Bruce Lee: Race & The Current Societal Climate
By James Lee
As most identify Bruce Lee with flashy kicks, vigorous wooing, and poignant tones that signify the iconic image of an above-human phenom, it is his philosophical and societal message that transcends time.
Needless to say, the fascination of his martial art fascination is vastly responsible for the outbreak of combat sport as a global entity presently. Though his vastest impact was socially, and as the societal issues he attempted to tackle are still waging war globally, it is important to highlight his wisdom.
Last week marked an unprovoked shooting spree in Atlanta, as eight women were killed in a deliberate attack on people of Asian descent.
Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Asian hate crime has risen across the past year, as the “Chinese virus” moniker has fuelled hate crime during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Research details that at least four-in-ten Asian adults believe they have faced some form of discrimination based on their race and ethnicity since the outbreak. This notion continues decades of an “anti-Oriental” attitude across the United States, as racism has been systematically ingrained since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Nevertheless, it would have been thought such racism would have been entirely dismantled across Western democracies amid the success of various civil right movements. Yet, it hasn’t. Instead, racial discrimination and injustice is as prominent and foremost as ever. The death of George Floyd last year charged a global demand for societal change, but little is expected to change.
However, and as the fight continues, it can be salient to note Bruce Lee’s experience of racism, and apply his words as a guide of passage at this time.
‘The Dragon’ was influential in tackling racial prejudice in the US around fifty years ago. In fact, Lee was forced to move back to Hong Kong because of the difficulty in seeking acting roles that would not cause offence to his home country.
Asian discrimination was notably conspicuous in the film industry during that period as the mantra of “yellowface” lurked across Hollywood; much like the use of evil Fu Manchu types and prostitutes lining most Chinese characters.
Though, Lee fought back and became the first global Asian film star and icon posthumously. He even took the fight against racism into his profession, as both ‘The Big Boss’ and ‘Fist of Fury’ portrayed him as a martial artist fighting against the discrimination of Chinese people.
So, as he found himself constrained by a racist industry and oppressive society, his impact eventually bridged the gap between the East and West through cinema and sport.
Though, his message concerning racial equality was primarily touching.
When asked whether he likened himself as Chinese or American, he responded by saying: “Do you know how I like to think of myself? As a human being. Because under the heavens and under the sky, there is but one family.”
Sadly, that message of equality and peace is more relevant than all today, as the fight against racial injustice will likely venture on for decades to come. However, it is worth thinking and remembering Lee in this time as a figure that broke the mould for many Asian Americans, as his talent provided a platform for his principal message.
A message that should be useless in modern society, but remains pertinent.