First, the response:
Asian Americans are unfairly stereotyped. That, I agree wholeheartedly. But what sets me apart from Yang is (as he correctly noted in his reply) that Yang dares to find a causal link "between those stereotypes and the reality of the way Asians behave," in an attempt to have a "balanced view."
I will present such "balanced view" in a different area to give some perspective as to why I find it so objectionable:
There is a dynamic relationship between rapes and the behaviors in which the rape victims engaged prior to being raped. We should acknowledge that relationship. Police records show ample objective indications of how rape victims behaved prior to being raped. They show that the rape victims seen by their rapists as unchaste, sexually promiscuous and inviting random sexual encounters. These rapists, I'm sure, were governed partly by their stereotypes about women who dress suggestively, drink profusely and dance provocatively. They were also, I'm sure, observing things that were really happening in the actual behavior of their victims.Is this "balanced," or odious?
To be perfectly clear: I do not believe at all that "Asian values" lead to timidity, passivity and all the other characteristics with which we are stereotyped. It is not true, for all the reasons I stated previously. But I do recognize that there is a reasonable doubt as to my position. It is not a bad idea to examine whether there indeed is a causal link between "Asian values" and the stereotypes held against Asian Americans. After all, I would certainly want my daughter to dress conservatively, drink moderately and avoid unsafe neighborhoods.
But if one wanted to discuss the relationship between (1) a social ill, and (2) the behavior of the victims of that social ill, one should make it blindingly clear that the fault wholly lies with the fuckers who cause the social ill. Rapists are not supposed to rape, regardless of the victim's behavior. Mainstream America is not supposed to stereotype, regardless of what some Asian Americans do. If indeed Wesley Yang's NY Mag article was dealing with unfair stereotypes that Asian Americans face as Yang claims in his reply, the article should have started with this moral message and interspersed the message throughout the story -- instead of slipping it in the middle of the reply to a lesser-known blogger made on his personal blog.
In my favorite part of his reply, Yang wrote:
I see where you are coming from, Wesley. Why didn't you write that in New York Magazine?But you know what? During all that time, I was nevertheless always a strong, healthy, well-educated, well-spoken, variously talented man in the prime of my adulthood, and dudes like that, if they are white, even if they are total losers, or assholes, or drunks, or drug-addicts, or on a half-dozen psychotropic drugs, always have some girl wiling to bed them in this city where I live in and everyone knows it.
Some observations, after the jump.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.
Now, several observations.
The short version of my take on Yang's article is this: "Yang's article is about himself, not a larger social message. But the article will be inevitably taken as a social commentary. To the extent it will be, I disagree with that social commentary." By setting up my post that way, I actually gave Yang exactly what he craved from America -- being treated like an individual who tells his own story.
Yang's reply clarifies his intention -- he actually wanted to make a social commentary through his life story. That makes him a kind of an anti-Amy Chua. Amy Chua wanted to tell her own story, and that was all. But because of her minority status, she is being held as the stereotypically obsessive and abusive Asian mother. Now she needs to go around the world and defend the book that she never wrote. In contrast, Wesley Yang did not just write his own story. He wants his life story to be an archetype -- stereotype -- applicable to other Asian Americans.
Both Amy Chua and Wesley Yang faced the charges that they were feeding the stereotypes. But only one of them deserves that criticism.
On a lighter note: isn't the over-representation of Asian Americans in pick-up classes a victory for Asian values? The attendees of those classes correctly identified a challenge in their lives, and they are doing something about it despite potential for massive humiliation. Men, ask yourselves -- would you go to one of these classes if you were going through a dry spell in your dating life? I wouldn't. I would rather die alone. To me, Asian Playboy is not a creep at all -- he's a hero.
Different opinions are often the product of different assessment of reality. And the key difference between those who felt more in line with me (let's call them "Team TK" for short) and those who felt more in line with Wesley Yang ("Team WY" for short) is over just what "Asian value" is. It is the different assessment of the reality of "Asian value" that leads to the different opinions for Team TK and Team WY.
I have met many Asian Americans in my life in different areas of America. I have also met many more through this blog. And I find that Team TK and Team WY have certain recognizable membership profiles. Team TK is more likely to be 1.5 generation, bilingual, have regular exposure to (both traditional and modern popular) culture from Asia and grew up in the West Coast. Team WY is more likely to be second generation, monolingual, have little exposure to Asian culture and grew up in the East Coast, Midwest or the South. (I probably shouldn't have to say that this is a huge over-generalization, but out of abundance of caution I will.) This difference in experience leads to a different perception of Asian values. Team TK sees Asian value as complex and multidimensional; Team WY sees Asian value as flat and unidimensional.
For example, Wesley Yang speaks in his reply of deference to authority, a commonly given example of Asian value. But the rarely discussed flip side of that Asian value is how the lower-ranked person in a hierarchy can still get the boss to do what she wants while maintaining the appearance of the deference to authority. Yang sets up risk-taking and brashness as opposite of Asian values, but I see plenty of risk-taking in the immigrants' decision to come to America, and plenty of brashness in the Korean shopkeepers in Los Angeles swap meets. Even Yang recognizes in his reply: "Something that all people who think Asians are nerds and weaklings that they can pick on with impunity sometimes discover to their detriment is that Korean men, in particular, are angry, violent people who will fight and fight dirty." Our willingness to fuck up who dares to cross us is just as Asian as our willingness to listen to our parents and teachers.
The main fault line that divides the members of Team TK and Team WY (and their respective archetypes, The Korean and Wesley Yang) is the depth of engagement in Asian values. When one grows up in areas with relatively few other Asian Americans and speaks little Asian language, one's image of Asian values is thin and monochromatic. The stereotypes about Asian values seem more convincing, because the superficiality of such stereotypes corresponds well with the superficiality of one's knowledge of Asian values. On the other hand, when one grows up in areas with huge numbers of diverse Asian Americans and constantly interacts with Asia in some for or another, one's image of Asian values becomes dense and robust. The stereotypes about Asian values seem laughable, because the superficiality of such stereotypes obviously fails to correspond with the depths of one's understanding about Asian values.
I don't doubt that the feelings of marginalization and alienation felt by Team WY are genuine. It is not as if Team TK does not go through those feelings. But when it comes to worldview, which one is truer -- one that is based on more knowledge, or less?
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.