The statement issued by the Print Room explaining that their new play is English and therefore needs a white cast is a PR car crash. The play in question is set in historical China and has characters with Chinese-sounding names (we’re not sure about a couple of possibly made-up Chinesey names*.)
To cheer ourselves up and stay inspired, let’s take a few minutes to remember how Asian Americans have protested through 2016 against being whitewashed out. Yellow folk, East Asians in the UK, are real. We are not folkloric, mythical creatures like pixies or leprechauns. We are the third largest ethnic minority group (at 1.2m) after black British (1.9m) and South Asian (3m).
We’re not going anywhere and we will keep talking about this and protesting against being ERASED into 2017 and beyond until those in positions of privilege pay us the courtesy of actually treating us (first) as human beings and one day, hopefully, as equals.
Please do not use our identities, narratives or bodies to explore or embody your white Western fears.
Do not fuel a divisive hierarchy of skin colour or shadeism by condemning blackface but not yellowface. Would Howard Barker, The Wrestling School or The Print Room produce a show set somewhere in Africa or South Asia and have white people play people of colour? Are black and brown folk real but yellow skins are wearable like costumes? Are black and brown bodies associated more with victimhood so we can’t mess them about but yellow bodies are to be feared and so you can do what you like to us? Are we fairies, to be conjured up according to your desires? Are we extinct, like the dodo or dinosaurs, and need reanimating and saving by white folk? Are we all as rich and as cultured as white westerners and thus deserve to be attacked and demonised? Fair game, as it were?
NB – Having no access yet to read the play I don’t yet know if I’d want to place yellow bodies into a production of it. Nor do I support censorship. I’d like some basic accountability for a start.
*The characters are called:
Mrs Hu (Mainland Chinese? Taiwanese?)
Chin (Hong Kong)
Lord Ghang (Vietnamese? Thai?)
Lady Hasi (The Near East?)
(Queries about the names from Gigi Chang, translator)
(If you’d like to read more about the experiences of people of colour in the U.K., The Good Immigrant is the first of its kind, a collection of 21 essays. I’ve a chapter on yellow bodies in this country.)