(7 min read)
By Albert Joon-Ho Hur
ProAsian Voice launched the #AsianLove campaign to normalize Asians loving ourselves and each other on an international stage. Its success shows that internalized racism is going out of style. But as we make progress, those who resist it start feeling anxious. I heard today that Celeste Ng, who said all Asian men, including her son, are unattractive and remind her of her cousins, was defending relationships with white men as progressive in Newsweek¹, so I suppose we haven’t advanced much since the 16th century in this regard.
I WAS BORN A SLAVE…
In the 16th century, the Portuguese founded the Atlantic Slave Trade², setting the tone and precedent for the entire Age of Discovery. Like our brothers, the Africans, Asians were the first ones to be enslaved upon contact with Europe. Sold out by the Japanese (as always!), the Portuguese established a massive slave trade of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Indians, and Vietnamese. In his book “Portuguese Colonialism and Japanese Slaves”, Michio Kitahara calls the history “totally unknown!”, though as Michael Hoffman in Japan Times³ notes, this is all freely and publicly available knowledge. Why then, would it be buried?
Perhaps the answer lies in a closer examination of history. Slavery lasted in Asia for half a century, at the same time the Portuguese were establishing a foothold on the Slave Coast in West Africa and building Elmina Castle, that dreary, foreboding fortress on the ocean shore where they subjected Black human beings to unspeakable horrors in dark dungeons and systematically dehumanized them before shipping them to the New World, like us. We were often even sold TO Africans, as concubines and sex slaves, a fact that Portugal touts today in news publications like Politico in Europe⁴, citing themselves as a “gentler” strain of European colonialism and “progressive” for “race-mixing”. Providing Asian women as sex slaves to the White and Black man is “progressive”, according to the ones that literally enslaved the entire world, and who did not return Macao to China until 1999, the official end of European colonialism in Asia after over 400 years of brutal control⁵.
It’s interesting to note that East Asian enslavement under the Portuguese lasted only 50 odd years, unlike with our African brothers. A closer examination of history shows that we rebelled first – the Chinese caught Portuguese slavers kidnapping their own near their coasts, killed them all, chopped them up into pieces, stuffed their genitals into their mouths, and paraded them through Beijing to demonstrate their contempt and hostility towards the practice. Japan protested as well, although that protest is a bit marred by the fact that Japan was engaging in a massive slave trade of its own, including of captured Chinese and South Koreans. History, it seems, leaves a lasting scar, that periodically bursts open to unleash fresh trauma.
Of course, there is no White Savior narrative in this First Contact between the seafaring nations of Europe and Asia, no Abraham Lincoln to deify for freeing us, which is perhaps why none today in the United States are aware of the fact that we were also cargo passengers on the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We ended up in interesting places, all over Europe and the Indies, then Brazil and the Americas after Portugal outlawed the practice. Portuguese slavers then turned their eyes to other client nations that remained open, like of course, our very own US of A. In the eyes of the white man, we were cooks and concubines, admired for our “intelligence”, “loyalty”, and “industriousness”, which fetched higher prices on the Western “free market” than the apparently rowdier and less hardworking Black and Arab Muslim stock (although historical records show that the British would later fear mutinies from their Chinese coolies⁶ due to their apparently untamable, “savage” nature⁷). Interesting to note that none of these stereotypes and generalizations of us have changed in the 21st century, and that the most famous Asian men in America are all restauranteurs like David Chang⁸ and Eddie Huang⁹, and our most popular Asian women are porn stars like Asa Akira¹⁰ and Tila Tequila¹¹. Coincidence?
…BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO KOWTOW
Since I was a kid, everyone has been trying to shut me up, tell me to lower my voice, talk over me, interrupt me, turn away while I’m speaking, or treat me like I don’t know what I’m talking about (while simultaneously praising my intelligence). I have the gift of gab and executive presence, which I display openly and proudly with no shame. Why should I? Am I your slave?
Lord knows I’ve tried “fitting in”. It’s too hard, though. They took too much. It’s not just your pride and ego, it’s your manhood, it’s your soul. You’re forced to be empty and lifeless, a husk for others to fill up with their burdens and cares, not a person, not an end in and of yourself. You work hard? You deliver value? You win on merit? Don’t be so entitled! You deserve nothing for your labor or your awards¹². Only you, though. Everybody else gets to take credit. You slave away for others, while they rob your pockets, hog all the glory, and carry off all the women, who giggle and crow about how much of a loser you are and proudly excoriate you as “misogynistic” and “patriarchal”¹³ while hanging off the arms of prominent white nationalists¹⁴. How would they even know? I never see them at Korean church.
Then of course, there’s the complete lack of physical and psychological safety. White supremacists murder me every year in America¹⁵. They’ve been at it since the first year that Asian slaves ever stepped foot onto the New World. Non-Asians of all kinds, drunk on white supremacist television and model minority propaganda, think they can step all over me, rob me, and beat me to death with a wrench and baseball bat on the campus of University of Southern California¹⁶ in 2014 over my credit card, which likely is maxed out. Seriously, despite what you may have heard, my people are Crazy Poor¹⁷. If we really had the money, we’d lawyer up against ICE raids and stem the flow of the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline.
Of course, that’s in California. In Ohio and Michigan (Rest In Power Vincent Chin) where I come from, white racists openly march in the streets, patrol street corners and businesses, and call me and my lady friends chinks and Orientals before shooting us in our homes or at our workplaces¹⁸. Hell, even cops shoot us, perhaps warming up for their terror raids on Blacks. And if I want to escape from this morbid reality? I can’t even turn on the TV or go to the movie theatre without watching white men praised as “superheroes” by American culture chopping me up, killing me, or shooting me in the face. Thanks Ethan Hunt and Deadpool.
In the manual for the oppressor, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli says that when ruling over a colonized people, there’s two things you must never do: touch their women or their property and inheritance. You can hurt a man, injure him, spit on him, demean him, humiliate him, bully him and treat him like dirt, even kill him, so long as you do not rob him or steal his wife. Doing either or both leads to certain rebellion and loss of the colony.
Us Asian men in the diaspora, those that were born slaves under what is known as the Anglo-American Order¹⁹ (NATO, Five Eyes, World Bank, IMF), the neo-colonized, refugees and refuse from the Cold War, the War of American Imperialist Aggression, conducted by legendary white supremacist George F Kennan²⁰, that destroyed all Asian countries and installed brutal puppet regimes and dictators²¹ all over Asia that destroyed our people, our economies, and our pride, and reduced us to a brothel²² and a warehouse for stolen goods, have been robbed of our humanity, our pocketbooks, our women, and our future. Korea and Japan have been reduced to vassal states of the US, and the fifth generation of the CCP in China is led by the son of a man who was purged by Mao for being a Western comprador and sellout.
Yet oddly, I’m optimistic. The words of Machiavelli, father of modern Western politics, ring in my head whenever I start to feel down. If the colonizer takes the property and women of the colonized, he will surely lose his colony. Taxation without representation is theft. Underemployment²³ and unequal pay²⁴ for equal work is exploitation and a violation of human rights. In the absence of wife and children, men have nothing left to lose (and gay Asian men have it even worse²⁵), and the National Institute of Health shows that the lack of relationship involvement for young Asian American men is an exceptional case²⁶.
There is a new wave of Asian American consciousness, led by Millennials and Generation Z. That wave carries within it multiple competing, squabbling movements, all jockeying for power and prominence, some selling out to the oppressor or otherwise bringing in proxies to gain leverage over one another in the Yellow and Brown hierarchy²⁷. But one thing gives me hope. Asian men are not getting paid what they’re worth, and they’re starting to see through the racist charade. And according to stats and research, it’s truly worse now than at any time it was in American history post-1965²⁸.
That’s a recipe for a slave revolt. And history shows, slave revolts are what Asian men do best.