NPR did a great programme asking for stories from biracial people who feel they don’t belong to the ethnic minorities they are in. As a Brit with a mother from Hong Kong and a father from Beirut but who never learned Cantonese or Arabic, it was relieving to hear from others who felt similarly disconnected from their ancestors’ cultures, but also disheartening to know what I felt was real.
I’ll have to admit, it’s my own fault for not taking Chinese lessons seriously as a child. It was hard to, given we could all just speak English anyway, as broken as my maternal grandparents’ grasp was. Likewise, I could just speak English with my Lebanese family: Arabic, or French, was a secret language for conversations I wasn’t supposed to hear. Asperger’s syndrome compounded my lack of interest in learning a second language.
Lately, as a film and comic book geek, I’ve found my interests clashing with my ethnicity: namely the Iron Fist controversy. As someone who feels Marvel Studios and Marvel TV have rarely put a foot wrong, I felt isolated in supporting the casting of Finn Jones as Danny Rand, as opposed to an Asian-American actor.
The show itself proved to be one of those rare times Marvel made a mistake, but in the meantime the controversy — coupled with the anger at Doctor Strange for genderbending the Ancient One with English actress Tilda Swinton — left me feeling like a self-loathing Asian. Why was I not bothered? Did I have Stockholm syndrome? Did I have a right to speak on issues of Asian representation if I didn’t speak the languages?
Similarly, the criticism of the emphasis on white love interests in South Asian-American projects like The Big Sick, Master of None and Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special Homecoming King left me embarassed. To be completely candid, I realised none of the girls I had strong feelings for growing up had dark skin. Maybe that unconscious bias is understandable given I’m a pale British man — with pasty Scottish ancestry no less — who has sometimes been told he passes for white. I guess it’s about as strange as Jordan Peele directing Get Out when he’s married to Chelsea Peretti.
I suppose all that reinforces the need for more diverse films and television series. If there were more projects with Asian leads, there wouldn’t have been so much desire and subsequent resentment over an Asian-American Iron Fist, and likewise it wouldn’t feel like producers were disproportionately biased towards romantic comedies about interracial relationships. This is just one of the subtler ways a lack of diversity can affect someone psychologically, and it just so happens to be my story.