[JttW #46] White Freeze 2.0

We return with special guest Shang to talk about White Freeze again. This time we expand upon real-life implications which include finding housing and mental health.

Sources:

The Subtleties of Social Exclusion: Race, Social Class, and the
Exclusion of Blacks in a Racially Mixed Neighborhood
https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1034&context=soc_fac

Researchers ‘Averaged’ The Faces Of 400 CEOs — And The Results Say A Lot About Race In Business
https://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-face-of-400-ceos-2014-12

Scientists Start To Tease Out The Subtler Ways Racism Hurts Health
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/11/562623815/scientists-start-to-tease-out-the-subtler-ways-racism-hurts-health

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10486479/Phobias-may-be-memories-passed-down-in-genes-from-ancestors.html


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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/

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

littosimon
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/