By Guest Contributor Sharon H Chang, cross posted from Multiracial Asian Families
This past April, British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie), and screenwriter of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010).
Reader Caitlin sent in her video about street harassment and the very strange predilection for men to lead in with her race when trying to get her attention. In her video “How to Hit on an Asian Girl/How Not to Harass an Asian Girl,” Caitlin goes through some of the most ridiculous things said to Asian American women who are just in public space.
1. Asian women are not equatable to Asian food. Even if you’re hungry. 2. You’ve cultivated an impressive catalogue of 80’s war movies. Well done sir. But the sidewalk is not your mother’s basement and I am not an internet forum. Keep the movie quotes to yourself. 3. Pop culture references that invariably suggest someone is foreign, submissive/docile, or willing to service you sexually should always be avoided. In other words: find a new fetish. 4. Seriously, when has anything referencing the Vietnam war ever gotten anyone laid? (Stanley Kubrick, who knew your legacy would be Asian female street harassment?) 5. If the first thing you think of when you see an Asian woman is “I should ask her to feed me,” you should know you’re not fit for human companionship. Period. Get a rice cooker. It won’t care if you fetishize it. 6. This is America; assume the Asian female you’re chatting with is American. Talk to her about red vs. blue politics, her favorite type of pie, who is better: Katy Perry or Ke[s]ha, or at the very least, baseball – not about foods that use chopsticks. Your ability to feed yourself is an accomplishment – but she doesn’t need to know that.
Caitlin’s video was hilarious. I’ve heard all these stories – and so much more! – from my Asian American friends over the years. And, if I was queen of the airwaves, I’d have this running as a PSA, along with other notices about street harassment in general. But there’s one thing that keeps sticking out in my mind, and it’s generally the same refrain we hear over and over again when we post abut street harassment: the idea of men watching the vid and going “What am I supposed to say then?” (Yeah, just headdesk and move on.)
I always think about a certain verse on Murs’ “Dark Skinned White Girls,” a song that’s really problematic despite its good intentions. The verse about mixed girls was fairly revealing about the mindset of these kind of guys (emphasis mine):
Now half and half of mixed girls I know what the battle be Everytime you go out it’s “whats your nationality?” Everybody always wanna dig up in ya background You don’t look… now how does that sound? I couldn’t tell you were… oh is that right? Do you take it as a compliment or start up a fight? Venezualan and Indian, Rican and Dominican Japanese or Portuguese, Quarter of Brazilian White and Korean, Black and Pinay We’ll find out later It don’t matter, ya fly It don’t really matter to most of us guys We just need an excuse to get close or say “hi”
Somehow, it never seems to matter what the woman likes or appreciates, which is this unexplored dimension of street harassment. If the objection to women protesting street harassment is that we should forgive a man’s clumsy attempts to pick up a woman he finds attractive, then wouldn’t not offending a woman be pretty high on that man’s priority list? But there’s no way to yell out “sucky sucky five dollar” at a woman passing by and not be offensive. So there’s clearly another motive at play. What is it? What makes racism so appealing for street harassers?
Over the course of the Women of Color and Wealth series one question has come up time and time again – what about Asian women? Native women? Other, more specific breakdowns of different racial/ethnic groups? Is there data for queer women of color? For transgender women of color? Sadly, the answer is no.
The report includes a separate break out discussion of Asian and Native American women, saying (all emphasis mine):
Because Asian Americans and Native Americans comprise a much smaller proportion of the U.S. population than blacks and Hispanics and because most surveys that measure wealth do not oversample these groups, our knowledge about their wealth is less robust—particularly for Native Americans.
According to 2004 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Asian Americans have a higher median net worth than white non-Hispanic households ($144,000 and $137,200, respectively). Much of this is due to their home equity, as the Asian population is concentrated in a few cities with very high home values. When data is adjusted for these and other factors, Asians have less wealth than whites on similar socioeconomic characteristics. In interpreting the high home equity of Asian Americans, it is also important to bear in mind that they are likely to own and occupy the home with extended family members and are more likely than whites to contribute more than half of their household income to housing costs.
I received an email from George Wang, explaining how important it is to rock this vote:
I wanted to bring to your attention the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF). CPAF is the only organization that provides multilingual hotlines and emergency shelters serving Los Angeles County. They lost funding this year due to the recession and may have to shut down critical hotlines and shelters for the battered and abused women. Without the shelters, these victims will have nowhere to go. Currently, CPAF is in contention for $1 million dollars in the Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook after making the Top 100 out of half a million groups in round one. Vote for CPAF here.
I am asking you if you can do a story/posting on CPAF to help raise awareness on domestic violence and sexual assault and help them garner votes for the contest. CPAF is unique as they provide for an underserved community of women of color. Without CPAF, there is no one else to help them.
The contest is over on Facebook – you will need to become a fan of the Chase Foundation in order to vote. But, we have to do it now: the deadline for the contest is TOMORROW, January 22nd, at 9 PM.
Here’s actress Karin Anna Cheung explaining why organizations like CPAF help give women a chance to learn to love themselves.
Alison De La Cruz shares her own experience with sexual violence (potentially triggering):
Actor Vanness Wu explains his experience with the fallout of domestic and sexual violence, in two languages:
Ken Oak plays in support of CPAF:
Go vote – it really is just ten seconds. And a million dollars to benefit women of color is on the line.
The study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Suicide Research, found that 15.93 percent of U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime, as opposed to 13.5 percent for all Americans, and that suicide attempts among us were also higher than the general population, at 6.29 percent vs. 4.6 percent. It did not attempt to explain why Asian-American women have more suicidal tendencies, however:
“It is unclear why Asian-Americans who were born in the United States have higher rates of thinking about and attempting suicide,” said Aileen Duldulao, lead researcher of the study.
But if you’re an Asian-American woman who has struggled with depression her whole life like I have, it’s not unclear to you, is it? You don’t need this study, published in 2007, to tell you that we own some of the highest rates of depression and suicide because we’re pushed to achieve. Or this one, published in 2008, to tell you that Asian-Americans are less likely than any other group to seek treatment for mental health disorders. You know this already. You know it in your bones. Personally, not scientifically. Continue reading →
You see, the Chinese are not a monolithic race/culture. The dominant culture is the Han. But there are also other ethnic groups under this wide umbrella term. Half of my heritage comes from Southern China which is closer to regions like Vietnam and Yunnan. The languages that come out from these regions are rich, textured and unique. Mandarin Chinese is supposed to be the unifying language, the pu-tong-hua (common tongue/language); it is what I grew up with, because there was (and is) a government policy to eradicate all the “dialects”. Therefore, many adults from my generations grew up speaking only English and Mandarin Chinese. Our knowledge of the “dialects”, the languages from the specific provinces in China, is dismal, a smattering of words or two.
My Ah-Ma saw it in her grandchildren. Only a couple of my cousins are able to converse with her in Hokkien. The rest of us flounder and have to look for interpreters (namely my father). Once, after returning from Australia for summer vacation, I visited her and she called me an “ang moh”, a white person. The comment, though spoken in jest, stuck with me for a long time. Was I an “ang moh”, a white person? Or – worse – was I a banana? Yellow outside, white within. I cannot speak Hokkien to save my life, but I try to understand my Ah-Ma. These days, I have taken to speaking to her in Mandarin. Even then, I feel as if I am a failure, a hack pretending to be what she is not.