The Quarantine of Racism
I’ve been to nine different grocery stores in the past two days; Gelson’s, Whole Foods, Whole Foods 365, Vons, Ralphs, Super Ralphs, Trader Joes, Rainbow Acres and Target. There are next to no paper products in any of these locations. Ice cream seems to be the thing no one wants to stock up on during a crisis; frozen Di Giorno pizzas and canned artichokes don’t seem too popular either. Not that I eat any of those aforementioned items anyway. All the vegan, gluten free items are more in stock, because they have a minority consumer. A minority consumer.
I’m noticing the changing looks I’m now getting in some of these stores. Looks that remind me, I am a minority. These are the very same looks I used to get during my childhood and teenage years growing up the only Asian girl in a town I like to call, the armpit of America. There wasn’t much choice in friends in that armpit of a town. I still remember them, first and last names, the group of five girls I was friends with, all white, Anglo-Saxon, and emotionally and verbally abusive to me for years. Those ‘C-you-next-Tuesdays.' Sorry, but there’s no better word for them. I remember the jokes they used to make about why they wouldn’t let me borrow their blue eye shadow during sleepovers when we got dressed up like punk rock girls, “Won’t your skin turn it green anyway?” Think “Heathers” meets “Mean Girls” except we were only in third grade, that was my life.
As a girl, I used to think there was something wrong with me, that I must have deserved being abandoned at outings, being the butt of the joke, or the one they were mad at again and again, at any give day of the week for no explicable reason. They weren’t mad at me because I had done anything wrong. They abused me because they could. Because in this white supremacist country, being a person of color is all that's needed to justify hate towards another. I lived with this blow to my self-esteem, the shame for being born this way, since I was old enough to remember, since kindergarten? In second grade, I had a moment of self realization. I looked around at all the other kids in the classroom and realized that no one else looked like me. And then I realized, no one else, besides my family, in the entire town, looked like me. I thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to cultivate one hell of a personality to get anywhere in this world.” Yes, I was in second grade when I thought that. I knew I was different. I was Chinese-American, with immigrant parents from Taiwan who came here on full graduate school scholarships. Everyone else was white or black. Everyone else had others that looked like them, but I was one of a kind; on my own. As a child, I used to wake up in the middle of the night and pray to God to turn me blond haired and blue eyed the next time I looked in the mirror. And because of those so called friends in my hometown, it wasn’t until I was twenty-five years old, that I felt I could genuinely relax and trust in a female friendship without the underlying anxiety that comes with being bullied. I could grapple with the concept of being different, Asian, and having others behave differently towards me out of curiosity maybe, but racism? I couldn’t grapple the fact that they were treating me differently, or looking at me differently, or thinking of me differently, just because of the way I was born. Racism. I couldn’t understand it, because I didn’t think anybody could be that stupid. When I was NYU bound my ambition in my career was to have Meryl Streep-like critical acclaim and Julia Roberts box office draw. I know, I set the bar low. I worked my ass off, had the rehearsal rooms at dorms checked out every night for hours and within two years after graduating, I had an agent, a manager, and all my union cards. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, this career as an actress. I knew there would be a lot of rejection.
And I guess, getting into one of the top universities, in one of the best cities in the world, made me think, that somehow I could leave that mentality behind, back in the arm pit of America.
But never in my life, did I think that a huge reason I wouldn’t have the career I desired or worked for, would be the rampant institutionalized toxic racism in the industry, that is in this country against all non-whites.
It’s like throwing years and years of great work and sacrifice against a wall. No matter how good I am, if people can’t see an ‘Asian’ doing it, it doesn’t matter.
It didn’t matter how good my auditions were. The mentality of racism is man’s worst contribution to society.
Racism is the single most colossal waste of humanity's time and energy. And every time it feels like I get closer as an actress, some republican fuck likes to take us back. The racism emerging and boiling towards Asians as a result of the Coronavirus - especially that photo of those blonde Belgian ‘C you next Tuesdays’ - makes me feel like I’m in grade school all over again. When 9/11 happened, our economy broke. And what do businesses do when they are strapped for cash? They go for their bread and butter. Who is the bread and butter in Hollywood? White wonder bread actors like (and no shade to them but) Julia Roberts (who a producer suggested to play Harriet Tubman at one point), Jennifer Aniston, and people like Scarlett Johansson. So, okay, I made myself happy with regional theater jobs and Off-broadway shows and the occasional guest star on a network show. But then I moved to Los Angeles, and discovered, it was even whiter than New York at the time. Then the recession happened in 2008. At one point, there was only ONE production shooting in all of Los Angeles, period. Bread and butter again. Diversity was still the affirmative action of casting choices. It still wasn’t our turn.
I was literally holding my breath when another ten year mark came by, praying there would be no major economic crisis, or war in the middle east again, giving the industry another reason not to be inclusive.
Finally, Fresh Off the Boat breaks through and artists like Kevin Kwan, Awkwafina, and Constance Wu take the cake with projects like Crazy Rich Asians, the Farewell and Hustlers. But now the Coronavirus, the reason I’ve gone to nine grocery stores in two days, has us regressing yet again. The thing is, it didn’t have to set society back socially, if it weren’t for our Trump in Chief and the GOP’s racist remarks.
They didn't hesitate to call it the “Chinese” Coronavirus because blaming people of color has gotten racist white males into their positions of power all along. Another justification to marginalize Asians has arrived. I hate even thinking, “What if casting directors and producers are reluctant to cast Asian actors now because of the racial bias from this virus?” I hate even thinking that of another person at all. But I can’t help it, because I’ve lived it.
Disease is a great equalizer. A virus doesn’t care what color your skin is, it only cares that you're alive. The significant purpose of diversity and representation in storytelling is that it humanizes the very people that are being targeted by racism, that are being dehumanized. It helps diffuse a generalized, most often incorrect perception of who someone is, by giving them a voice; by letting them represent themselves. You are seeing them, not a skin color, or a virus.
Coronavirus does not come from Asian people. It does not come from Chinese people. The origin of Coronavirus is reported to have come from China, from eating a pangolin, or a bat, or some other animal that humans are not supposed to be eating; the way Swine Flu came from the U.S. and Mexico from eating pigs
Remember Swine Flu? Did any person of color go around and start making racist remarks to all the white people when swine flu broke out in 2009? No, I don't think so. And Obama was in charge then. You know what would help humanize Asian people in this country so that racism isn’t a co-component of worldwide diseases to begin with?
Well for one, the sudden enlightenment of tens of millions of racist people in the United States, overdue for their personal come to Jesus moments, that’s for sure. But stories being told about Asians, by Asians in films, television productions, on streaming platforms, would help humanize and combat the unjust bigotry and racism being targeted at them. They would have an opportunity to be seen as your ‘friend’ like Jennifer Aniston, or America’s sweetheart like Julia, or the boy next door like Ryan Gosling.
Unfortunately, Hollywood has a longer track record of whitewashing Asian roles, than it does representing or supporting them. HBO is fostering an adaptation of “Parasite” starring Mark Ruffalo and Tilda Swinton, because people wouldn't watch it otherwise? In my opinion, it has never been about box office draw, or star power; it has always been about job security for the white and elite. What are they afraid of, I wonder. That we (Asian-Amerian actors) are going to give them a run for their money, or take their money and run? And do you really get to call yourself the best when your competition has been deliberately suppressed for no other reason than the color of their skin? The fact that it took until the year 2020, and the success and respect of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Joker, to finally garner the attention and respect needed to fully hear and internalize what Phoenix said in his awards acceptance speeches about parts of the industry ‘not welcoming people of color’, says a lot about the degree of resistance the industry has had to people of color all along. But this is the thing; when you suppress another race and their stories, you are missing out. You are missing out on a sliver of your own humanity, as well as the talent and hard work that deserves to be heard. I can list at least a dozen other Asian actors that are just as good as Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis and who could have been a “Meryl Streep” or a “Daniel Day Lewis” if it weren’t for the skin they were born into.
If there is a glass ceiling, it wasn’t built by people of color. And the only reason someone would want to marginalize, punish, spew hate upon another is because they fear them. I’m in Marshalls now, buying cough drops and vegan gummy bears and watching people pivot in another direction as soon as they see me. But that’s nothing. All over the country young, innocent Asian boys and girls, men and women, are being attacked by racist idiots. Businesses are being boycotted out of fear and racism. And our society is taking another few steps back in the way we see each other. The body is programmed to heal on its own, but a virus of the mind like racism, can spread like wildfire. And we don’t have any more years to waste on this planet, learning the same lessons over and over again.
So, open your mind, let go of your hatred, wash your hands and don’t be a racist. - Ann Hu
photos by KiKi and Yours Truly
March 14, 2020