by Nathalie Younglai
This is long, so… fair warning.
Initially, I wrote a massive rant. It tumbled all out, messy and cussing and yelly. Then I erased all the anger out and “toned it down” because I want to work again.
Which is stupid. I’ve just fallen into the racist, sexist trap/trope and I can’t shake off the stink.
It became an academic, dry and a measured examination of casual racism. Boring. Done before. Also, a disservice to my fellow Asian writers who are breaking into the TV industry. Besides, why do I have to be the calm one to explain things that louder voices refuse to listen to or acknowledge? Louder voices that would rather hear their own expert opinion on matters they’ve never grown up with. Louder voices that cheer when Glen Mazzarra talks about the need for diversity and what it means to be inclusive, but refuse to see that they themselves are silencing the very people they purport to support. So why do I have to be the calm one while others can rant all they want about how reactionary everyone else is?
Because I want to work again. Because I can say the exact same thing that someone who is not a Person of Colour does, and one of us will be heard more. One of us will be seen as “so angry”, the other will be seen as just stating facts. Because I know whatever I say will be seen through the lens of “being too PC”, “the internet”, “outrage culture” and other incredibly dismissive labels that don’t see me as a person, but a symbol of knee-jerk reactions to things that apparently Did. Not. Happen.
Instead, I thought it might be useful if I shared what was going through my mind as this one little incident happened. This goes through my mind (and for other PoC too) every time these random acts of racism happen, which they do more frequently than we’d like to think. Every time, it’s a huge but somewhat instantaneous decision process – Do I say something? Do I call them out? What will the backlash be? Will it suck me into a longer argument I don’t have the energy to get into right now? How can I do it in a way that will get through to the other person? How do I get out of this situation?
Thing is, I went to the WGC Awards like any other writer, wanting to celebrate and connect and stuff my face with fancy grilled cheese sandwiches I never found. Instead, the night was tarnished. As soon as Frank Van Keeken, winner of showrunner of the year award, pivots from doing his Dutch father’s accent to saying something like, “That was a bad Dutch accent. But if my father was Chinese, I could do that accent…” All I can feel is heat rush to my face. Then blood draining. Thinking, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” Then he does it. This supposedly funny Chinese father accent. My next thoughts coming at me: “Am I actually sitting here as this is happening? Is this really happening? Am I hearing this right?” Then, “Don’t look around. Don’t listen to the woman laughing behind me. Don’t move a muscle, don’t let them know it’s punching you in the gut while you sit in a room full of hundreds of your peers. Is my face hot? Is anyone looking for my reaction? Can I hide the fact that I’m Chinese?”
I transport to an alternate reality where I can do what I really wanted to do: throw my arms up in the air and double fist the F-U fingers at him for the rest of his speech. But I know that I can’t. I don’t want to draw attention to what he just did, to how it’s coursing through me, to how humiliated I feel. Why do I feel humiliated when it should be him who should feel embarrassed for doing such a blatant foul? I really want to stand up and walk out. But I don’t. Again, I don’t want to draw attention. Why? Because I actually want to work again. I don’t have the safety net of being a white man or white woman. And I don’t have the seniority in the industry to mouth off willy-nilly whenever someone says or does something accidentally racist. (I know I’m not supposed to use the r-word, it’s too incendiary. It’s more polite and acceptable to call it “offensive” or “stupid”. So maybe I should delete that too. Or maybe I won’t and I will give myself the freedom to say what I really think. For the most part.) So I sit and try not to move a muscle. This entire debate is happening in my head all within the space of the minute or so that he is performing his stupid fucking Chinese accent bullshit and the slow minutes after.
I hear his anger at being canned from his own show. I empathize, it sounds horrible. But I have to work really hard to hear it through the fog of the grossness that I feel. When the show is thankfully over, I get up and want to leave entirely. Leave the WGC, leave the post-reception, just leave. Instead, I walk slowly and put on my own show, pretending like it never happened. I run into my posse of Asian women and immediately… “What the fuck was up with the fucking accent?” “Trainwreck.” “I know.” In that half-minute, it was a relief to find my sisters and have our mini-hidden purge. We shake it off and do what we are supposed to do: mingle and meet writers and producers and execs. Because we want to work. Apparently, that whole accent thing was a figment of my imagination and was supposed to be ironic because he was Dutch and I, as a woman of Chinese descent, am not highbrow enough to enjoy ironic, self-referencing comedy. Anyone who disagrees is overreacting. And I didn’t hear it right. The sad part is that my first reaction to reading that reaction, was to question myself and wonder if I really did mishear. Did a bunch of us have the bad batch of wine at the pre-cocktails and have the same hallucination?
I am grateful for those senior writers who were there who have backed me and shared their same perception – we did hear what we heard. It did happen and it was wrong. Yes! I’m *not* the crazy angry Asian woman ranting about nothing!
It sure would be nice if the WGC issued a statement saying they don’t condone what Frank did. They can even crib from notes from my wall from people who have said it better than me, to cobble together the statement. Of course I know WGC has no control over what people say when they accept their awards, and that is not the expectation. But taking a stance lets people know that their perspectives also deserve to be counted. Especially as the industry moves towards being more inclusive.