No More Yellowface

What’s good Vagabonds?

Today I’ll talk about why it’s so important to remember a few things that went down with regards to Asians in the West.

First of all, this: the Chinese Exclusion Act, an ugly US federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. Then when they were allowed in again, they weren’t allowed to have any relations with white women. This was the only known law in history to target a specific ethnic group or race, as the wording in this Act was ‘the Chinese race’ which automatically puts all of East Asia in the mix too.

Fast forward to 1941. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were put in camps for fears of conflicting loyalties. This was even briefly touched upon in the classic war film ‘Battle of Midway’ which is pretty remarkable for the time. Also, Koreans were mistaken for Japanese and abused as well.

More recently US President Trump made a bone-chilling statement saying the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II is a ‘precedent’ for the Muslim ban. He already has a history of mocking Asians and hemming and hawing about the aforementioned internment, saying ‘I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer.’ What does that even mean?

This sets a very dangerous tone. As a Korean-born adoptee, this concerns me to no end.

Why? Because Asians are already stereotyped as (book) smart, docile, submissive, small, slim or tiny and most of all easily infantilized and belittled. People may now, once again, think it’s okay to act a certain way towards us. For some people fresh off the plane that behavior may be subtle enough to go unnoticed. But it’s very important that we stand up for ourselves at all times.

A matter of Talent

I know many of you have seen Dutch celebrity Gordon mocking a Chinese contestant in Holland’s Got Talent. If not, then check it out here. Not a good look at all, but one that yours truly has had to deal with far too often when growing up there. However,  the way the Asian community in the Netherlands stood up to this unacceptable behavior was unprecedented and gave voice to today’s Asians growing up and/or living in the West.

Likewise, the ignorance that exists in East Asia towards most notably Blasians and Black people should be addressed. I say ignorance because this kind of behavior generally comes from a different angle, by no means an excuse but that’s a different issue I will definitely address later.

We now need to keep moving forward and to rightfully point out the wrongs in society and strive for equality. This is not about more or less. It has never been. Just like the Civil Rights Movement, we exclude no-one but only want to enjoy the same rights and share the same plights as anyone else.

Which leads me to another point. That Yellowface phenomenon? It has to stop. Seriously. Right now.

But we need to be very careful here too. We cannot label something Yellowface just because it appears like that on the surface. Take the Great Wall for instance. Many people thought Matt Damon would play an Asian character and gave it the Yellowface label. This is wrong: Matt Damon is ‘merely’ white-knighting Asians here as the Western character he plays. He’s the Savior: where all of China fails, he alone defeats the monsters. See, we must be fair in our judgments no matter how emotional and close-to-home and heart some issues may be. This is not an excuse, nor a defense. It’s just another matter altogether which I may well address later.

So what about Ghost in the Shell? Now THAT’s classic Yellowface. Point-blank, period.

Granted, we don’t go to the cinemas to see accurate reflections of our society all the time. But when I watch a movie about Egypt and there’s not a single Egyptian or Nubian in sight I start to ask certain questions. So Hollywood, please respect us enough that when you take an Asian tale, cast Asian leads too. There are plenty of Asian actors that earned their stripes and have a huge following already so that’s no excuse: No More Yellowface!

Let’s walk Vagabonds

1