Monday, September 30, 2013

What Would You Do?

....Marginalizing Asian Men In The Fight Against Racism.

In a previous post wrote about an incident in Korea in which a couple of western ex-pats made a video of themselves harassing and abusing a Korean woman in a nightclub. It has since come to light that the video is most likely staged by actors, but that, in no way, changes the gist or points that I made in the original post, about the way that the incident was reported and how it seemed to deflect  responsibility back onto Koreans themselves. With that in mind, at the end of the Washington Post article was this paragraph.......
It’s not clear that the woman in this video was seeking out Western men — if anything, it looks like she was minding her own business when they set upon her — but it’s difficult to imagine what it must be like for other Korean women who see the video online. First they watch the young woman being harassed by two Western men, pushing her around like a disobedient animal, then they see her scolded on Korean social media and Web discussion boards, told by Korean men that she deserved what she got. The moment when she stands up and brushes off her assailants — with no help from anyone in the bar, it’s difficult to miss — is the closest this story gets to having a hero.
It is the final sentence that piques my interest;
"the woman brushed off her assailants, without help from anyone in the bar."
Thinking about what I would have done - that is, questioning whether I would have "helped" -  if I had witnessed this situation made me realize the depth of the divide between Asian men and women in America. I will be honest and say that I second-guessed myself about a situation which if it had involved any other demographic, I would likely have been far more certain about what I would have thought of as the "right" thing to do.

In light of previous posts that I have written, that deal with the dating choices of Asian women, specifically with regards to the degree to which some seem willing to overlook racialization or trivialize anti-Asian racism, this question of "would I have helped", requires a complicated answer. The two posts linked to above, in addition to other commentaries by Asian women seem to make it clear that some Asian women (with access to publications that can mainstream their bizarre ideas) view white racism and the struggle against it drastically differently than Asian men view it.

It has been plainly stated by some Asian women in mainstream and non-mainstream publications alike, that racism and demeaning racist behaviour are not necessarily grounds to reject romantic advances which, effectively, leaves anyone hoping to make a stand against it on shaky ground. Some Asian women seem to actually welcome anti-Asian racism as an opportunity to further territorialize the fight against it and expound on their views of Asian men as disruptors of the dating choice. For others, as in the case of the Jen An piece, the implication is that Asian women can overlook racism by adopting racist attitudes themselves and finding dating joy.

Here is the dilemma; for any Asian-American to "help" in a situation like the one portrayed in the video (where the Korean girl is being abused), one would have to consider this aspect of the situation. To me, this illustrates how making light of anti-Asian racism, or even racial slurs has damaged the credibility of Asian-American claims of prejudice - if Asians themselves present an ambivalent attitude to racism, and are even willing to forgive (or participate in) racism for the sake of a date or financial reward, then mainstream America cannot in all fairness be faulted for any ambivalence towards anti-Asian racism.

On a deeper level, these types of accounts and the resulting ambivalence, and casual dismissal of anti-Asian racism, that it creates, is simply another aspect of the process of feminization of the Asian-American voice. By creating this ambivalence, the masculine aspect of Asian resistance to racism is confounded and pacified - that is it becomes feminized in the worst possible way; the passive and co-dependent "I can change these men" way. So what would have been the "right" thing to do? I still don't really know because the way that some Asians themselves mainstream their ideas about racism, renders any notions of what is "right" into a far more ambivalent place than it might be reasonable. Seemingly there are some Asian women who accept a racist partner in the same way that they might accept a messy one - as little more than an annoyance.

At the end of the day, I think that we, as Asian men, are required to address this kind of racism - even when (perhaps, especially when) it might be unwelcomed as interfering in someone else's dating opportunities. The reason is that non-one - not even Asians themselves - has the right to tell us that there is "acceptable" racism. Most importantly, we are attacking this racism not on behalf of Asian women but for ourselves. Asian women are free to overlook or participate in anti-Asian racism if they want, but that doesn't mean that we have to accept it when they allow it to become a normalized, mainstream narrative.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Asian Girlz" Video Is Racist and Sexist.......

....But Asian Men Are Bastards.

I came across an interesting blog post by an Asian feminist blogger, called Esther Choi, at blog called "stabra", which I thought had moments of insight, but which seemed to ultimately and with great irony fall victim to its own white supremacist presumptions. The boldly entitled piece "ending white supremacy does not begin with controlling asian women's decisions", left me with high expectations which were, sadly, dashed moments later in the sub-headings. The article goes on immediately to uphold the tactics of white supremacy by generalizing culpability to an entire group by addressing the piece to "straight Asian men".

A part of me really wanted to believe that this might simply be a rhetorical tool to provoke discussion which would be backed up by an article rich in thought-provoking points. But it was difficult for me to take the article seriously when there was clearly prejudicial thinking implicit in the premise; straight Asian men as a group are culpable of controlling women's choices. It may be true that ending white supremacy does not begin by controlling Asian women's choices, but I'm pretty sure that it also doesn't begin by pointing an accusatory finger at an entire group, strongly implying culpability and guilt. In fact, that is known as bigotry, and in this case it is also racist.

So right off the bat, Choi has used racism as an implicit premise for her points. But even more intellectually problematic, is the fact that Choi never actually specifies or shows why controlling Asian women's decisions is not an important part of the fight against white supremacy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Asian guys should control Asian women's choices, I'm saying that Choi never shows why doing so would hamper the fight against white supremacy. In fact, history is full of examples of self-sacrifice, of people controlling members of their own group in order to attain a commonly accepted goal that serves the greater good of that community.

It may well be that ending white supremacy may, in fact, require submission of Asian women's decisions to Asian men (haha) - just as some black feminists say that they allowed their voice to be put on the back-burner in order to support the greater good of the civil rights movement - I honestly don't know, but I'm not the one claiming to know. Choi doesn't know either, but she does know that "straight Asian men" are to blame, regardless. Choi's confusion becomes even more apparent once we get into the sparse meat of the article. Having pointed the finger at all straight Asian men, it turns out - ironically - that white racism has prompted this latest lashing out against Asian men.

The article begins with a reference to the, now infamous, Day Above Ground song "Asian Girlz". Describing the song and its accompanying video as "violently anti-Asian, sexist and all-around stupid", she goes on to write how the outcry by a feminist group who mobilized protests, led to the.....
"interruption of racist violence was only one example of the powerful vigilance and solidarity of Asian American women against issues of hypersexualization and objectification that damage our lives."
On a side note, I'm not against strong language to condemn racism, but is it accurate to label the song's racism as an act of "violence"? Or is that just crying wolf? The problem is that violence against women is a real issue, that is, real violence is a real problem which, to me, makes this characterization of the song seem like an overly-dramatic exaggeration that trivializes the concept of violence against women. But that isn't all. According to Choi.........
"It was the transnational feminist organization, AF3IRM, who initiated a swift response and mobilized protest on various fronts, which led to the band losing gigs and sponsorship. "
That may be true - or not, I have no way of confirming this - but the bandmembers posted the following statement on their YouTube channel part of which read....
This video is intended to be a satirical, provocative, absurd, & even silly work of art. The lyrics, story, and visuals are so completely over-the-top and ridiculous that we thought it'd be impossible to miss the point........But some very vocal groups, especially the blog, "Angry Asian Men [sic.]," attacked it right out of the gate very aggressively. Their fury was soon amplified by the blog/news cycle. Shortly after, the views and craziness began climbing by the second.........Angry Asian Men, to you we say - all's fair so well done! We salute you. Seriously. No satire intended this time.
Aside from the band's smarmy deference to the aggrieved groups, one thing stands out; the only Asian voice they mention is that of an Asian man - specifically the blog of Angry Asian Man, who, as far as I know, is straight. How awkward. The only Asian voice of dissent against the sexism and racism of the song singled out by the band belonged to a straight Asian man - bastard! Is the very straight AngryAsianMan also trying to control Asian women's choices too? After all, he is straight, male, and Asian.
While Asian men should speak out when it comes to racist and sexist incidents like the Asian Girlz video because their identities are affected as well, the way straight Asian men have most vocally chosen to approach the fetishization of Asian women has been in a manner that further marginalizes and oppresses Asian women..........Straight Asian males often respond to racism affecting Asian women’s bodies and sexualities as proxies for their own issues.
This is an interesting point because it shows the gulf that exists in how some Asian men and women conceive of what drives the other. First of all, there she goes again with that "straight Asian male" accusation, but more importantly, what exactly is meant by "proxy for their own issues" is key here. She seems to be saying - and criticizing - that internalizing racism that is experienced by others of the same group is somehow unnatural or incorrect. The problem is that this seems to be the most natural thing in the world and its called empathy and happens to be a very human and humane quality. It's why white civil rights activists in the 1960's were willing to risk their lives for black rights - perhaps they viewed the absence of rights for blacks as a proxy for their own issues, and felt empathy and compassion? Choi seems to be critical of this

That aside, it is ungenerous in the extreme - but to be expected in an article that accuses all straight Asian men - to suggest that Asian men are reacting to racism against Asian women basically out of self-interest. I believe that Asian men are capable of higher thinking and even have complex emotional inner lives, which means that Asian men may be responding to racism against Asian women for any myriad number of reasons. Some of it may be self-interest, some of it could be empathy and a sense of a common experience, some of it could be an ideological aversion to bigotry, some of it could be a sense of moral outrage, some of it could be opposition to any kind of bullying or injustice. The list of possible motives that drive Asian men's reactions to racism are probably large and far more complicated and nuanced than Choi seems to understand - but unfortunately, in America it is easy and normal to "paraphrase" the drives and motivations of Asian men into a simplistic and often negative caricature (as modeled by the culture of white supremacy), and this is the approach that Choi has taken.

But, perhaps most problematic of all for Choi's contention that "the way straight Asian men have most vocally chosen to approach the fetishization of Asian women has been in a manner that further marginalizes and oppresses Asian women", is that her article never establishes this as a fact. Do most Asian male commentaries on the fetishization of Asian women further "oppress" them? I don't truly know, but I've read enough commentaries to know that there are many straight Asian men who approach that issue without rancour towards Asian women, so much so that I question the accuracy of the claim. If there is a majority of Asian men doing this, then fair enough, but my observation is that those who attack Asian women because of "their choices" aren't actually taken that seriously by the rest of community, male or female.

Choi continues.....
In response to the emasculation of Asian men implied by the fetishization of Asian women, the solution appears to be to reclaim what seems to have been taken from them—power over women, especially Asian women—and this usually involves attacking Asian women for their decisions regarding their sex lives.....But the oppression of Asian men is not created by the decisions of Asian women. It is created by a white supremacist system that is very much designed to make them feel impotent. 
This is a classic bait and switch, and horribly un-nuanced. Choi is segueing Asian-America's favourite subject - interracial dating(!) - into the discussion. Uh-oh.
In response to the Asian Girlz video, popular Korean American comedian David So explicitly states that he is more concerned with Levy Tran’s choice to be in the video than the actions of white dudes, whose racist behavior he can expect. In his efforts to respond to anti-Asian racism, he launches into an extremely misogynistic attack against Levy Tran that further demeans and sexualizes her, and goes so far as to criticize her for participating in sexism while calling her a bitch in the same breath.
This is where the article becomes all muddled. What are we talking about here, Asian women's sex-lives (which some Asian women seem happy to make the subject of public debate, so it lacks credibility to cry foul when people do actually chime in with an opinion), or the response to the Asian Girlz video - which, incidentally, received a single sentence condemnation, compared to the entire article faulting Asisn men? The two are clearly separate issues. Whilst I agree that Asian women's dating choices are irrelevant to Asian male empowerment, I also think that we are obliged to speak out when Asian-American men or women make free choices to participate in any production or activity that is racially demeaning. This is one choice that all Asian-Americans should try to control in others.

The Asian Girlz song and video is completely unambiguous; that is, it is a stretch to claim that the lyrics and imagery are not utilizing racial stereotypes and racial language in a demeaning way. Unless  the girl involved in the video did not see or hear the lyrics, then she knowingly participated in a production that demeaned Asians and Asian women. That doesn't make her a victim of racism - as Choi wants to believe - that makes her a willing participant in its expression. It is unrealistic to suggest that there was coercion or a lack of choice, and that she participated because there was simply no other avenue available.Granted, the David So video does use off-colour language. Choi describes it thus.....
In his efforts to respond to anti-Asian racism, he launches into an extremely misogynistic attack against Levy Tran that further demeans and sexualizes her, and goes so far as to criticize her for participating in sexism while calling her a bitch in the same breath.
While it is true that So sexualizes the girl, there is a context to the video that goes unacknowledged. David So also refers to the white band members as bitches, and the Asian band member as a bitch, and is scathing about his role also. In fact, a little research would show that So uses vulgarity in many of his videos, and uses the term "be-atch" in many of his videos. While it is true that the Asian-American gender dynamic sometimes does devolve into vulgar online insult fests, I think it ungenerous to ignore the context of So's video work. Objectively, So's work seems to have adopted hip-hop culture that uses vulgar delivery in a way that isn't particular to his dialogue on Asian women. What can be said about David So, is that he uses a form of comic expression derived from a cultural art form which some may consider immature and unsophisticated. In short, Choi is making a mountain out of a molehill - at worst perhaps his video is annoying, and terribly unsophisticated but that's it.

Furthermore, Asian actors and artists of both sexes come under fire when they participate in productions that Asian-Americans may deem to be demeaning - it's not just Asian women who come under, sometimes vulgar, verbal assault for doing this. Gedde Watanabe and Ken Jeong spring to mind as male performers who have been sometimes viciously verbally attacked by Asian-Americans for taking roles deemed to be racially derogatory, so I don't believe that there is any special vitriol reserved particularly for female Asian performers. Is it right or fair? Not necessarily, but it is understandable, and surely it is more true to say that these kinds of responses are themselves a result of the frustrations stemming from the marginalization of Asian people, as opposed to attempts to coerce, abuse, or control others for its own sake? Choi continues.....
A related issue of great concern in the Asian blogosphere is that of Asian women dating white men. Both Asian American men and women have approached this issue by bemoaning the high level of “out-marriage” of Asian American women. However, considering Asians make up about 5% of the US population, this simply means that these women happened to find their partner from a pool of 95% of the population rather than 5%. When you put it that way, is it at all reasonable to conclude that Asian American women are doing something wrong?
The bait-and-switch is complete! In Asian-America, all roads lead to the interracial dating disparity and Asian women's dating choices - that is what Choi truly wants to talk about! But, okay, let's go there. I've made my views on the IR disparity clear - I personally couldn't care less about Asian women's dating choices, I think that notions of the degree of Asian male antagonism towards IR are exaggerated, and for those Asian guys who are vocal in opposition to it, I say move passed it. The only problem I have with IR is that it is often held up as evidence that anti-Asian racism doesn't exist, or that IR is responsible for its abatement, and there is a general tendency to exaggerate its social, historical and cultural significance.

Despite this, the fact remains that so many Asian women wanting to date specifically white men - and occasionally spouting racist and sexist stereotypes about Asian men in the process as a justification - is an unusual phenomenon. My guess is that from an anthropological perspective, this is a very unique state of affairs - that the women from one demographic see more in common with men from a completely different demographic than with the men from their own. Saying that there is nothing unusual about this seems unrealistic. It is unusual! Is it wrong? Of course not, but it certainly is unusual.

That is why it is highly dishonest to not recognize this fact, and any discussion on Asian men's responses to the IR disparity is pointless without an acknowledgement that it seems grossly unfair to heap judgement over a situation that is so unusual that it has no historical precedent. For young Asian-American men growing up in a culture where there are no cultural role-models - save demeaning ones - and where the culture seems to have closed ranks against them (with Asian women seemingly on the inside), and where acculturation and socialization are hampered by stereotypes, it seems ungenerous, to say the least, to stigmatize Asian men for not having a better disposition about the phenomena of high out-dating/marriage rates, but even worst to suggest that there is something wrong with Asian men for struggling to deal with it. It is, after all, extremely unusual and without historical precedent.

Should Asian men attack Asian women who do this? NO! Should we be surprised and wonder about it? Of course - that is the only natural response to a phenomenon that is unique historically, anthropologically, sociologically, and culturally. Denying the uniqueness of the phenomenon is simply dishonest. Thinking about the issue in terms of right or wrong is unfair to the individuals who do make these choices - both Asian women and the (few) Asian men who may have a hard time coming to terms with it.

Here's Choi....
Whatever the case, it is never right, especially in a social justice context, to condemn people’s personal decisions simply by categorizing them in a “problematic” trend. Love and relationships are one of the most complicated and uncontrollable things about our lives, and no one would ever want this significant part of their existence to be vilified by a larger social phenomenon.
That's irony. All feelings are complicated, and sometimes (not always) uncontrollable - even those of the dreaded "straight Asian man" - yet, "straight Asian men" have definitely been categorized (in Choi's article, and elsewhere) as "problematic", even though it is feelings that most probably drive the choices of the few who are vulgar in their criticisms of Asian women. But thanks to the gross generalizations made of straight Asian men that American culture normalizes - and which Choi is happily oblivious to having utilized - the human side of the Asian male voice is denied, and replaced with unsympathetic intolerance. More Choi....
Due to this obsessive focus on Asian women’s relationships, we not only have to look out for the countless ways in which we are exploited, but we also have to defend against constant judgment about being the passive victims of Asian fetish or internalized racists whenever we simply interact with a white male, and alter our behavior accordingly.  
Choi likes exaggeration. Where and how does this "obsession" manifest? It certainly isn't amongst straight Asian male bloggers, most Asian male bloggers don't make Asian women's sacred dating choices the central focus of their observations. This obsession certainly doesn't seem to manifest in Asian male works of literature, film, art, or any other creative endeavour, and it doesn't manifest in politics. In fact, most straight Asian men who have something to say, seem to almost ignore Asian women's dating choices. A few ornery internet commenters (who also happen to be anonymous, which leaves open the possibility that some may not actually be Asian at all) don't really constitute an "obsession".

By contrast, it is Asian women themselves who, often via mainstream outlets, seem obsessively focused on their own dating choices. If you look at Asian-American women's cultural output, in fact, much of it seems driven by this one theme; Asian women and the white men who complete them. It is almost as though Asian women don't have much else to talk about, so they keep returning to the one subject that they know people will respond to. The only people "obsessed" with Asian women's dating choices and who always seem to be raising the subject are Asian women themselves - just as Choi does in her article, in fact.

But this brings me to another significant issue with Choi's piece that is missing. The only ugly aspect of Asian women's dating choices, and one which many Asian men respond to with ugliness, is that some Asian women actually justify their choices by racially stereotyping Asian men, often in an extremely ugly way. Even worse, this aspect of the issue is often played out through culture; for instance, it is not uncommon for the dating-choice-obsessed-Asian-female-cultural-output to caricature the Asian male characters in their work in the same manner demonstrated by white supremacy, funnily enough. This is another reason I avoid castigating and judging Asian men who do focus on the IR disparity - it is quite possible that some of them have had really ugly personal experiences with the kind of Asian girl that we all know plays a significant role in generating the ugliness in the issue, but about whom we never talk about; the nasty piece of work who makes it her business to attack Asian men (often with ugly racial stereotypes). So, I try to be little more empathetic, and non-judgemental.

As Choi says....
You won’t liberate yourselves as Asian men or reclaim your power by supporting American constructs of masculinity, or being the exception to the rule. The racist stereotypes that try to emasculate you never had anything to do with your actual behavior or your value as a man, and the stereotypes will hold no matter how often you defy them. Liberation begins by questioning and destroying the system that so violently excludes and dehumanizes you.
That is a strange thing to say in light of my previous few paragraphs. Some Asian women's obsession with dating white men - as evidenced by the vast cultural output of Asian women with this as a significant theme - itself largely excludes Asian men or only includes them as secondary caricatures of real human beings. These dating-choice-obsessed creative works by Asian women themselves support American constructs of masculinity and the culture that nırmalizes it. In fact, the Asian Girlz video upholds American constructs of masculinity - but Choi doesn't actually have much to say about the actual white supremacy of the Asian Girlz video, unfortunately, except to call it some names.

The main problem with Choi's piece is that she could not quite decide if she wanted it to be a screed, an advisory, a rant, or an opening for a meaningful dialogue, and because of this, it fails on all counts. This is a pity because she does make a few insightful points at various times of the piece, but it gets lost in the muddle. What is apparent, however, is that Choi, by failing to fairly consider every point of view in this issue, and her blanket presumption of straight Asian male culpability, has actually written a piece that diverts attention away from white supremacy and the behaviours that help to uphold it that exist even within the community.

Despite Choi's accusations of Asian male obsessiveness, the Asian feminine-driven culture that has developed around the dynamic of Asian women and white men, provides a strong indication that it is actually Asian women themselves who are obsessed with their own dating choices. Furthermore, Choi fails to recognize that this culture produced by some Asian-American women whose work seems preoccupied with white dudes, quite possibly does more to uphold the white supremacy that suppresses all Asians, than a few Asian guys on the internet who may be struggling to understand the significant historically and anthropologically unusual and unprecedented phenomenon of a demographic rejecting wholesale, men from their own community.

Most problematic for Choi's piece is that she utilizes similar strategies to those that uphold white supremacy - her blanket address to straight Asian men, amounts to little more than an accusation which implicitly renders all Asian men culpable for the actions of a very few. For a piece that ostensibly decries white supremacy, Choi has not been shy in applying white supremacist tactics in her article. Furthermore, in a remarkable twist of irony, Choi has used the oppression of white racism to justify her own racist presumptions. In much the same way that some expats have used feminism to justify anti-Asian racism, Choi seems to have used the language of oppression to justify a way of conceiving of Asian men that can only be described as ungenerously one-dimensional, and ultimately prejudiced.

These issues can be best illustrated through Choi's own words; she very kindly provides a list of suggestions (although the word "commandments" did come to mind), for how Asian men can support the struggle for dating empowerment. Here's number one....
Raise women’s voices. The conversation on the issues affecting Asian American women are being led by Asian American women in insightful, challenging ways. Here here and here are some more examples. We are neither helpless nor in need of male supervision. Our struggle against our own oppression as Asian women helps break down white supremacy and weakens its hold on every part of our lives, including our relationships, more than lectures from Asian men ever will. Supporting women’s voices on these issues breaks down the racist, sexist, homophobic stereotypes that oppress us all.
Choi has not provided any reason for me to believe that Asian men do not, or have not, supported Asian women's voices on these issues. In fact, I would say that there is every reason to believe that Asian men do support women's voices, both in cultural endeavours, and in social media. For every outspoken "angry Asian man", there has, in my experience, been many more Asian male voices that do not tolerate that type of approach. Choi simply has a skewed notion of Asian men that doesn't allow her to think of them in any way other than as an annoying mass of anonymous Asian faces out to disrupt her dating choices.

On a final note, it is interesting - and an entire post could be devoted to this - to notice that implied in Choi's piece, is the notion that Asian men have nothing to offer in the dialogue on sexist based anti-Asian racism, and that only Asian women can be in possession of the insights necessary to combat it. This both silly and dangerous. It is silly because all too often in life it is the person who is not directly involved in a given situation who is more able to see the bigger picture in ways not easily apparent to those "in the trenches". It may well be that the counter-foil of Asian men does hold the key to Asian female empowerment, or not, I'm just not prepared to dismiss Asian men's perspectives out of hand on any issue just because they are inconvenient. It is dangerous because by refusing the Asian male voice (and perhaps occasionally a dissenting or leading voice) in the dialogue, Choi is effectively removing the basis of community.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Julie Chen's New Eyelids

Did She Sell-Out Her Epicanthus?

Most readers will have heard by now of Julie Chen's revelations on the television show, The Talk, in which she discussed her eye-lid surgery. The link to the video is here.

In short, Chen revealed how as a young television reporter in Dayton, Ohio, her world was turned upside down when her boss informed her that she would never anchor on that station because audiences wouldn't be able to relate to her because of her race and racial characteristics. In addition to that, she was told that the shape of her eyes made her appear disinterested and bored when conducting interviews. Insulted, hurt, and with shattered confidence, she resolved to leave her job, and so she consulted with a "big-time" agent who promptly reiterated what her boss had said, insisting that he would not represent her unless she undergo eyelid surgery to make her eyes "look bigger". After much soul-searching, Chen decided to go ahead and have the work done, after which she relates that her career took off.  Of course, the response to the news has been mixed with some commentators labeling her as some kind of sell-out, or traitor to the Asian race, but I think this reaction is without nuance.

I applaud Chen's revelations because she spoke about anti-Asian racism on a mainstream television show, and she did so in a way that clearly showed the emotional and psychological pain that it can cause. A television show presenter of Chen's stature - and perhaps popularity - speaking about the pain of racism, makes anti-Asian racism personal. This is important because one aspect of anti-Asian racism is about denying personhood of individuals and applying stereotyping so that any Asian person's given racial characteristics become associated with negative and demeaning qualities that block empathy or commonality with Asians.

Most importantly for me, is that Chen made mention of racism she experienced at the hands of other children in the school environment. As I have written in several places previously, it may be possible to gauge how ingrained anti-Asian prejudices are in the US by observing the degree to which these attitudes find expression amongst children. My guess is that almost all Asians who have been raised in the US and go through the American school system have experienced racial harassment, bullying, or violence, at the hands of their peers at some point in their childhood. It's difficult to deny racism when it manifests through the children.

Yet, despite the fact that anti-Asian racism is so ingrained that even the children express it, the phenomenon is rarely discussed or even acknowledged in the mainstream. Asians themselves seem reluctant sometimes to speak candidly about anti-Asian racism. But Chen has done just that, and while watching the video, and observing the discomfort of the other presenters - save the two African-American ones, perhaps - as well as the hushed anticipation of the audience, I rather fancied that there was embarrassment and a sense of "we're busted", kind of like when you shine a light on cockroaches.

I think that it would be too easy to say that Chen should never have had the surgery because it was somehow "giving in", but I think this is ungenerous in the extreme. One of the reasons racism is so potent is that there is no easy defence against it. Racial violence is the one exception to this rule - if you are the target of violence, it is natural to defend yourself physically and so the response to racist violence is obvious. Non-physically-violent racism, on the other hand, has no natural response but it leaves emotional and physical scars that are hard to even identify let alone heal because they become so much a part of a person's worldview.

Because of this, it is highly unfair to judge Chen's actions because no-one truly knows how they would or could react if they were in the same situation. Should she have slapped her boss and stormed out? Should she have made a complaint? Should she have brought legal action? The problem with these is that to do any of these things could have made her a pariah in the industry, but it has to be recognized that her determination to succeed has put her in a position in the mainstream media where she can speak directly and honestly about anti-Asian racism. In that light, it seems self-righteous - and perhaps a little petty - to judge her surgery as some kind of affront to Asian racial identity. The fact is, that Chen still looks Asian - very Asian, in fact, and even though you may be able to see more iris, she in no way looks "more Caucasian".

And this brings me to the only caveat I have about this subject. Chen seems to suggest that the surgery was a significant factor  in her rise to success, but I'm a tad skeptical. But if you compare the side-by-side photo below of a before and after surgery, there are several things that stand out that give me pause. Firstly, in the before, Chen looks dowdy and somewhat old-fashioned. Her hair is an 80's cut, her make-up is not very sophisticated, and even a little heavy-handed. On the right, the make-up is refined and sophisticated, and the hair is contemporary and stylish. Secondly, Chen mentions that her confidence was shot (of course!), and this is apparent in the photo - the face on the right is confident and open, the face on the left is open, but not confident.


The point is that there are other factors that could account for Chen's success, that only coincide with her having surgery, and that she could have achieved similar results just in the way she applied her make-up. Granted, her agent only became enthusiastic about her after she had the surgery, but who can say that if he had shown similar enthusiasm for her prior to the surgery that she wouldn't have succeeded anyway? So my caveat is that Chen is inadvertently promoting a surgical procedure by believing it to have more transformational power than it actually possesses.

At the end of the day, she made a personal decision that no-one really has the right judge. Granted, it brings up issues of upholding beauty standards that put unfair pressure on minorities to emulate, but the process has brought her to a place where she is willing and able shine a light on anti-Asian racism, and that is the thing we should focus on, and not personalize her decision as though it was intended as a personal insult to Asians.