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’”?
The specter of war between North and South Korea has dominated headlines, particularly as President Donald Trump increasingly matches the bellicose posturing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un word-for-word (and tweet-for-tweet). Under the best of circumstances, the precarious relationship between North and South Korea requires precise and thoughtful diplomatic handling; that is no more true now that North Korea approaches the threshold of achieving nuclear weapons.
A better president might develop a program to halt North Korea’s nuclear advancement with a measured balance of diplomacy and international sanction. A better president would understand the devastatingly high price of war, and would seek to avoid that at all costs.
But, America elected Donald Trump, a self-aggrandizing buffoon who sees the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula as just another opportunity to provoke Kim Jong Un with belittling — and highly racially emasculating — language.
Dear Asian American Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs):
I’ve come across your Reddit threads, your Twitter profiles, and your takes on pop culture. I’m writing to call you out on your take on masculinity, Asian American women, and feminism. Whether you choose to read on or not will reveal your willingness to hear out a fellow Asian American woman’s take on your opinions: it’s your call.
Though you might not have labelled yourself as an MRA, if you agree that the feminist movement takes power away from men, this letter is for you. From what I’ve read, the MRA community began in the early 1970s as an assertion that gender equality had gone too far, and that women had actually started to, in Beyoncé’s words, run the world. The MRA movement has resurfaced online in Asian American digital circles. But the MRA perspective overlooks that men already possess rights and privileges that women do not. So here’s the first thing for you to consider: the point of feminism is not to take your power away.
The term “Men’s Rights Activists” demands that we prioritize the alleged victimization of men. It poses the question, “What about the oppression that we, Asian-American men face? What about our rights?” When this question is posed in opposition to feminism, it suggests that you see empowerment as a limited resource— what some would label as a scarcity mindset— wherein the more empowered that women (particularly Asian American women) are, the more “emasculated” you see yourselves as becoming. But feminism isn’t about taking anything away from people. Neither is it primarily about you (men) in the first place, but as men, your supporting role in feminism is an essential one. In a society that dismisses women’s opinions and complaints as insubstantial or overly emotional, you, as men, can leverage your gender privilege to help others listen to what women have to say.
Last week, toxic masculinity claimed its latest victims. In Mukilteo, Washington, 19-year-old Allen Ivanov has been arrested after driving to a house party where several of his high school friends were gathering, and shooting to death his ex-girlfriend, Anna Bui, along with two fellow classmates, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long; a fourth unidentified friend was also injured in the attack.
Ivanov killed Bui, Ebner and Long, with a legally purchased AR-15 which he appears to have bought specifically to carry out the attack. Pictures of the long-gun were posted to Ivanov’s social media in the days prior to the attack, along with cryptic messages about his plans to carry out the murders. After shooting Bui and their friends, Ivanov escaped and was arrested in his car nearly 100 miles from the scene of the attack. Both Ivanov and Bui were identified as students at the University of Washington, and over the weekend, the school sent out an email mourning the shooting and encouraging students to attend grief counseling.
Friends say that Bui had broken up with Ivanov either a month ago and/or in the week prior to the attack (depending on whom you ask), and she seems to have been the primary target of his assault. One friend told the Daily Mail that Ivanov had been “depressed” after his relationship with Bui ended, and that minutes after the shooting, Ivanov sent a text saying “I just killed my ex-girlfriend” and contemplated suicide. Other friends described Ivanov as incapable of such violence; but, in contrast, that he “often had a jealous side” and that he acted as if he had “something to prove”.
Negative, oftentimes racist, portrayals of Asian Americans have persisted in Western media for over a century. When we are not entirely absent from media representation, we appear mostly in exaggerated and stereotyped form: rodent-like subhumans; alien threats; hypersexualized objects of desire; buffoonish clowns; socially maladjusted nerds; martial artists; criminal gangsters. Too often, these performances are coupled with the absence of even an Asian American face: instead, non-Asian actors adopt these and other stereotypes to enact Asian-ess through yellowface.
A new website — Kulture — now seeks to act as a watchdog for Asian American representation in popular media by inviting crowd-sourced submission of stereotypical depictions for inclusion in their database.