Image Comics Doesn’t Want Joshua Luna To Talk About Racism

(5 min read)

When we tell our own stories, we’re told they’re not “relatable”. Relatable to whom?


Joshua Luna is one half of the Luna Brothers — a duo responsible for writing and illustrating best-selling comics Ultra, Girls, and The Sword — and the creator of Whispers. But he’s also known for making more openly political comic strips that center the Asian American and Filipino-American experience, from celebrating queer Asian love to challenging anti-Asian racism:

Because of its emphasis on decolonization, this is combat art — what Franz Fanon calls “combat literature” in The Wretched of the Earth¹. Luna’s work encourages self-love and community healing while deconstructing racist behaviors and ideologies with sharp social critique. This made his publisher, Image Comics, uncomfortable.

He recently pitched a collection of his Asian American comics to Image for publication, but was treated so poorly during the process that communications broke down and he decided to go public with his ordeal.

For details, see the following Twitter thread:

It’s much easier to point the finger at the Richard Spencers of society than to turn inward and examine one’s own implicit racial biases. So Image Partners gave various excuses for their reluctance to publish AMERICANIZASIAN: it was too “angry” and needed to be “more positive”; it tempted legal action for parodying trademarked characters; and it had “no story for people to relate to”.

One white male Partner even implied that Luna could make the Asian American experience more relatable by taking inspiration from the Hulu show PEN15, which is about a half-white, half-Japanese protagonist (he also mentioned that his wife is half-Japanese)². Luna is Filipino, and it makes no sense for him to center white characters in strips that focus on his own experiences.

According to a keynote speech from last year’s Image Expo, Image Comics has a reputation for publishing content that “no other publisher would dare take a risk on… because we believe every one of those weird and wonderful series represents a new opportunity to capture a new audience.” In that same speech, Publisher Eric Stephenson proudly claimed that “fortune favors the bold”, implying that their commitment to publishing controversial content is what made them a successful company.³

The fear of copyright infringement sounds disingenuous when Luna’s previously published work at Image parodied trademarked characters (Ultra), and former Partner Erik Larsen’s own Savage Dragon character is heavily inspired by The Incredible Hulk.

Larsen, by the way, has previously drawn Internet outrage for making tone-deaf statements about women wearing practical costumes in comics⁴, as well as inserting gratuitous sex scenes in Savage Dragon that feature an Asian woman drawn to look underage. (Unsurprisingly, he is married to an Asian woman, yet has no problem hypersexualizing Asian women in his own comics.)⁵

Maxine is obsessed with sex in Savage Dragon — recalling Vietnam War-era propaganda

And in 2017, when Howard Chaykin released inflammatory “Divided States of Hysteria” covers that featured gratuitous violence against men of color and transwomen⁶ as well as a hijab of the American flag, Stephenson defended Image’s decision to publish them, saying, “If The Divided States of Hysteria prompts just a single productive conversation about the present state of our society, then it has succeeded in its goals and is a story worth sharing.”⁷

But when real marginalized voices like Luna speak about equally contentious and political topics like racism, they’re asked to water down their work. This tone policing double-standard implies that provocative content is only welcome when it comes from white male authors.

When we tell our own stories, in our own words, we’re told that they’re not “relatable”. To whom?


Since going public, Luna has received an outpouring of support and solidarity from his diverse fanbase, who all expressed their desire see this book made:

Collective action is the backbone of every civil rights movement. By making private issues of inequality public, it demands accountability for discrimination that would otherwise be kept hidden and unaddressed while granting power in numbers to those who would not have it individually. Larsen, who condemned Luna for speaking out about his consistent mistreatment by Image staff, tried to further dismiss and shame him for choosing to go public and draw on the support of his own fanbase to get AMERICANIZASIAN made with a POC-run publisher.

When creators of color challenge their white male employers to go public with the discrimination they face in the workplace, they risk losing a lot: their source of income, their industry connections, and their following. In a recent interview with The Beat, Luna expressed concerns about being sued by Image or blacklisted by other publishers or creators in the greater comics community:

“Within hours of going public with what happened, I received an email from the partner describing my post as slander, libel and outright lying…I think comics and the media industry as a whole has been dragging its feet in acknowledging the history and severity of anti-Asian narratives and imagery, to the point where it’d rather kill the messenger than acknowledge the message.”⁸

We at PAV are not here to placate or pacify those who willfully silence POC for talking about their lived experiences under structural racism. As our political climate marches in step with racist ideology, harming marginalized people at the institutional level through imperialist policies both foreign and domestic, it’s important for us to support creators whose works challenge the false narratives spread by white supremacy.

Please help Joshua Luna continue to make a living and get his comics published by a POC-run publisher by sharing his content and donating to his Patreon or PayPal.

https://www.patreon.com/joshualuna

https://www.paypal.me/JoshuaLunaComics


The cover for AMERICANIZASIAN

J Maraan edits all the things and sometimes writes. She co-hosts Journey to the West, a podcast that centers Asian women’s views on diaspora issues and current events. Find her on Twitter at @j_maraan and @JTTWPodcast.


End Notes:

  1. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963.
  2. https://twitter.com/Joshua_Luna/status/1134522564196347911
  3. https://imagecomics.com/news/fortune-favors-the-boldimage-comics-publisher-eric-stephensons-image-expo-k
  4. https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/erik-larsen-image-comics-female-superhero-costumes/
  5. https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/11/25/savage-dragon-goes-outrage-april/
  6. http://www.comicosity.com/transmyscira-why-im-boycotting-image-comics/
  7. https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/06/30/image-creators-speak-howard-chaykins-divided-states-hysteria/
  8. https://www.comicsbeat.com/joshua-luna-americanizasian-image-comics/
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Let’s Talk About Hawkeye

(8 min read)
hawkeyejapan(Hawkeye visits Japan)

*Note: this article contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame

In a world where Green Book is lauded for its “white savior” approach to race¹, and its director Peter Farrelly decides to team up with Brian Currie and Pete Jones (an unholy trinity of white men) to write a dramedy set during the Vietnam War era about a beer run², we’d hope that POC who are conscious of their racial identities would have something to look forward to watching in theaters these days without shaking their heads.

Enter blockbuster-maker Marvel, which recently vowed to commit to making their cast of heroes more inclusive after the unprecedented success of Black Panther and Captain Marvel³. While young Asian Americans nervously await the release of Shang-Chi, which is slated to feature MCU’s first Asian lead, Avengers: Endgame premiered last week.

Despite earning a 95% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Endgame has also received criticism for its cinematic flaws. From the fatphobic treatment of Thor’s PTSD⁴ to the use of women as props during what little screentime they were given⁵, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were quick to point out the film’s missteps. But for some reason, Endgame’s low-key racist scenes are noticeably missing from these critiques. A recent AV Club article that rightfully called out the film’s lackluster women’s character arcs (glossing over ScarJo’s legacy as an honorary Asian) even praised Tilda Swinton’s appearance as the whitewashed Ancient One⁶. So a number of viewers took to Twitter to speak out about Hawkeye’s disturbing scenes, which are much worse than hinted at in the official trailer:

https://twitter.com/AsianTomiLahren/status/1122254253471309824

https://twitter.com/AsianTomiLahren/status/1122257030381654017

Unsurprisingly, none of Earth’s heroes are Asian. The only Asian men on screen are either brutally murdered or played martial arts sidekicks for the white Dr. Strange. Even Mantis, who is played by an Asian woman, is dismissed as “that girl with the antennas”, taking the same abuse on screen as she did throughout Guardians of the Galaxy 2⁷.

Since Endgame is about the trauma of war, we at PAV can’t help but draw a connection between Hawkeye’s actions in the film and American imperialism. There is a multitude of U.S. military bases in Japan, with 34 occupying ¼ of all the space on the island of Okinawa alone. The presence of over 50,000 U.S. military personnel and 40,000 of their dependents have taken a toll on the long-exploited locals, who have suffered countless thefts, burglaries, arsons, assaults, rapes, and murders over the last four decades⁸. Along with the lack of proper convictions for these crimes⁹, bases are killing the surrounding coral reefs and destroying marine habitats¹⁰.

In Marvel’s Endgame, Japanese lives are portrayed as disposable, as they have been since WWII.

unclesam(Anti-Japanese WWII propaganda)

Guest writer Jason Thinh expounds on this orientalist trope as he shares his thoughts on the film.

Hawkeye is the MCU’s version of Jeremy Renner: someone who nobody can really find any use for, yet he still gets chance after chance.

From his seat-filler role in the original Avengers movie to Captain America: Civil War — where even the other characters verbally expressed that they didn’t care about his existence — Marvel has tried and failed to make this character even remotely compelling.

rocket-raccoon_opt(Yet we can still root for a talking raccoon.)

Now, with Endgame out in theatres and everyone online taking turns dissecting their piece of this puzzle that’s been ten years in the making, let’s talk about what the hell they did with Hawkeye.

When the initial teasers for the film came out, we saw the original Avengers in various stages of grief due to Thanos’ snap. Our first glimpse of Clint Barton is him adopting his new Ronin persona, standing somewhere in Japan after he’s laid waste to countless faceless Japanese extras. Upon my first viewing, my racial spidey-senses were already tingling.

“Ugh, here we go again. Generic Japan. Dead Japanese men everywhere, likely yakuza. Great. But who knows, maybe I’m in for a surprise,” I foolishly thought.

The first scene of Endgame starts off with Hawkeye losing his entire family. So how does Legolas deal with this traumatic experience? Well, he certainly doesn’t go to his second family, The Avengers, who have been experiencing their own share of losses. Instead, he randomly decides to invent the identity of Ronin — which is vaguely based on Japanese culture — and proceeds to go on a mass murdering spree, going after some not-so-obvious targets.

Does he track down any remaining supervillains? Does he prowl the streets of New York for random, lowlife scum? Surely with such a sudden drop in the world’s population, crime would increase, right? And aren’t there more than enough white supremacists in the U.S. alone?

If you’re thinking that Barton went Nazi hunting during these first few years post-snap, then you are severely overestimating Hawkeye’s abilities when even generations of activists have been trying to rid the U.S. of one of its main exports.

Instead, he travels all the way to Mexico and Japan to kill people he deems unworthy of living for…reasons? The justification for these executions is that these people are members of drug cartels and the yakuza, therefore their lives must mean less. But like, how random is that? That’s like being upset that the waiter screwed up your order so you go home, see someone deliver a pizza to your neighbor down the street, and walk over to harass the delivery driver. Or something like that.

liamneeson(Sounds eerily familiar, actually.)

What made watching this movie, and specifically the yakuza scene, even more uncomfortable was that I was watching it in a theatre in Japan. Granted, the audience wasn’t too loud to begin with, but the scene really didn’t go over well. Imagine watching a foreign film, being excited about seeing not only your country but also one of your country’s most well-respected actors (Hiroyuki Sanada) in it, only to see everything reduced to stereotypes by some 3rd-tier character. Hawkeye is a guy who just randomly took pieces from Japanese culture to empower himself, motivated by his white man trauma to somehow both learn Japanese and beat the Japanese at their own game.

Look, I know that coping with grief can take on different shapes and people go down different paths, but this soured me for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen things like this play out in real life: someone who once served in the military, with little to contribute, spends the next phase of his life taking out his aggression on the “enemy” (aka random POC) under the false pretense of trying to “stop crime”. Maybe I’m being generous. Often times the incidents that make the news are committed by pitiful, directionless white men who have bought the idea of this power fantasy and have taken upon themselves to clean up the streets and go after POC who just so happen to commit all of the crime, all in the name of “freedom”, nationalism, or some other disingenuous garbage.

killbillwolverine(Slicing up those evil, faceless, Asians. Top: Kill Bill, Bottom: Wolverine)

It’s the same tired trope. We’ve seen it in Kill Bill, Netflix’s Daredevil, The Wolverine, and countless other Western movies and shows. When we do see any AAPI representation, our bodies are treated as disposable and our deaths are used for comedic effect (e.g. the gratuitous deaths of Nobu in Daredevil and a character’s ex-boyfriend in Agents of SHIELD). Now here we are, in a time where media, and Marvel specifically, is supposed to be doing better in terms of providing better POC representation. But instead, we get…this.

While we’re already talking about Hawkeye and his inability to cope, let’s briefly look at Black Widow, someone who has had “red in her ledger” and has done everything to atone for her sins. Throughout many of the MCU films, we’ve witnessed Ms. Romanoff’s transformation from a lone spy with questionable ethics to someone who has found a family and would do anything for them. She deserved to be in that final fight. But instead, her pain and eventual death are used for an arguably less-deserving character’s motivation.

Throughout Endgame, all of Hawkeye’s “redeeming” moments felt unearned. And even Black Widow’s response to his murder-spree, “I don’t judge you by your worst mistakes”, sounded more like complicity than consolation. He learned nothing from his toxic coping methods but he still managed to get the soul stone and some scenes of man-pain. He also got to run around the battlefield with the gauntlet and…that’s pretty much it.
As the story wraps up, the past is restored and he gets his family back. Clint’s arc throughout the movie and the past 10 years of the MCU is a peak example of white mediocrity: just add a little bit of racism and that character will still be deserving of a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th chance at redemption. Just slap on some tattoos and a vaguely ethnic-inspired aesthetic and you’re good to go.

While this is not necessarily an indictment of the movie as a whole, it’s unfortunate that with all the development we’ve seen over the course of the past 10 years, the writers continued to put white men first regardless of the quality of the character and their story, but that’s a whole different article.

As Marvel’s Endgame ties up loose ends from the beginning and plots come full circle, I hope that old, stale practices like these — elevating white men and using the slaughter of POC as a plot device — will finally be put to rest while we get ready for a more diverse main cast. At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself.


Jason Thinh is a Bay Arean currently living in Tokyo. You can find him on Twitter at @JasonThinh.

[Edits and additions by J]


Endnotes:

  1. http://time.com/5527806/green-book-movie-controversy/
  2. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/peter-farrelly-direct-vietnam-war-film-greatest-beer-run-ever-1205077
  3. https://observer.com/2019/04/avengers-endgame-marvel-diversity/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/apr/30/avengers-endgame-cinema-fat-shaming
  5. https://io9.gizmodo.com/avengers-endgames-women-deserved-more-1834388344
  6. https://film.avclub.com/avengers-endgame-doesn-t-earn-its-big-girl-power-mom-1834366317
  7. https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2017/08/need-talk-mantis-abuse-guardians-galaxy-2/
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/mar/07/okinawa-japan-military-tension
  9. https://apjjf.org/2018/03/Mitchell.html
  10. https://truthout.org/articles/us-military-base-threatens-biodiversity-in-okinawa/

[JttW #45] Decolonial Love: Swipe Left On Internalized Racism

By Sen Tien

We unpack “A Very Offensive Rom-Com”, an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia podcast with special guest, Maka (@_fakeMT).

“A Very Offensive Rom-Com” (NPR):
https://www.npr.org/2019/04/04/709948132/a-very-offensive-rom-com

Breaking the ‘girl code’ and internalized racism (Vi Nguyen):

Breaking the ‘girl code’ and internalized racism

White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence (Sunny Woan):
https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/crsj/vol14/iss2/5/

Examining Agency in Racial Preferences and Endorsements of Negative Stereotypes Across Sexualities (Part 2)

(15 min read)

Toxic White Masculinity

Of course, when scrutinizing the Asian women who ignore the marginalization of Asian men, it is also critical to examine the behaviors from the opposite side, as there are problematic behaviors and mentalities that are propagated and adopted by a number of men in online spaces. Nowhere is this more apparent than in spaces like Reddit, which is home to a number of Asian men who reactively exhibit toxic or contradictory behaviors—behaviors that would ironically deter Asian women, whether they are on the fence regarding these matters or supportive of Asian men. While not everyone in these spaces engages in these behaviors, it is still an issue worth criticizing.

25agency
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The problem with posts such as these is that they serve as ammunition for faux Asian feminists and activists to use and argue that Asian men are indeed patriarchal, white-worshipping, petty, internalizing racism, MRAs, PUAs, Red Pillers, and whatnot.

Unfortunately, these are not only limited to dating:

29agency
30agency

Posts like these only serve to victim-blame Asian and Asian American men for the marginalization they wrongfully face. Rather than addressing the issues, they only further reinforce and uphold white supremacy without confronting or dismantling these structures and institutions, which have global influence due to Western countries’ adoption of neoliberalism. They are, whether directly or indirectly, perpetuating the narrative that in order for diasporic and native Asian men to transgress the confinements of emasculation, they must emulate toxic white masculinity—ultimately seeking to attain the same privileges, status, and power that white men hold over white women and women of color rather than condemning and eradicating these toxic ideologies. Ultimately, the onus is on white men and women, of course, as they are the ones who have created these notions, but perpetuating these same ideologies is counterproductive as it fails to address the fundamental reason for inequality by allowing power to remain in the hands of the oppressor.

Again, while it is important to note that these types of Asian men do exist and they are problematic to progress, especially in regards to mobilizing men and women to stand together among our fractured diasporic communities, it is also very problematic to view Asian men as a monolith.


A Holistic Problem

So, what is problematic about these Tweets and posts regarding each half of the Asian community? After all, it would be completely deceptive to argue that a subsection of Asian men with misogynistic behaviors or Asian women with internalized racism and misogyny are nonexistent. What is troubling about this discourse is not the acknowledgment that these people exist, but how these issues are being addressed.

When discussing the behaviors or actions of Asian men and/or women as a collective, especially from the perspective of someone from a diaspora, how they are socially conditioned matters. These individuals often juxtapose Asians to whites—typically at the expense of the former and to the glorification of the latter.

Additionally, too many of these individuals are generalizing, slandering, and disparaging all members of the opposite sex based on the actions of a vocal minority. Accusations of misogyny and toxic masculinity, while applicable to a number of Asian men, should not be made lightly. Doing so only perpetuates the narrative that these behaviors are inherent to Asian men, who already struggle with attaining a voice and whose issues are dismissed due to the presumption that they benefit from male privilege in diasporic spaces. Likewise, when addressing the issue of Asian women being complicit in perpetuating negative stereotypes and upholding the status quo, it is important to remember that responding by adopting misogynistic ideologies, especially alt-right, Red Pill, MRA, PUA, or other toxic white masculine ideologies, will only serve to widen the gap between both Asian men and women.

Regardless of the intention, people will read these messages and potentially internalize them—this is especially true for individuals with influence like Celeste Ng or Ellen Oh, both of whom have a large online following. Treating Asian women and men as separate entities, as if we exist in a fictional vacuum or independently of one another, will only prevent the necessary discussions from being had and impede real progress.

Take, for example, the circumstances in intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic marriages within the Asian American community¹³:

31agency
Patterns of Intermarriages and Cross-Generational In-Marriages among Native-Born Asian Americans, The International Migration Review, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Fall 2009)

Overall, the inter-ethnic marriage rates among the various Asian American ethnicities born in the United States are higher than the intra-ethnic marriage rates. Rather than marrying Asians from other ethnic backgrounds, a plethora of diasporic Asians are marrying whites. The highest rates of interracial marriage occur between white men and Asian women, particularly Korean, Japanese, Filipina, and Chinese American women, with Korean American women marrying out the highest at 45.1%. While Asian American men do marry out to white women, the rates are still relatively lower compared to Asian American women, and they tend to marry Asians from other ethnic backgrounds at a higher rate. What’s particularly important to note is that the diasporic population of Asians around the 1960s and 1970s was increasing at a rapid rate, primarily due to the influx of Asians from the motherland.

Another study found that only sixty-five percent of Asian American men interviewed were in a romantic relationship or partnership¹⁴; on the contrary, over seventy-five percent of non-Asian American men report being in a relationship or partnership. Not even education elevates the chances of an Asian American man’s appeal, despite them being twice as likely as white men to attain a bachelor’s degree. Other factors, such as socioeconomic status, cultural background, and nativity status, also appears to have little effect in improving the desirability towards Asian men. Another study cited in the aforementioned paper also found that over “ninety percent of women from different racial groups with racial preferences excluded Asian American men,” with forty percent of Asian women expressing a similar sentiment. What’s interesting to note is that “Asian women are just as likely to be in a romantic partnership as white women.” The same cannot be said for their male counterparts:

“The differences we identified between white and Asian men were consistent with notions of a racial hierarchy in dating preferences… Published U.S. Census statistics on marriage suggest that Asian American men eventually marry; among Asian American men ages 40 to 50 years, just 12% are reported as never married compared with 16% of white men. However, these figures include Asian men who dated and married outside of the US – hence, they would not have suffered under the same racial hierarchy as they might have had they dated in the US.”

This is not suggestive of romantic privilege among Asian women, as some might argue, considering that the reason for their supposed success in dating out can be chalked up to their perceived hyper-feminization, which simultaneously applies to heterosexual and homosexual Asian men, although it manifests differently and ultimately to all Asians’ detriment. Asian women, like Asian men, are still not treated as people.


Queer Sexual Racism

When addressing interracial relationships within the Asian diasporas, the perspectives of queer Asians are often missing. Unfortunately, as with any subset of a population, the issues that afflict the queer Asian community reflect those that afflict the Asian diasporas, as evident in articles like Vice’s “Online Racism Makes IRL Dating Hell for Gay Asian Men”¹⁵. While there’s a fair amount of media addressing the prevalence of racism towards Asian men in the gay and queer communities, the same cannot be said for queer Asian women. Thankfully, I was able to find two Reddit posts that I believe echo the hurdles that queer Asian men face in the dating world and an article that reflects the uncomfortable racial dynamics belying interracial relationships with white people¹⁶. Perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt, considering how little information there is, but since similar problems seem to afflict all other individuals of different sexual orientations in the Asian diasporas, there is little reason to presume that it is any different.

32agency

As evident by the above screenshots from the Actual Lesbians subreddit, the first user posting the thread is challenging white lesbians who echo statements similar to their male counterparts—both heterosexual and queer—and virtue signal to women of color in an attempt to make them feel honored that a white woman has made a woman of color an exception to the rule. On the other hand, the second user questions whether they are attracted to Asian women. While this may seem genuine, why does it matter that white women, specifically, are attracted to her? If anything, this inquiry comes across as a plea for white women to validate the user’s sexual appeal and attractiveness. Her acknowledgment of white men’s supposed attraction towards Asian women—which is rooted in a history of colonialism, rape, exploitation, and simultaneous ignorance of the racial and power dynamics belying relationships between Asians and whites—is problematic, to say the least.

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These two Tumblr screenshots exemplify how racist queer white women can be and how they too contribute to upholding and perpetuating white hegemony over racial minorities. Though queer white women face both homophobia and sexism, due to the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender, they are still benefactors of white supremacy and will thereby exhibit similar behaviors and adopt racist ideologies. They may even act more defensively when confronted than heterosexual white women avoiding accountability by citing a heteronormative culture that overlooks the hurdles that queer women face and marginalizes them. Their marginalized identity is used as a shield to deflect valid criticism of their racist behavior.

If this transpires in the lesbian community and among queer women, then it should come as no surprise that it also transpires in the gay community.

A book titled Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America by C. Winter Han delves into the racist perceptions of gay Asian men that are often internalized and externalized by both gay Asian men and other members of the gay community, and how they shape self-image, interpersonal relationships, and other facets of life¹⁷. Steeped in Orientalism, these have led to the gendering of Asians as feminine compared to the masculine, idealized Europeans and the idea of the inferior Other—essentially establishing the idea of a normal in-group and an abnormal out-group, similar to that of the paternalistic master and slave dynamic. It is important to note that these racist perceptions and beliefs are not exclusive to gay Asian men and are applicable to all Asians, regardless of sexual orientation, place of birth, gender, class, income, and other factors, though they may manifest and impact different demographic subsets of the population in slightly different ways.

The following quotes, sum up the current state of the gay community, as well as how gay Asian men are gendered and racialized by whites and by one another:

“Sometimes, some of the men I’ve slept with, some of the recreational, you know, habits or drug choices that I’ve made. Some of the priorities I have made in the past were not always the best because I have wanted to look, to appear to lead, a different lifestyle as opposed to the one I actually have or am given. I think most of it is me, maybe not wanting to be white, but a lot of it has to do with being, wanting to be accepted by whites.”

“It, [in reference to rice queens and the like], is an attraction to me because of my Asiannesss, my otherness. Again, this has nothing to do with who I think I am, my individual qualities as a person, or even as an object of desire. It is the fact that I conveniently fit into someone else’s fantasy. And they expect me to be so flattered by the attention of a white man that I will automatically bend over and grab my ankles.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate my culture. I love learning about the history of it, the traditions I know of. I understand the language, I just can’t speak it. I guess personality-wise, I just don’t fit in. I am more independent, I want to get out of the house. I’m more rebellious.”

“I’m the whitest Asian boy you’re ever going to meet. I mean, I’m just not like other Asians. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable around them. See, with Asians, there’s this sense of competition, like you have to be the best, you have to go to the best schools, have the best cars, things like that. I never got into that. I was always much more laid back, I was always like, whatever. So, I guess, I’m not the stereotypical Asian guy.”

“With Asians, almost all of them do drag or walk like a faggot, are skinny, limp wrist and will basically suck off any old fat white man that they come across because that is all they are able to get looking the foul way they do. Even most Asians are repulsed by their own kind and chase white men because even they find themselves disgusting.”

“Asians didn’t date other Asians. We only dated outside of, um, we only dated non-Asians. In fact, I remember the very first time that I met an Asian who dated Asians. I actually sat him down and quizzed him for an hour because he was just such a strange animal, I mean, you know, I couldn’t believe I met someone like this… But we only dated other people that were not Asians, they could be black, they could be Hispanic, although we didn’t date a whole lot of blacks or Hispanics, just a few. Um, mainly white.”

“I always feel like I stick out, walking down the street, at work, at school. And it isn’t that I want to be invisible, not that, but I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be a part of things, I wanted to not have to explain. I always had to narrate who I was and [his white partner] could walk into any situation and people would love him. He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, he’s very social, he’s blonde haired and blue eyed and good looking. I never thought I could do or get or have, um, I guess a part of it is identity and part of it is self-esteem. I didn’t think I could get those things without him.”

“In the gay community, there’s a big sense of competition among gay Asian guys [due to the lack of rice queens, a term used to describe gay white men who prefer Asian men]. It’s this, “I want a white guy thing.” So, a lot of gay Asian men see each other as competition and so they don’t really want to be friends with you. I mean, there are straight Asian guys who are bananas [a pejorative term for Asian people who are perceived as wanting to be white] but in the gay community, it seems so much more common.”

“I’d go to a bar and there would be like two Asian people there, and I would be one of them and I tried to go talk to the Asian guy, because that’s what I’m used to, you know, the racial solidarity thing, and they would brush me off.”

“During one Night FantAsia event, there was a midnight show where the drag queen hosting the event brought four men on stage to play the dating game. Not surprisingly, the man selected from the patrons to play the role of the “bachelor” who selects a date among three choices was a white man, while the three “contestants” vying for his attention were all Asian… The host asked the contestants, “If you were to sleep in a bunk bed, would you sleep on the top bunk or the bottom bunk?” Predictably, the first contestant answered, bottom, followed by the second contestant who gave the same answers. The expected answers were met with polite laughter. However, when the third contestant answered that he would sleep on the top bunk, the audience, both Asian and white, began yelling out their disbelief.”

“For the longest time, I really thought it was me. I thought I wasn’t doing something right, I thought if I only tried harder, if I only did this or that. After a while, you start questioning your own worth and thinking that you don’t have any. That took a long time to overcome, a really long time.”

As one can see from these anecdotes and observations from gay Asian men, which have been prevalent throughout the community and has been noted by the author himself, one can see the pattern of behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that are present in the gay Asian community manifesting in heterosexual Asian women as well. This is, of course, not only limited to these two demographics, considering that these biased images and beliefs apply to all Asians, regardless of background or personal characteristics.


Race Trumps All

What about Asian men and white women?

It is important to note that while this interracial pairing does happen¹⁸, it is not as prevalent as the inverse due to the fact that white women overwhelmingly prefer white men¹⁹; however, the same issues that afflict the rest of the population among the Asian diasporas can still be observed in these types of relationships. Considering how queer Asian men and both queer and heterosexual women do pedestalize and seek validation and approval from white people, treat their white partners as trophies, adopt white fragility, protect and uphold white supremacy, discreetly or overtly seek to distance themselves from their Asianness, etcetera, it should be noted that the same can apply to heterosexual Asian men. Studies also confirm that a number of Asian men view the success of romancing non-Asian women as an indicator of elevation in status²⁰, likely as a byproduct of their subjugation through emasculation or internalization of negative stereotypes regarding Asian women.

What this ultimately boils down to is how race trumps gender, sexual orientation, income status, and other factors. Race is the primary factor that determines how you will experience life in the West, whether or not you are cognizant of it, as well as the prevalence of internalized racism within the Asian diasporas.

According to a paper written by Liao, the “Internalized Racism Scale for Asian Americans” (IRSAA) has five factors, which are Endorsement of Negative Stereotypes, Sense of Inferiority, Denial or Minimization of Racism, Emasculation of Asian American Men, and Within-group Discrimination”. While there is much to say regarding this topic and the study conducted, the ultimate purpose of this tactic is to uphold white hegemony by keeping the oppressed complacent. Internalized racism conditions diasporic Asians to feel racially subpar to whites and to accept fabricated stereotypes, thereby leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they embody these stereotypes or endorse racist views and sentiments associated with their own ethnic groups, demographics, and cultures as truth.

It also markets the desire to be more “white,” whether physically or culturally, as a means to attain upward mobility and acceptance, and typically includes preferences and biases towards whites over Asians and other people of color. Internalized racism also leads to individuals discriminating against members of their own racial group through endeavors to distinguish themselves from the racial stereotypes associated and to “rise above them”—sometimes manifesting in a superiority complex within the individual over the “inferior” rest of the group. Finally, it leads to the denial or downplay of racism against Asians, whether towards Asians collectively or towards a particular ethnic group, and is typically linked to the adoption of “colorblindness”, a racial ideology that insists ignoring race will eliminate racism²².

Given how individuals tend to act when socializing with whites vs. Asians or other people of color, those who are intimately affiliated with white people, romantically or platonically, are subject to scrutiny and skepticism from a subset of the community. Considering the current state of the Asian diasporas and the looming presence of white hegemony over every other facet of our lives, from income, status, legal issues, mental health, education and more—is it truly a surprise that the relationships that are most intimate and valued to us are also heavily biased?

As individuals responsible for the socialization and construction of our own homes, communities, societies, cultures, and the world, for giving fuel to existing ideologies, behaviors, and biases, is it completely unwarranted to assert that our personal lives are also political? Is it unwarranted to acknowledge that our personal relationships, like other choices and actions we take in our lives, can play a role in dismantling or upholding the current structures under which we live? Is it unwarranted that we criticize and hold individuals, groups, and institutions that uphold these structures accountable, especially when they serve to further marginalize or oppress us?

Can we truly ignore the larger implications of our personal choices?

Even Tria Chang knows she can’t:

“He hates it when I do this. So do I, really. I know it’s unkind and self-loathing, but every time I see another couple of our racial makeup, a little part of me sinks. We live in San Francisco, so this dip is as common as the hills. In these moments, I wish we were anything else ― that he were my gay best friend or we were startup co-founders, that he were Asian and I were white, that we were exquisitely ambiguous races, or that I could sink like my feelings into the sidewalk, be a little worm, and date whomever I want without considering social perception.”

(Part 1)


Written by Jia


Endnotes:

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20681717?seq=6
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4631383/
  3. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mgy7wx/how-online-racism-towards-gay-asian-men-effects-irl-dating
  4. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/aishamirza/until-white-women-ruined-it
  5. Han, C. Winter. Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America. NYU Press, 2015. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15r3zzm.
  6. https://www.buzzfeed.com/adamrusselchen/asian-male-dating-tinder
  7. https://theblog.okcupid.com/race-and-attraction-2009-2014-107dcbb4f060
  8. https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/175043/content/Liao_asu_0010E_16325.pdf
  9. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism

Examining Agency in Racial Preferences and Endorsements of Negative Stereotypes Across Sexualities (Part 1)

(10 min read)

An article by Tria Chang recently surfaced on the Huffington Post, where she expresses her frustrations and disappointment with the prevalence of white male-Asian female relationships and how they are rooted in fetishization, violence, and colonization¹. In it, she details her experiences with being romantically involved with non-Asian men (though it would come to no surprise if she is alluding solely to white men), albeit being fully cognizant of the hyper-sexualization of Asian women and how racist it is. She then goes on to talk about how she struggled with internalizing racist views of Asian women—she felt she was an anomaly and thereby unattractive, and thought that attraction towards women like her was a kink.

Copywrite Chiarashine Photography, LLC Isabell Lin
Tria Chang and her fiancé [CHIARASHINE PHOTOGRAPHY]
After she dated a string of racist non-Asian men, married and divorced an Asian man, and dated another, she found herself attracted to a white man and is now engaged to him. She detailed how her relationship with him developed from that of acquaintances to partners and reveals that he, like other non-Asian men she has been romantically involved with, has had a history of dating Asian women. When confronted about it, her boyfriend got defensive and, like most men who pursue Asian women, gave a typical excuse: he “never thought about it.” Like a plethora of articles written by women like her, who choose to shoulder the burden of educating white men—much like the Beauty attempting to reform and tame the Beast from his misguided and ignorant ways—she proceeds to reprimand him for his behavior and remains wholly devoted to him. She concludes the article by expressing content with her current situation and alludes to how different her current relationship with her partner is from other white male-Asian female couples.

At one point, she refers to his defensive reaction to her calling him out on his dating history as “one of those hot white guy traits”. What on earth are “hot white guy traits,” and why is it relevant to what she’s been talking about?

Considering how many Instagram accounts², Medium articles³, YouTube videos⁴, Everyday Feminism articles⁵, Buzzfeed articles⁶, and even artists⁷ attempt to address yellow fever and tell white men how they should treat Asian women—typically women dating, seeking, or receptive to white men—Chang’s article reads like another drop in the sea of media uselessly highlighting this issue. Unfortunately, like every other article and video, it recycles the same pervasive ideology: white men should be held accountable for hyper-sexualizing, objectifying, and Orientalizing Asian women, but they are ultimately still worthy of an Asian woman’s affections, love, and time. In some cases, the author herself will insist that she does not care what others wish to believe and dilutes conversations regarding this topic by insisting “love is love”⁸, which ultimately masks the serious racial dynamics at play in these pairings.


Asian Feminism?

For me, one of the most concerning messages is the notion that it is perfectly acceptable to continually seek out that unicorn of a white man, because white men are still deserving of emotional labor and education from the Asian women they harm. It also creates a social climate where, regardless of what white men do, no matter how racist, sexist, and homophobic they are or how little they invest into challenging and overthrowing white supremacy, they will still be viewed as desirable—that is, if they are not perceived as overtly racist and sexist by the Asian women who covet them.

Why is the onus on Asian women to educate white men, who continually benefit from white supremacy? The very idea that other options are possible, ones where the burden of reforming white men’s racist and sexist behaviors and biases can be alleviated or completely eradicated, even if they have been previously explored, do not seem to cross these women’s minds. Why should any white man wish to change, outside of some measly, superficial attempts at placating his partner, when he undoubtedly benefits from his position at the top of a white supremacist racial hierarchy? Despite being hurt by white men’s willful ignorance when it comes to racism and their role in perpetuating and remaining complicit with the racist structures, notions, and cultures that they have imposed on Asians and other people of color, it seems that being intimate with white men is still quite a viable option.

Even Chang admits:

“It took me a little while to figure this out, but once I became more settled in college, I met my first Asian boyfriend, who ended up being my husband. Sadly, he also became my ex-husband. This relationship was followed by one with another Asian male. Suffice it to say, I went a decade without the thought of white men or Asian fetish even crossing my mind. Now it’s something I think about every day, because of said fiancé.”

“I rolled my eyes at the luxury white men have to not think about race in their daily lives. I, on the other hand, started obsessing over it. I couldn’t be the girlfriend of someone who had an Asian fetish because that would make me complicit in a pattern that was rooted in violence and colonization.”

Unfortunately, the lengths that some Asian women will go to defend their choices to date or marry white men come at the expense of Asian men.

An e-mail sent to Celeste Ng, author of the best-selling novel All the Things I’ve Never Told You, sparked controversy on Twitter last year. Presumably sent to her by an Asian man attending university, the message contained abusive and disparaging language, which led to her writing a series of threads in which she denounces Asian men for being misogynistic and initiating harassment of Asian women in online spaces. While the overall controversy will not be discussed here, the background information and links to the original threads can be read at the end of the article (Part 2).

While engaging in discourse with other users online, a number of notable Tweets stood out:

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This phenomenon is not new. A plethora of Asian American women, faux feminists, and pseudo-intellectuals have regurgitated similar talking points against Asian American men and, more specifically, expressed their disdain for any and all criticism of white men-Asian women relationships:

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Even Ng expresses this problematic view in a Tweet back in 2015:

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Upon viewing these Tweets, one might wonder what is wrong with these claims, since sexist and racist Asian men do exist. But while the users vehemently speak out against the misogynistic and patriarchal behaviors of Asian men, they seem completely supportive of works like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a film featuring an Asian American girl whose love interests who are white-passing. Save for the token Black boy, who is conveniently homosexual, they all adhere to the Eurocentric masculine ideals. Much like the token men of color on mainstream television shows like The Bachelorette, the single man of color in the film is not a viable partner. Despite the rise of movements like #MeToo, created by Tarana Burke to address sexual harassment and assault against women—one where the behaviors of prominent white men were called into question—there appears to be little to no criticism of white men’s abuse of privilege and power. Considering that a vast majority of these women are born or living in Western countries, specifically the United States, institutionalized white male patriarchy is far more prevalent and influential than Asian male patriarchy.

Look at these following Tweets, one made from Celeste and one made from Jenny Han, author of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before:

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Notice how different the tone is, despite the fact that both of these men have clearly externalized their racist views towards Asians. McCain has unabashedly justified his usage of the term “gook,” a racial slur that is often thrown at Koreans and Vietnamese. He fought in a war where soldiers were instructed to murder as many Vietnamese civilians as possible⁹ and were free to rape Vietnamese women and girls¹⁰. Jenny Han, a Korean American herself, appears content with overlooking that aspect of his history and hails him as a hero. Likewise, in Ng’s experience, a Vietnam war veteran verbally abuses her and her family with racial slurs, yet she urges others to respond with the kind of sympathy and understanding that she refuses to give Asian men who also suffer under white patriarchy.

The language used in the e-mail Ng received was unacceptable and the individual in question, if Asian, should be shunned by the community. But for her to take the action of a single individual or vocal minority and generalize this behavior to apply to a collective of Asian men, weaponizing her followers with false narratives that harm and defame Asian men is not acceptable either.

While engaging in related discourse with people online, she also received a comment from a white man spewing racists against Asian men, and surprisingly enough, she fails to unabashedly condemn his behavior and centers herself instead.

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Her overall lack of empathy for the hurdles that Asian men face, to which she has directly contributed with earlier statements emphasizing that she does not find them attractive, can be seen again in the following Tweet:

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She even wrote an article for The Cut to address the events that transpired¹¹. In it, she acknowledges the hurdles that Asian men face while navigating through the world and how she has only exacerbated the negative stereotypes afflicting them—a tactic similar to “lampshading”¹², where a writer expresses self-awareness about racism, homophobia, etcetera, through humor while failing to critique or challenge bigotry—but ultimately continue to paint diasporic Asian men as race purists, misogynistic overlords, and abusive.

“Acknowledging bigotry is not the same thing as critiquing bigotry.”

— from Pop Culture Detective’s “The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory”

(Part 2)


Written by Jia


Endnotes:

  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/unlearning-asian-fetish_us_5c547bb1e4b09293b203b7ed
  2. https://nextshark.com/woman-exposes-creeps-asian-fetishes-tinder-turns-memes/
  3. https://medium.com/call-me-a-theorist/im-not-your-little-china-girl-an-open-letter-to-men-who-have-hit-on-me-33a162ae1646
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3fxquPe1-Y
  5. https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/10/talk-race-white-boyfriend/
  6. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/xtinehlee/how-to-watch-fresh-off-the-boat-with-your-white-boyfriend
  7. https://nextshark.com/ada-chen-asian-fetish-jewelry/
  8. https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/relationships/article/2018/02/13/im-not-your-asian-dating-stereotype
  9. https://www.npr.org/2013/01/28/169076259/anything-that-moves-civilians-and-the-vietnam-war
  10. https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/20667
  11. https://www.thecut.com/2018/10/when-asian-women-are-harassed-for-marrying-non-asian-men.html
  12. https://youtu.be/X3-hOigoxHs?t=792

 

[JttW #41] “Tribalism”

By Sen Tien

On topical news, we talk about Yuja Wang and the Igudesman Joo duo’s show The Clone and the difference between satire and just terrible racist jokes. Additionally, we touch on how some have adopted dog whistles of “tribalism”.

NYT Article on The Clone: https://nyti.ms/2Ec5djw
Joe Wong on the Late Show: https://youtu.be/36v9GSOFMFc

 

[JttW #39] Aquaman & Hammer Attack Murders

By Sen Tien

We discuss the pseudo-whitewashing of Ludi Lin’s character, Murk, in Aquaman and the news about the Hammer Attack Murders in Chinese buffet in Brooklyn which killed Fufai Pun and Kheong Ng-Thang and has left Tsz Mat Pung in critical condition. We touch on the relationship between direct, cultural / symbolic, and systemic violence.