To state the obvious, Jeong is hardly alone in colorfully expressing anti-white sentiment, and it is this broader phenomenon I find most interesting. Honestly, I’ve been around this sort of talk, most of it at least half-joking, for most of my life. (Years ago, I even affectionately parodied it.) The people I’ve heard archly denounce whites have for the most part been upwardly-mobile people who’ve proven pretty adept at navigating elite, predominantly white spaces. A lot of them have been whites who pride themselves on their diverse social circles and their enlightened views, and who indulge in their own half-ironic white-bashing to underscore that it is their achieved identity as intelligent, worldly people that counts most, not their ascribed identity as being of recognizably European descent.
One reason I’ve been disinclined to take this sort of talk seriously in the past is that it has so often smacked of intra-white status jockeying. It is almost as though we’re living through a strange sort of ethnogenesis, in which those who see themselves as (for lack of a better term) upper-whites are doing everything they can to disaffiliate themselves from those they’ve deemed lower-whites. Note that to be “upper” or “lower” isn’t just about class status, though of course that’s always hovering in the background. Rather, it is about the supposed nobility that flows from racial self-flagellation.
But many of the white-bashers of my acquaintance have been highly-educated and affluent Asian American professionals. So why do they do it? What work is this usually (though not always) gentle and irony-steeped white-bashing actually performing?
Some of this is just obvious edgelord trolling: the most transgressive thing you can get away with saying without actually getting called out for it. In this sense, it’s a way of establishing solidarity: All of us in this space get it, and we have nothing but disdain for those who do not. And some may well be intended as a defiant retort to bigotry.
But that doesn’t exhaust the universe of possibilities. In some instances, white-bashing can actually serve as a means of ascent, especially for Asian Americans. Embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for. And, simultaneously, it allows Asian Americans who use the discourse to position themselves as ethnic outsiders, including those who are comfortably enmeshed in elite circles.
The 9.9% is the new American aristocracy
Think about what it takes to claw your way into America’s elite strata. Unless you were born into the upper-middle class, your surest route is to pursue an elite education. To do that, it pays to be exquisitely sensitive to the beliefs and prejudices of the people who hold the power to grant you access to the social and cultural capital you badly want. By setting the standards for what counts as praiseworthy, elite universities have a powerful effect on youthful go-getters. Their admissions decisions represent powerful “nudges” towards certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and I’ve known many first- and second-generation kids—I was one of them—who intuit this early on.