THROUGH THE FIRE: What Ever Happened to Kenneth Eng?

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By BRETT FUJIOKA
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on August 24, 2011.)

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Another offensive video about Asians made the circuit online. This time, it was by a girl on Worldstarhiphop.com slathering her face with yellow make-up in an instructional video on how to look more Asian. So far, the video hasn’t gone viral. At least not to the extent that Alexandra Wallace’s “Asians in the Library” did. But For whatever reason, instead of Wallace, I immediately thought of Kenneth Eng’s brief moment of infamy.

If his name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the Chinese American journalist who penned a column titled “Why I Hate Blacks” on Feb. 23, 2007 for Asian Week when it was still in print. I don’t have to quote the article’s contents to explain what’s inside. The newspaper followed with a front-page apology and promptly fired Eng. The furor died down eventually and Eng faded into nothing more than a regrettable memory for the Asian American community.

The reason why I bring up Kenneth Eng is because other columnists have made a career with his similar views and I’m doubtful as to whether or not the Asian American community has grown from the experience. In fact, judging from the reports on the press conference held after its printing, the editors struggled to avoid as much culpability as possible. They focused on editorial mistakes instead of giving what everyone wanted, which was a candid apology.

Responses by Asian Americans to the article further missed the mark. Yes, it was racist, but Eng was very much a product of the community he was born into. Asian American bloggers condemned the piece in an effort to rinse their hands clean from any association. Phil Yu of the Asian Angry Man blog was one of the first to describe and disseminate Eng’s article. What he failed to grasp is that both he and other Asian American bloggers share similar sentiments with Eng’s article “Proof That White People Inherently Hate Us.” More specifically, they both took issue with the depiction of Asians in the media and anyone who has read Guy Aoki’s column or Phil Yu’s entries knows that’s a pet peeve amongst our ilk.

But that’s where the similarities end. To the best of my knowledge, Yu and other popular bloggers haven’t ever echoed anything close to the level of vitriolic bigotry as Eng, but their fans, on the other hand, are a different matter. I’m unsure of how literally Yu’s readers interpret his mock glorification of anger. I know for a fact that he at most means it semi-ironically. However, there’s no way of detecting whether his fans realize that.

You only need to see the anonymous responses to Alexandra Wallace’s YouTube video, “Asians in the Library,” to understand how irrational anger makes people. That’s ultimately the culture that we’re breeding by embracing a victim complex. It’s a case of resentment where a person empowers himself through his victimhood. With this mentality, a person can say or do anything and commit no wrong. We see this in the anonymous comments directed towards Wallace. They met her bigotry and exchanged it with equal parts racism and sexism, all the while not realizing that they momentarily became the same type of beast that they despised.

My point being is that the community hasn’t dwelled long or even accordingly enough on Eng and his words, and this is where Alexandra Wallace, Phil Yu, and others come into the picture. It’s been four years since Eng published his article and social networking has expanded to an extent where information is proliferated at an exponential rate. If Eng’s article received online syndication in this day and age it would’ve been more widely spread and forced the community to better confront his words.

And while we’re on the topic of the Internet, for every Wallace that appears, the clock strikes closer to midnight for when another Eng impulsively blogs or uploads something that will strike the same level of attention. When it happens, it will be blogged, tweeted, e-mailed, “dugged,” and hotlinked across the web. It’ll be prime time for our community whether we like it or not.

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Brett Fujioka can be contacted by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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