“You’re 5’3, Asian and play basketball?” Instead of allowing those comments discourage her, Theresa feels flattered by people’s surprise at her unpredicted skills. During her first basketball try-out ever, Theresa wore her favorite jeans, a zip-up vest, and light-up sneakers and she thought she looked so cool. Theresa recalls, “I didn’t care about what I was wearing. All I knew was that I loved to play basketball.” After she made the team, her teammate who happened to be the coach’s daughter admitted to Theresa that when she and her dad initially saw her, they immediately expected that she would play poorly. But once she started to dribble, they were undoubtedly impressed and felt forced to retract their assumptions.
“I know it’s a stereotype that Asians like math, but I really did.”
Theresa has played basketball for most of her life and continued to play as she attended an acclaimed boarding school for high school through a scholarship program centered around diversity and athletics. Theresa ultimately decided to attend the school because she believed it would provide greater opportunities for higher education and introduce her to a wide range of career options. Theresa explains, “I know it’s a stereotype that Asians like math, but I really did. And I wanted to pursue a career that incorporated that.”
Throughout high school, Theresa grew very close to an Asian girl named Jess as well as to another (White) classmate. Theresa noticed that whenever her White friend video chatted her other friends from home, she would exclaim, “Say hi my Asian friends!” Eventually, it irritated them that she would not introduce them simply as her friends. “Jess and I often discussed how it bothered us. I didn’t ever confront her but I think Jess may have,” Theresa says.
“Say hi my Asian friends!”
Theresa recently noticed that Hollywood has cast Asian females as the dumb and ditzy characters. She recalls watching Brenda Song as London Tipton in the Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She expresses her discontent by Hollywood’s deliberate decision to create female lead roles for the Hispanic and Black communities but not for Asians. Without the equivalent of shows like Ugly Betty and Scandal, Asian actresses are restricted to play roles that further perpetuate stereotypes that are often used to discriminate Asians in everyday life. Only this August, Netflix released a romantic comedy film called To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before with Korean American actress Lana Candor as its lead. Condor recalls, “I’ve never [previously] gotten something that specifically says they want an Asian-American actress.”
Theresa recognizes that although Asians sometimes face racial discrimination, the frequency and severity is not comparable to that experienced by Black Americans. Theresa’s beliefs align with the group of Asian Americans and Canadians who started Letters for Black Lives. What started as a simple Google document, Letters for Black Lives transformed into a database translated into twenty-three different languages that discusses why Asian communities should care about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although Asians sometimes face racial discrimination, the frequency and severity is not comparable to that experienced by Black Americans.
Similar to the Letter, Theresa acknowledges specific instances when Asians appear particularly disadvantaged, such as when Asian actors are limited in the roles they can play in Hollywood or when Asians are withheld equal opportunity to climb the corporate ladder. In fact, Asian Americans are the least likely group in the United States to be promoted to management, according to a Harvard Business Review. But at the end of the day, Asians are rarely, if at all, targeted by the police or considered dangerous criminals. In just 2016, twenty-five percent of over 500 police-caused death were of African Americans. The Letter challenges the differences between the communities and proclaims, “We are all fighting against the same unfair system that prefers we compete against each other.”
Theresa believes many people are reluctant to outwardly support movements like BLM because they are scared of being wrong or judged. However, she would like to see more passion from fellow Asians to speak up about the discrimination they face and care more about the discrimination they witness. Theresa concludes, “Right now, I can admit that I am not educated enough to take an absolute stance. That’s something I’m working on. People sometimes don’t even realize that they should care because it may not directly affect them but I think, at the least, they should be aware.”