Representation, not Diversity

“Liberal” American institutions–whether it is schools, fashion, Hollywood, business, etc–love to brag about how “diverse” they are. And we, too, celebrate diversity. After all, being exposed to a variety of perspectives, worldviews, and experiences, is probably net good compared to being stuck in a bubble of regurgitated ideas.
However, as much as a diverse range of perspectives offers a positive experience, in some situations, we must distinguish between “diversity,” “tokenization,” and what minorities truly want: representation. The issue is that many of these institutions utilize minorities–especially persons of color– as ways to make their product or service more desirable, without truly equalizing the platform. Often, this process is used to alleviate white guilt. Think “I’m 1/1024 Native American so I understand your struggles” as a similar kind of mindset. While this comparison is a bit of a stretch, on a truth level, they reflect the same phenomena: inclusion of minorities for a neoliberal purpose. 
Although inclusion is a first step, it cannot be an end goal, especially when inclusion does not give equality. Including one Asian in a top-grossing Hollywood film to occupy the role of the “kungfu master” or “computer science nerd” does nothing but continue to perpetuate and molding Asians into the same stereotypes. In the fashion industry, Asians and Black folk are included for their “exotic features” and smooth skin. Yet, the West still promotes beauty standards that center around high nose bridges, large eyes, and the “Kylie Jenner” look. Models that look like Gigi Hadid succeed much more easily in the industry compared to others like Deddeh Howard. How, then, can minorities feel completely satisfied when their people are included because they are exotic and different, but in the real world, those features are mocked and jeered?

What, then, is the end goal? What is the alternative to diversity? One possibility, I believe, is representation. 

What does representation look like?

Although representation might not look the same in every situation, it is an evidently possible scenario. Mainly, representation requires minorities to control and create their own narratives for themselves and produce their own knowledge. It is nearly impossible for a dominant group to create knowledge for a minority when their experiences are entirely different. For example, only Asian American authors can truly create an Asian American character. Not as a side character that fits nearly into a trope, but a main character with full complexity. Otherwise, the author is vulnerable to recreating harmful stereotypes.
My favorite real life example of representation is Crazy Rich Asians, which involves an all-Asian cast, author, and director. Crazy Rich Asians includes a plethora of multi-faceted characters that do not fit into traditional stereotypes. Each character is included not because they are needed to create the illusion of “diversity,” but because of their interesting personalities that add to the complexity of the story. Additionally, watching the movie as an Asian-American myself was an experience that no other group can replicate: I do not have to look at the subtitles when the script switches to Chinese or when Chinese songs play; I can relate to the experiences of making dumplings with family, the cultural dichotomies of traditional Asia, the West, and Asian-Americans, and eating street for in Asia. My tears were not only a product of the sentimental ending, but because Asian-Americans were crying before watching the film when it was announced that there would be an all-Asian cast.
Films like Crazy Rich Asians proves that representation is a realistic goal, one that we should strive for.

Note: Even though Crazy Rich Asians is not perfect in its diversity of “Asian” (i.e. lack of south asian characters), I believe that its still an immense improvement from the stereotypical Asian side characters (nerd, friend, gang member, etc) and is still something that must be celebrated in order for more future improvement!

The “Right Type” of Student

As an extension to the debate around affirmative action and one of my latest posts, a key issue to address is how college admissions choose their minority students. Studies show that some admissions officers cherry pick how diversity is represented in their post-secondary institution. The main conclusion drawn is that admissions officers are more responsive and favor persons of color who are “deracialized and racially apolitical than they are to those who evince a commitment to antiracism and racial justice,” especially in favor of individuals interested in STEM.

While some would argue that favoring STEM is not a practice that is specific to students of color, that does not excuse admissions officers from dictating who is the right type of minority student.

Continue reading “The “Right Type” of Student”

Subtle Forms of Resistance

Berkeley, California: a historically-known site of leftist thought and youth political engagement.

Yet now, during the information era, as a prestigious university just one hour north of Silicon Valley, revolutionary socialists are replaced by computer science geeks and prospective molecular biology majors. Artificial intelligence prototypes “run” on the streets, as if a glimpse into the dystopia of the future.

Nevertheless, as I roam around the UC Berkeley campus, I still catch traces of radical thought –

Continue reading “Subtle Forms of Resistance”

Culture appreciation…or appropriation?

If you’re an avid user of social media, you’ve probably seen this tweet pop around:

Yet again, another post of a non-POC wearing ethnically significant clothing. However, while most would agree an action like non-black folk wearing dreads is not acceptable, this issue witnesses a split in Asian-Americans. There is both a large support for Keziah’s actions as cultural appreciation, but also fervent opposition that deems the dress as cultural appropriation.

Continue reading “Culture appreciation…or appropriation?”

The Danger of the Model Minority

A teacher of mine this year once said that each generation battles different social issues, and the prime issues that “Generation Z” faces are immigration policy, and equality for black folks. “Don’t worry,” he immediately addressed our largely-Asian class when he finished. “The day for Asian-American representation will eventually come.”

While I have no doubts that the two issues mentioned above are the most attention-worthy in the status quo, I (as someone very interested in Asian-American identity theory) did quite some thinking about how the model minority myth perpetuates these two issues. It was actually one day when an Asian-American friend of mine approached me and asked “what exactly is so bad about the model minority stereotype?” and I ranted for twenty minutes, that I realized how many underlying dangers the myth perpetrates.

Continue reading “The Danger of the Model Minority”

Why I Didn’t Attend the Women’s March

Unless you’re living on a rock, or perhaps that rock is the burden of midterm exams (which is a more minor reason why I didn’t attend), you probably know what happened a few weekends ago.

I saw the several posts on Instagram, and I’m sure you did too — high school teenagers carrying signs that say “GIRLS JUST  WANT TO HAVE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTSdressed in all pink with an intense expression plastered on their face. Or perhaps…I am describing you?
And isn’t it odd, as a social justice advocate, that I did not attend the march?

Here’s the caustic truth: it absolutely is not.

Continue reading “Why I Didn’t Attend the Women’s March”

What does it Mean to be Asian-American?

​(also found on my studyblr)
“Growing up, I thought I was white. It didn’t occur to me I was Asian-American until I was studying abroad in Denmark and there was a little bit of prejudice.”
―Maya Lin
What does it mean to be Asian-American? is a question I often ask myself in the rare moments of spare time as a teenager still figuring out my identity. It used to just be a passing thought, a small part of myself that I didn’t care too much about. But the more mature I become, the less I can ignore this blatant label plastered onto my face. Everything I did became “Asian-American,” and I learned to embrace this identity, passion surging through my veins every time I heard the hyphenated word.
The first time I truly stopped to search “Asian-American” on Google Images was for a project in freshman year. We had to create a memoir, and I chose to draw a self-portrait, but ran out of ideas how to portray my “Asian-Americaness.” What I found was typical – the picture-perfect family, a few pictures of the legendary show Fresh Off the Boat, countless students with graduation caps and gear from prestigious universities, Whiz Kids, The Rise of Asian Americans – I know it all.

Continue reading “What does it Mean to be Asian-American?”