The Missing Piece: Agency, Asian Women, and the Alt-Right

Asian women: Victims or participants?

6 years ago

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Long after the Trump Era ends, the social scientists of the future will be dealing with a chicken-or-egg question: did a contentious social climate drive the formation of virulent and isolated subgroups, or vice versa?

For now, it suffices to say that such groups exist and keep a powerful grip on the social climate we all share. A few have even ascended to becoming legitimate political forces. Of these, the one that looms most urgently in the public consciousness is the alt-right. Generally defined, the alt-right is an intellectually barren congregation of (mostly) white men running a years-long therapy group to cope with the burden of awareness that white is not the necessary and sufficient condition for domination that they wished it to be.

Still, as a political force, the alt-righters pose a danger, not only to the safety of the minorities they want purged from “their” America, but also in being allowed to lead the diseased social discourse that bred their existence to begin with. While condemnation of the alt-right has been swift and sustained, this fire is not quenched until progressives make the genuine effort to bridge the severed lines of communication between subgroups that formed the negative space for movements like the alt-right to fester. There is no choice: we have already suffered the consequences of policing communities with agenda-driven ostracization and suppression of difficult subject matter.

Screenshot of New York Times headline

Recently, Audrea Lim’s Op-Ed for The New York Times (shown above) forced a conversation — long lurking in the shadows — into the bright, unflattering light of one of the largest mainstream audiences in the world. Her piece marks the coming-out party for a question that has been asked in hushed tones for years within the Asian American community — why are there Asian women married to members of the alt-right, and so many of them to boot?

These marriages are not just to members of the rank-and-file, but key leaders in the movement. Andrew Anglin, Mike Cernovich*, John Derbyshire, Kyle Chapman, and Richard Spencer are some in the alt-right that Ms. Lim identifies as having or having had Asian partners, with the implication that it is a fairly normalized phenomenon that cannot be easily dismissed as an incoherent fringe element. One could also add Charles C. Johnson (“Guy who once took dump in public”), Charles Murray (“Mr. Bell Curve”), and Christopher Cantwell (“Crying Nazi”) to that distinguished list.

Collage of known alt-right figures
Left to right: Andrew Anglin, Kyle Chapman, and Christopher Cantwell

The questions these facts raise are tough for the Asian American community. How is it that Asian women are welcomed, or at least accepted, into the ranks of a movement dedicated to advancing a white supremacist/nationalist agenda? Are Asian women somehow accepted in their own right, or merely as second-class replacements for “corrupted” white femininity that the alt-right loathes? For years though, discussion on this topic has been avoided, deflected, or outright suppressed, and now the disastrous consequences are plain for all to see. Not only are we now faced with the reality that there are Asian sisters embedded into the most virulently racist political force of our time, but we are also caught flat-footed as a community because we’ve never let ourselves understand, much less combat, this phenomenon and resulting fallout.

It is in the face of this near-complete blackout of understanding and discourse that Ms. Lim poses, and then tries to answer the questions raised by this particular pairing. By her reckoning, we do not have to go further than the double whammy of the Model Minority myth and the stereotype of the submissive, hyper-feminine Asian woman. In other words, “Yellow Fever,” just dialed up to 11.

Image of "The World of Suzie Wong"

The argument is compelling and certainly carries historical legitimacy to explain so many white men’s diseased attraction towards Asian women in the West, but is incomplete in closing the loop. For one thing, Yellow Fever only explains half of this relationship. Let’s say the double whammy explains why these men are attracted to these women. Well, what about the reverse? What makes these men attractive to these women?

Now that the piece has had time to circulate, several other outlets have published responses and tag-a-long pieces to push the conversation further. However, there has been a stunning omission that is common to all of them: a striking silencing of the women most affected by this phenomenon. Let that sink in: the Asian wives and girlfriends of the alt-right are completely left out of a conversation that is about them. Yellow Fever can only be a satisfactory answer if we are to assume that these women are in their relationships against their will, in which case the issue has crossed the line into a humanitarian issue, yet nobody has raised that particular cry.

Are we worried more about these women, or about what they might say?

Image of woman with taped over her mouth

Another question that the Yellow Fever double whammy does not address is exactly how Asian women have captured the imaginations of men who are obsessed with racial nationalism as a biological, as well as social, ideal. Even if we take the stereotypes at face value and assume them to be true,we still hit a wall pretty quickly. A submissive, docile Asian woman untainted by feminism is still, in their terms, inferior racial stock. There is still a huge ideological chasm to bridge in understanding how Asians — the perpetual foreigners of America — have come to occupy a racial space within the fortress of reified whiteness that is the alt-right. Or at least the Asian women are welcome. There is barely a sense of cognitive dissonance in turning a critical lens to these pairings, so much so that you can go to any alt-right forum and find the latest thread that absolves an anxious alt-righter that his WMAF tendencies are perfectly kosher.

This is a very uncomfortable discussion that will not be concluded in one article, one political epoch, or maybe even one lifetime. What may be revealed is just how much Asian culture has internalized and promoted notions of white superiority. But it is absolutely vital that the topic finally be allowed to be broached in a honest way within the Asian American community, no matter how far we are forced to deviate from our long-established blueprint to mainstream American acceptance.

*While it is true Cernovich’s wife is actually of Persian descent, their marriage is further proof of the fact that an alt-righter can hate a certain group (e.g. “Muslims”) but still have no problem fucking its women.

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Jess Rhee

Published 6 years ago

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