Surprise: White Man Who Published As “Yi-Fen Chou” Stole The Name From A Real Person
Micheal Derrick Hudson, the white male poet included in The Best American Poetry 2015 anthology for his poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” under a pen name, Yi-Fen Chou, apparently stole the name from a high school classmate — an actual woman named Yi-Fen Chou, according to the New York Times.
For those of you not paying attention to the scintillating world of contemporary American poetry gossip, here’s the summary: Hudson, a white man, submitted his poem, “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,” under his own name. It was rejected 40 times, by 40 different journals. He then made the decision to submit the poem under a nom de plume, Yi-Fen Chou, a fact that he plainly states in his biography in the anthology, which was edited by Sherman Alexie. “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful for me,” he wrote. We’re sure it has, buddy.
The Times tracked down Yi-Fen Chou’s sister, Ellen Y. Chou, who confirmed that her sister attended the same high school as Hudson in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Naturally, they’re demanding that the poet stop using the name of a real, living human being that actually exists and is a woman as his pen name.
“I’m just aghast,” Ellen Y. Chou, the sister of Yi-Fen Chou, said in an interview. Mr. Hudson’s use of the name, she added, showed a “lack of honesty” and “careless disregard for Chinese people and for Asians.”
This entire thing is a preposterous example of the awe-inspiring audacity of white men who think that the world is a buffet platter for their taking. Using the name of a Chinese person to peddle his mediocre poetry doesn’t only make him look like a giant jerk, it singlehandedly undermines the work being done by actual, real Asians who have had to work hard to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Michael Derrick Hudsons of the world.
Asian identity — or any racial identity other than your own, really — is not an outfit you can put on when just being yourself isn’t doing it for you. You cannot assume the mantle of a marginalized group because you think it might benefit you. Remember Rachel Dolezal and how well that worked out for her? What’s equally upsetting about this entire debacle is the fact that because Asian culture remains such a mystery to the general American public this fuckery went unnoticed. As the always excellent Hua Hsu writes in The New Yorker:
When it comes to such hoaxes, it seems somehow easier to fake Asia, a land still distant and inscrutable to many Americans; while other hoaxes work because of their thoroughness and care, the Asian-themed sort often get by with only a few details, as long as those details seem just “Asian” enough.
Any Asian kid who has had to contend with a schoolyard bully pulling their round eyes into slits while saying “ching chong ching chong” over and over again understands this. For every small step we seem to take towards a deeper, more meaningful understanding of our differences, something like this sets us back.
Apparently, the name Yi-Fen has a “unique spelling” and was given to the woman in question by her paternal grandfather, granting it even more significance and making Hudson’s appropriation even worse. Hudson has declined to comment, which is the smartest thing he’s done in a long time. The real Yi-Fen Chou, wisely, has also declined to speak on this. We hope she’s having a good, strong drink somewhere.