Monday, April 7, 2008

belittle asians

Many whites now celebrate diversity, but American culture at large has a certain center stage, and that stage is almost continuously occupied by whites and white standards. If Asians make an appearance there, it's almost always peripheral. Throughout most of American history, white people have both respected and belittled Asians. On the one hand, Asians are held up as examples of a hardworking "model minority" in order to ask, rhetorically, why other minority groups don't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps too. On the other hand, their men are desexualized and the women hypersexualized, both of which also belittle Asians.

When white men write bestselling books about Asian women, they write about exotic, sexy women, and they don't publish bestselling books about strong, virile Asian men. Pop star Gwen Stefani recently continued the belittlement by flanking herself with identical, mute "Harajuku Girls" (that's her and them in the photo above). She described these girls as mere figments of her imagination. Stefani's reduction of people to self-aggrandizing props elicited widespread protests from Asians, but not from others, since the rest of America is pretty much okay with reducing Asian women to dolls and sex toys. And with virtually ignoring Asian men.

MiHi Ahn describes well the problem with Stefani's use of these women:
They shadow her wherever she goes. They're on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, she even dedicates a track, "Harajuku Girls," to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they're not real but only a figment of her imagination. They're ever present in her videos and performances -- swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That's right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" pose.

Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. She's even named them "Love," "Angel," "Music" and "Baby" after her album and new clothing line l.a.m.b. (perhaps a mutton-themed restaurant will follow). The renaming of four adults led one poster on a message board to muse, "I didn't think it was legal to own human pets. But I guess so if you have the money for it."
--MiHi Ahn,

Asian men appear far less often on the peripheries of the big center stage, and when they do, they, like the women, almost never do so as full-fledged human beings. If you watch closely, you might see a baseball player here or a basketball player there, a helpful computer expert here or a silent martial arts expert there. It's enough to make one wonder, why didn't George Takei's steady role on Star Trek set more of a precedent?

As always, some white people seem to see the problem. Perhaps such white folks exist, for instance, among the makers of MADtv, who in this sketch nicely satirize the common white tendency so egregiously exemplified by Stefani.

Many white people know and work with actual Asian people, and in fact often seem to prefer them to other minorities. After all, there's less with them to feel uncomfortable and vaguely guilty about. And, apparently, more to fantasize about.


  1. Good point, thank you for making it! This is a good blog, very eye-opening. I hope you can keep it going. I like that you talk about things SOME white people do, not all of them.

  2. Macon,
    After obtaining a graduate degree in "cultural studies" and years and years of observing, interacting and taking data, it has finally become clear to me. Now, I knew this before and it comes as no surprise, but it's just become obvious and the power of it has clarified in my mind.

    It's not about "white people." It really isn't. Most of the white people I know are very willing to open their mind, be friends with anyone and generally listen to what others have to say. It's about the culture and the society as defined by those who are in power. It's about keeping the pot stirred so that everyone can be easily distracted. That way, when constitutional rights are withdrawn, the national treasury pillaged, national resources hoarded and abused, the masses can be distracted to the point where they don't even notice.
    You don't have a culture only because you are told you don't have a culture. Asians succeed because they are allowed. They have been chosen just like Mexicans have been chosen to be otherwise and blacks have been chosen to be dehumanized. Sure, the plays are made according to circumstancees, but it's all about who is allowed and who isn't.
    Blaming the people for all this stereotypical bullshit doesn't solve the problem. It's like blaming the black population for so many of them living in the ghetto. As people, we're all in this together. The sooner we act together the sooner the chains and bonds that hold us ALL will be removed.
    We CAN do it. YES WE CAN.

  3. Very sagacious insights, SH, thank you. I disagree with some of the specifics, but there's not enough room here to say why. Generally, though, we're in full agreement that "Blaming [white] people for all this stereotypical bullshit doesn't solve the problem." I just don't know how it is that I'm blaming white people. In this post, for instance, I talk about a cultural center stage, and then I point out problems that happen there in terms of race. It's more about, then, the "culture and the society as defined by those who are in power," as you put it, and less about blaming actual, ordinary "white people."

    So yes, the blog is named "Stuff White People Do," but one of its working presumptions is the same as yours--that they do so much of what they do because they've been taught or led or encouraged or coerced into doing it. Isn't it worthwhile to try to alert people to such coercion? And to remind them that they tend to do various stuff without really thinking about it, having been led to do so? Again, pointing that out would be pointing out that they are being led or coerced, or trained into certain thoughts and behaviors, rather than blaming white people for what they do.

    You comments are helpful toward clarifying that working presumption of this blog, and its goals (one of them being the message that white people should wake up to what many of them are doing and to why they're doing it). If the site comes across instead as merely "blaming white people," could you say more about how it does so?

  4. Macon,
    I'm very glad that you agree with the principle of what I said. We can't blame the individual or the people for that which is coerced upon them except in the most extreme case of clear right and wrong.

    "I just don't know how it is that I'm blaming white people."

    Well, perhaps if you go back and read your posts from the perspective that you might be targeting the people rather than the problem.

    "one of its working presumptions is the same as yours--that they do so much of what they do because they've been taught or led or encouraged or coerced into doing it. Isn't it worthwhile to try to alert people to such coercion?"

    Great. But sometimes, instead of presuming that others understand exactly where you're coming from, you need to state that which YOU see as obvious.
    Alkso, if you really believe that the problem is coersion, then why not target those who do the coersing? Yes! Alert people to the coersion.

  5. One thing I thought I'd comment about here, since it seems relevant.

    I'm really interested in one of the fashions that sprung from Harajuku. I keep up with the latest styles and follow the products the brands put out etc.

    The girls in the Gwen Stafani video aren't even dressed in the subculture fashions as they're seen on the street there.
    Where people in the lolita fashion value modesty - with no skirts 2" above the knees, and they wear blouses and their jumperskirts to minimize exposed flesh, the sexy, sexy verions in that video do just the opposite.

    I only really know a lot about lolita fashion, but the harajuku girls don't look like the japanese lolitas, who value modesty. They look like sexualized caracatures of the subculture.

  6. I agree, Cellycel, sexualized caricatures indeed, like the more general conception of Asian women in the collective white psyche.

  7. What makes you assume that the makers of the MADTV sketch were white>??!


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