REVIEW: The Loneliest Americans is an incoherent rejection of Asian American identity

Cover of "The Loneliest Americans" by Jay Caspian Kang

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya

In The Loneliest Americans, Jay Caspian Kang attempts to argue that mainstream “Asian American” politics is a fabrication: a smokescreen behind which some of us hide, or from which we try to glean some superficial meaning.

Asian Americans are too diverse for one singular pan-ethnic label, argues Kang, and so the class divide within our group continues to fester and grow. According to Kang, some of us choose to manufacture an Asian American community through the trite, with social media postings about boba tea or Lunar New Year celebrations scattered across our Instagram. He writes:

How do you create a people out of such silly connections? And why do we, the children of immigrants, feel the need to fulfill some hyphenated identity when our parents seemed perfectly content to live as either Koreans or Chinese or Indians or Vietnamese in America — or, if they felt particularly optimistic, insisted that they, too, were Americans? (The Loneliest Americans, p. 16)

Kang suggests that contemporary mainstream Asian American politics has been preoccupied with the concerns of upwardly mobile Asian Americans. As such, he argues, the Asian American activist class – overtly English-fluent, second-generation, highly-educated progressives – ignore the issues of “real” Asian Americans – first-generation working-class immigrants who categorically reject their own racialization as “Asian American”.

“The stuff that you generally hear is about that — it’s about the bamboo ceiling, it’s about Hollywood representation, it’s about Scarlett Johansson stealing a bunch of roles,” Kang stated in a recent interview.

Notwithstanding the fact that I do enjoy boba, there is a level of truth to what Kang, now a staff writer at the New York Times, is writing about in The Loneliest Americans, his first non-fiction book in which he challenges the relevance of Asian American identity and politics in a neoliberal age. Obviously, The Loneliest Americans is neither the first nor the only text to discuss Asian American identity politics. Over the years, we’ve seen a growth in research and writings that confront some of the major issues impacting Asian American identity, from Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings to Desis Divided by the political scientist, Sangay Mishra to others. Asian American stories and perspectives are enjoying new interest from mainstream readers, and Asian Americans writers now have greater opportunity to write books that seek some understanding of themselves and the politics they’re surrounded by. Kang’s The Loneliest Americans is the latest contribution to this increasingly popular genre.

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Class, Capitalism and the Creation of a Progressive Asian America

Garment workers rally in front of a Ross store on Broadway in downtown L.A. to demand an end to wage theft and unsafe working conditions on Oct. 25, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya (@ResistRun)

Chris Phan used to believe that they were an anomaly. After all, Phan and those around them in their community were working class Asian Americans; this didn’t match the mainstream perception of Asian Americans as economically and educationally privileged.

Eventually, Phan realized that what they and others experience on the economic margins is actually the norm for many.

“The reality is I know folks who are super poor and Asian American who have to rely on the informal economy to survive. And now, with my education, I know that’s not isolated to my family or experiences,” Phan explained.

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The Power of Anti-Black Ideology

A protester holds up a sign that reads “Hands Up, Dont Shoot.” Photo credit: Flickr / Chris Wieland)

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya

The acquittal of police officer, Betty Shelby, in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher was preordained.

The narrative follows a familiar pattern: A White individual (Shelby) encounters an unarmed African American man, and with no evident motive, chooses to end the life of the Black person standing before them.

Crutcher’s death is his fault,” she later said. It is hard to imagine how that could be the case. Dashcam video shows that Crutcher was shot and killed while unarmed and complying with police orders.

After my visit to Ferguson last summer, I referenced the writings of Simone Browne, Christina Sharpe, and Alexander G. Weheliye, to argue that unless we understand how Anti-Blackness/Whiteness operate in the U.S., we will consistently fail in creating a society that would treat everyone with dignity and respect. Without this understanding, we will never build a place that honors the hopes and dreams of someone like Terence Crutcher.

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Men of Color and Masculinity

Jeremy Lin, adapted from a photoshoot for Adidas.

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya

Recently, Brooklyn Nets star Jeremy Lin said to the New York Daily News, “A lot of times we have Asian girls go for non-Asian guys but you don’t see a lot of the opposite. You don’t see a lot of the opposite; you don’t see a lot of non-Asian girls go for Asian guys. When they said ‘Yellow Fever’ growing up, it wasn’t all these white girls going for Asian guys. It was the Asian girls going for the white guys.”

Although Lin was relatively thoughtful throughout his interview, his answers nonetheless reinforced a damaging myth: that Asian American women have more advantages than their male counterparts.

Lin represents a segment among men of color who have become obsessed with embodying a superficial and regressive “masculinity.” If our goal is to dismantle patriarchy, we must form a deeper, layered understanding of “masculinity” and its relationship to Black, Brown, and East Asian American men. That radical reexamination of the “masculine” must account for the marginalization that many men of color feel, while not absolving them of their role in perpetuating misogyny.

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Beyond Hope: Fighting Within a Fascist America

Aerial view of the Women’s March in DC on January 21, 2017. (Photo credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya

“Sudip, what’s going to happen to us? Can he really create a registry…?”

The words stuck to my ribs as nausea gripped me.

It was meant to be a typical Friday night. My friends and I met at the local IHOP, as we often did, with plans to crack jokes about Nicholas Cage or perform impressions of Batman ordering pancakes. Instead, we sat, staring at our plates. I was the one studying politics in grad school, so my two friends — who are Muslim and South Asian American — asked me about what was next. We had grown up together in central New Jersey, where we had spent carefree weekends at shopping malls and exploring random towns along Route 1. Yet, that evening, I saw the lines on their faces deepen with anxious creases.

I would’ve been lying if I encouraged them to sense a light at the end of the tunnel, when clearly, everything we believed was collapsing before our eyes. I shifted the conversation, asking them about a trip they were planning. I tried listening, while realizing that since the election of Trump, my capacity for hope was extinguished.

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