Editor’s Note: Natalie Ng is a Biochem graduate student living with her husband and dog on the east coast. Her interests include blogging, biking, and Asian activism. The views expressed in this piece is solely her own.
While we wish for it to be a thing in the past, unfortunately, we can all agree that in this day and age, racism still exists and if we were to learn anything from Trump’s election, it exists in large amounts. What we often times don’t agree on, however, is what constitutes as racism. Consequently, it’s not a surprise when some forms of racism goes under heavy scrutiny while others simply get ignored or worse, brushed off as a joke.
For many Asians living in the west, that is what typically occurs. Yet, worse still, is when even other Asians trivialize the racism against Asians or use it as a way to entertain others. More often than not, however, it becomes a gender-divisive issue where many of the women in our community happen to be the ones to do so against our male counterparts.
How did it came to this? Long story short, racism against Asians (or Asian men in particular) went all the way back to the 1800s when Chinese laborers coming into the U.S. were prohibited from bringing their wives but were also prohibited from marrying local white women due to anti-miscegenation laws that existed at the time. As a result, many lived their entire lives unmarried. Fast forward years later, the U.S. military’s presence in Asia during WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars led to many war brides brought back, many in which, of course, were wedded to white U.S. service members. Subsequently, this aided in initiating the large disparity between Asian men and women’s rates of outmarriage but in modern times, the final nail in the coffin came from none other than the media.
When you have Asian male actors only playing ridiculous, villainous, or “geeky” roles such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Lee Byung-hun in Shanghai Knights, Danny the Dog, and Terminator Genysis, respectively, combined with the constant parading of William Hung, Psy, and Ken Jeong, it is of little wonder how the social status of Asian men in the U.S. came to be. It is of little wonder how even some Asians, particularly many Asian women, have chosen to look at the west with rose-colored glasses but everything associated with Asian, especially our own men, as despicable. But unfortunately, this forces Asian men into a position that makes it difficult, if not near impossible, for them to get out of without the aid of others. Male desexualization, unlike fetishization of women, is not an easy subject to discuss without push back. Many Asian men do not have the luxury to freely mention it without enduring gaslighting or false accusations, such as being called jealous of others or claimed that it’s their own fault that they face social stigmatization. But it cannot be their fault when even some of the most dashing Asian male actors such as Lee Byung-hun get mistaken for Ken Jeong nor can it be their fault when many women brush off the idea of dating Asian men before even getting to know them.
Of course, accusations of misogyny added onto the ever growing negative compilation of stereotypes Asian men have to suffer through do not help the cause either. Never mind that China has the most female billionaires or that South Korea had its first female president before the U.S. even did or that Vietnam already had female military leaders thousands of years before having much contact with the west. Never mind all of that because to many, Asian men are still seen as the most misogynistic and therefore, “deserving” of what they got coming and do not have the right to be upset about it. This is a type of racism that not only spreads harmful lies and stereotypes but also shames its victims into silence.
As the female counterpart, it’s easy for many of us to wave this off in believing that it does not affect us. However, aside from the obvious fact that many of our loved ones (family members) are Asian men, another impact that it has is that it reflects badly on us when the dating disparity between our genders have become so apparent that everyone, including the alt-right, start to believe “that the average Asian woman would rather date a white guy than an Asian guy”. Not only does this create yet another undignified stereotype to add onto the already long list of stereotypes stacked against us, but it also brands us with a scarlet letter that signifies to every man, young or old, that we’re easy pickings, as long as they’re white–or anything not Asian—simply because we are Asian women. And of course, this leads to a whole host of other problems such as putting our safety at risk, constant harassment, and more fetishization.
Another factor to take into consideration is the fact that a community’s voice is mostly often heard when it is unified and has strength in numbers. Some cases in point being the backlashes from both men and women in our community causing Disney to do away with adding a white love interest in its upcoming live action Mulan or how our unified voices forced NBC to cancel its show called “Mail Order Family” (the most interesting thing to note about the latter being that despite the show not poking fun at Asian men, a large group of them still helped in the protest against it, so it would be inaccurate to say that they do not care about issues specifically related to Asian women).
While we do not have the right, nor should we attempt, to dictate who dates and marries who, we still should not allow those in our community who hunt for partners based on the misconception that anyone not Asian is automatically “better” to represent us. This goes especially for our public figures and activists. With some of our popular and vocal representatives, such as Constance Wu, being in the most commonly seen interracial pairing consisting of a white man and Asian woman, can it be much of a surprise at all how this image—a famous individual who supposedly cares about the Asian community—only further perpetuates the false notion that Asian men have so many undesirable characteristics that not even our activists want to be with them? Wu may never have explicitly stated anything negative about Asian men herself, but her position as a famous persona of Asian descent compounded with the fact that her relationship is one of the most common interracial pairings in the U.S. can easily be used to validate much of mainstream’s animosity towards Asian men.
Only by speaking up in large numbers would we be able to counteract this and be able to control who represents us. If we remain silent and allow the few public figures such as Wu to dominate our narrative, then everything she does and says can be used to generalize all of us; both Asian men and women. In an ideal world, stereotyping based on the actions of a few individuals should not exist but in reality, it does, and until we are able to eradicate racism and stereotyping from their roots, perception is essential, especially even more so in activism.
So let us take back our image. Let’s remain silent no longer and speak up for our men where they cannot, for ourselves, and for the strength of our community. Let us do so even if it involves going against other Asian women who have fallen prey to the rhetoric that everything western is good and everything eastern is otherwise. We cannot afford to let those who think lowly of themselves and us to drown us out and allow others to downplay racism against Asians, which they certainly will do if a large group of us are not able to respect ourselves. If so many of us are not able to, who are we, then, to demand it from others?
Furthermore, let’s not rely on public figures who do not necessarily represent us in thought or action, lest we mislead others into believing so. Our men suffer from a different but grotesque type of racism; one in which hurts while simultaneously binding their mouths shut so that they cannot yell in pain or even speak out about it for fear of further backlash. This is where we can be their voices for them. Let us speak for them as they did for us during the pre-launch of “Mail Order Family.” If not for them, then at least, for ourselves, so that we combat stereotypes aimed at us and reinforce our people’s words when they cry out against racism, so that such racism can no longer be ignored or waved away as a “joke.” But more importantly, let us speak for each other because it is simply the benevolent thing to do.