The year is 1998 and I really don’t want to school. I want nothing to do with it. I don’t have a test, there’s no incomplete homework to speak of, no – in my eyes, it’s much worse.
“Dutch Day” is coming up at school, an annual tradition for third graders where all the kids in the class dress up like 17th century colonists and do fun Dutch colonial activities all day in tribute to the school’s founding by the Dutch in 1628.
I don’t want to dress up as a Dutch colonist kid because I have zero desire to be something I am not. Despite being only eight or nine years old, I am fully conscious that the idea of an Asian in an early 17th century American colonial setting is absurd, and I want out. The idea is patently ridiculous to me.
Why the hell would a Korean ever find himself in colonial New York?
I’m a “Dutchman” at heart, because that’s our school mascot. I bleed orange and blue (our school colors), and I love it there. I have many friends, and feel 100% part of the community. I just really don’t think it makes any sense to dress up in some pilgrim getup (involving a blouse from my mom and some weird ass pantaloon crap, no less) to simulate a scenario to which I don’t belong…
I ended up not having to go – I was saved by a bout of fever.
I bring up this childhood experience because I read that Gawker essay making its rounds earlier this week – the personal piece of a Korean-American-International student at Vassar, talking about his experience attempting to grow up in America.
It’s linked here for the sake of context, but I don’t recommend taking anything it says to heart — I think the message was a handful of crap (http://gawker.com/transformed-into-white-gods-what-happens-in-america-wi-1494266254).
I always hesitate to step forward with my opinion on Asian-American issues – largely because I feel my background and experience are not indicative of the typical Asian-American experience; but nevertheless, I’ll touch on this notion of Asian American identity in perhaps the only context I can provide competent perspective – my own life, and sports.
The idea that Koreans in America are in some way or form conditioned to desire to “be white”, think that being white is automatically better, or are confronted with some sort of identity crisis in the face of a seemingly superior white America, is absolutely false in my mind.
Not more than a few weeks ago in this very space I talked about how important defining my heritage was to my adolescence, the impact of 2002 and all of the emotions that came with those years. I was raised by good parents, without shame or self-pity; I had no desire to be anything that I wasn’t, because I had confidence in my own being, from my toes to the jet black fibers of hair on my head.
My place in my community was *mine*, defined by my own character and talents, not my ability to assimilate into some falsely superior culture. I never felt like ‘being white’ was some ultimate desire, even at a young age, I was conscious of my Korean-American identity and had nothing to hide.
Dragon Ball Z was just a cartoon to me. It mattered not what color Goku’s hair turned when he went Super Saiyan. His blue eyes evoked no longing to meld into some true Aryan race archetype. The thought that Dragon Ball Z speaks towards some sort of subconscious notion of white supremacy is laughable.
[By the way, when Goku hits Super Saiyan 4, he turns into an ape-man. Does this mean we’re supposed to assume the state of monkey-dom is the highest form we can possibly achieve? Planet of the Apes makes so much sense now.]
Seeing something like that Gawker article disgusts me. It disgusts me because it’s delivered on a high profile platform, it gives voice to someone pissing out a sensationalized impression of a community’s presence in America that I am very much a part of, and it leaves readers who don’t know any better feeling like they have some greater understanding of what it means to be Asian in America.
Because *feelings*. Because *hardship*. Because of the use of abstract terms like *love*. Bullshit.
Articulating one’s own personal experience is fine, praiseworthy even. I have no problem with most of the essay as a tale of the kid’s struggle with his adolescence in two countries. But when you get into generalizations about ‘many of us Asians’, it’s disgraceful.
How dare you claim “our” parents “wanted for us—to become white, become powerful”, how dare you have the audacity to claim the land of my ancestors “has not love for itself or others.” (Particularly when it seems the subject’s parents made some poor decisions with respect to the stability of the kid’s life growing up?)
One person, particularly one with such a juvenile perspective, has no business trying to impress these falsities onto the unknowing masses of the internet in a public forum.
I also wonder about the assessment of Asian and Asian American athletes in the public realm – about the extent to which the public tries to assimilate its judgment of Asian athletes into a more familiar standard of the more common black and white athletes of our day.
We’ve talked about this on Joy Dunk Club – how Jeremy Lin gets hit with the “deceptively quick” label. Why is it deceptive? He’s a lean, 6’3 point guard in the NBA. Is he not supposed to be quick?
It happens elsewhere too. We see a lot of the same verbiage tossed about in the soccer world, when we talk about Park Ji Sung’s “spirit”, and the “tidiness” of Asian players. Why should any professional athlete be deemed “sneakily athletic” based on race?
I’m fine with linesmen in the NFL being described as “deceptively quick”, because they’re 300 lb hulking masses of human beings. That is legitimately impressive, to move that much body mass with that much agility. But in this context, is an Asian point guard’s excellent first step on the drive similarly all that much of a surprise?
People are guilty of trying to meld Asian athletes into racial standards in less subtle ways too. We see Yao Ming cursing off and taunting Chris Kaman and it’s a whole party because he’s “playing black”. Some see Jeremy Lin bumping chests, wagging his tongue, taking buzzer beaters, and conclude he’s playing with “black swagger”.
It frustrates me that these conclusions are so simple sometimes. Yes, the NBA and the streetball scene are predominantly black, but does that mean our Asian sports heroes are mimicking another race, or are they really just participating in the cultural norms of their profession?
Those norms may have their roots in the culture of another race, but that doesn’t imply that Asian athletes are specifically emulating those norms because of that race, or that those norms should continue to be associated solely with that race.
When Linsanity happened, I was one of those guys pleading for the world to just appreciate the phenomenon through the lens of basketball. I was a Knicks fan, and I appreciated Linsanity as a Knicks fan.
The heroism he provided to the Asian American community and the strides he made for Asian American kids playing sports were only positive externally to me. They were great developments for the Asian American community, but to me, only an external part of the basketball product.
I’ll echo what I said in my article on Linsanity several months ago – as time goes by, as Asian-Americans become more and more common place in the world of professional sports, I will be patiently waiting for the day when we’re not judged on how “white” or “black” we are or play, but on our qualities.
I’m just trying to be myself in this world, I think the same applies to the best athletes of my race, and I hope people in general have more backbone and courage to embrace their place in the world without blaming perceived inadequacies of society.
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