Representation in the media is fought for strongly by many Asians in America, especially those among the country’s upper economic class. From one perspective, it makes perfect sense why any underrepresented group would care so much about their role in media — media has the largest impact on the way we think, whether we like this fact or not. We are constantly consuming, no matter what. When we take that small Instagram break while we’re studying, we’re inundated with other people’s representations of themselves, and what people find the best. Similar patterns can also be seen with Facebook and Twitter.
So, of course, Asians care about how they’re represented in media. They’re not sex dolls, not fragile, not perfectly smart, not unsexy and do not smell bad. They’re not a monolith or a model minority and believe, rightfully so, that they have every right to be represented the same way white Americans are in Western media.
This is a disclaimer. Of course, it is understandable and perfectly normal that Asian-Americans would like to see better representation for themselves. Especially as they are born and raised as Americans, and because this is their country just as much as anyone else’s.
But why is this such a high priority in activism circles when it comes to Asians while there are still Asians who suffer from economic disempowerment, while there are still queer Asians?
Yes, Indians are Asians and have an incredibly high median income level — $100,000 (according to the Pew Research Center). But this isn’t indicative of the state of all Asians. Bangladeshis have a median income of about $49,800, and Cambodians, Laotians, as well as Hmong people all have median incomes in similar ranges. These are two vastly different circumstances, and the circumstances reflect the different issues different groups have. It is clearly seen that there is a level of police violence associated with the latter groups that groups like Indians do not have to endure. Bangladeshis, Cambodians, Laotians and other Asian groups in similar class situations as Indians are not seen as anything close to the “model minority” by other Americans at all. They are demonized in America, seen as inferior.
So yes, while I am sorry it was brutally painful for Indians in their mid-to-late 20s who came from economic prosperity to grow up with Apu from the Simpsons being their biggest oppressor, this is not the case for many other Asians. Every time the same old and tired model minority story is brought back to the forefront in Asian activism, an erasure of other communities within the larger Asian race occurs and thus, minimizes their struggles.
It is crucial that Asians with class privilege interested in activism or social justice understand the implications their class privilege has, as well as strive to better not only their status in America but also the status of others — especially those who may not have the same economic power as them.