British Chinese/East Asian actors: Don’t take on jobs that reinforce anti-China sentiment

By Vera Chok – Actor, Writer and Performance Maker 

British Chinese/East Asian actors: please, if you can afford it financially, don’t take on jobs where you’re asked to reinforce anti-China sentiment.

Anything like “the Chinese” are cold/ruthless/out to get our jobs/excessively rude/sneaky. Obviously, if the production is nuanced, sure, but often as actors we are asked to embody fear and hatred of the yellow body. It’s not very fun for anyone to take this on. On stage, this is a nightly, public, ritual positioning as “target”.

We can’t take our skins off after the show.

Remember “yellow peril”? Japanese internment camps in US? Chinese being banned from entering America, stopped from taking on jobs, forced to live in ghettos? Remember what people do when fear drives them to the “simpler solutions”.

Asians in America, in LIBERAL states, are being beaten up because of anti-China rhetoric from DT. Yellow people across the U.K. e.g. in those lone takeaways and restaurant, are sitting ducks for continued, violent aggressions to property and body. People do live in fear.

Also, how about this irony: if yellow bodies (I use “yellow” because anyone Chinese-looking is affected by stereotypes associated with China) are seen as powerful/evil/strong/manipulative, guess what that allies us with? The Establishment – white and western, capitalist society. Remember how people love and trust capitalists and the Establishment? Psst. Capitalism in China is a bit of a newish trend. Millions of Chinese people live in poverty and oversees Chinese include a whole bunch of working class folk.

Psst! If we are seen to be closer to lighter-skinned Establishment people in power, then the racism we face isn’t taken seriously. I mean, if you’re yellow do you naturally ally yourself with people of colour? We’re not white, folks. But I find myself questioning my “person of colour credentials” because I DO NOT want to play the shadeism game. I DO NOT want to justify why I deserve to be included in discussions about discrimination. 3rd largest minority group in the U.K. and we don’t get a mention in “BAME”. “Minority ethnics”? As though we’re sugar content in a Ribena Light – “trace”.

Being seen as powerful Chinese, things like The Print Room debacle – where “Chineseness” is worn and used to make a point – aren’t seen as serious racism. We’re fair game for attack. We’re going to take over the world. We have a rich cultural history. It’s ok to bully bullies. Psst! Most people have a rich cultural history. Egyptians, South Americans, etc. Is it because Chinese people are “cold” and “inscrutable” and thus not jolly or recognisably human, that it doesn’t matter if we are kicked about? We’re strong “enough” to take being made fun of and held up as targets? Speaking of which, using yellow bodies as the butt of jokes works the same way. We can take being abuse because we are stronger than other people of colour. Um. No.

We cannot take our skins off. But I think we can show that we are more than what their minds contain.

Us/Them, Us/Them, Us/Them. All of us are born into our skins by chance. It’s really hard, but we are (yellow, brown, black, white, all the colours and colours in between) just human. And there are massive, historical biases, and humongous concepts almost set in stone due to social conditioning. Let’s chip away. Let’s stop killing each other. Fear makes our lives so much smaller. And life really is short.

Vera Chok is an actor, writer and performance maker and her piece, Yellow, can be found in the award-winning collection, The Good Immigrant. www.verachok.org

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