Archive for Asia
As a byproduct of the recent presidential campaign, a troubling and explicit depiction of China as the primary source of America’s recessionary loss of jobs and economic woes reached a new level. A video presented by in stark black and white tones by the Citizens against Government Waste (CAGW), a fiscally conservative non-profit organization, creates a sense of impending doom by portraying America’s future failure to China’s economic insurgency. Set in Beijing in 2030 A.D., this politically-based video is in Chinese with English subtitles and shows a meeting of Chinese citizens held in Beijing led by a Machiavellian-like Chinese leader. The sinister-looking leader attributes America’s failure to spending and taxing itself out of a great recession through enormous “stimulus” spending, massive changes to healthcare and crushing debt. He derisively declares, “Now they work for us,” while the Chinese audience laughs appreciatively and gleefully.
This explicit calling out of China as the principal reason for America’s economic woes occurred on several fronts during the campaign and was bipartisan in nature. As Zachary Karabell, president of River Twice Research, points out in his article, “Don’t blame China for America’s decline”, the Obama administration has intensified pressure on Chinese trade and investments that have made it difficult for some American companies such as solar panel installers to compete. And in the town hall debates, Mitt Romney declared emphatically,
On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator which will allow me as President to be able to put in place if necessary tariffs where I believe they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers. So we are going to make sure the people that we trade with around the rules are playing by the rules.
Karabell points out also that this trend has occurred in other presidential campaigns: in 1992, Bill Clinton accused President George H.W. Bush of coddling Chinese dictators, while in 2004 John Kerry called corporate leaders “Benedict Arnold CEOs” for shipping jobs to China.
What is worrisome about this anti-Asian virulence is the possible return to historical animosity toward Americans of Asian descent that expressed itself in Anti-Asian legislation and actions over more than a century. Recall the so-called “yellow peril” ascribed to the influx of Asian immigrant labor to the West coast in the 19th century and the resulting Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that that sprang up in response and was not repealed until 1943. Or the wholesale internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps during World War II.
Note also in the present-day example the lack of accountability ascribed to American corporations who have chosen to outsource work overseas, in search of cheap labor and greater profitability. While clearly the Chinese Communist government represents the antithesis of American democratic practices toward its people, the “rise of the rest” as Fareed Zakaria puts it in The Post-American World means that globalization is creating a new and highly competitive economic playing field. Tom Friedman in his famous book, The World is Flat notes that the current phase of globalization will be driven by a diverse group of individuals likely to be non-Western and nonwhite. In Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education, Alvin Evans and I describe globalization as a catalyst and mandate for remedying underrepresentation and achieving greater inclusion in our American institutions.
In Karabell’s view, American prosperity “will not be determined by decisions made in Beijing” but by “how American approaches the global economy of the 21st century.” He concludes:
If the U.S. focuses on nurturing the optimism, drive and skills that yield . . . results in the 20th century, it will thrive; if Americans obsess about looming threats from the East, it may indeed enter the economic twilight. The choice is ours.
In this era of globalization, the strength of our demographically diverse nation lies in our ability to rise above the distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability to achieve success. When mischaracterizations and exaggerations occupy our mindsets and airwaves, then we are less able to draw upon the strength of our representative democracy, the capabilities of our diverse citizenry, and our capacity for innovation.
Our “famous” talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh now often get away with aggressively racist comments and performances. We have sunk so low that we as a country give them of millions of dollars to create this high level of disrespect for people who are a little different. In a recent comment using stereotyped mocking of the Chinese president we got this racist framing from Limbaugh:
Hu Jintao — he was speaking and they weren’t translating. They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha.
He continued for a bit more with this mocking stereotyped dialect. This is the type of stereotyped mocking that all too many schoolchildren—mainly white children–do on the playground, and apparently in this regard Limbaugh is living out what he learned as a nine or ten year old on the playground. He is not alone in this racist mocking, as I note here is this passage from a recent book:
Asian American children and adults often are forced to endure hostile mocking such as: “Ching chong Chinaman sitting on a rail, along came a white man and snipped off his tail”; “Ah so. No tickee, No washee. So sorry, so sollee”; and “Chinkee, Chink, Jap, Nip, zero, Dothead . . . Flip, Hindoo.” A Toledo radio station’s white disc-jockey recently phoned Asian restaurants using mock-Asian speech, including “ching, chong chung” and “me speakee no English.” On her talk show prominent comedian Rosie O’Donnell repeatedly used “ching chong” to mock Chinese speech.
Such language stereotyping and mocking has long been part of the dominant racial frame and has been directed not only at Asian Americans but also earlier at African, Native, and Latino Americans. This hostile language mocking is usually linked to other important racialized images that whites hold of those Americans of color they often oppress.
Language researcher Rosina Lippi-Green has noted a very important point about such routinized mocking: “Not all foreign accents, but only accent linked to skin that isn’t white . . . evokes such negative reactions.” (Full source references for these examples and others can be found in notes to Ch. 5 of The White Racial Frame)
One very striking thing about this racist mocking and language is how unoriginal most of it is. Whites, including those “well educated,” seem to repeat it again and again and again and again, and almost verbatim. One obvious conclusion is that the white racial frame, and its originators and maintainers, score close to zero on the racism originality scale, if there is such a thing.
At the Washington Post’s Foreign Service desk, Keith Richburg has written an important piece on antiblack and anti-African views and actions in China–which have a similarity to racist views and actions in the U.S. and other parts of the West. How much of this Chinese antiblack racism is indigenous, and how much has been imported from the U.S. and the rest of the West?
Richburg begins with the story of Lou Jing, a young mixed-race (Chinese/African American) woman who won a talent competition in a U.S.-imitating, television “idol” show called, stereotypically and ironically enough, “Go! Oriental Angel.” The response by some Chinese posting on the Internet was stereotyped and hostile:
Angry Internet posters called her a “black chimpanzee” and worse. One called for all blacks in China to be deported. . . . “It’s sad,” Lou said. . . . “If I had a face that was half-Chinese and half-white, I wouldn’t have gotten that criticism.”
Richburg notes many Africans have come to China as trade between China and African countries has grown dramatically. Many have gone to Westernized southern cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai (China’s largest city), engaged in businesses, and sometimes married Chinese partners (usually men marrying women):
In the process, they are making tiny pockets of urban China more racially diverse — and forcing the Chinese to deal with issues of racial discrimination. In the southern city of Guangzhou, where residents refer to one downtown neighborhood as Chocolate City, local newspapers have been filled in recent months with stories detailing discrimination and alleging police harassment against the African community.
The article quotes Africans who have seen beatings by the police, as well as protests by African communities against discrimination and police harassment. One Chinese influential talk show host, Hung Huang, blamed the racial hostility and discrimination on economic growth and added that
“The Chinese worshiped the West, and for Chinese people, ‘the West’ is white people.” . . . her generation was “taught world history in a way that black people were oppressed, they were slaves, and we haven’t seen any sign of success since.”
The article does not probe into how/why these views of the West, whites, and white culture as superior are taught to the Chinese, but instead accents a traditional prejudice for light skin that goes back deeply into the Chinese past:
Darker skin meant you worked the fields; lighter skin put you among the elite. The country is rapidly industrializing and urbanizing, but that historical prejudice remains. High-end skin-whitening products are a $100 million-a-year business in China, according to industry statistics.
Clearly, this is an important point. The ancient Chinese preference for lighter skin fits well with current antiblack stereotyping and other racist framing, much of which is likely borrowed from the Western media, Western officials in China (now for centuries, including earlier missionaries), and other influential Western inputs into Chinese thinking about Africans and African Americans. But a weakness in the U.S. media’s analysis of the Lou Jing incident, and similar racist events, is its failure to track the impact of the U.S. (and other Western) media on Chinese thinking and action. In the second edition of my Racist America book (due out in January), I summarize a couple of research studies of Chinese respondents thus:
A study [by Hsiao-Chuan Hsia] of fifteen rural Taiwanese [Chinese] found that the respondents sometimes realized that U.S. media engaged in racist stereotyping, yet most still held negative views of black Americans. They generally thought black Americans were self-destructive, dirty, lazy, unintelligent, criminal, violent, or ugly. Negative images were usually gleaned from U.S. television shows, movies, and music videos the respondents had seen in Taiwan. . . . . [and] a survey of 345 mainland Chinese high school students [reported by Alexis Tan, Lingling Zhang, Yungying Zhang, and Francis Dalisay] found that, the greater their use of U.S. print media, television, and movies, the more negative were their stereotypes of African Americans, such as stereotypes of black violence and hedonism.
Significantly, the Chinese wife of one African businessperson notes in the article that in Guangzhou the Cantonese term for black people translates into “black ghosts.” I wonder where they got that idea. That Chinese phrase sounds remarkably like the old white-racist term for black Americans, “spooks,” doesn’t it?
It will also be interesting to watch the reaction of the Chinese, especially below the level of officially controlled etiquette, to President Obama’s current visit there. Please add comments on this visit as you see evidence on this matter.
Marie Clare online (ht Rosalind) has a recent article on “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women,” which is both insightful and naïve at the same time, even white-framed. The author, Ying Chu, raises the provocative question of why many powerful, older white men are now partnering with younger Asian women:
When the venerable director [Woody Allen] scandalously left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, South Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn . . . he may as well have sent out a press release: Asian-girl fantasy trumps that of Hollywood royalty! . . . Rupert Murdoch walked down the aisle with fresh-faced Wendi Deng . . . .Then, CBS head Leslie Moonves wed TV news anchor Julie Chen; Oscar winner Nicolas Cage married half-his-age third wife Alice Kim; billionaire George Soros coupled up with violinist Jennifer Chun; and producer Brian Grazer courted concert pianist Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen. Add the nuptials of investment magnate Bruce Wasserstein to fourth wife Angela Chao and the pending vows between venture capitalist Vivi Nevo and Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.
She then asks why this is happening, first suggesting this may be a type of colonial “yellow fever”:
The excruciating colonial stereotypes — Asian women as submissive, domestic, hypersexual — are obviously nothing new.
Her primary answer is that these are after all now omnipresent images and
often entertaining. Even now, how many cinematic greats, literary best sellers, or even cell-phone ads . . . characterize Asian women as something other than geishas, ninjas, or dragon ladies? . . . I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the cheeky blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, which ranks Asian girls at number 11 because “Asian women avoid key white women characteristics, such as having a midlife crisis, divorce, and hobbies that don’t involve taking care of the children.”
So these old and new racialized images are entertaining? We are supposed to laugh at such stereotyping of Asian and white women? Racialized steretoyping is no laughing matter, even if some naïve websites think it is. Then she moves back to a more critical analysis:
“It’s like a curse that Asian-American women can’t avoid,” says C.N. Le, director of Asian and Asian-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “From an academic point of view, the perception still serves as a motivation for white men.” . . . Richard Bernstein found that the Orientalist illusion continues to influence. “Historically, Asia provided certain sexual opportunities that would be much more difficult for Western men to have at home. But it remains a happy hunting ground for them today,” he says, citing one phenomenon in the northeastern region of Thailand called Issan, where 15 percent of marriages are between young Thai women and Western men well into their 60s.
She introduces the importance of the exotic Asian woman stereotype, but quickly drops it instead it and does not exploring what it means in the West. This sexualization of Asian American women in white-male minds is a major aspect of contemporary racism, and one deserving of much more analysis than we have in social science, never mind in the stereotype-riddled popular media. This stereotype is central not only for the elite-men-partnering issue, but much more generally to white (male) framing of Asian and Asian American women. There are, for example, a great many websites dedicated to pleasing the racialized exotic-Asian-female fantasies and images held by many white men across the Internet.
After suggesting that the partnering actions of white men may have some connection to their recognizing the power of China and the rest of Asia in contemporary globalization, she then reverses direction and asks why these often high-achieving Asian or Asian American women pair up with these aging white men of power:
While I’m sure that real love and affection is sometimes the bond in these culture-crossing May-December romances, could it be that power divorcés of a certain ilk make the perfect renegade suitors for these overachieving Asian good girls — an ultimate (yet lame) attempt at rebellion? Maybe these outsized, world-class moguls are stand-ins for emotionally repressed Asian dads (one cliché that is predominantly true).
So now we get her own stereotype of Asian men as somehow not really men as one explanation for the actions of Asian women such as these. As we point out in our recent The Myth of the Model Minority:
In the 19th century Asian American [and Asian] men were stereotyped in the white framing as oversexed and threatening to white women, but in more recent decades they have been more likely to be stereotyped as feminized or emasculated, a shift that may link to the rise of model minority stereotyping. . . . In the United States Asian American women are the group most likely to marry outside of their racial group. They outmarry more than other women and men of color, and much more than Asian American men. In many such cases a white racial framing in the minds of Asian American women may intersect with the sexualization of Asian American women in white male minds. Because their standard of an attractive male has become white-normed and because of the potential to enter directly into white middle-class [or upper-class] world, many Asian women find a white male partner appealing. In contrast, some white men are drawn to the Asian female stereotype of exoticized sensuality and submissiveness.
Or, to be more precise: From Kim Jong Il to the Asian American Man: What Being Foreign, Female, and a Rapist Have to do with Both
In times of war or international tension, it makes complete sense that the United States would mercilessly mock their enemies, as any nation would. When the enemy is of fellow European descent, perhaps issues of ethnicity and nationality take precedence over those of race. When the enemy is Middle Eastern, Muslim, or Asian, however, racial code is used as the basis for mockery and insult. The use of ‘race’ in this manner is problematic precisely because it fits within a larger pattern of racial inequality.
Take the case of North Korea. There is no doubt that Kim Jong Il runs a formal dictatorship. There is no doubt that some of his actions and personal quirks are oppressive by any society’s standards. Neither of these things, however, gives opinionmakers and comedians a free pass to reinforce racist ideologies.
“It’s just humor!” some may say. But nothing is ever that simple. History shows us that U.S. politicians and capitalists constructed racist ideologies of Asian-descent males to use them for their labor and deprive them of settlement and citizenship. The U.S. government, for instance, used the 1875 Page Law to deny Chinese women entry and thereby prevent family formation. As sociologist Yen Le Espiritu eloquently argues in her book Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws & Love, it was Chinese American men’s feminized jobs and their lack of wives and children that gave birth to the effeminate, asexual, homosexual Asian man. Nothing is wrong with these gender-sexual identities alone. But essentializing as such a whole group for racially unjust purposes? That’s wrong.
Indeed, depicting Asians as sexually deviant has been a key foundation for denying them entry into, and rights within, the United States. Beyond stereotypes of asexuality and homosexuality, however, White Americans also hypersexualized Asian men. For instance, the government passed anti-miscegenation laws for fear that Filipino American men would rape and steal away White women. During the WWII years, as Espiritu shows, Japanese ethnics became the hypersexual Yellow Peril ready to multiply and take over the White race. Such notions allowed President Roosevelt to mass incarcerate over 120,000 Japanese Americans without evidence of the group’s “un-American” activities.
These real-life depictions of the racially inscrutable and sexually deviant Asian man have real-life consequences. In the 1980s, Chinese American Vincent Chin was blamed by two White autoworkers for the loss of their jobs in the U.S. auto industry (“the Japs’ fault!”); Chin lost his life to their baseball bats. In the 1990s, the U.S. government charged and detained U.S. citizen Wen Ho Lee for spying for China, a charge that was so baseless that the government exonerated him under a flurry of apologies. Still today, Asian American men are considered by most surveys as the least desirable men, leading to difficulty finding partners and low self-esteem. Furthermore, the Asian American Justice Center reports that rates of anti-Asian violence have long been high, in part because so-called “foreigner” competition is unwelcome in the United States. While these violent consequences repeatedly unfold, the message that Asian Americans experience no racism lives on.
In this racial context, newsmakers and entertainers have unselfconsciously recycled stereotypes that affect all Asian-descent men. One of the most common images is of the inscrutable Yellow Peril. Mostly non-Asian news anchors and cable pundits wring their hands over the “strange,” “unpredictable,” “twisted,” “abnormal” North Korean leader. While some of the labels have a kernel of truth to them, they are also inspired by, and reinforce, the longstanding notion that Asian people are somehow inscrutable. As MSNBC Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd aptly sums up, Americans tend to think, “Crazy ol’ Kim Jong Il, again.”
Entertainers have been especially ruthless. The writers behind the puppet movie Team America: World Police, also of South Park fame, are obviously satirists. But there is not enough of a separation between the “real” and “ridiculous” depictions of Kim to comfortably say that the Team America stereotypes have no negative impact. In the movie, the Kim Jong Il puppet brutally kills anyone who disagrees with him, like Swedish diplomat Dr. Hans Blix. He then switches into a melancholic mood and sings to himself the ballad “So Ronery” [translation: “So Lonely”]. As the Kim puppet wanders alone through his enormous Stalin-esque palace, he laments life as the inscrutable foreigner:
Sitting on my rittle throne
I work rearry hard
And make up great prans
But nobody ristens
No one understands
Seems rike no one takes me seriousry
And so Im ronery
A rittle ronery
Poor rittle me
The Kim puppet’s inability to speak English properly is an obvious play for laughs. It certainly reinforces the foreignness of Asians as well as their subordinate status, given America’s exalting of English as the only language worth knowing. In a Saturday Night Live (SNL) skit, Latino cast member Horatio Sanz plays the “yellow man” leader, and draws on both notions of foreign inscrutability and sexuality to get laughs:
Sanz: “When I was first informed of the aggressive actions of the United States, my first response was violent anger. Then a lengthy crying jag, followed by sudden deep sleep for about two days. Then several hours of frantic masturbation, punctuated by more crying jags. Afterwards, I burned my thighs with matches.”
Also invoking racial foreignness and sexuality, Bobby Lee, a Korean American comedian on MadTV, self-stereotypes as the “Dear Leader” in skits like “The Kim Jong Il Show.” The variety show musical introduction includes the words “He’s a little man with a big dick.” During the show, Bobby Lee’s Kim forces North Korean peasant minions to salute him with honorific titles. As the leader probes for more accolades, the minion remembers to add, “Oh, and, ‘Babe magnet with a magical penis!’” In another scene, Lee’s Kim also performs a rap collaboration called “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb,” with a likeness of hip hop mogul Diddy. In it, Kim straddles a bomb and belts out that he gets a lot of tall blonde “coochie.”
In essence, we are supposed to laugh at the fact that Kim Jong Il frantically masturbates in response to U.S. threats and is a “well-endowed” womanizer who scores sexy White ladies. The jokes are funny because Asian-descent men are thought to be the precise opposite: asexual with little penises to whom White women wouldn’t give the time of day. Indeed, in “Bomb! Bomb! Bomb!” the Diddy impersonator reminds us of the truth: the “Dear Leader” has a “small salami.”
Yet, Asian-descent men are not just deemed asexual or insecure about small salamis; they are also hypersexual. That stereotype is evident in Sanz’s comedic turn as a Hollywood film-obsessed Kim Jong Il who violently fantasizes about another blonde, Reese Witherspoon:
The South China Morning Post reported that that the Chinese government had ordered Beijing bar owners to ban Blacks and Mongolians (“undesirables”) from entering during their establishments during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The article stated: (photo credit:kk)
Bar owners near the Workers’ Stadium in central Beijing say they have been forced by Public Security Bureau officials to sign pledges agreeing not to let black people enter their premises… Security officials are targeting Sanlitun (district), which Olympic organizers expect to be a key destination for foreign tourists looking for a party during the Games. The pledges that Sanlitun bar owners had been instructed to sign agreed to stop a variety of activities in their establishments, including dancing and serving customers with black skin, they said.
When pondering this news, it is easy to recall the quote, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Non-Whites and some Blacks become engrossed with the historical White articulation that negatively stereotypes Black males as unintelligent, lazy, hypersexual, etc. Therefore, it is easy to see how Asians, Latinos, and other non-Blacks have embraced the fear of Black males. (See here).
The White social reproduction of racism utilizes stereotypes that creates fear of Black males affects other groups that are non-Black within the U.S. and abroad as well. Feagin argues that the images of Blacks, and stereotypes and fear created from these images are a central component to the operation of systemic racism:
What most Americans and those internationally who have never met a person of a darker hue know about racial and ethnic matters beyond their own experience is what they’re taught by those who control major avenues of socialization, such as the movies, music videos, television, radio, and print media that circulate racist images not only in the United States, but across the globe.
Thus, the attitudes and actions adopted by others across the globe in regards to the reproduction of racism are not independent, but contingent upon the White racial machine targeting people of color for the goal of ultimate White supremacy. Feagin quotes a survey in the 1990s that targeted Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese Americans who had been in the U.S. for one generation. The results indicated that this sampled group had adopted and accepted the fourteen generations of anti-Black attitudes that has existed within the U.S. Many groups such as these mentioned, Irish, and Italian U.S. citizens have positioned themselves to Whiteness and all social, economic, and psychological benefits it encompasses.
If anything, due to the crimes against Asians historically within the world, the bars near the Olympic gatherings should be first closed to Whites instead of a group of people for whom they have shared holding the links to their oppression.