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Asian American Representation: YouTube is Only the Beginning




Source: Thomas Wolf

In American mainstream media, the push for racial representation has been steadily gaining traction with the push for racial equality as seen through movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the success of movies that champion non-white actors and actresses—”Black Panther” and “Ocean’s 8,” to name a few.

Finally joining the ranks of blockbuster entertainment are Asian Americans, with the highly anticipated drama comedy starring a fully Asian cast, “Crazy Rich Asians,” slated for an August release. However, predating the visibility that “Crazy Rich Asians” promises, Asian American representation was and still is largely only found on YouTube.

Over the past decade, YouTube has seen immense development, with the monolithic platform now viewed as a source for a viable career for creatives.

YouTube still champions the individual creative freedom that it always has, a characteristic that encouraged people from differing spheres, such as comedy, beauty, and music, to begin uploading videos.


Source: KoreAm

A notable aspect of YouTube, especially in its early stages, is that a YouTube influencer does not have an industry standard to appease, meaning that the typical traits we observe in celebrities are not prerequisites for a YouTube personality, including traditional barriers like race. Instead, the relationship between creator and viewer is at the forefront.

As early as 2006, Asian Americans were able to break through and gain a remarkable following through their YouTube channels. For example, Wong Fu Productions, founded by Asian Americans in 2006, continuously features Asian American actors and actresses to tell stories about family, love, and the daily struggles of being Asian American. In 2015, Wong Fu released their first feature length film, “Everything Before Us,” and just this month, they launched “Yappie,” a series specifically about the Asian American experience.

Just as how Wong Fu revolutionized Asian American representation in film and television through YouTube, many other Asian Americans have utilized this platform over the years to transform standards within their respective fields. Ryan Higa, better known as Nigahiga, has over 21 million subscribers to his channel– an amalgam of running jokes, sketch comedy, and parody videos.

Alternatively, within fashion and beauty, Jenn Im empowers her viewers to discover their style through her own eclectic style while also sharing about her travels, her favorite books, and even her insecurities. Last year, Im launched Eggie, her own clothing brand, and fulfilled a personal dream.

Through YouTube, Asian Americans can find role models like Higa and Im who share the same heritage, traditions, and struggles. Jonathan Wang, a first generation Chinese American, grew up in New Jersey watching various Asian American YouTubers throughout his teens.

“I went to a predominantly white high school, and while there were international Chinese students, it was difficult to connect with either group on a deep level because of our cultural differences. Watching those Asian Americans on YouTube gave me that sense of belonging and community I craved so badly,” he shared.

One of Wang’s passions is music, which he actively pursues as the musical director of an acapella group at New York University. He refers to Asian American musicians Kina Grannis and David Choi, who he discovered through their YouTube channels, as his inspiration to begin singing.

“Seeing [them], who were like me, online singing for millions of people was truly inspiring and made me proud to be Asian American,” he said.

Representation is crucial in validating personal narratives, especially for those belonging to a racial minority. Yet just as important as it is to discover the people whose stories resonate with your own experience, it is also extremely valuable for others to witness the multitude of narratives that exist around them.

Wang mentions his desire for broader and more prominent representation:

“YouTube is great because it’s been our haven and a niche environment for a long time, but it would be incredible to see more people step up into the limelight.”

The Asian American community aspires not to be a racial enclave, but a visible identity within America, starting with representation in entertainment and mainstream media.

By: Janice Lee

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Black Lives Matter: A Jewish Perspective

Emily Bedolis



Star of David laid on top of an open Torah

In Judaism, there is a central obligation to what we call Tzedakah. Signifying justice and righteousness, Tzedakah is typically understood as acts of goodwill and generosity.

Though reason enough on its own to explain why the Jewish community should and does support the Black Lives Matter movement, the basic principle of Tzedakah is just a small part of our motivation.

Our community’s allegiance to the movement is also strengthened by the realization that Jewish people have experienced enough oppression throughout our history to understand and empathize with the struggles the Black community has been facing for just as long.

As Elena Robustelli says in an Instagram post from July 9th, “in America, anti-Black racism and antisemitism are inextricably linked.” In this post, Robustelli explains how Hitler and the Third Reich were inspired by Jim Crow, and how the American eugenics movement focused on ideals of “racial purity.”

A huge reason why Jews support Black Lives Matter is that our fights are so similar. The difference is that anti-Black racism is rampant and devastating right now in a way antisemitism isn’t.

Many members of the Jewish community recognize that, and we support Black Lives Matter because we know that, though we live relatively comfortably right now, we are always vulnerable to possible attacks of antisemitism

Then came the DeSean Jackson scandal, and suddenly antisemitism became alive and well again in mainstream media. The support the Jewish community received in response to DeSean Jackson’s antisemitism from the Black community, as well as the other activism groups participating in the Black Lives Matter movement, was not only uplifting but essential to the fight for social justice.

It demonstrated how connected our communities are and how important it is that we support each other.

As Zach Banner of the Pittsburgh Steelers said in a Facebook post, “We need to understand that Jewish people deal with hate and similar hardships and hard times. I want to preach to the Black and Brown community that we need to uplift the Jewish community and put our arms around them just as much as when we talk about Black Lives Matter and elevating ourselves. We can’t do that while stepping on the backs of other people to elevate ourselves.”

Sentiments like these prove that true activism is not about sticking only to the issues that affect you personally, but rather confronting all forms of oppression and discrimination. In order to make real change and unite as a people, we have to fight for each other.

As it says in the Jewish text Pirkei Avot 1:14, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that race and religion are very different. No matter how much Jews think we can relate, the truth is that religion usually isn’t anywhere near as visible as race is. Most Jews have not been profiled or attacked or mistreated in an antisemitic way as an immediate reaction to our appearance.

It is true that some of us are more “visibly Jewish” than others, but even that cannot be compared to the daily discrimination members of the Black community are confronted within this country.

“The major difference between the two forms of hate is that in America, anti-Black racism is deeply systemic, whereas antisemitism is not. Also, Jews are not easily classified into one race, but are rather an ethno-religion,” said Robustelli.

As a White Jew, I recognize that I am amongst the majority of Jews in America and that I have a type of privilege here that many other Jews do not. It is White Jews’ responsibility to acknowledge our race’s history of persecution in America and include it as a reason to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In addition, we should be motivated by the fact that the movement is shared by our many Jewish brothers and sisters who are Black. The race and religious identities overlap, so the advocacy and support should too.

As Yavilah McCoy said, “The voices and experiences of Jews of Color must be brought to the center of our movement if we are ever to get a glimpse of the power, relevance, and significance of what it has meant to embrace and understand Jewish identity on American soil.”

Even if antisemitism hadn’t come back into the spotlight and the Jewish community hadn’t seen firsthand how supportive the Black community is to our cause, the Jewish community would have still wholeheartedly supported Black Lives Matter.

As Jews, we have the commandment of Tikkun Olam, which means “repair of the world,” and the commandment of Pikuach Nefesh, which means “save lives.” Supporting Black Lives Matter and being actively anti-racist is a commandment for us.

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My Catch 22: To Wax or Not to Wax?

Aanandi Murlidharan



A girl with brown hair, brown eyes, dark tank top and pink lipstick, thoughtful.

I am a hypocrite. I call myself a feminist by saying that women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. I say that women should not have to conform to the beauty standards of society. They should be free to wear what they want to, when they want to, and how they want to. Yet, the sight of body hair on a woman makes me gag. For nine years, I have been bleaching my mustache, plucking my eyebrows, shaving my underarms, and waxing my legs and arms. 

If there is so much as a patch of hair on my body, I will wear full pants even in the hot, humid summers of New Jersey. If I get waxed, I feel obligated to wear skirts, dresses, short sleeves, and shorts to show off my smooth skin. On the day that my armpits are shaved, I will raise my hand tall and high. On the day that tiny hairs begin to crow from my underarms, I will make sure to either wear full sleeves or not raise my hand at all. Each time, I tear up as the hot wax touches my skin or the bleach burns my face, it’s an example of my Catch-22. 

If I wax, I feel guilty about succumbing to the internalized misogyny that created these beauty standards. If I don’t wax, I feel unclean and self-conscious of my body hair. Either way I am in a state of discomfort.

But why do I take it? Why have I been trying to be completely hairless for the past nine years? Why do I bear the horrific pain of getting my hair ripped out from my hair follicle? Why do I bear the burden of my Catch-22? To be quite honest, I don’t know. Perhaps, it is because I am a South Asian woman. South Asian women are a group of people who are naturally hairy, but have conditioned generations of South Asian women to get rid of all the hair on their body. During my trips to India, I am shocked by the sheer number of hair removal products. There are ten different kinds of bleach, five different types of wax, and three different types of laser hair removal treatments. Each product claims to remove hair in the most efficient way possible. Waxing and threading services are a staple in a beauty parlor and are as prevalent as gas stations in Route 1. 

Growing up, I was surrounded by South Asian women who were obsessed with body hair removal. I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, a town that is known as “brown town.” Even comedian, Hassan Minhaj said that “they [Cal Tech] basically dump Fremont, California and Edison, New Jersey into one school and said go hang out with your cousins.” My friends and I would exchange numbers of the best waxers in town or lend each other epilators on the days where the salons were closed. We cried over being teased for our “fuzzy” bodies and wispy mustaches. Even in the United States, the best waxing and threading parlors are run by South Asian women. However, the main reason I feel this way might be because for a large amount of my life I have been okay with the idea of conforming to standards placed on me.

My conformity exists not only with the beauty standards enforced on me, but also with my relationship with my parents.

In my first-year college writing seminar, my professor gave us an example of one of his students, who wrote a heartwarming essay about how parents shaped him into the person he is today. While reading his essay, my professor came across the word “infulcated.” My professor said he asked this student why he chose this word. Did he mean inculcated, which, according to Merriam Webster, means to instill an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction? Or was there an underlying meaning to the “fu”? Then the student had an epiphany. He realized that the “fu” did have an underlying meaning. The “fu” was, in fact, a message to his parents. “F**k them for shoving their values down my throat, and not giving me the opportunity to think for myself.”

My professor then mentioned that while this student loved his childhood, he realized that his parents’ values took over his entire identity and way of thinking.  This led the student to make a complete 180-degree shift in his personality and way of life. Suddenly, all that his parents ever said or would say to him seemed like a “load of bullsh*t,” making him want to do everything in his power to defy their authority over him. 

When I heard this story, I honestly thought this student was dead wrong. While I do agree that we should think for ourselves, I also believe that our parents are the backbone of our existence and shape us to be the people we are today. Perhaps, it is because I am not only an overtly filial person, but because of my South Asian culture that respects our elders. We touch the feet of our elders when we greet them. We receive their blessings before important events such as taking an exam or going off to college. We even live in joint households, where our parents reside as the matriarch and patriarch. There are definitely certain ideas and issues I have that do not match up with my parents.

My opinions on gender roles and sexuality do not always line up with my parents. However, I value their general advice and their life experiences. If push comes to shove, I am willing to swallow my pride and accept certain situations regardless of whether they are physically present in my life or not. Once again, I am okay with conforming with societal standards and expectations. In this case, the expectation is filial piety. 

Coming to Bryn Mawr, there were more societal standards placed upon me. Bryn Mawr College probably one of the most liberal colleges in the country. A family friend of mine from Swarthmore College described it as a place “where all the girls are liberal hippies.” Being a women’s college, many women feel like it is a safe space to showcase the autonomy they have over their bodies. As a result, I’ve seen many women on campus flaunting their underarms with full bushels of armpit hair, their legs with long prickly, unshaven hair, and their upper lips with dark wispy mustaches. To them, their body hair gives them a sense of autonomy, and a way to own their femininity. 

Body hair is not the only instance of how Bryn Mawr students showcase their autonomy. During a club meeting, one of my fellow first years and I were having a conversation about college life and our overall experience in Bryn Mawr. Out of the blue, she mentioned that she got a tattoo on her leg. She lifted her pant leg to show the outline of a pretty pink flower on her leg. “My mom completely freaked out when she saw this, but what’s she gonna do? I’m eighteen years old and living in college by myself.”

At first, I thought to myself: Wow I am such a hypocrite.  These women are trying to break the hold society has over them. They are trying to break the mold of conformity, something I have always wanted to do. But then why do I feel uncomfortable? Why does it feel like wrong? Am I a conformist? Then I realized something. Everyone, including my professor’s student, the girl from my club, Bryn Mawr students, and me, is conforming. Everyone is trapped by conformity regardless of race, cultural background, age, sexuality, gender identity, religion, or socioeconomic background.

Almost everyone at Bryn Mawr or just college, in general, is trying to become the opposite of what they were in high school. They try and challenge the social norms that were placed them growing up in by getting a tattoo, a navel piercing, not shaving, or drinking their weight in vodka, but people seem just as trapped in the social norms of culture as I am. They say that they are free of society’s rigid chains. But are they really? Freedom is the ability to choose who you want to be. But are the people around me genuinely free if they are all conforming to the idea of not conforming? 

As I was going over my first draft of this paper with my professor, he mentioned that a rebel is, to some extent, defined by what they rebel against. My professor’s student, who felt as if he was completely defined by his parents’ values by rebelling against them in the hope of finding his own identity, in fact, did the opposite. His identity was still defined by his parents. Perhaps, in a different way but still defined by them. 

I always felt I was the one conforming to society, and everyone else was being their own individual self. But in reality Bryn Mawr’s beauty standard of “au natural” and my South Asian culture’s need to have smooth skin or the rebelling against my parents both force people to conform to some kind of societal standard even if they claim to be liberating themselves from the constraints of the majority’s rules. While it may seem like we are trying to rebel from societal norms such as our parent’s influence or the stigma of body hair, we are, in fact, letting it trap us even further. Because we are letting the very thing that we are trying so hard not to let control us and our life. 

But how do we escape this trap of conformity? This trap of being defined by the very thing we are trying to run away from?

To be quite honest, I do not know. At this moment in my life, conformity also feels like a Catch-22. If we follow societal standards, expectations, and norms, we succumb to conformity. But if we decide to go against those societal norms by rebelling, we are also conforming to the concept of rebellion and being defined by the very thing we are trying to rebel against. Just like Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 unsuccessfully tries to escape from war, we too end up stuck in the same situation we fought so hard to escape. So does freedom exist? Can we ever have the freedom to do what we want and go against the societal expectations and social norms placed upon us? Ask me in four years. Maybe I’ll have an answer by then. 

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Never Have I Ever May Not Represent My Brown Experience, But It Represents The Brown Experience of Others

Aanandi Murlidharan



Three of the main South Asian characters of the Netflix series Never Have I Ever standing in front of a orange/pink/purple screen.

Turning on the TV growing up, I rarely saw anyone who looked like me. When dressing up as Disney princesses, my friends and I used to fight over Princess Jasmine because her olive skin and dark hair best resembled us. Flash forward a few years later, and my representation was only mildly upgraded.

Phineas and Ferb gave me the nerdy, bullied Baljeet with his stereotypically thick Indian accent. Jessie gave me Ravi, another nerdy, bullied brown kid. He was also the only one with a stereotypical accent despite all his siblings being adopted. Years past and the media continued to feed me inaccurate representations of my culture and myself. 

When Mindy Kailing’s Never Have I Ever was first announced, I was through the roof. I was finally ready for an experience that encompassed my identity as an Indian-American teenager. However, while I was watching the show, I felt that certain aspects of my brown experience were perpetuated incorrectly.

There were times where I could not understand Devi or her mother’s actions. I couldn’t identify with the way Devi felt about her culture. 

While Never Have I Ever doesn’t entirely encompass my brown experience, it does succeed to encompass the brown experience of others in five different ways.

1. “Devi, make sure to favor your left side.” 

I was taken aback the first time I heard this line. I found it shocking how Nalani, Devi’s own mother, could say something so hurtful regarding her daughter’s physical appearance. My brown mother has never commented on my physical appearance in such a manner.

However, while I may not have experienced this personally, emphasis on physical appearance is still a pressing issue within the brown community.

In the South Asian community, colorism is a rampant issue. Being a light-skinned Indian myself, I have often been praised for how “fair” and “beautiful” I look. However, many of my dark-skinned friends have struggled with being perceived as beautiful by their community. Sometimes even by their own family.

They are often told that they are “undesirable” or “dirty” due to the color of their skin. They are told to drink less tea, stay in the shade, or drink lemon juice to make themselves lighter. Even Indian companies hire famous Bollywood actors to promote face-lighting products. 

Even within the show, Kailing subtly draws attention to this stigma within Indian society. In the very same scene, Nalani tells Kamala, Devi’s light-skinned cousin, that “all her sides are equally beautiful.” Immediately after telling Devi, who is darker-skinned, the opposite. 

2. “I thought I came to America for the education, but my favorite part is the ice cream. There are so many flavors here. Way more than pistachio.”

I found this line from Prashant to be the most problematic line in the entire show due to the sheer inaccuracy of the statement. Historically, India has always been known as the world’s flavor and spice hub.

Growing up, I would spend many summers at my grandparent’s house in New Delhi. My grandfather’s favorite pass-time was taking my sister and me to the market to buy ice cream. The shopkeeper would fill our baskets with choco bars, lychee bars, cola pop, and my personal favorite, Mango Duet.

To this day, I still have barely scratched the surface of all of the flavors posted on the shopkeeper’s wall. 

Prashant’s statement may not be an accurate representation of the amenities offered in India, but it does represent the thought process of many new brown immigrants. A large part of the immigrant experience is comparing the resources and opportunities of your homeland with the country in which you just arrived.

Some brown immigrant families might praise the “sizes of the bags of chips” or the “cleanliness” of American streets. Conversely, some may choose to focus on how there is “less empathy” or “less of a community feel” in the United States as compared to India. 

3. “Yes, you look like a careerist western woman, which you obviously are, but they don’t need to know that yet. Kamala, his family wants to see that you can cook, clean, and cater to all their son’s needs.” 

Nalani said this statement to Kamala while preparing for the first step in Kamala’s arranged marriage process, a video call with her Prashant, her prospective suitor’s parents. The purpose of the video call was so that Prashant’s parents could see whether Kamala met the requirements for a potential match.

After this conversation, Nalani told Kamla to change from her “careerist western woman outfit” to the traditional Indian sari. I found it difficult to believe that Prashant’s parents would not be interested in the fact that Kamala is a biologist pursuing her Ph.D. in Caltech.

Growing up, education was always considered something that was invaluable in the South Asian community. Academic achievements, such as entering a prestigious college, were always talked about (sometimes a little too much) regardless of gender.

However, I realized it did represent the deep-rooted sexism and general patriarchy that many brown women face in the South Asian community. In many South Asian families, there is also a very clear double standard between women and their brothers, fathers, and husbands.

A man is lauded for working long hours and praised for his prestigious job, while many women are ostracized for doing the same. They are encouraged to leave their job to take care of their family or perfectly manage both. If a woman fails to do any of the following, she is seen as a failure.

Never Have I Ever touched on this aspect of a brown experience that often goes unnoticed within the community through this interaction. 

4. “If you’d like to go to Elenor or Fabiola’s house to do something fun like practice PSATs, you have my permission.” 

At first glance, this line truly upset me. I felt as if it perpetuated the stereotype of the “Asian tiger mom,” who only cared about grades and could not understand any other use of their time.

I felt anger rising in me because it made it seem as if all brown parents fell into this category when, in fact, when my parents were the opposite. My parents had always encouraged me to follow my passions. They unconditionally supported me and trusted me to find my own path. 

In frustration, I sent a message to one of my close brown friends, venting about the problematic nature of this line. “I felt that she wasn’t strict enough,” replied my friend. “I guess it’s because I grew up with a real tiger mom.” 

Many Indian kids do have parents who fall into the tiger parent category. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is because they want the best for their child’s future. The most tangible, almost guaranteed path to this is through academic and professional success.

In many Asian countries, the education system is set up to be exam based. To enter the top programs and colleges, you would have to score well on a series of exams.

Portraying this aspect of Devi’s mother’s personality was not in fact, perpetuating into a stereotype, but it was portraying a brown experience that many Indian American children experience. As tough as Nalani was on Devi, she loved her just as much. 

5. “Aunties are older Indian ladies, who have no blood relationship to you, but are allowed to make, but are allowed to have opinions about your life and all your shortcomings. You have to be nice to them because you’re Indian.” 

I would be completely lying if I said that this quote doesn’t reflect my brown experience. I have definitely faced my fair share of aunties, who have also made passive-aggressive comments about my life and shortcomings.

On the other hand, I was also lucky enough to meet aunties, who have shown me great warmth and compassion. Since most of my family is in India, these aunties became my family in the United States. They have supported my family and me when we have most needed it.

However, I know that not every brown kid is fortunate enough to have adults outside of their immediate families with whom they experience a genuine connection. Too often, brown kids are trapped in communities and social circles built upon envy, pride, and ambition.

The competitive nature of adults in these communities can make every interaction with an adult feel like an assessment or judgment for these kids. This causes many brown kids to seek out ways to detach themselves from and escape their brown communities. Thus, preventing them from fully accepting and embracing their heritage, like Devi. 

Never Have I Ever may not represent the entirety of my brown experience, but it does represent the brown experience of others. Representation is not a bathing suit from a shopping channel that claims to be one size fits all. It is not possible for a single show to represent the vast experiences of every brown person that is part of the South Asian diaspora.

However, what it does do is pave the way for more stories centering on the lives of South Asian Americans. Never Have I Ever is the first show to feature a brown teenager growing up in the United States and is top-ranked on Netflix. It, therefore, proves to Western mainstream media that South Asians can be the main character.

They can move out of supporting roles like Baljeet or Ravi that have no function other than for comic relief. This show may not represent your brown experience or my brown experience, but it paves the way for a multitude of brown experiences to be told in the future. 

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