Being Asian in 2018

Being of colour in a country outside of your own is difficult. We’ve all had our own share of racial stereotypes thrown at us. Whether we like it or not some people simply do not want to change, making it impossible for our world to become free of racism. 2018 however has begun showing a lot more acceptance for the different races, the Asian one included.

As a Chinese myself I certainly see the difference; although I do believe we have not reached a state of complete equality yet (and it does not seem to be happening any time soon). Nevertheless, these accomplishments should be highlighted and celebrated in order to encourage more of them.

The pop music scene has constantly showcased Western talents throughout the years, giving the impression that Asians could only see light at the end of the tunnel for a genre such as classical. It was not until very recently that the entertainment industry in the United States had finally decided to reconstruct their perception of diversity.  BTS (a South-Korean pop group) for example has continuously dominated the international music charts (including the ones in the USA), and became the first ever Asian artist to win a Billboard Music Award in 2017.

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BTS accepting the Top Social Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards 2017

With the award show’s debut in 1990, this means it took nearly three decades for an Asian to be able to get their hands on the famous golden statue. Did critics simply forget to consider successful Asian artists such as Psy and Girls’ Generation (who had outdone their American counterparts in album sales and recognition previously) in the last 27 years? It does not sound like a mere coincidence to me at least.

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Girls’ Generation – From left to right – Yoona Im, Sooyoung Choi, Tiffany Young, Hyoyeon Kim, Yuri Kwon, Taeyeon Kim, Sunny and Seohyun

Growing up, I would watch various films produced by the wonders of Hollywood. At that time Asians were constantly given the nerdy role, which made it hard for children like myself to venture out in anything but studies and academics. People around me were simply not accustomed to seeing an Asian play sport well for example. They had the image provided by the wonders of Hollywood encrusted in their minds.

Today however, the young generation has access to a more equal and diverse Hollywood, in comparison to the black and white of the past. With TV sitcoms such as Fresh off the Boat which features a majorly Asian cast and movies such as Ocean’s 8 which represents Asian actresses such as Mindy Kaling and Nora Lum Ying as empowering women, there is a better sense that the world is not only made of one type of race but more importantly, how Asians are more than just books and grades.

“I think in my early years, being Asian was an advantage because that was a time when casting was more about hiring the best friend or the assistant to sort of put color around the lead white person’s story.” 

 

Constance Wu, actress in Fresh Off The Boat

Asian stereotypes usually revolve around the idea of intelligence. This is a trait that is of course commendable, however one that also creates certain boundaries that Asians are expected to remain in. As a student, you’re often met with utter shock when you express interest in a career other than medicine, engineering or law. We also hear the expression “You’re smart because you’re Asian”, which indirectly implies race as the sole cause for intelligence thus disregarding other factors such as hard work or perseverance.

It is clear to say that times have changed. The Asian community is gaining increasing amounts of exposure and influence in the Western World and as a result, we begin to see efforts in dismantling misleading stereotypes. However, this is only the beginning. Efforts should not stop until it becomes common practice for Asians to have the same opportunities as individuals of any other race.

The only way to know whether we have reached complete equality is when we see more actors of our own kind on the big screen, hear more of our own music on the radio but most importantly, not get restricted in any form simply because of our skin colour.