subjectively construed through a moral society's intelligent eye
and theoretical lens. A moral society to me is a collective of social
participants who discern right from wrong by establishing a common
set of values, beliefs, and norms. The dominance of White Europeans
in America results in the ascendance of moral values and beliefs
endorsed by Whites, leading to a distorted perception through the
filtered lens of a White perspective. The establishment of power
hierarchy legitimizes the dominant culture's constitution of normalcy,
thereby creating the social construction of "other." Power
and control are the antecedents for social construction of "other,"
while the consequences reinforce and perpetuate power imbalance
and social dominance.
As a social observant, my analysis of ethnic "other" in
America incorporates my personal, as well as vicarious experiences
as an Asian American. A collective voice is utilized throughout
the essay which incorporates experiences of Asian Americans around
myself, as well as through
the re-telling of Asian American experience through many forms of
media broadcasting. My definitions of "other" entails
an ideological silencing and disenfranchisement of non-Whites, as
the problems within the oppressed groups are ignored and overlooked
by dominant society. In a personal and collective voice I will analyze
stereotypes regarding Asian Americans, suggesting a propensity for
prejudice and irrational hatred on the part of dominant culture.
I will also explore the social construction of Asian womanhood and
manhood in the context of social separation and discrimination.
Furthermore, I will discuss cultural-level portrayals of Asian Americans
that ignores cultural diversity, objectifies and reduces them to
their skin color. I will make the argument that the construction
of "other" justifies institutional racism and overt discrimination,
leading to potential violence against members of the target group.
The social construction of ethnic "other" functions on
multiple social levels, from interpersonal relations to cultural-symbolic
images and ultimately socio-political agendas. The dominant culture
takes up the active role of upholding the dichotomous notions of
"us" and "them," while a passive role of acknowledging
the inequalities is associated with the marginalized groups. However,
for many of the oppressed population, the "other" label
is not a prescriptive construction. As social participants, oppositional
resistance to challenge and tear down the construction of "other"
is forged through forms of ideological broadcasting such as art,
literature, and other forms of media. In recognizing and resisting
the imposed label of "other," and in writing this essay,
I too am engaging in an oppositional project and identifying myself
as an Asian American activist.
I walked through the crowded corridor with my head held low and
my loose-leaf binder held tightly against my chest, I felt the
weight of impending doom. I sucked in one final breath and held
it, praying to God to keep me from harm. My prayers were always
silent, almost routine, as I pleaded against the inevitable. As
I advanced toward the group of towering bullies like a lamb amidst
wolves, I was keenly aware of their watchful predatory gaze. It
started off as a spark, one of my tormentors called out: "Hey!
where are you going Chinaman?", and the abuse began. The
verbal taunts eventually escalated into nudges and shoves. All
the while I just kept my eyes on the door of my classroom at the
end of the hallway, praying for it to be over. On some days my
tormentors would hold me captive until the bell rang, making me
tardy to my class. High school, as a hierarchical social institution,
reflected the prejudices and attitudes of mainstream society.
A nation with a population as diverse in personal and collective
identities as the United States can bring about a multitude of moral
concerns and predicaments. In the hegemonic patriarchal heterosexist
society of America, the norm by which all are measured against is
that of a straight White male. A self-fulling prophecy in both dominant
and oppressed consciousness perpetuates a cyclical power inequality
with its primary purpose as the legitimization of White culture.
The social and psychological impact of marginalization as "other,"
profoundly disrupts inter- as well as intra-group harmony. Conflict
arises at times out of attempts by the oppressed groups to gain
acceptance by the dominant culture, while preserving one's own cultural
identity. Concordantly, conflict also arises when members of the
oppressed groups rise to actively resist and challenge domination.
In an article from USA Today, Delaney (1995) argues that urgent
social issues such as crime and poverty within minority cultures
are largely debated upon by the groups involved, with whites acting
as spectators. Problems within minority communities are often attributed
to internal dispositions and inherent characteristics of the minority
population. By ascribing to minority groups' dysfunctional pathology,
dominant society reasserts dominance and justifies its lack of intervention.
A reinterpretation of the famous slogan used to promote the status
quo can wholly embody the prevalent attitudes of privileged America:
"If it ain't White, don't fix it."
heard her scream, as he chased her down the hallway. I froze,
with toothbrush in my hand and foam dripping from my lips, and
tried to make out what was going on. It took me a moment to realize
that my neighbors next door were fighting. Well, to be exact,
the husband seemed to be beating up his wife. Being in proximity
of the violence brought me back to a time when my knees would
go weak and my heart pound in crazy rhythms whenever my parents
fought. It was always the same cycle, beginning with the violence,
followed by the suffocating silence. During every deafening silence
episodes, I always hid in my mother's closet so as to not get
in harm's way. When I came to the United States at the age of
ten, I experienced the isolation and silence associated with being
an Asian American. Perhaps not wanting to exacerbate public hatred,
many social problems within the Asian community are kept silent.
Domestic violence is discussed behind closed doors amongst housewives,
but never to the public. Just as my reservedness and silence had
earn me the title of "model student" in school, so did
the silence of Asian Americans in giving birth to the stereotype
of the "model minority."
The model minority stereotype refers to a categorization of "positive"
characteristics attributed to Asian Americans, including passivity,
docility, and high academic achievements. Contrary to popular belief
that Asian Americans are highly successful individuals with no psychological
nor social dysfunctions, many social problems exist within the community.
The model minority stereotype effectively silences the Asian community
from speaking out about these urgent social problems. The failure
to see family violence and violence against women in the Asian community
as serious social problems is a direct result of mental schemas
derived out of notions of Asian docility. For decades Asian women
suffered in silence, their pains went un-noticed even by their pale-skinned
counterparts. In her discussion of family violence among immigrant
women, Easteal (1996) notes that misconceptions and fears of being
deported is a factor which prevents many Asian women from seeking
help. In addition, many of the Asian immigrant women are taught
to fear and mistrust the criminal justice system, thus further limiting
their options. A lack of public care facilities and women's shelters
sensitive to the needs of Asian women acts as a deterrence from
seeking help for Asian American victims of domestic violence (Easteal,
1996). Stereotypes foster not only social separation but justify
and perpetuate violence against members of the oppressed groups
Asian femininity is constructed to be mysterious and hyper-sexual
by the dominant White culture. The pornography industry cashes in
on this social attitude and responds to the high demands for pornographic
material depicting Asian women. Especially prominent are materials
centering on bondage. In the extreme form of objectification a woman
is reduced to merely a sexual object, thus justifying rape and sexual
assault. In reading and writing about incidences of hate crimes
against Asian Americans, it then become a shared communal experience
lived vicariously through the re-telling of the story:
In 1985, an eight year old Chinese girl...was found raped and lynched
in...North Carolina- two months after Penthouse featured pictures
of Asian women in various poses of bondage and torture, including
hanging bound from trees. [Although the correlation between the
pornographic depictions and the sexual violence was not established],
her rape and killing were not investigated as a possible hate crime
The interconnections of gender and race continues today
to manifest itself in ways to exotify and objectify Asian women.
My close friend of ten years is an aspiring actor struggling to
make it in the film industry. In her career so far as a novice actor,
she has had to combat constantly the mainstream notions of Asian
femininity. With much humor yet with a hint of resentment, she recounted
over the telephone a particular photo shoot in which the make-up
artists insisted on giving her the "exotic Asian look."
This was accomplished by applying excessively bright eye shadow
powder and accentuating her eye lines to emphasize a slant. In an
industry that thrives on projecting images of perfection, I imagine
the profound impacts on her self-esteem and efficacy in being treated
as the ethnic "other." Images of perfection denigrate
women as a whole, but for Asian women the ideal is far more unattainable.
The roots of the stereotypical notions of Asian femininity can be
traced to the images constructed during World War II. In presenting
a model of ideological racism expressed through mainstream media,
Espiritu (1997) argues that Asian femininity was constructed as
a response to the emerging feminist movement in the 60's. Asian
women were portrayed in media as the epitome of ideal femininity.
Having been ultra-sexualized, de-vocalized, and centralized to please
and satisfy, these one-dimensional caricatures were both physically
and sexually subservient to White men. Culturally and symbolically,
these images serve to uphold the virility of White males, and cast
off a categorizational depiction of the ideal femininity. Intentional
parings of White males with Asian females are routinely seen on
television, symbolically conveying a cultural contestation in which
White males impose their domination through the "undertaking"
of ethnic females. As the war time propaganda against Asians intensified,
there emerged damaging stereotypes and controlling images of Asians
as a whole.
The World War II propaganda breathed life into the racial stereotype
of the yellow peril. This strategy effectively cast Asians as the
abominable "other," thereby justifying racial discrimination
and White domination. The construction of "other" served
a socio-political purpose in legitimizing the interests of the dominant
culture, as evidenced in the erratic shifts of stigmatization. A
trend of shifting racial stereotypes and controlling images in accordance
with the perceived "enemy" throughout American history
functioned as a categorization of "other" on a national
level. While Japanese Americans were under attack from the World
War II propaganda, the previously stigmatized Chinese Americans
came to be regarded in a brand new light. Characterizations such
as "hard-working peasants" were attributed to Chinese
Americans, casting a dichotomous good and evil caricatures of Chinese
and Japanese Americans, respectively. An integral part of war-time
propaganda, and construction of ethnic "other" in general,
includes the social construction of Asian American manhood.
I grew up being taught about the values of respect, reservedness,
and resilience. Asian masculinity is subtle, conveyed through artistic
expressions. The aggressive, tough notions of masculinity are regarded
as unrefined and an indicator of poor education and lower class.
When I came to the United States, my practice of concession in the
classroom was seen as a sign of timidity. My proper respect for
elders and teachers was seen as an eagerness to please. My non-aggressive
response and silent endurance of harassments was seen as a sign
of weakness. The traditional Asian notions of masculinity instilled
in me were perceived unfavorably in the American context.
Ethnic minority manhood has always been constructed as deviant relative
to the White male norm. Stereotypes, like the brutish sexuality
of African Americans, systematically worked to White males' advantage
in constituting White normalcy. The construction of Asian manhood
served the same purpose. However, Asian masculinity is broadcasted
through a dualism of images depicting hyper-masculinity through
Kung Fu movies, and asexuality through passive portrayals. Depictions
of androgyny in Asian male set them off as neither men nor women.
Asian men are never portrayed as masculine by the White notions
of masculinity, but instead are portrayed as effeminate or homosexual.
The only acceptable form of masculinity for Asian men is achieved
through Kung Fu movies, which in itself separates Asian men as the
exotic, outlandish "other." Espirtu (1997) observed that
the majority of Asian male characters on television consist of minor
background characters with excessively domestic attributes such
as laundry cleaners, waiters, house keepers, shop owners, and other
roles traditionally considered to be feminine. The emerging popularity
of Kung Fu movies gave rise to a slew of American adaptations in
which White Kung Fu fighters save the day by stopping villainous
Asian invaders in their mad crusade of overtaking the world. So
once again the power hierarchy is restored and Asian masculinity
is vilified and put in its place.
"YOU DAMN CHINK! THAT'S WHAT YOU GET!"- that was the last
thing the 19-year-old Korean American heard before suffering a skull
fracture from the attack, which put him in the hospital (Clementson,
2000). Asian Americans experience a multitude of overt discrimination
ranging from derogatory references in public, to more violent acts
such as the above mentioned experienced by John Lee, a student from
State University of New York. Virtually all Asian Americans I know
have experienced discrimination and racism of one sort or another
in their lifetime as an "American."
Violence is an universal assertion of power and control. All forms
of violence can be understood in the context of power inequalities
and issues of control. Social construction of ethnic "other"
delineates a model of social functioning based on hierarchies and
unequal distribution of power. Dominant culture has always employed
smoke screens such as diagnostic labels or political propaganda
as forms of social control in addition to legitimizing discrimination.
While many of the prejudiced ideologies and racist images from times
of war have withered; the seed of fear and hatred have been left
unscathed, giving birth to an reincarnated chaparral of unseen institutional
racism. The dominant society's fear now is not of questionable political
allegiance as was during times of war, but rather the economic motives
of the perceived technologically advanced Asian immigrants.
As an immigrant, I faced pressures both from the dominant culture
to conform and the pressures to preserve my own culture. I struggled
with the contrary notions of masculinity endorsed by the dominant
White culture and the notions I was brought up to honor; that is
the conflict facing young Asian Americans in our society. The hierarchical
structure of high school creates a dynamic of power imbalance, in
which the disempowered seek to identify with their oppressor. As
stressful as the demands for social conformity for native-born students,
the additional cultural-identity conflict for immigrants creates
the potential for extreme social deviance. Stripped of self-confidence
and sense of belonging, many Asian immigrants participates in gangs
for affiliation and group identity. In my personal experience with
several high school friends, the violence they exhibited came as
a direct response to the alienation and overt racism they experienced
as the "other." On the other side of the extreme is a
total inhibition of one's social interactions and eventual break-down
resulting from social isolation. I can identify with the latter.
Desperate for mainstream acceptance, but at the same time vigilant
to cultural preservation; I resorted to living a double life. By
keeping family and social life separate, I felt a false sense of
fulfilling my responsibilities. However, the opposing values and
beliefs of the two worlds must invariably collide together and compete
in a identity tug-of-war. My family ties deteriorated in my attempts
to distance myself from my Asian identity. The put-down's from the
popular crowd created in me a vicious cycle of self-loathing. All
I had wanted was acceptance, a misguided notion of the embodiment
of American moral values.
The attempts by young Asian Americans to gain acceptance is evident
in their immersion into hip hop culture. Such immersion is perceived
by many Asian Americans as a rite of passage into mainstream America.
It is not hard to see what Asian American males are desperately
seeking; the masculinity which was robbed from them. Acting out
in violent and sometimes delinquent ways is a defense mechanism
against feminization through cultural stereotypes. Asian males wish
to identify with the hyper-masculine construction of African American
manhood through the adoption of hip hop culture. Many of these liberation-seeking
Asian youths carry around slogans such as "Asian power"
and "Asian pride" as a form of self-empowerment and reminder
of a culture that is greater than the parts of the whole. The phenomenon
of the Asian gangs and their prevalence does not imply an underlying
propensity for crime, as some may argue, but rather the logical
response for a proud people robbed of their personal and collective
We were friends for almost ten years, up until we lost touch in
college. He was an Asian American who was active in Asian gangs.
He shared with me once, when we were sitting around in his dorm
room; the anger he cultivated from years of experience as an ethnic
"other." With raw emotions and unfiltered fervor he recounted
the times he was picked on by the popular crowd in high school.
In response to the feminization of Asian manhood by dominant culture,
he began to work out religiously to achieve physical prowess. Furthermore,
he sought group affiliation and an Asian identity through gangs.
With a look of unyielding determination he recounted the pride he
had in himself when he, along with his gang partners, sought physical
retribution toward those who had abused him years before. Violence
to him was a means to an end to reclaim his usurped "Asian
The struggles and accomplishments of the African American community
has been a great force in shaping the advancements of Asian Americans
into mainstream society. During the 60's, the civil rights movement
opened the door for many marginalized groups to voice their rights.
African Americans, at the forefront of the movement, rightfully
gained a gradual acceptance into mainstream America. Popular media
currently reflects a much greater inclusion of African Americans,
relative to the onset of the movement. Wahl (1999) observes that
the popularity and influence of hip hop culture provides a form
of ideological broadcasting for African Americans, giving the disenfranchised
a voice. Their hard battles and countless sacrifices have shifted
public opinion, making discrimination against African Americans
socially inappropriate. Asian Americans, on the other hand, are
still viewed as "permanent houseguests" of America. The
lack of representation and outright misrepresentation of Asian Americans
in popular media fuels existing stereotypes and perpetuates social
What the African American community has gradually attained that
Asian Americans lack is one unified voice. So much cognitive and
organizational effort is put into solving internal conflicts we
lack the energy expenditure to focus on a collective goal. Many
of the conflicts within the Asian American community arise out of
intergenerational disputes and cultural clashes as a result of social
construction of "other." The westernization and exploitation
of second generation Asian Americans contribute to the break down
of traditional values. Intrafamilial conflict is among the most
devastating to the Asian American social structure. An understanding
of the values placed on relationships is imperative in analyzing
the impact of western exploitation. "Guanxi" is a Chinese
term connoting an interpersonal sense of connectedness that acts
as cohesive bond which ties members of the community in a collective
embrace. Western exploitations and the imposed ethnocentric values
by the dominant culture wreaks havoc on the intricate relational
dispositions of Asian Americans. Among the damages of imposed eurocentrism
is the loss of dignity for Asian Americans. Under the White man's
shadow, it is not easy to proclaim "Asian pride."
Old traditions and Western influence come together in a cultural
clash that breaks down family relations. The soap operas I watched
growing up reflected the parental anxieties and fears of Western
influence on their children. These shows incessantly portray traditional
Asian parents to be in conflict with their Westernized children
within the context of abuse and neglect. To offset the separation
between the two cultural entities, the parents are dressed in traditional
Asian clothing, while the adult children are seen wearing Western
suits and dresses. While the Asian youth of my generation was advocating
modernism: the extent to which a non-Western culture embraces and
incorporates Western values and beliefs; the older generation was
projecting its fears of an abandonment of traditional culture. After
moving to the United States, my mother would continually remind
me of the dangers of becoming too "American." During family
gatherings my elder relatives would sit around to denounce relatives
who did not impose the Asian tradition on their children and allowing
them to become too "Americanized." Along with the Westernization
or "Americanization" comes a plethora of intra-familial
conflicts and break-down of traditional family structure.
The enculturation of American lifestyles reshapes the traditional
family structure, where the values placed on group identity and
the proper respect reserved for elders were replaced by values for
the self and notions of egocentrism. The imposed English language
places the Asian parents in a position of dependence on their children,
polluting the existing authoritarian relationship between parents
and children typical of Asian cultures. Lost is the communal respect
and honor once associated with one's seniority, and a new fear arises
of abandonment and rejection by one's own children.
In this essay I have attempted to provide a coalescence of social
construction of ethnic "other" relevant to the various
social levels of functioning. The conceptualization of "other"
can be expressed through personal interactions on an individual
level and racial idioms employed by dominant culture, leading to
potential for overt racism and social ostracism. Ethnic stereotypes
proliferated through prejudice and ignorance of cultural relevancy
may result in socially imposed attributes to an ethnic collective.
Cultural broadcasting through mainstream media concomitantly produces
a trite portraiture of ethnic minorities according to White eclecticism,
denying diversities within ethnic cultures. Supposed "universal"
cultural dimensions in research and literature derived out of a
White perspective fosters ethnocentrism on a national level, contributing
to a selective filter on the theoretical lens of social functioning.
With the construction of "other," there must come inevitably
the social separation, identity discrimination, and potential for
irrational fear, hatred, and violence. This essay has been a montage
of my personal experiences as an ethnic "other," as well
as collateral experiences lived vicariously through many forms of
ideological broadcasting. These experiences were ontological to
my emergence as a participant in the oppositional resistance to
the dominance of White perspective. As social participants, we may
begin to break down the barriers and promote our fundamental rights
to be different in order to de-construct social "other."
The integration of one unified voice is of utmost importance, while
at the same time being vigilant to the unique issues posed by the
various cultural contexts. Only then can we live up to the ideological
covenant between a moral society and its people to uphold diversity
and celebrate individual uniqueness.