Throughout my life, I have been tortured with that thought, while never regretting for a second that I am half-Chinese.I went to a Catholic school, where most of the students were Chinese-Indonesians. In Australia or other Asia-Pacific countries it is easy to find other ethnic Chinese of any nationality. I taught in schools where the majority of students and faculty members were Chinese-Indonesians.
And there’s the church.
But my areas of study pushed me away from them. Whether in media studies or international relations, it was difficult to meet ethnic Chinese of any nationality. I developed strong friendships with Indonesian students from other departments, but at first there were hitches. Some associated my neurosis and crankiness with the stereotypical Chinese traits of being stingy and arrogant. After we understood each other, I eventually heard the exclamation, “You’re different from the other Chinese”.
Asian migrants found refuge and better lives in Australia, but their influence on Australian culture and identity is still disputable. There are Asian-Australian comedians, TV actors and entrepreneurs, but it would be hard to find Asian-Australian movie stars, top models and elected or appointed executives. Last year the federal race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasan, suggested that Asian-Australians faced a “bamboo ceiling” that blocked their promotions, while in April the Asian Australian Lawyers Association claimed that the ceiling prevented law firms from choosing Asian-Australians as partners. Similar claims appear in the US, Canada and New Zealand, whether in universities, show business, or corporations.
On the other hand, Asians, especially East Asians, are seen worldwide as hardworking, law abiding and peaceful. Not just in Indonesia, ethnic Chinese in the US (along with other Asian ethnicities) have on average become the richest racial group and are also the ones that stay out of jail. Just like the mixed nature of living qualities in Asian Tiger countries (high income, high stress), living qualities for Asians in the West seem contradictive.There is also the question of a sex life. East Asian men seem to be the least desirable romantic and sexual partners, whether in the West or Southeast Asia.
All East Asian economics (including Singapore) worry that their populations will decline and Japan regularly features as the country with the least sex frequency between married couples. In the second half of the 2000s, several Asian-Americans started popular blogs highlighting the casual racism of American media and the lack of a sensible fashion sense and assertive manner among Asian-American men. They believed these two things (plus the rigid parenting of Asian-American parents) had made Asian men look unattractive. Of course, it is not just in America.
Their proposals (and business pitches) of creating “Alpha Asians” — Asian men living like James Bond — attracted not only lonely hearts in the West, but even East Asian governments, which created television shows on dating coaching and launched initiatives to help working singles find matches. TV programs on seduction skills are being made, including in Indonesia.
Something funny happened on the way to cathedral. A good number of the blogs and the dating clinics were not only suggesting good shoes and fitness plans, but also an aggressive night life style. Some even go as far in making a fetish of white women (as sex partners instead of steady girlfriends), in order for Asian guys to break the mindset barrier that they have to date Asian women only.Years later, I learned that these dating gurus were part of the Pick-Up Artist subculture, which became popular in the mid-2000s. Many of them were nerds who changed their looks and attitude, believing that they had to become their own legends. Sadly, they carry on the Pick-Up Artist mindset that emphasizes casual sex rather than serious relationships.
Three years had passed since “Linsanity” and now Jeremy Lin is a regular basketball player. Shinji Kagawa is a cult footballer, but he is not a world-record beater. Psy is a one-hit wonder. So who is the living model of the Alpha Asian, the rival to Jay-Z, Lionel Messi, or even Mark Zuckerberg? American chef Eddie Huang was making his mark in America, as his memoir has been adapted into a comedy show and been renewed for a second season. He, however, lost many followers after being embroiled in a Twitter debate with African-American women after saying on television that the black woman is the female counterpart of the Asian man in terms of sexual attractiveness. He handled the debate badly and employed sexist (and probably self-mockingly racist) slurs.
Journalists highlighted that he’s one of several successful Asian-American bad boys who are unapologetically misogynistic just to prove that they are not stereotypical Asian nerds. I have seen too many of them in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The dating gurus are right when they say, “Be a strong guy, not a nice guy,” but being strong is not the same with being a jerk. Being a rude playboy apparently doesn’t persuade Westerners or Southeast Asians that the East Asians are to be reckoned with. It doesn’t make the Alpha Asians live happier either.
Racism is a mountain to move, so it’s important for Asians in the West and ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia to get in on the conversation and lead the action. It’s pretty useless to get angry online and yet be passive in the street. More importantly, don’t let your struggle against racism spill into hatred against other parties, be it women, other races, or people with different sexual orientations. Respect them like you want to be respected.
The writer Mario Rustan, is a columnist for feminist website Magdalene