Iris Marion-Young contextualizes oppression via the use of five “faces”: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Cultural imperialism is the one that resonated with my experiences the most. She defines it as the “universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture, and its establishment as the norm,” such that the group’s perspectives bleed into all aspects of society.
There were several notable quotes from the reading that strongly resonated with me as an Asian American and a child of immigrants. The first quote was “The culturally dominated undergo a paradoxical oppression, in that they are both marked out by stereotypes and at the same rendered invisible.” I found this to be especially relevant to the Asian American experience because our stereotypes directly cause our invisibility; Asians are perceived to be more compliant and submissive to authority, which leads to less opportunities to speak out for ourselves. The implication of this is that these stereotypes are only further cemented in a seemingly infinite cycle which lends itself to more frequent and severe discrimination.
The second quote that stood out to me was “The dominant group’s stereotyped and inferiorized images of the group must be internalized by group members at least to the extent that they are forced to react to the behaviors of others influenced by those images.” Although I had never really considered it before, I realized that there were many ways I subconsciously repressed my Korean heritage especially during elementary school. For example, regarding my Korean name, Kang Hyun (the fact that I even have to say “Korean” name is evidence in and of itself), I would never correct my teachers every first day of school when they mispronounced it as Kang rhyming with “gang” (even though the “a” is supposed to be pronounced as it is in “Kant”), and wouldn’t let them know that Hyun was not my middle name but part of my first name. Instead, I would feel embarrassed for having a strange sounding name, even though it was my real name, and offer my English name as if to apologize for an inconvenience. Another example that many Asian Americans have gone through as children in school is bringing their culture’s food from home. I remember there was a point in elementary school when I stopped bringing packed lunch from home, which included Korean foods such as kimbap, kimchi, and Korean meat/fish dishes, because other kids thought it was smelly and gross, and instead opted to eat the less appetizing but more “acceptable” school lunch daily.
The third quote that resonated with me concerned the idea of a subordinate culture: that the othered or oppressed group is “culturally different from the dominant group because the status of Otherness creates specific experiences not shared by the dominant group… Members of such groups express their specific group experiences and interpretations of the world to one another, developing and perpetuating their own culture.” As I mentioned earlier, I have had experiences unique to Asian Americans, however, I haven’t been able to express these experiences in predominantly white spaces, as my high school had very few Asian Americans, none of whom were in my friend group.
The taxing process of constantly viewing and reshaping one’s own culture from the perspective of the dominant group while undergoing experiences unique to their group results in what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “double consciousness.” I think that the “subordinate” side of my double-consciousness was quite unconscious until I came to college and to be frank, until my identity as an Asian American made the target on my back clearer than ever before this past year. Before then, I did not have others that could “affirm and recognize” my experiences, and I felt solely defined or determined by what dominant culture says about me.
The section on cultural imperialism was very enlightening as it allowed me to view my experiences through new lenses; more specifically, I was able to see how I subconsciously hid and suppressed my Asian identity as a result of cultural imperialism. In order to illustrate the concept of double consciousness, the unique Asian American experience, and the ideal image of diversity, I wrote a sonnet using kimbap, a traditional Korean dish, as a metaphor.
Seaweed, white rice, egg, carrots, tuna, ham
Some cucumber slices, maybe some cheese.
I remember asking mom to add spam
She wouldn’t add roots in our family trees.
The process: rolling up ingredients
Making sure they’re lined up in order first,
Organized, no room for disobedience:
A tight trap; if it’s too loose it might burst.
The knife cuts into pieces: circular
Shapes filled with color surrounded by white
In perfect harmony. Each circular
Shape suffocated by internal fight.
Kimbap: a canvas or a prison cell
I ponder, answer’s in the wishing well