K-Dramas Cured My Prejudices Against Asian Men

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Here’s a confession I’m still a little ashamed of: back in college, I’ve already been voted “most likely to pick Asian guys.”

It was graduation season, which made everyone a bit nostalgic for the high school nonsense and superlatives, so my friends threw their own awards show for the seniors who are landing. Next to the usual plaques for “Best Hair” and “Cutest Couple” were new plaques which reflected our sarcastic and particular cultural background as a group of strongly Asian-American and white outperformers: “Worst Driver” became a cross between the only two people with cars on a campus marked with the ability to walk (coincidentally both are Asian as well); “Most Likely to Marry Asian” went to a white man who dates exclusively south Chinese girls and wasn’t afraid to use that line to explain to me why we could never be together. (If the homeland was a rooster, my hometown – Nanjing – comes from its belly, and that was apparently enough disqualification.)

I’m not going to lie; “Most Likely to Bag on Asian Guys” captured the general ethic that I have had about my race for most of my life. As a child who spent every other year of elementary school in a different city (San Juan, Puerto Rico; Ames, Iowa; College Station, Texas) with no Asian other than my family members, I have spent my nights watching American television with my parents in a joint and concerted effort to learn English.

“Golden Girls” and “Married… With Children” were our favorites, but sometimes a public release for a dated movie or miniseries was part of the mix. The characters occupying the 24-inch screen in front of us varied, but one thing got stuck: American men – and by that I meant white men – were a different breed from the men I knew at home. White men often professed their love, bought flowers and gifts, whether rich or poor, gave their wives rings, hugs and affirmation words, kissed in public.


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I asked my dad why he didn’t do these things for mom. He laughed and shrugged and went back to work. So I took matters into my own hands. In fifth grade, I took my money for lunch and walked to Conroy’s Flowers on the corner of Anza and 190th. I bought three carnations. The white gentleman behind the counter smiled at the small change in my little hands and promised, “I’ll dress them up for you.” He added baby’s breath, some green vegetables and cellophane to the house.

I jumped home with the bouquet and handed it to my dad. “Give them to mom,” I suggested (or was that an order?). He did, and I was happy; as immigrants we could pretend until we got it right with the best of them.

The following Christmas, I asked my father to take me to Kmart for their closing sale and drove him to the fine jewelry counter. I pointed to a 1 carat cubic zirconia solitaire, copper and yellow. “Mom needs an engagement ring,” I told her. “How much?” he asked the woman behind the counter. I don’t remember what she said, but I do know exactly which drawer this ring is in in my parents’ bathroom today because every time I visit I check where it is. My mother has never worn this ring in her life but whatever; every time I see him in his faded blue box, a small part of me is bubbling with hope – though for whom, I can’t tell.

My streak of success in turning my Chinese dad into the kind of white man I saw on TV came to an abrupt end when I politely asked him to come pick up my mom. Like a baby, I clarified, when neither of them understood what I was saying. I grabbed a Cabbage Patch kid and faked the scooping move I saw on TV when lovers got together in the fire of passion. They laughed in a way that suggested that I was too stupid to deserve an answer. I went to my room and swore that I would never marry a man who could not carry my own weight with ease and finesse; may physics be damned. Based on the anecdotal evidence I had, I figured my best chance of doing this was with someone white, and that’s how my own romantic prejudice was born.

In college, this racism against mine had metastasized; whenever the subject of boys was brought up I would explain to the girls in the room, “I only like white / black / latino guys.” I spent the rest of my schooling cracking up on various shades of white – although two Asian guys and a hapa guy sneaked into this mix when I wasn’t paying attention – and it wasn’t until I received this award plaque as I considered the possibility that the the problem was with me, and not with Asian men.

I went to see the only Asian teacher in my major – a thick-accented Chinese man named Kaiping – and told him I wanted to do my graduation thesis on why Asian girls love them so much. white. Being a good scientist, he chose not to take offense at my question and helped me design a series of psychological studies that tested this theory. Three years later, halfway through my graduate studies, his findings became my first publication; it turns out that I was not alone. There are even fanciful terms for this phenomenon: self-stereotyping, group derogation, or the most succinct and precise – racism.

Interestingly, Asians like me seem to be leading the way; like math and filial piety, we also outperform when it comes to prejudice. Everyone is ethnocentric, but let us go one step further and turn our racism inward, against ourselves. We are not the only ones, of course. But somewhere between the man-sewn (or randomly drawn by God) double lids on every translucent-skinned female celebrity from the East and the proliferation of Asian brides paired with white men in America (me y understood), our Eurocentrism seems normal. , an inherited characteristic of our Asian heritage, more a birthright than an acquired taste.

These days, I spend my hours teaching undergraduates that psychologists have come up with an elegant model – called a stereotypical content model – to capture its flavor profile: whether all of our biases can be determined by our perceptions. of two dimensions – a) their warmth, and b) their competence – then Asians unanimously occupy the low heat-high competence category. People respect our academic prowess and STEM skills, but don’t consider us particularly nice or pleasant; classic stereotypes of the so-called Chinese “unfathomable” or ninjas or dragon ladies or one of Lucy Liu’s on-screen personalities testify to this.

But here’s what I’ve never been able to resolve: my own capacity for sexist racism. And again, as all the studies of implicit prejudice – or a cursory examination of current American racial calculus – prove – we are far, far away from a post-racial utopia.

Son Ye-jin as Yoon Se-ri and Hyun Bin as Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok in “Crash Landing on You” (Lim Hyo-seon / Netflix)

The other day, however, I found a fortuitous way to counter my own prejudices when my supremely white mother-in-law called my husband (also white) and refused to be quiet about Netflix’s spectacular Korean drama, ” Crash Landing on You, “was. It was even better than anything she had ever seen out of Hollywood, she said.

Curious, we both logged on to Netflix and spent the next three days reading the little white text scrolling across the TV screen, glued to a story we had never heard before and couldn’t turn us away. In the series, a North Korean soldier (Hyun Bin) falls in love with a South Korean socialite (Son Ye-jin) who accidentally crosses the DMZ while paragliding during a windstorm. However, their love is one that survives multiple murder plots, treacherous families, cultural differences, and class divisions.

As I tell my students, telling stories at its best is by no means witchcraft; the most beautiful stories that we can only remember and tell and be changed by. In my case, K-Dramas have become the perfect antidote to the perennial stereotypes of Asians who are always competent but never so warm or likeable. Because if there’s anything like “Crash Landing on You” that’s good, it’s audiences falling in love with almost every Korean in the cast (and not just Hyun Bin, either, whose apparent magnetism seems compete with that of God).

Maybe that’s why representation matters: loving a fictional character is the gateway drug to cherishing the real people they represent. Never mind that these dramas hide everyone’s pores and veils on the hero’s benevolent sexism. I didn’t realize it until I saw it, but I’ve waited all my life to see Asians on TV screens in America idealized to the same degree that white characters have always been aware, where men Asians are not only competent but also sexy, and where Asians at all levels are not only helpful but kind, funny, extremely interesting.

I doubt all Korean men cry with the kind of poetic abandon their actors do on TV or go to great lengths to buy scented candles for the woman they are chasing. I also suspect that not all Pyongyang netizens live in the kind of idyllic villages whose quaint kimchi basements and neighborhood investment in each other’s love lives make up for the geopolitical divisions that exist between them. and their compatriots from the South. But what does it matter: idealization is a privilege, and a fortiori compared to invisibility.

When I turned on Netflix that day, I had no idea there would be a competition for hearts and minds (it turns out there always is). “Crash Landing on You” tasted so sweet that I didn’t realize its medicinal value in countering our old stereotypes about f ** kability and desire.

As for me, if I was ashamed of having been crowned “most likely to buy Asian guys” ten years ago, I was even more embarrassed last week when I found out that you had to watch a whole Korean drama in a row to remember the immense desirability of the men in my own group – and not just the Hyun Bins either – in all their imperfection and glory.

“Crash Landing on You” is streaming on Netflix (where you can also watch “Squid Game”).

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