Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with Negroes? And by that I mean with “Negro” characters in it, not with.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made?
ThoughI work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men,so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of the Season 6 premiere, let me tell you about it.
I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter (advertising); I like the cast (Don Draper is hot); I like the look (sexy Eames meets Op Art); I like the writing (Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast). I love the writing.
I have only one issue with Mad Men (OK, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a Black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lot. Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Girls, Veep–these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?…and bemoan, WTF!…but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?
I had promised myself months ago that I would not comment on your movies anymore because it was only serving to raise my blood pressure. Like the Serenity Prayer says, I was going to accept the things I cannot change. It worked for a while, too. But then you released Temptation, and I had to say something.
For years, I have believed that Black folks deserve better than you. I realize that this can be seen as patronizing. You see, I am not Black. Some may say that I do not have a right to comment on you and Black communities. I would actually agree with them. I may have my opinions about your “artistry” and the impact of your movies on Black communities but that is an intra-community discussion for Black folks to have. This will certainly not stop me from holding my opinions and sometimes sharing them; however, I do believe that it is Black folks who need to begin that particular conversation.
However, this time you decided to talk about my community: those of us living with HIV/AIDS.
On April 19, 1989, a young woman who was jogging through Central Park in New York City was found badly beaten. She had also been raped.
I have written briefly about the case before in comparing it to Scottsboro. However, I want to return to it today because I just saw the trailer for Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the case and it brings back terrible memories for me.
I was living in New York City at the time of this incident. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. My school was across the street from Central Park and I was terrified. Just a few months before, I had been sexually assaulted (not in the park) and now I was certain that I would be targeted again. Read the Post Super-Predators, ‘Wilding,’ And The Central Park Five
Thirty years ago in June of 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two men who were angry and fearful about the decline of the US auto industry and the economic rise of Japan, and 20,000 Chinatown garment factory workers in New York City–almost all Chinese immigrant women–went on strike, after factory owners refused to budge over cuts in benefits and services.
These were seminal moments for Asian Americans, and galvanized a wave of organizing and activism in the US by and for working-class Asian Americans that continues to this very day.
A few months later in 1982, I was born in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, to two Chinese immigrant parents who had come to the US as part of the Taiwanese “brain drain” that accelerated in the 1970s, after the US government loosened its nativist immigration laws in 1965 and prioritized students and other educated workers.
And just this past week, on two separate occasions, I was asked, “How long have you lived in this country?” and told, “Go back to China.”
All of this (which is to say, the personal that is political and the political that is personal) was on my mind as I read the Pew Center’s new report, “The Rise of Asian Americans.” In it, the Pew Center details the growth of Asian communities over the past forty years, focusing on the six largest Asian ethnic communities; their median incomes, educational attainment levels, and immigration status; and the social mores that Pew deemed were most relevant when trying to understand Asian communities.
Like many commentators have already written (see here and here), the report grossly simplifies a diverse and complicated community and, more destructively, feeds into the myth that Asians in the US succeed by dint of hard work and cultural values brought over from our homelands (despite Pew’s own research, buried in the last chapter of the report, that showed Asians overwhelmingly favor a larger government that provides more services).
This is not to say there weren’t some interesting nuggets in the report, or that many of their facts were incorrect–what concerns me and others are the conclusions that were drawn by the writers and researchers at Pew, and how those ideas can and unfortunately will be used by others in the service of their own political projects. What is troubling is how reports like these feed into the dominant lens of how all of us, including Asian Americans ourselves, view our communities, and understand the politics of race – and therefore how power operates – in the US.
Once again, one of my favorite online professor bros, Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, has connected me to some amazingness.
Last week, I shouted him out for letting me that my boyfriend-in-my-head, Dr. Vijay Prashad, is hanging in the Twitterverse. Now, thanks to his Facebook feed, I found this pretty fabulous web series, Black Folk Don’t.
The webisodes starts with riffs from Black people on the streets on the things Black people are stereotyped as, well, not doing: not tipping, not participating in winter sports, not swimming, not going to the doctors, not seeking therapy, not traveling (especially internationally), and other notions before settling in on the topic. Then, award-winning showrunner Angela Tucker and her equally distinguished crew, in response to a call from the National Black Programming Consortium for a web series, sit down with family, friends, and folks in both New York City and New Orleans to see if these stereotypes hold true in their own lives and the lives of people they know.