He was the token Yellow face in a sea of Whiteness. There were others but they were F.O.Bs–Fresh off the boat. Unlike the F.O.Bs, whom mingled exclusively and spoke Chinese together, he was pure unbridled American who only spoke Chinese at home. His White friends loved to comment about his token-ness and would occasionally throw in a rice joke, ask if his packed lunch had dogs in it, or if he knew Karate. Since these White kids were his friends, he indulged them. He stretched his eye lids out in Facebook pictures, bowed his head down in parodic servility, and pretended to speak broken English by mispronouncing his Ls. They loved it. And this yellow-faced American loved being loved and accepted by his White peers. So whenever they begged him to do his “Asian accent”, he gleefully obliged, as if he was in on the joke with them.
Slowly but surely, the Yellow token would soon see Whiteness in his own reflection. He would even come to resent the Asiatic qualities and backwardness of not just the F.O.Bs but other East Asian Americans who lacked the ability to assimilate into the cool upper echelons of Whiteness like he did. In fact, whenever he and his White bros saw a group of Orients hanging about, they’d point and say, “look it’s your brothers.” And they laughed and he laughed with them. Every time they laughed, it was with him. This is what he told himself. Thus, “Uncle Chan” was born.
If the above narrative in any way resonates with you, then continue reading for I’m speaking to you.
Like the “Uncle Tom”, the “Uncle Chan” plays the role of the colored court jester, born and bred to entertain the collective egos of White folk. Like the notion of the “model minority”, Uncle Chan serves to validate Whiteness in its most truculent and racist forms. An Uncle Chan is ashamed and embarrassed whenever he sees “other Asians” hanging about together. He feels a sense of pride whenever he thinks about his own identity, namely that of the “cool” token Asian who has non-Asian friends and is just that much better than all those other geeky Asians.
What I have described here is something I think many of us have dealt with at some point in their lives, even if we were not the “token Asian” in our respective social circles. Many of us have an Uncle Chan lurking somewhere in our souls. Uncle Chan’s existence is brought forth by internalized racism cultivated by a Western culture that pervasively and continually patronizes the Orient.
I remember back in Junior high all the times I refused to be a part of anything resembling China or Chinese culture. When my school held their annual Asian culture festival, I refused to participate out of sheer embarrassment. While my ABC peers partook in dragon and ribbon dancing and Chinese yo-yo, I stood sidelined, patting myself on the back for being cleansed of such archaic foreign-ness, of being wholly removed from “strange” and “other worldly” customs. I told myself I was not one of them.
No doubt, Uncle Chan’s shadow is ubiquitous. An ABC I knew from college once told me that he didn’t like hanging out with Asians. “Nah all my friends are White or Black,” he proudly exclaimed. He also isn’t attracted to Asian girls because “White girls are all around hotter and have nicer bodies, bigger tits, and better asses” etc. Another Asian friend told me that when he visited China, he felt more “empowered” because he was American and because, compared to the average Chinese man, he was tall (but not as tall as the average Westerner).
This is collective masochism on a scale unseen in any other racial groups in the United States. Black Americans, for instance, rightfully embrace their Pan-African roots despite suffering more overt forms of institutionalized racism and White supremacy. Yet many of us quite easily succumb to the self loathing brought forth by internalized racism. So how do we fight back? How do we kill the Uncle Chan within us?
We aren’t at the mercy of some immutable force of nature or dictator. We don’t have to be court jesters. We don’t have to stretch our eyelids out in pictures or mispronounce our Ls to validate the racist preconceptions of White folk. We do not need to prove our “self awareness” of the truths they’ve imposed. This is ultimately a political struggle. Politically, it means identifying our plights with that of other people of color. We must rid ourselves of the anti-blackness that plague our communities. We must stop using Whiteness as a means of measuring “success”. We must stop considering White people as “one of us”–“civilized”, sharing “our values”–and Black and Brown people as “one of them”–“uncivilized”, against “our values.” Because the truth is, Uncle Chan is a White supremacist who feeds off our racial insecurities and weaponizes them into a poison that taints our collective souls. That blinds us to the racism that we face as well as impose on others. What’s at stake here is both our dignity and humanity.