What Defines Asian-American Masculinity? [Reader Forum]

Readers discuss a controversial New York Magazine cover story, about the unique trials of Asian-American men.

By Channing Kennedy May 21, 2011

Whew. Colorlines’ community has been on fire this week. You went to town on Prof. Satoshi Kanazawa’s "proof" about the, um, aesthetics of black women; you got surprisingly bare-knuckle on what seemed like a pretty judicious writeup on Ron Paul.

But I decided to feature y’all’s comments on Akiba Solomon’s analysis of a New York Magazine cover story by one Wesley Yang, about Yang’s experiences in, and his anger about, his life as an Asian-American man in a white-dominated society. It gets into themes that are worth revisiting: the intersections of race and gender’s perceived hierarchies, systemic and individual bigotry, and imperfect internal responses to imperfect external stimuli. Akiba writes, as did many of you, that these aren’t easy issues to unpack — but the work has to be done in order for us to move forward. That’s why we’re glad you’re here.

Here’s OrchidBlack:

[…] On one hand, he carps about Asian Americans not being able to reach a certain height in their career despite receiving educations at the top schools and having the best scores and so on; he argues that this is due to systematic racism and the white power structure. And then on the other hand, he rejects these so-called Asian characteristics in a pursuit to become more white; meaning, he believes that white males have certain behavioral attributes aside from skin color that make them successful. If the author has already identified what the problem is, which is systematic racism, why would you respond to that by saying you will become more like your oppressor? It makes no sense.

Adriel Luis uda iLLs:

[…] I feel that Yang understandably comes from his own perspective, but his mistake is that he thinks that his experience (the only Asian guy in a circle of white people) is what the vast majority of API’s experience, unless they’re living in a Chinatown studio with their 11 brothers and sisters. What I couldn’t quite put my finger on was the fact that his entire piece is from the scope of the white American dream being the sky that our "bamboo ceiling" keeps us from ascending to. He acts like the entire API community, in all its intergenerational and multicultural vastness, can still be summed up by the image of people floating across the ocean on a beach ball toward Gold Mountain. You most certainly didn’t get it wrong, and the fact that you’re writing from your perspective is most refreshing.

Asian guy who was raised in black communities, and whose racially and sexually nonspecific name sometimes elicits junkmail assuming that he’s a Mexican woman.

Queer of Color:

[…] There is also a thread here that speaks to API women as preferring white men, as well as being preferred by white men. In my experience, my values and personality reflect neither the culture, demeanors or stereotypes of an API woman. Hence, I am simultaneously rejected by many communities because I am all at once too white and not Asian enough. However, Yang seems to believe that acting more like a white man will solve this conundrum. Perhaps by extension, I should then attempt to act more like an Asian woman to meet the many cultural expectations forced upon me. Indeed, the only solution I have found for myself is to be myself.

While I appreciate that Yang seems to have found a voice, I am troubled that he seems to hold the epitome of white male dominance as his aspiration. However, it does my heart great good to see that voices of color are being heard in the mainstream media. We must start somewhere. All at once, I rejoice and mourn his article. As another commenter stated, the dialogue is slowly moving forward.

Karari Kue:

"But as a fellow person of color–and the proud owner of a vagina–I am profoundly disturbed by "Paper Tigers," his lengthy "New York" cover story."

I know what you meant to say. Trust me, I know. But this sentence EXUDES cissexism all over the place. As a woman, I know you see your womanhood beyond your body parts. As a femme man, I know my gender identity is more than my penis. But when you say statements like the one I highlighted, you essentialize manhood/womanhood to the sum of our body parts.

Ironically, later in the piece you bring in trans women. The problem is, hearing you base your womanhood on your vagina very early on already lost most of your trans women readers, if not all. They never read about the Mexican trans woman construction worker.

Why do I bring this up? Well, this piece is about gender. We seriously need to move past this idea of gender being the junk in our drawers. It’s not. Just like race can’t be explained by biology, sex and gender can’t either. Some women are intersex (born with both genitals or ambiguous genitals), some men are trans (born with a vagina), some people are bigender or agender. Humanity is complex; let’s not simplify it to the point that it’s unrecognizable.

Qamar A. Bradford:

[…] I have to argue that the issue runs deeper than the white supremacy allegory. Economically, it is a fact that the eastern Eurasian landmass and its developments are becoming more supreme in societal planning and industrial development.

The biggest turmoil is in the reconfiguration of the USA. Its in the death of the American Dream as it has been commercially broadcast around the world for over sixty years. What we’re all experiencing is a new form of American existence and the development of a newer masculinism that no longer requires misogyny, nor misandry and in fact is more along the lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s interpretations of America that incorporate Daosim, Buddhism and a less binary approach to government and social systems.

The American Dream as it used to be is the only paper tiger here. I think Yang’s emotional reaction is from the disappointment of the delusion of the dream. And your article is the confirmation of the end of that dream.

And on Facebook, Kris Lew:

[…] I appreciate Solomon’s honesty and insight in this piece; particularly when she addresses the ills of internalized racism – which I know from first-hand experience runs rampant among Asians – and subsequently nails it on the head: ‘It just pains me to see "the real world" equated with "elite white maleness."’ I tried to read Yang’s piece last week, enjoyed that little paragraph about fuck Ivy League mania, fuck deference to authority, etc and thought he was on the right track. But then he said that "Twinkie" and "banana" were GENTLY derisive terms, and he lost me. I consider being called either a grave insult, as would anyone who vehemently rejects the straight white male standard. Because of this piece, I will revisit Yang’s and comment further on Solomon’s article on Colorlines’s page. Thank you!


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