“Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive,” the casting director said. “They’re very shut down in their emotions.”
“Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive.” https://t.co/q7Zk4toviu
— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) September 8, 2017
I rolled my eyes: “This guy needs to meet my mom.”
My mother is a strong-willed and outspoken Pilipina woman who – in any and every situation – urges me to use my voice and do it “with expression”. As a child, that applied mostly to reciting Bible verses or singing Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” on family karaoke nights. But her charge was a seed that formed roots. As an adult, I now understand my responsibility to speak up and be transparent about who I am, what I think, and how I feel – not just for my own sake, but also for the sake of my larger community. The way I use my voice, my platform, and my influence is in itself political and theological expression.
When Maurene Goo (@mauxbot) started the #ExpressiveAsians hashtag,
— Maurene Goo (@mauxbot) September 8, 2017
I laughed at the responses uneasily. I hoped, scrolling through tweets of Asian Americans making faces and references to kimchi slaps on Korean dramas, that our community would move beyond the casting director’s comment and redirect our energies to critiques of larger systems and structures. The more attention the hashtag got, the more disheartened I felt.
The conversation on #AsianTwitter centered stereotypes and microaggressions, but did not indict the institutions that support and sustain them.
I’m not saying that Asian Americans should not challenge the false narrative of being emotionally shut down – we absolutely should. It erases histories of oppression that silenced our communities because self-expression was a risk to our own survival. It polarizes communities of color by perpetuating anti-Blackness, where Black folks are on the other side of the spectrum (“too expressive”) and therefore, a threat.
It is white supremacist logic that attempts to diminish our full and beautiful humanity. We are expressive human beings, and we do not and should not need a White casting director to say so to believe that about ourselves.
The question of whether or not Asian Americans are expressive is not worth any more of our time or energy. My question is what are we doing with the power of our collective expression?
How are we expressing anger at the erasure of Indigenous peoples’ cultures and practices and histories of resilience?
How are we expressing outrage at the suffering Black, Brown, and trans folks experience at the hands of a militarized police state?
How are we expressing intolerance of the way society neglects the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the disabled, the uninsured, and the mentally ill?
How are we expressing grief with Tommy Le’s family and the Vietnamese community in South King County, WA, who have not yet seen justice for their son who was shot twice in the back and killed by an officer, minutes before his graduation ceremony?
How are we using our voices and platforms and spheres of influence to change narratives, empower communities, and build movements?
The energy around #ExpressiveAsians concerns me because I think it exposes our misplaced priorities – if more Asian Americans rally around mainstream Hollywood casting than around generational poverty, mental health, food insecurity, state violence, forced displacement, domestic abuse, misogyny, transphobia, climate change, and colonization, we have a problem.
Whitewashed films and media representation cannot be our chief civil rights issue. The narrative must shift from diversity to self-determination, from inclusion to collective liberation.
May we be a community that expresses itself in solidarity with movements larger than ourselves.
art by @hankchenillustration