Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Konishiwa Bitches.

The Upside Of Racial Exclusion.

As some readers may remember from a couple of previous posts, living in a Muslim country has highlighted some interesting commonalities between the experience of being an Asian in the US and being an ex-pat in the  Muslim world. Although I live in a city that is considered to be something of a European cultural centre, in a Muslim country that has for the past nine decades been ferociously secular, the past several years have seen an increasing identification with the Muslim identity and with it a subtle, but significant, shift towards a more conservative social order with an increasing emphasis on Islamic sensibilities that blends secular principles with social mores informed by religion.

One factor that has remained constant throughout this process is the country's fiercely independent sense of self and sense of identity. Although technology has opened the country up to cultural influences from the west, so far the influence seems relatively superficial and there is a tension concerning the degree to which western culture should be incorporated. As an individual who has grown up in a society that insists on racializing every aspect of the Asian experience, it  is not surprising that one result of this independent mindedness is that many of the racial stereotypes and prejudices against East Asian people that are casual in the West don't seem to have deeply affected the worldview of the people here. What I mean by this is that although my race and ethnicity are obvious this fact, unlike in the US, there seems to be little or no presumptions (or certainties) about my character based on my racial characteristics.

The recent outbreak of anti-American protests throughout the Muslim world (including peaceful protests here - so far!) have served to highlight this experience. Even though an American, I can walk through a hundreds-strong anti-American protest (as I did two Fridays back on my home from a evening out) and feel relatively safe knowing with great irony that the deliberate exclusion of Asians from America's cultural identity also means that the world also cannot view me as an American. It should be noted that in this culture, even if I had been obviously American the threat of violence against me would likely have been much less than it would be for an Asian-American getting caught up in an anti-immigrant protest in the US.

What has been amazing to notice is how American ex-pats seem to respond to this culture which has a general disregard for white America's cultural self-worship as well as an undercurrent of distaste for the footprint that the US has left in the Muslim world. As a general observation, there is a distinct lack of swagger amongst American ex-pats here, many of whom seem intimidated, or even hurt, by the reality of living in a culture that is indifferent or has negative feelings towards their country of origin. I have never seen so much self-doubt (or even self-criticism) being shown by Americans about themselves or their culture. Of course, the degree of negativity towards America over here comes nowhere close to the degree of hostility that American culture routinely expresses towards its Asian minority, but even more notable is how the hostility towards America over here very rarely becomes personal. Whereas America's cultural anti-Asian prejudices becomes personal and often manifests as violence and individual acts of spiteful prejudice, over here, any negativity very, very, rarely (if at all) manifests into acts of personal hostility.

What is happening here is that due to cultural pressure some ex-pats here are exhibiting a form of internalized "hostility" towards themselves - or what America's ethnic minorities refer to as "self-hatred" or internalized racism". It is startling to realize how easy it is for a group or individual to develope this quality in their worldview - and disturbing to realize that even adults can so easily adopt a mindset that is self-effacing at best, but self-denigrating at worst even though they have the full experience of growing up in their own culture which nurtures their positive self-image. How much more intense this process must be, then, for the Asian child growing up in an American culture that propagates anti-Asian hostility by saturating society with extremely demeaning images and dehumanizing notions about their race.What Asian children see from the time they can sit up is a steady stream of negative images and stereotypes that normalize hostile attitudes within American society.

This is especially significant when considering a stereotype that is especially demoralizing for Asian men in America - the notion that we have some kind of innate or culture specific characteristic that makes us timid or mentally weak, and often our masculinity is diminished by comparing us negatively to the innately more confident American male. Often, it is Asian-American men themselves who will talk about their own racially specific diffidence. Yet, this quality of American confidence that is claimed to be innate disappears rather rapidly in a culture that is skeptical of it. If Asian-American men are timid (which is only true because many of us believe it to be true) it is because American culture has conditioned Asians to think of themselves in demeaning ways - that is the only real way that Asians are accepted into mainstream America, through self-denigration and abdication of our masculinity.

All of this tells me that if a group of people who have grown up with extremely positive feelings about themselves can be so easily dissuaded from their self-belief, then the reverse must be true too - changing our attitudes towards our own masculinity must be as easy as making a personal choice to do so.

4 comments:

  1. You nailed it again, Ben. Asian males are constantly bombarded with negative stereotypes and associations to ease the insecurities of the mainstream white audiences. Whites are the most pathetic and insecure piece of shit in the world. Why the hell do you think PSY (oppan gangnam style) and Niro from Heroes are so popular in the mainstream American culture? It's because they conform to the racist mainstream audiences's view of what it means to be an Asian men which is short, ugly and stereotypical. Most of us don't fit these characteristics which cause many whiteys to wet their pants and thus we are usually shunned and outcasted.

    One of the biggest barrier to progress is found within our own community. Many Asians still refused to acknowledge this as an issue. And if they don't identify the problem first, how are they going to solve it? Awareness is our greatest weapon. The more Asians that know about this, the better.

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  2. in a similar vein, you have anything to say about that new BS Ben Affleck racebending movie where he plays the Latino negotiator for the CIA?

    it's precisely because the real life guy was Latino that he wasn't seem as "real American" by the hostage takers

    and yet they had to go racebend with Ben Affleckkk playing a Latino

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  3. wolf

    Thanks! I agree, our own mentalities are what holds us back.

    Anonymous...

    Doesn't surprise me - I'm not familiar with that movie but I'm curious how Latinos will react to it.

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  4. Anon, speaking of race bending.. did you see the Mitt Romney spray tan?

    Also Ben....*Konichiwa.

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