After the mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, each carried out by Asian American men – one 72 years old and one 66 years old – I’ve been thinking a great deal about masculinity, mental health, anger, aging, and violence. Like many of you, I held my breath when news broke of these shootings and Asian American victims were identified, bracing myself for these acts of senseless violence to be categorized as “hate crimes”. It’s a drill we’ve become used to over the last three years, with increased violence targeting Asian Americans, specifically women and elders. Yet, while many folks I talked to breathed sighs of relief that these weren’t hate crimes, they couldn’t comprehend that violence like this could be the work of Asian American men, elderly men.
When the stories first broke, at a dance studio in Monterey Park, I immediately thought of my mother. She’s older. She goes to a dance studio every morning. I shuddered and my heart leapt at the thought of this happening in that neighborhood, at her studio. I thought to ask my parents if they’d heard the news, half thinking that bringing this up could encourage them to be cautious and safe. But on second thought, I decided against it, knowing that it would only make them more fearful and paranoid about being Asian in a predominantly white neighborhood. Hearing about attacks targeting Asian elders has already put them on edge. I didn’t need to add to that. But when news broke of the suspected gunman being an elderly Asian man, I instantly thought about the elderly men in my family, not as potential victims, but as potential perpetrators.
First, let’s be clear: this was NOT “Asian on Asian violence”. To describe it as such draws from a narrative that only serves white supremacy and racism. The term is adapted from “Black on Black violence” which is a malicious narrative used to suggest that Black Americans are inherently violent, and therefore, less human. It is an intentional narrative meant to justify racism against Black Americans and, in this case, is meant to add fuel to that fire. No, thanks. Moving on.
I grew up witnessing older Asian men as either consistently angry or occasionally angry, and I learned quickly that their anger could be dangerous. I now know that anger and violence exist along a spectrum, of course, but it’s not what I witnessed. There were less than a handful of older Asian men I knew whose anger was never made known.
The consistently angry elders didn’t phase me as much as those who seemed quite calm for the most part, but would erupt after their patience ran out. It was painfully difficult to witness this stark contrast between pious Buddhists who pride themselves on self-restraint, mindfulness, and a calm nature, and this explosive anger.
Of course, taking a sociological and psychological view, there are so many factors at play here. Intergenerational trauma. Patriarchy and masculinity. Displacement. Language access. Mental health stigma.
When I first began unlearning patriarchy, I projected the disappointment I had in myself for acting in patriarchal ways onto then men all around me. At the time, I didn’t realize how I was still reinforcing patriarchy by thinking I was better than other men for not being more self-aware or examining their socialization more critically. I didn’t realize that undoing patriarchy meant extending compassion and love towards men.
In The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks writes that the first victims of patriarchy are boys. We are severely harmed in the process of being socialized as “men”. Taught to be strong and proud, our pain and suffering are not to be expressed, but could be channeled into anger. The result is that we don’t acknowledge or feel pain, it just all flows directly into anger. All negative emotions lead to anger. This is why men seem so angry. It’s because we are. But underneath all that anger is so much pain, just waiting to be released, waiting to be seen.
As men, we need to reclaim our expression and management of our negative emotions. If we are to accept that anger is the precursor to violence and seek to disrupt this connection, then we must look upstream, to prevent anger from arising in the first place. But…how?
For starters, we have to open ourselves up to feeling hurt and expressing that pain. Yes, it makes us vulnerable, but it doesn’t make us “weak”. It makes us human, which is something we lost when we were socialized not to show our pain. This can look very simple. For example, acknowledging in the moment, “Ouch, that hurt me.”
It also means pausing when we feel pain, not redirect it into anger and the destruction that almost always follows. In fact, when I think about disrupting my own tendency to be frustrated or angry by something, a deep breath is the first step. Acknowledging that I’ve been hurt or triggered comes second. Remembering to be loving and kind is third, then acting according to love and kindness is fourth.
That works for quick situations, but during more tense ones, I know that I need longer pauses before providing a response. I use that time to ask myself, “What am I really angry about here?” That time away usually allows me to see how I was hurt in some way and my anger arose to come to defend my pride and masculinity. But it’s ironic, really, if you think about it. If masculinity is meant to be a marker of strength and yet requires one to resort to anger to defend it constantly, is it actually strong?
Anger is destructive. Very little good comes from it. Anger doesn’t build relationships, only destroys them. But patience, on the other hand, is generative. It creates possibilities. Patience is true strength. Anger is not. We must disconnect ourselves from anger. We must realize that it does not serve anyone to be unpredictably destructive.
What could the world look like if men decided to define their strength by their patience, not their anger? The answer to that lies in the choices we make as men today.
Brandon Hadi is a second-generation Indonesian-Thai American born in California’s Central Valley and raised in Seattle. Due to his spiritual and multicultural upbringing, he is deeply curious about the world we live in and the world that has been created by people. He was awakened to his purpose after his best friend died by suicide, transforming him into a fierce advocate for equitable mental health care and systems change. Inspired by prolific healers and writers such as adrienne maree brown, bell hooks, Bruce Lee, and Thich Nhat Hanh, Brandon approaches writing with an invitation for all of us to heal. Brandon received a M.Sc. in Social Work from Columbia University and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Washington. He is easily bribed by boba and easily grounded by yoga and poetry.