June 8, 2008

Maxine Hong Kingston, Ignorance, and the Battle for Mainstream Recognition (Asian American Feminism Pt. 4)

hong128.jpg"What in G0d's name??? They let ASIAN-MAN-HATER#2 Maxine Hong Kingston write a new introduction to one of the RARE humanizing portrayals of an Asian man as a s*xually-potent being??? WTF and HTF did THAT happen??? Shyt, why not let David Duke write a new intro to the Autobiography of Malcolm X for chrissakes???"

--"Krome" from Modelminority.com

The dialogue above is a classic from the Asian American blogosphere. I've seen it quoted a few times. This may be the first and only time you see a 44's blog post link to mm.com, but I have to commend the commenter Krome for his insightful observation. While I wouldn't condone the language that followed Krome's quote above (which you can see in the link), I think he's 100% right about the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of the book publishers. Considering the fact that Kingston has spent her entire career emasculating Asian men (through the aforementioned essay by our friend Krome), promoting a culture of pseudo-feminist narcissism (It takes a real egomaniac to name her autobiography "The Woman Warrior," especially when she hasn't even fought anyone or achieved anything of value), distorting important Chinese myths (Mulan and Yue Fei are two different characters), making up lies about Chinese culture (contrary to Kingston's words, the Chinese words for "slave" and "woman" are not the same), and turning Asian American literature into a black hole that sucks the life out of our community rather than uplifts the level of intellect and thought of our people, it's incredibly ironic and hypocritical that the publishers hired her to write the introduction to a book that goes against everything she has spent her career destroying. As Krome correctly implies, letting Kingston write a new intro to "The Lover" is like letting David Duke write a new intro to the Autobiography of Malcolm X. She just happens to be the same color as the people she oppresses.

Recognizing the indefensible lies that Kingston perpetuated about us, these days it seems that Kingston has very little support even among hardcore activists. Reappropriate Jenn, for example, who calls herself an Asian American feminist, usually deflects criticisms of Kingston by saying that there are other--therefore implying better--Asian American feminists, though Jenn still somewhat defends Kingston. She, of course, is right on the first part; wrong to defend Kingston though. AsianBGirl, Sargassosea, and Xian say the same, though without defending Kingston. They too are right.

Where some of us diverge, however, is on our ideas on how to best cope with a mainstream that is hostile towards our own recognition as human beings. We agree on facts, but we somewhat disagree on solutions. I say "somewhat" because we're only slightly off. We probably agree on 95%, but the remaining 5% is the thesis of this post. Some feel that we need to simply find and identify the real feminists, while I think we need to find and identify the real feminists while attacking the power base of the fakes. It's a 5% difference, but it's significant.

Xian writes:
I think we need to waste less time and energy complaining about fake activists and spend more time strategically planning our real activism.

AsianBGirl says:
If it is the case that the majority of APIA feminism is filled with the hype of ideas that Kingston/Tan created, then I will definitely a support a change/redifining of APIA feminism. But in my personal experience, it’s been happening. The only difference is that unlike Kingston and Tan, they’re not acknowledged by white people.

I agree with both of them on the facts. I think Xian is correct in saying that we need to spend more time planning real activism, and I think AsianBGirl is correct in stating that the major difference between Kingston/Tan and others is the acknowledgement on the part of white people.

However, while I agree with Xian and AsianBgirl on the facts, I would probably take a slightly different approach when it comes to activism. (And I'm saying this with the temporality of internet discussion in mind--I hope they'll consider the validity of my arguments and current stance). Given the fact that the toxic Kingstonian "feminism" is mainstream and supported by mainstream institutions, I don't think it's enough to simply concentrate on the good while ignoring the bad. We need to stamp it out and take over the mainstream. Working by ourselves is good for the time being, but ultimately it's not enough, and we should always keep the final goal of conquering the mainstream in mind.

Here's where we agree (I don't know if everyone agrees on #2, but I haven't yet heard any substantial counter-arguments):

1. Kingstonism is mainstream which means that it's the form of Asian American Feminism most accepted by white folk.

2. Kingstonism is a terrible form of feminism and doesn't accomplish anything.

3. There are real Asian American feminists out there.

Here's where we disagree. Xian writes:
It’s my firm believe that if you build “it” (an equitable social justice ideology) they will come.

There is no need to actively destroy mainstream ideas. We merely complete our comprehensive, inclusive agenda, and do outreach.

While I agree with Xian that we need to build it, practically I think we have to go after mainstream coverage. Even if we decide to start small, part of our goals should focus on destroying that which poisons us. We should be intent on destroying mainstream ideas and replacing them with our own so that we can harness that institutional support. My reasoning is simple. Given the reach of the mainstream--through broadcast media, mainstream news outlets, influence in the universities, along with the paid ivory tower figureheads who promote Kingstonism--there is no way that a small band of disparate feminists can maximize their efficiency in getting the message out without taking aim at the mainstream and seeking mainstream support. We eventually want the funding, the airwaves, and the media coverage. Even here as we speak and learn, we haven't yet identified any strong Asian American feminists who are creating the intellectual ideas that can liberate Asian American women from Kingstonian orientalism. Why is it so hard to find them? It's because we are fighting against the tide of the mainstream. We shouldn't be fighting against the tide. The tide should be supporting us. If we don't have the goal of changing the tide, we'll always be swimming upstream. As Noam Chomsky said, the media "manufactures consent" with its pervasiveness and repetition. While we need to build up the real feminists, we also need to stop the fakes and liars.

I think it's clear: Real feminists can't live side by side with the Kingstonians because our ideas don't mesh well with one another. We promote truth; Kingstonism promotes lies and distortions. We celebrate ourselves; Kingstonism celebrates the supposed rescuing of Asian culture by Western culture. We promote compassion; Kingstonism promotes narcissism.

Xian is right in that we need to concentrate on the positive. We need to organize people like Catty, himself, AsianBgirl, Sargasso, Jade, and Nightshade so that we can take our intellectual capital and create something big. On the other hand, our end goal should be to capture the mainstream coverage and to change the zeitgeist. And while we're building up our current capital, we should draw the line right now: we're not Kingstonian.

Think about civil rights hero Martin Luther King. When he filled up those jails in Birmingham with people, he wasn't trying to create a spectacle that only black people would see. He wasn't trying to prove to black people that racism existed. They already knew that. He was trying to enter the conscience of every American and to show that society needs change. We can start small, of course, but our goal should be clear from the very beginning; we want to throw off the shackles of the status quo because we're not like them, and we want to force the mainstream to become like us. We're truthful. We're alive. We know right from wrong. There's no reason for anyone who believes in equality to object to what we promote, and there's no reason for them to mistake us for the other side.

No comments: