Douglas Kim’s “I’m Asian American” Challenges Stereotypes

by Robert Moorehead

Let’s turn the lens from racial stereotypes Japan to those in the United States, to appreciate Douglas Kim’s music video “I’m Asian American.” Parodying Ben Fold’s “Rockin the Suburbs,” Kim takes on the stereotypes that all Asians look alike and don’t speak up, that they’re all on track to becoming doctors, pressured by Amy Chua’s Tiger Mothers, and ignored by Asian American women.

As Kim writes in the YouTube description of his video, “Our friendly neighborhood American Asian is just a regular guy trying to get through life in America without getting hated on by Asians and Americans, is that too much to ask?”

I’m thinking of showing this video in my upcoming class on Race and Mass Media, between the Slanted Screen and Better Luck Tomorrow. For my Japanese students, these American stereotypes of Asians are completely foreign. My students often struggle to imagine the experience of being in the minority and subject to such stereotypes. When I’ve shown clips of yellow-face characters like Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, I expected students to get angry. Instead, they dismiss the images as simply inaccurate. Some even say they understood that others might stereotype the Japanese and other Asians, just like the Japanese and other Asians stereotype other people.

At first, I was struck by how seemingly blasé they were to the images, but gradually we realized that these images were but one of many images of Asian people that those living in Asia see everyday. They see Asian actors playing every role, from doctors and lawyers, to janitors, mechanics, and office workers. From this perspective, seeing one ridiculous caricature might not seem like such a big deal.

In the US, on the other hand, Asian characters in film and on television have been much fewer and farther between. So those few portrayals carry much greater weight—just there are few non-Japanese on television and in film in Japan, and many foreigners seethe when they see a gaijin playing the fool. Tarento (performers) such as Bobby Ologun and Rola make viewers laugh with their misspoken Japanese and silly expressions, and the ability to entertain others is a great thing—but not at the exclusion from other performing other types of roles.

Kim’s video highlights the stereotypes of Asian Americans, and then smashes them, like the cello he destroys at the end of the video. And just as his Tiger Mom shifts to rocking out with him, hopefully Kim’s viewers will come to see past the stereotypes.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me tell y’all what it’s like

Being Asian we all look alike
It’s a bitch if you don’t believe
Read about it in a magazine
Sham on

I’ve got Tiger momma on my brain
So intense that I can’t explain
All alone in my Asian pain
You know they’ll punish me if I complain

I’m Asian American
And my friends are all pre-med
I’m Asian American
Get a B and I’ll be dead
I’m Asian American
I take the grades and face the facts
Some advisor with computers puts me on some shitty track

I’m pissed off but I’m too polite
When Asian girls all want a guy who’s white
Mom and dad you made me so uptight
Can’t ever party on a Friday night

Don’t know how much I can take
Give me something I’m allowed to break

I’m Asian American
Doing what my parents said
I’m Asian American
And it made me talented
I’m Asian American
I write on facebook and face the facts
Typing wall posts on computers is the only way I mack

In a haze these days
I’m cursing my poor eyesight
And I can feel something’s not right
I can feel someone’s trapped me in a lame cliche
Sending dirty vibes my way
Cause I would not be their robot
And I would not be a white collar slave

It wasn’t my idea
Never was my idea
Just drove to the store for some ramen and jap chae

Y’all don’t know what it’s like
Being Asian we all look alike
It gets me real pissed off and makes me wanna say

“Oh hello! Being Asian American has had profound unique effects on one’s psychological disposition, and as such, they’re not always able to effectively communicate their feelings in a way that doesn’t seem contrived, irrationally angry, oh thank you, or insecure. Wait, what’s that…”

Stuck in someone else’s song
I’m Asian American
Where the pho do I belong
I play some ball and face the facts
Can’t just sit behind computers
Gotta take it to the rack these days

Yeah yeah
I’m Asian American

You better watch out because I’m gonna say

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