Kozo Hattori believes the rampage shooting at UCSB was more than just a hate crime against women, it was also a hate crime against Asian-Americans.
“Elliot Rodger was a good looking kid” was the first thing I thought while watching his “retribution” video the day after the shooting. How did this good looking kid have a tough time meeting women?
My next thought was “Is he hapa (Hawaiian slang for mixed race, usually Asian and White)?” I did a Google search on his ethnicity or photos of his parents, and at that time nothing came up. Sam Louie at AsAmNews and Joan Walsh at Salon also noticed how the media ignored Rodger’s mixed-heritage. Even in the time since the shooting, articles are still being published that refer to Rodger over and over as a “straight white male.”
When Rodger’s true ethnic identity was revealed, I instantly gained insight into his psyche. You see, I attended UCSB and lived in Isla Vista for almost a decade. During this time, I dated only white women, mostly blonde white women. It wasn’t until I started working on my dissertation about Asian American masculinity that I connected my exclusive desire for white women with self-hatred.
Rodger’s “manifesto” reeks of self-hatred: from his perceptions of Asians as “disgusting”, to an episode of harassing an Asian peer for talking to a white girl, to his desire to dye his hair blonde. What strikes me is that Rodger was never exposed to his Asian identity as something to be proud of. He compares his visit to Malaysia, his mother’s country of birth, as a bit less “strange and foreign” than his trip to Morocco.
On a pick-up artist bashing website (PUAHate.com), Rodger ridiculed an Asian male who wanted to increase his chances with white women: “Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You’re just butthurt that you were born as an Asian piece of shit…You’ll never be half-white and you’ll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a bridge.”
When the media printed information about the victims of the shooting, it became clear to me that this was not just a hate crime against women, but also a self-hate crime against Asians. The media tends to refer to victims Hong, Chen, and Wang as roommates who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in my mind, Rodger was trying to stamp out any Asianess in himself and his world. Rodger viewed his Asian roommates as “repulsive”: “These were the biggest nerds I had ever seen, and they were both very ugly with annoying voices.” He admits that he would “even enjoy stabbing them both to death while they slept.”
In addition, one can see self-hatred in Rodger’s monolithic objects of desire: “white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially blondes.” Minorities who exclusively pursue white lovers can be seen as unconsciously trying to breed the color out of themselves.
All of this brings us to Tiger Woods, whose Asian identity has also been overlooked by the media. “The first Black golfer to win the Masters” is actually more Asian than he is Black since his mother is Thai and his father had some Chinese blood. Interestingly enough, Tiger’s harem of jilted lovers looks a lot like Rodger’s sexual fantasies.
Although Tiger’s “acting out” at the expense of women is nowhere as heinous as Rodger’s acts of violence, it is still problematic. One has to wonder if Tiger’s apparent desire for only white women, mostly blondes, is also rooted in self-hatred. Woods and Rodger represent some of the problems bi-racial Asian men have fitting into Western social norms of masculinity.
Things get even more interesting if we include full-blooded Asian men in America in this examination. Lisa Hickey, CEO of The Good Men Project, recently published an article that tracks the patterns in mass shootings in America. Hickey argues that in “most cases, the catalyst for the shooting was something that threatened the man’s identity as a man,” and I agree.
What most people don’t note, however, is that in the last 7 years, close to one quarter of the mass shootings (5 out of 22) have been committed by Asian men. This, in a country where Asian men account for less than five percent of the population.
This statistic may seem alarming, but it comes as no surprise to anyone aware of Asian American male identity. When news of the Virginia Tech shooting started to leak out, a co-facilitator in an Asian American Pacific Islander empowerment program and I had the same thought: “Please don’t let it be an Asian man.”
Asian men have historically been emasculated by Western culture. It is no coincidence that early Asian male immigrants were forced to take jobs normally assigned to women: cooking, doing the laundry and housework, etc. Depictions of Asian men range from nerdy to sinister to comical, but usually include an asexual quality.
I have been looking for a positive Asian American male role model since the death of Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan is depicted as more of a clown than a man, even though most of his stunts are nothing but cojones. Tiger Woods is Black. Don’t even get me started on Ken Jeong’s appearances which include the famous small penis scene in The Hangover, and voicing a female character in the animated film Turbo.
If there is any ethnic group in America whose masculinity is under constant attack, it is Asian men. So it seems to me that the disproportionate number of Asian mass shooters in America is not an anomaly.
I recently attended a Conversation on Compassion with Paul Ekman. In this talk, Ekman distinguished two different types of compassion: proximal and distal. Proximal compassion is an emotion based feeling that exists in the present moment. It is compassion to alleviate suffering felt right now. Distal compassion is cognitive and focused on the future—compassion to alleviate suffering in the future. Distal compassion relies on good social forecasting.
Asian American men could use a lot of proximal compassion, especially self-compassion, right now. I can’t help but imagine if something would be different, had Elliot Rodger had been introduced to a practice of cultivating compassion and self-compassion as a youth.
I’d also like to focus some time and energy on distal compassion. What is the forecast for a large group of men whose manhood is already under attack? This is especially relevant considering the glut of desperate Chinese men who will flood the international dating scene due to the one-child rule and a cultural preference for sons combined with illegal sex-selective abortions in China. How can we alleviate the present and future suffering of all the Elliot Rodgers, Tiger Woods, and Seung-Hui Chos in the making?
As the father of two Asian American sons, I am extremely concerned for the future America holds for Asian American men. I have no solutions, but I know that we cannot fix a problem until we recognize that a problem exists.