BY HONEST CHUNG ⋅ MAY 27, 2014
From our comrade at The Latin@ Asian Dialectic Blog.*
I was recently directed to read an article titled “Asian Americans Question Whether Race Played Role In UC Santa Barbara Killings.” This article goes on to cite two blogs in which the topic of discussion is the role (or non-role) that race may have played in Rodger’s actions or logic. Despite what many superficial understandings of the Elliot Rodger case may be, he is, in fact, half-white and half-Asian.
One of the blogs seems ambiguous on the question. They don’t definitively say race played a role, but they provide hints and passages where it seems like it’s impossible to rule it out…but then in the closing paragraph the author sheds some possible doubt:
“Perhaps he was just another lonely and troubled man—a self-described “victim” who felt his only recourse was to lash out and blame everyone else for his situation instead of taking responsibility for his own misogyny, racism and misplaced sense of privilege. But I think the truth is more complicated than that and in the next days and weeks, I’m sure a more detailed picture of this young man will begin to emerge. “
The other blog is much more firm on the question and says race undoubtedly played a role. However, the focus is on Rodger’s “anti-Asian self-hate,” which is a discourse I find troubling because it lends itself to a belief that this was a personal problem of Rodger’s.
Ironically enough, there hasn’t been much discussion about politics surrounding being Asian in the Latin@AsianDialectic, so this situation is as good as any to provide a different insight.
Impossible to Deny the Role of Race
So, let’s get started. To begin with let me be unconditionally firm that race absolutely played a role (shall I use more adverbs?). One would have to either be blind or in denial to not accept this as a fact. Here is one passage from his manifesto:
“I soon became frustrated that no one was paying any attention to me, particularly the girls. I saw girls talking to other guys who looked like obnoxious slobs, but none of them showed any interest in me. As my frustration grew, so did my anger. I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them? I thought with rage.”
The racial themes here are blatant. There is the upholding of white standards of beauty as supreme, and the identification of being an Asian male with being an inferior specimen. And this is just one passage of many where race is clearly prevalent. There is, of course, quite the contradiction here for Elliot. Whiteness is seen as the ultimate standard and Asians are inferior to that standard, but he, himself, is both white and Asian. Yet, by calling himself a “beautiful Eurasian” it seems he identifies closer with being white than Asian. What we have here is alienation caused by trying to fit a social standard that is clearly impossible for Elliot. You can’t, after all, be white if you’re half or full Asian.
Now, some people might not have trouble understanding that race definitely played a role, but some people might then ask “Okay, then how much did race play a role in this?” The question itself is bogus. It assumes that race is a material quality that can be observed and dissected, as if race could actually be quantified to say something like “Well, it turns out race only played 10% in this! We can all relax now.” Race exists in our society, not as a material things, but through our social relations. The racial ideologies of our society live through all of our social interactions. In fact, our social relations are the blood vessels that transmit and allow concepts of race to exist (not to mention all the institutional reinforcements of race).
In order to understand the situation with Elliot, you need to take his whole situation as a totality. Rodger wasn’t 50% misogynist, 10% racist, 30% rich, 10% gun maniac, or whatever, the situation with Rodger existed because of how all these things *dialectically* related to one another in creating all the contradictions that Elliot experienced. You can’t separate his misogyny from his racial understandings or his class background, nor can you quantify these relationships to say one was clearly more influential or important than the other. One or the other aspect of Elliot’s character did not cause him to go on a killing spree. Instead, we need to see how the totality of what made Elliot a personality interacted and contradicted with values of society. Only through understanding this relationship, will we ever get to see why Elliot felt compelled to act in such a manner.
Anti-Asian Self-Hate: An Argument that Absolves Racism
So, I have presented my views on whether or not race played a role. It’s time to move on to the argument that Elliot was a self-hating Asian. I personally have a strong distaste for this argument because it implies that Elliot’s problems were purely internal. It says race played a role only to the extent that Elliot hated the fact that he was Asian, but it doesn’t answer why he hated being Asian.
His self-hatred didn’t come from the fact the he was Asian, what I argue, instead, is that it came from the fact that he could never be white. This is an important distinction because there is no intrinsic value in being white or Asian, but our social relations make it so that being white is more valuable than being Asian. So, Elliot struggles with his own Asianess, not because there is something inherently bad with being Asian, but because being half-Asian means he can never attain the highest status as a white person. We can see this play out in the passage I cited above, and let me cite another passage to cement this point:
The peaceful and innocent environment of childhood where everyone had an equal footing was all over. The time of fair play was at its end. Life is a competition and a struggle, and I was slowly starting to realize it.
When I became aware of this common social structure at my school, I also started to examine myself and compare myself to these “cool kids”. I realized, with some horror, that I wasn’t “cool” at all. I had a dorky hairstyle, I wore plain and uncool clothing, and I was shy and unpopular. I was always described as the shy boy in the past, but I never really thought my shyness would affect me in a negative way, until this point.
This revelation about the world, and about myself, really decreased my self-esteem. On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.
I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them. I was a bit frustrated at my parents for not shaping me into one of these kids in the past. They never made an effort to dress me in stylish clothing or get me a good-looking haircut. I had to make every effort to rectify this. I had to adapt.
By now, some must be asking themselves why I say this “self-hating anti-Asian” argument is absolving racism. I say this because it seems to say that people like Elliot, and other Asians, whether full, half, partial, whatever, can overcome the fact that they’re Asian through an internal struggle with their own identity. It seems to say that I need to learn to accept and love the fact that I’m Asian. Now, I am not saying that folks shouldn’t do this. But, what this argument doesn’t take into account, is that you only exist as Asian because other values are created alongside it, such as white, black, brown, etc. This is not just an internal issue, it is also an external one. Asians can not overcome the fact they’re Asian without destroying the social systems that create categories such as Asian, black, brown, etc. Without doing this, Asian will always exist as a certain value in relation to other races. This is proved by the very fact that many Asians have to feel like they must overcome the fact that they’re Asian.
The Dynamics of Elliot’s Misogyny and Race
Lastly, I think it is of vital importance to see Elliot’s misogyny in conjunction to his race. I’ll just quickly sum up the logic of Elliot’s misogyny. He believed that women were the holders of sex and that men were the ones who received sex. Being a man, meant being able to demonstrate conquest, and since men were the ones to “get” sex, they were the ones who had to struggle in order to have sex. In our society, according to this logic, women are the ones who should and must give sex to men.
As the situation with Elliot proves, this can become a source for some trouble, to say the least. Elliot identified himself as a man. Yet, he could not fit the standard of being a man because women refused to give him sex. And it wasn’t Elliot’s fault, after all, according to him, he felt that he did all he could to get that sex from women. Women just couldn’t see the gentlemen that he was and the sex he deserved. In my previous blog post I made the argument that this can’t just be attributed to misogyny, but it must also be contributed to the gender constructs we make for defining what it is to be a man.
So, what does being half-Asian have to do with any of this? Asian men in the United States are constantly emasculated. We’re the nerds, the outcasts, the loners, the shy ones, etc. Of course, as far as Hollywood goes, one can make a claim that this is changing. This, however, is a topic for a different discussion. As of right now, the general standard remains true, that Asian men are emasculated in our society. Why do you think Elliot was so shocked at seeing a blonde woman talk to a “full-blooded Asian?” Even then, when Asian men are portrayed as masculine, it’s because they are oppressive husbands or narrow minded fathers. Now try fitting the pieces together. Man = getting sex from woman. Asian = inferior man. Therefore, Asian can not = true man.
As an Asian man myself, I have dealt with many of the things Elliot talks about. Any Asian, regardless of sex and/or gender, that grew up in the United States should be able to see a part of themselves in Elliot. I have felt and still struggle with feeling inferior as far as white standards of beauty go. I feel that there is a conception or social standard I must fit into, since I am Asian. As I noted in the beginning, we need to understand the totality of his personality (race, class, sex, gender, etc.) in relation to our society. Elliot didn’t fail at “solving” problems that were only internalized, Elliot felt that he could not uphold societal standards because of what he perceived were unsolvable flaws in himself:
“I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy. Humanity struck at me first by condemning me to experience so much suffering. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. I didn’t start this war… I wasn’t the one who struck first… But I will finish it by striking back.”
We can’t reduce Elliot’s problems to a personal struggle. We must see how his personal struggles were related to the society he, that you, that I, live in. Elliot’s story is not a story about failure of personal triumph, it’s a story of the perverse society we live in and are conditioned by. If we want to talk about ending misogyny, then we need to talk about radically departing with the oppressive society we live in. But to do that, requires a political solution that doesn’t just involve myself, or yourself, or isolated individuals in general, it requires the vast majority of society.
This is ultimately the question we must ask. How can we end oppression? If you think it can’t be ended, then you must be resigned to accept that people like Elliot will always be a reality in our society. I, for one, would like to think we can do better than that. Oppression has a root, it has an origin, and it can, and must be done away with.
Disclaimer: The LAD blog and podcast’s political views do not necessarily represent the views of La Voz/Voice.