Sunday, 23 February 2014

British Chinese Should Look To Asian American Stars For Inspiration & As Role Models

I understand people have pinpointed towards the negative depictions of Chinese in the British media - a fact that hasn't been addressed for the past 3 decades or so-, but the real issue lies with the lack of British born Chinese visibility.

The low integration levels and the reluctance of the British Chinese people to do things, has partly attributed to this problem.

Chinese Brits do not discuss about the lack of positive representations in the media. But that in itself then becomes a problem, as it implies that many of them are happy to sit back and see that Black British, White British and Indian, Pakistani British characters and celebrities and sportspeople exist, and not those of Chinese, Japanese, Korean ethnicity alongside too.

Another problem is that many do not vote in the elections. We are perceived as the 'silent majority', or be it minority but yet feel content. They are silent not because of fear or discouragement but because there are less opportunities and less doors open for British Chinese to walk through and to dispel stereotypes. People vote expecting change - yet when the chosen government does get elected, we see more broken promises, more often than not in the UK. Therefore, I can and do understand why some people do not vote, because of those reasons.

On the other hand, this predicament with Chinese Britons however, is a complete contrast to the United States of America, where Americans of East Asian descent are progressing forwards in areas such as arts and entertainment. Of course Asians trail behind the Caucasians, Blacks and the increasing Latino communities, but it has the odd 5, 6 Chinese personalities on there. In fact, they have a lot of them. In the UK, we have Gok Wan and Ching He Huang. Although Ching was born in China and moved to London when she was a young child.

This isn't the case with Asian- Americans, in particular Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean descent on TV, in movies, as performers, newscasters, fashion designers, presenters.

The Chinese, particularly the Chinese Brits, can knock America as much as they want, but it is the land of opportunity and freedom. A country that has no bounds. It is a country which has produced more media representations of Asians outside of Asia than any other. And more representations than the UK. They have more opportunities for people of colour, and are more open to having Asian presenters, actors on screen.

So in answer as to how come there are more American- based East Asians in arts and entertainment compared to British based east Asians? That is my answer.

When people mention the American Dream, it is a dream that people regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality can aspire to by working hard. The Chinese are perceived to be hardworking and determined in education and in professions such as law, medicine, business. But if it is anything related to arts, entertainment and media, it is assumed it is a bad thing altogether and is so un - Asian like. This type of thinking has to be rid of - if British Chinese, as well as Koreans, Japanese stand any chance of success in these fields, as well as gaining further screen recognition.

I think it has got to a stage where people like myself, British Chinese seeked positive representations and role-models of my own ethnicity across the pond.

Is there such a thing as British Chinese Identity? For me, yes. Should we always turn to British Shows, films, the pop music world to validate this argument? No, because a) there aren't many representations to speak of in Britain and b) why not look to Asian American stars?

Having celebrities who are positive role-models who look like you, racially, is important because it instills confidence, motivation in yourself and enables you to fulfil and pursue your ambitions. That, or it gives you hope for the future. Seeing them on TV is a way of validating their existence and showing that we too can succeed in that area. It helps greatly if the celebrity you look up to, specialises in the same field that you are in or are interested in undertaking.  If what they do reflects what you want to do in the future, then you're most likely to pursue the career path you have chosen.

The Americans have Lucy Liu, Vera Wang, Jeremy Lin, Connie Chung, Julie Chen, B.D Wong, Kelly Hu, Ming-Na Wen, whereas the British doesn't have as many British Chinese celebrity & sporting personalities. Recent academic work on British Chinese studies call into question an overlooked and less populated Ethnic group in British society, who feel invisible and ignored by mainstream Britain.

The absence of support figures in the media industry could (& understandably) illustrate their reluctance to actively pursue careers in television, film and music, for example.

In comparison to Asian- Americans, media coverage of British Chinese has been limited. The US goes to lengths to ensure diversity in arts, media, entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes, and colours.

But like Chinese Americans, Australians and Canadians, one of the distinguishing factors cited for British people, is the ability to speak English fluently & to communicate clearly and with clarity. If one speaks English well, you don't get treated differently.

If you spoke to me on the phone and had no inclination or hint to my physical appearance as an British Chinese Asian person, and I didn't mention my Chinese name, you'd assume that I was a White person.

Despite how far removed we are from our immigrant roots, or how different we are compared to native Chinese, born in China or Hong Kong, the British Chinese identity crisis is further deepened and contested by those who might be torn between being Chinese and proud of one's roots, and those who feel less Chinese, and more western. Not just for the sake of fitting in with the rest of society, but we need to acknowledge that having 2 identities - one racial, the other nationality- wise is a positive thing.

When I was growing up in London, UK in the early 1980s, there was no one on TV that looked like me and was born in the UK. Probably the first real Chinese diaspora celebrity I saw on TV that made me go 'yes, I can relate to her to an extent', was Lucy Liu when she played Ling in dramedy, Ally McBeal. Like myself, we share the same surname, and we were born in big cities - I was raised in West London, Lucy was born in Queens, New York.

Today, the most well known British- born Chinese celebrity to date, is Gok Wan. He is the presenter of shows such as 'How To Look Good Naked'. Gok is a pretty interesting character, as he is from two cultural groups in society - Chinese and the LBGT community. Groups that are not considered as the 'norm' in society. He is of East Asian origin born in Leicester.

In the United States of America, Asians aren't always confined to supporting or background characters. They are also newscasters and reporters, TV presenters, fashion designers, dancers, musicians, as characters in sitcoms and dramas. A wide range of roles within the arts, media, entertainment, sport. The difference between the US and UK with regards to Asians on screen, is the term 'Asian' and how it is defined. Asian in the UK is inclusive of India, Pakistan and people of South Asian origin; in America, the term is inclusive of people of south east Asia, east Asia. Such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Philipines and Malaysia. There are more Indians, pakistanis to name than Chinese, Japanese, Koreans in Britain & vice - versa.

Despite hailing from the transatlantic, in spite of speaking English in a different accent, us Chinese Britons do share a lot in common with Asian Americans, Canadians, Australians.

Having people who look like me, but do not reinforce stereotypes means I can identify with them a lot. But more importantly, they illustrate the types of experiences and ideas that best exemplify the contributions and positive output made by the Asian community, or be it from people of Asian descent towards the rest of society.

When people mention or think of Chinese people on TV, they tend to refer to native Chinese. But rarely include people of Chinese descent.

Assuming all Chinese people are from China is similar to thinking that all Black people are from Africa. & that isn't true. Because if that is the case, terms such as Black Carribean, Black British and African- American would not have been invented.

As dissapointing as it is for me not to see as many British Chinese people in the media, that doesn't mean the situation is completely dire. It's better to have good representations of Asians, than practically none or very, very little of them.

Even if means searching for examples abroad.



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