Get Out won so many accolades for multiple reasons: the subtlety of writing, the fantastic casting, and not to mention the many references to brutal realities in divided America today. Director Jordan Peele has been a paragon of success and voice of POC through his several accomplishments. These truths I acknowledge.
However, can we talk about the “yellow” elephant in the room? I have very few complaints with Get Out. I love so many aspects of the symbolism, imagery, and figurative wordplay interlaced into Peele’s dry wit. If you missed his rather brief and disturbing cameo, here he is: Yasuhiko Oyama played by Hiroki Tanaka. He’s played with an incredibly thick, stereotypically Asian accent. Of all the finesse afforded black and white bodies, Oyama gives little in the form of Asian-descent diversity in the film. As a Chinese-American, I must admit to rolling my eyes upon witnessing his character on screen. According to Bustle and YOYOMF, I wasn’t the only one. Let’s delve into this, shall we? I am an English lit teacher, after all. Media is… fascinating. Warning: spoilers for the movie Get Out ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oyama as a character follows the stereotype that Asians are both the perpetual foreigner and the model minority: not only will we never be American, but we will always be seen as the Asian sidekick to white privilege. As someone who has delved into privilege and lived through a hell-hole of systematic racism towards my Asian body for over a quarter of a century, I find this incredibly offensive. He simply goes along with everything his elderly white cohort assumes. In fact, he bids on the black bodies as much as the white antagonists. He is an…enemy of the state of affairs. It’s disturbing. I’m not saying some APIAs and native East Asians don’t fit this stereotype, but Mr. Peele only affords this one, specific character — just like the masses of other movies suited to center tastes of a certain “Americanism.” American culture is fluid and salient, but apparently not enough for a yellow body.
On this matter, Get Out confuses me. Now, make no mistake: the production and execution of this movie indicates expansive progress on crucial conversations in race. And yet…it is still a predominantly black and white exchange. Given the history and the present political climate, I understand. Yet, as an Asian-American woman who grew up in the South, I do feel excluded from this narrative. I wonder if, in this scenario, Peele failed a bit to give APIA’s a voice. Did he meant to say we are all just foreign, wanna-be white people out to equally outcast black bodies? To “fit the mold?” Because, if so, that’s not just offensive…that’s discrimination.
The history of minority “in-fighting,” especially between APIAs, Latinx, and African-Americans, is a very real one. Think about the scene in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing with the Korean storefront owner. There’s tension that hasn’t really dissipated. In all honesty, older generations (and even younger ones) assume nasty, terrible ideologies about fellow groups undergoing effects of profound oppression in the same country. Is it the same? No. Absolutely not. We all have distinct stories, voices, and counter-narratives. Is it similar? I believe so. However, the divide and the chasm is gaping. I can not tell you the number of crucial yet painful conversations I’ve had with my PoC students. I can not tell you the number of times I’ve been asked highly inappropriate and offensive things, like “Do you eat cats?” “Do you eat dogs?” “But where are you really from? Like, your parents?” “Do you like eating at Panda Express?” *Cue racist, nonsensical Asian “wannabe” language sounds.* *Cue pulling at eyelids in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade over multiple years.* As a third culture teacher, especially one working with students of color not your own, you learn to draw connections. I’ve used humor, especially sarcasm, to defuse situations. I’ve asked students if anyone has asked them similar questions. “How would you feel if…?” is always a helpful question stem.
But…to a certain extent, students are innocent. Ignorant, but innocent. There are no bad kids. They are oftentimes echoing trends and themes within American media, culture, billboards, and ugly comments from neighbors, friends,…and even family. Ugly stereotypes in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yellowface in that movie, and did I mention recently, in How I Met Your Mother? That was only a few years ago. Erasure in every year since we first made an appearance in this “new world” with old world sentiments. It is the sad truth that one of my former student’s grandmother jokingly asked me in Spanish if I was just going to teach all the students Chinese in English class. Ha ha. (These are the types of conversations I have had at parent teacher conferences.) Or how about the time, I’m sorry, the many times I’ve been mistaken for the math teacher? The ESL teacher? No sir, no ma’am, I’m the English literature teacher in the flesh. Public and private school educated, and no, my family is not from Taiwan but I have taught there. Yes, English. Not Chinese. Did I mention that I had to field these questions not only in America, but in Taiwan? I had to defend my place as a TOEFL teacher because of my color…to people of my own color. Racism is terrifying because you, as a person of color, can become a token. Not just a token, but a token who assumes the same racial remarks and tendencies of oppressors. Of colonizers.
I’ve been called everything for asserting my beliefs and emotions. “Grow up, girl.” “Bitch.” “Chink.” “Mean.” “Angry.” “Angry minority.” “Angry minority woman.” “Angry Asian girl.” “Overreacting.” “Not open-minded.” “Too open-minded.” I recently had this fantastic conversation with one class surrounding this one student’s specific question, “I mean, why aren’t we just equal like we were before?” “Pause. What do you mean by that?” I asked, “First off, what do you mean by ‘we?’ And what was equality defined by?” Then, I got on my soapbox.
“Did you know that people like me were banned from the U.S. several times in history? Chinese Exclusion Act. Did you know many Chinese miners were lynched by white miners who thought they were demons and ate rats? Did you know that the derogatory word ‘chink’ was from the sound of Chinese laborers worked to the bone to build the Transatlantic Railroad?” (Did you know my history teacher in 8th grade, Mr. Betts, played a clip which used derogatory language towards APIAs?) “We need to be careful when we think about the word equality.”
“I’m sorry, miss.”
“I’m glad you brought it up, but carefully think about what assumptions are and where they come from. Remember when we talked about stereotypes before?”
Granted, it’s exhausting. The student was feeling left out because I work in a predominantly Latinx school, and she was one of the only white students. We then talked about power and structures of power. What does it look like when a group has it, and what does it feel like without? These are 5th graders, mind you, doing a TON of heavylifting thinking. And meanwhile, the education world is still obsessed with standardized testing, but that’s a whole other Pandora’s box.
I deactivated Facebook and re-activated it only recently. The Facebook community team had deleted my review for a dance instructor who performed in black face. Yes, you read that correctly. She performed in blackface, many people of color called her out, she complained to Facebook, and that platform kicked us out. Talk about “safe white spaces only.” In that moment…I just could not fight anymore. As my partner likes to say, “You don’t just try to feed the trolls. You try to talk to them.” I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. But now…I’m back in the fight.
My good friend recently told me, quite eloquently, that social media is a tool — used for good or ill by human minds. So much deception and evilness is lurking, but yet the good is so very possible. Here is my modest attempt to help the world be a little less wrong today.