While I’ve enjoyed reading articles written by people who “miss the monoculture,” I don’t really miss it or even remember it very well. I’ve always felt a bit off in my own world, which sometimes is a point of pride and other times feels like a kind of social failure. These days, for me, the greatest tension when writing about music is trying to bridge the gap between music as a private or a public experience. So part of me envied those who could join the conversation about Nicki Minaj and connect her music to the broader culture, because so much of the music I love and have interesting ideas about means almost nothing to the world as a whole.
This column connects with some thoughts I’ve had about being a person who writes about music, a person who writes about K-pop, and even about when I moved away from home and found myself in a peer group that grew up listening to a completely different set of records from me. Also, the idea of music that is more interesting to read about than to listen to is great (and makes me feel better about all those times I’ve listened to a song and had absolutely nothing to say about it).
This is from a month ago, as a reaction to that MBC thing, but it provides some interesting context for both the practice of blackface and its reception in various cultures (while not excusing the fact that it happened):
I think the singular difference between blackface in Korean contexts, versus blackface in the American (or European) context is that in Korea, it’s not clear whether blacks occupy a special negative place in the Korean mind — yet, or still. While it’s easy for the Western North American to assume so, since the mockery used on blacks is so often copied straight from our own historically racist entertainment, where blacks did occupy that specially excluded/hated status — and while it is offensive to most black people, and deserving of criticism — the Korean use of blackface isn’t necessarily a sign that blacks are the Most Hated Others in Korean thought. I think this assumption might be lurking behind the loudness the Western response to incidents of blackface (as opposed to the much quieter and gentler expat response to the mockery of Arabs in Korean media).
I also really liked this quote about the dominant culture’s perception of what racism is vs. its reality:
When people sympathize with me, they’re usually thinking of how alone they imagine I feel here, or how hard it is to be somewhere where your mother isn’t providing you with home-cooked side dishes on a regular basis — not people calling any woman beside me a “foreigners’ whore” or a “crazy bitch,” or being attacked in subway stations by random assholes, or having my contract illegally changed midway through, or going unpaid by an employer, as many white hakwon teachers seem to experience. When they imagine racism against blacks in Korea, they think of rude old men muttering bad words into the wind, not assaults on the subway or in the streets or a constant barrage of being told to “go home” or the way leadership in this society thinks of black people almost all the way to the top, or how insulting and dehumanizing the depiction of blacks is in the media here. When those Koreans who are at all sympathetic imagine the problems of Southeast Asians, they think of hard work and low pay, not fear of summary arrest or violence at the hands of employers or unthinkably dangerous working conditions.
To this I would add that in the North American context, this is often reversed: the popular perception of racism tends to be limited to physical violence and/or dramatic things like cross-burning (hence the fallacy that our society is “post-racial”, because things like that don’t happen in the open any more), not the more insidious, subtle things like Othering, stereotyping or withholding jobs or good grades. That’s not to say that physical violence isn’t part of the reality of racism - the recent cases of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi definitely say otherwise - but that it isn’t the whole picture, and racist attitudes still count even if their holder hasn’t committed an outright act of violence.
How does a white woman claim to be the victim of yellow fever? I know, it’s so absurd it’s funny. But she manages it, by denying the impact of racism, and replacing it with a spiteful sense of competition. She doesn’t criticize her boyfriend’s race-conquest. She doesn’t flinch at his weekend tally of Asian indulgence. Instead, she basically protests that Asians took my boyfriend.
In selecting this story This American Life poses two subtexts: that white women are the natural objects of sexual attraction, and that people of color are a threat. It nurses a wound that whiteness was overlooked, and makes a fresh contribution to the Jezebel accusation of the racial temptress–”over-sexualized” Black women, “spicy” Latinas or “bellydancing” Middle Eastern woman.
For East Asian women or gay men, yellow fever isn’t a triumph, it’s a trauma. The fact that her boyfriend is a cheater is half as noxious as the fact that his casual sex is raced. But in this story, somehow, the white protagonist has managed to describe herself as oppressed by, well, Asian oppression.
ARGH. I don’t listen to NPR (which I would only be able to get in podcast form anyway) but this made me want to flip my desk, for all the reasons articulated in the essay. On the upside, there’s some excellent discussion going on in the comments section, with clarifying information and a diversity of viewpoints represented, each with good points.
Oh boy. Obviously, it’s completely impossible to talk about Jeremy Lin without talking about race. Mindful of the other Asian players who’ve played in the NBA, I think it’s still safe to say that Lin is the Asian player who, through a combination of circumstance, luck, timing, and some monster performances, has captured America’s admittedly infantile and famously fickle imagination.
But the true testament to how rare a phenomenon Jeremy Lin is in the NBA is this: NBA fans have almost no vocabulary with which to talk about him. As with any Asian person in popular culture, people’s first resort is a torrent of pan-Asian racist gibberish: If it has anything to do with any country, food, product, concept, or stereotype involving Asia, the rule is basically, “Make any association or equivalence you want, whatever….”
The case of Lin, however, brings out another issue unique to basketball, summed up fairly succinctly in this Tweet, from @itsGQ: “Where tha fuck this Jeremy Lin nigga came from??”
And with that, we have a bit of unpacking to do.
I have to admit that I’ve been pulled in by Linsanity, or at least reading every news article and thinkpiece I come across. In part it’s because I’m looking to groan at a writer who gets it wrong when talking about him and/or his race (the same impulse that keeps me reading the comments sections of online news stories). Despite being neither Taiwanese nor American, I definitely have felt the “one of our own” pride that many have described, which is maybe what keeps me reading.
What I’m really hoping for, I think, is that this is the beginning of a dialogue about how we talk about Asian people, and especially North American-born Asian people. This piece demonstrates that the current vocabulary is fairly limited, and that for Asian-Americans, in the public mind, what comes before the hyphen is the only thing that matters, so much so that it’s a surprise when what comes after the hyphen is demonstrated to any extent. As Edmund Lee writes at Capital New York:
The connection Luo describes [in the New York Times] is real and it’s one I feel too, but I also can’t help but feel it’s a reaction to the reaction as much as anything else. We Asian Americans are pointing to the TV screens and the Twitter streams and saying, “See, see, as long as you see what I know, then we’ve won.” Meanwhile, really, I know that Jeremy Lin is as distinct from me as anyone else on the court.
We are not Jeremy Lin. Rather, the triumphal narrative here is that the rest of the world now has some small clue about our own miscellany, our own idiosyncrasies and beliefs. We are not all Tiger Mom cubs. We are not so uniform and so blind to feeling and emotion and that we can’t swagger and sway. We’re not merely silent strivers. Some of us can dunk and drive and smile like everyone else.
“Like most women, I currently live in a society where violence, harassment and scary shit can break out at any moment, just because I told some random asshole “no” without bothering to be nice about it. Doing that is so dangerous that most women don’t dare; after a few scary incidents, they learn to make up excuses, to smile, to be sweet and welcoming, to act as if every single random asshole on the street is a precious new friend that they would just LOVE to stand outside of the Chipotle and chat with FOR HOURS, if only cruel fate had not intervened. That’s what it’s actually like, being a woman: Playing nice with every random asshole, because this random asshole might be the one who hurts you. And then, if he hurts you anyway, they’ll tell you that you led him on.”
In which “yellow fever” means “East/Southeast Asian fetish” and/or refers to the thing some men (usually non-East/-Southeast Asian men) say they have when they have found themselves attracted to an East/Southeast Asian-looking woman (women considered “yellow”). They also say they have it when they’re trying to attract an East/Southeast Asian woman, and for some reason, they sometimes try to use it as a pickup line. I refer to it here as if it’s actually a thing you can have for grammatical clarity. Well, it is a thing you can have, but its real name is “being ignorant and a racist jerk.”
Obviously this is not exclusively a men-who-like-women thing (actually, I’ve been thinking about this lately when I think about cross-cultural, cross-racial fandom in K-pop, and often in the case of women who like men), but I’m talking about men who like women here because I’m a straight woman and I want to talk from my own experiences.
It’s not all white men who have it. It’s not all non-Asian men who have it.
But before you go and declare yourself one of the “good guys” and pat yourself on the back, know that you are still responsible for not saying racist shit to the woman you are dating. Not exclusively dating women of one race (or, God forbid, exclusively finding women of one race attractive) doesn’t make you a hero and it doesn’t give you an automatic “pass”.
Also, know that if an Asian woman assumes you have it, it may be a defense mechanism, not as a personal attack on your character - it’s not about you, it’s about her. Personally I’ve encountered enough individuals with “yellow fever” that I find myself usually second-guessing and investigating others’ motives. I don’t like that I do it automatically - I’d love to assume that I am just an extremely desirable individual, obviously - but I’d rather not have fetishizing assholes in my life, and at this point I feel the need to ensure that I’m not involved with a fetishizing asshole. (At the moment, I am not.)
Saying “I love Asian girls” is not a compliment and should not be accepted as such. There’s nothing really wrong with the statement (aside from the usually racist intent behind it), just that it’s pretty meaningless. “The reason I like you is your ethnic background, which I assumed based on your appearance, and because my limited interaction with you has fit into the assumptions I made based on your ethnic background.”
Saying “You’re not like other Asians” (or “other Asian girls”) is also not a compliment and should no be accepted as such. “The reason I like you is because my limited interaction with you has not fit into the assumptions I made based on your ethnic background, which I assumed based on your appearance.”
The reason why, as a woman of East Asian descent, the term “yellow fever” and its associated statements (“I love Asian girls”, “I find Asians really attractive”, “I only date Asians”) is so off-putting to me is because it’s perceived as the man separating the Asian woman from “other women”, and at the same time stripping me of my individuality. When I hear that statement, I hear that I am 1. not “normal” or “usual”, to the point where it requires being stated; and 2. in that moment, only attractive because I’m Asian. The difference between “You’re beautiful” and “You’re beautiful. I love Asian women” is huge.
It may happen that you have only dated Asian women in the past. Up to this point, I’ve primarily dated white men. It’s entirely possible. But I would never say I have “white fever”, I would never invalidate my relationships with real people by referring to them collectively as some phase I’m going through, I would never refuse to date anyone but a white man, and I would never tell someone I find him attractive because he’s white. If anything, other people have told me, “You only like him because he’s white,” which is silly.
As long as it keeps happening this won’t be my final word on this topic, but it’s pretty much all the thoughts I have ever had about it. To correct/discuss further, just ask.
Do Korean guys go for non-Korean [white, black, Latina, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Martian] girls?
If there is only one thing to remember about Korean men, it’s this: they are men before they are Korean. Do you have breasts and a vagina? Then at least some Korean men would go for you. It’s relatively uncommon, but hey, interracial dating is always relatively uncommon.
The Korean cannot stress this point enough: KOREAN MEN ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS ALL MEN. Korean dramas feed upon the fact that you womenfolks are always trying to find some men that do not exist in real world. Please just let it go. No man expects to find a woman who cooks like Rachel Ray and screws like Jenna Jameson. Same should go for your expectation on your man.
I don’t like everything this guy has to say, but it feels good to read this right now.
Jacynthe, “Don’t Touch Those Faders” (French version). Interesting here for two reasons. Firstly, After School recorded this song as “Virgin” on their album of the same name. Secondly, this version of the song (there’s an English one as well) mixes in English lines with the French, which reminds me of the way K-pop songs mix English in with the Korean, as “Virgin” indeed does. However, I don’t think the motivation here for including English is the same as it is in a K-pop song, that is that “English sounds cool and foreign”, because Jacynthe is Canadian and Québecoise and singing for an urban, clubbing Québecois audience that, presumably, is acquainted with English as an everyday language.
Here’s what I want to know: Can we draw a parallel between historical Anglophone imperialism over Francophone Québecois culture and Western globalizing/cultural colonization of South Korean culture (and colonialism/imperialism via U.S. military bases, etc.), and link that to the use of English by a Francophone Québecoise singer and by a South Korean girl group? Or are we post- all that and able to assign other reasons for the use of English in these songs, ones that prioritize the music over its cultural context and assign more agency and autonomy to the people producing the music? I’d actually prefer to do the former, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions.