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. 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.... 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.