2.29.2012

Jeremy Lin: I guess I'll weigh in.

Busan's crazy about basketball. Everyone who actually gives a good goddamn about what I write on these blogs should know that by now. And, as a result, of course I've been hearing about Jeremy Lin. That's to be expected. What I didn't expect was to hear so damn much about him every where else, from loads and loads of people who don't care about basketball in the slightest.

I don't like talking about sports, or caring about sports, and I'm not Asian-American, or Asian, or male, so I wanted to take a good long while to sit back and see what everyone else had to say. I assume everyone's pretty up to date on all of the shenanigans with public figures or news outlets engaging in atrociously racist behavior and "hilarious" commentary. I'm not even going to get into that, that much, because.... well, if you found it surprising, at least now you know. There's no big theory, for me, as to what's behind it -- it's just old school blatant disgusting racism disguised as humor at its best, and there's nothing about Asians, or the Asian male, that's brought it about. It just is.

I am seriously interested in the conversations amongst Asian-Americans about what Jeremy Lin has meant for them, but again, that's not my court to play. So to speak. So I won't.

But I am intensely interested in all debates surrounding masculinity, and Asian masculinity in particular. Because gender is interesting, the way we classify gender is interesting, and the way we classify gender based on race and foreignness is really fucking interesting. And it affects all of us. Even if we think that it doesn't, because even if we don't fall into one category or another, we are all sized up for our relative femininity, masculinity, in relation to our gender (biological or identified), our sexuality and our race. And so are all of our partners. And it has an effect on our self-identity, as well as the definition of our "preferences".

It's fucking intricate and inescapable, see?

So. Enough rambling. Onto Jeremy Lin.

Sitting at dinner with Stupid Ugly Foreigner last night, and he says, "I want to hear your opinion about something...."

The guy's Canadian, so I can't blame him for being a little appalled. He knows I generally view Canadians as more dignified in just about every possible realm of social development than Americans, as a category. But am I surprised by the grossness Jeremy Lin has brought out into the public eye? No. I'm fucking not.

This post is going to include some links to Tumblr blogs, because if you haven't already, you people need to get it together and stop making stupid comments about females and their feeble anti-computer minds and how Tumblr is like, for kittens and little lady bloggers, and realize that some of the most intelligent commentary in the Korean blogosphere is going on over there. So here we go.

As this piece linked to by hanguknamja points out, we gotta be careful when we talk about this shit. Like, really fucking careful. So careful that your mind might start to spin.

Here's a good place to start: alectointhunderland recently discussed how obnoxious it is when her friends pronounce her Taiwanese boyfriend as the "good" kind of Asian man, or reject the notion that he could be fully Asian-raised Asian at all, I've bristled at similar commentary for years, and this Jeremy Lin thing is bringing a lot of it to the forefront again. As I see it, there are a few core issues going on here:

  1. That Asian-raised Asian men cannot fit the mold of Western masculinity.
  2. That ethnically Asian men in general cannot fit the mold of Western masculinity, regardless of where they were raised.
  3. That there is no such thing as Asian masculinity.
  4. That Asian masculinity is inferior to Western masculinity.
  5. That masculinity in general is superior to femininity, or perceived femininity.
  6. And where Jeremy Lin in particular is concerned, you have the added bonus of the notion that athleticism is somehow inherently masculine.
False. All false. But when you get caught up arguing against nearly any of the things on that list, you're at risk at somehow ending up promoting one or more of the other things on that list. In many ways, it's a lose-lose. Or a matter of choosing whichever you find to be the lesser of all evils. Which is why discussing this subject is so difficult.

I don't want to, for example, defend my boyfriend by claiming he's not a girly man. He's not -- he's very masculine, by both Western and Korean standards. But that's not the point -- the point is, it doesn't matter if he's a girly man or not, because being feminine, as a man, does not make you inferior. So what am I supposed to say?

I guess you just have to try to stick to the truth. Stripping down as many biases as possible and observing what's really there, as opposed to what's being perceived as being there.

What?

Basically, this is what it comes down to: when I look at Jeremy Lin -- if you had just shown me a photo of this man I had never seen before, and whom I knew nothing about -- there would be no doubt in my mind that this guy was a jock. Would it have been that way before I moved to Korea? I can't honestly say. I can hardly compare what I know now and what my views are to biases I may not have even realized I had when I lived back in the US. I would like to think that I would have said the same thing, but I can't honestly answer that way for sure.

What I do know is that when you move to an Asian country and especially when you start working at an all boys' school in that Asian country, any preconceived, distanced notions of Asian masculinity (should?) go quickly out the window. I'm imbued with Korean masculinity on a daily basis. Some people may argue that this has shifted my point of view unfairly, but it should go without saying that having more information and experiences never makes you more biased.

What Jeremy Lin has done is provided America with an example they are incapable of ignoring. Some of the reactions to this are to rebel against it, in the form of emasculating jokes about penis size or the word "chink" and all of the weight that it carries. Another kind of reaction is the "exception" argument -- Jeremy Lin is a freak incident. And one final kind is the kind the above article discusses: that Jeremy Lin is validation.

What do I see Jeremy Lin as?

A conversation starter. An ordinary man with an extraordinary talent in the right place at the right time, who just happens to be Asian. A symbol not so much of Asians and Asian manhood, but of America's troubled and complicated views of Asians and Asian manhood.

I live my life for these Asian males every day, now. I'm here to tell you there is nothing strange about Jeremy Lin. There's nothing strange about an Asian male being tall or strong or athletic or obsessed with basketball. What is strange is seeing it on American television.

You all know what confirmation bias is, right? Well. I'm predicting at least a few defensive comments (or at least inner monologues from readers) about how, but, the Asian guys I always knew, the Asian guys I always saw, the Asian guys I know in real life.....

Listen. When you're looking for something, you see it. When you're not, you don't. That's the way that things work. Unless something really strongly confronts your biases to the contrary, you're very likely to overlook it. And even when something does rub against your prejudices, your instinct is to dismiss it as an exception.

It happens all the time. The most prominent example that I can think of, obviously, is the Western-women-don't-like-Asian-men meme. Every time, every time this subject comes up, the fact that I like Asian men serves as no excuse to debate the issue. The fact that three or four or all of the other Western women in this person's immediate vicinity or social circle like Asian men also serves as no excuse to argue. This person has heard all of their life that Western women don't like Asian men. Every woman who does, regardless of how many of them there are, is the exception.

Jeremy Lin is the exception. Because you want to see him that way. Because he's all over the TV and the newspapers and the magazines, and you have no choice but to see him. But you can still control how he makes you see Asian men. And, by god, he's an exception. Whereas that one nerdy, socially awkward, skinny Asian guy in your math class in high school? He's the rule. You saw him with your own eyes, and he's the one you remember, and he's the one who supports what you always thought, what you are comfortable believing. And so he's the rule.

There are no rules, and there are no exceptions. If you live in Asia, if you live amongst Asian people, and you don't see it, then you are choosing not to. You're not digging in deeply enough. I know, because I see it every day with my own eyes. And it doesn't mean that Asian men are better or worse than you thought, more or less masculine than you thought, more or less conforming to Western ideals about masculinity than you thought. It's just true.

5 comments:

Ashley said...

Hello,

I was actually recommended to come here by James of The Grand Narrative and I'm glad I did. I have a question (unfortunately not about Jeremy Lin) that perhaps you could answer. I'm actually interning this semester at the Korean Embassy; I'm working in the cultural center, one of three non-Koreans there.

Everyone I work with is nice to me, and the Korean employees kind of vary in their English abilities though always enough for us all to communicate. One the other interns is this Caucasian undergrad student who is very friendly but does not speak much Korean. However, the Korean men have taken to him very well, and ruffle his hair, slap him on the back, etc. The other two interns are two Korean girls who are also very nice, but are very playful with the other male intern.

I guess my question is, is there any aspect to my being an American woman that leads me to be treated differently? As I said, everyone is perfectly nice, I just noticed that the other intern is more....included, so to speak. It may just have to with his personality, but I've just been really curious as to whether gender along with nationality play any role in it. Do you have any ideas?

Best,
Ashley Turner

Guaria del Bosque said...

Ashley, there are several Facebook groups by people of color living in Korea. If you go there, they will probably also be able to give their insight regarding your question.

I'm no Picasso said...

Ashley --

This is tough because without knowing you or the specifics of your circumstances, I can't even really pretend to guess what could be going on. And I feel worried that any suggestions I may give as an outsider to your situation may color your experience with your workmates in the future. And I don't want to do that, because I really don't know.

Guaria del Bosque's suggestion is not a bad one. And although I would lean toward saying that the male interns definitely may have some trouble being as friendly with you as with the male intern (especially the physical stuff you describe, which is quite normal amongst male friends in Korea, but something you would almost never see a male/female FRIEND coupling engaging in), it still doesn't explain why the girls seem to be more comfortable with the white guy than with you. Unless I'm reading this situation right, and you are actually in a higher position than they are? If that's true, and you are a permanent employee, whereas they are interns (especially if they are younger than you), then they have every reason not to be as friendly with you as they would their fellow intern. Because you are their superior and elder, and in Korean culture, superiors and elders are not your friends. And even one year's age difference can set you apart. In that case, they are simply showing you the respect they are supposed to, and it's up to you to kind of bring things to a more comfortable level.

What I can do is give some suggestions for maybe how to get rid of whatever it may be that has them holding back, which is that Korea in general is a gift culture, and it's also a food culture. Whenever my students wanted to show their gratitude, they bring me food. Whenever a coworker here in the office makes a blunder with another coworker, they show up the next day with food. Food is a kind of gesture that can show that your intentions are good and that you want to be closer to someone, and build a better relationship with them.

Bringing in some small food or drink item to share with them, and maybe letting them know that you're happy to be working with them and that you hope to be closer to them could go a very long way. I know to our American social training that sounds corny, and embarrassing as fuck, but just trust me. If there's any hesitance there for whatever reason, this should go a long way in helping to resolve it.

If there's something else specifically going on that you want to talk about, you can always email me as well: imnopicasso@gmail.com

Good luck, and your workmates (whether they realize it or not) are very lucky to be working with someone as concerned as you.

I'm no Picasso said...

Sorry -- first "male interns" should be "male employees".

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