The Words of Asian American Men

by guest contributor Jennifer Fang, originally published at Reappropriate

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.

One of the central thrusts of the discussion was the emasculation stereotype. I agree with all three panelists in their emphasis of Hollywood as being the primary source of the asexualization of Asian males, and how this perception has a deleterious effect on developing young Asian American boys. Kwon said,

When I was growing up, I was very much influenced by what I saw, and more importantly what I didn’t see, on television. Whenever I saw an Asian American man on television, he was inevitably a kung-fu master who could kick ass but he couldn’t speak English, or a computer geek who could figure out algorithms but couldn’t figure out how to get a date. And for myself, I really think I internalized a lot of these images.

All three panelists emphasized the need to change Hollywood’s depictions of Asian Americans, viewing mainstream media as the primary source of the stereotype. After all, the true insidiousness of APIA male asexualization is its effect on the self-image of young boys, which is communicated to them beginning at childhood. In this way, the asexualization stereotype is no different than anti-feminist socialization that promotes gender roles for young girls; in both cases, the images are designed to control those who are principally “The Other” in American society.

Exposed to image after image of Asian Americans as nothing more than the Perpetual Foreigner and the Geek diminishes the self-esteem of boys and introduces an internalized racial self-hatred where one associates one’s racial identity with limited personal and social success. Particularly damaging, however, is how this diminished self-esteem actually discourages radical activism to change the root source of the problem; race and masculinity become linked. This internalized relationship is problematic because Asian American men rarely challenge the association between race and masculine self-worth. They advocate changing the stereotypes of Asian American men (a solution destined to failure as it still promotes dehumanization and objectification), rather than to advocate an elimination of race-based sexual stereotypes altogether.

As a community, we should not prioritize advocating for a hypersexualization of the Asian American male body, but for a humanization. To define us based on race is still to limit our evolution as people to pre-defined narratives externally applied to us based on our race. Stereotypes limit us because it stifles our own self-growth and opportunities, regardless of whether those stereotypes are “positive” or “negative”. As Jeff Yang said in the panel discussion,

…[C]oming from my own perspective, every time I hear people say Asian American men shouldn’t be portrayed as geeky-looking and having glasses and being nerdy and all this, and I’m like, “you guys are all protesting in front of my mirror”. It’s kind of unfair to hold us all to these standards, as incredible as it is to see people like yourself and Daniel Dae Kim and Aasif transcend the historical representation of what Asian American men are, there’s also a sense in which it leaves some of us behind. And I think the notion of manhood is changing. Continue reading

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Denial and Delusion – Why Public Conversations About Race Fail Before They Begin

by Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

I am done, done, done.

I intended to work on my follow up to Internalizing Stereotypes.

Key word: intended.

However, the sequel is not happening this week.

The sequel is not happening because my mind is cluttered with two articles that came to my attention in the last half of the week.

The first was a blog post on GameDaily Biz, a site and blog dedicated to the video game industry housed on Game Daily. I peruse GameDaily Biz every few days to find news and trends to discuss in the online gaming magazine Cerise. In addition to writing first person and opinion pieces about gaming, I also write their Gaming in the Media column. So, when I came across a “Your Turn” first person post on GameDaily Biz by Chris Mottes, CEO of Deadline Games, I was intrigued to see what he had to say.

Particularly because the post was titled, “That’s Racist! The Unjust Crusade Against Video Games.”

The article begins:

Members of the media often attack video games for being racist, sexist, mean-spirited, callous, unpleasant, insensitive, or just generally nasty. As a developer, I find most of these claims not only a touch insulting but also extremely tenuous, and in the majority of cases unfounded.

Fascinating. The majority of these cases are unfounded? As a black, female console gamer, I can definitively say that many of the video games I play (and enjoy) can be considered both sexist and racist. Sexism is rampant, particularly when you consider character design, costuming, and forced gender roles in play. Most female characters are designed for maximum sex appeal, relegated to damsel in distress roles, or physically limited and/or forced to contribute to the game in a limited capacity. Major female characters in RPGs tend to be healers or magic-users, normally devastated in battle by a few hits from a stronger male character. While there are a few standout exceptions – Samus from Metroid, Joanna Dark from Perfect Dark, and the oft-debated Lara Croft – most women in video games are side characters.

To illustrate the issue of racism, let’s play a little game. Off the top of your head, name 5 black video game characters. Now, exclude any characters that were not main characters. Now exclude any that appear in a sports game or hip-hop based game. Finally, exclude any characters that embody stereotypical representations of African Americans. (Yes, that means excluding CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) How many are left in your list?

Or, let’s look at Asian Americans in video games. Again, off the top of your head, name five Asian video game characters – you can use both side characters and main characters. (For this one, we will exclude RPGs from the discussion since character ethnicity a murky subject). Now exclude fighting games. How many are left on your list?

Name five Latino game characters. Can you? I cannot – I have a vague memory of heavy accents in certain video games, but I am not able to bring up one latino character that wasn’t in a historical game like Age of Empires (which technically means I remember playing the game as an Incan and as a Spaniard). For those who can, what stands out about these characters? Continue reading

Scapegoating or Community Empowerment? The Flipside of the “Korean Takeover of the Black Haircare Industry” Debate

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

After Latoya wrote the excellent article “Know Your Place, Woman: BET’s Meet the Faith on Black Marriage,” I decided to do a little additional research by checking out the BET site for the show with the all the questionable content. I ended up reading very little on Meet the Faith. In fact, the one thing that stood out to me about the site was actually a random distraction . . .

Toward the bottom of the page regarding a segment on black beauty, I noticed a survey entitled “Korean or Black Owned?” The caption read:

For the most part, Black haircare products didn’t exist until Madame C.J. Walker introduced her Wonderful Hair Grower in the early 1900s. Today, there are still very few products and equipment made for or sold by Blacks.

For such a loaded topic, there were only two simple questions:

1. There are two beauty supply stores next to each other. One is Korean-owned and sells your shampoo for $10. The other is Black-owned and sells your shampoo for $12. Where would you buy your shampoo? The Black-Owned Store or The Korean-Owned Store?

2. If the Korean-owned shop sold items $2 to $3 higher, where do you think the average Korean customer would shop? The Black-Owned Store or The Korean-Owned Store?

I immediately felt the urge to look into what had compelled this very basic set of questions and find some answers. Carmen raised a question of her own back in December, “Do Korean-Americans Control the Black Hair Market?” prompting readers to check out Aron Ranen’s documentary Black Hair and leaving them to render their own judgment on the issue. Half a year later, however, I find myself asking less about the prospect of Korean market dominance in the black haircare industry, and more about the process of seeking an answer to the inquiry itself. What methods have we used to publicly examine this market dominance and what effect have they had on the respective communities involved?

First and foremost, there is the film by Ranen. Black Hair is a documentary created to bring attention to the plight of people of African descent who attempt to manufacture and/or distribute black hair care products within the black community as they face considerable adversity in a market now controlled by Korean immigrants and their families. While some, including members of the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association (BOBSA), see the film, as absolute truth, I find that it could be quite easily interpreted as an open attack on Koreans. I understand quite clearly that the film is a powerful form of advocacy for keeping money spent and earned by African-Americans in the black community, but I question the need for Ranen’s clear manipulation of an already troubled case of ethnic disunity between American blacks and Korean immigrants as a means to push the “buy black” agenda.

During an interview with NPR, Ranen is asked whether or not his film creates “an environment that shows Korean proprietors as the enemy.” In defense of his work, he answers simply that he does not want to be a “hater,” but instead he wants to be a “motivator.” Yet I can’t help but consider his attempt to “motivate” the black community suspect. By publicly picking at old wounds between Koreans and African-Americans, Ranen has tapped into an increasingly lucrative market for the press: inter-ethnic conflict. The American media can’t get enough of it. Stories about people of color fighting other people of color, even if their initial disagreement has little to do with race or ethnic background, always make headline news, often yielding skewed and/or distorted results. Asian-American activist Helen Zia discusses this phenomenon in her book Asian American Dreams with regard to the L.A. Riots: Continue reading

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