We did it. Together, we all did it. Thank you brothers, sisters, elders. Thank you, communities. “Shadeism: Digging Deeper” will finally be completed this year. Without you, we couldn’t have come this far. Now, with you, this film will finally come to fruition. Endless love and respect. ♥.
The Slanted Screen: Battling Hollywood’s Asian Stereotype(2006)
Originally aired on PBS, Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim, Written, Produced and Directed by Jeff Adachi
Beginning with promise with silent film heartthrob Sessue Hayakawa, the depiction of Asians in western cinema would fall into racist caricature for years till rebounding with the popularity of Bruce Lee in the 1970s then the rise of the independent film movement of the 80s. Featuring interviews with a host of actors including Mako, Jason Scott Lee, James Shigeta, Tzi Ma and others, as well as comedian Bobby Lee, playwright Frank Chin, filmmakers Justin Lin, Terence Chang and many more, Jeff Adachi’s critically acclaimed documentary takes a probing look at a century of “mainstream” cultural misrepresentation … along with many contemporary artists determined to change it.
It’s no secret that I romanticize the fact that I’m Hapa, but lately I’ve realized that it’s probably been more for my own benefit than anything else…
As in love as I am with Hapa culture, my experiences of late have really boiled down to essentially this:
Tell someone I’m Black: “Aw, sweet! Now I can say ‘nigger’ and turn everything into a Black joke because being Black is funny and I’ll just assume I can get away with that because I know you!”
Tell someone I’m Filipino: ”No you’re not,” “Yeah right,” “Well you’re Black so that cancels it out.”
That’s probably why I’ve become more keen on inclusive terms: Hapa, Blasian, etc… I gotta be proud of it myself for myself because I’m a lot less likely to get that recognition from anyone else. It gets old when someone else tries to negate a part of my racial identity for the sake of their convenience.
It gets real old.
If you don’t like topics about race, you should avoid this post. :)
Shannon Kook (Shannon Kook-Chun) is best known as Zane Park on Degrassi, and is in the running for getting the role of Magnus Bane in the upcoming film version of “The Mortal Instruments.” He is also a mixed-race Asian, born to a South African (Coloured) mother, and a Chinese father. I knew him from Degrassi, and when I found out he was half-Asian, and not only that, but what I consider to be Blasian, it was exciting, to me! He is one of my favorite Degrassians of all time, and we had that small thing in common! Of course it would be exciting, to me.
My logic was based on that Coloured South Africans are people who are of mixed descent, usually a mix of Black Africans and European-Africans (Dutch or English), and sometimes other cultures or races that migrated to South Africa. Coloureds are at least somewhat Black, and in America, there isn’t a classification similar to Coloured. If someone is 1/18th Black African, they would likely still be considered Black, in the States. So, essentially, it’s not an incorrect statement.
Of course, I’m not an expert on race, or racial classifications, but I’m also not completely stupid. I do know that in South Africa, Black and Coloured are two different things, and I’ve known that since I was a child. Apartheid actually didn’t end until I was in elementary school or something, and so it was a topic that we talked about in school, and I thought it was interesting that they put “Black people” in two different categories in South Africa. Because, again, in America, if you’re Black AT ALL, you’re considered Black, for the most part. The reason for this is because of the way our classification system worked.
These days, if, for instance, a Black person and a White person had a baby, the baby would be classified as biracial (African-American & White.) But in, for instance, 1920, if a Black person and a White person had a baby, especially if the mother was Black, it would be classified as Black (Negro, Colored, which all meant the same thing.) It didn’t matter that you were ALSO White (or Asian, or Latino, or Native American.) You were now Black, because you had ANY Black blood, whatsoever. Now, let’s say that a woman born to a Black parent and a White parent has a child with a White person. That child would STILL be classified as Black.
The ONLY WAY to escape being classified as Black and have African blood is if you could pass as White, and moved away from your records, and married White and had children that looked White. But in that case, you would simply be White. There was nothing in between Black and White. (Some places would give classifications as Mulatto, or Octoroon, or something like that, but those still didn’t make a person “not-Black”. My state never used those classifications.)
Further, if you were White (especially a woman) and married or had children with a Black person, you could be disowned and reclassified as Black. This actually happened to my great-grandmother. She was a white woman who fell in love and married my great-grandfather, who was a Black (biracial) man. Her family disowned her, and on subsequent census records, she is classified as Black. (She was my mother’s grandmother, and she told this story to my mother and her siblings all the time.)
So, for me, being a Coloured South African was similar to being a Black American. Most Black Americans have some sort of mixed blood, due to our history (a lot to do with slave rape and slave mistresses and so on.) It’s not uncommon, actually, for a Black American to have white, Native, and African blood. It was my understanding that people were classified, in South Africa, based on appearance. I always assumed that in South Africa, I would be a Coloured, because I come from a mixed-race Black family, and I’m biracial. My skin color, hair, and eye-color would make me a Coloured, rather than a Black. This assumption came based on the way I’d seen this type of thing happen, on TV mostly. On The Real World, one season in the 90s, the cast went to South Africa, and I remember the Black cast members crying about how they would have been classified and some of the signs and things that reminded them of our own “White Only, Colored Only” signs. Also, from the story Skin, about the young lady who was born to White parents in South Africa and was reclassified as Coloured based on her appearance.
Anyway, I said all that basically to say this; I’m a Black(Blasian) American. I think I know a lot about my own race, my own people, and who we consider Black, and why we consider them as such. It sort of bothers me, too, that no matter what your race is, if you have Black African blood at all, you’re largely considered Black in America, because it’s a bit problematic, too. It also bothers me that if you’re mixed race and have Black, and you don’t look it, people will tell you that you’re not Black and almost argue you down about it. I’m not saying we’re right, I’m just saying that, in America, that’s how it is.
So, when Shannon Kook gave an interview and said basically that in America it was confusing for him at first because of friends being surprised that he was mixed and that his mom was “black”, and that he had to explain that his mom was mixed or mulatto for them to understand (because if you say “Coloured” in America, you will give the person racist connotations), and people in the comments were saying that he wasn’t “black” and that he was “Coloured” and they’re two different things, it made my head spin. Because Shannon was right. In America, his mother is “black” or at best “mixed.” There is no such thing as Coloured. Well, there is, but it’s just an outdated way to say “Black”, and is largely considered racist, here. (Granted, “mulatto” can be a sensitive term, too, because it translates to “mule”, and most people say biracial or mixed-race these days, but “mulatto” is still an acceptable term.) It literally not two different things.
Firstly, “Coloured” was assigned to people who were the product of Africans and Dutch and English settlers. Basically, mixed people were then called Coloured. In South Africa, unlike America, they had something call Apartheid, which is similar to our Segregation, but a little more extreme, from my perspective. In Apartheid, Blacks were meant to stay with Blacks in Black areas, Coloureds with Coloureds, and Whites with Whites. It makes me wonder how that happened, since the people who are “Coloured” would have at one time just been children of Blacks. When were they forced to separate? It’s hard for me to imagine. In America, should something like that happen (a mixed child be born), they would usually just leave the “Black” child with the “Blacks” to be raised as Black. I don’t even understand how the separation could have happened, but I’m not expert on South Africa’s history. In a way, in American history, culturally mixed kids were separated and elevated among the Blacks, which is part of why there is colorism in the the American Black community these days. But legally, they were still Black.
Shannon’s comments about his mother being called “black” or his American/Canadian friends saying to him “You’re half Black?!” were not incorrect.
In a way, the outrage and offense that anyone could consider Shannon half Black reeks of anti-Blackness. In talking to those people in those YouTube comments, I would explain why it would be perceived that way in America, and the commenters, one who was Coloured South African and actually trolls Shannon’s videos saying how he “isn’t Black”, would yell even louder about how HE’S NOT BLACK OMG, because black people have dark skin and dark eyes. That one guy, in particular, said he has light skin, light eyes, and wavy hair. But so does Terrance Howard, and so does Wentworth Miller, but those are still Black men, in America, no matter how you throw it. I explained that Coloured is a classification and not a race, and he got even angrier. Then I asked what was wrong with being Black. Most of the time, when people argue about the status of someone’s Blackness, especially someone they like, it’s because they have some negative image of Blacks. And most of the people from outside of America who ever talk about Blacks have some weird perception of what a Black person is. Lil Wayne is Black, but Beyonce isn’t. Whoopi Goldberg is black, but not Rihanna. Most non-Americans that meet me assume I’m not Black. And I even think I look more Black than anything. There is some negative image of Black people, and that’s why people run so far from being called Black. “I’m Coloured, don’t you dare call me Black, because those people are bad and wrong, and I’m not like them.”
I don’t understand that. There isn’t anything wrong about being black. Yet, I see that same argument from Coloured South Africans, Afro-Latinos, Cape Verdeans, and other people of the African Diaspora that don’t use the racial classification of “Black”. I understand not wanting to erase your own culture, but it doesn’t erase your culture. Jamaicans are still Black, but they certainly have a different culture from Black Americans, and no one disrespects that. I mentioned Rihanna. She’s from Barbados, and she certainly has a distinct culture from American Blacks, but you have never heard Rihanna say she wasn’t Black, because she is Black. Enjoy the fact that you have your Coloured South African culture, and be proud of it, but also understand that you ARE of Black-African descent, about as much as an American Black (who for the most part haven’t seen Africa in over 400 years, and have had 400 subsequent years of mixing). It seems a little racist when you get offended that anyone would liken Shannon Kook to being Black, even when he’s in Canada, where similarly to the US, Black just means “of African decent.” An American or a Canadian is going to call Coloured “Black.” If you don’t believe that, just move to America. Nobody is going to call you “Coloured”, and if they do, and they don’t already know that about you, you should be worried. Because it’s not “Coloured” it’s “colored”, and that probably also means they’re kinda racist, and probably don’t like you.
Arguing that it’s different isn’t true, either. It’s different IN SOUTH AFRICA, because in South Africa, it’s a different culture, a different classification, a different whatever. But in America, since we’re a pretty uncultured country anyway, Black largely just has to do with whether or not you look like you came from Africans. You can still be a Coloured South African, but you’re also a Black person, in America. I’ll always be a Black person, even though I’m also Korean. I can still be Korean and love Korean culture, but I’m still Black. At BEST, you might be called Latin@, but even some Latin@s are Black, because Latin@ is a culture/ethnicity, not a race. (US Census says Black Latino and White Latino. Ex, Zoe Saldana, Black Latina, Naya Rivera, Black Latina, Jennifer Lopez, White Latina, Sofia Vergara, White Latina.)
Shannon Kook-Chun will never be mistaken as Black. His entire life, he’ll be called Asian. He won’t even be thought of as Coloured, or as mixed or anything, because to American/Canadian eyes, he looks Asian. (In Asia, he’d probably be seen as mixed, because they would be able to tell by looking at him). So, yeah, nobody is saying he’s Black. But he is Blasian. His mother is a mixed Black person. His father is Chinese. That makes him a Blasian. Like, as an example, Tiger Woods’ kids are the product of a mixed-Asian father and a white mother and would still be considered Blasian. It is not incorrect to consider someone who is of a Black culture at all (mixed or otherwise), and is part Asian, a Blasian.
I probably have more Black African blood than he has, but then again, I probably have more Black African blood than Ice-T too, and he considers himself Black. (Side note, in some parts of America, there are people who consider themselves Black but have little to no actual African blood because of the way they intermixed with Natives and Europeans.)
I have no idea how Shannon identifies himself. As far as I’ve seen, he seems to identify as Asian, and as a “person of color”, and of course, I’ve seen him talk about his Coloured heritage, and even his mother being called “Black” or being called “Black” himself. I don’t know how he feels about the whole Black vs Coloured thing as it relates to America/Canada (he lives in Toronto), and as it relates to South Africa, because I’ve only seen one interview where he mentioned it, and in that interview, he didn’t seem TOO bothered by the “Black” label. As far as I know, he could hate the label, but it is my opinion that that particular label is a matter of perspective.
I am not speaking on Shannon’s behalf, and I would welcome his opinion on his own race or racial identity, but as far as I’m concerned, he falls under the “Blasian” category, no more or less than those who are mostly Black but part Asian (like Kimora Simmon’s kids Ming and Aoki Lee), or mostly Asian but part Black (like Yoon MiRae’s son Jordan), or half Black and half Asian.
Sorry for rambling, I know this post is a bunch of rambly thought and not very structured. This topic has just been bugging me, because of the way people were making it sound like an insult to mention that Shannon is any part Black, and so I finally decided to just write about it. Anyway, if you managed to make it through this whole post, what is your opinion on the issue/debate?
*Take this video with a grain of salt, there are some questionable Blasians listed*