Some of you might know that I moved to San Francisco recently. Two days ago, really. My lease in Chicago was ending...
So, I’m browsing the selections for the “Best American” anthologies since they’re on sale on Kindle today, and I am pained, though not surprised, to see that Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” makes multiple appearances. This is what happens when there is a dearth of Asian American voices in major publications. The article is being celebrated for being provocative and “truthful,” I’m sure, but it doesn’t take much to raise hackles as the lone voice of an underrepresented group in a mainstream venue using that visibility to repeat stereotypes and victim-blame that group for their own marginalization. Edgy! The mainstream always loves exceptionalists to do its dirty work. The handful of eloquently expressed truths of alienation and discontent felt by Asian Americans in his piece doesn’t justify immortalizing this clusterfuck of ignorance masquerading as comprehensive cultural commentary. (He is actually a pretty good writer when he sticks to contemplation rather than prescription: see his far superior essay on Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, worth reading in full.)
Here were the best responses to “Paper Tigers,” in my opinion:
While Yang tries to balance the “de-Asianification” of ethos and values in the former example with the latter, I see a common thread running in the argumentative function in both, which ineluctably serve as “types of response to being Asian”: the desire not only to be white but to be white men, that is, to be like the top of the racial-gender strata. There is no hint of questioning the strata itself. What we are left with is quite frankly a meditation on how to acquire white privilege, not the questioning of the value-system of privileging based on race and gender itself.
Let me tell you, I am sick and tired of having the mainstream media trying to tell me what my culture is, whether the narrative is about how it generates a frightening population of repressed, conformist robots or about how fascinatingly and exotically mysterious it is. I am sick and tired of how publications like the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine promote a single story about the Asian-American experience that validates white people’s fear and contempt. I am sick and tired of these distorted mirrors and all the time I seem to spend smashing them in self-defense—how many conversations about Amy Chua and Tiger Moms did I have to duck and deflect over the past few months, and how many conversations in the future will I have to face about this article of Yang’s?—when really, what I want to do is talk about our multiplicity of stories with all their differences and commonalities. I want to talk about how to embrace tradition while critiquing it—or even, how to evolve tradition while continuing it.
Ask A Korean: Wesley Yang Replies: The Korean’s Short Reply, and Some Observations The Korean originally wrote a long post blasting Yang’s article in the form of a passionate defense of Amy Chua-style elitism that primarily unloaded on the “Fuck Asian values” paragraph. (I didn’t really care for it.) Yang wrote a surprisingly friendly post in response, to which the Korean wrote a second post, addressing the victim-blaming and ignorance of Yang’s article:
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.