You’ve seen it all too many times, the Asian kid who stumbles across a hallway with physics and math textbooks draped on one arm and a giant backpack full of ostensibly more textbooks draped on the other shoulder, followed by an apologetic smile, or rather an unsightly upturning of the corners of his mouth in what is designed to emulate a real, human smile, and the pushing up of the glasses on the bridge. It’s burned into our minds.
When I conjure such an image in my mind, no public figure bursts forth into my consciousness so palpably as Ken Jeong. To me, he is the embodiment of the emasculated Asian man, nonthreatening and pandering with the mockery of himself and his native culture, and definitively unattractive. “But wait,” I hear from the typical white college douche bag who wears shirts that never fit and shoes that haven’t been washed or replaced in years; “He’s funny!” Then I hear him, as he proceeds to quote his famous line as if no one has heard it before: “Chao outside mudafuka!”
The problem I see more than anything is that there has been a continued proliferation of emasculating images of the Asian American male by Hollywood over decades and this has invariably conditioned our minds on a visceral level to see Asian American males as being either nerds or martial artists. The more sensible fool among us wearing horn-rimmed glasses with the superficial credentials to bolster his bullshit will stop me here. He will note how Asians do tend to be nerdy and do tend to practice traditional martial arts. But the problem with such an assertion is that it encapsulates an entire group of people on a few rigid descriptions of who they are, and this in turn influences their behavior. This is one of many examples of how an observation itself can influence an outcome, and this applies both to the person who must fulfill that prescriptive social identity and to the people around him in his life. Asian kid notices he doesn’t have friends until he demonstrates his math skills and gains friends albeit fellow nerds, and then follows a career path in math only to realize he hates it. But the expectation of people around him all along was that he was meant to be an engineer, not a thoughtful poet, God forbid.
In many ways Ken Jeong is the representation of this phenomenon. He was presumably a stellar student who became a practicing medical doctor and performed stand-up comedy on the side, only to decide that his contrived accents were not enough for laughs, and immersed himself into his own voluntary defamation and that of his fellow people, all of this stemming from a deep inner desire to be liked. To be accepted. But in the process he basically became a coked up version of the stereotypical Asian American with a shitty Asian accent even though he has a perfect American accent; and with no tangible possession of a phallus, taking the stereotype that Asian men have small penises to another height (pun intended).
You see, to understand the struggle of the Asian American male is to understand the inability of one to find sanctum in looking up to a cultural icon and extricate oneself from the inevitable catch-22: either we fully immerse ourselves into the hegemonic, white culture, and dress and act white while operating under the pretense that the constant racist jokes from our white friends means nothing because we are the same as them (picture the Asian kid wearing a bowtie on top of a Polo shirt and Sperry boat shoes); or we abandon all sense of inclusion into mainstream culture and delve further into the neatly laid out role of the sexless Asian robot who is expected to code away and play video games on his free time, not fuck women as a desirable man should. Of course there is another choice, as remote as the native lands themselves, of adopting the cultural ideals of their bloodline, what with the craze of eye makeup, just one facet of the pretty boy obsession, a pertinent social phenomenon in South Korea. But having grown up in America and thereby having absorbed all of its ideals, Asian American men have a hard time understanding the allure of a culture as seemingly remote to them as the prospect of dating a white woman. And so lies the great travesty of navigating the rough social terrain of America: the odds of genuine social acceptance are stacked against us.
But instead of internalizing these entrenched racist images in defeat, dare I entreat the fellow Asian American male reader: do not lose faith. With this stale, synthetic singularity in the Asian American identity comes an opportunity to break out of the shell and turn heads by embracing one’s uniqueness, a quality that is utterly independent of one’s race. As it stands, no man has done this better since Bruce Lee than David Choe.
Enter a man with as few filters while speaking his mind as the number of condoms that Charlie Sheen has used over the years. He is a resounding cultural icon, a representation of a new wave in not just the Asian American identity, but the American identity as a whole. Loud-mouthed, vulgar, lewd, but quintessentially bad ass. His entire bio is so ridiculous that one is inclined to laugh in disbelief. He is a self-proclaimed gambler, sex fiend, food addict, and a damned talented artist, and he relays much of his personal life to listeners through his podcast.
You see, a persona like David Choe’s has gained traction precisely because it is different. In a world full of stuttering, hesitating, and nervous Asian nerds there threaten to exist a few David Choes who sweep in unapologetically and take what is theirs, whether it be fame, money, or pussy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I necessarily subscribe to his ideologies and his way of doing things, like punching himself in the nose for blood to smear on his canvas and his method of playing blackjack, which involves using the double-up Martingale system, which is categorically retarded; but I appreciate the brazenness and the utter indifference he possesses in tackling these very social issues and raising important questions.
Why is it, he would ask in his interview with Joe Rogan, that Jackie Chan, the star of a billion dollar franchise, can’t fuck the girl or even fingerbang the girl in Rush Hour 1 or 2? Why can’t [he] be sexual?
Setting the lewdness aside, there is a point to be made. To me, the answer is plain and simple: just as the dominant white culture has feared the rise of African Americans and has gone to great lengths to stem their impending acceptance into mainstream popular culture, so too is the dominant culture actively trying to suppress the inclusion of Asian American males lest they threaten to tip the precarious social balance for which white men have been riding a long wave of unbridled privilege. And more than anything, I believe there is a visceral fear among the elite that they will lose their sense of privilege, which is predominantly predicated on the purity of their racial identity. If Asian men come into social prominence in America, they threaten to take what is the white man’s most prized possession: their female counterpart.
So fundamentally understanding this ongoing racist phenomenon is understanding how it is inextricably tied to a sexist phenomenon, in which white women are told exactly how to think and behave because they are seen as prized objects. This coupling of racism and sexism is known in sociology as intersectionality and is important in getting to the root of all of this nonsense. As such, I believe that in order to nip this subversive racism in the bud, we must also empower women to break out of the shackles of sexual objectification.
Nevertheless, no matter how daunting such a process may be, in order to find our rightful place in American culture, we must first collectively speak out, but most importantly, act out. That is, pursue our passions unrelentingly and shape an identity that transcends the mundane. That isn’t to say that I shun Asian American men going into computer science; rather, I shun the idea of Asian American men unwittingly adopting every nuance of their social subjugation and doing nothing to further their brilliance, even if it means straying outside of the rigid social boundaries.
And to all the naysayers who question the urgency or even legitimacy of these issues, I say: fuck you, your opinion is null because you are obviously blind. And to Hollywood, who has made a killing by suppressing the creative expression of groups of people on the basis of race and gender and refusing to expand their creative vision lest they lose their predominantly conservative, white audience, I say: fuck you too. But most of all, to all the Asian men who silently hang their heads and wonder if they’ll ever truly be accepted or respected as men and not just drones, I say: fuck you, you’re much bigger than that. No matter how unchanging an image may seem, with a vision and a determination to follow through, it can always change.
As a final message to any Asian American male reader: Sack up, speak out when necessary, and follow your passions. The rest will fall into place.