Being Asian is nothing to be ashamed of
Western civilization came to this country (Australia) in 1788, and I'm proud of that.
-Tony Abbott, Right-wing leader of the Australian Opposition Party
I was once at Times bookstore, and I decided to flip through GQ magazine out of curiosity. (Now as you probably know, I dislike GQ USA as much as the typical butch female would dislike Cosmopolitan as it tears down my fashion sense and condemns my personal style when it comes to casualwear, which consists mainly of deep V-necks, tight tank tops, short shorts and plunging necklines, all deemed "inappropriate" by their so-called "style gurus", which means I'm practically supposed to give up wearing everything I love, in order to look "GQ", but I wanted to give it one more chance to prove my bad impression of it wrong) Within the magazine, I found something particularly disturbing to my left-wing Asian sensitivities, and that was the issue on hair. You see, in the 'Before and After' column, they featured this Asian guy named Charlie, whose hair was cut in the typical contemporary Taiwanese fashion. They then went on to describe apparently how distasteful such a hairstyle was, and how it was "not suitable for a grown man".
"Charlie is starting law school in the fall, but his hair looked like it was about to start middle school. "I've never met an adult male who can pull off bangs," says Blackmore. "It's Bieber- only territory." It was time Charlie graduated to something more his age: a no. 3 clipper fade with tons of texture on top. "I haven't seen my forehead since 2006," said Charlie afterward."
(Excerpt from GQ's best summer haircuts for men by Jordan Blackmore)
Now here's the thing. In case you were not aware, Mr Blackmore, loads of grown men including me, sport Charlie's initial hairstyle, and we love it. Not only is it manageable and well-tailored to soft Asian features, we also find it modern and funky. Perhaps you were not aware that Charlie's style of hair is extremely popular among young men in contemporary Southeast Asia, and by condemning it as "juvenile", you are in fact condemning contemporary Southeast Asian men as "juvenile". You know on further reflection, I see what this is. I was reading a feminist article (I don't usually give feminist or male rights activist articles the time of the day, but this one really struck some good chords) which said something to the extent that since the majority of people who hate Justin Bieber are teenage boys, it has got something to do with the strict gender role and rigidly defined social and dress boundaries Western Society places on men, and since Bieber obviously breaks every single rule of rigidly defined, acceptable hegemonic mainstream Western masculinity (The stiff and buttoned-up corporate figure, PREFERABLY interested in women), teenage and adolescent boys pretend to hate him when they really don't; they reject his identity fiercely, because it goes against how society and the media has conditioned them to think about how men are supposed behave and dress, in the same way a fundamentalist Christian might reject homosexuality fiercely, because it contradicts his one-track worldview, therefore it must be "bad". You are just contributing to the problem of restrictive gender roles, by saying that the only acceptable form of masculinity on a "grown man" is that of the traditional 1950s Anglo-Saxon patriarch (e.g. Don Draper, James Bond, Tony Abbott), while dismissing all other forms of masculinity as invalid.
GQ USA is therefore successful at getting away at what I term "politically correct racism"; while it would be socially inappropriate not to mention extremely foolish to write that Charlie's 'Chingchong Chinaman' hairstyle sucks, they are able to phrase it in such a way that makes them seem like the oh-so-sophisticated style gurus who possess the monopoly on good taste, which underlies a degree of xenophobia (hatred for anything "foreign", in which case bangs, which are extremely uncommon among contemporary Western men), and ethnocentrism (due to the fact that bangs on men are often associated with Japanese and Korean pop stars, and have only recently been adopted by the likes of metrosexuals like Bieber and Zac Efron, this makes them more or less an "Asian" thing. But since bangs are "Asian", they must be "unsophisticated", right? Because Asian men, unless they behave and groom themselves in a typically Anglo-Saxon manner, are "unsophisticated") Such a pity that getting my style inspiration from Korean and Japanese pop stars is going to land me on mainstream men's media's "worst dressed list". Ethnocentrism coated in sickeningly sweet, artificially flavored raspberry syrup, is what I call it. Oh; and please don't pooh pooh me on how I'm being oversensitive, that I have a chip on my shoulder, because God knows that it isn't simply a matter of having a chip on my shoulder; it's a matter of me being respected as an Asian, not as an Asian who conforms to traditional Anglo-Saxon norms of presentation, because "it's just good style".
The boxer Joe Louis was considered a "nice black man", because he was subservient to white people by not criticizing them, didn't touch white women, and played by the whites' rules (e.g. behaved and styled himself like a "nice white boy", but didn't demand equal rights to them). But his predecessor Jack Johnson on the other hand, was considered a "bad black man", because he was the complete polar opposite of Joe Louis. He didn't hesitate to criticize the whites, he fucked white women, and did everything that was considered "taboo" for a black man of the time. In other words, he was "unapologetically black". Unlike Louis, he was not ashamed of being himself, and saw it as his moral right to marry whoever he wanted, and call out white people who were treating black people like second-class citizens.
Likewise, why should we Asian men have to restrict ourselves to traditional Anglo-Saxon norms of acceptable masculinity, like the Anglo-Saxon version of GQ is subtly suggesting, in order to be accepted by the mainstream? It is our legal and moral right to be treated as people, not because we compromise our personal identity and individuality in order to "fit in with the mainstream", but simply because, we are people. We Asians have been kowtowing to the West for CENTURIES, hoping that by impersonating our colonizers, we would somehow gain "equal status" with them. No, my friend. Hardly so. You could dress a monkey up in a suit, and put on a Don Draper wig on him, and to you he would still be a monkey to you. (Not comparing Asians to monkeys!) The same case can be made for the generations of Asians, 'Anglophiles' if you will, who spared no effort in their attempt to be "more British than the English", so to speak. No matter how they styled their hair, no matter how typically "Anglo-Saxon" they looked and dressed, they would continue to be seen as merely second-class citizens by the dominant hegemony, many of whom were under the impression that these "Orientals" were simple-minded folk who could not speak English to save their lives. In fact, the sole act of unquestioning subservience towards Anglo-Saxon norms only served to cause our white colonizers to despise us even more!(It shows lack of backbone, which is why for a long time, Westerners have stereotyped Asians, especially Asian men as "weak")
The fact is that in our relatively politically correct society, openly phrased racism is generally frowned upon, but that doesn't mean that there are people such as Mr Blackmore, neo-Imperialists, if you will, who still see anything "Asian" as second-class. My hope is that rather than being unquestioningly subservient to the mores of Anglo-Saxon masculinity, we Asians should learn to act and think for ourselves, as opposed to dressing and behaving to please our former colonizers. We have been ever so respectful towards our former colonial overlords for the last hundred years, and seeing that such respect has not been equally reciprocated, well I guess it's about time we Asians stopped being so damned respectful. Cut your hair any way you like, wear whatever article of clothing you please, let your hair be as black as a seed of black sesame, be proud of who you are and what your culture has achieved, and if your former colonial master doesn't like it, well then that's too bad; because people like me, we don't see any shame in being Asian.