all autocompletes were screenshots of actual searches on 12/3/2013
photo credit: Mike Allen
The idea was inspired by the UN Women campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai.
Racism from Absence
In my 19 years in America, I’ve never been stopped and frisked. Cops are always nice to me. People have no problems sitting next to me on the bus. No one’s scared of me no matter what direction I pointed my cap.
The kind of Asian racism that makes headlines is cultural misappropriation -when some “insensitive” entertainer wears silk kimonos and painted faces to look exotic.
This never bothered me.
It’s the subtle, slippery racism that’s far more sinister. The absence of Asian leads in a non-martial arts movie or TV shows means I grew up knowing only non-Asian celebrities and role models. And if you’re an Asian guy, you are not the stuff of fantasies girls grew up dreaming about.
The absence of Asians from politics and upper management means that Asians can be hard workers and geniuses but never leaders.
Above all, there seems to be some perma-foreignness about Asians. It’s not unusual to be told to “go back to China” and to be mocked for an accent we don’t have. The manifestations of this viewpoint range from the seemingly harmless to the outright hostile. But the underlying message is the same. Asians are not real Americans.
I vividly remember seeing this racism first-hand in a conversation with one of my former business partners. I wanted to create a mentoring program in a predominantly Asian school organization.
He flat out told me he had no interest in helping Asians succeed in America. I asked him, “Are you serious?” He said, “Yeah.” He laughed a little.
He was serious.
It was a wtf moment for many reasons and was a major factor behind my decision to leave my position as a co-founder. I eventually heard from a mutual friend that he said I was a follower not a leader.
In retrospect, I’m fortunate to have heard him verbalize something that others keep to themselves. It allowed me to move on to bigger and better things instead of wasting time working with someone who never saw me as a partner.
This is the most important post I’ve seen in a while. Racism from absence is something that is predominant here on tumblr, which is shocking because this is the most politically correct and representative platform I have in my life. It’s not okay to joke about transgendered individuals, it’s not okay to joke about racism against black people, but apparently it is always okay to joke about Asians. Perhaps it’s because the internet is so US-centric, but the only POCs I’ve ever seen recognized or represented seem to be african-american/black, and calls for the end of institutionalized racism tend to ignore the equally long history of oppresion many Asian countries have suffered, and Asian immigrants in western countries continue to suffer. Ask yourself this: in a world where Asians make up the majority of the global population, have you ever seen Asian individuals valorized for anything other than being aberrations of the Asian culture? Wait- can you even name more than 10 Asian individuals valorized to the extent of mainstream popularity?
As an Asian in an international school, I’ve seen this type of subtle racism enacted every single day. When I work hard to achieve something and the results reflect my hard work, the response I most typically hear is “it’s because you’re Asian.” To hear that the hours I put into trying to be the best individual I could possibly be, coming home at 9PM after gymnastics to do homework late into the night and sleeping at insanely late hours or trying to balance Junior Achievement with community service, were not enough to gain recognition as Jasmine Chia and not simply another faceless slant-eyed member of the Asian ethnicity makes me truly wonder what it takes for an Asian to be represented in this world. My experience is something familiar to any other Asian who has had contact with the Western world:
Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally. (source)
Next time we ask for POC representation in media, don’t forget Asians. Next time we see a piece of Asian amazingness, whether it’s He Kexin on the beam or Doona Bae in Cloud Atlas, take the time to humanize them instead of thinking of them simply as representatives of the Chinese gymnastics industry or the rising Korean wave of actors. When an Asian person is genuinely good at music, recognize that they worked hard for it. When an Asian chess prodigy wins the world championship, learn their name and not just the country they come from. Don’t pretend to get angry on behalf of geishas at cultural appropriation if you don’t stand up for the fact that cultural appropriation is the only form of recognition we get in mainstream media.
Racism from absence is a powerful one.