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Lil Tay, MRAsians: 2018 Moments Where Asians Could Have Done Better

We need to talk about anti-black racism, for starters.
A photo of Lil Tay sitting on a luxury car, from her now deleted Instagram profile.
HuffPost Canada
A photo of Lil Tay sitting on a luxury car, from her now deleted Instagram profile.

It's been a blockbuster year for Asians in North America. Our identities have never been more recognized in mainstream media ("Crazy Rich Asians," "To All The Boys I Loved Before, "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj," and hello, have you seen "Bao"?!). We're winning beauty pageants and snagging historic award show hosting gigs. Even our Facebook groups are newsworthy.

But that doesn't dismiss the missteps in 2018, moments when Asians were in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Just as we should be making noise about our achievements, celebrating the major highs means we also need to acknowledge our low moments. After all, our successes in diversity should never come at the expense of other communities affected by systemic prejudice.

Here's hoping we don't make the same mistakes in 2019.

When a Toronto restaurant profiled black patrons

As soon as Emile Wickham and his friends ordered dinner at Chinese restaurant Hong Shing in downtown Toronto, they were told they needed to pre-pay for their meals. However, the group noticed that they, the only group of black individuals, were the only customers who received this request.

A human rights tribunal established that Hong Shing racially profiled Wickham and his friends, and ordered the restaurant to award $10,000 to Wickham.

Emile Wickham posing in front of Hong Shing after winning his discrimination case with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
Vince Talotta via Getty Images
Emile Wickham posing in front of Hong Shing after winning his discrimination case with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Although Wickham's negative experience happened four years ago, its resolution in 2018 made international headlines. For many, it contributed to recent "dining while black" discourse, where black individuals have been criminalized for eating in public.

On Hong Shing's part, its new owner has been making amends. After Colin Li's parents passed down the family business to him, Li apologized to Wickham. He committed to removing the pre-pay policy and has enacted racial sensitivity training for all employees.

"What happened to Emile is horrible. I've personally made sure that this kind of incident will never, ever, happen again," Li said in a news release.

When we used other cultures as costumes

Yes, Asians can be guilty of cultural appropriation too.

Beauty vlogger Nikita Dragun, who is Vietnamese and Mexican, was called out in May for Instagram photos where she wore dreadlocks.

Dragun's not the first Asian celebrity to treat black culture as an accessory. Known as "the internet's youngest flexer," the Chinese-Canadian kid influencer Lil Tay amassed over two million followers on Instagram. Many posts on her profile featured the nine-year-old screaming obscenities, sitting on luxury cars, and posing with stacks of cash.

Alani Fujii, an African-American and Japanese development manager for Blasian Narratives, spoke with HuffPost Canada about Lil Tay and how Asians would be rewarded for turning black stereotypes into a humiliating commodity. They could wear it as a costume and take it off when they saw fit, while black Asians face prejudice within their own communities.

"Many Asians and Asian-Americans appropriate black culture and perform distorted caricatures of blackness because it is a way to get noticed," she says. "As an Asian person, your 'black' performance is not threatening, therefore it's funny, and can be tolerated ... as if talking smack, rapping about money and bitches, and swinging money is what being black means."

Lil Tay (and her brother) saying the N-Word

In one video, the foul-mouthed Instagram star used the n-word to address viewers.

The slur went unaddressed, save for Lil Tay's mother telling Maclean's that her daughter would never use the slur again, until Lil Tay premiered her reality show "Life With Lil Tay" in July.

Watch: "Andi Mack" stars reflect on a breakthrough year for Asian-American representation. Story continues after video.

The show's first episode centres around the slur as a dramatic plot point, culminating with Lil Tay apologizing for her use of the slur.

However, the show never addresses her brother Jason Tian's usage. He previously tweeted the n-word regarding backlash to his sister smoking hookah.

Fellow Asians, let's leave saying the n-word or any slurs about races you don't belong to in 2018, OK? Thanks.

to my asian-american brothas and sistas.

pls stop saying the n word.

it's not your word. it's not our word.


— lukey (@lucasgeniza) November 7, 2018

The "MRAsians" who shame Asian women

Men's rights activists, known as MRAs, hold unsubstantiated misogynistic views that they try to justify with the untrue claim that cisgender men are discriminated against on the basis of gender.

This year saw the rise of a faction of Asian male MRAs, or "MRAsians," who have championed misogynistic rhetoric against Asian women who date non-Asian men.

Asian men, I really do love ya, but you gotta stop with the attacks on Asian women. Just bc an Asian woman dates or marries a nonAsian does not make it an attack on Asian men. You need to stop with that shit!!

— Ellen "Hell No" Oh (@ElloEllenOh) August 23, 2018

After novelist Celeste Ng wrote about Asian men who harass Asian women for The Cut, she was sieged with harassing emails and slurs on social media.

When an Asian-Canadian professor dismissed the violence of residential schools

Former professor Rick Mehta was fired from Acadia University, after making several controversial statements and outing a rape survivor in his classroom.

Among the stances cited in a letter about his termination, Mehta was known for downplaying the cultural genocide and harm suffered by residential school survivors. In an interview with campus publication the Athenaeum, he stated he's heard stories of "positive experiences" in residential schools and that they should be included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

When we tried to make everything about us

Asian inclusion in industries we've long been disenfranchised from still has a long way to go. So when other communities have reasons to celebrate, it's all the more disheartening when we undermine their success.

Like when 62 black women writers were profiled by the Hollywood Reporter:

Can black women do anything without people trying to erase their progress and then pretending that there's not enough room for both groups to thrive? Thx

— Kayla A. Greaves 🍔 (@KaylaAGreaves) December 5, 2018

*glances at clock*

*glances at twitter*

Yknow, Asians & other NBPOC, you could just...advocate...for your own community & boost projects & network there & encourage others w/in the comm to do the same rather than always...asking...BW...why they're not doing the work for you..

— Clara Mae (@ubeempress) January 23, 2018

Pro-tip: there's room for everyone!

When we supported problematic people just because they're Asian

The real win for Asian American representation will be when we don't feel the need to celebrate the "wins" of abusers, appropriators, and generally mediocre people just because they're Asian.

— Mark Tseng-Putterman (@tsengputterman) December 27, 2018

Enough said.

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