It is no question that the most viral and talked about video in the past couple of weeks was the BBC interview of the professor in South Korea, Robert Kelly, who had the pleasure of his two kids crashing his interview. Not surprising, of course, was the backlash that followed from the usual online activists and bloggers who were outraged that many who viewed the video thought his wife, Jung A Kim, was the nanny. Countless blog pieces, particularly from the usual Asian activists and bloggers, have been written showing their predictable disgust about how people could be so ignorant and make that assumption, because she clearly looked like their mother. Even the BBC added their own commentary to the issue.
Most likely no one would have confused his wife for being the nanny, had she been white, but that is part of the reality that anyone who goes into an inter-racial marriage and has bi-racial/ multi-racial children deal with on a regular basis. By no means am I justifying the ignorant behaviors of others, but anyone who decides to go into an inter-racial marriage and have children need to understand that this is a cruel and unfair world made up of ignorant and hateful people. If you do not understand that, then you will be setting yourself up for a very difficult journey ahead. God may be impartial, as a white woman with a black husband once mentioned on a talk show, but people certainly are not.
As a mother of a bi-racial child, whose father is Haitian-American, someone once thought I was my son’s social worker. A good friend of mine, whose mother is white and father is black, once shared with me about going into town with her siblings, and people would come up to her mother and praise her for doing such a “wonderful thing” because they thought she was their Fresh Air Fund mom. Her mother would shoot back a dirty look. Many white mothers who have bi-racial children, whether that child has an Asian or black or Latino father, can share stories of how strangers have confused their biological children for being adopted. This is what we signed up for. In a perfect world this would not happen, but the world is far from perfect.
People make these assumptions all of the time, and it amazes me how sanctimonious some get because a few others make that mistake. How often do we see a black woman, especially if she has a West Indian accent, with a white child and automatically assume she is the nanny? She could be looking after her friend’s child. She could be the child’s foster mother, which is quite possible, but even the most enlightened, or “woke”, person has probably made that mistake. Don’t deny that you have; just be more aware of it next time.
The sad part about this type of online activism, which is mainly done on social media, is that it takes away from more important issues. Rather than focusing on more serious matters, such as the wage gap between Asian-American women and the rest of the workforce – particularly for older Asian women with less education, there is this fixation with these types of issues that can often be a distraction caused by online activists and bloggers trying to get more hits and likes on their posts.
It takes away from Asian-American activism that is really working to advance social justice for Asian-Americans and other communities of color. More radical organizations like Yellow Peril, which fought with the Black Panthers, and the Red Guard Party were at the forefront of Asian-American activism, but very few people, with the exception of academics and older activists, know who they are. Even now, an organization such as CAAAV, one of the first organizations to address police brutality against Asians-Americans, are not given the credit and recognition they deserve. Yes, social media activism is probably an easier way to voice your opinions, but actually getting involved with an organization like CAAAV has more impact.
Equally bothersome are the many people outraged about Mrs. Kelly being confused for a nanny, which is certainly not a profession to look down upon, and that brings up another point. Many of these faux activists are predominantly middle-class Asian-Americans, who are mainly East Asian, and are often unable to see beyond their world. They are insulted that they can be confused for being a nanny, when there are many Southeast Asian women found throughout East Asia, including South Korea, dutifully taking care of children.
If there was an an issue Asians could focus on, it is getting better treatment for Southeast Asian women who serve as domestic workers all over the world. We should be focused more on getting them fair wages and better work conditions so that they are not continuously exploited, including by other Asians. One of the founders of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance in the U.S., by the way, is an Asian-American woman. Ai-Jen Poo is a MacArthur fellow and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.
Yes, no one would have made that assumption that a white woman would have been the nanny for her two children, but what do people plan to accomplish by tweeting their outrage? Do we really need another blog piece echoing the same, tired issues over and over again? If Asians continue to get outraged over trivial issues such as these, we will continue to remain where we are, in which we will be constantly protesting actresses like Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton taking roles away from Asian women but with no success or advancement.