Tigers in Captivity: Discrimination and Mental Illness in Asian-America

Discrimination can be harmful to your mental health:

“We now have decades of research showing that when people are chronically treated differently, unfairly or badly, it can have effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk for developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” says Vickie Mays, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor in the department of health policy and management. Mays has done research in collaboration with Susan Cochran, a professor in the department of epidemiology at UCLA, that has helped document those links.

And when the mental health of one person is affected, it can produce a domino effect extending beyond that individual. “We know that when people have a psychiatric disorder, it’s not good for any of us,” Mays says. “For example, it can affect parenting — a depressed mom might not be able to interact with her child in a way that best promotes that child’s development, leaving the child more vulnerable to certain behavioral disorders. In that sense, we all suffer from the effects of discrimination.”

Gilbert Gee, professor in the Fielding school’s Department of Community Health Sciences, did a 2007 study to determine the extent to which Asian Americans who reported being the victims of discrimination were more vulnerable to developing clinically diagnosable mental disorders. “Much of the research has focused on symptoms of sadness and anxiety resulting from the mistreatment, and that’s very important, but we wanted to look at clinical outcomes,” Gee says.

Even after taking into account other potential causes of stress, Gee found a clear relationship between discrimination and increased risk of mental disorders.

We all know there’s a real problem with the under-reporting of mental illness in the APA community. Furthermore, it’s long been known that the incidence of mental illness is tied to perceptions of status — an important fact to note for us as Asian American men who suffer from a brand of historical and present anti-Asian male racism that is both insidious and pervasive in its reach.

“For Asian Americans, it isn’t just objective social status, but their perception of their social status in society-those who see it as low have higher rates of disorders,” says David Takeuchi, PhD, a principal investigator for NLAAS and a professor of sociology and social welfare and director of the Diversity Research Institute at the University of Washington.

The negative effects of social status can reach beyond dissatisfaction with social status, NLAAS researchers have found. Takeuchi and Soo Yun Uhm, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the APA Minority Fellowship Program at the University of Washington, studied the relationship between perceived unfair treatment and depression among NLAAS participants. Such treatment may include both specific events and a general sense of being disrespected that may or may not be linked to racism, says Uhm.

The effects of such double consciousness and the deleterious effects of having to cope with the realities of living under a White supremacist society that constantly degrades and dehumanizes us is well-known. Unfortunately, because we do not have a strong communal base of knowledge to really help young Asian dudes identify and come to grips with their marginalization, what often happens is that they either crumble internally and become “colorblind” to avoid cognitive dissonance (not good), or if they cry out for help, they are treated as individual cases that need to be shuffled off to mental therapy.

Listen, I was a Psychology major, and know the benefits of a qualified professional in helping those that truly are suffering, but it’s bullshit that when an Asian dude is understandably confused, angry, upset, and/or bitter about their very real oppression, they are told simply to “seek help”. IT IS NOT US THAT NEEDS HELP, IT IS SOCIETY. Mental illness is a natural reaction by a normal, functioning human being to being oppressed.

Not to mention the compounding effects that arise from gaslighting. The clinical effects of gaslighting have been well-documented, and sadly, we are most often gaslighted by those closest to us and those that speak for us.

Let me be clear. This is concern trolling, and it is racist. The constant painting of Asian American men as “misogynistic” and “patriarchal” is just a result of internalized racism towards Asian men, period.

In an analysis of 100 interviews with daughters of Korean and Vietnamese immigrants, I find that they frequently juxtapose derogatory images of Asian masculinity with positive images of white masculinity that are circulated in the white-dominated society. In so doing, they (re)construct white males as more attractive and more gender egalitarian than Asian males.This form of internalized gendered racism is part of the process by which Asian American females are made available to white males (Espiritu, 1997). It also reaffirms the hegemonic positioning of white masculinity. These data illustrate dynamics of internalized gendered racism among new Americans of Asian descent. Specifically, respondents reiterate the negative stereotypes of Asian males that are perpetuated in the white-dominated mainstream, while subscribing to views of white male supremacy.

Furthermore, it has zero basis in reality. In fact, US born Asian men are MORE GENDER EGALITARIAN than White men and immigrant Asian men:

Given a history of emasculation and desexualization of U.S.-born Asian men, these men for the most part have been able to make a masculinity that does not completely resemble white hegemonic masculinity or a model minority masculinity that uses male privilege, power, and domination in relationship with a variety of racialized and class-stratified women and men.

That’s right you racist ass bitches, we’re done. We “redefined” our masculinity over a motherfucking decade ago. And is any of this recognized? Do the so-called “feminists” that White America loves giving megaphones and soapboxes to celebrate the fact that our community has truly internalized the need to reduce misogyny and advance the empowerment of our women?

Of fucking course not. Even our most well-meaning sisters exhibit internalized racism towards us by calling Eddie Huang sexist and attacking him for defending himself against anti-Asian male racism. Shysty ass bitches. Y’all ain’t no fucking Judy Chu! Let me be 1000% clear: if you talk about the misogyny or patriarchy in the Asian American male community, WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING that our demographic has put in serious fucking work to redefine our masculinity to be more gender egalitarian, then you are not a feminist. You are not an activist. You are just a racist. And that goes for BlackGirlDangerous too. Get your stupid fucking anti-Asian enemy imaging bullshit outta my face, your constant gaslighting and concern trolling of Asian American men has ruined thousands of lives and wreaked both mental and spiritual havoc among my brothers. FUCK YOU.

But enough about our Michelle Malkin sellouts parading themselves around as “feminists” like their idol Lena Dunham (LMFAO). This part of the original UCLA study is what’s really important:

More recently, Mays has collaborated on a study showing that experiencing significant amounts of discrimination over time can lead to changes in the way the brain processes information, disrupting, for example, the regions involved in planning and decision-making.

“When we’ve had these experiences and anticipate that other incidents might lead us to be discriminated against, it can interfere with our ability to cognitively function at our best,” Mays says.

Now, I’m going to go ahead and say it. Yes, many of our Asian American brothers ARE fucking passive and seem to lack foresight and agency, but that’s through no fault of their own. The constant psychic and physical assaults on us and our worth as human beings has ground down many of us and turned us into the walking dead. I know some brothers may cringe at the sight of another “nerdy Asian”, but you must understand that social anxiety, confusion, and learned helplessness are all natural results of being forced to fit into Western society’s prescriptive schema of us. I know brothers, I know that feeling of revulsion and disgust that rises up like bile whenever I see someone “conforming to stereotypes”, but remember here that the operative word is “CONFORM”. In other words, we have been FORCED to play certain roles, and gaslighted to hell and back by not just mainstream society, but our own motherfucking friends, family, and community into believing the racist and degrading lies and propaganda about us. We are, quite literally, tigers born into captivity.

Zoological parks depend on the expression of “normal” behaviors by the animals displayed to successfully achieve their goals (Baldwin, 1991). Normal behaviors can be defined as “the exhibition of a phenotypic trait within the environmental context for which primary selective forces have shaped it, the outcome of which being maximal, inclusive fitness” (Eisenberg, 1981). In captivity, these “normal” behaviors are often replaced by abnormal, or “stereotypic” behaviors

So the next time you see a brother down on his luck, suffering, and questioning his own self-worth or his very existence, be patient. Be kind. Don’t ignore their pain. We are under enormous suffering and duress in White society, and we’ve been taught that “stereotypic behaviors” are a function of our “genes”, our “culture”, and whatever other fucking bullshit justification they use to keep us mentally imprisoned and physically non-threatening (i.e., MODEL). Use the knowledge and awareness you’ve gained to nurse these dudes back to health, and let them in on the secret of their own nature: red in tooth and claw. Teach them how to be free and unafraid. Teach them how to be wild. But most importantly, pass along the message:

One day, very soon, Siegfried and Roy are gonna get fucking mauled 😉

One sarang brothers <3

One thought on “Tigers in Captivity: Discrimination and Mental Illness in Asian-America

  1. B Reply

    Being afraid is a calling to be brave. Fck mental chains and being contained. Are we worthy as a people in the “pursuit of happiness”? Is it ok to be mentally enslaved or worse yet not even know it? We are more worthy than we are led to believe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *