Take a moment and try this exercise. Picture an Asian man in one of these roles: a star quarterback, CEO of a big company, a popular politician, a fashion model.
It is not easy, is it? Chances are the first images that popped into your head were those of white men, the likes of Brett Farve and Mark Zuckerberg. Even if you can force yourself to place an Asian face to these figures – like those life-sized cutouts at the carnivals – something in your mind just feels uncertain, as if it is impossible that an Asian man can be anything from that list. But how is it that even Asian Americans cannot realistically see themselves as prominent figures?
The oppression of Asian men is a phrase you do not often hear. In this testosterone-driven society, where athletes are revered and idolized and masculinity is instilled in boys from a young age, men are taught to be strong, independent, and well…manly. When things go off course, when life is down and hard, when ambitions go unfulfilled, we are told to “take it like a man.” So even when the game is rigged against Asian men, we are not supposed to cry foul. When we do, we are hypocritically ridiculed as weak and unable to make something of ourselves. Yes, my brothers, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The rock here is unquestionably mainstream media. Decades of propaganda, consumerism, and Hollywood have subliminally programmed American citizens, including Asian Americans, to think in a system of white male dominance. It is pervasive and can be as overt as in sports and movies or subtle as in advertising and writing. At the end of the day, the white male comes out on top no matter how you look at it.
Meanwhile, Asian men are diminished and attacked with an endless array of stereotypes. We are nerdy, unromantic, not leadership material, and possibly the most damaging of all, Asian men have small penises. The top result of a Google search for “Asian men” is a question we have all heard somewhere: “Are Asian men any good in bed?”
Is there any dignity in answering such questions?
Not only are Asian men invisible in any context of power, in entertainment as in the work place, but when any of us step up to the spotlight, it is usually to sate a demand for more of the same convention. William Hung, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Ken Jeong (better known as “that crazy Asian guy in ‘The Hangover’”) are all recognizable men but only as those who serve the desire to see Asians being Asian. Even Bruce Lee, as great as he was the de facto role model of all Asian boys growing up in the 70s, played his part in creating the Asian kung-fu stereotype.
But racism is a thing of the past, right? Isn’t everyone talking about tolerance and diversity nowadays?
Therein lies another fallacy that has been force-fed to the American public. While society may be more accepting and inclusive of Asians, it is also done selectively. Asian women now serve as the defining front of “diversity” when it comes to Asian America. But it is only because they have been molded as highly sexual, subservient, and conforming. The exploitation of the Asian woman image serves an insidious purpose of corrupting the image of both Asian women and men and creates divisions within our community.
When these oppressive stresses on Asian men become internalized, we find many who are broken and disillusioned. Many of us attend top-notch colleges only to end up working twice as hard in our careers to be passed up on promotions by our white peers. In relationships, we are disdained by women of all races, many of our own color. And quitely, we look on; confused, humiliated, and sometimes, we look in the mirror and hate our face, our name, and our culture.
The solution usually offered is empowerment but what does that really mean? Does it mean pumping our chest and undermine other groups? Do we go out and date white women (there are a number of these programs)? Or do we turn our backs on our heritage and adopt “American values”?
These methods are too shallow and cannot alleviate a problem that runs so deep.
Rather, we have to break some rules.
We must break their rules and reclaim our already powerful values while rejecting what the accepted notions of what Asian American is. We cannot buy into the “white is better” idea. Having light skin, blonde hair, high nose, and blue eyes is NOT the only idea of beauty or power. Asian men and women are just as capable, just as intelligent, just as beautiful as those from any other race.
We must also break some of our own rules. Although some traditions are unique and make us who we are, others hold us back and need to evolve. For one, being quiet to placate injustice will never work. We must speak up to defend ourselves and our friends.
We must support people like Far East Movement, Margaret Cho, and John Cho for bucking the trend and dispelling myths about Asian America.
There will be no success, however, unless we realize that Asian men and women must work together to reclaim both of our identities. Defeating the “divide and conquer” tactic means coming to the aid of each other. When we become spiteful of each other, we lose.
Now try this exercise. Imagine yourself as one of these roles: a star quarterback, CEO of a big company, a popular politician, a fashion model.
Keep imagining until you no longer see another face.