From racial stereotypes to offensively-worded t-shirts to butchered attempts at mimicking Asiatic languages, the media has often subjected Asians to incredibly offensive, if not outright racist, slights. To help raise awareness towards these issues and encourage dialogue, the ASA recently brought Phil Yu, the founder of the popular blog Angry Asian Man, to Vassar to give a speech.
The speech was conceived and planned by the Asian Student Alliance, who contacted Yu and brought him out to Vassar. According to Michelle Zhao ‘16, a Co-President of the ASA, bringing Yu to Vassar was almost vetoed because they thought that because of his popularity in the Asian activist scene and his general popularity on the internet he wouldn’t be interested in coming to speak at Vassar.
“Initially, we didn’t think of bringing him because to us, he was this really famous blogger that talked about the same exact issues ASA wanted to bring up to the community,” said Zhao. “A senior in ASA posted [a link to a page on his website saying he was willing to speak at schools] to our Facebook group, maybe half-seriously, half-jokingly? And we thought, ‘Hey, why not? As long as we could afford him, we would do it.”
As it turns out, they were able to afford him, and Yu spoke in Rockefeller Hall this past Saturday. Yu, an Asian-American from Los Angeles, California, was motivated to found his blog in Febuary of 2001 by his musings and observations of continual microaggressions against Asians in the media that he encountered daily.
“I thought to myself: what does being Asian in a super-white environment mean?” Yu said.
Dwelling on this question encouraged him to start up his website nearly 14 years ago. It has since taken off and become a very popular site for Asian-American news and current events, as well as articles pointing out racism in the news and in pop-culture.
“I started the blog because I wanted a place to write down what I was thinking about: Asian-American issues,” Yu continued.
According to Yu, the title of the blog came about not because Yu himself is an especially angry person – in fact he insists that he is quite the opposite – but because he wanted a title that defied the way in which Asians are always typecast by the media as either passive and thoughtful or knowing martial arts.
“I wanted a title that flew in the fact of what Asians are perceived to be in America,” said Yu. “The idea of an angry Asian man is confrontational.”
The unofficial mascot for the blog, an image of which must be clicked to see the homepage, is an image of the character Quick Kick from the 1980’s G.I. Joe cartoon series. The image is of a Quick Kick action figure, featuring the character’s constant lack of shirt and shoes – ostensibly so he can do martial arts better.
“There was one episode where G.I. Joe had to go fight in the Himalayas,” Yu recalled. “And when they got there Quick Kick was still not wearing any shirt or shoes. I remember thinking to myself ‘that makes no sense.’”
Yu watched this show and many other movies and T.V. series that portrayed Asians in a similar fashion and often wondered why.
“I grew up on a diet of films, videos and series and I never really saw anyone that, well, looked like me,” Yu said.
It is his commentary on topics such as these that has helped Yu build the following he has today. Cindy Liu ‘16, another of the ASA’s Co-President’s, believes that the topics and elements of racism he covers and questions are applicable everywhere, including Vassar.
“There are definitely a lot of forms of microaggression that people of color face here even at a place like Vassar,” said Liu.
In his lecture, Yu spoke particularly about several of the posts on his blog that have especially resonated with his audience over the years. These ranged from his posts about Rosie O’Donnell’s infamous attempt to portray Asian language during an episode on ABC’s The View to his most popular posts about Jeremy Lin during the ‘Linsanity’ period of 2012. These topics ranged from practically the start of the blog to topics as recent as the past week, although he didn’t talk much about the specifics of how the blog has grown.
“The only thing was that I wished he talked a little more about was how he got to where he was,” mused Liu. “Although I thought his lecture was pretty good.”
Liu and Zhao both praised Angry Asian Man because the posts are always characterized by Yu’s own commentary on the events he covers, which often includes his own commentary and thoughts and feelings on his subjects.
“It [the blog] is coming from my perspective,” Yu stated. “I’ve never pretended it’s an objective news source.”
Yu’s voice, which has gradually built up a nationwide following, is what the ASA hoped him to bring to Vassar, to help make students and faculty more aware of these issues that confront a significant portion of the population.
“I think for every single speaker we bring, we hope that they can raise awareness at Vassar about Asian-American and Asian culture and issues,” said Zhao. “We find these things happening on the media and in our daily life but without bloggers like Phil Yu and other Asian Americans, the rest of the community don’t really know what goes on since mainstream media doesn’t cover it.”