Asian Persuasian

April 30, 2014 45

Proceed with caution: I am Asian. I am persuasive.

The first time I found myself in New York City, I was not a vegan (or even vegetarian), and the concept of self-serve frozen yoghurt was very new and exciting to me, despite the sweltering highs of minus five, and cravings hitting at ten at night – no matter, everything’s still open in NYC… Sydney, seriously get it together. One particular night, I was paying for my coconut-and-strawberry-drowned bundle of dairy joy, when the second guy serving behind the counter shouted “Hey, Asian!” in my general direction, to which I looked up.

“Oh, your name is Jen, too? Awesome!”

No. No, my name is not Jen. Whoops. Back to counting pennies.

“So… your name is Ben? So’s mine! What did you think I said?”

I thought you said Hey, Asian. Ha-di-ha-ha-ha-di-ha.

At which, the blood literally drained out of his entire body and the warm fuzzy buzz of 16 Handles dissipated into an epic fifteen-person dead silence. Poor Ben spent the next ten minutes insisting that he would never (ever) say anything like that, and he was so so sorry if I was offended. He gave me an extra scoop of dessicated coconut, and I walked the six blocks back to my apartment, fairly amused.

Why would I be offended? I was Asian.

There was nothing derogatory about the word itself, surely.

Back home, relaying the story to friends, I oddly found that people started to get uncomfortable, or try to change the subject. When I have jokingly raised ‘being the token Asian’ on a shoot, or an outing, or a group project, it has always been met with nervous laughter and shuffling feet.

Unlike Tony Abbott, and/or global warming, racially oriented conversations are something your average Joe likes dance around.

On the flipside, I will also be the first to admit that I’ve experienced my fair share of full-frontal racism in my twenty years, every single such incident has stemmed from sheer ignorance to the point of hilarity. Ahead of the 2007 Federal Election here in Australia, an old white woman stopped me on my way home from the train station, and demanded I go back to my country. I couldn’t possibly be Australian, because my hair was black. Her hair was verging on green. Go back to your hairdresser, I said. During my final year at high school, a guy who my friend was crushing on asked me if I had small eyes because my parents studied too much at school. It’s just not natural, he said.

I learned that there were bigger reasons for this racism than having black hair or ‘small’ eyes – indeed, there are bigger reasons (even bigger than ignorance), for any kind of discrimination towards any group of people, be it races, ages, genders, cultural minorities, sexual preferences, whatever. I also learned that defense mechanisms vary from person to person. I found it most enlightening to research high-achieving Asians, Asian-Australians, Asian-Americans (et cetera) in different fields, site some kind of Asian pride, and hope to one day reach the same level of success – not for being Asian, but simply for working damn hard.

So, when my buddies at Understated Leather asked what would be my ideal, aggressive back slogan for my ideal, aggressive vintage biker jacket, ASIAN PERSUASION was a no-brainer: I am Asian. I am persuasive, or so I would like to think.

Well thank goodness it doesn’t say invasion, said my Mother on this particular morning of Australian Fashion Week.

Oh God forbid, Mum.

I like the shoulder chain thing, and I think it should have said invasion, announced my brother.

I like the shoulder chain thing, too, kid. These guys mean serious business.

Recently, the student newspaper at my University swung a low-handed blow at yours truly for sitting on my laurels and schmoozing with celebrities over soy chai lattes, instead of hopping up at a picket line, vouching for the equality of Asians in fashion. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Asians are killing it in Fashion. There is nothing ‘token’ about them. Some of the industry’s most respected designers proudly raise surnames like Wang, Gurung, Lim, Choi, Som, and Wang again – not because they’re Asian, but because they’re exceptionally talented creative forces. Our top digital influencers, bloggers or not, are acing what they do, independent of their Asian descent, but of Asian descent nonetheless. And, our most valid internet source after Wikipedia, has gone out of their way to highlight Asian-Australians in fields other than fashion who are ‘making waves and breaking stereotypes’, beyond which there are countless ground-breakers internationally, doing more of the same, same, but different.

By all means, where there are clear injustices, speak out for change. But where everything is ticking over like racially-equal clockwork, nobody wants your breath of fire disturbing the peace with a twisted incarnation of affirmative discrimination, and a subsequent two steps backward.

This is not a perfect world. There are individuals who grow up with narrow minds, who end up in high places, and give people a bloody hard time. Have pity on them: you’re a better-rounded, more culturally aware human being, who has probably had the good fortune of being surrounded by open-minded people.

And this jacket is not about an Asian Invasion. It is simply a damn beautiful leather jacket, customised by a damn beautiful artist, with a back-slap to that age old Asian pride, as it would be Italian Stallion if I were Italian, or Australian Persuasian if it actually rhymed. I wore it to Fashion Week. I felt a bit badass.

Our intelligent society is, as far as I’m concerned, post-racial.

So, the rest of the pack can run and tell that.

Understated Leather Custom Motorcycle Jacket

Aje Wide-Leg Pants

Alice Or Cross Earring

Alexander Wang Camisole

photos by Sophie Learmont during MBFWA

hair by Jon Pulitano of Headcase Hair for REDKEN Australia

  • Bernadette Williams

    ONE HUNDRED PER CENT AGREE! People need to stop shouting fire where this is no god damn fire.

    You’re my favourite read every day. Even more so than The Cut.

    In other news, you look beautiful here. And very strong.

  • goorgeous jacket babe :) and i definitely agree with you

  • Suzie Yang

    Mmmm, impeccable writing! Very persuasive piece indeed.

  • Your articles are always so enjoyable to read!

  • Amy O’Marlhey

    HAHAHA your Uni’s student newspaper sounds like a bunch of fools. Good on you, MZ.

  • priyanka gupta

    Your talents are wasted here. Please write for Business of Fashion. They’d be lucky to have you.

    • Ling

      Agreed. Please Marg, send in an article (or more) to BoF.

  • Helena Hu

    UMMMM BIGGEST DEAL that BUZZFEED wrote about you!? Congrats!

  • Dave Littler

    I am not asian and I’m a big fan of yours (and a big fan of YouTube’s Jenn Im). I’m old and there are times when people discriminate against me because I am old. I’m also a motorcyclist and there are times when I feel that I’m being discriminated against because I have a helmet under my arm and I’m wearing a leather jacket. Discrimination exists, but we shouldn’t condone or encourage it. I think your ‘Asian Persuasion’ jacket promotes discrimination, asians against others.

    • Guest

      Her jacket doesn’t promote discrimination, there is already racism against Asians (and others) whether she wears that or not. And how dare you compare dealing with racism to ‘motorcyclist’ prejudice, like it exists.

    • Memeoh

      What? Her jacket doesn’t promote discrimination, there is already racism against Asians (and others) whether she wears that or not. And how dare you compare dealing with racism to ‘motorcyclist’ prejudice, like it exists.

      • Dave Littler

        ‘Margaret Zhang’ may already rank right up there with Vera Wang or Zac Posen or Giorgio Armani, but I think it makes sense for Margaret not to emphasize her asian heritage. Asia is one market but the whole world is a much bigger market. Her ‘Asian Persuasion’ jacket appeals only to the smaller of the two markets.

        • Lizzy C-F

          Actually, Asia is the world’s most populous continent, with over 50% of the world’s population, so no, it is not “the smaller of the two markets”. Secondly, just because MZ emphasises her Asian heritage, that does not mean that she does not appeal. I for one love the jacket, and I’m a caucasian from New Zealand.

    • Rach

      I think MZ addresses your critique when she states she’d support “Italian stallion” or the like. It comes from pride of her heritage and culture, not the discrimination of others. Every country, community and individual would like to influence the wider world and I believe MZs unique, intelligent and beautiful point of view in fashion does that.
      Whilst I disagree with your point, I do understand where you’re coming from – perhaps you need to embellish your jacket with something demonstrating pride in your age and motorbike ;)

  • Hear, hear.

    As two girls of Asian descent, to see fellow Asians like yourself do well it is encouraging to say the least. Race is, and may always be, a big thing. In a world that is largely influenced by Western ideologies, the emergence and indeed current success of ethnically diverse individuals do help in forming and breaking the dominant social modes and stereotypes. In short, you go gurlfran.

    Much love and praise from the girls of MVD,

  • That was one of the best reads, ever.

  • Darleen M

    While I enjoyed reading this I would urge you to rethink the conclusion that we live in a post racial society.
    I think that because South East Asian countries have risen in might and esteem in the eyes of their western counterparts you as a woman of Asian descent will suffer a bit less discrimination while encountering situations of tokenism.
    However with issues such as Trayvon Martin’s death and the recent Clippers scandal as well as issues in France over what they term as ‘religious head gear’ I have to state that you’re resting on your laurels on a different subject. There are still many of us out here of South Asian, African and Latina descent who still suffer from racial barriers both institutionally and otherwise.
    I was shocked to read that, from what I interpreted, just because the struggle for Asian acceptance in the main stream is disappearing society cannot be structured in a very racialized and purposefully discriminatory manner. Furthermore, I am not from Australia, but reading things about the continually eurocentric immigration as well as issues with Indigenous rights – post racial? Really?

    • GTYW

      Perhaps we need to interpret MZ’ claim more literally when she refers to ‘[o]ur intelligent society is…post-racial’. That is, she is referring to any person in this world of a certain level of intellect and wisdom (ie someone who wouldn’t support institutional or discrete instances of racial prejudice).

      • Darleen M

        What people think they wouldn’t do and actually do are two rather different things. I will use a drastic example to cement this point. There were many Germans who did not support the Holocaust. However just because they did not morally support it and perpetuated institutions does not mean that they were not supporting the aforementioned institutions.
        That being said most people probably don’t fit into the narrow mold of ‘a certain level of intellect and wisdom’ further more racism is taught. You could be Albert Einstein and harbour Klu Klux Klan views.
        Cheers Margaret.

      • Jeanie


  • Honestly, as an African-American fashion blogger, there’s a lot of unintentional self-segregation going on. In a sort of preemptive strike, it makes sense to join all the blogger of color communities first, which sometimes then tear into the fact that many celebrated top fashion bloggers on platforms like are pale, size 0-4 conventionally attractive girls. In a digital fashion community where I’ve experienced nothing but support, it seems rather odd to me that conversations and interactions between individuals and groups becomes strained, as if the non-racist majority was really hoping that by never expressly bringing it up, they’d never have to hear of the consequences of other, more ignorant people’s behaviour. Its hard to quell the discomfort of a White friend by explaining that they are not the problem, or even a part of the problem, and the fight is against ignorance in all cultures, not against a specific race.
    While there is a lot of progress, as slow as it may be, in the inclusion of various minorities in the fashion world, there is a point where you take a good, hard look at the situation at hand, and realize that your best bet is to do your little part to join and augment your minority creative class. In doing so, then, success becomes not a litmus test of race vs respect, but rather, is based on talent and hard work. For that, one is highly respected, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

  • Love the biker jacket especially the chain detail. BTW, really like you put your hair up this one. A different look, very pretty:)

  • Laura Lama F.

    This jacket is so cool!


  • c.w.lim

    This is by far my favorite post on a fashion blog. I love how you mix serious issues with lighter issues such as fashion. Coming from a multicultural/ racial country, where race/ religion has always been a sensitive issue, one that’s almost bordering on taboo. I find it interesting that it was my transfer into an international school that introduce me to a bunch of close local friends who I can discuss religion/ racial/ political issues openly with. And as time pass, I find that race/ religion just fades into the background. My friends and most people appear to me just as individuals, free from race/ religion definitions. And despite some rare occasions that I still have some lingering prejudice. I think treating people as an isolated individual is the way to go from now on and especially in this age of globalization.
    You are an inspiration, Margaret. And I look forward to more posts from you. :) x

  • Cat

    Persuasive you are.
    Asian: merely an afterthought.

  • monkeyshines
  • Perfect outfit and I wonderful read. I had no idea you were only 20, your writing is very mature and so lovely to read. Thank you!

  • Genevieve

    A very interesting read, congrats. However, I frequently find the way that the word “Asian” is commonly used in Australia so cringeworthy. To me it is reductive and often disguises ignorance, in the same way that calling someone “African” or “European” does. There is such diversity within each of these continents – historical, religious, cultural, lingual – and these broad terms mask that.

  • Alexandra Aimee

    Funny, my memories of NYC are uniquely tied to frozen yogurt too, but rather than actual yogurt it was talk of yogurt. I was in NYC when Pinkberry launched. It was impossible to get out there, but it was all the buzz.

    — Alex at Cashmere Kangaroo

  • Nina Ng

    I DEFINITELY agree with you Margaret – it’s important to stand up and say something and fight for justice where justice is due on any issues (not just race), but the INTELLIGENT society, as you say – and the society that most of us operate in – is very much post-racial. There are exceptions, but aren’t there always? To all the people below who haven’t read the article properly… I mean come on. The more we identify with a post-racial society, cleaning up the messes with made to say otherwise, the most the paradigm shifts.

    Truly insightful.

  • Justine

    great post! Thanks Margaret :) xx

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  • Xincerely

    I really love the jacket! And so true about what you have posted. I am sure asians living abroad, have at least once or twice received that kind of treatment.


  • Alicia

    very well said.
    Your writing is just exemplary!

  • Avanti

    Such a wonderful post. I wish other people were as clever and insightful as yourself. Unfortunately, racism is still common in Australia. I guess we have a long way to go before we become a truly multicultural nation.


  • Joe Beverly

    My wife is Chinese. In all the years I’ve known her, I’ve never heard her refer to herself as Asian.
    It seems more of a racial term than an ethnic one, and ethnicity is a lot more interesting than race.

  • Dressed with soul

    Such intelligent words are welcome! You would be an enrichment for each kind of magazine.

  • pixelhazard

    I love your mum’s comment. I just optimistically look forward to a world where my son would hear this story and have it make no sense to him.

    Pixelhazard | Bright Green Laces |

  • Absolutely love the jacket. It defines you.

  • Carmelita Peoples

    OMG Jaw wide open love you blog and love this post layout

  • Jo

    A seriously good read. Good on you Margaret!

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  • An amazingly strong post. I don’t care about all the heat it generates, that actually shows how strong it is. And that jacket is kickass.

  • Wow, I absolutely loved reading this, you’re a brilliant writer! Love your attitude & you’re strength. I’ll be following you! X

  • ZhangPeiJun

    Wow, this was an eye-opener. I live in Honolulu and didn’t know that people were so racist toward Asians in other places. In Hawaii (and a lot of times in school) we joke about our race, whether it be Asian, Polynesian, or even white. I believe that Asians are not only very smart but also hard workers and are “invading” the realm of successful industries and will only become note prominent. I adore how you are still very young and already well known in the fashion industry and bound to be successful in your career. Asians are very persuasive and we also have “Asian Pride”.