The Facebook group “SUBTLE ASIAN TRAITS” has really taken Asian social media by storm. It has amassed over 816,000 members since it was created on September 17 of this year. Yups just over 3 months it has amassed less than 200,000 shy of a million members. I recently joined the group to just observe what it is about and whether it is a useful group for Asian unity, and I am kind of torn on that decision. Firstly, I think its not necessarily a bad group of anything, because all the posts shared are relatively lighthearted many resonating with being Asian and reminiscent of much of our experiences growing up as a Western Asian. There are a few decent jokey posts, some polls about Asian actors we revere and some self absorbed people taking selfies of themselves and posting it to show off.
But it does lack in terms of its diversity. Being called “Subtle Asian Traits”, it really doesn’t live up to its name as it is pretty much all East Asian experiences. You hardly see any SE Asian posts ( the odd 1 – 2 pop up here and there) and there is no South Asian posts. There is some inherent racism in there with some East Asian background members making fun of South Asian traits and/or making racist jokes on darker skinned Asians. There is also a feel of misogyny in there with a few posts I have scrolled past body shaming Asian women bodies and some insinuated homophobic comments. It is by all means NOT a perfect group and its negatives in many ways outweighs the positives.
There are also a number of posts which seem be proud to use racial slurs like “CHINKS” as being okay and acceptable, and it shows the deep roots of internalized racism still exist there. In saying all that, I do appreciate that the group is there because I do see posts which I can relate to, and some which I will laugh at when I scroll through. There are also articles I will save for reading later. But the negative aspects still ring strong in my mind. The group is also not an advocacy group whatsoever, as I have seen hardly any advocacy type posts on Asian empowerment. Pity really, considering the sheer size and audience of the group.
Although Subtle Asian Traits has given me a sense of belonging by normalising my differences, I recognise that the content – which often makes use of pinyin Chinese – isn’t relatable to everyone. The group has a tendency to focus on the East Asian experience, to the exclusion of South East Asians and South Asians.
Comedian Ali Wong touches on this dynamic when she uses the terms “fancy Asian” (being East Asians) and “jungle Asian” (being South East Asians and South Asians) in her stand-up show Baby Cobra. “The fancy Asians are the Chinese, the Japanese. They get to do fancy things like host Olympics. Jungle Asians host diseases.” The descriptor “jungle Asian” implies that those who don’t fit into the “fancy Asian” category are inferior, and more likely to face colourism.
And the interactions in the Subtle Asian Traits group highlights this problematic concept.
”Being told you’re not Asian because you’re the brown type of Asian”, one post said.
Another member also expresses her anger at this erasure: “When you’re Chinese and don’t realise that other non-East Asians exist and are lowkey or maybe highkey racist to slightly darker Asians than u lollllll.
Edit: to be clear, I think it’s f—ed.”
Though Subtle Asian Traits has built a community for people to connect with others who share the same lived experience, it’s important to acknowledge it can also reinforce a hierarchy based on skin colour, reflecting the colourism that’s endemic in the Asian community.
The group was started by a number of Gen Z Asian Australians who all apparently met at Chinese school, and I guess it was for them to create a community with common and shared interests and experiences. That I definitely get. What I do not like is the issues of exclusion of other Asians, asides from East Asian and the problematic colorism slurs as well as some internalized racism slurs I have seen used in posts and comments in the group.
I do find it interesting to stay on as a member of the group and just observe the going ons and maybe share a few of my articles here and there in the group. But maybe the more correct name for the group should be “SUBTLE EAST ASIAN TRAITS”?
Image via SBS News
To read the original SBS article, please click on: We need to talk about ‘Subtle Asian Traits’