IMPACT

Hong Kong Actor Wears 'Brown Face,' Highlights Prejudice Among Asians

This type of stereotyping might be due to a lack of a “pan-Asian” identity.

02/11/2016 1:27 AM IST | Updated 02/11/2016 9:50 PM IST
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A Hong Kong entertainer’s controversial “brown face” video has become a pressing reminder that prejudice among Asian folks is still a problem.

Derek Wong, an actor from Hong Kong, tried to take advantage of the popularity of the viral “pen-pineapple-apple-pen” (PPAP) song by creating his own parody of the tune. But he soon received backlash for doing it in the most racist way possible.

In the video, originally titled, “PPAP Indian Auntie,” Wong paints his face a shade of brown, dances suggestively in a sari and with a bindi on his forehead, and attempts to sing in an Indian accent. He manages to fit many damaging stereotypes about Indian culture into the short clip ― the idea that Indian women are always in the kitchen cooking, for example, and the suggestion that Indian food is unhealthy and bad for your stomach.

This lack of understanding can be traced back to the absence of a “pan-Asian” identity in Asia.

According to the local news website Coconuts Hong Kong, Wong followed this video up with another one featuring him in character as an Indian Auntie.

Wong has since taken down both videos from his YouTube Channel. In an apology he issued on his Facebook page, he writes that he’s “deeply sorry” to have upset and offended the Indian community. 

“My original intention of making these video clips was purely to entertain through portraying different characters without ill intention,” he wrote in the post. “After seeing the responses, I understand that it has failed miserably and I deeply regret my actions...Moving forward, I will definitely be more careful and sensitive when selecting my performance materials.”

Although some of his fans on social media agreed that what Wong did was wrong, many others insisted that the videos were not offensive ― indicating that there’s much work to be done in order to stamp out discrimination that happens within Asian communities.  

Frank H. Wu, a law professor at University of California, Hastings, who has blogged about Asian-American issues for The Huffington Post, said that this lack of understanding can be traced back to the absence of a “pan-Asian” identity in Asia.

Many might not think of themselves as “Asians,” but rather Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Koreans and other respective ethnicities, Wu told HuffPost. 

Asian cultures, like European cultures, tend to believe the myth that their populations are “racially homogenous,” he further explained. He also pointed out that individuals in Asian countries might see cross-ethnic racism as acceptable since they are accustomed to being in the majority within their countries and having all the privileges associated with that position.

In other words, since many Asians might not have been recipients of prejudice themselves, they don’t understand how mocking another group could be wrong. 

“They don’t really have the experience of being in the minority,” Wu told The Huffington Post. “They tend, as whites in America do, to assume that if you’re equal, then disparagement also is equal. You can do it to me; I can do it to you, so what’s the problem?”

Wu also pointed to the fact that since not everyone enjoys the same level of privilege, the idea of equality is a “false premise.”

“And even if we were [all equal], it still isn’t right.”

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