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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Sex, Race, and Denial

In American society, race and gender are constructed in manner that privileges some and disadvantages others. The same can be said of racialized gender stereotypes: black men and Asian women are hyper-sexualized, whereas Asian men and black women are desexualized. Asian women marry whites by a ratio of at least 2:1 over Asian men. Given these conditions, Asian males have grown weary of assertions that interracial love is truly colorblind. So, how does all this relate to questions of self-esteem? What are the consequences of racialized gender stereotypes?

An undated article titled The Asian Dating Dilemma: It Boils Down to Self-Esteem and Perception, by Harry Mok, was featured in Blast@explode.com, an Asian American online publication. This article was posted in the forum on September 28, 2006, for the purpose of edifying Asian men into disconnecting their self-esteem from racial stereotypes that disadvantage them. In short, Asian men are instructed to pretend that stereotypes don’t exist, and that the distresses caused, are fabrications of the mentally susceptible.

What began as a promising narrative about growing up Asian, in a predominantly white residential area, degenerated into a misguided reprimand of Asian men, as weak-minded dupes “feeding their own anxieties,” as well as overt trivialization of racism. This article ostensibly pays tribute to Asians who endured racism in the United States, but its conclusion epitomizes the Asian American traditionalist mindset: denying racism’s impact. Such mindset is prevalent among the first generation or immigrant parents who emphasize hard work as the solution to racism; thus living up to the model minority stereotype, so admired by whites.

About 80% of the article is dedicated to accounting the author’s personal experience, explaining how racial stereotypes affected his self-esteem. Clearly, he was victimized by individuals, as well as by a system that fosters anti-Asian racism. The remaining 20% of his text is a denial of social forces. Instead of encouraging Asian males to speak up and scrutinize American society, Mok prefers to lull his fellow co-ethnics into political complacency, by suggesting that racism is only “in the mind.”

Sometimes when I’m introduced to the non-Asian boyfriends of Asian women, an image pops into my head of a guy gloating and flaunting his sexual prowess. For an instant I feel powerless, “He’s a better man than I.” The moment passes and I realize it’s ridiculous, but nonetheless, it lingers in my mind.

Viewing myself through the filter of Asian male stereotypes has warped my self-esteem. I worry about how others perceive me and I’m angry. But my anger is not aimed at the Asian women who won’t date Asian men, nor is it aimed at the white guys obsessed with Asian women.

I save my wrath for myself. I’m the only one to blame for feeding my own anxieties. I know now that for the most part, it is just in my mind. Stereotypes, no matter who they’re aimed at, aren’t real. I wish more people would wake up to this, like I have.

The similarity between Mok’s self-criticism and Charlie Chan’s passivity in the face of racist diatribes is unsettling. If Charlie Chan takes no offense at racist pronouncements, then why should other Asians?

Perhaps a more insightful critique emanates from the research of political analyst and author Michael Parenti. In his book, The Culture Struggle (2006), Parenti examines New Age “hyper-individualist self-empowerment” beliefs, promoted by inspiration gurus. These spiritual leaders, urge their followers to focus internally and give up on trying to change the world (i.e., fighting racism, sexism, economic exploitation, and other injustices). In this context, Mok’s simplistic approach corresponds to these practices. It would be like telling a patient who has breathing problems, that his poor health is psychosomatic, and that the coal-burning plant in his neighborhood has nothing to do with it.

To accept Mok’s convictions, is to shrink away from the responsibility of standing up to racist culture. Telling Asian men to blame themselves instead of protesting or being angry at racial discrimination, is reminiscent of justifications used in the defense of the Hindu caste system. Parenti articulates:

“Individual will is all-powerful and determines one’s fate. Those who are poor and hungry, or who have been raped or murdered, must have willed it upon themselves in some way. Suffering, is merely the result of imperfect consciousness.
If you create your own reality, then you have no one blame but yourself-
or your past selves. Gender, class, and racial oppression are of one’s own devising, or one’s just desserts.
(p. 116).

There is nothing unethical about improving one’s social assets by physical exercising, grooming, cultivating personal tranquility and developing better social skills. Such measures may enhance romantic life for many singles, regardless of race. But to assert that the social reality of race is merely “a matter of mindset and self-will,” is to ventriloquize white racism. This type of attitude is what makes “model minorities” into willing pawns of white supremacy.

Self-esteem is a by-product of empowerment. Empowerment comes from activism and the attainment of consciousness; understanding the importance of solidarity and the need to struggle against racial, sexual, and social injustice. Empowerment is less likely to be achieved by individualized self-absorbed pursuits, than by unified politically cognizant efforts.

Still, there are those who advocate witticisms about genitalia, or sneering at bigoted louts, as the solution to the question of self-esteem. Chest-thumping behavior is unlikely to affect racial hierarchy or privilege, because emulating white hegemonic masculinity only reaffirms the very system that disempowers Asian Americans.

Asian American men would do better by rejecting demands for self-reproach, when confronting those who exploit or indulge in racial stereotypes for personal gain. Often, these individuals misuse “freedom of choice” as a ready-made defense for racial privilege. Coerced contrition and sociopolitical apathy does little in the way of empowering Asian Americans, but does much for reactionaries, white racists, and Joy Luck Club (JLC) pseudo-feminists.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Sex, Race, and Denial" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/11/interracial-dating-and-denial-of-stereotypes/> ().

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