Leslie Bow is a fourth-generation Chinese American. Racist Love: Asian Abstraction and the Pleasures of Fantasy is her recent work. In Racist Love, Leslie Bow deep dives and shows how Asians and Asian Americans are reduced to objects of anxiety and desire in the United States. Currently, she is an English and Asian American studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a professor, she received a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of English and Asian American studies and Dorothy Draheim Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an author, her works include ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South and Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature.
Bow examines how Asians and Asian-ness are projected into objects and then abstracted in children’s media. Race can be programmed into a medium such as literature or television shows through animal performance. The use of storytelling through animals instills certain feelings of difference or a sense of a limited identity made up from an audience presumed to be dividing from Asians. Depicting Asians and Asian-ness in animals to instill familiarity in an Asian identity in a white prominent culture can also cause a reverse affect such as relived trauma or ostracism. Further promoting a color-blind existence through animals in children’s media exemplify external differences and instills a hint to how one might ought to assume a particular group a social meaning. The imagined race in animals is therefore complex and faulty as Asian portrayal in children’s media.
Bow confronts “cuteness” that is correlated with Asians and Asian-ness. Cute items resembling anything Asian invoke asymmetries of power. Cute items may seem inoffensive externally, but have underlying racialism. Cute mitigates anti-Asian sentiment through positive feeling, but still is reductive. Masked as cute objects, Asian caricatures pose as an unbalanced form of power dynamics rendering on either spectrum of “dominant” or “submissive.” Asians are thus rendered as mere objects. On the submissive spectrum, a sumo wrestler figurine with a blank expression mocks Asians since it portrays some sort of inscrutability. Cute also contributes to dominance, or global jealousy. For example, “cuteness” in designer fashion brands selling Asianized luxury bags for a hefty price instills dominance in a market aimed for only a specific status and group of people. Cute style masks as competition, create power shifts, and reveal sites of spectatorship. Cute is racist.
It is not surprising to find mass amounts of media portraying Asian female robots that are actually robo-slaves. Bow tells that Asian countries have been leading in technology industries and the rise in this field wields power of a country, which also causes anxiety in differing countries. In speculative media, that same anxiety is reduced to pleasure seen in techno-Orientalist neoslave narratives. Asian bodies in speculative media often inhibit pan-Asian, Pacific Rim dystopia reverberating the narrative about servitude and liberation. Asian robo-females in these narratives symbolize that their bodies do not matter and even in their awakened livelihood, the heroine of the story goes to the white savior. The Asian robo-female exploits global capitalism and shed light on trafficking, but at the core is a slave narrative.
Asian fetish, what is it? Asian fetishism is the quintessential form of racist love. Asian fetish is not only sexual objectification, but it is also reduction and extraction bound by stereotype. In a predominant western gaze, Asian fetish degrades the sense of individuality. There is an inherent contradiction in denying any fetishism towards Asians. The objectified Asian female body resisting fetishism to assert individuality forgoes original intent. Asian fetishism is a process for understanding desire. The process of fantasizing is for the better or for the worse, but Asian fetish is a political fantasy that oscillates between racial imaginaries.
When the president of your country calls coronavirus “kung-flu” or “Chinese virus” you start to question the magnified impact of your very existence and so does everyone around you. There is racist hate and racist love in being Asian. Bow dissects how race is abstracted then projected into Asianized objects and how this attraction to Asians and Asian-ness is a site for pleasure and pain chiefly in a few main chapters. In children’s media, racism is not introduced through animals, rather people who view them and whom are unwilling to see race poses risks to Asian abstraction. Through animal representation, a child of color is a puppet to micropolitics of racial tension of the predominant U.S. white culture. Asian abstraction exists prior to the lived experiences of Black lives, because Asian commoditized caricatures are reminiscent of Black caricatures. Caricatures and neoslave narratives fall in similarity in Black and Asian. Any ethnic caricature is racist. Asian robo-females are parallel to a neoslave narrative of African American imaging of U.S. slavery. Coming from a place of anxiety and to assert dominance, the “kung-flu” is a slur that highlights ongoing racism in society that Bow analyzes in Racist Love.