The Words of Asian American Men

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHIi11HX0tE

This post also appeared on Racialicious. This post was one that was lost to the ether during my domain migration, and I’m delighted to be able to restore it from Racialicious!

A little less than a month ago, a panel discussion was put together by The Asian Society focusing on Asian American male identity. The panel, consisting of three prominent Asian American men in pop culture today: The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, the single best Asian American writer of contemporary pop culture, Jeff Yang, and the ever so swoon-worthy Yul Kwon of Survivor: Cook Islands (whom this blog dubbed the real Super Asian Man back when his show was on the air). These three men chatted for a night on issues affecting Asian American men, and The Asia Society graciously put an edited “clip show” of the event on YouTube for us to view.

Continue reading “The Words of Asian American Men”

Stereotypes and Me

… Since I've broken my blog (damn you, Internal Server Error!) and am waiting for my host's technical support to swoop in and save the day, I'm going to take some time to address the challenge issued by RaceChangers in which we are invited to reflect on how we stereotype in our day-to-day lives.

Reflect by answering the following questions in writing:

  • Was there a time that you made a generalization and were proved wrong?
  • Do you find yourself subscribing to any stereotypes now?
  • If you do find yourself giving in to any stereotypes, why do you think you believe them to be true?
  • Can you point to any instances where the stereotype does not hold true?

Do I make generalizations? Damn skippy, I do. And I bet you do, too.

Back in this Social Psychology class I took in undergraduate, even though I was a piss-poor student in this class, I was challenged to consider the basic processes of thinking and communicating that make up the complex art of thinking. Although humans boast one of the largest and most complex brains of animals on this planet, we are still inundated, day-in-and-day-out with lots of cacophonous stimuli, out of which we must filter some form of meaning.

The visual stimuli, alone, that we receive are simply so vast that we couldn't spend all of our time pondering what we see until at least we identify the thing we're looking at based upon all possible criteria that might affect our decisions. This would be evolutionarily unsound — as cavemen being chased by sabre-toothed tigers, natural selection selected out those silly creatures who needed to consider the information more closely before deciding that the tiger was a tiger. Instead, what we have come up with is a process of generalizations in which we take some of the most superficial information we can find, that seems to largely fit our perception of a meaning, and quickly judge our surroundings based on those criteria. For example, we need only glance at a car, note its four tires, general metallic appearance, windows, and general shape to identify it as a car and not, say, a train. We don't need to look under the hood to be sure that it's running on car-parts and not train-parts.

No place is this more evident than in young kids, who have yet to create the generalizations upon which we rely. Their generalizations are instead faulty, and based upon their limited experiences. A toddler might see a dog for a first time and be taught that it is a dog. The toddler will codify the dog's fur, four legs, busy legs and ears and call it a dog. Now, face the toddler with a cat, and based upon the same generalization that allowed the toddler to recognize a dog, it will call the cat a dog, until we interject and correct the generalization to one that is more appropriate and precise.

In adulthood, we depend upon our generalizations to survive the day, and to understand our environment in a timely and reasonable manner. When it comes to racial matters, we use generalizations to understand race: a person with dark skin is recognized as an African American, a person with slanted eyes and yellow-tinted skin is recognized as an Asian American. This is why I distrust anyone who claims to be colorblind: it is impossible to not see skin colour and to interpret it as such, unless you are some new, unique breed of human (in which case your brain needs to be studied in closer detail, since you seem to have achieved an evolutionary feat that generations of our species have not).

That all being said, that doesn't excuse racial generalizations as acceptable, particularly when they are imprecise or hateful. I don't begrudge someone seeing me and judging me to be of Asian descent, but it is when my Asian descent participates in another generalization that renders me book-smarts-not-street-smarts, overly-sexualized, kung-fu fighter, green-tea drinker or some other stereotype when things go awry.

The problems here are precision and consequences. Are most Asians yellow-tinted or brown-tinted with slanted eyes? If we're talking East Asian, predominantly yes. However, most Asians are not martial artists or sexual stereotypes, so the generalization is imprecise.

Furthermore, we are not cavemen running from sabre-toothed tigers anymore. Though nature might demand that we continue to generalize, this does not justify the use of generalizations to unfairly marginalize or disenfranchise a group of people based on one's own stereotypes. We have simply created a more civilized society than that, one in which everybody is entitled to certain basic human dignities — including individualism and humanity. It's not difficult to see how a stereotype easily robs a person of those basic tenets, rendering them faceless and mute.

So, back to the original question: do I make generalizations? Absolutely. I've made race-based generalizations that include the assumption that people of a certain race will sympathize with race activism or be more likely to subscribe to one point of view over another. I've made gender-based generalizations that cause me to believe (wrongly) that women will inherently understand and agree with feminism. I've made age-based generalizations that cause me to be startled when entering a class in which I am seated next to a student older than 30. I've generalized that political conservatives are full of shit.

Am I frequently wrong? Except for that very last one, you bet. (Just joking, you crazy right-wingers, just joking! You know I love you, too!)

And, though I struggle not to let my generalizations become a full-blown stereotype than can affect the way I treat others, it's an inevitably uphill journey to constantly challenge my generalizations.

However, it's also an ongoing struggle which I believe we all should embrace. The problem of racism and stereotyping is not aided by hiding one's head in the sand when confronted with thorny problems that call to question one's own morality; instead, racism and stereotyping should be treated as a reason to remain cognizant of race relations issues, and a chance to realize that we are all fully capable of being in the wrong, and there's no real right answer.

WordPress

That's it — I think I've had enough. Blogger has been impossible for me lately. I have been virtually unable to publish posts in a timely fashion, and comments haven't been appearing like they should. Blogger is having an impossible time connecting by ftp to my server, and at this point, I can barely publish any new content.

I've been thinking for some time that I should migrate out of Blogger, and as of this morning, I've decided I might start the move. I've downloaded WordPress and will be trying to work with it to launch as smoothly as possible. I will keep my Blogger archive pages online so that links to old posts will not lead to broken links, but, since I've never done this particular transition before, I'm hoping it won't go too badly.

Wish me luck, and hopefully next time you guys visit this site, I'll finally be able to post content in a sane fashion.

RaceChangers

If you've found a little downtime this weekend, please check out RaceChangers, a new blog by Jen and Carmen over at Racialious.com which posts an “assignment” each week and encourages targeted discussion of race issues based on the “assignment”.

Assignment 1 was to read “Troublemakers“, an article at the New Yorker about stereotyping and generalizations, that include racial profiling. Please take a gander at the article and post your comments over at RaceChangers.

The Departed

Hollywood hasn't got a creative bone left in its withering old body.

Most big-grossing films these days are re-makes or film adaptations of stories that have achieved success in print media. If not comic book movies, than some of the most popular films of our times have been part of a burgeoning genre of Americanized reinterpretations of classic Hong Kong, Korean or Japanese movies. Although the most well-known of these films are J-Horrors like Ju-on (i.e. the Grudge) or Ringu (i.e. the Ring), today marked the opening of the Departed, which was Martin Scorcese's take on a fantastic Hong Kong gangster film from 2002 called Infernal Affairs, which starred Tony Leung and Andy Lau.

It's frustrating to watch Hollywood appropriate Asian films to try and revive its flaccid box office numbers, as the process of modernization not only involves bigger budgets, but usually includes a dumbing down of the plot and a White-washing of the cast. In the Departed, the storyline of Infernal Affairs is moved from the gritty streets of Hong Kong to the city of Boston where the criminal enterprise being investigated are Irish gangsters rather than the Chinese mob. Other than a few scenes early in the film to establish racial tensions in mid-twentieth century Boston (setting the stage for Jack Nicholson's race-baiting rants), the entire cast of The Departed is White.

In other words, in this film, lifted almost entirely from a classic Hong Kong movie, there is nary an Asian person in sight.

Or at least, I could say that… except that Scorcese seems to love rubbing salt into an already gaping wound of cultural misappropriation. Although the vast majority of the film's two-hour-and-a-half running time featured an all-White cast of characters, there was a rather unimportant fifteen minute scene which did involve some Asian people. However, if this was a nod to the film's roots in Infernal Affairs, I don't want it.

In this scene, Jack Nicholson's character meets with a group of Chinese mobsters who are working for the Chinese government — all of them stereotypes. One of the Chinese characters is a terrified government lackey, emasculated in a room full of hardened criminals. The rest are crazed, machine-gun wielding triad members, either standing around glaring shiftily at Jack Nicholson's crew, or otherwise ranting and raving in Cantonese. (Note, that they are supposed to be working for the Chinese government.)

But the insult comes not in these caricatures of Chinese characters. No, the insult comes with Jack Nicholson's dialogue, which blatantly invokes nearly every “amusing” anti-Asian joke one can bring to mind: from Chinese as spies, to Chinese as foreigners, to Chinese as un-American, to Chinese as emasculated, to Chinese dick-size jokes, to — and I quote — “No Tickee No Laundry”.

All in the span of five minutes.

As quickly and as pointlessly as these Chinese mobsters arrived on the scene in this film, they vanish back into the night. And the only other Chinese guy we see in the movie is a Chinese food delivery guy who gets knifed by Matt Damon.

This is how Hollywood treats the people who gave birth to the film upon which the Departed is based. This is how visible our community is in Hollywood. And they wonder why we don't go to theatres anymore: tonight, I spent $17 on a movie that basically spat in my face.