There seems to have been an interesting ‘moment’ happening in popular culture in the United States. I’m sure that this has nothing to do with the fact that the two Asian-American contestants on the latest season of the long-running TV show Survivor have been among the first to be booted off…
But seriously. Earlier in the year, there was a whole series of newspaper articles about Asian-Americans protesting the way that Asian characters from books and comic strips suddenly become white once they hit the movie screen. Tilda Swinton in Dr Strange seems to be the latest example of ‘whitewashing’ (we happen to be going to see the movie tonight, now that it’s been released in Australia). But I remember the controversies over Ghost in the Shell as well as Iron Fist. Here’s a little list of whitewashing in 2016 here.
I noticed the latest round of news starting with some bozo from Fox News heading into New York’s Chinatown for a ‘report’ at the start of October. I thought it was because of attention on Asian-American voters but it was apparently because of the amount of times that Trump talks about China… He used tired stereotypes, made fun of how people spoke and ugh: I couldn’t even watch the clip. There were some good responses, like this takedown by Ronny Chieng.
Then a New York Times reporter was out with his kids in New York City and some well-dressed older women yelled at him to ‘go back to China’. Lucky she chose a journalist to pick on. It evolved from reporting on the incident to creating space for reflection and action and other media outlets picked up on the story as well.
The Washington Post’s angle for following up the story was a follow-up itself of a test from about 15 years go, one of the first internet smash hits where folks had to guess between a number of photos of Asian-Americans what their specific ethnicity was. I myself thought ‘I’ve got this,’ so was appalled that I scored no better than anyone else. Seems lately that computers are better at telling us apart, but the article was written in an incisive way that basically asks: why do we even need to ask the question ‘where are you from?’ and is it important to be able to tell Asians apart?
Just after I posted this, a friend on Facebook posted ANOTHER article, this one about representation of Asian actors in Hollywood (or more specifically the lack of representation), as well as the old problem of Asian men not being seen as masculine in comparison to hulking men of other hulking races. The article is happy to report though that there’s a hot Asian guy on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
The weird feeling I get from reading all these articles is a worry about how little has changed in so many years. These are the same issues that I was facing and talking about as soon as I was aware of growing up Chinese-Canadian in Canada. It makes me feel Really Old to see the same issues pop up, from time to time, for over half of my lifetime.
I used to think if we could raise enough awareness and improve education that we would be, as a race of people, more tolerant and sensitive. But if I’m being cynical these days, it just seems to prove to me that racism, stereotypes, unequal power relations, stupidity and rudeness are just an inevitable part of human nature.