During the Academy Awards on February 28, I started the #OnlyOnePercent hashtag on Twitter to bring awareness to the fact that only 1% of all Oscar nominations have gone to Asians. Asian-Americans, specifically, have been shut out of Hollywood due to a paucity of good, non-stereotypical roles for us.
White actors often get roles that should go to Asian-Americans, like when Emma Stone was cast as part-Asian Allison Ng in "Aloha," or when Jim Sturgess played the role of Ben Campbell in “21,” a movie based on a book about Asian-American men. Representation has progressed far beyond the backward days of Long Duk Dong with shows like "Fresh off the Boat" and "Master of None" leading the way. Yet, film’s representations of Asian-Americans still lags far behind television, and regressive stereotypes still abound.
While I'm thrilled that the #OnlyOnePercent hashtag has taken off and received national recognition, I have some qualms about this movement’s early direction: There's somewhat of an anti-Black rationale behind our arguments for Asian representation.
What disturbs me about some of the responses to #OnlyOnePercent is that some Asian folks are placing blame on both white and Black people for anti-Asian racism in media — as if Black people are at fault for the exclusion and marginalization of Asian people.
Prominent Asian-Americans are also tweeting out similar illogical sentiments:
But this simply isn't the case.
It’s fine to be angry about the continued exclusion of Asian-American people from the media, but there’s an underlying resentment of Black people in this rhetoric. These tweeters believe that Black people have representation that’s on par with white folks, and that’s simply untrue.Folks: Black people are suffering too. Their marginalization from film and television is profound.
They, too, receive
a startling lack of
recognition from the Academy.
We can’t forget that three years ago, host Billy Crystal literally wore blackface to the Oscars. What happened to him? Nothing. He might have taken some heat in the media, but he didn’t lose a cent. His career wasn’t hurt.
The show went on, as it always has, as it always does after Black people are insulted and discriminated against. We live in world where anti-Black racists don’t receive proper comeuppance for their crimes. Cops who murder Black people aren’t put away. Employers who discriminate against Black employees aren’t named and shamed. It is just as safe as ever to be racist against Black people.
At minimum, a majority-Black cast in a movie is an antidote to the whiteness of Hollywood, not an effort to marginalize non-Black voices of color.
These particular tweets also suggest that Black people
should be doing more to ease the lack of Asian-American representation in the
media. That is essentially asking for Black people to carry our burden for us —
or be our mule, as Mikki Kendall — a
blogger and activist known for starting several viral hashtag campaigns,
including #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen — explains in the #NotYourMule hashtag.
Kendall revived #NotYourMule for the first time since 2014 on Oscars night, in response to the many Asian-Americans and other non-Black people of color expressing anger that #OscarsSoWhite — an inclusive grassroots push for diversity in the Academy — didn’t seem to include them.
#NotYourMule is a strong declaration that Black people are not obligated to do the heavy-lifting for anyone who isn’t Black. It is an affirmation that non-Black people of color must do the work ourselves instead of looking to Black people to lift up our voices.
Non-Black people of color fail to recognize the burden that is already on our Black allies, and then ask them to shoulder ours. We serve no one by setting ourselves up in opposition to Black people like this.
We can ask that Black people not engage in anti-Asian racism, especially those with a large reach and platform; we can shame Chris Rock for his anti-Asian racism just as we shame Sasha Baron Cohen for his. What we cannot do is insist that Black people work overtime for our liberation, when anti-Blackness is so utterly rampant in so many Asian cultures.
We can't ask for Black people to carry us over the finish line, when we constantly disrespect the Black people who enter our family businesses and fail to take responsibility for the rampant anti-African sentiments that run wide as a river through our cultures. We cannot ask Black people to suddenly recognize our humanity, when we have so long avoided recognizing theirs.
Instead of being angry with Black people and trying to compare our struggles, Asian-Americans should redirect our anger at the white executives, white producers, and white casting directors who are responsible for the continued exclusion of Asian talent from the media.
We have voices. We can make hashtags and movements and viral campaigns all on our own. And we have, in the past. We need to stop looking to other people to do the dirty work for us. It’s time for us to mature into a movement that can handle ourselves.
I started #OnlyOnePercent to amplify and unify the Asian-American voice, a voice that has for too long been fragmented and unclear. I didn’t start it to drive another wedge between our communities and Black ones. Black people are our allies in this fight. It would be great if we started treating them as such.
Cover image: Getty/Moviepix — Photo of Miyoshi Umeki, the only Asian-American woman to win an Academy Award for acting.