Sunday, March 7, 2010
Honestly Expressing One's Self
So here's a great video I watched on the Big WoWo blog. Here's Byron's synopsis of the video:
"In the video above, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talks about what she calls “the danger of the single story” and how stereotypes can warp a culture’s perception of the people of another culture when there are not many stories told about that other culture. She talks about growing up in Africa reading the stories of Americans and British, and how she felt people like her could not “exist in literature.” She talks about how power comes into the equation, and how stories can make or break the dignity of a people."
I think we know the single story for the Asian American experience: The Joy Luck Club.
For better or for worse, that movie and book has become the single story for Asian America. I remember watching Better Luck Tomorrow with a Caucasian female friend, and after watching the movie she said, "That was disappointing. I thought it was going to be the Asian male version of The Joy Luck Club."
Better Luck Tomorrow is sort of like the male version of The Joy Luck Club, only in the sense in that it caters to just one sex. It appeals to everything guys like in a movie: fast-pace, humor, criminal enterprise. The Joy Luck Club appeals to women, because they like a good cry over their awkward relationships with their moms.
But Better Luck Tomorrow is not the single story of Asian America. It does not flatten our collective experiences as Asian Americans and reduce us to a stereotype. Stereotypes, like all beliefs, rely on "legs" of assumptive information to prop them up and give them standing. There are 3 assumptions with racial and ethnic stereotypes:
1) These "people" (i.e. Asians) really are this way.
2) That's all these people are, nothing more.
3) If they're not this way, then they better damn well be this way.
It's amazing how people will vehemently cling to and defend a racial or ethnic stereotype, even in the face of contradictory information and examples. This goes for both the stereotyper (a.k.a. racist) and the stereotyped (i.e. Asians). Asians are guilty of conforming to stereotypes imposed on us by non-Asians and believing in the white supremacist crap about our inferiority. To paraphrase George Orwell: "We're given masks, and our faces grow to fit them."
Although I have plenty of issues with The Joy Luck Club, my main issue is that it has become the single story for Asian America and that every Asian American story has to follow this mold. As a racial minority in the Anglosphere, we need to hear other voices. We need to see ourselves in a variety of ways, ways that show our emotions and the depth of our humanity.
I think this is part of the reason why non-Asians cannot relate to us and hence, devalue us. We keep our emotions and opinions to ourselves. If we don't express ourselves, then it's very difficult to show ourselves as being human, with drives, desires and aspirations just like everybody else. If we don't portray ourselves with depth and humanity, then it makes it easier for non-Asians to dehumanize us.
This is why I cannot stand Asian American indie films sometimes. There are a lot of silent moments in these films, which should be filled with dialogue and expressions of emotion. I don't know if the director is trying to convey something with the silence or if they don't have high quality actors who can act or if they have a shitty script with shitty dialog:
"For the main character, opt for injecting well written dialogue instead of distant, silent posturing. Communicative characters communicate a lot to the audience."
- How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Asian American Independent Film
This is what being an Alpha Asian is all about. It's about "honestly expressing one's self" as Bruce Lee put it. This blog is about showing how Asians and Asian Americans are honestly expressing themselves with a wide and diverse set of stories, not just a single story.