One of the things I enjoy about the Internet and Democracy is that you have the opportunity to engage in dialogues and see different points of view. One of the things I don’t like is that often, people have already decided that the only logic that works is self-serving logic, the only dialogue worth paying attention to is the sound of their own voice, and the best perspective is their own.
Thankfully, that’s not how we work here on 8Asians, and it’s why I’ve decided it would be a good time to offer some educated analysis about what was touched upon last week by Koji, mainly because within the context of Asian America, it makes sense, but outside, there were some points that probably could use some analysis and deconstruction, particularly from an outsider (yours truly, 8Asians’ favorite expat writer).
1) Asian-American film festivals are definitely not going to go away and shouldn’t, the problem is that they have strange criteria over what should be accepted. I have a friend who happens to be of Anglo ancestry, but was rejected by three Asian-American film festivals, whereas for others, he had a lot more acceptance. Not to make any conclusions here, but it is a common joke amongst friends that it’s discrimination again reversed from the usual trend. I have other Anglo friends who seem to never get much of a response when they submit their films, let alone feel welcomed whenever they attend the festivals, but when you see the garbage that many of the YouTube types submit–not even the quality pieces either, but the ones made by the social climbers and hacks–you have to wonder how they are getting accepted and screened. The problem with Asian-American film festivals I have is that it’s a lot of patting on the back and self-applause, but often, the best films I’ve seen there are the Asian films, not Asian-American. And if there’s a lot of praise for almost passable work, I don’t see that as encouragement, but as an incestuous moment of ego-stroking, which doesn’t enable growth and eventual branching out into mainstream. If starting out in Asian-American film festivals directly led to mainstream, we’d already have more Asian-Americans in Hollywood by now, but again: not so simple.
2) Asian-American studies should not go away either, and they are good to have. The issues I have, however, is that of the classes I have taken, several common variables were i) an almost militant kind of categorization, almost reactionary, to mainstream history, which leads to ii) a kind of self-congratulating “woe is me” kind of approach rather than a call to rise out of that and seek greatness as is part of American character, and iii) not a lot of criteria to be critically and analytically useful. A few years ago, when I still believed I needed a Master’s degree, UCLA’s Asian-American studies department did not have a strict set of requirements to apply, and to graduate, there was the option of making a creative piece in lieu of a comprehensive exam. Likewise at the undergraduate level, I’ve seen final papers comprised of writing about people’s own personal experiences as Asian-Americans. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, as it’s easier to understand culture and theory through stories rather than orthodox pedagogy, but there doesn’t seem to be much overlap into other immigrant groups’ experiences or other opinions in the Asian-American programs–creating a very narrow perspective as it ironically calls for people to be more open-minded and understanding of the Asian-American peoples’ plight (or as others call it: victimization). To study culture typically involves having one to default to and compare all others against, but personally, I never saw a lot of depth of comparison beyond racism incidents in popular histories, and that the assumption was that other classes would fill in the void left open when studying Asian America. The best times I understood American history and character was when I was studying France and Britain, and the time I finally understood Asian America was when I stopped living in its bubble. Without something to compare to, it didn’t give me that depth to appreciate the uniqueness between the three.
3) Political correctness: although important within the context of common complaints in Asian America, in the grander vision of the world, it’s pretty short-sighted. When I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, it was on paper a secular state, but I can only recall 4:30am prayer calls waking me up, or three-hour long Friday services blasted out of loudspeakers and audible for several blocks. You can’t tell them to be quiet, or you will be branded “ignorant” of other cultures and religions, but it’s anything-goes when the subject is on Christianity or Buddhism. In any case, just because something is law doesn’t mean it will be followed, and even if it is followed, it doesn’t change how people continue to feel, so if anything should be addressed, it’s working on the lack of morals and honors in society rather than saying “You can’t do that” which is the equivalent of saying “I dare you to”. So if the law says you can’t call someone a nigger, remember that there is a difference between legality and morality: if it’s illegal but you don’t know why it’s wrong besides being illegal, what’s going to convince you that it’s morally wrong besides penalties for breaking the law? Then we should consider what needs to change socially besides just changing the law, and even if the law says one thing, if you ever lived in a totalitarian or corrupt country, who’s to say that the law is correct?
4) Race does indeed matter and it is absurd to say race is behind us, whether or not you are American. Unfortunately, the trap many fall into (especially in America), is that people think race explains all the problems of society, and thus it is even more absurd to assume being white automatically means privilege. Nope, not so simple. You aren’t poor or rich because your melanin level is different from the rest, but when people are looking for answers, one thing they will notice besides being poor is physical features, which includes race. So race does matter, but it isn’t the only variable in the equation of inequality, and this is only subjective inequality, that is to say, what people assume rather than what can tangibly be measured and proven (try running a regression on STATA if you like).
When I lived in the Philippines and Hong Kong, people had a love for lighter skin, and most models I saw weren’t known for their suntans. You can definitely see a difference in being hired for an English teaching position or living life as a Cassanova or a seductress, but to assume for everything else that a white person will get hired simply because he’s white is a mark of being severely uneducated–more often than not, from working in humanitarian aid development, I’ve seen people who had specific disadvantages because they were white due to the discomfort locals had around outsiders, and they were also more at risk for violent crimes, particularly when I was working in Timor-Leste.
In any case, there are some points to consider that were brought up in last week’s rant, but without further thought or dialogue, there isn’t room for growth, all of which are what the Asian-American community needs to avoid falling into the trap of parochialism and provincialism.