Solidarity is for white women and Asian people are funny

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By Guest Contributor Lindsey Yoo: originally published at Filthy Freedom

Disclaimer: The discussion of inclusivity and solidarity is relevant to many constituencies in different ways; this is my unique take as an Asian, female-identified individual.

I’ve come to a curious, heightened recognition these past few weeks: My ethnicity is something to laugh at. When an Asian woman is denigrated and exoticized by a group of white men in an offensive video entitled “Asian Girlz”, I am told I shouldn’t be so upset because the woman clearly enjoyed it and the video was clearly just a joke. When the lone Asian character in the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” perpetuates negative racial tropes through easy, cheap humor that capitalizes on her awkward silences and accented, broken English, I’m supposed to double back in laughter, shake my head, and say “Well, at least they have Laverne Cox!” When I express my anger at careless, racist reporting of an Asiana Airlines crash that killed two teenage girls–KTVU fired a producer after the network broadcast the pilots’ names as “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow”–the immediate reaction I get is a giggle and a laugh.

 #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen was a worldwide trending hashtag originally created to expose the tendency of feminism to exclude the experiences and narratives of women of color. The hashtag led to robust and much-needed discussions that unmasked the tendency of all progressive circles to work in silos instead of calling for true solidarity across multiple race and gender identities. Filthy Freedom founder Bea Hinton and I both participated in the discussions and watched as they yielded hashtags such as #blackpowerisforblackmen, which highlighted the privileging of black male voices in discussions on black empowerment, and #fuckcispeople, which called out the tendency of all social justice narratives to focus solely on cisgender struggles. Through the steady stream of well-formulated tweets (and angry trolls), I kept wondering: Is my voice, as an Asian, female-identified individual, relevant at all?In Matthew Salesses’ “How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans,” Matthew recounts how he came to realize that Asians seem to have no place in discussions about racial hierarchies:

For my day job, I organize a seminar at Harvard on the topic of Inequality. I attend these talks both out of responsibility and out of interest. But after two and a half years, I can only remember Asians being mentioned twice, once in direct response to a question by an Asian student. I remember sitting beside another Asian American student and listening to a lecture earlier this year. He said something like, “Nobody ever talks about Asians,” and I said, “Asians don’t exist in Sociology.” We both laughed. It was a joke, but it stung with a certain truth.

I also learned that Asian-Americans occupy a very limited niche in conversations about social justice. In my sophomore year in college, after I learned of Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama’s role in the civil rights movement and asked a sociology professor why none of our classroom discussions included any mention of her role, she told me that “bringing an Asian into the discussion on civil rights would just confuse people.” When I pointed out to another sociology professor that the statistics we were studying that day, on the parenting styles of black and Hispanic parents versus white parents, did not take into account the unique perspective of Asians, she told me bluntly that “the Asian perspective can be found in the stats on white people.”

I recognize that the Asian American experience in this country is not punctuated in the same way black narratives are by stories of enslavement, the insidiousness of Jim Crow, the myth of the rampant black male rapist, and the re-manifestation of Jim Crow through abysmal incarceration rates. I will never understand or have to live out that particular level of systematic, institutionalized, and brutal oppression. I also recognize that our socio-economic realities are often miles apart from others–some of us do have it better, and we certainly enjoy some privileges that others do not have. Additionally, anti-black racism, as it is with many other non-black communities, is an ongoing problem within the Asian community and needs to be rectified in order for true solidarity to exist.

But I’ve experienced firsthand how the “model minority” narrative– this strange tendency to assume that Asians are simply a quiet, high-achieving community tagging along with our white brethren into a melting pot of joy–effectively de-legitimizes our voices in conversations about promoting racial justice. Leaving our voices and experiences out of the fight for racial justice erases our long, often tragic history in this country and homogenizes all Asians into one, high-achieving blob. Leaving us out means turning a blind eye to the fact that 1 in 6 Filipino-Americans and 1 in 4 Korean-Americans are undocumented, that Southeast Asians have the highest high school dropout rates in the country, that Asian American students are the most bullied ethnic group in classrooms, and that Asian women are consistently hypersexualized, objectified, and orientalized via widespread media representations. If you choose not to include us in discussions on racial justice, you are telling us that our struggles don’t matter.

The most alarming thing about racism against Asian Americans is that, for me, it is often perpetuated casually by friends, family, and supposed allies in the fight for racial justice. Those comments to my reactions to “Asian Girlz,” “Orange is the New Black,” and KTVU’s racist on-air gaffe, for instance, were all made by my friends, people whom I respect and adore. While, in our supposedly “post-racial” atmosphere, blatant and explicit racism has moved underground and has morphed into implicit, hidden mechanisms, above-ground racism against Asians is condoned, and Asians are still considered fair game for outright misogynistic, racist humor.

The call for true, multi-racial and multi-gender solidarity is about recognizing that privilege and oppression exist even within progressive circles, and that they manifest themselves differently in certain spaces and forums. I want my voice as an Asian woman to not be labeled as some fringe, niche topic, but to be considered an integral part of a larger discussion. That starts with understanding that, yes, you are being racist when you call me “China” or yell “ching-chong!” at me in the streets, that you are being racist when you ask me what my “real” name is or ask me where I’m “originally” from, and that you are being racist when you laugh at caricaturized portrayals of people who look like me on television. You can show your affirmation of solidarity and appreciation for varying struggles and experiences of different constituencies by refusing to be complicit in casual racism. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple “No, that’s not funny.”


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Lindsey Yoo is a Korean-American social media aficionado interested in racial justice, community engagement, pop culture, and all things Asian-American.  She coordinates social media for The Filthy Freedom Project, where she dishes about culture, religion and sexuality every other week on “Love, Lindsey.”
  • Kinikia LK

    Awesome, lucid

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  • Irish_ish

    This is really excellent. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. You’re a beautiful person, Ms. Yoo!

  • MIGHTY WOMAN bite the flame

    “If you choose not to include us in discussions on racial justice, you are telling us that our struggles don’t matter.” I second this. And I choose to be open to learning about/listening to matters that affect Asian Americans, as well as all matters that are anti-humanity.

  • palmeria

    Exactly.
    That and he’s suspiciously silent over being called out for the rice king comments.
    When you let those comments slide, you are disrespecting your wife. Is she okay with that or does she put up with it silently?

  • palmeria

    “go chase the white people and ignore the ways that they mock you.”
    This.

  • jae123

    “The most alarming thing about racism against Asian Americans is that, for me, it is often perpetuated casually by friends, family, and supposed allies in the fight for racial justice. Those comments to my reactions to “Asian Girlz,” “Orange is the New Black,” and KTVU’s racist on-air gaffe, for instance, were all made by my friends, people whom I respect and adore.”

    Well thought-out article, and completely agree with the above. I’m white and married to a Chinese-American, and often reluctantly let slide racist comments about Asians (a few directed at my wife); the times I do address it, I’m told to relax/not be so serious, they state they’re not “really being racist”, etc. I know a few family members do it just to annoy me. At the same time, I face the “yellow fever” thing from some family and friends – and especially certain Asian-Americans. I know that being accused of “yellow fever” might not seem to be so discriminatory or racist, but trust me, it stings. And similarly, I feel that there is not much I can do when someone labels me as such. Which all the more makes me want to emigrate to Singapore or HK, where I havent encountered as much labeling as I do here in the good ol’ US of A. It’s like the whole labeling fetish of modernism and the power it provides, has gone wild here in the US…

  • Candacey Doris

    This is a nice article. I wish i could send this to people i used to go to college with. In some of my classes we would talk about racism and prejudice but very little about Asians would be mentioned. If they were it was about the issues Chinese people faced when coming here during the railroad boom. That’s it. When i talked about it to other students i’d be told asians were the “good” minority and no one had any problems with Asians. And even told that since i wasn’t asian it wasn’t my concern. It’s at least partially my concern since i may be phenotypically black, i’m still part asian (Chinese) and racism hurts everyone no matter who its aimed at!

  • GPMeg

    This is a fantastic article! I work with a lot of Asian and Asian American students at the college where I volunteer with my sorority. These women are amazing, funny, intelligent, knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, and constantly forced in to roles. When an Asian girl goes anything but one particular sorority, her peers wonder if she’s “really Asian” because “all” the Asians go Alpha Beta — “they may as well be the Asian sorority!” crows frat row, before they start wondering about the dirty sexy things Alpha Beta does at their sisterhood retreat. (Don’t worry, my sorority – in spite of our diverse membership – is the fat white chick sorority. We just eat cake and pizza, nothing sexy happens there unless our “minority” members are present.)

    I hate that “where are you from originally?” has made its way in to a snobbish, racist field of questions. Being in Atlanta where almost nobody is actually FROM Atlanta it’s a go to question with everyone I meet no matter what they look like, but I’ve had to take it out because I’ve had to explain why I ask too many times. It’s a shame that people who genuinely want to know more about someone new are being smothered by racist jackasses.

  • Ruminum

    I cannot tell you how good it is to read this. I’ve been so disheartened when conversations about experience racism do an abrupt about face of dismissal and erasure when the topic comes to the Asian-American experience of racism in this country. From the systematic way we are always “othered” (we’re all always “originally” from somewhere that’s not here), or fetishized and exoticized (“you people are so pretty”, “your hair is so pretty, can I touch it?”), merged and erased (who can tell the difference, right?), to the blatant stereotyping that persists unquestioned in popular media and the collective consciousness (“If we go out, I want you to know that I’d treat you right, since I know that you’ve probably been disrespected by your Asian father all your life” http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/10-ridiculously-offensive-things-people-tell-asian-women-on) and outright denial of our existence in the conversation (“Asians don’t experience real racism”)…

    People seem to think that racism comes in one flavor, and it doesn’t. They are all unique struggles, but they are damaging in different ways, and I find that is rarely respected at all. It’s so disheartening to hear this come not only from a white, privileged culture, but also from the mouths of other minorities. It is difficult to work so hard to be respectful of the uniqueness of struggle, and not to co-opt the different experiences of other racial/ethnic minorities, only to have those experiences turned around and used as a test to determine if you experience “real” or “true” racism.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani J. Sharmin

    Thank you so much for writing this! My family is South Asian (living in the US), and I often feel that discussions about race should be more inclusive. Discrimination against Asian Americans is dismissed as not being a big deal, but it does hurt.

  • Monica

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have nothing to add other than: The discussion of racism toward Asians and Asian women in particular is LONG OVERDUE.

  • Alison

    Great article, much appreciated from this black woman who thinks about it a lot! I’ve actually found that it is much easier for me to call non-Asian people out when they are engaged in that “subtle” and too often excused racism against Asians because I can either call for solidarity among other minorities or draw parallels to anti-black racism to make white friends (who are usually more familiar with anti-black racism) understand that although we are racialized in different ways the sting is still the same and racism is just plain racism.

    However, I really struggle (and would love some advice!) with how to deal with situations where my Asian friends say blanket problematic statements about other Asians, of their own ethnic group or not, that I know would offend a lot of people. How do I respect the agency of my friends to explore and talk about their ethnicity how they feel comfortable, but still deal with the fact that their statements, especially in mixed company, make non-Asians feel validated in their racism? I mean, I believe in calling out black people who try to speak for all black people because that’s not possible, but its easier because I come from that group. How could I cross that with my Asian friends? Is it even my place to be thinking about this?

    • nicthommi

      Ditto…I commented something similar. I hear a lot of problematic stereotypes about other Asian groups, and also people who don’t realize that the problematic labels given to them are in fact racist.
      I’ve gotten into heated arguments with friends when they make “positive” racist statements about Asians.

    • t c

      I think it’d depend on the friend in question.
      If your friend understands and values issues of racial justice, then perhaps they’d appreciate being called out on their casual (internalized?) racism. I do think, however, that in all instances, if you do decide to talk to them about it in any way, it shouldn’t be in front of other people and it shouldn’t be accusatory/confrontational. I feel like this, as you’ve gotten at, can start to get murky with tone-policing…

      Then again, maybe it’s just an issue with who should be responsible/thought of as representative. If we’re (me too, as an Asian-American person) really committed to the idea of letting our friends talk about their respective identities as they please, then perhaps it shouldn’t be on your friend to send the right message to non-Asian-identifying people. Clearly, you understand the difference. It wouldn’t be right for you to say certain things about Asian people, as someone who does not identify as Asian, but a friend or person who identifies as Asian should feel free to engage with their identity as they please. Maybe we just ought to expect everyone to understand that difference and call them out when they cross that boundary.

      • Alison

        Thanks, I was particularly enlightened by your statement “perhaps it shouldn’t be on your friend to send the right message to non-Asian-identifying people”. Good point! I also completely agree that any dialogue about these issues should not be confrontational, and I appreciate that we are constantly exploring our identities and have the right to that space and to hold different views (even at different times).

        I think a lot blurs for me though in the whole issue of identity and how granular we get with that. I think I understand the value in being able to identify as Asian or Asian American much in the same way that I identify as African (I’m from Zimbabwe). But at the same time, how should a non-African handle a situation in which I perpetuate stereotypes about specific African countries? Is it solidarity for the non-African to pull me aside and discuss how my statements are harmful, or would it be threatening to my agency as an African? (I’m not trying to state an argument, seriously would just like insight because I dont know). So following from that example, if I am talking to a Chinese American friend who is discussing something about her experience being Asian American but doing so in a way that perpetuates stereotypes about Korean Americans, or Taiwanese Americans. Which direction do you do?

        Just a disclaimer, I really don’t spend my waking hours trying to figure out how call people out on anything :). Its just a topic I struggle a lot with, hence the extra questions.

  • Julia A

    I’m not Asian, but I’ve noticed this and I’m glad someone qualified could put it into words.
    I wish you (or any other Asian perspective) could talk about the problems of “idolization”. I’ve noticed this especially in the K-pop fandom people objectify and generalize all Asians. They say thing like “oh Koreans are so pretty” and “you are so pretty you must be Korean” and even using yellow face and trying to look Asian. I think this is a unique problem, because it’s not the explicitly hateful racism usually seen but it’s still horrible.

  • jae123

    “The most alarming thing about racism against Asian Americans is that, for me, it is often perpetuated casually by friends, family, and supposed allies in the fight for racial justice. Those comments to my reactions to “Asian Girlz,” “Orange is the New Black,” and KTVU’s racist on-air gaffe, for instance, were all made by my friends, people whom I respect and adore.”

    Well thought-out article, and completely agree with the above. I’m white and married to a Chinese-American, and often reluctantly let slide racist comments about Asians (a few directed at my wife); the times I do address it, I’m told to relax/not be so serious, they state they’re not “really being racist”, etc. I know a few family members do it just to annoy me. At the same time, I face the whole “yellow fever” thing from some family and friends – and especially certain Asian-Americans. I know that being accused of “yellow fever” might not seem to be so discriminatory or racist, but trust me, it stings. And similarly, I feel that there is not much I can do when someone labels me as such. Which all the more makes me want to emigrate to Singapore or HK, where I havent encountered as much labeling as I do here in the good ol’ US of A. It’s like the whole labeling fetish of modernism and the power it provides, has gone wild here in the US…

    • Ella van den Bogaerde

      My heart grieves for your wife (and you) and I read this. If ANYONE made any form of derogatory/racist comments they would be in hot water with me! How DARE those people offend your wife, deny her humanity and then turn around and say they’re “not really racist.” To me, that shows they’re sense of entitlement, arrogance, and yes, RACISM. If it’s family joking around, that’s fine. No one has the right to deny ANY HUMAN of their humanity, and what goes around comes around. I hope all of those people suffer!

  • Kristen

    This article is awesome! I often find myself questioning where east and south Asian narratives fall in conversations regarding social activism/justice. I’ve only rarely encountered discussion surrounding the portrayal of Japanese-Americans during WWII, or the treatment of Vietnamese/Vietnamese-Americans after the Vietnam War. None of this, unfortunately, has translated into a conversation about how that history has contributed to or affected Asian experiences in the US. We must do better.

    • lindseysyoo

      Agreed! I also feel that, unless racial justice advocates make it absolutely clear that Asian American history is NOT a stand-alone niche subject with no relevance to larger discussions on racial justice and intersectional activism, they’re merely giving me lip service by saying “Oh yeah. Can’t forget about those Japanese internment camps…”

    • Duong N Ly

      Agreed too. But just some side notes: Vietnamese/Vietnamese Americans are neither East or South Asian. We are Southeast Asian (along with other Southeast Asian peoples, of course) whose voices are often unheard, whose struggles more marginalized even within the APIA framework of intersectional justice and activism.

  • http://kingderella.tumblr.com/ kingderella

    i hate hate hate it whenever people imply that there is something inherently funny about being asian.

    “so, many asian people are lactose intolerant! haha, im just imagining a large group of asians farting. how adorable!” – actual thing somebody said to my face

  • Lynette Ollwood

    Great article! I am perpetually surprised by the glib nature of anti-Asian racism in American society. I’m not sure why it’s a more culturally acceptable form of racism than another (I could posit some things but it would mostly boil down to White America’s desperation to label “the others” and continue in blissful ignorance). But I hope we can keep the conversation going.

  • PeriodicTable

    Thanks for this article. I often feel irrelevant in conversations about race. Like I should shut up and not complain, because Asians are “basically white,” because most of the racism is “good” stereotypes and because hey, other women of colour have it worse.

    • nicthommi

      I don’t think Asians are basically white and it’s odd to me when I hear Asians who say that. It’s interesting as a black person whose ancestors have been hear for hundreds of years and who have been (even if quietly so) intimate companions (cooks, nurses, lovers, servants, etc) of white people for that entire time that we are seen as other but a child of immigrants would claim to be “just like white people.” I know not everyone believes it but when (as a black person) I point out how problematic it is to propagate the model minority myth or the idea that all Asian women are ideal mates b/c they are so meek and submissive I get shot down…by Asians, by the non-Asians repeating those things etc.
      I live in the Bay area where I think some of the most problematic notions of Asians and Asian Americans fester under the guise of admiration. But it’s just not anything that many people will address.
      I’m curious, are you trivialized by white people or other non-white (but not Asian people)?

      • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani J. Sharmin

        I can’t speak for PeriodicTable, but personally I’ve seen it from both white and non-white people.

        There are people who see Asians as the “model minority” and tell other minorities to be more like Asians, etc. (in other words, ignoring the history of, e.g. African Americans, and telling them that racism isn’t a big deal, and using Asians as an example). But then, they’ll also accuse us of taking away jobs, college spots, etc. from white people. That, in addition to the stuff that’s in the original post.

        I’ve also seen other minorities compare racism against different groups and minimize racism against Asians, often to make a point about other groups (especially African Americans and Hispanic Americans) having it worse than Asians. And in discussions about various non-white people having discriminatory beliefs about or believing stereotypes about other non-white people, I’ve seen people use the example of Asians believing stereotypes about African Americans. This discrimination is definitely a problem. (I know Indian Americans who have discriminatory views against African Americans.) However, I get frustrated that that discussion is only in one direction (Asians discriminating against African Americans, as if we’re always the bad guy, never the target) instead of being more inclusive and talking about how various minorities believe stereotypes about other minorities.

      • joypajones

        I am a half-white Asian and white woman but I identify as Asian because of the racist attitudes, comments, and harassment I have experienced simply because of my Asian side. Growing up in a mostly white suburb at the time, white classmates made it very clear to me that I was not and never will be “a normal American (white) person (like them).” Like many young Black girls who have shared her story with growing up with White beauty standards in images around her, I always wishes that I had looked more like the leader heroine in a movie, or the main romantic interest; or that they looked more like me.

        I get tired of having my Asian womanhood portrayed as a prostitute just for a cheap laugh in countless comedies because of a lack of creativity on the writers’ part and the misconception that we as Asians have nothing in common with other POC as far as discrimination. I don’t feel that because our experiences are different from other POC hat they should be swept under the rug and/or discounted.

  • claire lynette

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a supervisor (a white lady) at my last job when I was telling her how frustrated I was with my subordinates (white and black) casual racism especially to a new employee who identified as Chinese-American. They would call him ching-chong, and Master Splinter after the character in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, joke about he probably put dog in the gumbo he brought for one our shift potlucks, and of course he was an accountant since Asians are good at math.

    I tried explaining to her why it was wrong to call any Asian ching-chong, call him Master Splinter, joke about dogs in food, or assume he went into accounting because he was genetically predisposed to it; and she looked at me as serious and honest as ever and said, “But that’s what they’re called and everyone knows that Chinese eat dogs. Besides they are just joking. They love him. We all joke around here.” I just couldn’t get through. I told her it was just offensive as calling someone like me a pickaninny or tar baby or saying that all I like to eat is watermelon, fried chicken, and red kool-aid. She told me if she ever heard someone say those things to anyone they’d get written up. She understood why it was wrong towards blacks but not anyone else, but she couldn’t understand why I was offended because I’m not Asian. I know the “black experience very well” but I’m not limited in understanding my own world view. It was so heartbreaking to see her be so nonchalant about it all. I eventually left the job for several other reasons but that incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back.