The Exploitation of Asian Girlz

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy concerning the Day Above Ground video Asian Girlz. In response to an avalanche of protest, the band took the video down, though only after announcing they would leave it up for a while to give us all a chance to look at it again (and drive up their views) and see it for “what it really is.”

I’ll tell you what it really is. It’s one of the worse examples of hipster racism on the internet. The song and accompanying video are intended to “parody” the popular sexual fetish for Asian women. Instead, it has the effect of making a bad joke out of a very problem with extremely serious consequences. And while the band claims to be opposed to racism and sexism of the sort they are parodying, they’re attempting to make money from the existence of same, putting them on a continuum of men making money off the bodies of Asian women that begins with peddlers of music videos and ends with slave traders (hang in there with me on this one), all of whom are trading in the same stereotypes and fantasies.

Try again, boys. Presenting images of Asian women as mere toys may be popular, but that just makes it all the more dangerous. To make the point, I did some internet searches through Yahoo.

The first term I used was “Asian girls.” I hit return and got 113 hits on eleven pages of which 112 were porn sites and escort services, many featuring “teens.” The one outlier was the humor site, Stuff White People Like. Almost funny, until you realize that they are referring to “Asian girls” as “stuff.” There were no other hits.

Undeterred, I decided to use the term “Asian women.” I got 115 hits this time. Of those hits, ninety-three were for escort services, mail order bride companies, and porn sites. Not very encouraging, but at least twenty-two were positive things, right? Wrong. Twelve of those twenty-two non-sex trade hits were for various pages on the site of the New York Asian Women’s Center.

The New York Asian Women’s Center is a very positive organization, but they exist in order to help Asian women survivors of domestic violence. What does it say that more than half of the non-fetish hits in a Yahoo search for “Asian women” are for a domestic violence and sexual assault program?

So, boys, I know lots of people have said your video is juvenile and insulting to women in general and Asian women in particular and I’m sure that hurts. I mean, thousands of people now equate Day Above Ground with “douche bag.” I get it, and I’m actually genuinely sorry that this dialogue couldn’t have taken a more constructive turn.

But, I’m not dwelling on that point. Instead, I’d like you to consider for a moment how incredibly derivative your concept is, and what it is, in fact, derivative of.

The images and stereotypes you’re playing with fuel fantasies that drive industries that trade in Asian women as commodities. Some trick women living in poverty in places like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand to list themselves with mail order bride services that sell them to men seeking Asian wives they believe will fit the stereotype you’re parodying. Once having acquired a wife, the man’s wish often comes true because the legal and financial dependency from which these women suffer make them appear submissive in the face of sexual and physical abuse.

Still other businesses, and there are plenty of them, just kidnap women and traffic them as sex slaves. An estimated 30 thousand women from Asian countries are trafficked into the U.S. every year. Traffickers trade in Asian women as commodities. An estimated 10 thousand Asian women are working in brothels in L.A., your own home city.

Boys, this is the kind of bullsh*t you inadvertently stepped into when you made that video. Taking it down is a nice gesture, but I do believe that at the very least an acknowledgment that you made a mistake is in order. Dodging that admission by saying that folks just aren’t getting the “joke” only makes matters worse.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

3 replies on “The Exploitation of Asian Girlz”

Hello! I just wanted to raise a point & maybe get a clarification. What’s meant when you bring up the sex trade? Are you specifically talking about sexual exploitation/sex trafficking? I ask this just to try & differentiate sex work and sex trafficking. The last links you provided are clear in that they refer to forced sex work. It’s necessary to make that distinction just because it’s way too easy to reinforce the stigma against sex workers. The main modes of thought seem to have all sex workers as either criminals or as powerless victims. These have been huge obstacles for the folks fighting for legal and economic protections for sex workers, as neither inform policy that gives a whit about consent or economic choice. I think “training of law enforcement” in the last link shows some of that, seeing as INS was prosecuting or deporting known victims of trafficking for prostitution. Not that things are cut and dried (personally I wonder how gov. services would go about building policy that differentiates sexual exploitation versus sex work under highly exploitive/able conditions). I’m gonna stop because I don’t wanna distract from the article (I see that smug ‘ironic’ yellow fever bull all the time, and it goes hand in hand with racial abuse and dating violence), just maybe promote awareness of that bus everyone keeps getting thrown under.
Also, big, big fan of everything I see posted on changelab, and racefiles before it. Thank you!

Thanks so much for this comment. Great points. I meant forced sexual exploitation/sex trafficking which, as you pointed out, is different than sex work. There is, as you said, a big difference. Sex workers suffer reactionary sex-phobia that puts them outside of consideration for worker protections, making them more vulnerable as workers. But sex workers are not either victims or criminals. There is much more to this story, and we would do well to understand that. Much appreciated.

Scot, thanks again for a thought provoking post. Well, i’ve been thinking…(i thought you’d never ask) that what we all deconstruct is the blatant power that folks, who are comfortable/complicit with dominant white culture, have when establishing the norms that maintain that cultural dominance. When someone is able to successfully satire, it is actually a tool of critical thinking, not of mere imitation or regurgitation. The lyrics of asian girlz is…meh. We all know it, the band even knows it, and can’t really argue that it is press (good or bad are seen equally in the eyes of earned media these days) to fuel their careers. Why else would they “give folks time” to see for themselves? Levy Tran is clear on this as well – no one is stupid here, or at least do not lack strategy. Although, i do believe that the left (i count myself in there somewhere) is who is left holding a short end of a magnum bar stick. Deconstruction of historical oppressive culture is an exercise which is essential to moving forward. However, i do not think that we define US cultural reform in the frame of justice solely via our responses to the power structure. We live and must survive in this structure, but i don’t think we necessarily have to answer to them or gain their approval. I protest both preposterous and undercover acts of bias, but i sure as hell am disinterested in getting anyone to apologize for their deep rooted psychology of superiority and hatred (aka self-absorbed white privilege). My time might be better spent in favor of shifting the conversation to gain political space in great number, shifting culture the old fashioned way – blood, sweat, and tears of speaking truth to the power of the people. By blog, signpost, or in my nerdly world an academic paper. So, if we’re talking either pop-culture or policy that defines these messages that we get about who is worth what in the US, it makes sense that we also as movement think of how we would govern justly and with compassion. In other words, satire on kids! Kristina Wong has the right idea…beyond chewing it up and spitting it right back at them. We’re not trying to change the minds of the foregone, but sharpen our own minds to do our daily work. peace. pam

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