Organizing the Asian American Community: Lessons From An Asian Frat (Part 2)

(8 min read time)


“There is no “I” in Iotas.”
— Motto of Iota Class

According to famous American anarchist and feminist writer Voltairine de Cleyre in her widely cited 1912 essay “Direct Action”¹², direct action consists of the following:

“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist.

Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist.

Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.

It is by and because of the direct acts of the forerunners of social change, whether they be of peaceful or warlike nature, that the Human Conscience, the conscience of the mass, becomes aroused to the need for change.  Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.”

The greatest problem with Asian men in America and the Asian diaspora in America as a whole — is that we are indifferent. We are indifferent to racial oppression that specifically impacts ourselves as a community (even if we are hyper-vigilant to those forms of oppression that affect us personally), and we are indifferent to the idea of mounting a collective response in protest, peaceful or otherwise, which is the definition of Political Apathy¹³.

We are lying to ourselves¹⁴

Political Apathy is when a group of people simply does not care about what happens to that group of people, as a whole. We only selfishly care about ourselves and recognize no higher allegiance except to the White people that rule over us, sign our paychecks, and grace our celebrity gossip magazines. Witness the tawdry farce of Ivy League alumni Asians defending Ivy League admission boards and their systematic violation of the civil right of Asian Americans to not experience racial discrimination at a federally-funded institution¹⁵. Harvard receives taxpayer dollars — OUR taxpayer dollars — and OUR dollars are going to an institution that engages in racial discrimination against OUR PEOPLE. Where’s the representation in that? And the loudest, most mainstream voices within the community either simply ignore or defend this! THAT, my friends, is Political Apathy: when you don’t want to stick your neck out for the squad.

Kathy Change set herself on fire in order to protest this morbid, self-sabotaging trait.¹⁶ Sadly, it only seems to have metastasized within the Asian American community in the decades since, although there were hopeful signs of awakening political and social consciousness in this past set of midterm elections. This Political Apathy also suits the American political machine and both major parties just fine, who can then continue to underserve and disenfranchise us while stirring up anti-Asian racism and bipartisan Sinophobia to energize their other racist constituencies, with zero fear of direct reprisals. As Varun Nikore head of the AAPI Victory Fund¹⁷, a Democratic Party Super PAC once said to me, “The real PizzaGate scandal is the fact that the Democratic Party spent more on pizza in 2016 than they did on Asian American voter outreach.”

Varun has always been one of the good ones.¹⁸

How then, fundamentally, can we get Asian American men and Asian Americans generally to stop being so indifferent and apathetic? How can we get them to care more? More importantly, how can we mobilize them to take direct action and engage in group confrontation with society’s more powerful actors, which is the catalyst for all social change?

According to the philosopher Aristotle, virtue is a habit. It is something practiced, not something that comes naturally. Therefore, in order to institutionalize patterns of behavior, it is necessary to have shared collective social structures that promote those behaviors, such as those within an Asian frat (we simply swap in the basement for Zimbardo’s prison). In order to teach young Asian boys how to be men, they must be pushed into situations where they are forced to rehearse specific actions that embody manly traits¹⁹ in a variety of real-world contexts, over and over and under stress and duress. This is known as Militarization. Coincidentally, this is not much different from our pledging process, demonstrating Kauffman’s thesis that there are universal underlying structures of order in any form of ordered ecosystem or Society.

Stepping up to be punished for the sake of others and enduring hardship (Leadership). Delivering speeches and pep talks to a crowd in order to motivate them (Public Speaking). Being forced to engage and challenge people, ideologically and physically, without fear (Courage). One might call all social education a form of ritual hazing.

To Voltairine, this rehearsal component is essential, because when people get used to being passive spectators in real life reliant on others to produce change, their ability to enact any collective undertaking atrophies:

“The evil of pinning faith to indirect action is far greater than any such minor results.  The main evil is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit” — the heroic imagination — “teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves; finally renders organic the anomalous idea that by massing supineness together until a majority is acquired, then through the peculiar magic of that majority, this supineness is to be transformed into energy.”

In other words, even if you amass together a large group of people, if those people are lazy good-for-nothings used to doing and risking jack squat, then nothing spontaneous will occur, even if you have the numbers to riot. The very act and forgiveness of doing and contributing less or nothing gradually robs people of both their personal agency and volition over time. Volition, otherwise known as The Will, is that final inclination of the brain which moves you to actually do something in real life. If you practice being passive your whole life, you will be reflexively passive. Activism requires reflexive Action.

What does reflexive Action look like? At the individual level, it may simply be not allowing racist remarks or actions to go unchallenged. This, as Voltairine said, is a form of Direct Action. I’ve been out in the professional world for a while now and I try to keep my nose clean these days, but my instincts towards anti-Asian racism remain the same as they’ve always been. My first two weeks in Los Angeles after I first moved here for my job in 2016, I and my line brother Keith got into a confrontation outside of BCD Tofu House in Koreatown with a Trump supporter. This drunk maniac was going around yelling about how dirty Koreatown was and screaming “Trump! Trump!” at the Asians gathered outside. My line brother, who is not one to fuck around for as long as I’ve known him, casually started arguing with the guy, at which point he dared to lunge forward and grab Keith’s face.

The next thing I knew, we were trading punches with this racist, bringing back flashbacks of my old college days. I stopped myself and Keith once it was no longer necessary to continue. His girlfriend, a second generation Korean American, was shrieking at us in the background the whole time, while a crowd of my people stood by and silently watched us defend ourselves against this white supremacist. Even the old Korean security guard outside the parking lot simply nodded at us when we left. To top things off, my girlfriend Xiao Yun was yelling at the Trump supporter’s girlfriend, asking her how she could possibly support him. Her response? “It’s not like I agree with him!” Well, at least one Asian woman was forced to defend her terrible dating choice.

Me and Keith at BCD Tofu House, moments before taking direct action against a violent Trump supporter

What about reflexive Action at a community level? When an outside power forces itself upon us, like the Los Angeles City Council when it decided to plop a homeless shelter right in the middle of Wilshire and Vermont, the bustling gateway to Koreatown, without any input from the residents, it’s when the individuals that make up that Community respond in an organized, systemic way. Hundreds of nonprofit organizations, as well as the Korean American Coalition, rallied the residents together to protest the decision while engaging local businesses and their management to add their voices towards a renewed hearing and relocation. The voice of the Community eventually won, despite numerous false flag counter-protest organizations being hastily erected and financed by political actors pushing an agenda, and the proposed temporary shelter was moved to a different location, still within Koreatown. Like antibodies protecting the human body from a pathogen, this is community activism as self-defense.

Me delivering a speech on the fly to a crowd of hundreds of my people to rally them against the City of Los Angeles

However, we must not simply mobilize to defend, but also move to promote ourselves, as a group. Unfortunately, emasculation has not simply impaired the Asian Man’s ability to Love, it has also impaired our ability to War. It has accomplished both these things through the same mechanism — by segregating him socially and visibly from Asian Women and enforcing that boundary through White Power, White Venues, White Media, and willing Asian Collaborators eager for participation trophies and stickers. Therefore, it is imperative that Asian America works to establish our own private co-ed spaces where young Asian men and women can mix and mingle together without shame or fear or humiliation by white racists, such as the Greek system, church, Asian enclaves²⁰, and other collective social structures and gathering places. Only when our men and women learn how to talk sweet and break bread and partner with each other to achieve larger collective goals and outcomes will we ever stand a chance against the tides of self-hate that threaten to drown out all community consciousness, sunder us apart, and quell political activism within Asian America.

We must learn to truly Love. According to German philosopher Friedrich Schelling in his epic poem, “The Four Ages of the World”²¹, embedded in the idea of Love is Wrath, the Wrath to Protect those Loved Ones. Paradoxically, despite the rampant Self-Hate, it is not Self-Love that Asian America is missing. We love our own, individual selves just fine. It is Love of Each Other that is lacking, and the Righteous Anger that comes when one of our brethren is harmed. And that Wrath is important, because without Wrath, without Righteous Anger, we cannot ignite the spark that brings about Change — Action:

The most that a working-class party could do, even if its politicians remained honest, would be to form a strong faction in the legislatures which might, by combining its vote with one side or another, win certain political or economic palliatives.

But what the working-class can do, when once they grow into a solidified organization, is to show the possessing class, through a sudden cessation of all work, that the whole social structure rests on them; that the possessions of the others are absolutely worthless to them without the workers’ activity; that such protests, such strikes, are inherent in the system of property and will continually recur until the whole thing is abolished — and having shown that effectively, proceed to expropriate.
Voltairine De Cleyre

The White Man cannot have both His and the Yellow Man’s World, too. He must either share his, or give up ours, and until one of these demands is met, all Yellow Men should have one collective slogan and motto imprinted on their hearts, as we did during the old days of the railways when they blew us up, starved us to death, and left us to die alone in Bachelor Societies while we protested for higher wages:

“We’re on Strike!”

Lambda Phi ‘Til The Day I Die

(Part 1)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]




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