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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To My Fellow Gen Z Asians

(9 min read time)

Generation (n.):

  1. All of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively
  2. The production or creation of something

Generation Z: Those born around 1995 and onwards


As a Los Angeles native, I really felt the recent passing of local hip hop artist and community activist Nipsey Hussle. Not because I was a big fan — in fact, I had never heard of him before, despite briefly being a hip-hop dilettante in high school — but because of how people, especially Black folks, reacted when he was shot to death in South L.A. At school, a Black classmate of mine who spends her free time helping the inner city homeless expressed her agony about the tragic news, telling me how Nipsey was “one of the good ones”. He had been a positive role model for the youth in the majority Black neighborhood of Crenshaw, his hometown, where many Japanese Americans once settled in post-WWII incarceration camps and developed close relationships with the African American community due to a shared sense of discrimination. At the gym, I saw two Black men taking breaks between sets to solemnly watch a live TV broadcast of a Celebration of Life for Nipsey, which was held at the Staples Center and packed with over 21,000 people on a weekday morning. Online, social media was teeming with emotional tributes to him from primarily Black actors, athletes, and musicians. Although I was very unfamiliar with Nipsey and his impact on the Black community, reading about him and witnessing first hand how he was regarded by everyday people helped me realize what it meant to “rep” one’s community — and more importantly, what a strong collective racial consciousness looks like.

genz1Nipsey Hussle, immortalized by his community.

As a contributor to ProAsian Voice, I thought about potential parallels to my comparably lacking Asian American community. Was there anybody in the Asian American community, or greater Asian diaspora, for whom we would collectively mourn upon their passing and thereafter show our appreciation by filling stadiums and painting murals? I’ve personally met some “famous” Asian Americans, ranging from celebrities such as Ali Wong (was invited to her private gala) and Randall Park (helped organize a panel for him), to athletes like Jeremy Lin (randomly ran into him and his brother at school), writers such as Jay Caspian Kang (recorded a podcast with him), and online community figures like Albert Hur. Despite how talented and/or intelligent these people are, do they stand a shot at being truly remembered? Jeremy Lin, maybe, because of the incredible international hype Linsanity¹ was able to generate back in 2012. But even Sessue Hayakawa, the Asian man who was literally the very first Hollywood sex symbol², is now nothing to most Americans but an obscure, hard-to-pronounce name while Ken Jeong’s small penis graces our movie screens.

The problem is our lack of collective racial consciousness. If we are to be something more, and not some hodgepodge of fictitious racist caricatures in the popular imagination — which is already rigged against us via centuries of deliberate erasure and dehumanizing stereotypes —  who’s gonna “rep” us but us? As an Asian American who has no plans to “go back to my country”, I say it’s time to make a stand. We are here to stay, and in this struggle to be treated fairly and remembered properly, us Generation Z Asians can make all the difference.

“They say every man is defined by his reaction to any given situation
Well who would you want to define you?
Someone else or yourself? Whatever you do, homie, give your heart to it
And stay strong.”

— Nipsey Hussle (1985-2019), from “I Do This”³

 

Generations: Natural Shifters of the Overton Window

Every generation demands its own unique voice, which is often shaped by meaningful and impactful world events. Some that come to mind include the Apollo 11 moon landing for Baby Boomers, the fall of the Berlin Wall for Generation X, and the September 11 attacks for Millennials. These events shape the very worldview of these generations, especially when they happen at a formative age. As a result, newer generations can deviate quite a bit from the status quo established by the previous generation, thus shifting the Overton window — the range of acceptable political discourse — when they develop a voice or come to power.

Screenshot 2019-04-21 at 5.31.05 PM
Shifting opinions across generations⁴

To illustrate this phenomenon, one can observe current-day American politics. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, two outspoken millennial women of color, have dominated the headlines ever since their inauguration as freshman congresswomen earlier this year. Ocasio-Cortez, with her progressive platform including Medicare for All and a 70% marginal tax rate for the ultra rich, resonates deeply with her Millennial cohort as they are increasingly pushed out of the middle-class⁵ and saddled with extreme student loan debt⁶. Omar’s criticisms of American foreign policy, especially with regards to U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drew much ire and even death threats⁷ from the conservative and racist Fox News Boomer crowd while gaining support from Millennials, of which 87% don’t believe the United States is the greatest country in the world, according to the Pew Research graphic above.

Generation Z, sometimes affectionately referred to as “Zoomers”, has developed a political consciousness and voice of our own, too. The cataclysmic event that radicalized us was the election of Donald Trump in 2016 (I was 20 then). To say his presidency has been nothing short of disastrous for us as young people of color would be an understatement: appointing a former coal lobbyist and climate change skeptic (or greedy immoral cretin) as head of the Environmental Protection Agency⁸, calling literal white supremacists “very fine people”⁹, stoking hatred and resentment towards minorities and immigrants¹⁰ … and these aren’t even the illegal things he’s done. His actions have had enormous consequences, enabling white supremacists to commit hate crimes and deadly mass shootings both at home and abroad.

In the face of evil, Gen Z has refused to be silent. Following the heartbreaking events of the 2017 Parkland high school shooting, in which a white supremacist was the shooter, a group of student survivors became gun control activists and organizers of the nationwide March For Our Lives rally. Their sustained efforts, led by now household names such as Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and Sarah Chadwick, directly led to over 25 states passing some form of gun violence legislation.

genz5Sarah Chadwick aptly responding to the president

Greta Thunberg¹¹, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, single-handedly started Fridays for Future, an international student strike demanding action to prevent further global warming and climate change. Taking Greta’s lead, Isra Hirsi, the 16-year-old daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, organized an American iteration¹² of the student strike with two friends. As a result, hundreds of thousands of school children have participated in the protests worldwide, sending a strong message to the old white ghouls in power.

genz6From a Fridays for Future protest in Germany

But where are my rebellious, politically conscious Gen Z Asians? Whenever I visit various Asian-specific online spaces, all I see are posts defending racist white men dating Asian women and hateful comments denigrating all Asian men as undesirable, misogynistic and patriarchal. Whenever I engage with students majoring in Asian American studies or participate in Asian “activist” training (you can read about my experiences here), the conversation always seem to punch down on Asians for being “anti-black” and “privileged”, two notions that have been debunked over and over again if you’ve been paying any attention in good faith. The most prominent Gen Z Diaspora Asians today include Rich Brian, an Indonesian rapper who refuses to call out his colleagues such as Wiz Khalifa¹³ and Lil Pump¹⁴ for their anti-Asian racist lyrics, and Chloe Kim, a self-professed “banana”¹⁵ dating a white man. A meek cowardly Asian boy and a “yellow on the outside but white on the inside” Asian girl: this is our representation today, as it always has been.

In the face of white terrorism and global warming, two great existential threats, how is this behavior from us Asians acceptable? The first gun control measures against assault weapons¹⁶ in the United States were passed in reaction to the 1989 Cleveland Elementary School Shooting¹⁷, where Patrick Purdy, a white supremacist who resented Asian immigrants for taking jobs from “native-born” Americans, specifically targeted Southeast Asian refugees, killing 5 schoolchildren and wounding 32 others. Just last year, the white supremacist shooter at Parkland murdered 15-year-old Peter Wang¹⁸ as he was helping his classmates escape. I still boil with anger when I remember how none of my over 1500 Facebook friends, most of whom were Asian, had anything to say about their fallen Asian brother and hero. Rest in Power, Peter.

What about global warming? Climate change scientists have deduced that the Apocalypse is coming, and four out of five of those worst affected are living in Asia¹⁹. Major Asian cities such as Shanghai and Osaka, along with several Southeast Asian countries, will be swallowed by the sea. As our history, family, and culture are in danger of being slowly drowned, thanks to the reckless and preventable actions of just 100 greedy corporations²⁰ backed by mostly rich white men, how come I don’t see any young Asian faces in the climate change protests?

As the Asian diaspora, and as those fluent in the lingua franca (also the language of our white oppressors), we are in a unique position to bring about political and social change relevant to all Asians worldwide. Issues such as gun control and climate change disproportionately affect us, especially us young folk, posing very real existential threats to us and our future; yet there is no collective Asian voice — which requires a collective consciousness — able to articulate anything on our behalf. What could we do to develop it?


The Answer: Legislation

As Dr. Erika Lee once noted, racism is the sole unifying factor of Asian America²¹. Our different countries of origin may have feuded in the past, we may have the largest income inequality amongst all racial groups in the US²², and we may even have wildly varying perceptions and preferences of “Asian” cuisine, but we are ultimately all “chinks” in the eyes of a racist. Thus, it only makes sense to use racism as a general flashpoint for developing our common consciousness and voice.

But there are effective and ineffective ways to use racism as a conjoiner. Writing tepid articles about our grievances as a “polite front” to mask the severity of our situation and recording podcasts with deliberate contrarians to “see both sides” of racism does nothing other than virtue signaling how “woke” one is and frustrates those who want to see true change. There is no collective call-to-action in this bland form of liberal activism, which only serves to inflate some egos.

A much more effective method to utilize racism as a bridge would include having achievable short-term goals as an incremental means of establishing robust community bonds. ProAsian Voice has created an Agenda, a legislative platform that posits tangible solutions to problems that all good-willed Asians would like to see addressed. Several spokes of the wheel of anti-Asian racism can be eliminated with the following legislation proposals: passage of an AAPI Film Diversity Tax Credit as a remedial measure for centuries’ worth of Asian male emasculation, reintroduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act to address wage disparity for Asian women, institution of racial quotas to remove the Bamboo Ceiling, establishment of a social safety net to rectify income inequality among our diaspora, and an explicit guarantee of our reproductive rights.

While passing these proposals into law seems like a tall task, my experience with activism at the K.W. Lee Center taught me otherwise. As a small group of college interns, we focused on fighting for criminal justice reform, specifically from the AAPI perspective. A major goal of ours included helping secure the passage of Senate Bill 1437²³, a reform of the outdated felony murder rule which disproportionately affected women and young men of color. Through social media collaborations with like-minded organizations and people, visiting local congressmen, and holding a public panel, we were able to amass hundreds of unique signatures and petition letters in support of the bill. Our efforts were not in vain as the bill was finally signed into law by the state governor just one month after the internship was over.

genz7With the interns after the panel. Fun Fact: one of our guest speakers was Kirn Kim, on whom the Justin Lin directed movie Better Luck Tomorrow was based.

Imagine if millions of Gen Z Asian Americans began clamoring for the bill proposals listed on the ProAsian Voice Agenda: no more having to see Ken Jeong’s penis, no more income inequality, no more bamboo ceiling, and a happier, unified Asian diaspora ready to properly take down the forces of white supremacy.

We are the Asian Diaspora generation who grew up in the age of Trump. White supremacist evil runs amok and the global Apocalypse heads right towards us. But it’s not too late to change things, as long as we band together and collectively be an unapologetically ProAsian Voice.

Our Facebook group is now active and applications are open for anyone who wishes to contribute.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead


Written by Simon Hyun Joo.


Endnotes:

  1. http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18591999/how-talk-jeremy-lin-five-years-linsanity
  2. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/08/30/the-first-male-hollywood-sex-symbol-was-the-japanese-actor-sessue-hayakawa/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4uN73m393E
  4. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/01/17/generation-z-looks-a-lot-like-millennials-on-key-social-and-political-issues/
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/10/millennials-squeezed-middle-class-oecd-uk-income
  6. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-25/millennials-face-1-trillion-debt-as-student-loans-pile-up
  7. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ilhan-omar-death-threats-tweets_n_5cb4d7fce4b0ffefe3b50ab3
  8. https://www.nrdc.org/stop-andrew-wheeler
  9. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/08/10/white-supremacists-neo-nazis-charlottesville-unite-right-rally-trump-column/935708002/
  10. https://www.thenation.com/article/caravan-white-supremacist-campaign-trump/
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greta_Thunberg
  12. https://www.thecut.com/2019/03/ilhan-omars-daughter-is-leading-the-youth-climate-strike.html
  13. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/wiz-khalifa-breakfast-club-korean-eyes-lyrics_n_5b51ef6ee4b0de86f48c50a0
  14. https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8490768/lil-pump-anti-asian-ching-chong-slur-new-song
  15. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chloe-kim-asian-american_n_5a8440c8e4b0adbaf3d968a2
  16. https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/stockton/need-to-know-the-1989-cleveland-school-shooting/103-bf6463b2-ce78-4ba1-9216-fc2c79907f82
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_Elementary_School_shooting_(Stockton)
  18. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/west-point-military-academy-admits-parkland-student-peter-wang-who-n849721
  19. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/three-degree-world-cities-drowned-global-warming
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change
  21. https://www.amazon.com/Making-Asian-America-History-ebook/dp/B00P434BMQ
  22. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/
  23. https://restorecal.org/sb1437/

[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/

[JttW #44] Orientalism

By Sen Tien

We expand upon Orientalism as not just a series of racist stereotypes but a structural arm of white supremacy. This includes feminization of Asia through colonialism and mass media.

Sources & Shoutouts:

I’m A Filipina USC Graduate — Stop Associating Students of Color with the College Bribery Scam (Medium):
https://link.medium.com/MwQiEssOpV

Joe Wong Wants Asian American to Speak Up (Plan A):
https://planamag.com/joe-wong-wants-asian-america-to-speak-up-7567adc19db4

Performance Review Gender Bias (Fortune):
http://fortune.com/2014/08/26/performance-review-gender-bias/

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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

 

Rediscovering Asian American Identity Through Combat Art

(14 min read)

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”
— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

When I first started delving into online Asian Diaspora spaces this year, one word I constantly saw thrown around was “self-hate,” which was commonly used as a pejorative towards Asians who kowtow to white supremacy, i.e. Asians with internalized racism. Any Asian who even pays a modicum of attention to Asian American news has seen clear instances of this behavior: Tila Tequila doing the Nazi salute at a white supremacist convention¹ and Ken Jeong acting like a minstrel² come to mind as prominent, grotesque examples of this phenomenon. Academic studies such as Dr. Karen Pyke’s research on the internalized racism of Asian women³ as well as the Clark Doll Experiment⁴, the latter being recreated in 2005 with identical results, have provided empirical evidence to the objective existence of racial self-hatred.

While self-hatred does indeed exist in spades within the Asian community, role modeled by ultra-assimilationist representatives who were handpicked by the white power structure, I fail to see what Asian Americans can do with those who engage in such behavior besides condemning them. These celebrities, “leaders”, and “activists” have shamelessly sold out and their names will thus go down in history, as Benedict Arnold’s has. But to be honest, however much they infuriate me, my anger towards them dissipates rather quickly; I can simply cross their names off the list of over 20 million Asian Americans who are potentially helpers in lifting the oppression placed on my people, and all of them can, frankly, go to hell. My ire is instead reserved for the apathetic Asians, the folks stuck in the barren wastelands of “let’s discuss boba and K-Pop”, never quite making it to the Pro-Asian or self-hate ends of the spectrum of Asian diasporic consciousness.

A recent poll by the National Public Radio has revealed that only 61 percent of Asian Americans believe discrimination against them exists, and a shocking 68 percent of those Asians attribute that discrimination to individual prejudice.⁵ These figures indicate widespread ignorance amongst Asian Americans about themselves, which invariably stems from self-apathy. Any Asians who are literate, know how to Google, and have an ounce of interest in their own people will quickly realize the history of Asians in America reads like the synopsis to a horror flick. Asian Americans cannot understand the present without even attempting to know the past. Otherwise, they are living meaningless, mediocre lives, happy to just be a chink who never wonders why. They are no better than Martin Luther King Jr.’s “white moderate,” a group he declared as “the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom . . . who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”⁶

Why is this self-apathy so prevalent in the Asian American community? Speaking from personal experience, I would say it comes from a gross misconception of the Asian American identity.


Growing up Asian American

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When my interactions with whiteness were limited to tickling ivory

My parents were born in the impoverished conditions of a 1970s South Korea still recovering from the war. The country’s deplorable living standards, which were lagging behind that of North Korea’s⁷, caused many Koreans from that generation to grow up poor. My parents have told me stories of being unable to afford even a banana in those destitute times. Media and news were heavily censored as well; for instance, my parents never heard of the 1948 Jeju Uprising⁸ that claimed 30,000 lives or the infamous 1980 democratic uprising in Gwangju⁹, two national tragedies ultimately resulting from the United States’ installment of right-wing former pro-Japanese collaborators into positions of power. My parents only found out about those events upon immigrating to the States in the ‘80s, but instead of despising the Yankees for their heinous meddling, they were easily enamored with “the land of opportunity”, having grown up in Korea idolizing white Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Harrison Ford.

Having equated white America with prosperity and as a refuge from the war-torn conditions of home, my parents were already colorblind to some extent. Race didn’t really matter; living comfortably did. My mom and dad, after their tumultuous childhood experiences, wanted to compensate for their poor upbringing by ensuring my formative years were spent in material comfort and safety. As a result of blatant structural racism, the safest, most affluent communities with the best schools were white suburban neighborhoods. Although I was born in the racially and economically diverse city of Los Angeles, I would be raised in one of the whitest and richest parts of it.

Despite my upbringing, I was never rich or well-off by any means. While I did enjoy certain privileges such as piano lessons or a nice dinner on my birthday, some of my childhood friends never had to worry about money. I remember visiting their giant mansions, being greeted by luxurious sports cars and swimming or playing tennis in their multi-story (!) backyards. Watching my friends get picked up after school in their parent’s Maseratis and Bentleys, or be handsomely rewarded with a shiny new Nissan GT-R simply for turning 16 was not an uncommon sight. But the sizable gulf in wealth I experienced with some of my peers almost never undermined our friendships. I struggled much more with “overcoming” my skin color.

Most of my best friends in elementary school were the few Asians in my grade. Naturally, I found myself gravitating towards them, due to our common appearance, common culture, and in most cases, our shared obsession with the Japanese manga Naruto. However, my once intimate friendships were abruptly and unilaterally discontinued by my friends when we entered middle school. I suspected a multitude of factors; after all, the social milieu changed drastically from elementary to middle school, teenage hormones started kicking in, and there were many new faces to befriend. When I did confront my former friends, they would insinuate that I was boring and naive, despite not long ago having had the time of their lives with me doing “science experiments” with cherry bombs in empty parking lots and fervently laughing along to the most vile and overtly sexual conversations 12-year-old boys could possibly have over our summertime sleepovers. I remember being very disappointed in one friend, who professed to me only a few months before that I was his best friend, when he secretly did not invite me to his birthday party. His new besties? All white boys and white girls. For me, it was clear my friends had begun to dissociate themselves from Asianness, perceiving it as boring and naive and lame. I guess I was slow to pick up social cues, or just stubborn in not falling for The Man’s social engineering¹⁰ tricks. As a result, I still to this day recall 7th grade as the loneliest and longest time of my life.

Eventually, I relented to the social pressure. For instance, I stopped attending my Korean church and tried to be funny by telling everyone “K-Pop is so gay!” The pressure was only compounded by Ken Jeong’s infamous Oscar-for-minstrels winning performance in The Hangover, which was released the summer before my 8th grade. I realized I had to act a certain way — as a sidekick, as the comic relief character — to gain any social standing at my white school, and social standing was important to 13-year-old me who was previously deprived of normal companionship.

Not long after understanding this dynamic, I was forced to make a small exception. I made one Asian friend (among many white friends) in 8th grade, our friendship held together by our mutual penchant for making fun of Asian culture, people, and food. Although he was like me in these ways, he was also quite the skilled animator and video editor, skills which he used to make entertaining short YouTube videos on mostly innocuous topics and stories. Only one of his videos, an animated clip named “Why are Asians so good at math?” went viral, accumulating over 300,000 views, and he made just short of $1000 from YouTube ad money. From this, I learned that perpetuating stereotypes and looking down on Asianness does not just grant you social standing at school, it makes you popular worldwide.

I want to make a distinction here between self-hate and self-apathy. I did not run around acting like a minstrel because I hated my Asianness; in fact, I reveled in it, for it was the source of my newfound, more popular personality. My self-loathing behavior was all performative, grounded in a twisted, subverted, and racist version of what it meant to be Asian. My apathy was reserved for my previously more dignified form of Asianness, which I had long forgotten.


Growing up Asian American Pt. 2

With this perverse state of mind, I moved on to high school, which was whiter than Wonder Bread. I clearly remember taking a demographics survey and the results reporting my school was 85 percent white, not including the many half-Asian students from White Male-Asian Female parents. When you walk into an environment like that unprepared as a young minority, their collective caucasity overwhelms you. It’s not like a slap in the face or stepping into a bucket of cold water type of momentary shock — you marinate in whiteness for 4 years. As a result, whiteness seeps through every pore of your body and alters how you perceive reality. My eyes went colorblind, my ears perked up to Taylor Swift’s white music about white people in white love stories, and perhaps most tragically, my taste buds developed a predilection for dry club sandwiches, unseasoned potato salad, casseroles, and other forms of bland white food. It was probably a good thing I did not care too much for philosophy or politics in high school, because I might have graduated a Nazi like Hank Yoo.¹¹

But no matter how closely my behavior mimicked that of white people, they always reminded me I was not white. When “Gangnam Style” gained popularity my sophomore year of high school, a couple of my white friends recreated the viral video with a picture of my face photoshopped onto the Korean pop singer PSY’s body, and the video was quickly shared around on Facebook (interestingly, they didn’t do this during Linsanity, which happened the same year “Gangnam Style” came out). The edited video became so popular even one of my teachers played it in class, much to the hysterical enjoyment of my peers. On a side note, the teachers did not treat me much differently than my white teenage classmates. My AP U.S. History teacher once casually remarked that the Asian men at school, including the associate principal, a calculus teacher, and myself, all looked identical. My world history teacher, a Black man, pushed forth an unfounded narrative that Koreans were chief instigators of the 1992 LA Riots, absolving white people of their role in beating Rodney King and manipulating the media to manufacture tensions between the Korean and Black communities.¹² My AP Government teacher, a white man married to an Asian woman, once “joked” that I would be gang-raped if I were in prison due to my “youthful” appearance.

“Growing up Asian American is like having PTSD.”
— Albert Hur

Despite these horrific experiences that were slowly chipping away at my soul, I appeared to have had a successful high school career, earning excellent grades, making many white friends, going to prom with a white girl, and getting drunk at white parties. But at what cost?

bieber
Probably me in high school


Growing up Asian American Pt. 3

I started college at a major state school where over 40% of the student population is Asian. As I got to know the fresh faces in my dorms and class discussions, I found myself having some difficulty even making conversation. Ever since the 8th grade, I only knew how to socialize as a token Asian, which is difficult to be once I suddenly became just one of many Asians. Eventually, I acclimated myself to this new situation as I lived, ate, and studied with these people who looked like me. These people looked like me!

I then participated in a variety of organizations and activities, most of which were for Asians or were majority Asian anyways. During this time, I rediscovered my Korean heritage, partied with people whose faces glowed red like mine after drinking, and came to regret ever looking down on K-Pop (shoutout to Irene noona <3). However, I soon sobered from my brief reconciliation honeymoon with Asianness when my romantic advances on an Asian girl were rejected with, “Sorry, I only date white guys.” As any Asian guy would be, I was devastated, partly by the rejection itself but mostly by the response. But this turned out to be a decently popular sentiment amongst the Asian American women at my school. When I would dare ask why, they would bark at me about “preference” or in some cases actually try and make an argument using pseudo-scientific racism regarding Asian masculinity. Somewhat stunned, I went back to discuss with the friends I made in the Asian organizations I joined, only to realize how so many white people, especially white guys, were populating these clubs. Seriously, why is a white guy the producer of an Asian American theater company? Why is a white guy “captain” of an Asian hip-hop choreography team?

It was around then when I discovered Asian American online spaces, where the discourse mirrored the shock I felt in real life. Upon educating myself further on Asian American history and issues, I pushed back against these hairy and smelly invaders by trying to make people uncomfortable about white inclusivity. For instance, I wrote and submitted a 3 act script about the Chinese bachelor societies so that it could be performed by the Asian American theater company I was a part of; however, the organization quickly rejected the story and opted for a colorblind romantic comedy. Maybe I could have written more fleshed out characters or smartened up the dialogue, but I doubt even the best writers could have sold a script antagonizing white people to all the white apologists with yellow faces and actual white people running the theater company. What was the point of even calling it an “Asian American” theater company?

The incident was concerning because this organization was the first and largest collegiate Asian American theater company in the US. Created by Randall Park and his friends, the company spawned many Asian Americans in entertainment such as Park, Ali Wong, Chris Dinh, Tim Chiou, Yumi Sakugawa, Michael Golamco, and Leonard Wu. As a company which is clearly a significant feeder of Asian Americans in entertainment, what happens when it produces more and more of these white apologist type of Asians? I already saw glimpses of the future when Wong Fu Productions released “Yappie,”¹³ a show about young Asian American professionals that for some reason prominently features a white man. Is the inclusion of white people supposed to be an integral part of the Asian American identity?

No. It shouldn’t be.


What is Asian American Identity?

“One of the reasons why [the Asian American label] even came to be — it is a creation of Asian-Americans themselves in the 1960s — was to foster unity and coalition-building. The idea is that together, we can be more unified and lobby and advocate on common issues.”¹⁴
Dr. Erika Lee, author of The Making of Asian America

As Dr. Lee states, the term “Asian American” was coined to unify all the various Asian groups in America, so that they could more effectively lobby and advocate on common issues. In other words, the Asian American identity was created as a political identity in opposition to the existing power structure, which in America is white supremacy.

I thought I had come a long way from high school in developing my Asian American consciousness. But the identity I had once subverted in order to serve whiteness and later reclaimed in college turned out to be have been counterfeit, too. If Asian American identity is actually supposed to stand in opposition to whiteness, then what identity have we been subscribing to all this time? How does accepting racist love¹⁵ uphold being truly Asian American?

I fear that decades’ worth of unchecked assimilation has begotten a pathetic racial identity that kowtows to white supremacy, further disgracing itself by blatantly plagiarizing the “Asian American” label. Those assimilationists, which include self-proclaimed “activists”, empirical-research-denying celebrities¹⁶, and various problematic authors, have developed this alternate identity out of their common avarice and weak wills. In a white supremacist society, making amends with the oppressor guarantees short-term gains, but never true equality. Allowing these types to sell-out without repercussions encouraged other Asians to do the same, and when they made up the majority, they seized legitimacy and co-opted the name for themselves. Of course, white supremacy enjoys this meek version of Asian America; how else is it going to get away with instituting bamboo ceilings¹⁷ and dehumanizing Asian people?

Asian America was and still is an oppressed minority group. In order to resolve our issues, we the people must collectively reject this alternate, neutered identity, as it is inherently subservient to whiteness, and pursue justice by collectively opposing white power, the action that is the foundational block of the original Asian American identity.


How to Restore True Asian American Identity

In The Wretched of the Earth¹⁸, Frantz Fanon writes that producing “combat literature,” writing that galvanizes the people into boldly opposing the oppressor, is imperative to any liberation movement and should be articulated through all modes of artistic expression. Asian American identity is, in this vein, a combat identity, and it needs combat art to rally its people. While Asian America severely lacks examples of combat art, it can learn and take inspiration from previously successful examples. One such example, also renown for its breathtaking beauty, is the music of 19th-century Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin.¹⁹

Born into a Poland that had been partitioned²⁰ by Austria, Prussia, and Russia, Chopin spent much of his life longing for the sovereignty of his country and his people. Following the events of the 1830 November Uprising²¹, an armed Polish rebellion that was crushed while leaving 40,000 of his compatriots dead, Chopin intuited the sorrowful yet patriotic emotions of his people by skillfully incorporating Polish folk themes into his musical compositions. He was so gifted at this that music pundits have credited Chopin with the idea of introducing nationalism into music, despite his music having no lyrics. It is no coincidence that some of Chopin’s most beloved works include titles such as the “Revolutionary Étude” and the “Heroic Polonaise.”

“Now that the Poles are in deep mourning [after the failure of the November Uprising of 1830], their appeal to us artists is even stronger … If the mighty autocrat in the north [i.e. Nicholas I of Russia] could know that in Chopin’s works, in the simple strains of his mazurkas, there lurks a dangerous enemy, he would place a ban on his music. Chopin’s works are cannon[s] buried in flowers!”
— Robert Schumann, famous German composer and music critic

As dangerous as cannons indeed, Chopin’s music was officially banned by Tsar Nicholas I during Russia’s occupation of Poland over fears that it would instigate patriotism, dissent and rebellion amongst the Polish people. Nearly a century later, Hitler did the same when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.²²

chopin
Frédéric Chopin: Composer, pianist, combat artist

As expected, true combat art is not received well by the oppressor. It is supposed to be controversial. Thus Asian American art based on “universal”, “colorblind”, and other such innocuous topics is ineffective because it does nothing to challenge the white supremacist status quo. The product has to be biased; obviously against the oppressor, but also in favor of Asian Americans.

“Loving blackness as political resistance transforms our ways of looking and being, and thus creates the conditions necessary for us to move against the forces of domination and death and reclaim black life.”
— bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation²³

Famous African American feminist and activist bell hooks declared that the act of a minority loving oneself in a racist environment is resistance. Combat art must adopt this characteristic of self-love, because this is how it stays true to its identity while transcending time and context. We see this with Chopin’s music: although Poland is no longer partitioned, his music is still played nearly 200 years after his death, continually echoing melodies of self-determination and Polish patriotism.

Likewise, Asian Americans must create a unique brand of combat art that prioritizes self-love, and trumpet it unapologetically across the Anglo-Saxon model.²⁴
It must stand as a bulwark of resistance, and it must instill the Asian American combat identity into the hearts and minds of all Asian diaspora. Only when the spirit and self-love of our people are revived will there be a collective imagination, and out of this, true heroes for the Asian American cause.²⁵

Chopin’s Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53, also known as the “Heroic Polonaise”:

Cho Seong Jin of South Korea, the reigning winner of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition, delivers his award-winning rendition of the “Heroic Polonaise.” Of course, a Korean man possesses the appropriate musicality to express Chopin’s raw emotions desiring national sovereignty.

Writer Joo Hyun is a Korean American college student. He enjoys playing the piano. Follow him on Twitter @hyuneeah


Endnotes:

  1. https://nextshark.com/tila-tequila-celebrates-neo-nazies-donald-trumps-victory/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hLYXqqgfAY
  3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07256860903477704
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_and_Mamie_Clark
  5. https://www.npr.org/2017/12/06/568593799/poll-asian-americans-see-individuals-prejudice-as-big-discrimination-problem
  6. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/060.html
  7. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2012/12/6/1167928/-How-North-Korea-Fell-Behind-South-Korea-Part-1
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeju_uprising
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwangju_Uprising
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_engineering_(political_science)
  11. https://nextshark.com/hank-yoo-meet-the-wannabe-asian-cowboy-who-wants-to-murder-blm-activists-and-muslims/
  12. https://ibs.cru.org/files/5213/7264/3965/Racial_Conflict_and_Healing_by_Park.pdf_COMPRESSED.pdf
  13. https://www.tubefilter.com/2018/07/17/wong-fu-productions-yappie/
  14. http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-historian-erika-lee-shares-the-story-of-asian-migration-to-america/331825121/
  15. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~hist32/History/S11%20-%20Frank%20Chin.htm
  16. https://twitter.com/SimuLiu/status/1060701444565659648
  17. https://www.ascendleadership.org/news/369626/New-research-report-from-Ascend-Foundation-on-Silicon-Valley-leadership-diversity.htm
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wretched_of_the_Earth
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frédéric_Chopin
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partitions_of_Poland
  21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/November_Uprising
  22. https://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/in-poland-chopins-music-defines-a-nation-5526656.html
  23. https://aboutabicycle.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/bell-hooks-black-looks-race-and-representation.pdf
  24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_model
  25. https://proasianvoice.com/2018/11/19/where-are-all-my-asian-american-superheroes/

JttW Episode 35: Youtube Influencers

By Sen Tien

Vi and Sen touch on influencers and their impact on YouTube. Mostly focus on the beauty community and how it affects Asian women.


Find us on Twitter:

Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/JttWPodcast
J. Maraan: http://twitter.com/j_maraan
Sen Tien: http://twitter.com/sen_tient

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JttW Episode 34: The Personal Is Political

By Sen Tien

J, Sen, and guest, Albert from ProAsian Voice, break down community attitudes toward anti-Asian racism and discuss marginalization, collective power, social responsibility, and the need to build beyond oppressive structures rather than within them to achieve liberation.