MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we turn to somebody else who is angry about the way people from his ethnic background are often portrayed. But, it has to be said, angry in the nicest and often funniest possible way. We're talking about Phil Yu. He's the founder of the blog Angry Asian Man. When Yu started the blog back in 2001, he didn't think too many people outside his friends and family would bother reading it. Now, though, it's become a primary source for news and commentary about the Asian-American experience. It's even required reading for some college courses, which is why that with school back in session, Phil Yu's now doing a tour on the college speaking circuit. That's where we caught up with him to talk about his blog and the interesting niche he's carved out. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.
PHIL YU: Hi, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: I think a lot of people would ask, really, first of all, what are you angry about?
YU: You know, it's funny because, you know, most people who know me and know - just know my personality is that I'm not really all that angry of a guy. I don't come across as angry or uncivilized on the blog, but there are always little things here and there that - when I read incidents about discrimination or just like whack portrayals in the media, that gets me riled up.
MARTIN: Well, you really don't come across as that angry. In fact, the blog is often very funny. On an interpersonal level, you know, you don't seem so that angry - so why that name? I mean, did it just appear to you, just came to you? Or was that - it started out as kind of part of your personal website and just kind of grew into the name?
YU: Yeah. The idea of an angry Asian anything is actually kind of an affront to people's general perceptions of Asians in America. I think a lot of times we get pegged as very subservient, docile, passive, you know, we're sort of often painted as the model minority. We're going to keep our head down and not make waves, not rock the boat, and I just thought the name Angry Asian Man was so - it's a little bit provocative when people see it and they - you know, they go, whoa, this is not a concept that I'm used to. And I thought it would - you know, it's OK for Asians to speak up. It's OK for us to stand up and get angry about things in the face of injustice, you know.
MARTIN: What was the first thing that really made you angry as an Asian man?
YU: I can't remember the first time but I do remember the first one that sort of pertained to maybe the seeds that started this website. I remember when I was at college, there was this fraternity that circulated an e-mail that eventually went public about how they had defeated this team of little yellow men and sent them back in their rickshaws and it - just all this weird lyrical language about how they defeated this mostly Asian team of intramural - during intramural softball.
YU: Yeah, and it was, you know...
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I'm like, what?
YU: It was totally unnecessary. And I thought like, I can't believe that this is pass - and then, you know, of course, they were like, oh, we weren't meant - it was - you know, they played it off. It wasn't meant to harm anybody. We weren't - mean offense. And I've seen this time and time again across - in a lot of different college campuses where that happens. They're just given a pass a lot of times and I thought this is a moment where people need to say something, you know. We need to not be the model minority in this situation and get angry.
MARTIN: What was the first time when you realized the blog was having an impact?
YU: I think in 2002 is when Abercrombie and Fitch, the clothing company, came out with this lines of graphic T-shirts and a bunch of them had these Asian slogans on them that were, you know, racist caricatures of Asians. You know, people pulling rickshaws and people in those conical hats. I don't really - I still haven't figured out the name for that but - and one of them that everyone remembers is the one - it was advertising a fake laundry service called the Wong Brothers. Their slogan was two Wongs can make it white. And so I wrote about it, you know, and I posted the images of all the T-shirts and I actually posted the corporate contact info for Abercrombie and Fitch. And just said, you know, readers, if you feel like this is something that you feel strongly about, if this make you angry go ahead and let them know.
And it got such a tremendous response and that was the moment where I realized like, oh, the blogs are picking up on this and then mainstream media's picking up like a week later. And it kind of spurred on protests across different Asian-American groups and college campuses. That was the first time I realized, wow, my blog can be used for something - you know, I can get people to get angry about something. I can spur action. I'm trying to paint a picture that reflects sort of the diversity of Asian America and that means having things that get me mad, talking about racism, hate crimes, discrimination. But also talking about things that really get me cheering and I'm celebrating. You know, I have a lot of things about pop culture. A lot of commentary about things that I'm seeing in the news. Just funny weird things that you come across the Internet that happened to be related to Asians, I guess. And...
MARTIN: ...Didn't you write about the fact that like the central character in "Up," the kids' movie about the young boy and the old man who kind of go up in the air with the big balloon bouquet because the older man wants to take a vacation he never got to take. And then the boy happens to be unintentionally stowed away. The boy character is actually Asian.
MARTIN: And I don't even know that I even noticed that he was Asian until you said it because one of the points that you made is he was like a Boy Scout character. He wasn't like the math genius with the pocket protector. He wasn't - you know, he was just a kid...
MARTIN: ...Who was looking for friends.
YU: Yeah, I just love that character in "Up." You know, he just happens to be Asian and he's, you know, really adorable character. But that kid could've been of any ethnicity but they made the effort to make him Asian - just a little color, you know, and it's really wonderful when that kind of thing happens where they don't have to play that up and make it like a thing or a joke, which happens a lot.
MARTIN: One of the other things that's interesting about your blog is that it also features stories about Asian-Americans who aren't being awesome. You know, petty criminals.
MARTIN: Shady politicians, you know, things of that sort. Why do you include those stories? And do people agree with you? Do your followers agree with you that you should or they sometimes say, hey, don't be airing our dirty laundry, we have other people for that?
YU: Yeah, that's a feature that is, over the years, become known as Asians behaving badly. That's also my effort to say, guess what, our community is also full of people who do bad things or fail at this or that. And that's just part of my effort to create a more fuller picture - we're not the model minority.
MARTIN: Is it the kind of thing where people check with you to find out if they should be mad about something? You know, like we're always - you know, everybody's got this friend that they call to say, who's of a different background, to say, hey - is this - you know - where they're, you know, not - different ethnic group or of different sexual orientation and, you know, something strikes you and you think, how am I suppose to feel about this? Are you that guy when it comes to Asian-Americans?
YU: Yeah, I definitely get a lot of e-mails saying like, hey, have you seen this, and what do you think about it, you know? Just to - they want to see my take on it, you know. And I get a lot of people running things by me just saying, should I be mad about this or is this just funny, kind of funny or just kind of a stupid thing? So...
MARTIN: Well, how do you feel about that responsibility?
YU: It is a really weird responsibility to have. And a lot of times I sort of shy away from it, just like, I don't want that, you know, make up your own mind about these things. But I realize a lot of times people are also - kind of need an affirmation and kind of want to have that dialogue where we're all in this together, you know. And I just - or it's just that they want to also spread the word to other people about, you know, a particular issue.
MARTIN: Well, things like everyday things I think that a lot of people might not understand is happening. Like, for example, one of the things you wrote about is servers writing racist things on receipts for Asian-Americans.
MARTIN: You know, you're like, what?
YU: Yeah, and it happened so many times where I was like, is this a thing now or has this been happening for so long that we just didn't know it, but now we have the tools to sort of get the word out. Like, people are just taking smartphone pics and uploading them. And I was like, this is ridiculous. Is this a real trend? But, you know, those things are the kinds of things where, you know, people really - it gets them thinking, you know. And gets people - now, you know, every time I go to a fast food place or just get a receipt I'm like looking at it, I'm like, is there anything racist on this, you know?
MARTIN: Before we let you go, do you have a dream?
YU: Mine's a really silly dream because I love movies and television and it's why so much of my blog is preoccupied with that - is I really have a dream to see like an Asian-American actor win a best actor or actress Oscar. Not somebody just from Asia but somebody like me who grew up here, had a dream to be on TV or in the movies, and see that acceptance speech. That would be a really awesome dream for me.
MARTIN: Phil Yu is creator of the blog Angry Asian Man. We caught up with him in the middle of a college tour and he joined us from NPR West, which is in Culver City, California. Phil Yu, thank you so much for joining us.
YU: Thank you for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.