As Asian Americans living in the years of Amy Chua, Ajit Pai, Peter Liang and Nikki Haley, it’s easy to romanticize the Movement: those revolutionary years when “brothers and sisters” from Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Manilatowns across the country came together to stand with Black Power and confront the racist war in Vietnam. Together, they made pilgrimage to Manzanar, sat in at Wounded Knee, and walked out at San Francisco State University. Somewhere along the way, they invented “Asian America” as we know it.
A crash course in the history of the Asian American Movement has become part of the initiation process for young newcomers to the Asian American left, and for good reason. And yet, the images that get circulated from that era—of Black, brown, and yellow brothers wearing leather jackets and berets, fists raised and packing heat—hint at a masculinist underpinning that’s worth unpacking.
Take, for instance, the iconic image of Richard Aoki with Berkeley’s Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 rally to free Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. Aoki (who in 2012 was implicated as an alleged FBI informant) looks decidedly chic: clad in a black beret and sunglasses with a cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth, he raises one hand in a fist while the other balances the now-iconic sign: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” But reading this image and its circulation critically, we might ask: Is it Aoki’s revolutionary politics that resonates? Or is Aoki, as a Japanese American man embodying a militant kind of hypermasculinity, rendered iconic for easing modern anxieties about Asian male “emasculation”—that which Tamara Nopper calls “a homophobic and sexist preoccupation among many Asian Americans and our ‘allies’”?
Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, artist Joshua Luna published a web comic titled “Reconciliasian” addressing gender relations in the Asian American community. This post is a response to that comic.
I deeply respect Joshua Luna as an artist and as an activist. But, I find the framing of his latest comic – Reconciliasian – problematic. The comic juxtaposes two panels: one depicting an Asian man and the other depicting an Asian woman. Next to each character, Luna lists the way each has “been hurt” (for Asian men, systemic emasculation and desexualization; for Asian women, systemic fetishization and hypersexualization), and how they’ve “hurt” the other. Luna laments how Asian men display “complicity and/or participation in patriarchal misogyny against Asian women under the guise of racial justice”; Asian women, says Luna, are guilty of “complicity and/or participation in white supremacy against Asian men under the guise of racial preference.” Luna concludes that both Asian men and Asian American women should “choose reconciliation over retribution.”
By the very nature of the symmetrical dichotomy presented by the comic’s layout, Luna implies equivalency. That apparent premise – that Asian women and men suffer equally and have also hurt each other equally, if in different ways – is used to argue that we must reconcile with each other to resist our true enemy.
The problem with that premise is that the equivalency depicted in the comic is false.
By Guest Contributor: Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director, NAPAWF
This week, as the Supreme Court begins hearing NIFLA v. Becerra, we need to remember what is at stake. This is a case that could redefine public accountability for organizations that provide false information or mislead women about their reproductive health options under the guise of religious freedom.
For years, fake women’s health centers have exploited women by masquerading as real health clinics, often locating next to real clinics, adopting nearly identical names, and even clothing their non-medical staff in scrubs – all to give the impression of being accredited health providers. The plaintiff in the case now before the Supreme Court, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), joins these fake women’s health centers in trying to overturn the Reproductive FACT Act – a commonsense California law which requires these storefront operations to explain that they are not a licensed medical facility and provide information on how to find one.
This law was enacted to curb the harm caused by fake health centers and reduce the delays in getting real care that women experience when they are duped by these blame-and-shame tactics. Women need accurate information about their options when it comes to pregnancy and family planning – not politically-motivated shame, coercion, or misinformation. We need to expose the truth about these fake centers before their lies endanger the health and safety of any more pregnant women – especially low-income pregnant women, women of color, and immigrants.
I have some probably unpopular opinions about the Aziz Ansari misconduct story. And I’m calling it misconduct because – at least for me – what Aziz did doesn’t fall under the category of a sexual assault. Maybe I’m blinded by my love for Master of None, but I can’t put him in the same category as Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar. In particular, Nassar’s horrifying abuse of generations of Olympic athletes shows that even our country’s greatest champions couldn’t escape all of this; never mind, then, the countless working women whose faces will never grace CNN cameras, Time magazine covers, or red carpets.
I believe Grace. I believe her pain; and, I believe she was overwhelmed; and, I believe Aziz crossed a line. And, when I look at the story — which I think Babe.net handled irresponsibly — it seems like the whole encounter likely brought up prior trauma from Grace. So, she froze. This is really common and it is something we – all of us — have to consider when we’re in the bedroom. Aziz should have stopped. Even if the story is more complicated, I can’t with these editorials calling Grace a weak woman for not ‘resisting harder,’ especially when a lot of times ‘resisting harder’ escalates to full-on violence. Grace isn’t just a hapless victim or a snowflake, but Aziz doesn’t get off scot-free either.
I’ve been chewing onBabe’s Aziz Ansari story for the last couple of days. The story, detailing a 23-year-old photographer’s sexual encounter with the comedian, has caused a splinter in the #MeToo movement, which I expected. Ansari is generally regarded as a male ally to the feminist movement. So just as people came to the immediate defense of George Takei, I knew there would be an army of Aziz defenders. However, I didn’t realize female journalists would join in on the chorus of victim-shaming and, essentially, defend “Grace” and Ansari’s interaction as “normal.”
The interaction that took place between the two felt familiar: a sexual cat and mouse game between a horny male and his female date. The overly aggressive persistence of a guy trying to get laid, regardless of what his partner wants. Grace gave him non-verbal (and even verbal) cues that she didn’t want to fool around, but Ansari ignored them. Since none of us were in the room, we’ll never know if he noticed these cues and willfully ignored them, or if he felt like he was getting a green light to try and try again.
Much of the ensuing conversation around Babe’s article has been predictable. “Why didn’t she leave?” “Why would she perform oral sex if she didn’t want to?” “He’s not a mind-reader.” A lot of this Twitter commentary came from seemingly male-identifying people. Much to my surprise, there was a cacophony of self-proclaimed #MeToo supporters who echoed these sentiments.