News / USA

American Pop Culture Hides, Reveals Multiracial Asian-Americans

FILE - Tiger Woods hits from the third tee during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament.
FILE - Tiger Woods hits from the third tee during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament.

The discussion of race in the United States has always been complex and often difficult. Yet in an overwhelmingly large percentage of families, it is not difficult to find some evidence of a multiracial influence.

LeiLani Nishime is assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington and author of Undercover Asian. She examines how multiracial Asian Americans are often overlooked even when presented in highly visible popular media such as movies, television shows, magazine articles and artwork. Nishime contrasts the phenomenon with examples when audiences can view multiracial Asians as multiracial. She told VOA’s Jim Stevenson her fascinating study began with simple discussions in the classroom.

American Pop Culture Hides, Reveals Multiracial Asian-Americans
American Pop Culture Hides, Reveals Multiracial Asian-Americansi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

NISHIME: I had students in class who wanted to hear about mixed race and so I taught one class on it; they liked it so much I turned it into a two-week unit, and they liked that so much I turned it into a class, and after that I thought, “well, maybe there is enough there to write a book about.” I mostly draw from pop culture and from visual culture specifically, so advertising, television, film, that sort of thing. That’s partly just because of my own background and training, I was trained in literary studies and I did most of my dissertation work on film. I’m also interested in popular cultural icons because I feel like they have something to say about our culture more generally.

STEVENSON: Tiger Woods is definitely one of the most recognized athletes around the world, and of course, with some of the things that happened in Tiger’s career in the past few years made him even more well-known, I guess. Tiger is an interesting case: his father is African American, his mother is Thai.

NISHIME: There are times where he identifies as African-American, some as Asian-American – he had made up this term, “Cablinasian,” for a while, that he calls himself. I think though, for most of his career, he actually tries not to identify racially at all. His publicity can paint him as something new, something outside of our usual racial categories.

STEVENSON: You mention the colorblindness aspect and how that can be potentially difficult for someone like Tiger Woods.

NISHIME: I think a lot of his advertising campaign really focused on him being this kind of new figure, this multiracial figure, a colorblind figure. But I think that eventually, there were too many expectations built up around it. So that when he got caught up in this scandal, it seems like a lot of that colorblindness was revealed for being very flimsy and not having very much staying power.

STEVENSON: Science fiction has been very well-known for integrating the races in various scenarios and storylines. You talk a little bit about race and science fiction in your book.

NISHIME: I love science fiction, so that was sort of a natural choice for me. Science fiction is this really interesting space where people are able to have a utopia, have this kind of ideal of the world they want to see. Often, I think that’s the overt story that we see on screen. Science fiction is still written by people that live in the same world we live in, so a lot of our unconscious beliefs about race still surface in those films that aren’t very, that aren’t on the surface, that you might not recognize right away.

STEVENSON: One of the interesting topics I found in your book was multiracial genetics and the problem of geography. So often, we tend to look at geographical areas for clues and answers to this discussion, but you say it’s really a poorly defined parameter.

NISHIME: The kind of sense that we have, that geography can explain so much for us, I think is partly because it seems like it exists outside of society or it exists outside of culture. A lot of those ways that we draw those boundaries between different continents or different geographical areas is really something that we’ve come up socially, rather than something that’s existing naturally in the world.

STEVENSON: It’s incredibly complex and very emotional.

NISHIME: Yes, I think that’s why it is incredibly different to talk about. How can it be anything but personal, and so people feel very personal about their own racial identity, about feeling like they’re going to say the wrong thing – I think that happens a lot. I think I would like people to think about mixed race people as the beginning of a conversation, because there is a sense that mixed race people are something new, and that they are a race of the future. I think a lot of times that shuts down conversation because we believe we don’t actually have to do anything to improve racial relations - that we’re inevitably heading towards this future where everyone is mixed. And I don’t think that’s true - I think recognizing how long mixed race people have been with us, and how enduring the racial groupings have been despite of all this mixing, can give us a way to have a more robust conversation.


Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More