Asian American Man-to-Man

m I saying you have to be a pussy, a nerd? Hardly. Self-assured men don't resort to throwing up bristly shells to discourage physical or psychic faceoffs. No, we make eye contact, smile, present ourselves articulately and with poise, and, if the situation warants, resort to a more urbane form of intimidation. In most social settings steady eye contact, a firm handshake, a confident tone are more than enough to discourage offensive behavior. A badass mutha may rarely get lip or attitude but he also doesn't get much in the way of interest either from prospective mates, employers, associates, clients, partners. Why waste the best years of your life hiding behind an ugly shell that impresses only those who are lower on the socio-economic food chain?

     In all arenas of life the big rewards go not to the most callow, as some bad movies may suggest, but to those who are most sensitive to the needs of others. That kind of sensitivity happens to be a time-honored Asian trait. When you scorn it in a bid to distance yourself from some silly stereotype, you're cutting off your nose to spite your face, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Sensitivity rocks. You don't have to wear it on your sleeves but stay in touch with the inner boy who feels with others. Your ability to do so will determine the quality of your most important relationships.

     I fully recognize that we Asian men are more likely than, say, a white male, to face gratuitous shit. We're minding our own business when suddenly we overhear a racial slur. Or some clown makes a joke at our expense. Or we're into a movie when we slam into one of those nasty little stereotypes. These aren't enviable situations. But remember the silver lining in every cloud? Each one of those bad situations comes with a silver lining -- the opportunity to show your character and sense of personal style.

     You're thinking, I'd rather not have that opportunity! I'd rather just mind my own business! I've got news for you -- you don't have a choice. You're an Asian male in America. Shit will happen. The only question is whether you let it get you down or whether you get down and turn it into a personal win.


     When shit happens -- and it will -- the secret to coming out smelling like roses is to stay loose. Resist the natural impulse to blow up in a tirade or explode into a flurry of punches and kicks. That will cost you more than it can possibly gain you. Instead, take a deep breath and see the situation the way an actor does. That takes strong presence of mind, not to mention serious cojones. It also requires you have the drill down cold. It may sound silly, but you have to practice for those kinds of encounters, at least in your head. Practice makes perfect. Your goal is to make yourself look good while making the offender look like trailer trash -- which he usually is.

     A few points to remember. Before you swing into action make sure you really have been insulted. Some half-heard remark that you suspect could have been a slur doesn't qualify. Neither does a question or remark by someone who wasn't motivated by malice but only by ignorance. If the situation is ambiguous, forget it. You can only look like a paranoid fool by overreacting. In marginal cases an effective gambit is to say loudly but politely, "Excuse me?" or "What's that?" That forces the suspected offender either to cross the Rubicon or back off. Most of the time it will be the latter, if in fact an insult had been intended at all.

     Once it becomes clear you've been insulted ("Yeah, I called you a dog-eating gook."), the smart response isn't physical or verbal violence ("I'm going to kick your fat ass!") but a show of superior composure and wit ("Oh, was that YOUR dog?" or maybe "Go back to the trailer and sober up," or, if you just aren't a witty guy, "Wow, you are ignorant (or fat or smelly or ugly)!".

     The key here is to maintain an innocent, even friendly, tone of voice. Since he's the one who initiated the encounter, keep the onus on him to escalate it. If all goes well -- and nine times out of ten it does -- the encounter will end with him talking too loud, too fast and too redfacedly and you smilingly making personal observations ("Your face is very red."). The subtext of the encounter will be clear to all: he's a bigoted loser and you're a classy guy with balls. It will also expose him for the coward that all such people are. Your chance of being physically assaulted and injured by one of those guys is about equal to your chances of getting rearended on your way home. Anyway what could be better than a fight started by the other guy in which you get to take out pent-up rage at all the racism you've been having to deal with since kindergarten.

     Each successful encounter will boost your confidence until you no longer ascribe to others the ability to hurt you on the basis of your race. You will then be truly free to pursue the dream of every healthy man -- to approach each situation as a confident, sensitive and loving human being. Then you will truly be an Asian American man!

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“Shit will happen. The only question is whether you let it get you down or whether you get down and turn it into a personal win.”

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