The marginalization of Brown Asians

A few days ago, I and four other Brown Asians criticized the New York Times for their disregard of the Brown Asian community in a recent video outlining Asian Americans’ experiences of racism.

The video outlined the familiar stories of Asian Americans experiencing racist statements in their workplaces and from strangers out in public. But only one of the interviewees talked about the Filipino American experience and none of them spoke of being South Asian.

This continued neglect caused serious disappointment and hurt for many Brown Asians who are pained to realize that even though #thisis2016, people still don’t understand that #BrownAsiansExist. In fact, not only do Brown Asians exist, we — Filipinos and South Asians — compose half of the Asian American population!

To be clear, the outcry from Brown Asians isn’t about #thisis2016; it was a great vehicle to show America how widespread and damaging racism against Asian Americans really is. What Brown Asians are complaining about is their continued marginalization even within the Asian American community, which the New York Times video painfully showed us is still happening. Brown Asians are just tired of being unseen, unheard, and unappreciated — even by other Asians.

We are tired of the fact that when people think of Asian Americans, they seem to always think of East Asians — Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese. We’re tired of the fact that when people think of getting the Asian American perspective, Brown Asian experiences are not included or if even considered, disregarded. We are tired of being forgotten and being treated as if we are invisible!

But, you know that nagging feeling that tends to come around whenever you complain about something? That question mark in the back of your mind asking if maybe you are just being overly sensitive?

I got that feeling.

So although this marginalization is something that I and many other Brown Asians have felt to be very true and real, I figured I’d look for some basic information to back up our “hunch.” To do this, I just did a simple search on the websites of four major media outlets using the six largest Asian American ethnic groups as the search terms (i.e., Chinese, Filipino, South Asian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese). The media outlets I checked out were:

(1) a major media network whose reach includes multiple television channels, including a recently launched effort to cover issues specific to Asian America;

(2) an Asian American website/blog that operates as a trusted source of information on anything Asian American-related, especially topics about racism, politics, activism — stuff that gets you angry;

(3) an Asian American magazine that has been around for over a decade; and

(4) a very influential newspaper in a very major city.

Here are the results of my search:

(Graphic by E.J.R. David)
(Graphic by E.J.R. David)

As you can see in the graph, the content for all four media outlets extend higher than the red line for East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese). This indicates that for all four media outlets, stories about East Asians are disproportionately overrepresented given their population size (marked by the red line).

The following are some examples:

  • 55.5 percent of the content in the Asian American website/blog is about Chinese Americans even though they compose only 23 percent of the Asian American population. In contrast, only 3.8 percent of the content in the Asian American website/blog is about Filipino Americans even though they compose 20 percent of the Asian American population.
  • The Asian American content of the major newspaper is 39.2 percent Japanese when they compose only 7.6 percent of the Asian American population, but only 3.9 percent of the newspaper’s Asian American content is on South Asians even though they compose 19 percent of the Asian American population.
  • We also see that 22.9 percent of the major media network’s Asian American content is about Koreans when they compose only 10 percent of the Asian American population. In contrast, although Vietnamese also compose 10 percent of the Asian American population, only 0.4 percent of the major media network’s Asian American content is about Vietnamese.

This disproportionately low representation in content given their population size is true among all four media outlets for Filipinos, South Asians and Vietnamese. Brown Asians are disproportionately underrepresented, consistently and across the board. The graph shows the content for all four media outlets do not even reach the red line for Brown Asians, indicating that Brown Asian stories are not covered enough by the media.

So based on this data, our hunch — the feeling that we are often treated as if we are second-class, perhaps even third-class, Asian Americans — seems to be correct.

And just like how racism against Asian Americans goes beyond the woman who told Michael Luo’s family to “Go Back to China,” the marginalization of Brown Asians also goes beyond the New York Times. This disregard and invisibility is widespread, and is clearly seen in which Asian Americans are covered by the media — whose stories are deemed as important, whose realities are validated, whose truths are shared, whose complexities are explored and whose humanities are displayed.

We understand the importance of media in shaping society’s perceptions of the world and of all of us who are in it. In this case, we understand how media shapes who society thinks as Asian American and how society sees Asian Americans. For our specific case, we understand what media’s role is in shaping how society sees us and what to make of our brown skins. We want to be represented in media so that our realities and experiences, struggles and victories, pains and joys — a more complete and nuanced portrait of us — can be shared with society.

This is why we want representation. This is why we are hurt whenever organizations and people — including other Asian Americans — tell us that we don’t matter. We do.

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5 Comments

  1. “caused serious disappointment and hurt for many Brown Asians ”

    How many? Ten? Twenty? And just you, simply assuming you speak for “brown” Asian Americans?

    Social Justice Warriors and fact free assumptions.

  2. It’s the other way around. Brown Asians (Filipinos, Indians, Southeast Asians) are seen as better, cooler, and more respected than East Asians. Brown Asians definitely have it easier than many East Asians in America. Brown Asians are less stereotyped, less bullied, and get less condescending, unfair treatment than East Asians.

    To be “brown” is to be cool in America, no matter what type of brown you are (black, Latino, and maybe even Middle Eastern). You get a lot of social currency for automatically coming across as cool. You lose a lot of social currency for automatically coming across as awkward and geeky – stereotypes of East Asians.

    Brown Asians are not seen as nerdy, ugly, bad drivers, disgusting things that “keep to themselves.” Brown Asians do not go through the daily mistreatment and stigma that some East Asians suffer through.

  3. Yes, East Asians have hypervisibility in the US. Naturally, we will receive more media coverage, especially negative media coverage. Hypervisibility oppresses hypervisible groups, in this case, East Asians in the US.
    I get the feeling of exclusion. This didn’t start with East Asians though- it was whites who made East Asians hypervisible in the first place. Gatekeeping does happen at times, but it is a result of the way hypervisibility is internalized. Additionally, the oppression Asian Americans face isn’t monolithic, which is why I personally feel like Asian American activism should stop trying to deal with the entire Asian American community and start focusing on issues affecting our individual communities. The oppression South Asians face is different than the oppression East Asians face, but there are different forms of oppression faced within regional Asian American communities. Cambodians face different oppression than Indonesians, although they are both Southeast Asians.
    Additionally, this article is hypocritical in that it advocates for the end of Southeast and South Asian erasure but continues to erase West, Central, and North Asians. You’re perpetuating a problem you say you aim to end.
    About media coverage too, why are blogs a systemic problem? Chinese Americans don’t have to apologize for making blogs for their communities. Not to mention, it’s deeply oppressive to group a region as diverse as South Asia as just one ethnic group.

    1. This is also coming from a Taiwanese person, who is all too familiar with erasure within my community along with knowing the painful history of imperialism and exploitation of my people at the hands of other East Asians. This just comes to show how East Asians aren’t the privileged monolith that we are portrayed as.

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