Let's interrogate the politic of comparing Aziz Ansari to Emmett Till. A storm of articles
has appeared over the last 48 hours regarding the account published by Babe magazine
on the disturbing encounter between Aziz Ansari and a young woman who, in the account, is simply called "Grace." A large majority of these articles, particularly the ones published in mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times
and the Atlantic
, have rushed to Ansari's defense, accusing "Grace" of enacting "revenge porn," and merely "exaggerating" an episode of "bad sex," which, they claim, she should have had the foresight and/or common sense to resist. Among the arguments put forth in defense of Ansari — surprisingly by many whites, perhaps in an eager bid to prove themselves NotRacist™ — is the one that claims Grace used her status as a white woman to damage and discredit the career of a man of color
(Ansari is a Brown south Asian man). Although no reference to Grace's racial identity was given in the original account, many subsequent articles have assumed Grace to be white because of Ansari's history of dating mostly white women. Regardless, though no facts are known for sure about Grace's racial identity, this has been the narrative: a white woman played up her helplessness in order to disempower a man of color. So let's begin with the phrase "man of color." This encompasses a rather large and diverse category of people who, at least in the United States, have historically had quite distinct relationships to both masculinity and whiteness as such. It is true that there has been a long and painful history of white women wielding their whiteness in violent ways against Black men and boys specifically. Throughout the history of the American south, there were countless documented cases of white women fabricating or exaggerating stories about being assaulted or harassed by Black men or boys, which resulted in tragic and fatal consequences for the latter. The case of Emmett Till
is perhaps the most well-known and egregious example of this phenomenon, in which a white woman lied about a 14-year old Black boy whistling at her in public. As a consequence, Till was murdered by two white men in the most brutal way imaginable. Because Blackness as such is hyper-masculinized within the U.S. racial order, Black boys and men have historically been portrayed by white people as dangerous, violent, or criminal, and white women have capitalized on this trope by exaggerating their own "innocence" and "helplessness" in order to skew the balance of power further in their favor. Meanwhile, Asian American men have had a different relationship to masculinity. If Black men have been hyper-masculinized in our culture, Asian American men have been hypo-masculinized—that is, feminized or seen as less masculine than the desirable (i.e. white) standard. Constructions of Black and Asian men's masculinity as either "too masculine" (i.e. dangerous/violent/criminal) or "not masculine enough" (i.e. unthreatening/weak/compliant) are both racist because they are framed only in reference to white masculinity as the middle standard. Not surprisingly, Asian American men's critiques of racism have often amounted to protesting the way in which they are constantly "emasculated" under white supremacy. The problem with this appeal is that it still frames white masculinity as the desirable standard into which they (Asian American men) should be rightfully included.