A Japanese American veteran of the Second World War told me a story that always stuck in my head. He said that while he was training in the South, he and his fellow Japanese American soldiers went into a restaurant to go to the bathroom. Of course, the bathrooms back then were segregated. Having grown up on the West Coast, he wasn’t sure which bathroom he was supposed to use. He eventually decided to go into the “colored” bathroom since he didn’t think of himself as “white.” But when he emerged from the bathroom an angry crowd had formed and he was informed that he was not “colored” and that in the future he was to use the “white” one instead.
The reason I’m telling you this story is that I’ve always been curious to see how racists saw Asian/Asian Americans. Unlike other people of color, it isn’t always black and white – excuse the pun. Instead it’s very complicated. Because unlike other racial minorities, many of the stereotypes associated with Asians – hardworking, nerdy, quiet, demure – can be seen as “positive.” And because historically the percentages of Asian/Asian Americans have been low, it has been a non-issue. But as the number of Asian/Asian Americans increases in the coming decades and as the world becomes more and more global, I have a feeling that much of how racists see Asians will have to be re-evaluated.
Recently, I was lurking on a white supremacist forum (while researching a screenplay) when I saw this fascinating discussion: They were debating whether they should hate Asians or grudgingly respect us.
(Please note, I won’t link to the site because I don’t want to drive traffic there, but if you’re interested I’m sure you’d be able to find it all on your own).
The title of the thread is “White Vs. Asian.” In the first post, the person uses pictures (he found on the Internet) to compare “white” architecture, food, musicians, art, sculpture, “beauties,” ships, athletes, “average commoner,” and “medics” to their “Asian” equivalents. I’m not going to go into how idiotic these categories (and I use that word very loosely) because they defy logic but needless to say in every category the “white” one is clearly “better” than the Asian one. Let me give you an example of one of the “fair” and unbiased comparisons. When comparing “beauties” of each race he picked these two women as exemplars of each race:
However, this is not the interesting part of the thread. The interesting part is the ensuing conversation about Asians. Readng it confirmed that the white supremacist’s feelings toward Asians/Asian Americans is complicated.
So here are some of the “positive” comments:
What’s most fascinating about all these “positive” comments are that they seem to be based on some level of respect for (at least some) Asian countries and of course the model minority stereotypes. But what most impresses me is that they are able to differentiate East Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
Of course, not all the comments on the thread are “prositive.” Here is a sampling of some of the “Asians are evil” comments:
Where do I begin? I’m not going to go into detail about these but it seems that copyright infringement is very important to this crowd.
In the end, I wouldn’t want to be on a dark street with any of these people – even those that wrote semi-positive comments about Asian/Asian Americans. For me, it comes down to this: If people hate other people for something as arbitrary as the color of their skin or their religion, then most likely (sooner than later) they’ll find something to hate about me. Maybe it’s the shape of my eyes. Or the color of my skin. Or the way I talk. But I have no doubt they’ll find something.