When I was little, I thought everyone was like me. Many of my friends also had white dads and Asian moms, and I was surrounded by faces with the same mixed race features. Being raised among people who shared my racial experiences brought me in tune with my identity. I fit in with others who didn’t fit in, kids who grew up in bilingual households, who understood the quirks of a Filipino party, who were just as inquisitive when their mothers took them along grocery shopping at oriental markets. As I grew up, I became accustomed to the diversity and racial conflict in the world, and more distant with family traditions. Nowadays, most of my friends are of different races, and I stick out as the “Asian” in the group. But when I am around Asian people, I am clearly aware of my whiteness. This racial binary bleeds into my observations of pop culture. It is a rare occurrence to find someone with my multiracial identity in a Hollywood narrative, and I feel compelled to choose a side I want to relate to. Most often in mainstream media, mixed race individuals are misrepresented or not represented at all.
I was surprised to recently discover an ongoing comic series called Wayward, which features a half Japanese and half Irish teenage girl. Although created by white men, the story was, for the most part, culturally aware and respectful to its protagonist, and I found many of her experiences relatable. I felt comfort in the familiarity of the way Rori stuck out among her peers, and resonated with her cultural pride. In the comic, Rori visits her mother’s homeland of Japan, learns about her heritage, and realizes that she possesses a superhuman ability. There is an elaborate storyline of magical realism, colorful action sequences, and profound themes of fate and empowerment. Wayward proves that compelling stories can be told from minority perspectives.
While I overall enjoyed the comic and connected to Rori, her whitewashed appearance bothered me. She exhibited no visual traits of her Japanese side, but had natural bright red hair and green eyes. Whether it was a creative or commerical decision, since a striking lead role might draw in more readers, I do not think Rori accurately portrays most mixed race girls’ appearances. I found it disheartening that this rare chance I find a character relatable, she is not truly like me. Being one of the few characters with this mixed race identity in popular culture places more influence on Rori’s portrayal. Unfortunately, Wayward‘s representation of a half Asian teenager perpetuates racist undertones and lacks some authenticity, yet its creators are still making art and money off her experience.
In TV, I found the character Brook Soso from Orange is the New Black as an excellent example of a three-dimensional half Asian, half white character. She defies Asian female stereotypes of being submissive, and has her own values and aspirations. Like Rori, Brook openly acknowledges her multiracial identity. In this scene, Brook shares her struggles with a full Chinese inmate, who subtly dismisses her Asian background, further distancing her character. In Orange is the New Black, diversity is celebrated, but the negative experiences of a minority individual are not overlooked either.
Although I appreciated the characters of Rori and Brook, they took some searching to find. Minority visibility is a problem in mainstream media, because when an identity is inaccessible to the public, it becomes less known or cared about.
Mixed race characters are rare to encounter, but when they do exist, their appearances are often problematic. The 2015 film Aloha, directed by Cameron Crowe, has a mixed race character named Allison Ng. This would be considered an accomplishment for the biracial community if Allison was not played by the white actress Emma Stone. This example is one of many instances of whitewashing in the film industry. During Week 5, we looked at representation in Hollywood and how distorted portrayals of minorities often are. To quote Professor Bergland in the class blog post: “What stories and experiences are we missing out on by not seeing them in films? How do these reflections, and specifically, these omissions, influence how we see ourselves and others?” By casting a white woman over a role meant for a unique person of color, Allison’s Chinese and Hawaiian heritage is not properly recognized, promoting an erasure of her true experiences. And by limiting their roles and exposure, people tend to view mixed race women in real life with the generalizations they see in film.
In a 2007 CNN interview with the half Vietnamese and half white actress Maggie Q, she reflects on how her race impacts her movie roles: “…it’s really hard to be a woman walking into a room and be ethnic and have them not care. 90% of the scripts I get are for White girls. And Asians may think I look really Western, but Westerners think I look really Asian. So I am in this sort of, pocket of, this big questionable pocket…” She feels like her roles are limited to the binary she has been placed in.
When mixed race women are given attention in the media, it is usually from the male gaze for harmful and superficial reasons. There is an excessive focus on looks, which tends to objectify them. Complex published an online article titled, “The 50 Hottest Biracial Women,” praising the sex appeal of numerous mixed race women, making light of the anniversary of Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage. It trivialized a historical moment and the experience of minorities into simply what they had to offer men. Upon Googling “half Asian girl,” the first results to appear are online forums with titles like “Half-asians are the most attractive ethnicity,” “Why are half asian women so attractive?” and “Sexy Half Asians.” This sexism turns into fetishization with the Weezer song “El Scorcho,” where the lead singer croons, “Goddamn you half-Japanese girls, do it to me every time.”
In Sasha Welland’s ColorLines Magazine article, “Being Between,” she states: “As new Census data tracked the growth of overall minority populations in the U.S., marketers scrambled to develop campaigns that would appeal to as diverse an audience as possible… ethnic enough to draw consumers of color, yet light enough to remain palatable and vaguely exotic to white audiences.” In this sense, mixed race people are objectified into a method of marketing that is both inclusive and damaging. While it serves a practical purpose towards a mixed race consumer population, it creates a certain societal image of the “ideal mixed race person.” Additionally, it involves elements of colorism, where darker-skinned people are less appealing. Jeffrey Santa Ana reflects on a similar idea in his essay “Feeling Ancestral,” writing: “There is a significant profit to be made by ‘cashing in on that mixed-race look’. In today’s fashion industry, for instance, to be mixed race is in as an aesthetic of diversity…” This is seen in Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 fashion show that specifically called for multiracial models. This focus on the models being mixed race is positive in the sense that it increases visibility, but unfortunate that it stereotypes them into something exotic and trendy. While attempting to be diverse, it excludes those who don’t fit into these strictly aesthetic categories, furthering mixed race women’s struggle to conform. If being mixed is fashionable, there is a significance placed on the women’s looks over who she is.
When I was young, it wasn’t difficult to find peers to relate to my racial identity. Unfortunately, as I have grown up, it is harder to find cultural familiarity. In pop culture, half Asian women are not well represented. They are whitewashed, sexualized, exotified and made into a fashion commodity. The mixed race experience is distinctive and has the potential for a lot of great stories that should not be ignored. I do not see my true identity given the attention it should in the media, and I know many other half Asian, half white women share the same belief.
This class allowed me to extensively reflect on the media we consume everyday. Our Big Picture Blog Post project pushed me to analyze confusing feelings I have always had about representation in pop culture, and find concrete examples and explanations behind my emotions. Additionally, I became aware of the faults in news reports and journalism, specifically during Week 6 where we discussed clickbait articles and biased reporting. I have learned to be a critical reader and actively challenge what I see (or don’t see).
2015. I Kind of Care about You, Petra. Comp. Queerpeaks. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. http://queerpeaks.tumblr.com/post/121465050165
Ana, Jeffrey S. “Feeling Ancestral: The Emotions of Mixed Race and Memory in Asian American Cultural Productions.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2008, pp. 457-482. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/244613.
Bergland, Daneen. “Week 5: Reflections in Hollywood Film.” Winter17 UNST 254A Course Blog. WordPress, 6 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. https://winter2016unst254a.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/week-5-reflections-in– hollywood-film/
Aloha. Dir. Cameron Crowe. Perf. Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2015. Web.
LuStout, Kristi. “Interview with Maggie Q.” Talkasia. CNN, 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/11/14/talkasia.maggieq/
Robertson, Josh. “The 50 Hottest Biracial Women.” Complex. N.p., 12 June 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/06/the-50-hottest– biracial-women/
WeezerVEVO. “Weezer – El Scorcho (Director’s Cut).” YouTube. YouTube, 16 June 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okthJIVbi6g
Welland, Sasha S. “Being between: can multiracial Americans form a cohesive anti-racist movement beyond identity politics and Tiger Woods chic?.” The Free Library 22 June 2003. 14 March 2017. https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Beingbetween:canmultiracialAmericansformacoh esiveanti-racist…-a0103192535
West, Kanye. Season 4 Casting. Digital image. Twitter. 3 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/772166483023687680/photo/1>.
Zub, Jim, Steven Cummings, and John Rauch. Page 6. Digital image. Wayward (2014) # 1. Readcomics.net, 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. http://www.readcomics.tv/wayward-2014/chapter-1/6
Zub, Jim, Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Tamra Bonvillain. Wayward Book 1: Deluxe HC. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2015. Print.