauvinistic in nature.

A recent report from the Pew Corporation seemed to suggest that Asian-Americans have achieved a level of economic success equal to, or slightly better than, that of the white majority. In terms of both household and personal income, Asian-Americans rate as some of America's highest earners. Although disputed by many Asian-American commentators for not taking account of higher per-household earner rates amongst Asian families, and for completely ignoring around 17% of Asian-Americans from some Southeast Asian groups whose high poverty rates and chronically low employment and below poverty-line income would have lowered average income rates for the entire group considerably, the Pew report was widely lauded as evidence of a successful immigrant minority group that has moved passed issues of racial inequality and "come good".

Most importantly, for this essay, is the fact that the findings of the Pew report seemed to show that Asian-Americans were almost no brainers for the election - their income levels, and even purchasing trends, all suggested (according to some) that the community would be full-on for the Republican cause. The completely unpredicted outcome of the election has shocked many of the commentators on Asian-Americans, although I would suggest that Asian-Americans themselves are far from surprised that so many of us would vote the way we did. What this highlights is the degree to which the dialogue on Asian-Americans is out of touch with the reality of our experience and that much of the certainty and truth about what Asian-Americans think and believe derives less from what they say about themselves and more from self-proclaimed "experts" taking advantage of the fact that Asian-American opinions are invisible in most of the narratives about them.

It probably should go without saying that much of the thinking on Asian-Americans is built fundamentally on a foundation of stereotype and gross generalization. The outcome of the election has defecated in the gaping mouths of shocked observers whose smug assertion of Asian predictability has been shown to be an embarrassing folly. What it revealed is that despite commentators claiming to "know" the Asian-American community, much of what is predicted about us must be appallingly ignorant and perhaps even informed more by cultural and racial stereotypes than an unbiased assessment of reality.

So what does the outcome of the election say about Asian-Americans? In terms of stereotypes the Asian vote seemingly belies several things that are believed about us in one fell swoop. Asians are often derided for being driven by money over everything else - making them a-political in their pursuit of the dollar - unconscientious and inconsiderate of social inequality, and racist towards African-Americans. Strange then that such a group would vote for a black man, whose party stands for social justice, greater inclusiveness, and fairer wealth distribution. It is no longer politically expedient to assign qualities and beliefs to a group of people about whom very little is actually known whilst cynically excluding them from the dialogue. 

And it is really quite a simple concept to understand - reaching out to Asians like they are actual human beings instead of a formless mass of de-individuated statistics with no human qualities might yield more positive results. Despite being not yet substantial enough to necessarily swing anything less than the tightest election - although this is likely to change in the not too distant future - the Asian vote illustrates how deceiving it can be to rely on income stats, and the opinion of self-proclaimed experts, when discussing Asian-Americans. These tactics have been used as a means to feign inclusiveness and understanding, whilst in reality is a way of avoiding meaningful engagement.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Social Anonymity

Disfiguring The Asian Face.

I read an interesting article on the BBC news website that discussed the private and social experiences of people who have suffered from the disfiguring condition of Bell's Palsy. The condition is a dysfunction of cranial nerves which leads to partial facial paralysis, leaving sufferers facially disfigured. Interest piqued, I embarked on a brief cyber-surf looking for more information on the phenomenon on disfigurement and how it affects the sufferers, socially, emotionally, and psychologically. During this research I became aware of a sense of deja vu from what I was reading, and came to realize that some of the testimonies of facially disfigured individuals could be seamlessly interchanged with that of Asian-Americans (myself included) and easily reveal much about our experiences and our uneasy presence in western societies.

Naturally, this was something of a shock because I, like most Asians, am not disfigured, yet, the experiences of some disfigured individuals reveals some very striking similarities between disfigurement bigotry and anti-Asian racism. Asian racial characteristics are routinely mocked and singled out for abuse throughout mainstream culture, and the pervasiveness of harassment of Asian children and mockery of their racial characteristics by their non-Asian peers is a testament to how ingrained hostile reactions to our racial characteristics are in American society. What this means is that even as children, non-Asians are conditioned to think of Asian racial characteristics as abnormal and behave as though mockery of them is natural. Sadly, many Asians themselves, become conditioned by this process to think of their own racial characteristics with shame and embarrassment. A key difference, however, is that whereas the mockery and distaste for facial characteristics of Asian people is considered socially acceptable, mocking the disfigured is ostensibly frowned upon even though it obviously exists.

One interesting point of note is the way that the condition of disfigurement somehow becomes a public consideration along with the individual who suffers from it. The Bell's sufferers in the BBC article report a kind of shift in the social rules in that normal behaviour is often suspended in social situations in which they find themselves. For example, many of their social interactions are often characterized by staring and inappropriate overly personal questioning, or outright rudeness and hostility. So the normal rules of social introduction and interaction shift so that there is a presumptive dynamic in which a disfigured person is "answerable" for their condition - that is, the normal rules of social interaction are "leapfrogged" permitting rude behaviour and awkward, uncomfortable, and overly-personal (for the person being grilled) questioning.

In this interesting YouTube video, an advocate for the disfigured (at 1:21) talks about a loss of "social anonymity" experienced by the disfigured. Their condition prompts presumptions about their character, leading to behaviour that causes them discomfort and distress and even leads to intimidation. It is almost impossible not to notice the familiarity of these experiences because they could be easily interchanged with those of Asian-Americans and paint an accurate portrait of how Asians are conceived of in America's culture and society and how these perceptions drive negative behaviour.

This notion of suspending accepted social norms is a common feature of the Asian-American experience. Possibly the most frequent and common manifestation of this phenomenon is being accosted by total strangers demanding to know where you are from (racist heckling is another example of social acceptance of suspending the social rules). Ostensibly an insignificant issue, until we notice the contextual anomaly of this social interaction. Accosting people that you don't know and who insist on asking personal questions is completely socially inappropriate - even by American standards. If you were to go up to a white American that you didn't know (or barely knew), they would be completely thrown by the question and would feel extreme discomfort - I know because I have done it (you should too). Why the discomfort? Because it is a very personal question and knowing the answer to it tells you absolutely nothing about the individual in front of you. Yet, I suspect that many non-Asians believe that knowing the geographical origin of the Asian person you happen to be harassing with this line of questioning does reveal insights into their character.

Of course, this is because the guidelines of behaviour followed by mainstream America are modeled by cultural depictions in which Asians are typically portrayed as de-individuated curiosities at best or debased objects at worst. What America's media racism models for non-Asians is a certainty about the characters of the Asian people being depicted such that the irrational idea arises that knowing geographical origin does indeed grant a profound insight into that person's character. Because Asian racial characteristics are depicted as anomalous and are routinely mocked and denigrated in American culutre, I would suggest that non-Asians are conditioned to respond or react to Asian faces and the human beings attached to them, in the same manner that people would react to disfigurement. The key difference being that disfigurement has an element of pathos attached to it granting some degree of dignity or compassion from society. Asian racial characteristics and the accompanying "knowledge" these physical characteristics reveal are almost entirely associated with negative character qualities and irredeemable differentness.

Thus, this notion of social anonymity is a social privilege that is almost guaranteed to non-Asians, but casually denied to Asian-Americans. The narrative of Asians is entirely authored by a mainstream culture that promotes, with authority, the idea Asians can be conceived of  in a generic way such that geographical origin, racial background, and physical characteristics, can inform enquirers about character more than the specific life experience of any given individual. What this means is that social anonymity guarantees non-Asians enough personal space to be able to tell their own story about who they are because there are no presumptions about them - more importantly, non-Asians generally don't have to deal with negative presumptions.

In summary, American culture has generated such a negative attitude towards Asian racial characteristics that it can be argued that such physical qualities elicit similar cultural and social responses experienced by people with facial disfigurements. The most compelling evidence for this comes from anti-Asian racism in America's schools - non-Asian kids learn by practicing bullying and harassment that Asian racial characteristics are abnormal and (aided by denigrating cultural depictions of Asians) that such qualities reflect negative character traits. As a result, many Asian kids grow up with negative feelings about their own racial characteristics and will often self-represent them negatively - that is measure of how successfully America has made the Asian face into an aberration.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust

Asian Girl Boasts About Her Own Stupidity - Receives Cyber-Beatdown.

Several weeks ago, another Asian woman stepped up to provide more evidence that despite having high college graduation rates and a forbidding reputation for educational attainment, intra-community-stupidity remains one of the biggest obstacles to Asian-American flourishing.

In an article published in an online mag called XOJane, agent provocateur hopeful and latest outspoken useful idiot, Jennifer An, wrote a flighty confession on how her racism determines her choices in the world of dating and love. In short, she relates how she simply not only doesn't date Asian men, but will only date white men, and all because she is a racist. Better still, not only is she a racist, she's happy to be that way, so there! Unfortunately for An, being so casual about anti-Asian racism is a big no-no in America's "pretend it doesn't exist" consciousness. The negative reactions to her article from non-Asians, in particular, highlights the degree to which An, and other Asian women like her, over-estimate the value of their perennially childish contributions to the society they hope to ingratiate themselves into.

Despite this, it has to be acknowledged that the issue of race has many facets and nuances. So while it is true, in my opinion, that social and cultural conditioning create a default mainstream position that is hostile and suspicious of Asians, I also maintain that there are some who might be willing to look beyond the the pervasive anti-Asian attitudes, recognize it for what it is, and reject it. This is only one part of a larger race dialogue within American society that seems to be trying to negotiate the meaning of the American identity and how the multi-racial and multi-ethnic character of 21st Century America has or will alter that identity. In this light, this might be why An's piece (and its back-pedaling follow-up) elicited negative reactions from so many non-Asians. The nature of the opinions of An (and many other Asian women) opt to drag the conceptualization of this complex dialogue down to a high-school level and trivialize a subject which is a major issue for many people - of every race - and who are genuinely working to find resolution.

In other words, An's post is stupid and just as I alluded to here, the trend of young, well-educated, career-oriented, Asian-American women, who view their dating choices as some kind of grandiose activism and inflate its social, cultural, and political relevance is actually exposing itself as the work of attention-seekers who have no substantial insight to offer the race question - or even the interracial relationship question. No wonder white-male-run-mainstream-media loves to give these girls a platform to express their pointless opinions - it diverts the attention away from meaningful dialogue that recognizes the unfairly maintained power share that white males enjoy. Nice one.

Even though I'm disinterested in the combative character of the typical dialogue of Asian-American out-marriage and dating rates, there are aspects to the subject that are pertinent to the Asian-American experience. The first point of relevance is that Asian "IR" rates are often put forward as an indicator of decreasing anti-Asian racism. As I wrote here even academic studies cannot hide the fact that interracial marriage indicates an uneven softening of anti-Asian attitudes along gender lines with seemingly more willingness to integrate Asian women than men. Clearly, in the case of Asian-Americans, interracial relationships are a poor indicator of a general decrease in racism towards Asians. In the unintentional manner of an idiot savant, An's piece actually shows this to be true with some Asian women adopting - rather than changing - negative attitudes towards Asians as part of the integration process.

The second point of relevance is that interracial relationships between Asian women and white men have become (because of, and evidenced by, articles like An's) the central theme of the Asian-American dialogue - it even occupies the central theme of many (possibly most) mainstream depictions of Asian-Americans. What this means is that the predominant Asian-American story has become a story of white men and their Asian partners - diminishing or excluding all other narratives in the process. This is something verging on a moral issue since issues such as endemic racially biased physical and psychological abuse of Asian children in America's schools receives considerably less media attention than the problem requires even as the frequency of media coverage of Asian women's dating choices increases.

The third point is that the many articles written by Asian women on the subject display a remarkable childish self-absorption that is embarrassing at best and just plain creepy at worst. This phenomenon is bad for Asian people in general but it is especially dis-empowering for Asian women. One of the justifications for racist thinking in America and Europe's history has been that people of colour are childlike in their emotions and their intellectual capacity. Thus, because people of colour are unable to manage their own affairs it justified colonization, stealing of land and resources, and worst of all it justified slavery and indentured servitude and ultimately the second-class citizen status of non-white peoples - even in their own countries. Asian women who through this kind of flighty affect, and dizzy thinking, are simply prolonging the demeaning role outlined for them by white chauvinism. And these girls don't even have the excuse of being poorly educated.

Perhaps even more interestingly is that for many Asian-American women, like An, it seems that dating white men informs a significant aspect of their identities without which their sense of "American-ness" might be diminished. Furthermore, the basis for their sense of belonging in mainstream American culture hinges largely on their relationship to white men. This means that for some Asian-Americans (and it is not only the women), being American means absorption into white culture and unconscientious adoption of it sensibilities without questioning or challenging any prejudices that may underlie it. It also means that for some Asian-Americans what they have to say is meaningless without a white presence in the narrative.

Of course, it comes down to a conflict between the historical perspectives that inform cultural endeavour. Since historical experience forms the basis for culture, the fact that Asian and Asian-American history is written and owned by Western perspectives that are fundamentally hostile and disdainful of Asia (and often driven by racial chauvinism), any Asian-American culture is suppressed almost by definition because the history that should give rise to it is skewed. To express an accurate Asian perspective will necessarily be a source of conflict which is why is easier to adopt mainstream prejudices at the expense of an original or oppositional perspective.

This is the underlying reality of articles like An's. Instead of rising to the challenge of thinking for oneself, the authors choose a parasitic approach that is neither original, nor insightful, but instead upholds the status-quo of prejudicial thinking.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Some Thoughts.

I got a chance to see the controversial-for-Asian-Americans-movie "Cloud Atlas" this past weekend (and no, I didn't pay to see it) which is a fantasy/Sci-Fi epic that explores the continuity of human nature through the stories of several sets of characters set in various time frames spanning several hundred years, past, present, and future. I suppose one could say that the characters represent "archetypes" of the human experience whose qualities range from wicked, greedy, oppressors, to flawed heroic saviour types, as well as everything in between. The movie explores this idea of the relationships between archetypal characters and their role in the evolution of human progression (and digression) being played out over centuries and employs the theme of reincarnation to show how the human story can be viewed as a repetition of this struggle between those archetypal characters who seek to diminish human flourishing and those who wish to expand it.

Although at times visually breathtaking (Halle Berry!), and generally well-acted (Halle Berry in a white jumpsuit!), the epic theme and the fractured way that it had to be expressed meant that there was just too much story to be told and in a too disjointed way for the movie to work successfully. Of course, from an Asian-American perspective the movie employed some character development practices that have left many within the community feeling alienated from the film. I'm referring to the use of "yellowface" - the practice of using theatrical make-up and prosthetics to transform Caucasian actors (but in this case also black actors) into East Asians. A time-honored practice in the entertainment industry, yellowface is both a symbol and strong measure of the degree to which the movie industry discriminates against Asian actors - particularly Asian male actors.

In short, in Cloud Atlas four different actors, all male, three of whom were Caucasian, one of whom was African-American, are "transformed" into Asian men by perfunctorily slapping a strip of skin-toned latex over the upper lids of the actor's eyes to make them seem to turn into slits and slant off-horizontal. Now, it has to be said that there was a smattering of incredulous snorting around the theatre when these Asianized (or Asian-eyesd) characters first appeared, which seemed to suggest that the latex prosthetics were unconvincing. According to some defenders, this race-replacement strategy was necessary because the movie's theme of reincarnation was depicted by using the same actors to play different characters reborn over time. Apparently this is because there are no other means by which this simple idea of a soul being reborn into different bodies could be conveyed without using laughable make-up on the same actors. Of course, this rationalizaton fails when we realize that Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Sturgess, and Doona Bae, all play the roll of the main character (whose soul is reincarnated into their bodies) at different epochs in history. So clearly, audiences aren't so stupid that one would need a comically made-up actor to portray a different race, otherwise this wouldn't have worked.

Naturally, Asian-Americans are disturbed by this strategy of race-fakery in film when it would seem that finding talented male actors of Asian descent to splice into these roles would have been easy to do. The choice to chink-up non-Asian actors has been defended against accusations of racism on the grounds that the movie has a diverse cast (including an Asian female in a major role). Yet, it is difficult not to notice that the choices made by the movie's makers are almost identical in character to the practice of discriminating against Asian male actors that is customary in Hollywood and which white-washes Asian males out of leading roles even in historical pieces where the main character is Asian. Most telling of all was that several people in my group - Turks who are unacquainted with America's racial politics - remarked how the amateurish and silly  the race make-up seemed, leaving them to wonder why Asian males weren't cast in the roles but Asian women were.

Perhaps worse still is the fact that the only time an actual Asian male takes centre stage in the film it was in a beyond-minor role as an asshole who sexually harasses a female waitress and then gets his ass beat by her. Thus, the movie displays all of the qualities we see of a typical Hollywood flick that marginalizes Asian men out of leading roles, but then leaves room for a portrayal of an Asian male getting beaten up by a girl - just in case we forget that an actual Asian man couldn't possibly perform the heroic deeds of a white man with latex over his eyelids. Perhaps the whole issue could be resolved by casting Asian men made up to look like white-men-made-up-to-look-Asian. The irony of this movie is, therefore, remarkable in the extreme. The movie's grandiose claim is that it is documenting the "connectedness" of us all - except, of course, when the connection is with Asian men.

But there is another aspect to this movie that seems to have gone unnoticed amidst the criticisms aimed at the film's Yellowface. Korean actress Doona Bae plays a major role in the movie as a clone waitress, "Sonmi 451", who upon realizing that she has been created to be a slave, has an awakening of consciousness that leads her to recognize the injustice of her existence, the consequences of which changes the course of human history and leads to a better world. Yet, what I realized was that the Sonmi character, despite being the focus of a major shift of human consciousness, was actually little more than the tired stereotype of a helpless Asian woman being rescued and directed by white men - albeit in this case, with latex upper-eyelids - who, in the process, give her life true meaning.

In a strange juxtaposition of contrary archetypal concepts, Sonmi's awakening changes the course of human history whilst her character remains completely vulnerable, non-self-sufficient, unskilled, and completely helpless. But the reason she succeeds is that she is rescued, protected, and told what to do by men. In fact, her only strength is her ability to curry sympathy through fatalistic tear-shedding - the several scenes in which her tears drip dramatically from her helpless doe-eyes became rather annoying after a while. I found the narrative to be completely unconvincing in its own right, but also a rather tired reworking of an old stereotype. This seems to confirm what I have long suspected that in some quarters Asian women are the new baby seal-cubs who are adorable but who need rescuing because they can't help themselves. In an unintended symbolism, Sonmi goes on to be worshiped  as a Goddess in the far distant future - mirroring Hollywood's worship of the fantasy of the helpless Asian woman.

Overall, I find it disturbing that a movie can purport to be a narrative of the human connection across the ages, and the "oneness" of the human experience, yet those who made the movie seemingly don't practice what they preach. Instead they adhere to the common-in-Hollywood racially biased practice of excluding Asian male actors from leading roles, or reserving them for brief cameo roles in which they are humiliated in some way. The film's "profound" message is further diminished when we realize that the story's most important character - Sonmi - is actually a unoriginal stereotype. This is the enlightened side of Hollywood.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fulcrum Of White Supremacy

Asia's Forgotten History.

I've come across a blog called "Race Files" run by a guy named Scot Nakagawa whose commentaries are typically very insightful. In one of his posts from this past May titled "Blackness Is The Fulcrum", Nakagawa explains how and why his activism has become focused on anti-Black racism even though as an Asian man he might almost certainly have enough material to explore racism in depth.

As he explains, his reason is simple......
So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy......A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw.
He goes on to describe the conditions of under-privilege, institutional racism, and inequality that has come to define the experience of black America. What is most strange about this post is that it is so correct on so many points, yet, I think that Nakagawa is actually mistaken in his conclusions that anti-black racism is what supplies the capability for action. Given the extreme abuse and prejudice that Africans, and African-Americans have experienced over the past few centuries, this might seem like a strange thing to say. Yet, if we examine history we can easily see that white supremacy predates America and that whatever forces contributed to the development of the racialized society that characterizes America's past and present, anti-black racism fails as an explanation for it.

Furthermore, white supremacy underlines almost every modern day inequality that we see around the world today - both within the US amongst its ethnic groups, as well as across the world as reflected in the variance in rates of poverty, wealth and power distribution, and political instability, that exists between the white countries and the nations whom they formerly colonized. The modern world with all of its racially delineated inequalities emerged out of the West's imperial meddling. So, claiming that America's anti-black racism provides the capability for the action that is the foundation of white supremacy is, thus, the same as saying that anti-black racism is what drove the European nations to embark on the imperial activities which led to the racial hierarchies that exist in the world today both between ethnic groups in the US and internationally in the power inequalities between nations. In other words,what this means is that implicit in Nakagawa's claim is the notion that anti-black racism was the driving force behind western imperialism because the structures of modern day racism and the white supremacy that upholds it were all established in this period.

Awkwardly, the historical record refuses to co-operate with this notion. The established fact is that Asia was colonized centuries before Europe even considered colonizing Africa. For at least the first two centuries of European colonialism Africa was simply an obstacle to sail around, and was largely ignored. Europe's oldest colonies were in The Phillipines, Macau, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and India - granted, Europeans established coastal forts along the coast of Africa, but these served largely to foster the movement of goods and people stolen or traded from the Asian colonies. So, why would the white supremacy that drove European imperialism ignore Africa if these notions of white supremacy were based on anti-black racism? The answer is that anti-black racism is not the foundation of white supremacist thinking and, therefore, cannot be the foundation of white supremacy.

Understanding what drove Europeans (and later, Americans) to wage centuries-long wars of aggression against the unsuspecting peoples of Asia, The Americas, and Africa, is really the only way to understand white supremacy and how it came to be the dominant characteristic of the global world order. But what has to be understood most of all, is that the West's war against non-white peoples began with an assault on Asia.

Throughout the Medieval period as trade between Asia and Europe grew, commodities like silk and spices became highly prized in Europe (as they had been since ancient times) and the wealth that was generated was coveted by European merchants and kings who set about to find ways to control this trade. Thus, the objective of the first wave of imperialism was to gain control of these prized markets by coercion, conquest, and enslavement - when Columbus "discovered" America he was on his his way to find a route to Asia to do this exact thing.

Yet, the background to this lies in antiquity.  Ever since the age of classical Greece, the power and wealth of Asia has been feared and envied by the West and it is ideas of influential classical Greek thinkers that formed the basis for justification for the European right to rule, which evolved over the centuries into the justification for the right (and necessity) to colonize, and which ultimately became the basis for the racial hierarchy of white supremacy. As far back as the 5th Century BC, thinkers like Hippocrates, and Aristotle began to formulate concepts of race and racial differences between the peoples that they encountered which placed Greeks firmly at the top of a racial hierarchy. According to Aristotle "Asiatics" were servile and suited to being ruled because they endured tyranny without challenging it.......
The power possessed by all of these [non-Greek Kingships] resembles that of tyrannies, but they govern according to law and are hereditary; [20] for because the barbarians are more servile in their nature than the Greeks, and the Asiatics than the Europeans, they endure despotic rule without any resentment. ....[Link]
And here......
The peoples of Asia on the other hand are intelligent and skillful in temperament, but lack spirit, so that they are in continuous subjection and slavery. But the Greek race participates in both characters, just as it occupies the middle position geographically, for it is both spirited and intelligent......
Hippocrates goes a step further, and in his writings we should note some very familiar stereotypes.....
 I say, then, that Asia differs very much from Europe as to the nature of all things, both With regard to the productions of the earth and the inhabitants, for everything is produced much more beautiful and large in Asia; the country is milder, and the dispositions of the inhabitants also are more gentle and affectionate.
 Aww, how sweet! But then.....
Manly courage, endurance of suffering, laborious enterprise, and high spirit, could not be produced in such a state of things either among the native inhabitants [of Asia]..... 

But here, we learn Hippocrates' true feelings.....
with regard to the pusillanimity and cowardice of the inhabitants, the principal reason the Asiatics are more unwarlike and of gentler disposition than the Europeans is ......the Asiatic race is feeble, and further, owing to their laws; for monarchy prevails in the greater part of Asia, and where men are not their own masters nor independent, but are the slaves of others......
So, already we can see that several concepts about race are taking shape; an implied "nobility" of Greek (European) nature (white superiority), the superiority of Greek socio-political systems, it is in the nature of Asiatics (and other non-Greeks) to be subservient (inferiority of Asians), and that the Greek nature lies perfectly at the middle of two extremes between Asiatics and Barbarians - that is, both intelligent and physically powerful (compare to modern day Race Realists who proclaim the white race to be at the perfect middle of the racial extremes of black physicality and Asian intelligence). It should also be noted that for the Greeks (and later the Romans) climate was a major factor in determining the racial characteristics of various peoples - this is important in establishing the continuity of these ancient stereotypes up to the present. So right here, we can see ideas taking shape that can be described as some kind of primitive white supremacy.

It has to be noted that these ideas about Asia referred to the peoples of the Persian empire, but this idea of an ominous East populated by a cultured but intrinsically different (and inferior) people who pose an existential threat to the ideals of Western freedom, is a notion that echoes loud and clear up to the present day. Following the Greeks, the ancient Romans also viewed Asia with suspicion and envy. To them it was a land populated by morally inferior people, whose influence on the integrated Roman populace could only be negative. Throughout western history these ideas have resurfaced in one form or another such that a continuity of racialized thinking originating with Europe's earliest philosophers and carried forward to today is almost undeniable.

Throughout the medieval period the works of ancient Greek thinkers resurfaced amongst Christian theologians, and Aristotle's "Politics" (from which the first two quotes above are taken) was translated into Latin in the 12th century and became very influential in Catholic philosophy which some believe contributed to legitimizing Europe's slave trade. From the Middle Ages onwards, study of the ancient Greek thinkers (like Hippocrates and in particular Aristotle) was integral to education in Europe and it has been suggested that this rediscovery of ancient philosophy drove the Renaissance. It is unsurprising, then that later on still, we see many of these ancient concepts of race and the right to rule surfacing in the work of early race scientists who expanded on these ideas first formulated by the Greeks. Although "scientific" racism vastly expanded the scope of racist thinking, it is not hard to find similar threads of thought that echo these ancient concepts. Racial physiognomy, the notion that climate is a determinant of racial characteristics, as well as reiterations of centuries old stereotypes, are all to be found in the writings of scientific racist literature of this time.

It seems clear then that the modern concept and practice of white supremacy has a history pre-dating anti-black racism, and that the idea of European (white) superiority and the right to rule has its roots in the writings of ancient Greek thinkers. Underlying many of the most influential of these writings is an implicit theme of the "East" presenting an existential threat to the West, and it is this East/West conflict that has come to underscore the character of the modern geopolitical world. It is primarily against Asian culture and civilization that Greek thinkers measured the superiority of their own civilization and racial characteristics, and by so doing, asserted their right to rule. And this is important for several reasons.

This idea of an East/West conflict is the one theme that carries forward from ancient times to the present. From the days of classical Greece whose civilization faced an existential threat from Persia (remember also that Alexander the Great was a pupil of Aristotle), through to the first wave of European imperialism that sought to monopolize East/West trade through conquest, and on up to the present time of Muslim/western conflicts and economic conflicts with far Eastern countries, it is this idea of a heroic West locked in existential combat with a barbaric and menacing East that underlies the identity of Western civilization - it is by way of comparison to civilizations of the East that the West has been found to be superior. Hand-in-hand with this is the notion of a racially inadequate Asiatic whose subservient nature makes him unsuitable for little more than servitude. Clearly, the idea of servile Asiatics whose subservience justifies European rule, is a concept that has survived through the ages as successive generations of Western thinkers have studied the works of their predecessors all the way back to ancient Greece.

Given all of this, it seems short-sighted to claim that anti-black racism is the fulcrum (foundation) of white supremacy. The white supremacist thinking that drove Europeans in the 15th century to claim the right to own Asian lands and people derives from a separate philosophy of racism over two-thousand years in the making that exists regardless of Western attitudes towards Africans. In fact, some of the earliest black slaves were carried to China (and worked alongside Chinese slaves) by the Portuguese to develope and exploit stolen lands. Thus, in some ways and some instances, it is more accurate to say that the enslavement of Africans (and the subsequent "scientific and religious justifications thereof) is a by-product of the philosophical tradition that sought to justify the European's right to rule over Asia and which forms a fundamental aspect of the Western identity as a superior entity to civilizations of the East.

Not recognizing this history only upholds white supremacy. Given that one of the major geopolitical themes we see recurring over the past several decades has been this struggle of Western economies to maintain their hegemony over upstart East Asian nations, whose economic prowess challenges the very basis of white power. The West's shrill, fear-mongering, concerning Asian economies seems to view Asian economic prosperity (that is an Asian middle-class who can afford TVs and cars) as an affront to their identities and a threat to their survival, and is a modern day manifestation of this centuries-old way of thinking about the "rightful" world order which has whites at the top and everyone else below in no preferable order. This notion that there is an existential East/West conflict is one of the drivers of the suppression of minorities in Western countries - those who are excluded from the upper echelons of the racial hierarchy pose a threat to it and thus, to ignore the history of this philosophy and its present-day manifestations handicaps the fight against racism.

In summary, although anti-black racism has been persistent, it can only be said to tell a portion of the story of how white supremacy came to dominate the thinking and attitudes of western cultures. Clearly, the role of what ancient Greek and successive European thinkers came to view as an existentially significant East/West struggle that spawned twenty-five hundred year-old racial stereotypes about Asian people, as well as the notion of the right to conquer and rule, forms a substantial portion of the foundation of white supremacy. Without it, history and the modern world may well have been considerably more egalitarian.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Asian Kickass....

Loved this story from the UK......

Gurkha ignores knife wound to trap his mugger for 15 minutes while blade was stuck in his arm....... Anyone with any knowledge of military history knows the golden rule – don’t mess with a Gurkha.But the knife-wielding mugger in this drama clearly had no idea what he was messing with. He pushed Taitex Phlamachha, a former member of the famous fighting force, up against a wall and demanded money..........In the fight that ensued, a knife blade was buried in Mr Phlamachha’s arm, but he still managed to get the better of his attacker.....The 38-year-old shop owner was taking an evening walk with his wife Asha when they stopped to look in the window of a health shop in Maidstone, Kent. Suddenly he was hurled against a wall and allegedly told to ‘hand over the money’, or be stabbed....The pair fell to the ground where the mugger knelt on Mr Phlamachha’s chest and tried to stab him. Mr Phlamachha blocked the attacks and at the same time even managed to throw his mobile phone to his wife so she could dial 999......He threw the attacker off then disabled him with a kick before holding on to his clothes with one arm to stop him escaping for a full 15 minutes.
For those who don't know, "Gurkha" is an umbrella term used to describe a number of Nepalese tribes whose fighting prowess so impressed British colonial forces in India in the 19th Century, that the peace treaty between the two opposing forces included the deal that Gurkhas would be contracted to serve in the British army. Over the next few decades the Gurkha regiments were used to great effect in most of Britain's wars, and whose reputation as fierce uncompromising fighters earned them the respect of militaries around the world. 

Naturally, racist Britain treated these troops, who have served the crown with distinction, as second class citizens and awards them lower pensions than their British counterparts. Although partially resolved, Britain still tries to dick some Gurkhas around over their right to stay in the UK.

Anyways, this particular guy didn't get the memo that insists Asian men are weak and wimpy. LOL!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rugged Individuals?

The Fear Driving Racism Against Asian Men.

I came across yet another interesting blog run by an American female ex-pat in South Korea. She has written a series of posts outlining the evolution of her attitudes and beliefs over a period of a year regarding the romantic involvement of Asian men and western women. In a series of four posts she describes how before she moved to Korea she was exposed to the belief that Asian men were just too comical to be considered serious mate material (by herself, her friends, and people in her social networks) and how by the end of the series she has completely reversed this attitude within herself. Along the way she describes her realization that it is a form of white patriarchal racism (although she never actually uses the term racism, that is what it amounts to) that empowers itself by controlling the choices of white (but also, as we all know but many are reluctant to admit, Asian) women by using negative racial stereotypes to discourage western women from involving themselves with Asian men.

This is from the first post in the series, for ease of reading bear in mind that the blogger writes about herself in the 3rd person, and calls herself "INP" (I'm No Picasso) .........
[She]... has just had the crushing realization that her life actually belongs to her, and she can take it and put it wherever on this globe she has a mind to. At the moment, the most prominent option seems to be Korea. ...one resounding question for her about her new plans, other than, "What the hell are you doing?" That question is...."What are you going to do about the men?"........several people in INP's inner circle surprised her in their reactions. INP was not an idiot -- she was aware of the stereotypes surrounding Asian men in American culture. She was probably, if she was completely honest, a holder of one or two in her own mind at times. But INP at no point believed that the mere thought of her in bed with an Asian man should send anyone she knew and called one of her own into fits of hysterical laughter.
In the next couple of paragraphs she goes on to describe how despite self-evidently hyper-masculine Korean men known to her via their celeb status as well-known actors, even this was not sufficient to disavow her personal and internet friends of the idea that dating Asian men was absolutely not a serious option as their preconceived notions always trumped any reality check. She goes on.....
Then INP started to frequent a little place called Dave's ESL Cafe [a website]. As most people end up doing at one point or another in their time preparing to come to Korea to teach English. Suddenly, INP was bombarded with one overarching message. The message was this: Western women do not find Korean men attractive. Korean men do not find Western women attractive. As Western men in Korea are all completely consumed with Korean women (given how unattractive Western women are in comparison), and all that leaves Western women with are girly pansy-assed Korean men (who none of them find attractive, and who, mutually, don't find Western women attractive), then Western women in Korea can expect to spend their year with their sexual congress 'out of session'.
But it gets much better........
INP may have been a lot of things, but stupid definitely wasn't one. It didn't take her long to realize that, oddly enough, all of these posts were coming from Western men. INP tried to find some input from Western women, but there was none to be found. Anytime a Western woman tried to say anything at all on this site, in fact, it seemed she was immediately shouted down for being, oddly enough, 'fat'. Which seemed to be an applicable comment no matter what information the woman had or hadn't provided about herself, and in nearly every situation, no matter what was being discussed.......INP started to feel very worried about her impending time in the ROK. She had read dozens of warnings (from Western men) about how horribly sexist Korean men were. And yet, INP was getting the sinking feeling that the Western men in Korea may not be much better.
On to part two. Writing about her initial contact with western female ex-pats in Korea INP she laments their reinforcement of the negative attitudes towards Korean men......
I was often forced to sit and listen to a monologue-cum-tirade about how sexist Korean men were, how impossible the cultural differences were, how feminine and unattractive and gay Korean men were. I had only been in Korea for a very short time, and I thought it was possible these women had experienced something that I hadn't yet, but I had suspicions that there was something else at play.......As I looked around me, I found it hard to see what the other foreign women saw, on the surface level. Sure, I'd noticed the flower boys. But I had also noticed the other men. I was in Incheon, after all -- an area renowned the country over for its rough-and-tumble locals. As far as I could tell, Incheon seemed to be the source from which the entire Korean mafia issued forth. And that suited me just fine. I wasn't having any trouble at all spotting Korean men who weren't feminine, unattractive or gay.
This is very interesting because negative perceptions of Asian men's attractiveness were maintained even when blatant evidence to the contrary existed. But then INP starts to see the light. Noting that many of these western women were frustrated by the fact that the western men in Korea were only interested in Korean women....
I also looked around at the groups of Western men that surrounded these Western women. I began to put two and two together........I would hear endless echoes of everything I had seen written on Dave's -- how Western men only wanted to date Korean women, how their time there had been entirely sexless and dateless......But fuck sake. Where were the women? I couldn't be the only one in the entire country who would even consider a Korean man. 
Finally, having endured this negativity from western ex-pats, INP decides (in part because no western man would approach her) that she is going to taste the local flavours for herself regardless of what the other ex-pats thought. In part three of the series she describes her first date with a Korean man.....
I will never, as long as I live, forget my first date with a Korean guy. Because of the date? No. Because of the guy? No. Because of the absolute classicness of what ensued when I had the balls to walk into the local foreigner bar with a Korean guy for the first time. And how many realizations I had on that night alone about the nature of what had been confusing the fuck out of me for literally months.
Describing her Korean date thus....
The guy was not run-of-the-mill by anyone's standards. But he was, physically, absolutely stunning by my own. About six feet tall, with a thin build -- covered in tattoos and sporting a bit of facial hair. Dressed in all black with worn jeans and a leather jacket. Big black combat boots. Sharp eyes.....He was a tough looking guy, by anyone's standards, including a Westerner's.
The reaction of the western men in the bar is swift and bitchy......
We had been there for about fifteen minutes when, suddenly, out of fucking nowhere, some Western man I had never even seen before came reeling in my direction. He literally wedged himself directly between me and my date, with his back to my date........"Oh look at this.... like.... cool rocker chick. Sitting back here alone and sipping on a beer and being cool and shit!".......This continued all. night. long. One after another of the foreign men who had never bothered to even look me in the eye before that night suddenly felt the need to make their way over and say something fucking asinine while completely ignoring the fact that there was another human being sitting next to me, with whom I was trying to have a conversation.
The harassment continued.....
A date would go to the bathroom, and a Western man I was completely unacquainted with would sidle over from the other side of the room and inform me that my date's outfit was "gay" (t shirt and jeans?), his hair was "stupid" (combed and washed?), and that I would obviously have a better time that night if I were to go home with him instead....Was it ALL of this EVERY time I was out with a Korean guy? No....Was it at least some of this most of the times I was out with a Korean guy? Yes. Making it home for the evening without encountering at least one patronizing comment was the rare exception.
And here is where it gets even more interesting.....
I realized what was behind it. A community of men who had previously viewed me as a kind of annoying buzzing sound in the room....were now striding up to me in bars to offer me a 'chance' to be with them. Or were finding smaller, more cowardly ways to make passive aggressive comments and generally interrupt my business, which they had previously had literally no interest in whatsoever.....And it wasn't just about me being with a guy....It was that I was with a Korean guy. ......I had had enough of watching women joke and laugh and jeer right along their Western male counterparts, condemning themselves to a 'miserable' experience, all to be sure they weren't outcast from what little community they had.....I had had enough of listening to men tell me what my experience in Korea was and would be, and why. And then, when I turned around and proved them wrong -- not even for the sake of proving them wrong, but just as incidence in the conducting of my own personal pursuit of happiness -- having them jump all over that shit as well. Even the nice guys I knew from around would occasionally manage to be patronizing, with comments like, "Good for you!" and, "Oh, really? You like Korean guys? Well... that's cool." As though them sitting around and endlessly discussing how much they wanted to date Korean girls happened on a completely different planet from me dating Korean guys.
Then INP notices the dramatic goal-post shift.........
Popular opinion among this pack of scumbags, in the face of direct contradiction, had suddenly shifted from "Western women have to be celibate in Korea because no one will touch them har har!" to "Oh, that? Over there? Yeah. Korean men just like to use Western women for sex." Funny, that. I had gone from being completely un-sexable to only useful for my sexuality.
But her refusal to be bullied out of her own autonomy leads to her being labelled.....
 Their attempts to badger me into backing down and being ashamed of myself weren't working -- in fact, they were backfiring.......I just wasn't going to cooperate, the way other women had been, by assuming a martyred role and going along with their myth. And so I started to get a bit of a reputation.....So suddenly, I had become That Girl Who Dates Korean Guys.......It wasn't what I set out to be. I never put a cap on my interest in Western men. I never had "yellow fever". But it couldn't just be what it was, which was that I was dating men who happened to be Korean. It had to be categorizedNo, no -- Western women still don't like Korean men, and Korean men still don't like Western women. INP is just into them, and they're just into her.
By part four of the series INP begins to notice other women like her were beginning to come to Korea who weren't so easily bullied into accepting the "rules" of acceptance into their own communities which required that they adopt these racist stereotypes about Asian men that led to their own personal unhappiness and loneliness. 
Even stranger, I had begun to have very different first encounters with Western women. Standing outside a local university one day, smoking a cigarette, one made her way toward me. After a few minutes discussing all the usual details, she looked up at me out of the corner of her eyes, squinted and said, "So, have you got it?", "Got what?""The fever.""The I'm sorry?"
 LOL! Nice!
These were small, but noticeable changes......That would mean we didn't have to deal with all kinds of side-eye and rude, childish, unacceptable behavior when we were seen out with Korean men.....Women were blogging in Korea. Women were blogging in Korea about dating. Women were blogging in Korea about dating Korean men. And other women around the world were eating it up.......These women weren't sad and lonely. They most certainly were not sexless. And, most importantly, anonymity for the sake of sexual content aside, they were not embarrassed. They had no reason to be. And the men they were with were attractive to them, and the men they were with were not sexually impotent.
And there you have it. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and I advise readers to read all four posts all the way through, it is a very insightful series and talks about attitudes towards Asian men that few - even in the Asian community - are willing to acknowledge. 


It is nice to see that someone other than an Asian man has noticed, and is writing about, our experiences - Asian men who write about this are labelled "angry Asian losers" and are dismissed (often by their own community). Although INP suggests that the prejudices that she describes were limited to a few loser individuals and that her story should not be used to taint the reputations of the majority of "good" ex-pats in Korea, the experience of INP is a microcosm of the type of attitudes that America purveys about Asian men on a culture wide level. The difference for her, perhaps, is that in the US she may not encounter this type of prejudice very often because the question of dating Asian guys is less likely to come up as frequently (if at all). For Asian men, these demeaning attitudes are a common aspect of our experience and are routinely expressed through America's cultural endeavours. So even though INP may be correct that it was a minority pedaling these ideas, the fact remains that this denigration of Asian men is an established and pervasive practice of American culture which was simply reflected in the microcosm of her Korean ex-pat community.

It should also be said that this idea of a few "bad apples" bullying and cajoling the rest of the group into adopting these attitudes and behaviours mirrors the character of America's general, at best, dismissive attitude towards Asian men. Because America's culture has made it normal to only think negative and dehumanizing  ideas about Asian men - that few are willing or able to challenge - it is possible for a small group of assholes to be empowered to be openly and casually racist without social censure. Whereas, for other minority groups the most fervent racists are on the margins, for Asian men, the most fervent racists are the ones directing social attitudes and behaviours first through stereotyping and misinformation, and when that doesn't work, through scorn, peer pressure, or even ostracism.

The most recent example of this is, of course, the racialized and often outright racist commentaries on Jeremy Lin's time with the Knicks. At first, the coverage of Lin tended to focus on his skills which (just like the perceptual blindness of female ex-pats in Korea) no-one seemed to notice before. After a couple of days the racialization began. I remember watching a couple of games in which the commentators were (for no good reason and contrary to what was actually happening on the court) somehow noticing that Lin seemed "tired" or lacking in stamina - as you would expect (of course!) of an Asian man. Then came the "chink in the armour" commentaries, the "Lin has a small dick" twitters, and the various ways in which Lin's success was sullied by racial insensitivity and outright spite.

What was actually happening was that the goalposts were being moved - when Lin proved that the certainty of Asian athletic inferiority to be premature, the goalposts were realigned so that it didn't matter that the stereotypes were wrong because let's remember that Lin is still merely a chink with a small dick. Thus, society's assumptions can remain in place, and America could feel safe in the certainty of its superiority. This is what INP relates in her third post when she talks about the goalpost shift that allowed the prejudice to remain but be expressed through a reversal of stereotype - instead of Korean men being sexless and impotent, the warning now became that Korean men were only interested in western women for the sex.

The phenomenon of the high Asian representation in America's universities offers us another example of this continual shifting of goalposts. When the first Asian migrants came to America, they were considered intellectually inferior. Subsequent events have made a mockery of this belief, and as Asians have come to increase their presence in education, the criticism has shifted and has now become "yes, they are intelligent but they are not creative". Or, Asians are intelligent but they are merely good test-takers who fail in the real world. Or, Asians are intelligent but are poor leaders. Or, Asians are smart but are not independent thinkers. American culture is so conditioned to conceive of Asians in negative ways that "it just doesn't feel right" to not include negative caveats about Asians. Thus, it goes unnoticed when the prevailing racism contradicts previous assumptions and shows it to be irrational. This why it is possible for America's attitudes towards Asians to be directed by so few and accepted by so many.

INP's description of the western men in her ex-pat group reinforced my sense that much of the prejudice directed at Asian men is fear-based. There is an air of tragedy in this idea of western men (most of whom I would presume are white) who have the opportunity to experience a foreign culture and somewhat escape the conditioning of their own society, but who instead huddle together for safety in their group - fearing to venture out to glimpse the world from a different perspective. What a waste. Even worse is the pathos of this gaggle of western guys, maintaining the illusion of their own primacy, whilst simultaneously hiding their timidity, through gossip, manipulation, and by controlling women with scary stories. And when that doesn't work, sullying the reputations of those who refuse to be manipulated by gossiping about them like hags. So much for this non-conformist "rugged individualism" we hear so much about.

It has to be noted that these timid ex-pats are gender specific about their prejudices - as INP noted, these men would spread racist gossip about Korean men, but in the same breath speak about how they only date Korean women. What for many might seem like a paradox is actually a common notion in the Asian-American dialogue which, unfortunately, Asians themselves generally refuse to acknowledge. Gender specific racism is what has defined the Asian-American experience. Although racism is experienced by both Asian men and women, racism against Asian men is exclusionary, whereas for Asian women the racism is implicitly inclusive - which may be why some Asian women appear confused about it. And that is why some white dudes who express racist attitudes about Asians are married to Asian women. This is a point that needs to be emphasized in any discussion on the Asian-American experience of racism; the anti-Asian racism that persists in America is built on a foundation of dehumanization of Asian men. This is why it may be the out-marriage rates of Asian-American men, the degree of their visibility in popular culture, and their prominence in leadership roles, that serves as the gauge of improved attitudes towards Asians.

The implications of this are disturbing to say the least. As INP noted, her initial unbiased impression of Korean men was that they were not all wimpy girly-boys, but included amongst them were guys whom she found to be extremely attractive. Yet, the social control of gossipy ex-pat men had so clouded the perceptions of ex-pat women that they weren't able to see beyond what their conditioning dictated they should see. A combination of persistent manipulative racist gossip, the threat of being kicked out of the group and theirself becoming the target of gossip, culturally conditioned assumptions about Asian men, as well as an inability to notice the sexism implicit in these ex-pat men's efforts to control them, all contributed to this phenomenon of not being able to make an autonomous decision based on the evidence of their own eyes.

Some Asian men might read this and despair, but that would be silly. What INP's posts (which reinforced my own dating experiences) show is that the type of woman that chooses to partner an Asian man in the west, has to be independent, an autonomous thinker, not afraid to swim against the current of social fads, be willing to question racist assumptions, and not be swayed by gossip or social and peer pressure. This I think is a positive thing because there are plenty of women like this in America. Asian dudes just need to do more to notice them instead of seeing just the automatons who follow the attitudes of the herd.

In summary, the events and experiences that INP describes, although in the context of a small ex-pat community do, in fact, reflect and mirror the culture-wide nature of America's negative attitudes towards Asian men. INP describes the way that attitudes and behaviours of her ex-pat colleagues were directed and controlled by timid and frightened white men, whose racism was propagated through vicious gossip, social pressure, name-calling, racial stereotyping, and the exploitation of people's fears and ignorance. Yet, this is precisely the way that American culture propagates anti-Asian racism through the media. Gossip, innuendo, regurgitation of stereotypes, name-calling, and xenophobia, are all ways that American culture engages society, and defines the dialogue on Asians.

Here are the links again....

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Free Lunch For Racists

 When Is a Hate Crime Not A Hate Crime?

In a predictable follow-up video to an incident at a comedy club in which an Asian audience member reacted to comic Brett Eidman's racial baiting, Eidman is given the opportunity to exclaim "Me? Racist caricatures? No!" to an uncritical interviewer............

Of course, it is commonplace for America's celebs, and wannabe celebs alike, to racially bait Asians, and is the clearest indication of the pervasiveness of attitudes of casual anti-Asian prejudice. The dichotomy created between America's self-image as a society that opposes prejudice, and the fact of America's acceptance and normalization of racism towards Asians provides sufficient ambiguity to enable a plausible deniability allowing perpetrators to back-pedal with flimsy apologies and genuinely ambiguous remorse, all the while hinting at misunderstood satire or an ungenerous interpretation by an overly sensitive minority.

Thus, apologies serve a couple of purposes none of which benefit Asian-America; they allow America to reaffirm its identity as a society that has largely overcome racism, perpetuates the myth that racism against Asians only exists mainly as the mis-perception of an overly-sensitive minority, which in turn, enables racial baiting and harassment of Asian-Americans to remain the normal mode of interaction between mainstream America and its Asian minority.

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over again whilst expecting a different result. If this is true then the response from Asian-America to this type of prejudice has become insane - we always demand apologies which we know are going to be disingenuous and which never seem to change the culture of casual racism against Asians that exists in media and entertainment. Because anti-Asian prejudice in society is normalized by an popular culture that makes light of violent race-crimes and equates racial baiting with fun activities as normal as a day on the beach, the effects of an apology are far outweighed by the negative outcomes and do little to balance them.

This why we need to re-think the way we approach our dialogue on anti-Asian racism in the entertainment industry by, perhaps, focusing less on our tendency to express our offence as the basis for an industry response.

Demeaning depictions of Asians in the media and individual acts of racial-baiting by celebs or writers are really no different than the casual day-to-day harassment that Asian-Americans experience in their daily lives. The only difference is that the media targets the group whereas in daily life it is typically an individual that is targeted. The latter act is a criminal offence, yet the former, though potentially more damaging, continues as an acceptable way of representing Asian people in the entertainment industry. For example, if someone came up to you on the street and mocked your racial characteristics, and verbally harassed you by imitating an "Asian" accent, then this could be ruled a hate-crime. Yet, the entertainment industry routinely does this exact thing but these ubiquitous demeaning and dehumanizing representations are not viewed as hate-crimes even though the difference is vague.

The question is; can a legal case be made that individuals and companies in entertainment and media are committing hate crimes when they knowingly and deliberately racially bait, and mock Asians? If there is no one individual victim of media racism and the target is generalized and dispersed can a case be made that a crime is being committed that causes harm to Asians both as individuals and as a group?

Hate Crimes can encompass several things....
"Hate crime" generally refers to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the types above, or of their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).
Of the above definition, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, and insults, are all qualities that characterize media racism (be it demeaning stereotypes or one individual being racist). Bullying includes verbal harassment (celebs "ching-chonging", for example), but significantly it is a phenomenon that can exist between....
......social groups, social classes, and even between countries (see jingoism).
Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. This media bullying through cultural expression can also easily be shown to bear characteristics of harassment.....
Harassment.......covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing. 
For example, repeated depictions of "Asian" characters whose main role in the dialogue of the production is to serve as the target of racialized jokes, or joke scenarios, that regurgitate racist stereotypes, as well as celebs or cultural figures mocking Asian accents, physical characteristics, mannerisms, or using known racial slurs, are all aspects of America's culture that resemble harassment. If an individual were to do these things in the real world (for example assuming the "character" of an Asian by imitating an accent, and using gestures to mimic racial characteristics) they could easily be charged with racial harassment. Demeaning characters in film and television that are used as a means to propagate demeaning stereotypes are simply elaborate forms of racial harassment.

Of course, the issue of verbal abuse and insults targeting Asians in the media are the most self-evident aspects of America's normalization of anti-Asian racism. For a society that is prone to deny the very existence of racism against Asians, the prevalence of racially based verbal abuse and insults from the media directed at Asian people is quite remarkable. Whether it be obvious abuse (like this), abuse disguised as a comedy routine, or craftily ambiguous, like the "chink in the armour" headlines used in association with Jeremy Lin, the verbal abuse of Asians by media figures betrays the depth of casual anti-Asian attitudes in American society.

Clearly, the way that Asians are represented in film and television, in the print media, spoken about by media figures, and in most areas of American cultural expression, exhibits many of the most heinous characteristics of racially biased hate crimes. In this light, to put forward the response of being "offended" seems a somewhat insufficient response to a profound culture of racial baiting. Simply being "offended" in some ways allows the magnitude of America's media hate to be diminished and enables perpetrators to avoid addressing the issues that propagates the culture of casual anti-Asian racism. For instance, if you are simply offended, then the response is to apologize  - and this is what tends to happen. End of story. And the next week, another celeb, television show, or movie depiction, commits another hate-crime under the guise of creative freedom, free speech, or simply "jest". Proclaiming offence and demanding an apology has failed to change the culture of media prejudice against Asians - that is why we have just got to stop framing our concerns about media racism in this way. Instead, let's call it what it is - a hate crime and let's, furthermore, expect a more genuine response from the media than faux apologies.

Some might argue that defining casual media racism as "hate-crimes" is somehow going too far and at the very least is overly sensitive and at worst is an unjustified censorship of free speech or the creative process. This is a poor argument for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to describe the dehumanizing portrayal of Asians in the media and the casual race-baiting by some media figures as "creative" is a stretch to say the least. Regurgitating decades-old stereotypes is not creative and race-baiting of Asians is not cutting edge culture. The media fosters attitudes towards Asians that promote demeaning behaviours, and hostility, and thus normalizes such negative attitudes which is far from creative. Furthermore, if it can be shown that media depictions amount to little more than sophisticated hate-crimes, then ending them becomes a matter of common decency, and legal necessity.

Changing the way that we conceive of media dehumanization of Asians changes the scope of what we can achieve through activism. Instead of demanding meaningless apologies we can target more meaningful engagement between the corporate media and the individuals who comprise it that will yield more tangible results. I see no reason why an industry that fosters racial prejudice both within its own enterprise and in general society, should not be required to tangibly rectify their infringements. I see no reason why a studio that discriminates against Asian actors should not be required to sponsor Asian actors and ease them into more prominent lead roles. I see no reason why a television show that writes a demeaning Asian character into their script, who is racially baited and whose presence serves as the inducement for regurgitating racist stereotypes which are repeated by schoolkids all over the country, can not be required to financially support groups fighting against bullying of Asian children in America's schools. And I especially see no reason why individual celebs who are smug in their race-baiting of Asians should not be legally held accountable for their hate-crimes.

Some may see this as an over-reaction to petty racism, yet although individually these incidences of race-baiting seem minor, it is the accumulation of stereotypes, dehumanization, and race-baiting from the media and entertainment industry that paints a disturbing picture of a culture of normalized anti-Asian prejudice that is pervasive throughout society. Our proclamations of offence have done little to create a shift in the media's hostile depictions of Asian people, nor have they succeeded in dis-empowering the casual race-baiting by individual celebs. This is why we must target a more genuine response from the media that provides us with a more tangible  outcome that benefits our community. The way to go about this is to recognize that media race representations are actually little more than racial harassment for which the media must be held accountable.

After all, what is the difference between the mockery of Asian racial characteristics by Miley and the daily racial harassment of Asian kids in America's schools whose tormentors also use the same racial mockery? Likewise mocking of Asian accents or the use of racial slurs is racial harassment whether it happens in the workplace, randomly on the street, in a restaurant, or is broadcast through the television, radio, or over the internet compliments of a media figure. As I mention elsewhere in my writing, media racism not only promotes and normalizes negative attitudes and behaviours towards Asians, the process by which it does this is often a hate crime in an of itself.