My Interview with NPR’s This American Life, the Origin of White Worship, the Nature of God, and Lessons in Leadership from Confucius and Buddhism
(14 min read)
“The supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership”. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to “liquidate”, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise “leadership” before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to “lead” as well.”
— Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks
Jay Caspian Kang from NPR’s This American Life, facing the music
The first weekend of 2019, I ended up spending a combined 15+ hours over the course of three days with Jay Caspian Kang, former correspondent for Vice News Tonight and writer-at-large for the New York Times. Jay had actually reached out to me via Teen, my former co-host from my old Tales from Mangrila podcast, in order to schedule an interview to talk about my life and my involvement with Asian American activism, particularly in online spaces. Though I was a bit leery of his true motives due to his past coverage of Koreatown community protests and activism at Vice, I thought it might be a good opportunity to at least tell my side of the story and introduce a larger audience to some of the social and political issues plaguing Asian America, especially since we do not exist in the collective American imaginary except as horribly caricatured commodities (festivals, food, dress) and lurid Orientalist constructions of a mystic “Far East” swathed in racist Anglo-American chinoiserie (stereotypes) and hideously contrived domineering Yellow Peril/swooning geisha girl motifs.
In order to prep for the meeting, I called Caroline, a Korean-American community organizer who had helped introduce me to the local political scene in my neighborhood in 2018 during both the protests around the undemocratic placement of a homeless shelter and the neighborhood council subdivision vote over space and naming rights to Koreatown. Caroline had actually issued a response video to Vice’s coverage — which had been edited by Jay to deliver a totally different message while he worked there — and I wanted her on hand just in case he proved to be yet another sold-out member of the Asian American media class here to do a song and dance about those kooky Koreans for his predominantly white male editors/producers/audience. Since Jay had asked about activist activities, I figured it’d also kill two birds with one stone, as Caroline is deeply plugged into the Korean American nonprofit world and the local government machinery of Los Angeles, having worked for the City for ten years.
Race Wars: Koreatown Strikes Back (At Vice News)
I was fully prepared to spend three days trying to combat the White supremacist imperialist characterization of misogynistic Asian men online trying to control Asian women’s “dating habits” (a term used as a socially polite fig leaf for the phenomenon of socially engineered racist White Fever). Like most media Asian Americans, Jay did not disappoint. From when he first entered my apartment late in the afternoon on a Friday, he indeed seemed to be trying to paint me into a corner as some diabolical messianic figure to a crowd of White terrorist incels in yellowface (a racist construction in and of itself, as the most famous figure of the incel serial killer movement — Elliot Rodgers — was actually the White supremacist offspring of a self-hating Asian woman and a White Hollywood filmmaker, and brutally murdered three Asian men with a knife before going on his infamous shooting spree). This constant role reversal of the victim and the victimizer is a hallmark of White supremacist imperialism and ruling oppressors everywhere, a bullshit tactic which gave rise to the scathing phrase: “The white man cries out in pain as he strikes you.”
The 15-hour struggle session was intense, as a miniature parade of Asians were brought in for the interview, starting with Caroline, to call Jay a traitor to the Korean American community (that initial conversation, Jay assured me, will definitely be left out of the last cut). In between the community callouts, Jay and I grappled with our differing ideologies on politics and social activism, as I tried to tease out of his cynical, “small government”, right-wing posture what exactly motivated somebody like him — apparently a rebellious poker-playing dilettante and aspiring writer — to carry water for giant racist corporate American media rather than using his position to elevate desperately needed voices and narratives (instead of using them as pornographic “human interest” stories to write a meal ticket). Although he assured me he was highly conscientious of his status as a minority man, citing as proof a Medium article he had written a couple years back blasting his editors at the New York Times and calling on Asians to create our own stuff, it did not seem to me that he had done much, if any, deep analysis of the problem at hand. Rather, after periodic self-reflection devoid of study, it appeared he pretty much had decided to give up on the whole thing and go eat out at a Buffalo Wild Wings while thoroughly repressing all racial consciousness. This caused an explosive confrontation during our second day when the topic of his interracial marriage to a White woman surfaced.
Our last day, we wrapped with some outstanding questions to fill in a few bits and pieces for his highly professional producer Diana, and Jay and I went to grab some pork bossam and yukgaejang for lunch, off the record. I let Jay know that my girlfriend Xiao Yun had recorded us both the entire time, as we got into a mini-debate about the content and structure of the eventual finished product for This American Life. Jay paused for a second, and gave me an approving nod, telling me that was “smart”. He then asked me to give them “a chance”. Despite our disagreements and deep differences, I did sense that he was in some way genuine (he had impressively weathered the storm of criticism from myself and others for hours on end all weekend and hadn’t run away), and so I told him “yes”.
A couple weeks later, I read in the New York Post that a racist White man on January 16th in 2019 in the Year of Our Lord had assaulted and killed at least two Asian men in a Punisher-style rampage in a Brooklyn restaurant after having been inspired by the lies of Yellow misogyny promulgated by Asian American pseudo-feminists:
“The hammer-swinging madman charged with killing an Asian chef at a Brooklyn told cops he was inspired by a movie about Chinese mistreatment of women, law enforcement sources said on Wednesday.
Arthur Martunovich told detectives that after seeing the flick — he had no choice but to unleash terror inside the packed, Asian-owned Seaport Buffet early Tuesday evening.
Hammer in hand, the 34-year-old construction worker allegedly burst into the Emmons Avenue eatery around 5:10 p.m. and bashed owner Kheong Ng-Tang over the head in the entryway, according to sources. He then stormed into the kitchen, where he allegedly clocked manager Tsz Mat Pun and chef Fufai Pun — before dashing out of the gore-soaked restaurant into the street, sources said.”
This narrative of Asian women needing to be “rescued” from grotesquely evil and horribly controlling (yet strangely passive, weak, and woefully inadequate) Asian men — which is loyally and doggedly reproduced by Asian American women seeking to be famous themselves — is, of course, the age-old bane of Yellow brothers everywhere in America, especially since the 90s. It often leads to torrents of racist abuse, social ostracization, torture, and even violent murder (as witnessed) at the hands of the dominant society. This physical and symbolic violence, which sellout Asian American women like Celeste Ng continue to incite through public displays of racial hatred towards Asian men, are done at White male America’s bidding. After all, what is this whole racist fiction of “Asian male misogyny” as characterized in Amy Tan’s immortal Joy Luck Club, if not simply a narrower and domestic repackaging of the imperialist and colonialist White Man’s Burden? The “Burden”, of course, being “saving” Asian women (“Little Brown Fucking Machines”) from “Oriental despotism” — a conveniently provincialist neoconservative fig leaf under which white supremacists promote military aggression in Asia and the Middle East, election interference in sovereign nations, and neoliberal neo-colonization of disaster-wracked countries through the Bretton Woods institutions. I immediately texted the article to Jay when I first read it, who texted me back that he had “seen it” but didn’t share any of his personal thoughts on the event other than it was an “awful story”.
I had quite a lot to say on the matter.
It was then that it struck me that what Asian Americans need — other than a good, swift kick in the ass — is more than anything else, a genuine, general education. As Antonio Gramsci, the brilliant neo-Marxist Sardinian nationalist inspired by his socialist militant brother, said: there are “rulers and ruled”, and “leaders and led” — this is an indisputable fact and the “rules of the game” for the social terrain we all inhabit today, regardless of whether we would like to eventually shift this landscape. According to Gramsci, a “general education” consists of a study of the history of ruling classes, their methods and tactics of rule, and the social and historical factors that contribute to the conditions of their rulership and those who they lead. To complete Asian Americans’ freshman education of politics, history, identity, and our own unique social position, we shall trace back to the earliest beginnings of mankind and peer deep into the mists of prehistoric time, in order to discern within the awakening of primitive human consciousness the modes and forms of leadership, because it is only through leadership that Asian men — and Asian Americans as a whole — will ever achieve the political power necessary to safeguard our liberties and secure our equal rights.
THE MODERN PRINCE
“Orientals or Arabs are… gullible, “devoid of energy and initiative”, much given to “fulsome flattery”, intrigue, cunning, and unkindness to animals; Orientals cannot walk on either a road or a pavement (their disordered minds fail to understand what the clever European grasps immediately, that roads and pavements are made for walking); Orientals are inveterate liars, they are “lethargic and suspicious”, and in everything oppose the clarity, directness, and nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
— Edward Said summarizing the Lord Cromer’s racist depiction of Asians (who famously authored “On the Government of Subject Races”)
What does it mean to be a leader?
Yappie: The Would-be Leader
On May 5, 2012, the Atlantic ran a slim story called “Study of the Day: There’s a ‘Bamboo Ceiling’ for Would-Be Asian Leaders”, buried in the Health Section. In the study, University of Toronto researchers Jennifer L. Berdahl and Ji-A Min conducted four experiments to analyze the phenomenon of the “bamboo ceiling”, the professional “glass ceiling” for Asian Americans. One of the trials consisted of simply asking survey respondents to read the personnel file of a potential co-worker with the last name of either Sutherland or Wong and indicate how much they would like to have the prospective candidate on board. The files also included different supervisor assessments on the employee’s “assertiveness”, “agreeableness”, and “leadership potential”. Already we have a couple characteristics with which to qualify leadership.
The results of their study showed that “dominant” (another trait of leadership!) East Asian employees were more disliked than non-dominant (submissive) East Asian employees, submissive White employees, and dominant White employees. In other words, dominant East Asians were especially disliked, mostly because they violated preconceptions of what the study participants (which also included other Asians!) considered “leadership”.
This aligns with similar research done on the relative merits of Asian men in a wide variety of social fields, whether that be education, dating, or academic achievement. On the hard merits, the objective criteria, we have the “right stuff”, but any Asian man that displays them — boldness, friendliness, and a certain lazy, insouciance of command — is immediately punished for defying the expectations and standards of behavior prescribed by the dominant, racist, largely Anglo-American power structure (although they also often deputize non-Asian people of color as mercenaries to oppress us, like the vigilante Mexicans that used to hunt us down in California in the 19th century alongside racist whites).
From this it is clear that the original problem of lack of leadership within the Asian American community lies not within us — nor any cultural defect or flaw (and to think otherwise is to have internalized Evelyn Baring’s Anglo-Saxon supremacist Orientalism) — but within the biases and perceptions of others, enforced by constant media propaganda and word-of-mouth stereotypes churned out during the ongoing wars of military aggression and occupation that the imperialist and racist United States of America committed against the entire continent of Asia, starting in 1898 (which begs the question: shouldn’t I be the one yelling at my fellow White citizens to “go back to your countries!”?). Professor Jennifer Berdahl says as much, stating that “The bias lies within observers and it’s ultimately their responsibility.”
Now, despite the fact that the original disruption of the rise of natural Yellow leaders is rooted in extrinsic factors, there is no getting around the fact that many Asian men have been metaphorically (and sometimes literally) pistol-whipped into conformity to the stereotype, turning the vast majority of them into inert, neutered, toothless paper tigers, aka “yappies”. Being awash in an American sea of normalized anti-Asian racism has been conclusively proven to disrupt the “executive” functions of the brain within growing adults:
“We now have decades of research showing that when people are chronically treated differently, unfairly or badly, it can have effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk for developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” says Vickie Mays, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor in the department of health policy and management. Mays has done research in collaboration with Susan Cochran, a professor in the department of epidemiology at UCLA, that has helped document those links.
More recently, Mays has collaborated on a study showing that experiencing significant amounts of discrimination over time can lead to changes in the way the brain processes information, disrupting, for example, the regions involved in planning and decision-making.
“When we’ve had these experiences and anticipate that other incidents might lead us to be discriminated against, it can interfere with our ability to cognitively function at our best.”
Planning and decision-making, or Strategic Thinking, is one of the first things to atrophy when people refuse to acknowledge and recognize your leadership qualities and attributes (similar atrophying effects can be seen both in personal dating and larger social realms). Asian men have been crushed underneath a tidal wave of white supremacist racist static since the day we were born or arrived on these shores, which has had an overall deleterious effect on our personalities and mental wiring, leading to dark bouts of depression, lethargy, and most importantly to the ruling order — apathy, both social and political (we spend most of our time obsessing over how to get laid in a society where women are cultivated by design to be horrifically racist and patronizing towards us, rather than challenging these structures). This conformity to harmlessness, this empirical failure to lead by Asian men, is a result of what is known as stereotype threat.
Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the cognitive performance of individuals in performing certain tasks that trigger the association of ubiquitous negative social stereotypes. One of the most famous studies conducted was done in 1995, when Claude Steel and Joshua Aronson performed the first experiments demonstrating that stereotype threat can undermine intellectual performance, as measured by standardized exams. In their research, African American students performed worse on the GRE when both their ethnicity and racist associations with their ethnicity (e.g., subpar intellectualism) were made salient in trials through the framing of problems. A similar effect can easily be hypothesized for Asian Americans when they find themselves occasionally thrust by chance into leading roles. Unfamiliarity and unease due to preoccupation with “falling into” stereotypes could easily catalyze substandard performance on strategic tasks, which only ends up reinforcing the stereotype that Asian men are poor leaders and planners as a whole, thus limiting any potential future opportunities and making things harder for everyone. It’s a vicious cycle.
Therefore, in order to grasp the horns of leadership, we as a community must first learn the fundamental principles of how to think strategically — otherwise known as the Art of War, the science of Game Theory, and the only worthy hobby of Niccolò Machiavelli’s condottiere — Politics. What are the elementary moves that constitute all Strategy?
The Art of War: Wu Jing vs. Donnie Yen (Killzone)
Well, according to Avinash K. Dixit, professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Barry J. Nalebuff, professor at Yale’s Political Science Department and their School of Organization and Management, in their 1991 book Thinking Strategically, all Strategy can be grouped into four broad “classes” of maneuvers and tactics:
- Brinksmanship, or a Demonstration of Indomitable Courage;
- Offering Incentives (Positive and Negative Consequences);
- Bargaining and Negotiation
A brief glance at Asian and Asian American history shows that we as a community are well-aware of these strategic principles. The problem lies in actually enacting them. We do not want for theory; we want for action. According to the Shanghai-born S.B. Woo, 21st Lt. Governor of Delaware and former Democrat who turned Independent after the Democratic Party fucked us over and threw Chinese Democrats and their families under the bus during Asiagate in the 1990s, our greatest hurdle is ourselves and lack of community Spirit:
Q1: Why has 80-20 PAC chosen death rather than hanging on?
80-20 has seen many similar AsAm organizations providing negative service to our community. 80-20 PAC could one day become a negative-service organization. So it is better to cease operations than struggle to hang on.
Q2: Negative service? Could you give an example?
The support for “race conscious” college admissions by many so-called “AsAm civil rights orgs” is one example. Even when discrimination against AsAm college applicants became so obvious that school counselors have to advise our kids to hide their AsAm ethnic background when applying — a clear indication that AsAms don’t even have the minimal human rights of self-respect, these civil right orgs still didn’t change their position. How ugly the real world can be!
Q3: Do these civil rights org. WANT to harm our community? (A must read!!)
NO! They drifted into it. The first-generation founders were usually volunteers & had noble intentions. But sooner or later, they faded away. The later leaders were usually paid a salary. They might not be as dedicated and/or as capable. Lacking prestige, the subsequent leaders couldn’t raise enough money from the AsAm community. So they began to go after grants from the generous mainstream foundations and corporations.
However, raising money from American orgs, that support civil rights, is almost impossible WITHOUT THE BLESSINGS of NAACP. NAACP has won civil rights for all minorities of America, including us. However, does NAACP always have the same interests as AsAms? No!! That is when AsAm civil rights orgs would and will support policies at the expense of AsAms. Money talks! Make it talk for us.
Q4: So is it the fault of these civil rights orgs?
NO! The subsequent leaders of our civil rights orgs are mostly new college graduates. They may be too young to face the tough real world.
Personally, I primarily blame the successful AsAm business leaders who, as a group, don’t have the wisdom to bear the responsibility of financing the necessary community infrastructures — PACs, civil rights orgs, & think-tanks.
Instead, our rich people compete to give money to Harvard and buy a name on a Harvard building.
— Q&A on the Life or Death of 80-20 PAC
The Problem, therefore, is not lack of knowledge or Ignorance, but rather lack of Will. The key to solving our social and political grievances is taking collective action, but the problem is that we can never get enough people to care about any one community specific issue. There is never any mass momentum behind any instance or esprit de corps around any flashpoint which demands our collective attention as a whole people. The last time we rallied together was when Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982, despite the numerous murders of Asian American men and women that have transpired since then.
So at least now, we know the structural conditions that give rise to lack of leadership within the Asian American community, which can be summed up thusly: “We know what to do, we just refuse to do it”, whether that be in confronting white power, participating in elections, engaging in boycotts and strikes and sit-downs, or even showing up to the negotiating table with a list of demands, rather than stars in our eyes and just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for being superficially “included”. There seems to be a certain collective psychological blockage to Asian Americans taking the actions necessary in order to achieve political and social autonomy, respect, and self-representation. And what is that psychological bondage called? Well, the answer according to Sociology — the Immortal Science and English equivalent to the German Historical Materialism — is simple: White Worship.
The definition of a Hero: A Man from Nowhere (2010) Willing to Do It.
Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]