subtle-asian-traits
Screenshot: Facebook

“subtle asian traits” is a Facebook group boasting over 900,000 members. It’s a meme page where Asians can post experiences or traits that they think are relatable and funny. When I was added to the group and tagged in posts, I laughed at a good number of them, and they validated a lot of my experiences as an Asian American. There was a sense of camaraderie, knowing that I wasn’t alone in my Asian identity, because it definitely felt like that in my white hometown. 

However, I’ve noticed a large tonal shift away from posts that were just for laughs or bringing people together. I felt less like a part of the community when there were posts like “You’re not a real Asian unless … ” and I didn’t fit their criteria, or I couldn’t read the language that the criteria were written in. I felt that way as a Korean American, and I know that the feeling is probably even greater for non-East Asians. It highlights a dangerous hierarchy among the Asian community, as if East Asians are more “truly Asian” than others. 

There have also been posts joking about Asian parents hitting their children. These posts were “liked” by many members, and it hurts to see a traumatic experience for many being presented as a meme.

The question I find myself asking is, how should we feel about the East Asian bias in the meme page, and what effect does it have when posts about being hit by our parents get thousands of likes? Is it just a meme page?

My answer is that “subtle asian traits” is a special chance for the Asian community not only to be connected, but also to really see what problems people are coping with, and how the Asian community can marginalize other groups within the community. 

I am not advocating for change within the group, because I don’t think you can unilaterally control a group of that size. Rather, I am advocating for a change of perspective for each of its members. Yes, I know that it can be funny and also feel nice to see that your experiences are validated and heard by other Asians. I’ve experienced that too. But we must recognize when those experiences are not to be laughed at or joked about, but are actually problems that need to be brought to light. We also have to recognize when our laughter comes at the expense or marginalization of other groups.

For other communities, I often see serious online forums that have separate pages for memes and funny content. But what’s troublesome is that it seems like our entire online Asian community is flocking to “subtle asian traits.” And when our online community is centered on a place where we make fun of things, it distorts our sense of what community really means. 

It hurts to think that some Asians feel that they only have a meme page to voice their concerns. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to satirize their concerns as a way to cope with them. That’s not OK, because there are parts of our Asian identity that aren’t funny, and they’re being posted and laughed at. What would be beneficial is a space where that is not purely satirical, where people can voice the “subtle asian traits” they have that aren’t necessarily something to be laughed at.

Do I think that “subtle asian traits” is a bad thing? Not entirely. I think we’ve all had something good to take away from the group, and we shouldn’t feel guilty for liking their posts. Had “subtle asian traits” not been created, I would’ve never been addressing these types of problems in the Asian community. 

I think that there is good in “subtle asian traits,” to the extent that it validates our experiences and connects the Asian community. But it also has done a good job of showing the community where it falls short and where work is needed. 

Making light of serious issues and marginalizing other Asian communities just to get a few cheap laughs and “likes” is never OK.

JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is joelslee@sas.upenn.edu.

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