Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sex and Racism

Western representation of the female gender of the East has often been misrepresented as inferior and cloaked in the mystery of sexual eroticism. With the obsession of chinoiserie and japonisme in Europe in the late 17th and 19th century respectively, Asia, especially Asian women have become a hot commodity for artists and writers to perpetuate this man-made Asiatic fantasy. In America, the Euro-American perception of Asians, specifically the Chinese, was already tainted by the European concoction of Orientalism but they still cast their own Orientalist veil on their perception through which they saw the Chinese and interpreted their culture even before a large group of Chinese people immigrated to the American soil in mid-19th century. This primordial impression of the Chinese undoubtedly contributed to the shaping of American racist attitudes toward Asians and permeated the ethnocentric consciousness of Americans even before the first group of Chinese immigrants arrived.

This is how Asians got their first start in America.

But that was a long time ago. How does this really affect me now? In defense of America, I have to say that America has been very kind to me for the most part. Racist attitudes weren't very apparent to me as an Asian woman and if I detected them, they were very subtle, underhanded and infrequent. (Although my perceived-image associated with racial stereotypes as an Asian woman might be a totally different story.) Racism exists in America but I never felt heavily burdened by its presence.

Ironically, it is in Korea that I see a more pronounced, in-your-face ethnocentric American attitude toward Asian women that makes me want to puke. But I do realize that this idiocy is helped not only by the media's misconstrued portrayal of Asian women (think Lucy Liu, Ziyi Zhang, Sandra Oh, and other Asian actresses on TV--they are all made to exude the image of I-wanna-have-sex-with-you.) but also by the Asian corporations and Asian women themselves.

I recently saw an Asian airline ad in The New York Times with a beautiful Asian flight attendant with the banner "I just want to listen." These Asian corporations are commercializing these "idealized", subservient images of Asian women to target white men, thereby feeding and completing the supply and demand circle.

I think economical, and political strength of a nation reflects the personality of its citizens. I suspect that some Korean women, even with the dizzying speed of Korea's economic growth, feel that by being with an American, they have turned their socio-economic knob up a notch. These women perpetuate the myth that any Asian women will do anything to hook up with an American to get a second chance at life and reinforces the ridiculous idea that white American men are superior and more desirable. Yes, some American men (especially the military ones in Korea) are idiots and sometimes I want to sit them down and yell at them using $50 words to make them feel infinitely stupid and kick them in the balls but there are also Asian women who play the part of an innocent, stupid geisha just like Madame Butterfly. It resurrects the century-old Orientalist view of Asian women. It's a maddening thing.

And I am sure, when these American men go back to the States, they will harbor the same kind of racial superiority when they encounter Asian and Asian-American women. It is sickening that I, along with numerous intelligent, independent, strong women, am numbered among these stereotypical geishas if not consciously, subconsciously.(And I strongly believe that our racist attitudes are much more subconscious than conscious.)

The truth is that Asian fantasy has been created by western men and is perpetuated by both western and eastern cultures alike. And I am helpless in changing it and it frustrates me to no end.


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