The popularity of Asian-created content doesn’t eclipse anti-Asian racism


If you think Squid Game’s popularity represents greater acceptance for East Asian folks in North America, think again. When Asian media is trending, it doesn’t erase the racism experienced by the Asian diaspora.

It’s wonderful that international media is increasingly influencing North American popular culture.

However, which representation is privileged is influenced by the international media market—for example, most of the content made mainstream in Canada and the US comes from east Asia and ignores the vast cultural diversity within the continent.

It’s also vital to acknowledge when Asian art comes to North America, it’s submerged in an environment heavily influenced by anti-Asian racism—an environment that is neither safe nor accepting. Even those who enjoy this media can consume it irresponsibly, leading to appropriation of East Asian cultures rather than a celebration of Asian creative works.

Representation in the media is important, but it’s not the final goal of activism.

North Americans should’ve been appreciating art from other parts of the world a long time ago. Just because Asian artists like BTS and Bong Joon Ho are receiving long-overdue recognition doesn’t mean the pervasive realities of anti-Asian racism can be ignored. 

COVID-19 has called explicit attention to the hate and vitriol Asian folks face in Canada. Not only that, but Asians are still struggling with systemic racism that creates barriers like a lack of accessibility to culturally relevant mental health services

We’re all happy to binge Squid Game, but turn a blind eye to the racism that’s right in front of us.

Hypervisibility doesn’t equal privilege. Instead, it invites other kinds of racism—like fetishization and assigning harmful stereotypes.

The term “Asian” itself is used dangerously as a blanket term within Western society. Instead of acknowledging the existence and nuance of different cultures within the Asian continent, we choose to use a few pieces of media to mash them all into the same mismatched group, creating a one-dimensional view of the community.

Each culture has its own history and context for creating works of art. A film from a Korean director has a different impact than a film from a Japanese director. If Western audiences truly cared about racism, Asian pieces of media would be accepted for what they are, instead of being diluted into a tokenization of East Asian folks.

Media created by Asian artists usually isn’t meant to represent the struggles and experiences of the diaspora. In their home countries, the media isn’t work created by a minority—their popularity is based on the value of their plot and messaging, not on the country of origin.

Western audiences who consume East Asian media without thinking critically about their role as an audience member aren’t doing their diligence when it comes to acknowledging their positionality and privilege.

We shouldn’t consume media content from East Asian creators just for popularity’s sake and forget about the Asian folks facing harm in our communities. Combatting Asian hate is more important.

—Journal Editorial Board

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