Normally, I’d have my discussion on an author’s site, but my comment has been held from public view until it has been moderated. Since that has taken the better part of two weeks, and I have no indication it will happen, I’m having it here instead… with the extra legroom.
Jean Kim wrote a piece called “The Rise of the Asian American Female Troll,” in which she decried what she perceived of as Asian American women “trolling” their way to the top. Touching on the context of the way Asian women are popularly represented (in extreme binary states like (1) either meek and submissive or (2) pitiless and cruel), the author correctly notes that the popularity of some who exploit the trope are embraced by a white dominant media / society and propelled ahead.
…Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, upended everyone’s fear of an Asian planet and richly trafficked in the glory of it. Dragon Lady to the max, she married that trope with that of the enduring Mommie Dearest, resulting in a nightmarish hybrid that brought out the rage of coddling, academically indifferent American parents and children everywhere.
Though the Tiger Mom phenomenon fit the pitiless and cruel stereotype, the author managed to find value in the ensuing public discussion as it related to her own life,
That controversy gave me mixed emotions. I never had to deal with a Tiger Mom (Tiger Dad in my case) but the single-minded pursuit of Ivy League admission perfection was very familiar to me, and it was interesting to see those values debated as popular public discourse. It was a form of brainwashing that I easily adopted, until I left the nest and realized it left me existentially empty. So I’m at Yale, and I have no social skills or inner confidence. Now what?
I found some minor differences in the author’s response and my own, but I didn’t comment on them because what she connected to was on an emotional level. This was not about rightness or wrongness. The author was helping others through their injuries and taking another step in healing her own. I wanted to honor and validate it, and not detract from it to score an intellectual point.
The author extended less charity in her discussion of Suey Park, as she went on:
Earlier this year , Suey Park, Twitter legend and social critic, added rocket fuel to her meteoric twenty-something rise by adding gasoline to the March #CancelColbert controversy. After starting an interesting Twitter feed called #NotyourAsiansidekick and promoting fresh dialogue on neglected Asian-American feminist issues, Suey Park was profiled in the Washington Post and the Guardian. My initial reaction was appreciative; she was using her hip Social Media savvy to bring attention to voices and issues that often don’t go mainstream. She was the new confident generation of Asian-American woman: smart and outspoken.
Until she decided to cheaply hijack the Colbert media storm. I will be blunt about how I feel about that “controversy”: Colbert was mocking racism with an ironic racist quote. To call that racist is wrong, even idiotic.
Instead, Suey Park went on a rant on Salon about the “white ally industrial complex” and rambled about how somehow the joke was still racist since a white man told it (albeit a very liberal one). She became the main ongoing momentum behind #CancelColbert. Her notoriety continues to climb.
But at what cost? She has every right to her opinions and to showcase them as she sees fit, as does Amy Chua and Michelle Malkin. But when our public Asian-American female voices are so few and far between, is this the only way to get mainstream American to hear us? By espousing extremist, reverse-racist, rabblerousing viewpoints? The American Media is highly complicit as well; they clearly relish and promote these women for the publicity storm they create, all the while having ignored the more moderate Asian-American, let alone any female, voices waiting in the wings, begging to be heard.
My Comment to Jean Kim (Still in Limbo)
“Hi. Thanks for your post and thoughts. I’m curious about your conclusion that a statement is not racist so long as it’s delivered (or claimed to be delivered) in a humorous and ironic fashion. I don’t believe Suey Park articulated a cogent theory behind her feeling that the statements were racist, but I don’t believe the analysis ends there for there may be other reasons to consider.
Maybe I should ask first, as a point of clarification, is it only Ms. Park’s reasoning that you find “idiotic,” or does the idiocy apply across the board to all potential reasons to regard Colbert’s bit as racist[?]
It would help me understand to know whether, in your opinion, it acceptable to say something “as a joke” which would be considered racist in any other context? If so, what do you think there are limits on this or is it categorically true?
I.e. Would Colbert, for instance, be on solid footing if instead of “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” he said “The Society of Illiterate Ni—rs Who Actually Think Black Lives Matter”?”
Some Additional Observations
I reiterate my dislike for posing questions using a “Is this person a [label]” format, here “Is Suey Park a troll?”, for these reasons:
(1) when referring a person in particular, you de-personalize her by subjecting her experience to a false dichotomy reducing her to either a binary state of one or the other.
(2) labels carry differing and changing attributes. A “troll” does not mean the same thing to everyone. By glossing over the finer points of behavior, those considering the question posed and agreeing with the application of a label in one context are likely to conclude that the other undiscussed connotations also apply.
(3) using a label ignores the nuances of human behavior and tends to confirm its “correct” application. “All that glitters is not gold,” and likewise those employing the the rhetorical methods commonly employed by trolls may not themselves do it for the same reasons of self promotion.
Let’s talk about humans and human behavior in actual descriptive language and not simply rely on shorthand broad categories which often distort and mislead.