The other day I was talking to a friend and she said something along the lines of “being tired of being hyper aware of race.” I couldn’t tell if I agreed with her or not but it made me think about the current state of everything. The first thing to come to mind was how the current system of government seems to create a negative media atmosphere and how that weighs down heavily on one’s sense of mental well-being. Yet this couldn’t convey that feeling well enough. It seemed close but “tired of being hyper aware of race” seems to be much more than a sense of “ignorance is bliss”.
Before college, I had no real concept of race. Most of my school was Asian, so I saw that as simply the way of being. There was no concept of a white person in contrast to an Asian, black, or latinx person. Since this spectrum of personalities was so broad, I saw no reason to turn to outside media to find role models or leaders.
When I got to college, however, I was suddenly aware of the lack of people who looked and acted like me. I could suddenly understand those who turn to the media to find solace. And the media was and has been unforgiving. The lack of Asian or Asian Americans in popular American media is jarring when one is desperately searching for someone, anyone, who might look like themselves. There is suddenly a need to conform to what the popular media says because it becomes the only representation of someone you look like. Had I not grown up where I did, I might find myself trying to be someone I am not. I’m Asian, male, and (relatively) tall but the only two people that come to mind in fulfilling those characteristics are the basketball players Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin. That sort of narrative is not for me and so now I’m back at square one. When one becomes desperate, they may begin to grasp for straws in literally anything.
When I began to analyze Ang Lee’s film “The Wedding Banquet” earlier this quarter, I found myself trying to relate to the main character in any way possible. Here was an example of a Taiwanese American who lived a relatively normal life with a career and a house yet was queer and had to hide it from his parents. This idea seemed to be so relatable yet was not someone I felt like I wanted to be attached to. Wai Tung seemed to live double lives, splitting his Asian side apart from his American side. In my own ideal neo-liberal world, I could find a balance of fusing the two into one that could be truly me.
With listening to k-pop, there’s a sense of pride that music from Asia could become such a big concept globally. There’s also nationalistic pride when I see Taiwanese k-pop idols make it big, like Tzuyu from Twice or Mark from GOT7. I also see Asian Americans like Vernon from Seventeen, Amber from f(x) and Tiffany from Girl’s Generation as people I look up to. Unfortunately, with k-pop, I find myself juggling issues about cultural appropriation as well as imposing American cultural norms onto Asian cultural norms. (reddit post that got me thinking specifically about this). I’m not always fully sure where to place myself in identifying as Asian American and identifying as a person who listens to k-pop. While I’m appreciative of the fusions of Asian pop styles with American rap styles, I wonder why I feel so attached to an audio track where race isn’t manifested outside of the actual language.
I have become slowly hyper visible of race in my normal everyday mundane consumption of regular media (read “mainly white hegemony controlled media”). With my analysis of the Fine Brothers, I was angry about how Asian media is seen as so foreign and unbelievable (“this stuff is popular?/has market value?/etc”). Yet also when the creators have a choice in representing Asians to almost be spokespersons for their “culture” when Asian Americans are too “American” to be speaking on behalf of their parents’ parents’ parents’ homeland.
Ultimately, I don’t know the experiences of my friend and what prompted her to say “I’m tired of being hyper aware of race”. However, it’s hard to step away from an ethnic studies class without being hyper aware of the world around oneself. I often catch myself figuring out if my past represented some sort of hegemonic zone of cultural safety or if this media I’m consuming is morally good or bad. In some sense, I can understand my friend’s frustration with constantly having to hyper analyze the world and trying to find race in places where none exist. Personally, I have narrowed it down to finding a balance and drawing my own moral lines or just making light of serious issues to make it easier to digest. Understanding race and culture is hard, but breaking it down piece by piece allows me to go slower in my own learning experience.