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NChen, Vteck, SPark, PJuang
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.
More information on my amazing collaborators:
Norman Chen is an Asian American identified student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Working through his various community organizations, he promotes various issues to strive for a more inclusive and understanding community. Despite obligations to his friends, family and fraternity, Norman tries to advocate for people that may not have courage or the voice to speak up. He is currently juggling work at the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, school and an unhealthy obsession with League of Legends. Apparently, he looks like a chow chow (dog breed). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vanessa Teck, often referred to VTeck, is a Cambodian American fourth year student at the University of Denver. An advocate of all issues related to inclusive excellence, VTeck aims to educate communities through activist media and sharing stories, particularly through her nonprofit Project Ava. Heavily invested in the APIA community, she hopes to bring together a collective and progressive movement. In her spare time, she enjoys quoting Harry Potter and collecting photos of pug puppies.You can contact her at email@example.com.
Pei-Lynn Juang is a Taiwanese/Asian American graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At UIUC, Pei was dedicated towards creating a more unified APIA community; believing in the power of awareness and open dialogue. Originally from the Midwest, she tries to stay connected to her alma mater even though she’s now a transplant living on the West Coast. But hey, the West Coast isn’t all that bad. Pei is enjoying the sun and her accessibility to the Cabazon Dinosaurs, which she hopes to see sometime soon. She loves potatoes, packing suitcases, and all things space (the universe, galaxies, stars…everything). You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.