Avoid the most common traps of Asian American manhood.

by Norman Tai


Asian American Man-to-Man

verything that happened to you has happened to me. Your triumphs are mine and mine are yours. I feel your pain, you feel mine. I know I sound like a Walt Whitman wannabe or an Asian Bill Clinton. Call me what you will. If the wisdom I want to share lightens the load for even one Asian American fighting his way through the jungle of AA manhood, I will be happy.

     Being an American man is no cakewalk these days. To be a successful and well-adjusted Asian American man you practically have to be a paragon of all manly virtues. I come from a family of successful, well adjusted Asian American men but none of us take our good fortune for granted. We all stumbled, fell on our faces and had to struggle back to our feet and continue. Along the way we learned some hard lessons and shared them with one another. Here are some lessons I want to share with you.

     Here's the foremost and most difficult lesson: You are not a representative of all Asian Americans, or all AA males or all Chinese, Japanese, Corean or Vietnamese Americans. You represent only yourself. Believe me, that's more than enough responsibility.

     Some will say that this flies in the face of my Whitmanesque declaration. Not at all. We AA males identify with one another because we know that at the end of each day we probably have been subjected to the same set of silly and offensive prejudices. Sharing such experiences is healthy. But it's dumb to try to see yourself as the representative of an entire ethnic group. Only a chump equates ethnic pride with the duty to observe some impossible code of decorum in the name of racial honor.

     How does an honorable representative of the Asian race put the moves on a hot babe? Drive a lucrative business bargain? Fight a bloody turf war at work? He rarely does. He's too worried about doing something unseemly to take the kind of bold, chancy, morally ambiguous actions demanded of men leading interesting lives. I call it the Racial Honor Trap. The old RHT debilitated the greater part of the last two generations of Asian American men. Not wanting to complain, Asian men accepted the short end of too many bargains. Not wanting to confront, they sufferered in silence too many injustices. Not wanting to look foolish, they resigned lavish talents and passions to serving bland careers and lives.

     Ethnic pride? By all means, let it influence your choice of vacations, eateries, living room bric-a-brac, friends and mates. March in Chinese, Corean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino parades. Raise your kids to speak the language. Share the stories. But for godssake don't let ethnic pride inhibit your big passions and ambitions. When it comes to getting the girl, be foolish, even pathetic if necessary. When it comes to getting the deal, be flinty-eyed and hungry. In defending and expanding your turf, be a cold-blooded killer. Don't give a damn to how it might make the race look. Truth is, honorable failures only contributes to behind-the-back snickering at our race. If you end up doing well, the race looks good. Honor, dignity and decency are good values but hopeless as agendas.


     Another trap that has hurt Asian American men almost as much as the RHT is what I call the Badass Mutha Trap. I used to be a badass mutha myself well into adulthood. It's an understandable reaction of young Asian males against the meek Asian male stereotype. Problem is, that strategy takes too big a toll on your personal relationships. More particularly, it hobbles you in the mating dance, not to mention the professional whirl.

     Badass muthas may enjoy some favor among lowclass girls who lack a full range of options, but quality women want their men to be considerate, sensitive, expressive. Masculine, too. But a Taekwondo black belt, 20-inch biceps and the ability to bench press 300 pounds aren't high on female wish lists. Too many Asian dudes swagger around, arms defying gravity, in a misguided effort at ghetto intimidation. Teen chicks sorting out their own identities may find badass muthas appealing as political statements but won't stick around once their normal female instincts have tamed their political ones. And they usually do. PAGE 2

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“Only a chump equates ethnic pride with the duty to observe some impossible code of decorum in the name of racial honor.”

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