Sunday, December 23, 2018

Celeste Ng And Trumping The System

Asian Women's Get Out Of Jail Free Card.....

In the years following the end of the Second World War, thousands of Japanese War Brides were admitted to the United States as the spouses of American GIs returning from the Pacific War. Most of these women were married to Caucasian GIs - a phenomenon which spawned an unusual racial dynamic that saw many of these Japanese War Brides slot into a unique ethnic category that set them apart from other racial minorities but also from other Asian-Americans.

A dissertation by Masura Nakamura of the University of Minnesota explores how these women integrated into their new husbands' lives, society and culture, and reveals some intriguing insights into our present-day, Asian-American gendered racial experiences. Most significantly for this post, is the relationship between these War Bride newcomers to America and the existing Japanese-American community.

For the most part, this relationship was a fraught one - either largely non-existent due to War Brides being geographically isolated from other Japanese-Americans, or due to simple lack of commonality between the experiences of the two demographics if, or when they were living in proximity. According to Nakamura's dissertation, Japanese War Brides lived unique "de-racialized" lives when married to white GIs which saw them idealized as "proto-model minorities" for their acquiescence to unquestioning integration into white society. So thorough was this process, that many even adopted racist attitudes towards African-Americans and the Japanese women married to black GIs, often having nothing to do with them because of the race of their partner.

Prominent amongst these War Brides was an attitude of disdain for Japanese-Americans, whom they derided for not being more "Americanized".....
Some war brides, such as Mrs. F-19, criticized the Japanese Americans in Hawaii for more than their use of Japanese over English and generally condemned them for not being more American. She was in favor of Americanization, and like Mrs. F-17 thought Japanese Americans were backwards for not Americanizing more fully. (p.229)......As Mrs. F-19 succinctly stated, “I am married to an American and I want to become Americanized. When Iwas married to my husband, I made up my mind that I was going to be an American. I am willing to give up my Japanese background.” 
The severe racial discrimination experienced by earlier waves of Japanese immigrants that saw them racially segregated, blocked from integrating into mainstream American society, and marginalized them as second class citizens seems to have gone unnoticed by some of these War Brides. Even the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans seems not to have given pause to consider the possibility that Japanese-Americans were not more Americanized due to America's efforts to keep them in a state of separateness. In short, Japanese-Americans, unlike "Mrs. F-19" were not given the opportunity to choose to achieve "Americanization" through their personal partnering with whiteness. 

This "privilege" of being able to choose American whiteness was only available to Asian women married to white men. Nakamura calls this process "racial coverture" - a reference to old English Common Law in which the rights and identity of a wife are subsumed by those of the husband. In this case, the Asiatic race of Japanese War Brides was subsumed by the whiteness of their white spouse, granting them rights and opportunities not available to any other racial minority group.

Thus, at a time when racial minorities were still criminalized under draconian Jim Crow era anti-miscegenation laws, thousands of Asian women were enjoying the privilege of full integration by "choosing Americanization" due to their marriages to white men. Even prior to this post-war mass migration of Asian War Brides, Asian women enjoyed privileges if they partnered white men.

Celeste Ng's recent article in "The Cut" echoed this same privilege induced tone deafness. While I share Ng's condemnation of the harassment she has experienced, her miscomprehension of a racial minority's experience other than her own - in this case Asian men - comes through loud and clear. Unlike other minority demographics, Asian women have historically had the option to "overcome" racial disadvantages through partnering with white men, so it seems natural that some Asian women may struggle to truly understand the nature of the "no-win" situation that some Asian men might feel. This would be especially true when it might directly challenge the implicit privileges their choices in life and love may offer them.

When Ng writes....
Asian men face long-standing stereotypes that they’re socially awkward, unmasculine, or sexually unattractive, and these perceptions often put them at a disadvantage, from academics to work to dating apps. From their posts, it’s clear that Asian men like those on AZNidentity believe they’re fighting a constant battle against a culture that’s out to get them.
.....she has revealed her lack of familiarity with Asian men's experiences. Some of Asian-America's most successful men have written about experiencing this feeling of unremitting cultural hostility that Ng casually dismisses as the domain of "Asian men like those on AZNIdentity". Here are some examples.....
.......there were times I thoroughly believed that no one wanted anything to do with me. I told myself that it was all a lie, but the structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men in the real world. (Eddie Huang.).....
We’re simply interested in finding our identity, but when we look out to the world, all we can find is the lazy portrayal of the uni-dimensional, kung-fu fighting, smart, obedient, emasculated man or hyper-sexualized woman. The Model Minority. That sucks. (Ricky Yean - CEO).... 
No, I was a “chink”: A trope of an Asian man, a character I knew little about but had internalized, like many other Americans, as an emasculated nerd. I remember sitting in the back of my dad’s car one night crying and shaking as I told him that “no girl will ever like me because I’m Chinese.”.......In a place where Asian manhood had been obliterated, what I needed was someone to look up to. Someone who could understand my struggle and set an example. And my dad was not that person.......A white man couldn’t teach an Asian man about masculinity. Nor could the media, with its tokens and stereotypes.....(Zachary Schwartz, Journalist)
Last year, I read a book by Alex Tizon called Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self..... In the book, Tizon laments the representation of Asian men in popular media—or really, the lack thereof. He writes of Sex and the City: “Something like 2 million Asians live in the New York metropolitan area, but Asians hardly appear in the show at all—symbolic annihilation at its best.” Symbolic annihilation: the under-representation of a group of people, usually in media. Asian men rarely show up in TV or film. And when they do, they often are at best sexless nerds, and at worst offensive stereotypes.(Kevin Nguyen, journalist)
We realized that for all of Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments, we as Asians are still different, are still seen differently than other races by the vast majority of Americans................The truth is, racism toward Asians is treated differently in America than racism toward other ethnic groups. This is a truth all Asian Americans know. While the same racist may hold back terms he sees as off-limits toward other minorities, he will often not hesitate to call an Asian person a chink, as Jeremy Lin was referred to, or talk about that Asian person as if he must know karate, or call him Bruce Lee, or consider him weak or effeminate, or so on....(Matthew Salesses, author)
There are many more such testimonies in which successful Asian men describe this sense of being under siege by a hostile and racist culture. Surely, men such as CEO, Ricky Yean and well-regarded authors, like Matthew Salesses are not "bullies" like those "Asian men on AZNIdentity"? Clearly, Celeste Ng is wrong in her insinuation that these notions of a hostile culture are the delusions of unhinged Asian men.

Despite Ng's acknowledgement of the discrimination and dehumanizing stereotypes that Asian men face, it seems like mere dismissive lip-service. She writes...
These harassers frequently brand me “self-hating” and accuse me of “hating Asian men” — because I have a white husband, and because of a tweet I posted years ago in which I acknowledged I wasn’t always attracted to Asian men......They have a valid complaint here: My tweet fed into those stereotypes that Asian men are unsexy, and when people pointed this out, I rethought my own biases. 
Ah, that tweet! The problem from my perspective is not that Ng's tweet revealed her lack of attraction to Asian men, or that she bought into stereotypes about them. The issue is the casual, off-the-cuff expression of racism. Ng finds that all Asian men look the same and that their "look" negates any curiosity about their personal qualities.

This sentiment plays into more sinister stereotypes - Asians as droll automatons, lacking any significant quality of character to differentiate any one individual from another. Ng seems unconscious of her unconscious propagation of a foundational dehumanizing stereotype that has existed in American culture as a by-product of the need in times of war to dehumanize your Asian enemy. Her lack of attraction for men like me is not a problem for me. Her clueless propagation of racist sentiment is.

Like some Japanese war Brides before her, Ng can't seem to understand why there is such a fuss about interracial marriage. Nor can she seem to gauge why it is such an issue for some racial minorities. The reason, I submit, could be that interracial partnering is something that Asian women have never really had to struggle to achieve. Despite the fact that modern-day Asian women fancy themselves as martyrs for the cause of interracial love, in truth (as herstory shows), Asian women have long been afforded the privilege of crossing the racial barrier to partner white men, while other minorities (including Asian men) have been criminalized for their interracial love choices. Anti-miscegenation laws have been ignored, and immigration laws perforated and changed to enable this to happen.

Far from being the heroic struggle for interracial love against all the odds that modern-day Asian feminists would like us all to believe, Asian women partnering white men is, in fact, one of the most glaring examples of the power of white male supremacist privilege. How else can we explain the ease with which harsh laws devised to inhibit racial mixing could so easily be ignored? The answer of course is that the racist white men in power at the time decided that they could ignore their own laws to their own benefit. Such is the power of white supremacy.

Of course some Asian women can't understand the anger that some Asian men might feel about interracial out-marriage - they have never really had to fight for the right to it and have had any obstacles to it waved away by those in power. This lies at the root of Asian-American inter-gender issues when it comes to out-marriage.

We are living in a kind of residual culture, an aftermath of a period in American history of cultural and legal white racial supremacy. Asian-Americans seem not to have explored how the effects of gendered historical racism affect our community for one very good reason. As partners for white men, Asian female cultural leaders have effectively become the voice of the Asian-American narrative. From that perspective, not much has changed for Asian women. Jim Crow and immigration laws were changed and bypassed to permit Asian women to marry into whiteness. This is why "Asian narratives" are largely dominated by depictions of Asian women and white men whilst Asian men are marginalized. This is also why the "Asian narratives" often seem more sympathetic to historical white power structures than to the Asian experience.

Our present-day culture reflects this history. The naturalness of Asian women with white men is the social and cultural by-product of this history. By the same token, the normalcy of casual dehumanization, emasculation, and marginalization of Asian men derives, ultimately from the draconian anti-miscegenation legislation and sentiment strictly applied to Asian men who have always been conceived of as irredeemably foreign threats. No surprise that some Asian women are left scratching their heads trying to comprehend what it is like to be marginalized culturally, socially, and sexually. They have always been afforded an avenue out of that. Asian men still live under the shadow of residual cultural anti-miscegenation sentiment.

The existences of Ng's article is itself an expression of this privilege. Asian men are long accustomed to Asian women spouting racist sentiment towards us, yet, how often do we see a mainstream publication giving Asian male writers the opportunity to call it out?

In summary, the root of the gender conflict in Asian-America derives from the vastly disparate histories and racial experiences each has faced, particularly on the subject of miscegenation. Whilst Asian men were strictly held to account for anti-miscegenation, Asian women were exempted in tens of thousands of cases. The repeal of draconian immigration and anti-miscegenation laws merely meant business as usual for Asian women who had long been allowed to circumvent them due to their white partners. White supremacy itself has been a get out of jail free card for Asian women.

Sadly, Ng's experiences of online bullying, are a reflection of this historical chasm in experiences, and probably explains why awareness of it seems lacking in her piece. Quite simply, the "Asian narratives" of the post anti-miscegenation/exclusionary immigration period ignores this disparity of historical experience and instead focuses on the happiness of Asian women and their saviour white partners. Asian men are invisible in their own historical narratives, and the discrimination they experienced erased. This is why Asian women seemed to have been able to more easily "move on" past the history of racism that affected Asian-Americans in the past. The groundwork for this was already laid for them, thanks to the power of white supremacy to define race according to its own needs and desires.

The question is, how do Asian men "move on" from this history and its continuing cultural aftereffects without an honest acknowledgement of it?

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