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January 27, 2005

Tony Pierce, Asian Inscrutability & Blogging While Black

If Tony Pierce was black like me, I would have been all over this business about African Americans sooner. As it stands, I think he is not. It's not a problem at all, but it is a real distinction. I'm trying to figure out whether anybody should be annoyed about that or not.

Some time ago when blogging was new I got into a fairly large discussion about The Mystery of the Black Blogger. As with everything else, there was a big to do about the matter, a lot of people got involved and several myths were busted and a lot of interesting questions investigated, some even answered. Then everybody shutup and went home, until Bill Cosby shot off his mouth.

I haven't spent much time talking about 'race relations' or racism here at Cobb, relatively speaking, but the question of identity has come around to my attention since I've taken a position with a company HQ'd in Beijing. And I think I am particularly alert to the matter with respect to Asian ethnic and racial identity these days.

Raise Your Hand
For a long time, especially when I was knee deep in the Affirmative Action Wars, I despaired of figuring out what Asians thought of the stereotypes applied to them over that particular issue. Try as I might, I could never get any consensus, largely due to a pretty mindblowing dearth of Asians who would write about the subject in all the places we blackfolks and whitefolks were carrying on about it. While this bothered me, especially as I was trying to make some multicultural sense about it, I gradually got over the Asian default. Asians, I reasoned, are simply not interested in joining the battle over their image in America. They are massively outgunned and have decided that it's not worth the fight. Asians don't care about the 'asian image'; It's a yellow thing that we'll never understand in a million years, so why even try?

I've started to break through my own resentful resignation about this situation for my own selfish reasons, but I don't expect much. Still, the exchange between Tony Pierce about blogging blackness and Zulieka about Asian identification is really priceless. So much is said by what's not said. I think a great deal is not said mostly because I percieve that both bloggers understand that their popularity is driven by an audience that doesn't care about such details.

As for Tony himself, I know that he's an LA dude, but we don't have much in common. I haven't read his blog in quite some time. I'm sure I could hang out with him if I was in a particularly vodka sloshed, loft-hangout, artsy-fartsy alternative rock mood, but I don't often hang with folks who have more tatoos than they have children, and I get the distinct feeling that Tony has a high ratio. (Not that there's anything wrong with that). From my personal perspective the Busblog is mostly good for trolling the LA underground rock scene and getting lots of pictures of sexy white chicks. That can occasionally be fascinating, but quite frankly I'd rather talk about sexy white chicks in the abstract. The topic wouldn't survive long at Cobb, nor with the blogs I frequent.

Survival of the Trackbackiest
In the end, the survivors define what is authentic, useful and real about a people. African Americans define more to the listening world what is black than all the blacks in Africa combined. It's not fair that Don Cheadle is the star of 'Hotel Rwanda' and not a real Hutu, but that's the way it goes. The internet and blogging by their very nature allow us to spectate right to the source. And everybody blogging is trying, to a certain extent, to represent themselves truthfully. It seems to me that the surviving representations are those which are quirky enough to remain interesting over time. But it must be remembered that the quirks of an individual are just that. You can't finish talking about a subject until it has been cross-polinated, and that's one of the reasons I have decided to hijack the topics from my own perspective.

As with most every subject and situation, I am always more pleased to have more blackfolks where I am. It is because I grew up in an era in which we weren't often taken seriously as individuals. The more blackfolks there were, the more individual we each could afford to be. When there's only one fly in the buttermilk, you spend a lot of time telling nons who you are not. That still happens. It's still all about the burden of representation, and I want a whole lot of us to survive. So for that reason, I give props to Tony, just for blogging his little heart out, and surviving. More space for me.

Now if I could only get three different Asians to comment...

Posted by mbowen at January 27, 2005 12:17 PM

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Wow, I wish you had contacted me so that I would have bumped into your excellent writing sooner. I received more e-mails from that Asian post than any other. 70 percent who wrote were people who sympathised, being of mixed or what is considered minority race in the US and Western Europe. The other thirty percent were angry white folk who accused me of making mountains out of ant-hills.

What surprised me most is that internet readers identify me as being Asian, when they can't see me, while in the general public society does not recognize me as being Asian because some of my Caucasian features predominate. Social identity is based on looks, and blogger identity is based on writing. Because I wrote about visiting Japan and having Japanese grandparents, I am identified by readers as being Asian.

One possibility of why it seems that Asians in America do not care about their image is that there is no feeling of community between Asians who are from different countries. Those of Korean heritage do not socialize with those of Chinese or Japanese heritage, and because of the actions of the Japanese during WW II, much residual hatred and mistrust still exists between these cultures.

The black population of America has a common history, and the fight for civil rights has increased some measure of solidarity.

Posted by: zulieka at February 1, 2005 01:08 PM