How racism stopped me from even dreaming

I love, love movies. I’ve been obsessed with stories and storytelling since I was a baby. My mom made me learn how to read when I was three because she got tired of me begging her to read to me. She hired me a reading tutor, I learned, and I have no memory of my parents reading to me.

Through childhood and adolescence I devoured stories and later, movies–I remember watching the Little Mermaid over and over at age five or so. I’ve been in love with all sorts of movies my whole life. They’re a refuge, and an escape.

You might think I would have wanted to go into filmmaking or some other field that involves storytelling–writing, etc. I do kind of the opposite (I’m a lawyer). In my dissatisfaction with work I’ve been mulling over why I didn’t think about pursuing that field, or something else more creative. I skirted around it–in college I took a film class (boring as hell), an acting class (Alexander technique, ugh), and an animation class (that was fun). It was just out of a liberal arts interest, though, and I went on to major in biology. I’m a lawyer now.

I’ve realized one big reason is that I never saw anyone who looked like me in those roles. I’d watch DVD commentaries narrated by the white male lead and the white male director, where they would riff for two hours on how beautiful the female actors looked. The names in the credits were overwhelmingly white, and mostly male. How could I envision myself becoming like one of these men, when I knew most of them would rather pretend I don’t exist, unless they wanted to have sex with me?

Relatedly, the white male controlled world of filmmaking etc has a perspective that refuses to try to see or understand anything beyond its preconceived notions or perspective. They could, with effort–they’ve just never had to do it, because every story is about them. If a story is somehow not focused on them, it doesn’t matter and they refuse to see it. I don’t matter to them, my stories don’t matter to them, and they don’t care about anything I have to say. How could I get a movie made? My movie made? “My movie.” It’s impossible to even imagine.

So that’s what it is. How could it happen? How could I make them see me as someone whose story matters? You could say all that’s holding me back is fear, or that I have nothing to lose by trying. I feel like I do have things to lose–my time, my energy, hope, continued degradation and dehumanization and rejection of the idea that I could present anything that matters. All the potential pain.

Who knows, maybe I’ll one day have enough time and energy and money to invest into this. But it saddens me that I never even had the chance to think about this and waste some time in my 20s trying. It didn’t even occur to me to try. I wish I could have.

 

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My beef with Maison Kitsuné

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Maison Kitsuné is a French brand designed by Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki. Loaëc is straight up French, and Kuroki moved from Japan to France aged 12, according to this article. Thus, I assume he has a somewhat limited understanding of Japanese culture and perceptions due to that. Earlier this year Kitsuné faced controversy when its visuals for an upcoming collection featured the Japanese military flag, which is considered by many to be a symbol of Japanese imperialism and aggression. For the uninformed, the Japanese military in the mid-1900s invaded, colonized and committed heinous acts of violence throughout much of Asia, most of which the Japanese government has refused to apologize for or even recognize happened. Therefore a symbol of that military is extremely offensive to many. The brand apologized, but its other actions over the years I’ve followed it reveal how blind the creators are to cultural sensitivities and biases.

For instance, I noticed over the years that almost 100% of the models they used were white. They finally used Asian models recently to advertise their shoes, though it looks more like a shoe fetish porno:

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As opposed to most of their other models, who were styled like this:

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The overexposed shots of the Asian shoe models are reminescent of the photography of Terry Richardson, known for sexually exploiting his models. As opposed to the white models, who get to be fully clothed and are styled like, you know, models you want to look like, instead of creepy shots of Asian sex trafficking victims.

Asian people, especially women, already face enough challenge getting society to view them as full individual human beings. Asian women are often viewed as mere sex objects, usable and disposable toys–the French, especially, have a history of colonization of large parts of Asia. These models look exposed, vulnerable, and exploitable. They probably were in order to get these shots–who in their right minds would participate in creating such images?

Lastly, a recent collection by Kitsuné featured their mascot fox (kitsune means fox in Japanese) wearing a cap with the South Korean flag. Huh? Why? What made these designers, with no ostensible cultural connection to Korea, think it would be okay to use for their own profit the flag of a people that the Japanese, their stated inspiration, oppressed and mutilated for decades? Were the pandering to Korean customers? They were not amused, based on what I saw on Kitsuné’s Instagram comments. Did they think the flag pattern was just fun and pretty?

 

 

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The fox’s cap has the South Korean flag

 

I don’t think they ever officially apologized for this. But it really demonstrates how people who have no understanding of a foreign culture should be extremely cautious about handling that culture, especially if they do it in the public sphere and absolutely mandatorily (is that a word?) if they seek to profit from the use. I personally think they have zero justification for using the Korean flag for their own profit, considering the brand’s stated Japanese inspiration/roots.

It really pains me seeing Asian models and other assets of Korean culture be exploited like this. It’s additionally painful because one of the perpetrators is himself of Asian descent. I don’t flatly expect cultural sensitivity from Asian people who grow up abroad. But it still hurts a bit more.

 

What do Asians look like?

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Tao Okamoto, model/Japanese person

The easiest way to learn what white people think about Asian people by talking to racist white people. I was recently talking to a white woman about Asian models, and I mentioned that I thought the Japanese model Tao Okamoto was very beautiful. When I showed her a picture of Tao, the woman said, “Well, she looks more white than Asian.”

What?

This woman apparently held a preconceived notion that Asians are all slitty-eyed (thus ugly), and when she saw a beautiful Asian person with large eyes (whether large eyes are a requirement for beauty is beside the point), her mind apparently resolved that internal contradiction by deciding that this Asian person was only pretty because she looked white. She then had the audacity to say to me, an Asian person, that Tao didn’t look Asian, implying that her “whiteness” was the only reason she was both Asian and beautiful.

Tao is Asian. She’s from Chiba, Japan. As far as I know her ethnicity is fully Japanese. If a Japanese person looks a certain way, then that particular feature is one present in Japanese people. Besides, plenty plenty plenty Japanese people (and Koreans, and Thai, and Nepalese, etc…you get the point) have large eyes. I do, too. I have giant Bambi eyes with long eyelashes, and there are tons of Asian girls who look like me.

The same white woman, at another point while discussing a mutual friend, a tall, broad-shouldered man of Chinese descent, said “well, he’s taller than most Asians.” I mentioned to her that he had characteristic Han Chinese features–tall and sturdily built. She maintained that he was just an exception–Asian men are short and small! All of them on the entire continent! Just like black people have wide noses! At this point I gave up. I can’t fix stupid.

 

The politics of Asian beauty is complicated. A lot of Asians undeniably spend a lot of time and effort trying to look white, and pine over features like blond hair and blue eyes. However, large eyes and whatever other features Tao has are features that do naturally occur in East Asian people, and are not rare. It’s frustrating that many white people have a set notion of what Asian people look like, based on what they believe we look like. It’s not just a superficial thing–it’s one of the many ways that white people justify how “All Asians look alike, I can’t tell them apart” and other dehumanizing of Asians and POC. It’s not just about insisting nonwhite races can also be beautiful–which is an important recognition as well–it’s also about recognizing that Asians and POC have individual and varied features, and each of us is a full human being and shouldn’t be grouped into one massive group of 4 billion.

So white people, please stop thinking we all look the same. We never have, it’s your closed minds that tell you we do.

 

The racism of Fresh Off the Boat

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Asians are cheap, right????

I watched FOTB faithfully for the first season. While I personally didn’t relate to many aspects of the show, I was very happy that any show that portrayed an Asian-American family existed at all. I hoped my views would count on ABC’s website to show networks that people wanted to watch shows featuring Asian people. Sure, they drew on some stereotypes about Asians–tiger mom, restaurant owners, accented English.

And cheap. So, so cheap.

I chose to overlook the show’s use of these race-based tropes in that first season. Like as the creators of the show repeatedly emphasized in interviews, it was acceptable for the actors to use a fake accent or otherwise be portrayed using certain stereotypes because they weren’t making fun of them for having those features. So it was totally okay for a Korean-American actor who normally speaks accentless English to fake a generically Asian accent (while he slips out of it half of the time). Yes, no problems! I still side-eyed that because it would have been perfectly fine to portray the parents without accents–it’s not inconceivable they might have learned very good English in Taiwan, or lost their accents in America as plenty of people do.

But then they did cross the line and made an Asian stereotype the butt of the joke of an entire episode, in the first Season 2 episode, “Family Business Trip”. It’s about a business trip/vacation the family takes together. The running joke of the episode is that the mom, Jessica, is cheap. Super super cheap. She take absurd measures and goes crazy the entirety of the episode trying to maximize what they can get out of a hotel stay, while trying to cut down on the hotel bill by refusing to pay various standard charges like tax. As Jessica’s actions grew more and more extreme, it became downright offensive and I had to stop watching.

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The problem with FOTB is that it’s essentially a whitewashed version of an Asian family. A version that white people can be comfortable laughing at. The creators and writers of the show have taken pains to assure white people it’s okay to laugh, because their intent is not to make fun of these Asians–we’re not laughing AT them, but ABOUT them (?).

But in the end my discomfort comes from my fear. I’m afraid that white people WILL make fun of the accents. I’m afraid white people DO think we are all like that, and the show just reinforces their stereotypes. Comedy is not made for nuance. The creators of the show may not intend for the Huangs’ accents or stereotypically Asian behavior to be the butt of the joke, but that’s not under their control. People will pick what they laugh at. It’s kind of like how Chappelle stopped making his show in large part because of how white people picked up and ran with the jokes on his show in a direction that he never, ever intended (I can’t imagine what people did with the Ni**er Family sketch). He discussed in an interview how he realized this when a white crew member laughed at the wrong part of a race joke they were filming:

Success, however, by creating a bigger and different audience than they ever expected, left them unable to control what people were laughing at. This is what he meant when Time interviewed him in Africa and he kept on repeating, “I’ve got to check my intentions. The example he brought up often after quitting came when shooting a sketch in which, in an attempt to skewer racism, Chappelle was performing in blackface. Chappelle says a white crew member laughed at the “wrong” part of the joke. As he explained on Oprah, it was the fundamental difference between an audience laughing with him and an audience laughing at him. This is a big difference for a comedian who famously will laugh at his own jokes.

There’s probably at least one white person who probably heard Jessica’s accented tiger mom act and laughed AT her. White people probably took away from that season two episode that wow, Asians will go to crazy lengths to save money, because they are so damn cheap! Ugh, those immigrants.

For a while I assumed that most if not all of the writers must have been white. I looked it up and there are a few Asians. I tried to think about how this show still ended up the way it has. One theory I came up with was, most of the writers, to get far enough in their comedy careers to get this writing gig, they had to advance and be considered funny as defined by mainstream comedy, which is white male comedy–not known for their racial sensitivity. They likely developed a good deal of their creative notions while being surrounded by mostly young white guys. This isn’t their fault, but it’s pretty much inevitable that such a circumstance did influence their comedy–maybe they even made fun of Asians themselves, like how Margaret Cho is famous for her bit making fun of her mom’s accent.

I also presume that most of the writers grew up in the US, so probably lack a really good understanding of the people they are writing about. For example, I was confused by Jessica’s accent because her way of speaking would be quite unusual for a Taiwanese woman–Taiwanese people are known for having a very soft, mellow way of speaking, while Jessica’s accent (and spoken Mandarin) is a much louder, assertive version:

In comparison, look at how different the below girls are, and who does Jessica sound more like? (It’s really funny and you should watch anyway)

Obviously not all Taiwanese women are the same, but my point is that the show seems to draw into the loud Asian woman stereotype to poke fun at Jessica, whether the writers intend it or not, and quite possibly without an understanding of what actual Taiwanese people are like.

I guess what it really comes down to is, especially in light of what Chapelle experienced, that your intentions don’t matter. People are going to read into what you create however they like, based on their already-formed perspective about the people you’re portraying. The writers might then conclude that, oh well, nothing you can do, racists will be racists so just do whatever we want with the race things. But I think that’s a lazy view, and using the Huangs’ stereotypically Asian features for humor is lazy, and in a way makes it a minstrel show.

It’s possible to create a show about Asian people or other POC and be funny without using stereotypes. I truly believe it. And I think the show still has the chance to do it. Maybe I was too harsh and even should give it another shot. But I’m still afraid of how this might be the way that a number of people will learn about Asians, and that’s what they will think of us. I don’t want people to see me and have the first thing they think be loud, cheap tiger mom. There’s enough in this world saying that I’m one-sided like that already.

 

 

Asian men who only date white women

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A certain type of Asian person only dates white people. This goes for both Asian women and Asian men. I want to talk about the latter first, from an AA woman’s perspective, since I have personally been deeply hurt by it over and over and am sick of it.

Let’s jump right into this phenomenon in pop culture. Master of None, starring Aziz Ansari, is groundbreaking for a lot of reasons. But one trope that stayed the same as almost every other TV show is how only white women are desirable, complex individuals worth having serious relationships (or serious flings) with–as opposed to Asian women, who are boring and uninteresting. And cheap.

In case you don’t know what I mean, Ansari’s character only dates white women. Sure, he goes on that one internet date with the nameless Asian woman (Some people insist she has a name, but it must’ve been mentioned only off-hand). But she is portrayed as quiet, emotionless, and just uses him as a meal ticket. Cause, you know, she’s a cheap, rude Asian woman.

Few people have called out Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang on their portrayal of the one AA female character in this show not related to either of them. Most people rave about how fresh the show is, how amazing it is to finally see an AA man in the leading role, blah blah we have overcome racism blah blah. Most people ignore the problematic ways they use the few WOC on their show.

I’m calling them out now. That was a shitty thing to do, you giant tools. You keep saying how important it is to represent Asian people on your show, and you willingly screwed this up and threw AA women under the bus. That bit wasn’t even funny or interesting, it could’ve just not been in the show–it portrayed AA women negatively while adding nothing to the show. Yet another reinforcement of the cheap, quiet AA woman stereotype. Thanks, you self-hating losers.

So I’m definitely bitter about this issue, no point in denying it. Coming back to real life, I’ve been frustrated by being completely ignored by men of all colors who don’t think Asian women are worth dating. I don’t really care about the WASPs, etc. since I’m not interested in them either. But it is very painful when AA men ignore me and other AA women, and instead go for white women just because they’re blonde or whatever.

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Internet says they’re broken up but anyway this gal was his irl gf for a while

There’s an additional twist. As AA men make strides and achieve achievements, they seek to collect various trophies, like many other men–cars, a nice house, and often, a pretty blonde wife. (I get the impression this happens for many POC men, not just Asians). At this point in my life, I can tell immediately when I meet an AA guy if he’s the kind who only dates white girls–often they’re successful guys who are cool and have nice hair and dress well in a slightly hipsterish way, me being in NYC. And then when I get proven right, they have a super white gf, I cringe a little inside. Even though I already knew. Jill Scott describes this feeling as the wince. I know where she’s coming from and I bet a lot of WOC understand this feeling.

Of course people should date whoever they want. I’m not saying AA men should only date AA women. Obviously that’s not true, you should be with the person you love. But, why shit on AA women or other WOC in the process? If you’ve internalized white supremacy in beauty standards to that extent and don’t want to address it, fine, whatever, you do you. But you don’t have to run around town justifying your “preferences” by putting us down, ranting about how AA women are lame and boring and too shy and quiet and cheap or some other BS reason for not dating us. It’s fine. Don’t date AA women. But don’t insult us. Just leave us alone.