Scot Nakagawa —-
Remember the Asian F episode of the TV series Glee? Given it’s name, I definitely caught it. In it, the character of Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.) get’s a A- on a chemistry test and his father loses it, demanding that he quit his girlfriend and the glee club. Apparently, A- is an Asian F. Mike’s girlfriend is also an Asian American burdened with Tiger parents demanding nothing less than perfect grades and money machine career aspirations.
The Glee writers deserve a little grief for this episode, but I’d go easy on them. They are, after all, no exception when it comes to casting Asian Americans as coldly calculating model minorities.
Even political media promotes the stereotype. Either intentionally or by default, political reporters from MSNBC hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Chris Hayes on the left, to the racist author of The Bell Curve and occasional National Review columnist Charles Murray on the right have perpetrated it. And last year, a report by the Pew Research Center entitled The Rise of Asian Americans propelled the stereotype into the 21st century, becoming a primary data source for news outlets nationally.
So let’s get real for a moment. Asian America is made up of over 45 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 language dialects. Among these groups, some, such as Hmong Americans, are among the poorest in the U.S. by ethnicity.
Moreover, statistics concerning our success exaggerate. The reality is that larger Asian American family incomes result in part from a larger number of earners per household. Asian Americans actually trail whites in per capita income. And the most successful Asian American ethnic groups – the Taiwanese, Indian, Malaysian, and Sri Lankan American minorities – include a large share of members who were drawn to the U.S. as business investors or highly skilled workers. That means that Asian Americans are by no means representative of Asians globally. U.S. immigration policy plays a role in constructing the Asian American “race.”
But regardless of the disadvantages some of us face, many Asians do enjoy privileges beyond the reach of other people of color. That might explain why some Asian Americans are bought into model minority stereotyping. Their attitudes mirror many on the right whose response to Asian American protest against Asian stereotyping goes something like can’t you people take a compliment?
But this Asian complicity with the stereotype is dangerous. Why? Consider this.
As I’ve pointed out before, the model minority stereotype originated as a tool to leverage white resentment toward the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In the midst of widespread black protest, the Asian model minority debuted in the media as evidence that racism will fall to quiet hard work, self-sacrifice, and compliance with authority. The model minority was contrasted with “problem minorities” in order to undercut support for reform. Between the lines, the suggestion was that black culture, not white racism, was the reason for black poverty, and black protest, for that reason, was neither legitimate nor helpful to black people who would do better to fix themselves than to try to fix the country.
Yet Asian Americans have prospered, and more, some would argue, than other people of color, as a result of desegregation, voting rights reforms, and programs like affirmative action. When we play into “problem minority” racism we threaten these gains.
Now, I get that the relatively small share of the U.S. population that is Asian American makes us less a threat to white racial domination than, say, Latinos or African Americans. And, for that reason, when Newt Gingrich refers to “entitlement junkies” and Mitt Romney disparages the 47%, they don’t have us in mind. But, we ought not kid ourselves. Dodging these attacks doesn’t make us safe.
Asian Americans may be only 6% of the U.S., but Asians are a very large percentage of the global population. And Asian countries such as China, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea are considered threats to American posterity. Playing to racism by exaggerating that “threat” is becoming a popular strategy of elected leaders trying to win political points with an increasingly resentful public.
The combination of xenophobic Asia-bashing and model minority stereotyping makes Asian Americans targets of resentment. And certain realities are causing that resentment to rise.
Asian Americans are about 18% of students at Harvard, and almost a fourth of students at Stanford. The sheer numbers of us at the most elite academies domestically, and the infusion of Asian investment capital from abroad is creating cracks in the bamboo ceiling. People who look like us to the general public are increasingly being used as symbols of American social mobility at a time when too many Americans find themselves mired in the mud of a recessed economy.
Considering the history of forever foreign, yellow peril Asian stereotyping, I suggest that basking in the glow of it’s equally dehumanizing flip side is extremely dangerous. Instead, we should be looking at the recent Southern Poverty Law Center report on the record-setting rise of white militias, and studies revealing growing racial animosity since the election of our first black president with grave concern.
Privilege without power makes us vulnerable. To build power in a country whose racial demography is tilting against whites, we would do best to build bonds of cross-racial solidarity with other people of color. To do that, we must look beyond our common suffering and accept accountability for the privileges that divide us.
DIJON! ngl the quality of this is kinda eh, but it is really making me wish we had a chance to hear him sing on the show, he’s got a lot more talent than I expected.
Music is way too overproduced for my taste. Dijon Talton can definitely sing though. Too bad we won’t ever hear it on Glee. IMO, he would have sounded great with Naya Rivera.
Well… Naya is latin.
Tokenism: In the arts, employment, and politics, tokenism is a policy or practice of limited inclusion or artistic and/or political representation of members of a traditionally marginalized group, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices rather than discrimination, intentional or not.
Naya’s the token. In addition, Naya Rivera is lightened up in her photo, which happens a lot in photos involving people of color.
Yup. Skin lightening happens to everyone, but particularly to people of color. Just look at Rihanna! That’s scary.
Glee seems to be a show completely made up of tokens. They preach diversity and inclusion, but only end up doing the typical Asian on Asian love, for example. The two characters then don’t get normal kisses, nope. They get “Asian kisses” as Jes mentioned in her last post. Glee markets to a (largely) ignorant audience who don’t recognize true diversity. I remember reading some posts by an LGBTIQ blogger about how to some fans of Glee, Kurt and Blaine had become more than just a popular couple…they had become a FETISH.
Who do you think is the hottest?
I rarely do fandom posts this in depth, but this combines my passion for film & television as a film major and Asian American representation in the media. I warn you: it is fairly long.
I’ve seen some comments about how a Japanese-American actress (Tamlyn Tomita) and a Korean-American actor (Keong Sim) was cast to play Mike’s Chinese-American family. Especially considering there are plenty of great Chinese-American actors there to choose from who have some substantial credits. I like Tamlyn Tomita though she and Keong Sim are certainly not my ideal choices. I wanted BD Wong for his dad and either Joan Chen or Kelly Hu for his mother personally.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand where the concerns are (I am Vietnamese American myself).
But look at it this way.
This is a very different situation from Memoirs of Geisha where the story was VERY Japanese-centric (and aside the fact that movie was a hot mess in general). You got to keep in mind, they aren’t just representing a Chinese-American family, but an Asian-American one and such identity isn’t as simple to define. It’s a term that as coined during the Civil Rights Movement when Asians were united because they were similarly discriminated against in the United States. Hell, I only used it for myself only just a few years ago when I got more involved with Asian American community.
It is difficult enough for Asian-American actors in general to get roles in Hollywood. There is a very tight knit group of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry (actors, producers, writers, etc, etc) and a lot of them know each other or met each other or are connected to each other in someway This network is close (check out CAPE for example). And let me tell you, if anything they’d be all in support for the cast because it’s a role for Asian Americans on a popular show and a lot of them are all working toward that goal. These actors/entertainers/filmmakers didn’t get started with that goal in mind but eventually they get pulled in.
You have to incorporate an actor/actress’s point of view (and unfortunately the lines blur and it’s not black and white). There aren’t many opportunities (they are growing with CBS’s cop show in development which has a Chinese-American lead and Justin Lin’s untitled film about the all Japanese-American unit in WWII).
If an actress of Japanese-descent (American or otherwise) was restricted only by Japanese roles in Hollywood, she wouldn’t have many roles. How many big roles are out there for Japanese characters in the last few years? The only one I can think of at the top of my head was Saito in Inception. What if the actor/actress was Hmong (a minority group that exist all around southeast Asia). They’d REALLY be restricted because aside from Gran Torino, there are almost no films/shows that feature a Hmong character. I don’t think any small roles for that the character was Hmong. For myself, I’ve virtually seen almost no Vietnamese or Vietnamese-American characters on recent mainstream television or film let alone actors and actresses and the only one I know at the top of my head are Dustin Nguyen and Thuy Trang. Dustin was in 21 Jump Street as a major character who was actually Vietnamese guy (they based his character’s story off Dustin’s personal story) who stole a Japanese name. But that was in the 1980s and I wasn’t even born when that first came out in 1987. While Thuy Trang played what I assume to be a Korean-American character (due to her last name of “Kwan”) in Power Rangers (also RIP Thuy Trang). But that was in the 1990s.
Read this: Japanese-American George Takei gave his full blessing to Korean-American actor John Cho when it came to the character of Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek. Because in Takei’s own words, it wasn’t what Sulu was—it was what he represented.
Just my two cents. Feel free to agree or disagree. I would worry more on HOW they are written rather than who they were cast by. Glee is full of stereotypes, yes, but it also contradicts stereotypes at the same time. Mike and Tina initially started off as quiet, shy Asian American teens (Mike probably still is). Mike is from what is implied to be a traditional family which is balanced with Tina’s family (from the small hints and spoilers we’ve gotten). They’re dating each other and were on the academic decathlon at some point. But Mike also dances, he’s a football player and he’s hot—he’s seen as a viable romantic option. Tina is a goth girl who can sing (how much is another story entirely) with a quirky and wild sense of fashion. I’d say we judge how the parents are presented rather than who they cast. While I’m pretty sure there will be stereotypes (this is Glee after all), if they can provide some depth to them and contradict other stereotypes, well then we might have progress.
Awesome People: Harry Shum Jr.
HSJ has been on the screen for as long as I can remember, always doing the most badass of all badass things in dance films such as Stom the Yard, Step Up 2, You Got Served, and Step Up 3D. He also plays the role of Elliot Hoo in The LXD: League of Extraordinary Dancers:
But of course, most people nowadays know him as Mike Chang from Glee. Though he’s been a staple on the show since Season 1, Mike Chang has only now been thrust into the spotlight as Tina’s love interest.
HSJ was born in Costa Rica and speaks Spanish, Chinese, and English fluently. He’s also been featured in a number of Wong Fu Productions’ projects. Talk about resexualizing Asian men!
drvy answered: bruno mars is arguably the most famous AA in the music industry, but they sell him off as racially ambiguous
theadorkablehanhnatrinh answered: far east movement is asian. C:
aliapenny answered: Phenotypically white Darren Criss?
izzygarcia answered: Other race includes a lot of European descent xp
Thank you all for the input! As a thought though, think about how difficult it was to think of more than two AA celebrities in the music industry. Why do you think this is? Why can’t people with AMAZING voices like Clara C, David Choi, AJ Rafael, etc make it “big”?