This post has been influenced by the BBC’s televised interview with Robert Kelly and his family, during the discussion concerning North and South Korea. It led me to reflect more on my own experience, as well as the experience of other people I know, when it comes to racism.
The video sparked debates about whether Jung-a Kim was the nanny or the mother of the children in the video. People claim that thinking Mrs Kelly was a nanny was just stereotyping, not racism. However, they have based their stereotypes on her ethnicity. Is this a form of mild racism? To me, it is the equivalent of assuming all Mexicans are drug dealers, or that those who practice Islam are terrorists, which is not true! (Those who say you cannot be racist when it comes to Islam, I beg to differ. People do not stereotype white Muslims as much as non-white Muslims. Therefore, if a person chooses to stereotype a particular ethnic group of Muslims, that is racism).
Let me ask a question. If it was a white woman who entered Robert Kelly’s study room in the same manner as Jung-a Kim did, would people have assumed that she was the nanny?
It was very admirable of Mrs Kelly to dismiss the accusations of her being a nanny, so that others could simply enjoy the clip and move on. However, I do not believe that dealing with racism should be done by ignoring it. How are we supposed to progress if we cannot address the issue at hand? This may appear like a minor incident, but situations like this do occur on a large scale. For instance, racial profiling is an extreme example of what happens when an individual is judged based on their racial identity. Small incidents, like this one, can always lead to a larger one, with society believing it to be acceptable to judge a person based on their race.
Racism against East Asians tend to be a form of casual racism that is invoked into society as socially acceptable. Mocking their accents, the way they dress, their customs, as well as their facial features, has become part of the common culture of “joking”. People dismiss racism altogether in these scenarios, because they claim that a “joke” cannot be a form of racism. In addition, if you argue against that statement, other people will claim that you are too sensitive. Asking if our name is “Ching Chong”, as well as slanting your eyes with your fingers, is racism. I do not understand how degrading someone based on their ethnicity, is highly amusing? This is not an appreciation of their culture, but rather, a mocking of it.
Beauty and the Beast
On another note, I went to watch the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast when it was released, with my friends. After we watched it, I asked my friend, what did he think of the movie? He informed me that he enjoyed it, but wished there was more diversity in the movie. I was thinking, but there was? He meant not simply black and white actors, Asians too. I realised that for a movie that was promoting diversity in its production, it was not truly promoting diversity at all. (But this is another matter to discuss another time).
Studying abroad in Thailand for seven months so far, I have witnessed this Western idea taken place amongst a few international students, as well as tourists in Thailand. They want to visit Asia, without having to deal with Asians. They have no desire to actually be involved with getting to know other Thai students, and so create their own separate group. But then they have the cheek to question why Thai students always stay in a group with other Thai students, when they are doing the same with foreign students. (Obviously, there is more to this situation that I myself do not know about).
Where do Asians fit within the concept of racism? Why is our experience of racism ignored? Why are our issues made to be seen as less important? Of course, the Asian experience of racism is more varied than what I have spoken about. It is more complex than that.
I am not trying to claim that one group experience of racism is greater than another. I am trying to acknowledge that a form of casual racism exists towards the Asian community. I am not trying to make every issue a race issue. But when racial issues do occur, I cannot ignore it, whoever it is towards. Racism should not be just a black and white issue. It should be a people issue.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak on behalf of other ethnic minorities who experience racism, because I have never been in their position to understand what they have been through. However, I would like to know more about their stories. Nonetheless, racism should be a concern for EVERYONE. Something for us to address, educate on, and solve together.