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“There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race [cannot]….” – Justice Harlan, 1896, in his famous Plessy v. Ferguson dissent, in which he rejects racial segregation in the Jim Crow south.
I attended this thing hosted by MOCA and AAWW almost three weeks ago, where I basically sat through 20 minutes of Wesley Yang’s very public very pathetic self-flagellation under the pretext of marginalization in America of Asianness, seething with the kind of anger only possible when you’re dealing with, on the one hand, secondary shame on someone else’s behalf, and on the other, a kind of derivative embarrassment caused by another due to the unfortunate association that he’s prescribed by way of his own inferiority complex and existential crisis.
In short, fuck Wesley Yang for being the unfortunate representative that we’ve been assigned, against our will. It is a shame that burns so deep that, after 3 weeks, having remembered not much else about the panel, I managed to encapsulate my rage in the long-winded, poorly constructed run on sentence above.
This is all to say, memory is vague and I can only now recap it in a very general way that doesn’t come anywhere close to the intense recap session post-panel, at Great NY Noodletown.
I grew up in China, and all I knew about America was from movies and sitcoms (Growing Pains dubbed with Chinese represented, as far as I was concerned, a life I was to lead once I cross over that ocean and go to America.). 美国人(American) meant white people with different color eyes and hair than my brown and black. I had the idea that I was going to a place that would vaguely resemble (in reality) a Scandinavian country. When I moved here in 5th grade, I started at an elementary school with all black, Latino, and Asian kids. The Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood startled me (as did the fact that squirrels and pigeons just roamed the streets; as my mother would say, in China, these animals would all be dead, and their existence represents the goodness and humanity of America). I didn’t see any white people until much later. I also didn’t realize the spectrum of ethnicity that exist in the US until I got here.
When we talk about race or racial identity in the US, non-black “minority” groups are a secondary mention or a non-issue, much like how my conception of the US did not include non-whites. Mainstream rhetoric just doesn’t make room for it, so discussions happen in the fringes. I understand the need to fit our narrative in accepted rhetoric like this, and that “are Asians black” is kind of a provocative thought that might make people go hmm, but ultimately, that hmm is followed by confusion. The answer is emphatically, no. However our stories might have converged (both groups have faced discrimination, there have some exchanges between cultural groups), references to those rare occurrences, even in sum, do not amount to a common story. True, we’re both subjects of a racial hierarchy constructed by a white society, but drawing a comparison based on that sad nugget of commonality reduces both groups to nothing more than victims.
I had a lot more to say, especially about the many, many fallacies of Wesley Yang’s pathetic little monologue constructed based on arbitrary statistics that can be construed many different ways, as statistics often can be made to do, but I don’t have the energy to revisit his spiel.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the program. I appreciate that we’re trying to have a dialogue, especially not just amongst ourselves as Asians but in a wider demographic, but I just think the focus could have been different and, maybe more narrow. Because a survey panel of such varied perspectives need at least like, a day, to be comprehensive.
“Daisey’s fiction was predicated on the notion that China is essentially unknowable, that reporters never go to factory gates, that highways exit to nowhere.” – Evan Osnos
And that is the state of America’s xenophobia. It goes beyond a mea culpa that cripples any interactions with China. The most dangerous aspect of ignorance is the strength of the conviction. It’s a conviction that drove Daisey to contrive a story to corroborate his assumptions. The most disheartening aspect of the story is that so many of us fell for it. It’s like the moment in French class when I realized that Diderot’s Bougainville doesn’t tell us about any “real” exoticisms of the island people, but that it does tell everything about the distorted prejudices of the very French narrator.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between the Daisey story and Steven of “Seeking Asian Female” (or, Single Asian Females’ worst nightmare). Stereotypes do not waver in the face of actual interactions; however unsubstantiated those stereotypes end up being – it could always be written off as an exception. As if reality can always make concessions to fit a picture painted in broad strokes.
It is particularly disheartening, because this kind of noise and theatrics will almost always drown out sincere attempts at dialogue and truth seeking. The sources for that are out there, but Americans love propaganda more than any socialist do. You’d better believe that shit.
My reaction to the whole Pete Hoekstra fiasco was more aligned with China than with Asians in America. Simply put, it was like, how low can Americans get? They’re too stupid to even properly insult us. This thing is so ridiculous that the only one insulted should be America for allowing this ludicrous production to be on television and for being a place where the “brain” behind this atrocity could deem himself to be a competent candidate.
This is not to say the Chinese government doesn’t have prejudiced assholes, but I think the fact that officials here get elected rather than through party machinery reflects a truly devastating reality – that the political system has so completely dumbed down the agenda that their campaigns can be deduced to drivel that speaks to 5 year olds. And Americans are, as far as is empirically apparent, ok with it.
To say nothing about that.
So, no, actually, Pete Hoekstra has proven himself completely inadequate in trying to humiliate through this so-called caricature. However, I am more than a little indignant and embarrassed that he even found an Asian American willing to even make this commercial. I thought, shit, she must be dumb.
And, today, ladies and gentlemen, it was confirmed that in fact, she IS dumb and she thinks we are all dumb enough to play along with her:
“From what I understand, she feels terrible (and fearful of the fallout) over her participation in this ad. [She] has partnered with a community organization to release a statement with her version of the story.”
Oh, if only everything could be resolved with a press release.
Asian models redefining “traditional concept” beauty
There are so many things wrong with this whole article that I won’t even comment.
For the occasion of a Dior boutique in Shanghai, a series of photographs by Quentin Shih was installed at the store. Not surprisingly, Jezebel was the first one to issue a missive about its racist/colonial undertones. My apologies for the link to a post that is entirely in French, but it’s the only thing I’ve read so far that gives proper context/record. I don’t think her being a white French woman makes her post illegitimate; as my being Chinese/growing up in Shanghai shouldn’t necessarily give my post authority/legitimacy (though my fanaticism for France and fashion might even out the bias?).
It’s easy to dismiss this campaign as being imperialist what with the bland sea of Chinese people vs. the Caucasians dressed to the nines in Dior, but I would argue that it is easier to do so mainly due to the context. In another context, a different discussion would probably – if not definitely – ensue. The photographs were done by a Chinese native (which, in itself, doesn’t eliminate the possibility of racial issues), but would at least force some due consideration to significance beyond the obvious connotation. Imagine if the series were exhibited in 798 or something, rather than for the commercial purposes of promoting a boutique?
Given the historical relationship between France and China – Shanghai especially with its picturesque French Concession, which is still very much a somewhat exclusive area for expats of Occidental origins, it’s very easy to interpret it as a throwback to that “bygone” era where Westerners are in China to bring the good ol’ European civilization/Christianity to the savages of the east. That’s the European view. That’s where Jenny Zhang of Jezebel, despite her Chinese descent, began. But, can we just pause for a minute and realize that Chinese people had an opinion of the west? Such as, Chinese people thought Europeans were barbaric? We have one of the longest recorded histories in the world and certainly the longest existing civilizations as would be recognized in terms of infrastructure, institutions and writing systems. We invented noodles and the most efficient utensils to eat them, too. Why is the “Westerner” necessarily humanized? Between the stiff outfits and robotic posture/expressions, why do we not interpret them to be a Chinese view of an archetype or a mere mannequin (a vehicle) for the goods – the real end?
Furthermore, let’s look at the photos, the sea of Chinese faces evokes an era of Chinese history where any contact with the west was officially excluded. The fact that it’s meant to portray the Cultural Revolution rather than the prime of French colonization is more a reflection of the photographer’s own upbringing and China’s nouveau riche and their aspirations to that image. You don’t have to jettison your culture for the aesthetics of couture. I mean, hello, have we met? As an ad, it’s appealing to that sensibility. The fact that Jenny Zhang would ask the question of whether Dior ever asked a Chinese person – that is a Chinese resident of China – for perspective betrays her own ignorance of the very same. If you are at all familiar with the “culture” of the Cultural Revolution, then you know that these images are an accurate depiction of the oppressed conformity of the era. Juxtaposition isn’t some avant garde technique in art or any form of expression. And, can we be honest? Dior, for the past few seasons, hasn’t exactly been groundbreaking in terms of creativity; its own idea of fashion is traditional and might we applaud in view of all the other houses who are breaking into the market. Consider Chanel and Fendi whose “special” collections for China have been anything but PC? Is fetishizing and appropriating Chinese aesthetics for their own profit any better than what Dior has done? (For the record, it’s seriously put me off Karl. The creative license he feels entitled to – that he is entitled to thanks to the mindless fashion fans – is a little egregious.) I will say though, as China becomes a huge market for luxury goods, the companies that try to establish a niche there will have to do a little more research. Hey, Chanel? For the record, a Chinese person with money buy Chanel, because of the Western idea of luxury it represents. If you want to talk about authenticity, Chanel qi pao is anything but. Bootlegging applies for the reverse, too.
And, just to be a jerk, if you want to talk about the paradigm of power dynamic, look at Kanye West’s new video for “Power”. While it is an attempt to reconfigure the idea of power, isn’t he merely conceding to a very Eurocentric view of the image of power? How empowered is he? If he were to rewrite history with a black man in power, why would the rest of it look so eerily reflective of the “classical” portrait of power?
Controversial conjecture: but how much of our racial insecurities – without dismissing legitimate day to day injustices due to race – are constructed by the hegemony? Or at least bred by it – not the power structure (obvs that’s legit) but its dictates? Jenny Zhang, are you listening? It’s me, Jae.
Also, no rationalizing it by saying fashion is ignorant. Sometimes, yes, in editorials, but you really think a company as big as Dior isn’t calculating about a big business like the one in China? Are YOU dumb? Why do you think they used a Chinese photographer instead of just using the same campaign by Meisel?
Prop 8 was over turned, people were overjoyed, Gaga made new music, somewhere in there the words “democracy is restored” are thrown around in celebration.
Except, “democracy” is how Prop 8 went into effect in the first place. Democracy is supposed to give a voice to informed people; it’s supposed to allow everyone the chance to make an educated choice. Except in the American dialogue about democracy, “informed” and “educated” are always missing. If Stalin and Mao ran socialism as an ideal into the ground, Americans will be the ones to run democracy into the ground. Suffer no illusions, this is a plutocracy operating under the guise of democracy with thanks to Sarah Palin’s fans. The ones being manipulated are the ones who think they make any difference. It’d be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
Isn’t it funny that the main argument against same sex marriage is based on religion and yet the same people would argue against a mosque on Ground Zero “to keep religion out of it”? It’s called hypocrisy. I usually get embarrassed when I realize I’ve been hypocritical about something, but OH, that’s because I have a conscience and a brain to put two and two together. I’m sorry, is this The Tudors? We get to manipulate religion to serve varying agendas? Sorry, you’re not even sexy enough to do that.
New Yorker reviewed a new book on “Charlie Chan” this week. The review brings up an interesting point. At the height of Charlie Chan’s stardom, the US government banned immigration from Asia (of Asians only obviously, if you were Jewish taking refuge in Shanghai during WWII, it was ok to come to the US afterwards for more refuge). Why?
The obvious answer would be to look at the nature of this “interest” in Chan. The interest and the ban both reflect xenophobia at its shiniest!
But, it’s interesting, because if this Koreatown show gets picked up. Wouldn’t we be having a similar moment, what with this interest in ASIANS OMG and simultaneously this zealous anti-immigrant sentiment? zOmg…
What does it all mean…
I know it’s very in vogue to remember the true meaning of holidays these days, at least amongst the “educated intellectuals”, which is not without its elitist undertones. But I’m just trying to get my grub on, so a short tiff (instead of finishing up the 4 unfinished posts I have sitting in my posts box? oops):
Last night, over a gin and tonic and too many cigarettes (is it an excuse to say I’m inclined to smoke more around foreigners or people who’ve traveled extensively in countries where smoking is not so …antagonist?), I got to talking to a couple – British lady and American gentleman (who, omg, looked like a gay Anthony Bourdain, you know what I mean?). They’d both spent some time in Asia – he, Thailand; she, Shanghai (holler). They met during the Tsunami. I mean…seriously. But there’s this: in talking about her time in Shanghai and being the target of the unabashed Shanghainese staring, she said that it was a good experience to have been a minority somewhere, because as a white person, she usually isn’t.
Well, yeah, it is a good experience, isn’t it? And I just want to say, they were both lovely people and have a rather realistic grasp of life in Asia. A grasp that can only be had after having lived there, and not from hearsay, books, or a drunken American style vacation. But, but, but.
It’s a nice thought: reversal of minority/majority dynamic. While she was a minority, mathematically; the reality is she was not, yeah? It bothers me a bit that she has the luxury of having this thought and being ignorant of its significance at the same time. I don’t like to politicize situations, although, I guess, some of my posts would suggest otherwise. Race, culture and ethnicity are, obviously and naturally, topics that weigh a lot in my head, but they don’t veil my view of the world as such. Ok, maybe a very transparent veil, but if I am to consider race with every person, every relationship/interaction becomes a bit like some kind of racial paradigm, and that’s …dull.
Like, am I supposed to reconcile my irrepressible attraction to white men with, I don’t know, all the possibly awful implications of this and also my disdain for their lack of awareness? And not awareness as in…oh, I’m sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of cultures and am therefore a better person, because, um, no, that’s incredibly stiff, which is not what I’m looking for in a brain. (Basically, I don’t like people who take themselves too seriously, which is why I am hating this post.) More like an awareness that’s almost a sort of innate sense. Awareness that’s more background than foreground? I really hate the dialogue, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary.
I will not be pondering about this as I dig my teeth into a juicy chicken leg later, you can bet on that.
xoxo, you know you love me.
I truly have no words for this. “If you liked it, then you should’ve gotten a A on it” I know some creepy yellow fevered men are out there playing this on repeat and reading up on all the molecular biology articles available on Wikipedia right now. This is Yale? For real? This is even worse than scantily clad Asian girls prancing on stage and calling it China Night. I’m just so impressed — complete with slingback kitten heels and your generic ruched LBD.
Damn, just damn.