I cut my hair yesterday. The straight black sheaves on the floor used to be long enough to wrap thrice around your hand. Looking at them, detached, was emblematic of my latest lessons on fetishism and fitting in.
After a semester at law school in the East among a greater concentration of my “fellow Asians,” I realized the way I wore my hair was a long black mark against my benighted state.
Back home in Arizona, the occasional red-eyed male would press up against me at the bus stop and mumble about his Asian fetish in my hair. I thought these events were as atypical as the man with his malformed sentences and his liquor bottle in its brown bag.
But as vividly demonstrated in recent weeks, Ivy League youths are saying the same things. Class privilege, however, translates into the ability to see their words printed or accepted with a forced smile and swallowed retorts during a restaurant conversation. And that gives the personhood-effacing power of their perceptions that much more power.
The latest incident began when a student editorialized in the Harvard Crimson’s FM magazine that the stereotypical Asian female is “a sex fiend hottie whose bones everyone wants to jump,” and “a smattering of females that exist to satisfy someone’s fetish.”
The article inspired the Yale Daily News to write an April Fools’ spoof that is sparking campus controversy. The column is entitled, “Confessions of a Jewish Asian Worshipper,” and the author writes, “Asians hang out in packs. Within these packs, the women are sex-crazed fiends.” He lauded this, stating, “[i]t’s just like hunting a flock of sheep; fishing amongst a school of fish in a pond; taking target practice. You’re bound to nail at least one.”
As typecasts swirl about me, intensified by the higher proportion of Asiatic faces here than back home, I am beginning to define my behavior in opposition. These norms and expectations against which I revolt are not simply sexual.
In class, for example, before I speak, I try to deepen, roughen and amplify my voice, so I am not your typical long-haired soft-voiced “Asian girl.”
My professors are good people — indeed, many are august women and men. But the typecasts must nudge and wear at them, as they do me. In honesty and balance, I must note there are confirmed reports of certain professors who scramble the names and faces of “Asians” and “African-Americans.”
This bespeaks of the fact that, confronted with a sea of faces, there is a cognitive “seeing” of small racialized seas in the pool of students, defined by socially carved “races.” Racialized students are subjected to a double paradox — seen and set apart by their faces, and yet ultimately defaced and de-individualized because of their race.
This is nothing new — in fact it is institutionalized in law. American law throughout the nation’s history has “seen” Asians, African-Americans and other minorities as part of the process of differential treatment.
The nation is internalizing this phenomenon. Our society is slipping increasingly into caricatures and shorthand. In a world where signs and simulacra are strident, the leeching of individual identity may seem the inevitable denouement, the culmination and close of civilization.
Not all “races” are equal in treatment during this personhood-parching process. Majority “races” can resist by flashing their faces blown-up, their stories on page 1, their voices more than the token racialized spokesperson continued on page 12. Minorities must resist, bracing against the effacing tide.
We need a little ferocity. The hunger is there, I am certain.
I, for one, would cut my hair to the scalp and shout hoarsely in class if that would make the world see me and the “Asian girl” next to me as distinct. The yearning is that deep. Because all I want to do is fit in, as a woman with a face and an American citizen.
Don’t take away my inheritance of individualism.
Mary Fan is a first-year student at the Yale Law School.