Why we represent

When I was growing up, my parents were very mindful to teach us proper deportment and behavior. We always knew that we were held to a higher standard than that of our white peers. My parents reminded us that if there was trouble, we would be the first to be suspected or suffer. Our dress or demeanor would weigh more heavily upon us than upon white families. And we were urged to work not twice as hard, but ten times as hard. My parents never said ten times harder than whom. We just knew.

We knew that individual actions might have ramifications for our whole community, even at a very young age.

It strikes me as amazing that I understood this as a very young child. And that I understood that it may not be right, but that’s the way it was and that we had to deal with it. It enrages me when white people talk about whining minorities, because we had to swallow and bear things that nobody should ever have to swallow. The measure of our inequality is that we are not seen as individuals. The measure of our inequality was that if we raised our voices, nobody would listen.

My parents were not at all happy when I became involved with the activist community. Not because they thought the work was unimportant or because they thought we should just be quiet and good. They were upset because they had very real (realized) fears for what might happen to me. And I understand that they did not want me to represent, because they did not want me to be killed.

And I understood that they were not fearful for themselves, but for me. I understood this on a much deeper level when somebody who had been harassing me used old records to find one of my relatives.

The issue of whether or not to represent is especially difficult for people of color who depend on the goodwill of white people. Unfortunately that means most of us, in greater or lesser degrees. People of color in the spotlight are put in the position of being forced to choose.

Recently, reappropriate posted this video of Margaret Cho doing a comedy schtick about Rosie O’Donnell’s chingchongery. Cho complains that whenever an “Asian situation” happens, other Asian Americans say, “Margaret! Do something!” But why would anybody expect Cho to do anything? She’s making her living tapping into the white majority sentiment. Basically she’s giving the audience license to laugh at Asian America. You can hear the audience laugh as she replicates O’Donnell’s mockery. And Cho has made it clear: I’m not like one of those other whining Asian Americans. I have a sense of humor!

I don’t know what it is like to be an Asian American woman in show business. But I would imagine Margaret Cho does. And if she has experienced even a tenth of what I might imagine, I wonder why she wouldn’t understand why she’s expected to represent.

Maybe it’s all about self-preservation. Because her humor puts a wall up around her and surrounds her with allies, while tearing the rest of us down.

I could respect Cho if, like my parents, she just wanted to stay out of the focus of racist hate. I cannot respect her because she turned the focus from herself to the community.

7 thoughts on “Why we represent

  1. How about Dat Phan? He is not any better than Margaret Cho. What’s so funny about nail salon? Get a life!

  2. Apparently Margaret Cho thought it was wrong for Gwen Stefani to keep silent Harajuku girls as traveling accessories, but doesn’t see anything wrong with Rosie O’Donnell’s chingchongmockery? Guess Cho’s “community” extends to fellow comediennes, not Asian Americans.

  3. What bothers me the most is that we have so few voices in the media that any individual who makes any mainstream entrance has to choose to side with or against the oppressively correct. That is, all of us collectively have to be perfect in order to cut it, whereas white folks get to be individuals. Few people would imagine Rush Limbaugh represents all white people, but many see Lucy Liu as the definitive of asian america… :/

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  5. Thanks for this. I have to say I lost a LOT of respect for Margaret Cho after watching that video. It’s sad really because in the past she spoke with so much truth. She really spoke to me as a queer identified Asian American male. This was just a slap in the face. Thank you for articulating what I could not express.

  6. The wall thing…exactly!

    She reminds me alot of Chris Rock and Gustavo Arellano (the Ask a Mexican columnist.)

    How hard is to make mainstream America laugh at things they already “know” to be “true.” Such b.s. Anything for a dollar…And she lives in LA, she should know better. I used to very much like her, to me a woman of color making it is a woman of color making it. Doesn’t matter if they are exactly my biological make up or not. I view all women of color as my sisters (and even white women if they get it–ok i view everyone is family, but you know what i’m saying), but to watch her just become what she has become…Hollwyood is hard though, Hollywood is just not a the business to go into if you want to help people reach a higher level of consciousness. It caters to the lowest common denominator of people…I totally get why Dave Chappelle just walked out on 50 million dollars…

    I don’t watch TV anymore and these are just a few of the many reasons why.


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