Discovering Suey Park through Hashtags

Who is Suey Park?  I ask, as a long time member of Kollaboration, and a member of the particular group of Asian/Pacific Americans that I belong to who have been mobilizing and working towards a greater sense of our own productive individual and collective identities, possibilities, and visibility online, in media, within our own communities and to the rest of common viewers that have historically and continuously projected discriminatory, reductionist, and biased racialized and gendered ideologies of ‘who’ and ‘what’ we are supposed to be.

As Suey Park continues to be a trending topic, the object of much criticism, analysis, and praise on my selectively curated world of social media, I simply want to make sense of who she is, for me.  She is the David of a satirical modern-day David and Goliath, given her rise to the upper-echelon of the great Twitter-verse in her battle against long-standing and ongoing racism and sexism regenerated online and in social media.  The Goliath here is not Stephen Colbert, the mighty powerful American comedic satirist, television host and an emblem of a political pundit.  The battlefield was social media, her weapon of attack was “#CancelColbert.”  The fight was against racism, racist rhetoric, and a response to Stephen Colbert’s  failed satire of attacking another racially marginalized group (Asian Americans) when his scripted and performed “joke” on his show The Colbert Report said:

“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

as a way to ridicule [Dan Snyder’s] Washington R*dskins Original Americans Foundation’s feeble attempts to “offer genuine opportunities for Tribal communities” by distributing winter coats and shoes that his $1.8 billion franchise have built around the racist slur that evokes and undermines the centuries of systematic genocide and removal of Native/Indigenous Americans and their lands.  The moment that Colbert called the Asian American community Orientals and reduced our existence to a funny-sounding joke- “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” (I personally don’t make those sounds, ever) he repeats and reappropriated what Snyder’s Washington R*dskin’s mascot, as an offensive racist slur that physically and figuratively attacks the Native American community onto Asian Americans.  

When Suey Park took to Twitter with her #CancelCobert, it quickly mobilized a large following of Twitter-activists that problematized Colbert’s failed satire and racism. The hashtag and hashtagger also forgot to contextualize the whole incident and the origin of the “joke”.  It produced and generated a lot of lurkers and racist and misogynistic trolls that began to attack Park for her Asian American/female-ness and against Asians, Asian Americans, and Asian American women in particular.  (I choose not to link any of these virtual trolls and their disgusting language and descriptions of rape, misogyny, and racist attacks, because why would I give them additional social capital? No effing way.)  All this catastrophic viral and virtual confusion sparked a Week of #Solidarity between Asian/Pacific American and Native American online activists around a collective social and racial justice oriented campaign #NotYourMascot.  

The Asian American social media community also did not know what to make of Suey Park’s campaign or of her.  As an Asian American female that studies racial production and discourse in pop-culture and new media, it took me a while to simmer in what others in my community had to say about Suey Park.  A list of Asian American men of social media influence reacted with immediate resistance to her hashtag on Twitter, from Steven Yeun (who is probably the most famous and popular Asian American actor of our generation) to Kollaboration alum Alex Hwang of the band Run River North’s, Hollywood Writer/Producer Daniel Chun, and Phil Yu (aka Angry Asian Man).  These reactions came out before Suey Park herself got the opportunity to represent herself, her activism, and virtual campaign.  Novelist/Sports-writer Jay Caspian Park somewhat questions Suey Park’s identity as an activist, while Arthur Chu calls her the Asian American villain we need (but love to hate).  

All this makes me question where the women and female voices and representation is in Asian America.  Besides Margaret Cho who rightfully claimed the role of the controversial Asian American female in media and entertainment, there has yet to be a successor.  I cringe, as the only other “commercialized” Asian American female to stir up any controversy in mainstream media outlets had been Tila Tequila. Besides every Tiger Mom (or the Anti-Tiger Mom), who else exists to represent a nuanced and deliberate representation of Asian Americans and more specifically, Asian American women?  In a recent Vanity Fair article, Why It Matters When Asian Women Leave TV Shows it points out how Asian characters are still disappointing stereotypes of ourselves, while the bamboo ceiling persists with simultaneous opportunities and limitations for Asian Americans in media and entertainment.  

Jeff Yang said in what I consider to be a more nuanced coverage of #CancelColbert that: “That’s because social media is, in many ways, our mainstream media.”  His phrasing of social media as OUR mainstream media struck multiple chords for me.  Whether his claim is based on the bamboo ceiling, or because of the college-educated (or college-bound youth) Asian American demographic he self-identifies with is widely and heavily active online, it makes me reflect on how I fall under his particularity as well.  That is why #CancelColbert and how a twitter-based activism of an Asian American is so meaningful, because I am part of this specific upwardly-mobile (educated/literate/with consumer-power) young Asian Americans whose life is virtually connected and social media-driven.  It is a new and partial group of Asian Americans coming-of-age that exists in relation to what was and is Asian America.  

As Asian Americans in social media have yet to cultivate an individual and collective identity of and for ourselves, what Suey Park means to me is another type of our possibility.  She is not perfect, and I do not know all of her politics, or her hobbies.  I don’t know if she likes the type of music I like or if we spend our dollars at the same stores. But she represents an Asian American (and female) figure who speaks to what I believe Kollaboration is working towards as well.  To break ground, to create interventions, to provide platforms for the Asian Pacific American community to discover and connect with each other to locate and produce our own diverse representations.  Whether it is through music, dance, acting, comedy, or hashtags, she has built herself up to be a force to be reckoned with in our ongoing efforts for inclusion and creation on stage, in print, on camera, in albums, and in social media.