Critical Spontaneity

Further examining the “Why I’d Hate to Be Asian” video

Late Tuesday night, a video with the title “Why I’d Hate to Be Asian” became instantly viral via Facebook. This video, featuring the slow-paced rant of Samuel Michael Hendrickson, further proves that this country is far from post-racial. Despite his claim that his intention is to be humorous, many Asian Americans are well past seeing the humor in continued stereotypes of our respective communities. Two years ago, Alexandria Wallace’s “Asians in the Library” took over the internet and many of our friends shared the same visceral reactions that include confusion, anger and disbelief.  The sad truth is we will continue to see similar incidents pop up again and again, and as humans, we will find similar and instinctual reactions to these incidents.  The real question is, what can we do as a community to disrupt this cycle of violence and circular debates? How can we change our response?

We must find a way to focus our energy on reacting in proactive ways. The danger we find in immediately attacking Hendrickson may sometimes parallel the danger found in recording a bias-motivated video in the first place. Hendrickson does not fully understand who we are as Asian Americans, and as such, his lack of understanding has led to snap judgements and hate. While we do not believe that any person should be given full amnesty when racism is overtly enacted, we do hope that our community can look within ourselves to make sure we do not respond in the same manner as Hendrickson: a lack of understanding that may lead to more snap judgments and more hate.

It is more important that our community examine what enables Hendrickson to make comments that offer an incomplete picture of who we are. Hendrickson says something to the effect of “I would not want to be an Asian American male because they are not in showbiz. You do not get casted in a movie unless you are a kungfu master or a gang member.”  Rather than attack just one individual, it may be more helpful to understand the widespread culture that he exists within. Yes, Hendrickson should be held accountable, but we need to remember that we can constantly cut branches without ever pulling out roots. A bigger problem that requires a bigger solutions is: Why is there such a poor representation of Asian American males within mainstream media?

While filled with sardonic comments, Hendrickson’s video brings light to a greater issue that permeates every facet of our identity as Asian Americans.  While we do not want to alienate any members of our community with direct quotes, we have seen scary responses from our own community that include threats of violence and name-calling. There is a risk in “talking down” to individuals from a place of privilege.  In order to truly combat racism, we must see it as part of a larger system of oppression. This system is not solely limited to racial/ethnic marginalization, but the unbalanced power dynamics found in ableism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and classism. This video would have no effect if a larger system did not already exist, even within our own Asian American community. Attacking Hendrickson’s lack of access to education, his perceived lower-class status, his mental and cognitive limitations, and telling him to “be a man” or “grow balls” is to not understand that we are fighting ignorance with ignorance.

Many individuals in our community also share a complacent attitude, saying “asians just don’t get it” and that we “shouldn’t be angry about the video because we are just being trolled”.  These sort of statements attempt to view Asian Americans as a homogenous community and as such, makes way for the model minority myth to take hold. There are ways to find solidarity and support, without drowning out our individuality.  Too many of us are affected by years of internalized oppression and it is time to take a stand. Who are we to rely on if our own community members attempt to silence our voice?

Other comments attack the Midwest, where Henrickson currently resides. However, we see in these comments a great divide between the Asian-American communities from coast to coast (and those of us in between).  Many of the comments on social media are moving into arguments between our brothers and sisters who all identify as APIA and who are all offended by this video.

Before Samuel took down his Facebook, his entire life was viewable to the public. One post of his details “Five facts that people don’t know about me” and explains how he suffers from severe Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and has Depression. Mental health issues are stigmatized in many racial/ethnic groups. In some Asian languages, there exists no word to describe any mental health concern besides “crazy”. In turn, our community often times refuses to talk about mental health and its effects on our own community. This refusal to acknowledge the concerns of many of our own make it difficult for us to understand the hardships of others.  While an individual’s experience within each cultural environment is different, it is also helpful to acknowledge that members from all communities struggle with mental health concerns; mental illnesses do not discriminate. By allowing each of our communities to see shared struggles that exist, we can slowly build bridges to move toward a more collective union.

Yes, continue to be angry and continue to advocate for justice; anger can be a productive source to harness.  All we ask is that each of us takes time to realize our own gaps in understanding and the stereotypes we hold of other groups and within our own groups. To further the discussion, while not shifting any of the blame onto any respective parties, it is important to seek the real culprit to absolve the blame that may be vetted against any one party.  If we are truly interested in ridding the world of such hate speech, it is important to find the source. Later, Hendrickson returns to comment “I would like to really apologize to the entire Asian race and anyone else offended by my video. What I did was a joke but was not taken as one, with that being said, I sincerely am sorry for offending anyone”.  We all know that this apology does not resolve larger issues at play.

Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we can accomplish so much more together, rather than apart.  Instead of fighting back the hate with more hate, we need to remove the oxygen that fuels the fire.

SPark, PJuang, VTeck, NChen

 

11 comments on “Further examining the “Why I’d Hate to Be Asian” video

  1. Pingback: Why I would hate to be Samuel Michael Hendrickson: Sequel to Why I’d hate to be Asian | Occidentally Asian

  2. Poplar
    March 6, 2013

    This is a wonderful piece. Thank you for this great share. Totally agree.

  3. Giao Trần
    March 6, 2013

    Props

  4. Narinda
    March 6, 2013

    “In order to truly combat racism, we must see it as part of a larger system of oppression. This system is not solely limited to racial/ethnic marginalization, but the unbalanced power dynamics found in ableism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and classism. This video would have no effect if a larger system did not already exist, even within our own APIA community. Attacking Hendrickson’s lack of access to education, his perceived lower-class status, his mental and cognitive limitations, and telling him to “be a man” or “grow balls” is to not understand that we are fighting ignorance with ignorance.”

    This can be applied to many, many situations. Thanks to the authors for this well-thought-out, compassionate perspective.

    • thkoo
      March 9, 2013

      As Narinda stated… Thanks a lot for your perspective! It’s truly refreshing to read something that considers the bigger picture and the larger issue at hand after constantly being exposed to anger-filled backlash from many in the Asian community. Indeed, we need to get to the root of the problem not just chop away at the branches!

      • The root of the problem is that White people find it acceptable, and in some cases even funny, to degrade and attack Asian Americans. To do the same towards Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities would be considered morally reprehensible. As a racial group, we do not reap the benefits of the civil rights movement. The Asian community in general has given into the idea that we must be subservient and apologetic to White people and let White men have easy access to our daughters in order for our community to gain acceptance in mainstream society. Such docile behavior only nets more insults, such that while we kiss their feet, they kick dirt in our faces.

  5. laura
    March 7, 2013

    thanks for pushing the conversation forward towards understanding and change.

  6. djchuang
    March 7, 2013

    Reblogged this on orange asian man and commented:
    More data to prove that we do not live in a post-racial society in America

  7. Slertt
    March 8, 2013

    I see a bunch of excuse making for the perpetrator of this vile act. You make it sound like his ADD or something else should give him a pass for his hatefulness. I don’t see phrases like “while not shifting any of the blame onto any respective parties” as anything more than a cop out.It’s a backhanded way of explaining away his behaviour and detracting from the responsibility he must take for his actions.

    Let’s be very clear here. This person wasn’t just thinking these thoughts. He put in the effort to put his thoughts on video and then broadcast them across the world. He wanted the attention. He wanted the world to know his views.

    While understanding and appreciation are great long term goals, they do nothing to combat the daily, casual racism that was the true source of this video. The only way to combat this is to do exactly what happened with Alexandra Wallace. We need to ocstracize them and ridicule them until they crawl back into whatever holes they crawled out of. We need to make it known that racism is absolutely unacceptable and you will be held accountable for your actions.

  8. john chang
    March 11, 2013

    that was beautifully written. thank you.

  9. ivyshihleung
    March 16, 2013

    Wonderfully, thoughtfully, objectively, and maturely written and balanced piece. It’s absolutely true that we need to stop combating hatred with more hatred. That just leads us into a perpetual cycle of ignorance and hate. I did not see the video and don’t ever plan to because I know that what I see will trigger a similar reaction as that which was experienced by the majority of Asians who did see it. There are countless trolls out in cyberspace who pounce on every opp’y they can to show how vile people can truly be especially when they can do so in an anonymous way. That’s just plain cowardly. And these people will never be happy unless they’ve gotten the attention they were seeking, irking someone to the point of responding to them and carrying on an argument online. They don’t say “Don’t feed the trolls” for nothing, yanno. And we all know that misery loves company. Recording the video is tantamount to trolling. The mere fact that trolls are able to put out such vile words in the first place is an indication that they need help…not to mention education so they can understand that what they are saying is truly ignorant. Speaking of which, and I see you touch on mental health issues (and thank you), it is a huge concern in this country (think Newtown), mostly because there is still so much ignorance and stigma that all too often prevent people from getting help. There should be ZERO shame in getting help. ZERO. But we’ve got a looooooong road ahead of us, and we must never stop!

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