Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Don't Know Much!

Asian Attitudes And The Model Minority.

The folks over at the "Racefiles" blog have posted the findings of a study that they conducted that sought to..
...better understand the racial position of Asian Americans, and how Asian American identity functions in the realm of racial politics...
To accomplish this, they did the following.....
....conducted in-depth, confidential interviews with 82 Asian American organizers, leaders, intellectuals, and artists working in the racial justice field throughout the United States. We also talked to five non-Asian American racial justice leaders doing promising work that cuts across all communities of color. 
There is some good background information provided that offers a persuasive (but, in my opinion, incomplete) interpretation  of the historical background that has shaped the social hierarchy of 21st century America.

The latter part of the findings shifts focus somewhat to the interviewees' personal visions for mobilizing Asian-Americans. But, I'll begin by focusing on the report's findings on the racial attitudes and positions of Asian-Americans as represented by the interviewees.

In answer to the question of "how Asian Americans think about race, and whether we should work to build a more unified Asian American identity", the following was concluded......
They Don’t. It is significant that about one-third of respondents said that Asian Americans do not think about race at all. Some said this was because of the weakness of Asian American racial identity especially among first-generation immigrants and refugees, but others attributed it to the racial position of Asian Americans, especially those with class privilege, which encouraged the embrace of American individualism.
Asian American Racial Superiority. Many participants critiqued the model minority myth as a strategy to denigrate Blackness and distance Asian Americans from other peoples of color, in service to white supremacy.
 And one Mid-West organizer elaborates....
“I mean, Asians are racist… I don’t think that they think very highly of African Americans. I think that they largely think what they’re told about them, which is that they’re criminals, they’re undeserving, they try and feed off the system, they don’t work hard, they’re scary, all of those different kinds of things… It’s messed up.”
The next question asked; What do Asian Americans Think of Other Peoples of Color?
In general, there was a sense that Asian Americans had internalized negative stereotypes about Blacks and Latinos in particular, and took pride in the model minority myth, even if they did not think explicitly about race in their daily lives.......More than half of the people we interviewed said that Asian Americans exhibited a significant amount of anti-Black racism.
The piece goes on to describe Asian-American attitudes towards Latinos - generally slightly warmer than attitudes towards blacks, but still somewhat negative - and Asian-American feelings towards Native Americans, which turned out to be non-existent - Asian-Americans don't think about them much. But overall, the general consensus was that Asian/black tensions were the most significant manifestation of Asian-American feelings of racial superiority.

Although these findings are presented as representative of Asian-American attitudes, I was disturbed by the fact that nowhere were these conclusions supported by studies, surveys, or polls, conducted on the community. On the contrary, these findings were simply the opinions, perceptions, and guesswork of the interviewees. Now it may be the case that these interviewees were referring to studies but no studies were cited to support their statements.

The problem with this should be obvious. It is simply misleading to represent opinions about the attitudes and worldview of a group as the actual attitudes and feelings of that group. It doesn't matter that these people are activists or advocates, their opinions are just their opinions and nothing more. I don't doubt that the intentions of the study were noble, but without a legitimate study conducted directly with members of the community that reflect a representative cross-section of the demographic then the conclusions can only be misleading.

As I have written elsewhere, marginalization of Asian-Americans (and Asians) is often driven by misrepresentation by self-proclaimed experts - whose objectivity is never questioned and the subjectivity of their assertions never recognized - who often manufacture, skew, or over-generalize, information about Asia and present them as facts. This way of doing things is popular because the input of Asians is not required, and not even wanted, allowing any claims to be made (often resulting in best-selling books) without the inconvenient question of their veracity being raised. No-one wants Asians ruining the cultural Asian-marginalizing party by actually asking Asians to express and interpret their own ideas without the filter of a white expert's subjective opinion. Thus, Asians are often excluded from dialogue about themselves. The last thing that Asian-Americans need is to have our own advocates and intellectuals doing things in a similar vein.

Even if we were to accept the unlikely scenario that a handful of activists can know Asian-Americans well enough to make the kinds of sweeping statements that were made, the way it was reported is troubling. For example, in answer to the question "how Asian Americans think about race, and whether we should work to build a more unified Asian American identity", the study "found" that "Asians don't" think about it. The problem here is that even this is misleading - even if we do accept that the activists' opinions are an accurate representation of Asian-American attitudes. Only one-third of the interviewees believed that Asians don't think about race, this leaves at least two-thirds of interviewees who may believe that Asians do, in fact, think about race. So, even by their own criteria, it is inaccurate to say that Asians don't think about race - in fact, the opposite may well be the case and at least two-thirds do.

These criticisms are significant when we look at the latter part of the study which looks to answer the questions of the direction, character, and focus, of future Asian-American "resistance". The section begins as follows.....
Is It Strategic to Organize and Resist as Asian Americans?This question revealed deep conflicts and confusion, and it demands much more debate and discussion among racial justice organizers. There was a fairly even split between those who said “yes” we should work to build a unified API identity, and those who said “no,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know.” Among those who said that we should, one-third had significant qualifiers, sometimes contradicting their initial answer. Even those working at API organizations expressed doubts. One person said, “I don’t know if I would say yes to that. I mean, I’ve spent my 20 years doing so, but I don’t know.” Another person simply said, “I don’t even know what ‘API’ means.” 
It seems evident that Asian-American justice workers really don't have a clear-cut vision of what the goals of Asian-American advocacy are, what it would take to mobilize Asians politically, how we should co-operate with other peoples of colour, or even whether Asian-American identity is a good basis for organizing. Yet, nowhere is mention made of actually asking Asian-Americans themselves what their experiences are and how they see themselves in the racial dynamics of American society. And this is a serious omission from the thinking of our activists.

The reason is that what is actually missing is a body of work that tells us, with reasonable accuracy, what are the experiences of Asian-America that could inform their activism. What this means is that at this point in time, perhaps it would be more meaningful to focus on working on an ontology of Asian-America that allows us to move beyond the guesswork and opinion. Ontology can be defined as "a specification of a conceptualization", which means to establish a criterion for what does, or does not, exist. For Asian-America, this means removing the guesswork, over-generalized labeling, opinion, and supposition, from our dialogue, and establishing the fact from the fiction. This ontology could be informed by academic study, polls, or even journalistic investigation, but it has to exist in order for a meaningful vision to be established.

My final point of interest is in the stated feelings of the interviewees towards the model-minority stereotype. In the study, much time is spent on, and much reference is made to, the model-minority label and how it affects relations between Asian-Americans and other minorities. Many (perhaps all) interviewees decry the stereotype for "elevating" Asians above other minorities and causing division between them, implying that Asians don't do enough to "fight" the stereotype. But I think that this is simplistic and dangerous because it fundamentally asks that Asians answer for a stereotype that they didn't create and I don't think that it is fair, or appropriate. Even those successful Asians who supposedly "embrace" the stereotype are not obliged to answer for it.

Here is the irony; my observation is that it is mostly Asian-Americans who actually use the term "model-minority". In mainstream America, the term is hardly ever mentioned when referring to Asians. In fact, American culture is so poisoned with negative attitudes towards Asians that, culturally, we are far from being viewed as models for anything. Sure, there are the reports of Asian successes, but often these are presented with a tone of foreboding, and rarely as a celebration. White culture doesn't celebrate our successes - it is disturbed by them.

And this is where it gets uncomfortable because given that American culture demeans Asians (to the point of it becoming the cultural norm), any resentment has to derive from the apparent contradiction between these reported successes and the cultural attitude that Asians are society's losers. This goes beyond the simplistic notion of a "cause-effect" character of the model minority stereotype - it might be more likely that people resent Asians because pathetic Asian losers are not supposed to be successful.

This is problematic for those who wish to allay black resentment towards Asians caused by the stereotype by insisting that we show contrition for it, because the model-minority label doesn't really exist as the resentment-motivating entity that we seem to think it is. It is culturally normalized anti-Asian attitudes that make resentment and hostility the standard mode of interaction for mainstream America (of all colours) and its Asian minority regardless of any specific label - that is Americans are conditioned to view Asians with suspicion, hostility, and distrust, regardless of any particular stereotype.

This might be uncomfortable for some because it suggests that anti-Asian hostility from both black and white Americans derives from the same root cause of cultural conditioning and not from a specific stereotype that we have perceived to be uniquely designed for this purpose. That is why fighting the model-minority stereotype is like jousting windmills - the entire culture is set up to create a no-win and a no-way-in attitude towards Asians. People would find any excuse to resent us even if the model-minority stereotype didn't exist because the entire manner of America's cultural attitude with Asians promotes distrust and suspicion.

It is naive to react with horror (and surprise) that the white racism which produced the stereotype has induced a racist response from other minorities towards Asians. And it is self-deceiving to deny that  that is racist when people are resentful towards a group because of stereotypes, regardless of who is expressing it. It is almost always forgotten that the model-minority stereotype reflects how profoundly the Asian minority of America is culturally marginalized; an entire identity can be, and has been, created for us by media and cultural forces that excludes Asians from the whole process of its creation, yet which has been successful in defining what it means to be Asian-American in the popular consciousness. If other minorities hate us because of that, then that implies an uncompromising prejudice in a similar vein to that modeled by the white mainstream.

There are other, equally or more, pervasive representations of Asians that may have far worse consequences than the model-minority stereotype. American culture enacts and depicts racial harassment of Asian people as a normal and acceptable activity, and often engages in fantasies about committing sadistic violence towards, and mass-murder of, Asian people. Furthermore, there is resentment inducing political blaming of Asia and Asians for various economic or environmental "crimes", pervasive racial mockery in film and television, and casual assertions of Asian underhandedness and sneakiness in all their endeavours. I maintain that all of this cultural hostility has modeled resentment, hostility, anger, dislike, and uncompromising combativeness, as the normal and acceptable way of interacting with Asians.

What this means is that regardless of the specific racially inflected representation, the response is almost always going to be negative - tell people that Asians are the model-minority, then the response is resentment, tell people that Asian kids are the most bullied then the response is "its their own fault, Asians are anti-social", complain about anti-Asian racism in the black community and the response is "well Asians are racist and Koreans are channeling money out of the hood", and tell people that there is significant poverty amongst Asian-Americans and the response is indifference, or "blacks and Latinos have it worse!". The stereotypes are only the poisonous by-product of the underlying prejudices that enable Asians to be defined by people who at best are ignorant, or at worst, malicious.

This why I think that more evidence is required before we start asserting the model-minority label as the most significant cause of tensions between Asians and other minorities. If we stop reacting and look at the situation rationally, we might notice that America's culture of combative disassociation, casual racial harassment, and vindictive resentment, is more likely to shape people's reactions and interactions with Asian-Americans far more effectively than the specific model-minority label. This pervasive culture of dehumanizing and demeaning Asians - which also conditions other minorities in their behaviour and attitudes - more than outweighs any supposed positives stemming from the model-minority stereotype and probably shapes reactions to it.

My final thought on this is that I question the degree to which the model-minority stereotype actually influences federal and state policies towards other minorities. The narrative is as follows; the model minority stereotype is used as some kind of leverage by white America (usually GOP white folks) to justify cutting minority programs. But is this really true, or even reasonable to presume that the stereotype is even considered when policy changes are being discussed and put forward, or even that it influences such policy discussions? Certainly, an argument can be made that this label is bandied about (perhaps mostly by Asians who oppose it) in popular dialogue, but I see little reason to believe that the model-minority stereotype is used to justify any policy of any level of government. I think that it is somewhat grandiose to believe that this establishment actually needs model Asians to justify policies that affect other minorities, or even that the establishment uses this argument to establish a legal basis for "anti-black" policies.

So, in summary, the study highlighted the ontological gulf that exists between advocates and the community it seeks to represent. This gulf is apparently often filled with subjective opinions about the nature and character of Asian attitudes in lieu of a significant ontological basis. Furthermore, the study itself somewhat misleadingly reports these opinions as the actual attitudes and feelings of the community, which I recognize as a common phenomenon in Asian-American "culture" in which subjective thoughts and attitudes are unreasonably generalized as community or culture wide realities. Finally, the interviewees' attitudes towards the model-minority stereotype reflect what I have observed amongst many Asian-Americans; guilt for which they feel a need to show contrition, but it might also reflect an exaggerated and inflated notion of the actual influence that the stereotype may exert over the political process.

It does a disservice to Asian-Americans to downplay the fact that the model-minority stereotype reflects the degree to which the Asian voice is overpowered by the structures of racism in America - the white mainstream can shape our social identity and make it the basis upon which the Asian minority is perceived. Focusing on how the label affects other minorities' opinions of us instead of how the label reflects this damaging, profoundly embedded and overwhelming culture of hostile misrepresentation, is itself marginalizing Asians from their own experience. Communities come together when they recognize common experiences, at the root of the Asian experience is the notion that a shared humanity with Asians is impossible or unwanted - and it is unreasonable to believe that this mainstream position is rejected by other minorities. Giving weight to resentment caused by the label, as opposed to the racism that produces it is actually distancing Asians from any commonality with these other minority groups, and actually empowers the structures of racism.

Here is the link to the study..........

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Slipping Through The Cracks.

Asian Students And Critical Thinking.

During my research for my recent post called "Seven Things", I revisited the essay of Wesley Yang from a couple of years ago in which he detailed with angst-driven-drama the follies of raising Asian kids the "Asian Way". Overall, I found Yang's piece to, frustratingly, rely too heavily on presumptions informed by racial stereotypes rather than legitimate research. Yet, in re-reading the article, one point stood out for me which I didn't address in my original commentary on the piece........
It’s racist to think that any given Asian individual is unlikely to be creative or risk-taking. It’s simple cultural observation to say that a group whose education has historically focused on rote memorization and “pumping the iron of math” is, on aggregate, unlikely to yield many people inclined to challenge authority or break with inherited ways of doing things. 
This was an intriguing point and one that seems to present a fairly common belief about Asian cultures and the minds that they produce. I hear this a lot in Asian-America as one explanation for a number of seeming deficiencies in the Asian character that hinder our abilities to function effectively in American society, from attaining leadership positions, to being supposedly uncreative, poor critical thinkers, or just being unable to "pick up chicks". The sentiment being expressed here is that Asian culture as manifested through "Asian" educational systems churn out automatons with no charisma, leadership skills, or critical thinking skills. In my "Seven Things" post I already outlined how the "Asians are compliant" axiom fails to correspond to the reality of the historical record, or the regularly reported fact of Asian non-compliance in their (oftentimes life-risking) engagement with their governments.

Funnily enough, though, in Yang's case (and most for Asians raised in the US)  the school systems in Asia are not - indeed cannot possibly be - the problem here. What no-one seems to notice is that Yang (like most Asians raised in the US) was actually educated in American schools by American teachers using the American educational curriculum, yet, somehow through some unspecified process - apparently metaphysical in nature - the ghost of "Asian" education supersedes and exerts a greater influence over the abilities of children who never went through any Asian system than the eight-or-so-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week spent in American schools since first-grade.

Let's be clear about what is being said here; despite being entirely educated in the American education system, Yang implies that some of the character qualities and thinking abilities of some Asian-Americans may be more heavily influenced by the education system of some country thousands of miles away, where they never actually attended school, than the twelve years, or so, of the education they received in the American system by American teachers. This is plain nonsense.

It is actually a somewhat commonly accepted notion that Asian-American students lack a creative spark and the ability to reason critically that puts them at a disadvantage in the real world. This is most commonly heard in discussions on college admissions policies that reportedly find Asian-American students wanting in these areas, and also in discussions on the dearth of Asians in leadership, or management positions. The "Asian" system of rote memorization is often blamed yet, it is never explained how this could possibly affect Asian-Americans whose schooling took place entirely (or almost entirely) in the US - where, I'm told, education prizes critical thinking and creativity.

This raises some uncomfortable questions about how American educators engage with students of Asian descent in the school environment - if it is true, then why are Asian-American students graduating from American secondary education, and even college, without the ability to think critically or creatively? The nonsense of placing blame on Asian education systems allows us to conveniently avoid looking at the other, more probable, possibility that American schools and the educators who run them are failing the Asian students they are charged with educating. Usually it is the children themselves who are blamed, yet, it is difficult to imagine how students who, generally, have sufficient IQs, full family and community support, and who (by all accounts) are extremely attentive in the classroom, could not be capable of learning critical thinking skills or even creativity.

No, there has to be a problem in the way that Asian students are engaged by educators in the education system. If it is true that Asian students come through the American system without these important skills, then there are two possibilities; either the system itself is over-rating its own ability to teach children how to think, or educators are engaging with Asian students in such a way that these skills are not being imparted. The former point doesn't carry much weight because - again I'm told - that there are plenty of non-Asians who go through the system who have learned amazing thinking skills, so, apparently, the system works for some. This leaves the educators themselves and the way that Asian students are engaged in the classroom.

A common theme of my blog is to examine the profound anti-Asian hostility embedded in American culture - and acknowledging this may give us some insight into the nature of interactions between Asian-American students and American educators. In American culture, Asians are almost universally dehumanized and vilified in the rhetoric of its politicians. This cultural racism is so pervasive and accepted that it serves as the model for the permissiveness of racist behaviour towards Asians - as evidenced by the permissiveness of comfortable anti-Asian racist behaviour and sentiment in broadcast media. Furthermore, it limits the scope of how Asians can be conceived of such that mainstream America can "know" about us - and act accordingly - based entirely on their own cultural misrepresentations. I see no reason why educators would, as a rule, have a way of conceiving of Asians that is different or less demeaning than what is accepted as the cultural norm.

I'm not necessarily saying that educators are explicitly demeaning Asian students (although I don't rule this out), just that their engagement with the Asian students may be reinforcing stereotypes, and racial hierarchies. For example, have any of you Asian readers ever been in a situation - like I have - in which you came up with a great idea in your job, that everyone in the room ignored, only to have some white dude suggest exactly the same things minutes later and for everyone to jump on it like it was the most fantastic thing ever? The truth is - and we all know it - that American culture exalts the contributions of white males but downplays those of everyone else. There are studies that show that educators give more weight and attention to the input of boys than they do to girls - possibly because culturally we are conditioned to believe that boys (particularly Caucasian boys) have more value. It may be that this same process may be skewing how educators engage with Asian students in the classroom. For example, white boys may be given more time and opportunity to speak up in the classroom than their Asian counter-parts, and perhaps their input receives undue greater positive reinforcement than that of Asian students.

Given that we know this phenomenon exists across gender, it doesn't seem far-fetched that race might be a factor in educator engagement in the classroom - particularly for a group that is openly derided and dehumanized. Furthermore, given that American culture models racist behaviour towards Asians as normative, the question has to be asked how much racism is considered permissive in the classroom. If it is normal and acceptable for American culture to mock and deride the racial characteristics, contributions, or even achievements, of Asian people, then one wonders if this attitude is somehow reinforced in the classroom - hierarchies being reinforced by permitting demeaning behaviour towards Asian students.

In summary, we have a situation in which American students of Asian descent are charged with lacking creativity, and the ability to think critically. At the same time we know that as a general rule that the students in question (those with college potential) record high IQ levels, strong family support, strong community culture of educational attainment, as well as strong participation in extra-curricula activities. Bear in mind also, that America's educators take great pride in the fact that they have been able to take black and Latino students from impoverished, violent, criminal, abused backgrounds, with no parental, or community support, and turn them into good students.Yet, despite their seemingly advantageous background, Asian-American students are graduating high schools across the country supposedly unable to think or innovate? Even more implausibly still, it is implied - by Asians like Yang, and non-Asians alike - that the "Asian System" of rote memorization may bear some responsibility for this state of affairs.

I maintain that this is a ludicrous theory and that if Asian-American students are, indeed, failing to learn critical thinking in the American school system, then it is the American system and/or the American educators who bear responsibility for this - not some foreign school system thousands of miles away. Of course, there are those who would move the goalposts and argue that "Asian" culture teaches non-questioning compliance and, so, this is to blame. But what this would mean is that Asian parents are actively telling their children to not comply (like the irony?) with their American teachers' methods of supposedly teaching critical thinking. We all know that this is nonsense.

A more likely scenario is that anti-Asian prejudice is seeping into the classroom environment and may be shaping the manner in which American educators engage with Asian students. This is not far-fetched given that we know that Asian children experience higher levels of racial bullying in American schools - that in itself may partially account for why some Asian kids stay silent in the classroom, and itself raises questions of how much racist behaviour is permitted in the classroom.

Of course, blaming Asian culture is moot if it turns out that Asians have no problem thinking critically, and that these accusations exist solely as a means for justifying discrimination in the workplace and college admissions. With that in mind I will leave you with this link to a study that purports to show the abilities of students around the world to...... apply knowledge and skills in key subject areas and to their ability to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they pose, interpret and solve problems in a variety of situations.
...that is, think critically. Korean students scored highest (along with Finns), and Japanese students were in the top five.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Seven Things.....

...That Hurt Our Feelings.

I came upon this article at a site called Diversity Inc., via the 8Asians blog, that relates seven things people (non-Asians presumably) should never say to Asian executives - although I think Asians in any field or position of employment would be equally troubled by them. There are a couple things about the article (and 8Asians blogpost) that are of interest, and illustrate how I believe - and have written about in several posts - the way that Asian-Americans engage in race dialogue ultimately misses the point when it comes to commentary on anti-Asian prejudice.

The first point of interest is how "offensiveness", once again, defines and characterizes the way that we talk about our experiences of racism. According to the 8Asians post, the Diversity Inc. article shows why these questions are potentially offensive, and although the article itself makes brief mention of how expression of these stereotypes could reveal underlying discrimination, it doesn't really explore this notion in the ensuing article. As I've written about in several places, our tendency to react and respond to racism by being offended misses the point of how stereotypes can affect us. On a side note, I would conjecture that this type of Asian-American commentary has a feminine character possibly due to the fact that it is Asian female perspective that has come to dominate the Asian-American narrative, and it is the feminine voice that has modeled our commentary on race.

If racism is simply "offensive" to us, then we really have no cause or reason to organize against it because the fundamental solution to being offended about something is to grow a thicker skin. In turn, this means that the cultural and social structures that promote and propagate racist attitudes towards Asians have no real reason to change because the problem is our feelings. Racist attitudes against Asians in the media, culture, and politics, all point to a culture of casual racism that is comfortably low-key, yet often potentially casually life threatening or violent. Continuing to present our experiences of casual racism, or racial insensitivity, as a mere affront to our emotions is inappropriate and to continue to think of and explore anti-Asian racism through this filter offers only intellectual stagnation.

I won't go into each question in detail, but here is a list of the questions (copy pasted directly from the 8Asians post).
  • "You must be the IT person.".  
  • “You aren’t like them” or “You don’t act very Asian.” 
  • “Asian Americans are not risk takers.” 
  • “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” or “When are you going to go  home?” or “How often do you go home?” 
  • “Oh, you speak English good!” or “Do you speak your language?” 
  • “You’re not a minority because all Asians are rich and successful.” 
  • “You’re not Asian, you’re from India.”
Here's rub; in and of themselves, most of these questions are not even all that offensive - granted that could be my subjective opinion, but I think that if we are really honest with ourselves we would admit that most of these questions have no real profoundly offensive quality - although we would have cause for concern. Yes, when we are asked these questions we can justifiably roll our eyes, and sigh to ourselves that we may be dealing with another individual who may be honestly ignorant, or just plain rude, but to become offended is, in some ways, accepting loss of control over yourself. These questions are, however, problematic because they hint at a profound, casual, and even a dangerously oblivious, discrimination.

In reality, far from merely causing offence, these questions reveal some deep-rooted beliefs that mainstream America takes as axioms which may indicate that Asians are being casually (but profoundly) discriminated against because of socially acceptable stereotypes derived from racist attitudes. In short, if you encounter people in your place of work who make remarks like these - particularly those in supervisory positions - then you probably have good cause to think that the people who believe these stereotypes may also be limiting your opportunities. So, don't become offended - that is just inappropriate, and diminishes the potential severity of the issue.

The second, and more significant, point of interest about the article is its brief allusion to management and leadership qualities. This is what the article says.....
Not only are they (Asians) stereotyped as not leadership material, but their cultural norms are interpreted by U.S. born executives as proving the stereotype.....“In America, the leadership skill is defined by how confrontational, direct and aggressive you are,”
I just don't agree that aggressiveness, or being confrontational, are as significantly valued leadership qualities in the West as this quote would seem to suggest. Unless you are in a martial profession, or sports, or any line of work that specifically requires aggressiveness, then aggression and confrontation, just don't go down too well with co-workers or underlings alike. In fact, if you are in a service profession, then these qualities definitely put you at a disadvantage as a leader if you are in the business of keeping customers happy. Leadership requires far more than testosterone for it to be considered successful and this idea that aggression and confrontation are highly valued is little more than a red-herring. Yet, it seems to me that in an extremely ironic twist, some Asian-Americans seem to have a caricatured, stereotyped, notion of  leadership as it is practiced and conceived of in western cultures.

My experiences in the workplace leave me skeptical about claims that non-Asians ( i.e. white dudes - let's be honest) have some kind of superior aptitude for leadership. Most of the white dudes that I've worked with have actually been poor leaders who attained their position through kissing the right superiors' butts, and shitting on their co-workers at opportune moments. Asians forget that massaging the right peoples' egos gets you noticed more than actually possessing leadership qualities. Of course, once in a leadership position the facade often falls away and any shortcomings are quickly and painfully revealed.

Some might say that this simply shows that white dudes are better at maneuvering themselves into leadership positions - supporting the idea that culturally they are better suited to leadership. The problem here is that having the skills to manipulate yourself into a leadership position doesn't equate to having aptitude for leadership once you are there. And let's be honest; the path to consideration for leadership for a white dude is significantly smoother than for other demographics - neutral or positive presumptions and such.

Unless a white dude has an arm growing out the side of his head, it is safe to assume that he will be more readily accepted without too much questioning - there are few (if any) negative race specific preconceived stereotypes about white males and so it is likely that face value goes further. So the system fosters ease of integration into leadership circles. Asian-Americans also overlook the fact that American culture is as much about bluster as it is about substance. Only seeming to have the talent and drive to achieve fame, wealth, or positions of leadership, is what most of us mistake for good leadership skills when, in fact, the bluster is most often greater than the substance. This is almost like the American version of the "Asian" phenomenon of "face-saving".

This isn't to say that there are no good white leaders - that would be absurd - I'm simply saying that we tend to mythicize leadership qualities instill by American culture to such a degree that we lose all perspective second-guessing our own abilities. The real question is; do Asian cultures produce individuals who lack aptitude, or is America's cultural antagonism towards Asians conditioning Asian-Americans to believe that they have no inherent leadership qualities?

According to the "general consensus" - to which many Asian-Americans themselves adhere - Asian cultures instill compliance and deference to authority. Asians are, thus, followers, and not leaders. Given this axiom, we should expect to find few, or no, examples of rebellions, or uprisings, in Asian histories - compliant people don't revolt because they are, well, compliant. Yet, Asian history is full of rebellions and uprisings against unpopular or unjust rulers and officials. Even more tellingly, further evidence that Asian compliance is a myth can be seen in the often volatile relationship between Asian societies and their governments.

It is often said that Asian compliance manifests as a lack of active engagement in politics. Yet, history and the news - for those who notice - provides ample evidence to the contrary. Asians engage with their government through protest all the time - that is, they are extremely outspoken in challenging authorities in their own societies. Even in China - I say "even" because China actively suppresses dissent on top of being, supposedly, a culture of compliance - I am always reading about some protest somewhere in which average Chinese citizens are risking their lives to express their dissatisfaction with government. All over Asia you might notice that Asians routinely stage protests against their own leaders - even in countries where they might face death for doing so. Does this sound like compliance? No, it actually sounds like a culture of non-compliance. When you start to notice these things it becomes increasingly difficult to not believe that the "Asians are inherently compliant" type explanations are little more than cheap throw-away justifications for discrimination.

I think, therefore, that it is more likely that Asian-Americans do not make it into leadership positions because American culture has conditioned many of them to believe that they are unsuited to it, has conditioned mainstream America to think of Asians predominantly in demeaning ways, and thus, devalues any authority or leadership qualities that some of us may possess. My sense is that mainstream America is so conditioned to think of Asians derogatorily that this perspective overcomes their ability to objectively assess leadership qualities of Asian-Americans. The result is that because of such profound conditioning, both mainstream America and Asian-Americans themselves believe Asians to be less suitable for authority even though evidence to the contrary may be staring them in the face.  What this suggests is that if culture does play a role in shaping leadership qualities then for Asian-Americans it is American culture as much as anything else that provides the impediments to Asian-American leadership potential.

In summary, I would say that Asian-Americans are doing themselves a disservice by seeming to mythicize leadership in such an unrealistic way. The reality is that the entire culture of America is set up to ensure that white males succeed and that the door never closes on them the way it does on others. This is not to dismiss the idea that there may be some cultural conditions affecting smooth integration of Asians, but I believe that we, and mainstream America, are exaggerating the degree to which this may be the case. By doing this we are enabling the justification of discrimination.

I will finish by saying that cultivating a state of mind that responds to racial insensitivity, or discrimination, with offence is, funnily enough, not a quality becoming of a leader. The reason is, that being offended draws a line in the sand but offers no solutions. A leader,on the other hand, will assess the situation at hand, identify the ramifications of it, and find ways to get passed it, go around it, or overcome it. Being offended has no place in the fight against discrimination or in the skill-set of strong-minded leaders. It is also fundamentally a feminine stance that has no meaningful place in the dialogue and that also happens to offer little by way of solution.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Alpha Asian's New Book.

High Tension Exercises For Muscular Growth

I wanted to mention a great book published recently by James, owner of the Alpha Asian blog, as part of his "Strength And Fitness" series. The new volume is called "High Tension Exercises For Muscular Growth" and is packed full of awesome recommendations to to boost your muscle growth. You can read the my full review at Amazon - here - I gave the book a genuine five star rating. Just in case it isn't obvious, my review is under the name "Ben Ef". On a side note, I think that body strengthening and visible muscularity are hugely important qualities for Asian men to cultivate - an idea I will explore in an upcoming post. This is why I enjoyed this volume so much - it spelled out in great detail what it would take to build muscularity with Asian physiology in mind - although not at the exclusion of non-Asians.

 Strength and Physique: High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth (Volume 5)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Where Are You From?

An Asian-American Anthology.

Last year I received an e-mail from Byron Wong - owner of the bigWOWO blog - who offered me the opportunity to take part in an anthology that his activist (Thymos) group was putting together. The idea was to gather together Asian-Americans from different walks of life, with different perspectives, and ideas, and to allow them to "let loose", if you will, with their creative potential and contribute a piece of written work on a subject of their choice. I liaised with Byron's co-activist and writer Val Katagiri who had taken note of a couple of blog posts I had written as part of a dialogue with Simon Tam of rock group, The Slants

In brief, Tam had asked for community support for his band's efforts to trademark their band name - "The Slants". Tam's position was that words only have offensive power if we allow them to and, thus, by making racial slurs commonplace - like African-Americans have done with "N"-word - they lose their power to offend. As such, trademarking their name is a step in this direction of diminishing the offensive power of this particular slur. My position was (and continues to be) that racial slurs are not intended to offend and that if we are merely offended by racial slurs, then we miss the point of their purpose, and even worse, the opportunity to meaningfully address the profound, centuries-old, casual, and comfortable, foundation of anti-Asian prejudice. In the Western world, slurs of all kinds, but especially racial slurs, serve as a means to dehumanize individuals by assigning derogatory characteristics and qualities to the entire group which can then be distilled down to a single word that represents all of these negative characteristics. 

Thus, "slant", or "chink", or "gook" are not commentaries on the shape of Asian people's eyes, they serve as a means of putting Asians people "in their place" by reminding us and the people using them, that we are not humans who deserve respect and dignity, but creatures of a lower order whose actual individual names are not even worth knowing. Racial slurs serve as a record of the injustices inflicted on people of colour throughout America's history, and to be a slant meant that you were subject to oppression, abuse, and violence. So, being offended by racial slurs is a childish response to name-calling, because it is far more than childish name-calling. To truly see the absurdity of Tam's position, consider this; spitting in someone's face serves the same purpose as using a racial slur. Spitting on someone means that you have so little respect for them, and so little regard for their humanity that they are only worthy to receive your spit. With this in mind, should we also spit on ourselves to remove the "offensive" power of it?

With this in mind, my participation in the anthology is included as part of the dialogue between Tam and myself. You can read the general gist of the dialogue in these two posts, but the anthology contains pieces by both of us that greatly expand on the opinions expressed on this blog. So far Tam's efforts have been (and continue to be) denied on the grounds that the term "slant" is considered derogatory by Americans of Asian descent - it is a racial slur, after all. So in short, casually using a derogatory word does not challenge the profound underlying prejudices that enable the word to exist or the culture of racism that produces it. By coincidence I came upon this hilarious video of Russell Peters talking about how the word "Mondays" is (according to him) being used by white people as a devious way of referring to black people. It illustrates my point - the N-word isn't openly used by most white people but the underlying culture of racism obviously thrives and is finding more creative ways to express itself. In short, my position is that it is fundamentally a bad idea to try to persuade a government agency to take derogatory terms and make legitimize them. 

It is also worth remembering that the N-word is as "offensive" now as it ever was despite having been re-appropriated by African-Americans and becoming common usage amongst them. If you do not believe me, then I invite disbelievers to go up to the next African-American you see and address him with the N-word. Let us know what happens - my guess is that you will cause offence.

The anthology was published last year, but due to postal difficulties (things tend to get lost in the post, or might sometimes take weeks or even months to arrive), I only received my copy a few weeks back - hence my tardiness in mentioning it. The work is a collection pieces, including poetry, personal testimonials, essays, as well as intellectual pieces, all contributed by both men and women with backgrounds from all over Asia. This book is self-published and, perhaps, represents the beginning of a new avenue for Asian voices to be heard in print media that is free of the limitations, self-recrimination, and requirements of exotica, so often required of Asian-American writers hoping for publication in the mainstream. It was nice to read something from both Asian men and women that didn't lapse into the tired "pay attention to me mainstream America" cultural contrition characteristic of some works that cater to mainstream America.

The highlights, for me, were Byron Wongs' (author of the bigWOWO blog) essay on Asian-American masculinity, a piece by Sapna Cheryan on the effects of the perpetual foreigner stereotype on the Asian psyche, Robert Francis Flor's piece on his "manong" heroes, and Val Katagiri's touching piece called "Hikabusha" in which she describes her close connection with her grandmother. These are just the highlights -  the whole book was a joy to read and I thank Thymos, Byron, and Val, for including me and kudos for the idea to bring together diverse voices and opinions. The list of writers includes published authors and poets, activists, academics, and even no-bodies like me! My piece is called "What a Difference A Word Makes".

You can find the book on Amazon......Buy it! Now!!

Where Are You From?: An Anthology of Asian American Writing (Volume 1)