I am limited in my ability to speak on how racist stereotypes affect the queer Asian American community. This article is specifically addressed to straight Asian American men. By: esther choi
Recently, a violently anti-Asian, sexist and all-around stupid music video titled “Asian Girlz” sparked widespread outrage, mobilizing people into action to remove the video from YouTube and hold the members of the band, Day Above Ground, accountable. It was the transnational feminist organization, AF3IRM, who initiated a swift response and mobilized protest on various fronts, which led to the band losing gigs and sponsorship. Levy Tran, the Asian American woman featured in the video, apologized and took responsibility for her mistake, even signing AF3IRM’s petition to take down the video, while the band that actually created the content has yet to apologize and has, instead, made another terrible song about how oppressed they are as white men because they can’t make terrible, racist songs in peace. This interruption of racist violence was only one example of the powerful vigilance and solidarity of Asian American women against issues of hypersexualization and objectification that damage our lives.
On the other side of the hypersexualization of Asian women is the total emasculation of Asian men, while both Asian men and women are sexually deviant and threatening. The ongoing prevalence of these images are due to a long history of colonization and imperialism in Asia. Images of the impotent or rapacious Asian male and exploitable Asian female were central to the logic of war and the construct of US military-issued masculinity, and these imperialistic stereotypes of Asians have become deeply rooted in the everyday consciousness of the Western world.
(Source: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_East_Asians_in_the_United_States)
Behind the fetishization of Asian women is the repetition of colonial narratives that are meant to inflict violence upon Asian people as a whole. While the fetishization of Asians most violently impacts women’s lives, it is an oppression that also involves degrading Asian male identity as well. White men who fetishize Asian women, brilliantly documented by the blog, Creepy White Guys, seem just as concerned with representing Asian men as their foil, one that they can use to emphasize their superior masculinity, and even reflect themselves as humane saviors of women whenever convenient. Following this narrative, Asian women are the sexual objects to be conquered and obtained by more worthy owners.
While Asian men should speak out when it comes to racist and sexist incidents like the Asian Girlz video because their identities are affected as well, the way straight Asian men have most vocally chosen to approach the fetishization of Asian women has been in a manner that further marginalizes and oppresses Asian women.
Straight Asian males often respond to racism affecting Asian women’s bodies and sexualities as proxies for their own issues. In response to the emasculation of Asian men implied by the fetishization of Asian women, the solution appears to be to reclaim what seems to have been taken from them—power over women, especially Asian women—and this usually involves attacking Asian women for their decisions regarding their sex lives.
But the oppression of Asian men is not created by the decisions of Asian women. It is created by a white supremacist system that is very much designed to make them feel impotent. Asian women are human beings like anyone else—we are different, we are subjective, and we make choices. Systemically, these choices are influenced by the white supremacist society in which we live, and the ultimate power of white supremacy is how it gets people to participate in their own oppression. But ultimately, it is NEVER appropriate to criticize Asian women’s choices in response to incidents in which they are being objectified, abused, raped and ridiculed based on colonial legacies. Unraveling white supremacy does not begin with policing women’s dating decisions—ever. Our bodies are not places to realize colonial fantasies, but they are also not currency to be invested in the Asian American cause.
The anxieties of straight Asian men are expressed in various forms, at various levels of awareness— from outright sexist, slut-shaming rants, calling us bitches, whores and traitors, to patronizing efforts to mansplain our own oppression to us.
In response to the Asian Girlz video, popular Korean American comedian David So explicitly states that he is more concerned with Levy Tran’s choice to be in the video than the actions of white dudes, whose racist behavior he can expect. In his efforts to respond to anti-Asian racism, he launches into an extremely misogynistic attack against Levy Tran that further demeans and sexualizes her, and goes so far as to criticize her for participating in sexism while calling her a bitch in the same breath.
A related issue of great concern in the Asian blogosphere is that of Asian women dating white men. Both Asian American men and women have approached this issue by bemoaning the high level of “out-marriage” of Asian American women. However, considering Asians make up about 5% of the US population, this simply means that a lot of Asian women are choosing to find their partner from a pool of 95% of the population rather than 5%. When you put it that way, is it at all reasonable to conclude that Asian American women are doing something wrong?
Jenn from Reappropriate explains, “Back in the day, the issue of Asian female outmarriage was a seething undercurrent of the Asian American blogosphere (not that it doesn’t remain a hot-button issue these days, but nothing like 8-10 years ago). During this time, Asian women at-large were being typecast from within the community as being racist sellouts based primarily on the phenomenon of Asian American outmarriage. We were treated, as a whole, as folks who had internalized anti-Asian stereotypes of Asian masculinity, and this served as a real obstacle for female political participation in the online Asian American community. Gigabytes of digital type were dedicated to arguing that (all) Asian American women suffer internalized self-hate leading them to date White men, and this was why Asian American men should be suspicious of any Asian American woman’s involvement in APA political activism and community organizing. Unlike Asian American men, politically engaged Asian American women had to defend our ‘down-ness’ with the Asian American cause in reference to the race of our significant others.”
Whatever the case, it is never right, especially in a social justice context, to condemn people’s personal decisions simply by categorizing them in a “problematic” trend. Love and relationships are one of the most complicated and uncontrollable things about our lives, and no one would ever want this significant part of their existence to be vilified by a larger social phenomenon.
Due to this obsessive focus on Asian women’s relationships, we not only have to look out for the countless ways in which we are exploited, but we also have to defend against constant judgment about being the passive victims of Asian fetish or internalized racists whenever we simply interact with a white male, and alter our behavior accordingly. Whenever I am perceived as “with” a white man, even if it’s just my friend, I feel how the public gaze violently erases my agency, my power, my personality, due simply to how my Asian face is perceived in that dynamic.
It is important to note that the most gendered thing about the Asian American community is the different ways we must interact with racism. This points to the damning truth that racism actually creates much of the sexism in Asian American communities and other communities of color.
Other than the specific ways our community must deal with stereotypes, sexism in the Asian American community is as American as apple pie (and racism!) Our community suffers from the same old “nice guy” narratives and “friend-zone” complaints asserting entitlement to women’s bodies, the same old slutshaming and rampant objectification of women by some of the biggest Asian American male media personalities, such as David So, KevJumba, and Timothy de la Ghetto. The extra flair lies in how palpably their struggles with emasculation seem to inform their work.
But Asian men, American patriarchy is not a system in which you are meant to survive. The American brand of sexism is built not only on the dehumanization of women but on the vilification of men of color. In light of US imperialist wars in Asia in recent history, Asian faces became the direct Other against which American men were to construct their sense of masculinity. Imperialism gave white men the ultimate power to dehumanize women in this world, and all things that are “feminized,” including Asian men.
You won’t liberate yourselves as Asian men or reclaim your power by supporting American constructs of masculinity, or being the exception to the rule. The racist stereotypes that try to emasculate you never had anything to do with your actual behavior or your value as a man, and the stereotypes will hold no matter how often you defy them. Liberation begins by questioning and destroying the system that so violently excludes and dehumanizes you.
If you want to raise your voices in conversations about issues that are most violent and debilitating to Asian women, challenge yourself to do the following:
1. Raise women’s voices. The conversation on the issues affecting Asian American women are being led by Asian American women in insightful, challenging ways. Here here and here are some more examples. We are neither helpless nor in need of male supervision. Our struggle against our own oppression as Asian women helps break down white supremacy and weakens its hold on every part of our lives, including our relationships, more than lectures from Asian men ever will. Supporting women’s voices on these issues breaks down the racist, sexist, homophobic stereotypes that oppress us all.
2. Respect our struggle. While the exotification of Asian women is built on a history that has hurt our people as a whole, it is a daily reality and struggle for Asian women in a way that it is not for you as Asian men. Being imagined as sexual property is a central aspect of Asian women’s oppression, and when you voice your concerns over how Asian women use their bodies, under the guise of concerns over racism, or when your main concern is that we are having sex with people other than you, you perpetuate the violence against us and weaken the fight against racism.
When I challenged an Asian American male musician, who has often performed at Asian American student events, on his unsolicited advice to Asian women about how we should react to objectification and enter into interracial relationships, including his ridiculous announcement to “never forget that the world objectifies you as a woman” (newsflash: our lives are daily reminders of that fact), he dismissed my concerns as “silly” and, in grand rhetorical flourish, asked: should asian men/brothers never advise their daughters/sisters? He seemed wholly unaware of the fact that he had just epitomized patriarchal thinking. Get this through your head, you are not our fathers. And if you want to claim to be our brothers in some kind of racial solidarity, it should never, ever be in the form of directing us on how to express our sexuality or interpret our oppression.
3. Identify with women. Question why being feminized seems to be the ultimate form of degradation for men. The fact that you have been imagined on the opposite end of American masculinity does not mean that your oppression will be overcome by attacking femininity or queerness in order to inch closer to the other side.
4. Do not use Asian women’s oppression as proxies for your own. Do not mask your anxieties over your masculinity in diatribes against Asian women. Instead, speak out on how racism affects you as an Asian male—how the whole construct of American masculinity has exploited you.
5. Remember intersectionality. When it comes to sexism, it is an issue that women of color cannot separate from race. When you approach issues of race in a sexist way, you shut off our ability to work with you. You need to listen when women call out your sexism instead of being defensive and trying desperately to justify your oppressive thinking.
I write this with a love for my Asian American community. As a group whose stereotypes have been so highly sexualized in nature, the interactions between Asian men and women are inevitably impacted by these traumatic forces in our lives, and I think we need to have love and patience for the many ways that this manifests in our community.
At the end of the day, Asian women will continue to fight like badasses against the multi-layered issues of our hypersexualization and objectification and empower our community as a whole in the process. The question is, will you support us?