The Asian American male experience can grant you an eclectic set of sympathies. For instance, feminism always made sense to me. When women talk about not being seen as leadership material, feeling ignored when trying to speak up, or being erased from culture and media, I can relate because Asian guys have long felt the same way. Same thing when black women speak of a genderized racism where the combination of your race and gender puts you at the margins of social desirability. Watching Girls Trip was the next best thing to watching a movie about a bunch of Asian dudes.
But these crossovers of sympathies can lend some disturbing insights too. Such as kind of understanding where the alt-right is coming from.
First things first: the alt-right is despicable. It’s an ideology catering to a group that, by almost every single metric, lords over everyone else. But their daddies and granddaddies lorded over everyone else more. Ergo, persecution.
But alt-righters are not cartoon villains whose motives stem from plot convenience. The uncomfortable truth is that there is a logic to their feelings. We want to brand them “Nazis” because Indiana Jones and countless other stories taught us Nazis are just pure evil incarnate. Labelling anyone a Nazi, even self-identified ones, absolves us of having to do any thinking. We get the green light for primal retaliation.
And incredibly dangerous.
What does the alt-right want? Nobody seems to really know since besides immigration, there is no wide-ranging policy platform. They are also a fractious group with internal competing interests. But their broader cries and actions make sense when you realize that what they want is vindication and revenge. Because they are primarily a group of young white men with deeply wounded pride who feel that nobody is looking out for them.
Who else has felt humiliated and ignored for a long time? Asian American men.
For a long time, Asian American men have not been allowed to speak up about this. We have been muted by an Asian American version of mainstream liberalism (see Master of None) that worships Ivy League respectability. It is petrified of even mild disagreement with non-Asian allies while overeager to attack other Asians, especially the embarrassing ones from lower socio-economic tiers. It is the product of a mindset that has never mentally left the childhood home, where overbearing immigrant parents enforced an oppressive Asianness that made it hard to fit in with mainstream society. Thus, the moral Polaris of this ideology is not justice or equality, but rather, assimilation.
So let’s call it for what it is: Assimilationism.
Naturally, narratives like The Joy Luck Club are handpicked and promoted in a symbiotic exchange between the cultural gatekeepers who seek such storylines and the Assimilationists who can offer them. Such narratives are comforting immigrant fables that establish the definitive Asian American experience as that of Asians (preferably Asian women) escaping from the cruel, backwards East and assimilating into Americanness, solidified by romantic partnership with white people (preferably white men). It presents little threat to the existing social order and soothes America’s racial conscience.
Any challenges to this system are dutifully attacked by good Assimilationists themselves, who operate as antibodies that seek and destroy any threats to the host. Karen D. Pyke, a sociologist who has done extensive research on Asian internalized racism, noted the fierce resistance she received from fellow academics when making her presentations on this topic:
I learned our collective ignorance was no accident but the result of a taboo on a topic dubbed a “dirty little secret” (hooks 1995; 2003; Russell, Wilson, and Hall 1992). It was only by violating the taboo that I became aware of its full force. At an interdisciplinary conference in 2004 sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society on my campus, I presented a paper on how internalized racism undergirded many Asian American women’s accounts of romantic preference for White over Asian American men (Pyke 2010). My research sparked the anger of two visiting Ethnic Studies scholars who argued that the topic of internalized oppression denigrated the Asian American respondents as mere “dupes” and that I ought to consider the “politics of knowledge.” They further suggested I focus my analysis on resistance instead. Their rather harsh comments perplexed me for a variety of reasons.
Online discussion — the truthful heart of Asian American dialogue — also attempts to undermine the legitimacy of Asian male discontent. Jezebel chose a wildchild outlier like David Choe to link Asian American male anger with rape. When John Cho and Jeremy Lin dared to broach the subject of Asian male difficulties, they were branded as problematic hyper-masculine Asian men. Even when white men are logically the culprits, Asian men can end up in the Assimilationists’ crosshairs. For example, when Julie Chen admirably came forth to admit the pressures of changing her Asian appearance, some chastised not the white executives who compelled her to alter her appearance, but rather, the Youtube comedy group, The Fung Bros. Progressive Asian American women become targets too if they do not toe the line, as Plan A’s own Eliza Romero found out after her Dear Asian Women article.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an increasing fury among Asian American men, especially the young ones, against the Assimilationist establishment. The lazy and predictable response is to label all Asian male complaints as no different than alt-right sentiments. Such a response repeats the time-honored Asian American political tendency to leech off other social justice movements (in this instance, all the admirable work done exposing and fighting the alt-right) . But remember, the vast majority (76%) of Asian American men voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. If anything, the furor much more closely mirrors young progressives’ discontent against mainstream liberalism (i.e. the Democratic Party). Yet it is still worth examining the surface-level links between the anger of young white men and young Asian men.
As mentioned before, the alt-right is driven by a sense of wounded pride. Fear and resentment of emasculation, rootlessness, and replacement are rife within the movement. Their anger against perceived emasculation is easily seen in their hatred of feminism and adherence to TRP and MRA ideas. Their dissatisfied rootlessness can be seen in their flailing attempts to associate with some identity beyond a sterile suburban life, whether it’s Nazism, Odinism, or crusader-like zeal for “Western Civilization”. And their fear of replacement can be seen from their chants (“You/Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville), as well as their existential panics whenever a Hollywood remake recasts one white-guy character with a woman or minority.
Any reality check exposes these Return of Kings guys to be little more than drama queens. Pretty much every single dating study shows that white men are the most advantaged group (because generally, white women discriminate against men of color while women of color are quite open to white men). So no, even if a T-1000 went back to 1986 and hasta la vista’edLena Dunham, they still wouldn’t be rockstar playboy princes. And while modern alienation and fear of replacement are real things, we still live in a culture where there is absolutely no shortage of fawning over white male achievements and heroism.
So what of Asian American guys who have similar grievances? We have much more justification, despite what Assimilationists might try to say. Asian American men are not white American men. To believe so would be an act of obedient internalization of the model minority myth that far surpasses anything our immigrant parents or grandparents did.
The challenges that Asian American men face are real. These challenges are downplayed or ridiculed because they often begin with guys complaining about dating. For many, this is usually the first and most direct encounter we have with racism. Yes, some guys remain totally fixated on this issue and do not graduate to see the bigger framework of discrimination. But that’s because this is an issue that cuts deeply into anybody’s sense of self-worth. To dismiss these concerns means you’d also have to dismiss feminist concerns about body image and aging. Or gay black men’s anger at the rampant racism in the gay dating scene. It’s easy to dismiss Asian male concerns in this regard because the stereotypical image is that of an ugly, short, awkward guy with unrealistic expectations. But when the likes of Tim Chiou (actor), Kevin Taejin Kreider (model), and Jeremy Lin raise the same issues, that argument falls apart. Furthermore, outside the fraught world of sex and dating, racial bullying is a serious issue that Asian Americans still have no clue how to address, especially when liberal bloc alliances get crossed as in the South Philadelphia bullying attacks.
There is also a pervasive sense of rootlessness that Asian American men feel as well. It’s no coincidence that so many Asian American guys, myself included, experience revelations after spending significant time in Asia, where our race/gender is no longer unjustly treated as a liability. Yet this discovery is bittersweet because it reaffirms that we are indeed Perpetual Foreigners who have to leave home and go to the other side of the world to find a greater sense of belonging. We realize the truth that there is a limited space for Asian Americans in mainstream American society, and even less so for Asian American men. Studies show that from the American perspective, the default Asian American is a woman. This is plainly evident to anyone who pays attention to culture or observes the social dynamics in non-Asian spaces.
In another study, 326 people (including male, female and black, white and Asian participants) were asked to write a short story about a typical college senior taking a trip. Overall, participants were more likely to create a male character. Asked to create a black character, the participants often thought of a man, and, asked to think of an Asian character, they were more likely to think of a woman, compared to people who wrote about a white character.
Lastly, there is also a fear of replacement among Asian American men, that America loves everything about Asia — from the food to the history to the culture to the women — but not the men. Asians are, as Frank Chin said in Racist Love, perceived as a race without manhood. Asia is a fully furnished dream castle without a lord, a perfect landing ground for all the white (or really, any non-Asian) men who are no longer able to feel like heroes in their own homeland. It is no coincidence that so many films about either Asian America or Asia have white men, but rarely ever white women, as protagonists (Come See The Paradise, Chinese Box, The Last Samurai, The Flowers of Wars, The Great Wall, etc.).
So where are dissident Asian American men supposed to go? Assimilationism occupies the Asian American Left like a decaying regime. But unlike in the mainstream Left, Asian Americans on the Left have no alternatives to this ruling class, at least not yet. The only entity that seems to even remotely be listening resides in the Abyss from which the Dark Enlightenment, The Red Pill, and the alt-right have emerged. Of course, the Abyss is corrupt with white nationalism and should be radioactive for anybody who’s not straight, white, and male. One of the leaders of the alt-right movement openly admits that the only issue they truly care about is immigration.
Questioned by the Guardian, Spencer said Trump’s policy on Syria and the healthcare debacle were distractions from the only thing this crowd was interested in: immigration.
The Guardian: Young White Guys Are Hopping Mad
And this has little to do with economics, but more with social status in a fratty straight-dude hierarchy.
Take women for example. I guarantee that these advocates of open borders would become Nativists and Nationalists the moment there was an exodus of hot women flooding into their home country. We already see this xenophobic behavior from them when it comes to men importing more feminine wives from Thailand or god forbid, Eastern Europe. These open and welcoming native women lash out with vehemence and bile against these women. But for all their spite and demeaning rhetoric, mail-order brides have a higher chance of forming a lasting relationship with Western men than Native women.
Altright.com: The Alt-Right Is A Movement For And By Young White Men
“I’d care way less about Mexican immigration if their women didn’t look like sunburnt cane toads. More Spanish, less indigenous.”
New York Magazine: From Pickup Artist To Pariah
Despite this incompatibility between Asian American men and the Abyss, the fact remains that mainstream liberals still have no idea how to talk about us because their belief system is still predicated on white centrality and the correct assumption of white male dominance. Through the model minority myth, Asian men have become equated with white men, resulting in a weird bind for Asian American men where we often have to answer for white male privilege without receiving many of the benefits. Mainstream liberalism simply does not have the conceptual understanding to talk about the Feminized Man.
This is not meant to be an alarmist article. There is no real evidence yet that a mass exodus of Asian American men are flocking to the alt-right. If anything, there is a stronger connection between the alt-right and the Asian women they covet as replacements for too-feministy white women.
But it doesn’t take much imagination to foresee a near future where angry Asian American men, even leftish ones, become irrevocably fed up with the phoniness of Assimilationism and find the disgusting alt-right as the only ideology that will respect them, even if it’s in a separate-but-equal way. Stranger political partnerships of convenience have been forged before. Much like how mainstream liberalism found in Asian women a useful vessel of its ideology, the alt-right may find a similar value in Asian men. A few commiserating gestures could go a long way, as well as mutual venting of grievances against mainstream liberalism and the Assimilationism it has nurtured.
But Assimilationism isn’t the only possible incarnation of the Asian American Left. Our experiences as minorities make us wholly incompatible with the Right, which has now gone far beyond any plausible deniability that its raison d’être is white supremacy. As such, we are natural allies of social progress, and not just in the U.S. (for example, women’s progress in Asia). Given the century of war by America against Asia, we are also natural anti-imperialists. And despite model minority myths, most of us come from humble backgrounds and have much more in common with the working and middle classes than the American aristocrats.
As we’ve seen with other insurgent movements on the Left, we will inevitably be tagged as sexists, racists, or some permutation of the alt-right. That only means we are on the right track. So long as options are throttled, the Assimilationists can claim a monopoly on the only sane side of the Asian American political consciousness. Any dissenters will be funnelled into a reprehensible opposition like the alt-right, thus justifying any form of spineless Assimilationism as the lone truth.
With such false choices, it’s hard to know where everybody truly stands. Most angry Asian American men are not budding alt-righters, and most Assimilationists are not self-hating suck-ups to the status quo. But we’ll never know if we continue to be cowed into silence. Plan A consists of both women and men, spanning a wide age group, from all sorts of backgrounds. We know we’re not the only ones out there. Start the conversations, even if they’re in hushed tones in the corner with your friends. It can grow from there.
It’s time to break the deadlock.