On the Trail of the “Paper Tiger” [Updated]

by Latoya Peterson

Asian Like Me NY Mag Cover

ETA: Please note, we got an email from NYMag saying they want us to take down this post. I pushed back asking them about their definition of fair use, and we are working it out. So if you access this post over the weekend, and it has changed, that’s what happened. I’m going to go through and prune it down a bit – good faith and all that – but we are still going to run the other pieces on Monday, regardless of what actually ends up in this space. – LDP

Earlier this week, readers Elton and Tomi alerted us to this front page New York Magazine piece called “Paper Tigers,” by Wesley Yang. It is remarkable in that it’s one of the broadest examinations of Asian American identity to be prominently placed in a mainstream outlet. The article made a huge impact – on Facebook alone, it was liked by 31,000 people. However, reading the piece left a lot of questions to be answered, and for every “hell yeah!” there was an equal *head desk*.

We’re putting together a reaction post from our friends and contributors, but in the meantime, please set aside the time to read all of Yang’s article.

To start you off, here are some points that jumped out at me.

The Good

  • Yang’s discussion of Asian American invisibility in face of stereotype: “A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality.”
  • The frank discussion of Thomas Epenshade’s work, which calculated how Asians generally must score higher on the SAT than white applicants to have the same chance at admission.
  • The disparity between Asian American representation in higher education and under-representation in the board room. (We’ve covered this before, under the title of the bamboo ceiling.)

The Interesting, but Questionable

  • Yang looks at the bamboo ceiling, but attributes it mostly to unconscious bias, not actual racism.
  • The absolute absence of Asian American female perspectives, despite the higher rates of suicide for Asian American women.

The WTF

  • Yang appears to have a love/hate relationship with being Asian-American; using the term “banana or twinkie to self identify and saying he’s “devoid of Asian characteristics.”
  • The piece challenges some stereotypes, but reinforces others, perhaps because of the divided feel of the narrative.
  • Yang quotes JT Tran, the Asian American pick up artist, who essentially says Asian American (heterosexual men) should pick up white women in order to…well, it’s not exactly clear how Tran thinks that is going to fix the school/boardroom gap.

Stay tuned for more perspectives from our APIA contributors.

  • Pingback: Asian Like You, Not Me | The Radical Ramblings of Shiuan Butler

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    The one thing that completely resonated with me from Yang’s article was when he mentioned the NYC Specialized high schools exam. Having grown up in NYC and being part of the (South)Asian-American community there I can totally relate to how many cram schools have proliferated in NYC just to help Asian-American kids primarily pass exams like the one mentioned above. In fact I wrote two Examiner articles on these schools earlier this year:
    http://exm.nr/fLQTgq and http://exm.nr/fLQTgq

    Other than that I thought it was sad that the article didn’t challenge the underlying assumption that in order to succeed in the American workplace, you have to take on “alpha male” characteristics and downplay your own cultural values. I think that with the status quo as it is right now, implicit bias should be looked at as  the major reason why minorities are unable to climb up the socioeconomic ladder into managerial positions in the American corporate workplace. This means that no matter how much you as a minority try to assimilate into mainstream society, taking on its dominant cultural values while rejecting your own, you’ll never be completely accepted by those who currently hold the levers of power in society. Until those levers are held by a diverse set of individuals from various cultural/ethnic/racial backgrounds, it’s really no use trying to please the group that currently monopolizes its hold on power by trying to “fit in” and reject a part of who you are. 

  • Thatphil

    Sounds to me he has internalized racism issues.   See:

    http://www.facultydirectory.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/pub/public_individual.pl?faculty=293

    for a mention of this topic.

  • Greenapple

    The article seems to suggest supposedly “white” qualities such as confidence, aggressiveness, and ‘leadership’ are better than “asian” qualities such as humility, hard work and loyalty. This is dead wrong. Different situations call for different qualities and these same “asian” qualities would be highly valued in white person. The underlying problem is not qualities, but institutional racism and lack of social networks which affect not just asians, but all people of color. Do  black/ hispanic people  have these supposed negative “asian” qualities? If not, then why aren’t they successful in corporate america? No, it’s systemic racism.

  • Atc

     All I got from that article was that a lot of Asian Americans have issues with their identity and cling to White people to try and move up the privileged group.
    I don’t feel sorry for people like Yang because they seem to view “white” as “better than…”  and the ultimate “prize” to “conquer”.
    I can read between the lines and won’t give my support, especially not to someone who uses PUA techniques.

    • Guest

      I’m glad you said it and I didn’t. As a black female, that last paragraph on the pick up artist made me want to vomit in my mouth.  Hard to be sympathetic to someone with the “I want a white trophy partner” blues.  

  • Anonymous

     Okay let’s try this again. I’m thinking that because Yang wrote this for NYMag, his avoidance of the treatment East Asians that he talked to was accredited to straight-up racism, interesting. NO ONE should simply blame themselves, their cultural upbringing        (and the racial bigotry of others) as normative, and that they have to change in order for them to survive in that world and be accepted by the ones who are discriminating against them. 

    I really enjoyed Yang’s writing, and did have a “what the hell” moment about the  “training sessions” and the quest to be a ‘joe-jock’ at the bar on a Friday night and to bed the stereotypical archetype of what a ‘real’ woman is. It’s interesting how there was a concerted effort to assimilate as much as they could to white folks, versus just being themselves. How bedding a white, blond woman with blue eyes seemed to be the ultimate goal, to prove to themselves that they are just as ‘masculine’ as the same people whom were essentially hindering them from career opportunities. But on the other hand, there are men of every racial ethnicity who feel the same way! While the article was interesting, it seemed that Yang unintentionally showed how sad the men ( and the one or two women) he met, were. But  I can relate to Yang a bit, especially when he wrote about the conversation with the white woman at the party and I even teared up a bit.  I understand the feeling of ‘well, if people can look at me and automatically assume that I’m not worth knowing, I might as well just be myself.”  I also understand the desire to want to be noticed, to be seen as relevant, but I’m not willing to sell my dignity in order to do so. 

  • CollegeWriter

    I’m all for sharing and commenting on interesting bits of news in the media, but I’m kinda weirded out by how much you directly copied and pasted from someone else’s work without permission of the author/publication. A link to the article itself is one thing, wholesale taking of someone else’s work, in vast quantities in jumbled context as done here, is another…  

    • Anonymous

      We are well aware of fair use. There isn’t a hard and fast rule yet – I excerpted about 5 thoughts over 10 pages. (If it’s out of context it’s because different parts of things fit different categories).

      Since we are going to have probably three – five articles next week, it was important to make sure people read the piece – and sadly, one paragraph and a link doesn’t always do it.

      I understand the concern though.

  • Anonymous

    The last expcerpt is major WTF. Barf in my mouth. Roll my eyes. And I don’t understand what the one guy means by being “devoid of Asian characteristics.” I mean, if he has an “Asian face” doesn’t that mean he has at least one Asian characteristic? And what of his family? Most times family is a source of culture and racial definition. So even if he does not use the honorifics and language of his parents, he in no way observes Korean culture or takes anything else from his family?

    Also, I know that for some test international students have to take to qualify for grad school Asian students have to score much higher on English. And some are aware of it and it is a form of discrimination but I’m not sure that most people are aware of it. I can’t remember the exact test though. But they essentially have to get a perfect score.

    But interesting. I’m surprised this is in a mainstream publication.  

    • Digital Coyote

      I believe it’s the TOEFL you’re thinking of.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, shit. I’m supposed to be writing an article about Tim Wu’s conversations on net neutrality for the day job and took a break to write this. Got my wires crossed, will fix.