David Wu, David Eun May Be Victims of Racial Pigeonholing

Oregon Congressman David Wu is said to have shocked his campaign staffers with his “erratic behavior” last fall. What was the oddest thing he did? Emailed staffers a photo of himself dressed in a tiger costume.

I had to re-read the story to make sure I hadn’t missed something. It was Halloween and Wu sent his staffers a picture of himself in a costume. Maybe not the most impressive costume I’ve ever seen, but at least he wasn’t exposing himself or wearing a pigtail hat or a Mao suit. If that tiger suit was Exhibit 1 in the case against Wu, it’s his staffers (most of whom have already quit) who should get their heads examined.

Now an Oregon newspaper (outside his district) and GOP politicians are calling for the seven-term congressman to step down despite having just won reelection three months ago and retaining his popularity with voters in his district.

In late January AOL Media President David Eun was popping and breaking to a paraphrased version of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” in a video office memo to all staffers. Eun is no rapper, but the video injected a festive spirit into a team that had taken impressive strides under his watch. They had reversed AOL’s 26% traffic decline for 2009 with 23% growth in 2010. Video views had jumped 600%. In other words, Eun had good reason to throw up his hands and celebrate.

A week later Eun was given reason to pack his bags. CEO Tim Armstrong placed all AOL content under the oversight of Arianna Huffington whose Huffington Post was being acquired for $315 mil. Just yesterday, less than a year after he followed Armstrong to AOL from Google, David Eun announced his departure from AOL.

Am I reading too much into this or are these two more examples of Asian American men paying the price for displaying too much personality?

I am the first to declare the time has passed when America has problems accepting Asian American men as capable, even brilliant. But these incidents reinforce my suspicion that America is still not yet ready to let our personalities shine too brightly lest we overshadow nearby White males. Personality remains the last exclusive bastion of White male privilege.

Back in the 1920s and ’30s Japanese American actor Sessue Hayakawa suffered from this ban against Asian male charisma when Hollywood relegated him to villain roles despite his dashing good looks and powerful on-screen charisma. In the 1970s Bruce Lee wasn’t allowed a leading role until after he had turned himself into a global superstar through low-budget Hong Kong films, forcing Hollywood to play along or lose out on a bonanza. Back in June of 1992 the mercurial Chinese American programming genius Stephen Chao was fired by Rupert Murdoch for hiring a male stripper to illustrate his talk on how Hollywood is more afraid of nudity than violence. The fact that then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and wife Lynne were in the audience probably didn’t help Chao’s cause.

We’ll know that America is truly open to Asian American men as well-rounded human beings when we can let our hair down without fear of being blackballed for it.