Asian Woman Writes That She Refuses to Date Asian Men: Is She an Internet Troll or Agent Provocateur?
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While there are plenty of hot-button issues that can serve as an effective means to generate clicks and comments (the last category is the single best metric for assessing whether a troll has been effective, since trolling ultimately is about generating response, even if that response is all heat and no light), what sites like xoJane have figured out is that there’s no surer path to pageviews today than putting outrageous, extreme and possibly offensive racial statements defiantly in plain view and waiting for reaction to roll in.
And increasingly, it has emerged that the ideal target on which to practice racetrolling is the Asian American community.
Ideal because Asian Americans are still relatively new to media spotlight; there’s still so little attention focused on us at all that when a headline-grabbing phenomenon happens with Asians at its center (Jeremy Lin! And now I’ve fulfilled my search-engine optimization quota for the week), it “pops” instantly, becoming the focus of extraordinarily intense attention.
Ideal because no group has anything close to Asian America’s level of online penetration (85 percent of Asian Americans have access to the Internet, versus 74 percent of U.S. households as a whole) and online consumption (according to Nielsen, Asian Americans consume more Internet content than any other group, viewing on average 3,600 web pages a month, 1,000 more than the U.S. norm).
And ideal because Asian America now has a massive enabling infrastructure to feed the trolls — high-profile blogs like Angry Asian Man and 8Asians that provide effective real-time response, which spreads like wildfire due to near-universal social media use among Asian American netizens. From Edison Research: 71 percent of Asian Americans online use Facebook at least once a week, the highest of any racial group.
Finally, there’s the small but growing number of Asian American journalists like me, who have both access to mainstream platforms and interest in Asian American issues. By writing about this piece, I’m raising its profile — taking the bait, so to speak. But then again, not writing about it means that many people will read it at face value, reposting it in anger, or even more problematically, admiration.
There are all sorts of flags to suggest, to a careful observer, that An is quite aware she’s yanking readers’ chains. The goofy, slackjawed photo she submitted as her author portrait, and the other equally odd images that illustrate the story (An holding a spread-eagled red panda; An lounging on a bed with a towel folded into a white elephant). The assertion that this "has nothing to do with skin color” followed, 25 words later, with a celebration of “getting on the white-boy bandwagon.”
Basically, there’s no way that someone could simultaneously be that naive and that cynical. Is there? I reached out to An to find out. She lives in Brooklyn, and we have mutual friends; it wasn’t hard to connect, and An was delighted to talk, on the condition, per xoJane, that I link back to her story (more clicks!).
“Clearly the piece is meant as a provocation,” she says, stating that her literary inspiration was Junot Diaz and how he depicted “racial self-loathing” in his Dominican characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — “especially when it relates to romantic relationships. And that struck me as an approach to understanding racism that's rarely discussed outside of literature. And so, I played with the idea and put it into a piece I hoped people would talk about.”
An was born in China and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, “surrounded by about as many Asians as you get in the Midwest.” She says she has many Asian American male friends; has dated them and would date them again: “Just for the record, the piece doesn't reflect how I personally feel about Asians and Asian men.” But, pushed by her editor at xoJane, Mandy Stadtmiller, An wanted to write a piece that disrupted the way racism is discussed in mainstream media. “The nuances of misogyny, how women are framed in society and its subtle impacts, are finally being discussed,” she says. “And I think that sort of nuance doesn’t exist when it comes to the discussion of race….The race conversation is basically, is ‘XYZ’ racist or not, and racism works in much more subtle ways than that.”