Reflections on Frank Chin's "Racist Love"
and "Back-Talk", and Amy Uyematsu's "The Emergence of
Yellow Power in America"
by Anthony Yin
In his writings "Racist Love" and "Back-Talk",
Frank Chin discusses the relationship between Asian Americans and so-called
"White America", among other issues. At the heart of both
works is the premise that White supremacy oppresses Asian Americans
through the creation of stereotypes which are eventually accepted and
adopted by many Asians living in the United States.In such instances,
the Asian American ideology conforms to stereotypical standards, and
as a result, is viewed favorably by White America. In contrast, divergence
from the stereotypical model is met with racial hatred. Chin believes
that this inherently constitutes a form of racism and that Asian Americans,
whether they are accepted for having assimilated to White American standards
or are castigated for being "uncontrollable", are ultimately
oppressed by White supremacy.
According to Chin, White America imposes standards upon non-Whites
which form the basis of perceived reality and ultimately influence the
self identity of minorities. The necessary result is self-contempt and
self-destruction. Chin writes that the stereotype "operates as
a model of behavior. It conditions the mass society's perceptions and
expectations. Society is conditioned to accept the given minority only
within the bounds of the stereotype" (Racist Love, 66). As such,
the subject is relegated to play a certain role in order to be accepted
by the greater society. He or she "is conditioned to accept and
live in a state of euphemized self-contempt. This self-contempt itself
is nothing more than the subject's acceptance of white standards of
objectivity, beauty, behavior, and achievement as being morally absolute,
and his acknowledgment of the fact that, because he is not white, he
can never fully measure up to white standards" (67).
A specific example of the skewed self identity perpetuated by this
racism in the Asian American community, according to Chin, is the popular
belief that "in America, culture, success, and money are white.
Such a notion is fraught with self-contempt" for it "encourages
us to 1) look on our success as Americans in terms of the degree to
which we have been accepted by Americans and 2) to measure the degree
of acceptance in terms of the degree to which the White man has rejected
other minorities" (Back-Talk, 25).
In much the same way, Amy Uyematsu is highly critical of what she calls
'white institutionalized racism" in "The Emergence of Yellow
Power in America". She argues that stereotypes have suppressed
the true identity of Asian American individuals, resulting in self loathing,
fragmented identities, and fear. Asians in America are "stereotyped
as being passive, accommodating, and unemotional" , and Uyematsu
believes it is lamentable this generalization is "fairly accurate,
for Asian Americans have accepted these stereotypes and are becoming
true to them" (10). Under the oppression of institutionalized racism,
all that is non-white is viewed unfavorably. Asians have "adjusted
to the white man's culture by giving up their own languages, customs,
histories, and cultural values" (10). Furthermore, they have "rejected
their physical heritages, resulting in extreme hatred" (10). Ultimately,
Asian Americans discover that even their best efforts to conform to
White standards are "not enough" because they are still outsiders
despite their best efforts to deny everything inherently Asian about
themselves. This crisis of identity that results from the struggle to
conform to stereotypical models, Uyematsu believes, together with the
premise that Asian Americans allow White America to "hold up the
'successful' Oriental image before other minority groups as the model
to emulate", perpetuate white racism.
In my personal experience, this notion of institutionalized White racism
is a somewhat unfamiliar one. I have long believed that stereotypes,
whether positive or negative, are not useful in assessing reality. Also,
I was aware for quite a long time that the commonly accepted ideals
and values perpetuated in American society were neither realistically
feasible for nor entirely applicable to every person living in this
nation. However, reading these articles was the first time I was exposed
to the stereotypes applied to Asian American through which they could
gain acceptance by what Chin calls "White America". The result
was introspective self-examination that allowed me to consider how my
identity might be "corrupt" due to institutional white racism.
The idea that minorities who cause little friction with the majority
and are this accepted by the greater society constitutes a form of racism
is particularly provocative. I had never considered assimilation and
conformity in terms of "control" and "oppression".
This is lucidly discussed by Frank Chin, who explains that the individual
who exemplifies the unacceptable stereotypical model "is unacceptable
because he cannot be controlled by whites" (Racist Love, 65). On
the other hand, "one measure of the success of white racism is
the silence of [a particular] race and the amount of white energy necessary
to maintain or increase that silence" (65). Presumably, that amount
of white energy is ideally small.
Hitherto, I saw absolutely nothing wrong with cultural assimilation,
but viewed in those terms, I am forced to reexamine my position. The
crisis of identity and self-contempt discussed by Amy Uyematsu and Frank
Chin is not unfamiliar. I have usually viewed certain ideals, values
and precepts of morality as being part of Asian tradition, and while
I held them in high regards (and continue to do so), they seemed stodgy,
old-fashioned, and products of a world somewhat removed from the society
I inhabit. On the other hand, many of the benchmarks I use to gauge
success and the foundations of my personal concepts of justice, objectivity,
and even subjectivity have been shaped by "White America".
It is somewhat disconcerting to consider that the society which is responsible
for much of my character and my values may also be guilty of oppressing
me and my people. Perhaps the fact that so much of my character has
been shaped by American society is itself the clearest evident of my
oppression. The question now is whether I have accepted the stereotypes
I have been assigned, and if so, if I have lived according to them.
Frank Chin believes that "Asian Americans going through white
schools grow up with white assumptions about themselves. Racist assumptions."
(Back-Talk, 26). This is another provocative issue for me, because,
as I have mentioned, much of my character , the kind of person I should
be, has been shaped by American society. Uyematsu would claim that this
would serve as yet another example of institutionalized racism, "oppression",
as Chin says. I somehow obtained the notion that diligence and dedication
will bring the rewards of life, but I am not sure if that is my role
as an Asian American in White America or whether it was given to me
by White Americans. I prefer to think that my work ethic is the product
of the Chinese values instilled by my parents. Never was I told to be
passive or self-effacing, which is one Asian American stereotype, according
to Uyematsu. However, the image of the Asian student studying for hours
on end is certainly a common one. But like other stereotypes, this could
also perfectly apply to the majority of students in institutions of
I should note that coming from an environment as diverse (and I would
like to think open-minded) as the San Francisco Bay Area, I never faced
overt prejudice or racism. In many areas, Asian Americans are the majority
of the population, and racial issues are rarely part of daily life.
It seems that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, would rather spend
their energies towards achieving the fiscal rewards of hard work in
a healthy economy, and technical skills over everything else (including
race) are perhaps the most sought assets. Opportunities in the business
world, it seems, are open to anyone who is qualified. Asian Americans
in northern California certainly have great economic clout; the parking
lots of large Asian-owned shopping centers are filled with the expensive
European automobiles of Asian Americans who work in high-tech companies,
many in management and many more in lower ranking yet extremely lucrative.
Whereas the majority of Asian-owned businesses used to be confined to
Chinatown in San Francisco, today Asian-owned supermarkets as big as
national chains open every year in the East Bay and South Bay. Patrons
are Asians and non-Asians. Under these circumstances, it is important
that Uyematsu brings up the question of self-identity: "Precisely
because Asian Americans have become economically secure, do they face
serious identity problems. Fully committed to a system that subordinates
them on the basis of non-whiteness, Asian Americans still try to gain
complete acceptance by denying their yellowness. They have become white
in every respect but color" (9).
These issues have initiated self-reflection and introspection. In
the final analysis, I question whether I have been merely sheltered
from institutionalized racism by living in a "non-hostile"
environment, or if my hesitation to admit that I have accepted and adopted
racial stereotypes is itself an illustration of white racism to the
highest degree. I have to consider the possibility that I have been
oppressed as an Asian American and that there is a side to my identity
that I have not yet acknowledged.