This essay was originally posted on Medium, and is republished here at the request of the authors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a new surge in violence against Asian communities across the world. Several high-profile instances of anti-Asian racist violence—spurred on by casually racist remarks at every level of government, business, and popular culture—have created a terrorizing climate for many. In San Francisco Chinatown for example, overt xenophobia, combined with the economic impact of shelter-in-place orders, has left immigrants, elders, limited English-speaking people, and poor folks feeling like targets. In San Francisco, where a staggeringly disproportionate 50% of the COVID-19 mortalities are from the Asian and Pacific Islander community, the pandemic has ushered in multiple violences. This has been further exacerbated by pre-existing crises: gentrification, displacement, homelessness, police terror, inequities in education, a drastic uptick in deportations, antagonism against trans and queer people, poverty, and exploitation.
We must recognize that the scapegoating of Asians as the harbingers of disease and the state violence against Black people (via systemic policing and state response to the pandemic) are two sides of the same coin. This system of oppression is what indicates whether we live or die. This moment makes it even clearer that we must radicalize our communities for cross-racial solidarity.
Last month, people around the world celebrated the underdog success of Korean film Parasite as it swept through the 92nd Academy Awards to win four Oscars. Each new award for the film ratcheted up a breathless excitement that culminated in a historic win for Best Picture, the first foreign-language film to ever take home that honour.
The victory was especially meaningful to Asian North Americans1Writing as I am from a Canadian context, I use the term “Asian North American” here to collectively refer to the broadly similar sociocultural categories of “Asian American” and “Asian Canadian”; however, I recognize that these categories warrant distinction under other analytical circumstances. , who took to social media in droves to express their pride in the film’s achievements. For decades, Asian North Americans have lamented the deplorable state of Asian representation in Western pop culture. In North American media, Asians have been either almost non-existent or, when portrayed, depicted through harmful racist stereotypes. In recent years, high-profile controversies surrounding films like Aloha and Ghost in the Shell– both of which featured the “whitewashing” of ostensibly Asian roles – have amplified the call for more Asian representation in Hollywood.
A positive shift in this cause has occurred over the past two years, with Asian-led films like Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and The Farewell garnering box office success and critical acclaim. These films, all helmed by Asian directors and featuring Asian actors in starring roles, have been praised within the Asian North American community for proving the viability of Asians in pop culture, authentically portraying our experiences, and debunking stereotypes. Add on Parasite’s Best Picture win, and it would appear as though Asians have finally broken through Hollywood’s bamboo ceiling.
However, the reading of these films’ significance as primarily tied to their success in achieving Asian representation reveals a limited capacity for Asian North Americans to critically evaluate their own media. The perceived scarcity of – and consequent hunger for – Asian popular media representation has foreclosed the possibility of talking about our successes in anything but celebratory tones. “If we don’t support our own at all costs,” the thinking goes, “we may never get another chance.”
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang at the Sept 12 Democratic primary debate in Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. (Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Tonight, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Yang joined the nine other top Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage at Texas Southern University. A noteworthy moment for Asian Americans, Yang remains one of the first Asian Americans in history to run a national campaign for the presidency.
That’s why it is all the more problematic that Yang routinely leans upon Model Minority stereotypes of Asian Americans to advance his candidacy. As early as last year, Yang routinely framed himself as qualified to be president because he is a “smart Asian” who is “good at math” — a classic Model Minority trope reminiscent of the infamous Time magazine cover that popularized model minority stereotypes for a generation of Americans. Tonight, Yang invoked a different facet of the Model Minority Myth when he quipped in response to a question on healthcare that “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.“
The Model Minority Myth has stood at the root of a good deal of anti-Asian racism and oppression. Yet, Yang is unconcerned by the many ways that the Model Minority Myth hurts Asian Americans and other people of colour. Instead, Yang sees Model Minority caricatures of Asian Americans as something to lean into and to laugh at, and he even sells math-branded Yang swag in his campaign store.
I can’t but wonder if Andrew Yang sees Model Minority stereotypes as a joke, then who’s really laughing with him?
When I first wrote my article about BTS coming to the American Music Awards, I was excited to see this famous K-pop group that I’d heard so much about. I was happy that they would have the chance to perform on a major international stage like the AMAs. I believed that this appearance would serve as the biggest stepping stone yet for K-pop’s eventual domination of American airwaves. As I wrote on Twitter after BTS’ performance (and after I saw the crowd whipped into a frenzy), this must have been what seeing the Beatles for the first time was like. BTS has been on a roll since their big AMAs debut. They’ve hob-knobbed with R&B it-boy Khalid, and they have released a track featuring Desiigner and Steve Aoki,”Mic Drop”. Everything’s going well; or, it’s going well for BTS, anyways. The rest of K-pop, however, still hasn’t really “made it” in the States. While one might speculate as to the many reasons why K-pop has failed to penetrate the American music landscape — language barriers; stereotypes about Asian performers held by music executives; general American disinterest towards international music that isn’t British or Canadian — one major reason deserves more discussion: K-pop, as a whole, has a race problem.