white on the outside, yellow on the inside
let's talk about yolk.tv
What the actual f***.
I have yet to figure out my position on swearing in this newsletter, but I am a little surprised that I needed to have invoked it so early. But today, I’d like to talk about a project I came across called Yolk.tv, and discuss what they say and why it’s so problematic.
Let’s start by saying what needs to be said: It’s not good, y’all.
On their website, Yolk.tv describe themselves as:
Yolk is the uninhibited, authentic expression of Asian American identity — the power, the revealing backstories, the hidden talents, and the sometimes irreverent and politically incorrect analysis. It is the tension where the two Asian Americas (old vs. new) intersect. It is also the place where Asians and “near Asians” coexist. It’s the end of doing what is expected (end of the model minority), and finding all the color in (or around) yellow.
This language is the only description of this project that I could find and is copied on two LinkedIn profiles of the project’s team members. There are no other references to Yolk.tv as it exists in its current form that I was able to find across the web.
The site is so new that Google’s cached version, which represents what the search engine saw when it last visited the site for indexing, still shows the Yolk.tv domain pointing to a GoDaddy “domain parked” webpage.
Based on the team members’ LinkedIn profiles and the date on the Google cache, it appears that the project launched in March 2020, although the domain yolk.tv was registered long before then. (It is usual for domains of common words to be registered by domain brokers, which trade in domain names, or reserved by the domain registry, which manages the issuing of domain names, because these are considered premium and can often sell for a high price.)
Let’s begin by digging into the language used here.
A language analysis
First, “yellow” is no longer a common or generally-accepted term to refer to the Asian American communities. As a label, it can be traced back to the civil rights era, and the discussions that settled on Black and white as labels for race in the United States. During that time, “yellow” was used by Asian American communities were deciding on how to refer to ourselves.
Today, the term is considered to be derogatory by many, including myself, in a similar manner to the n-word; the label hawks back to a time of blatant and obvious Orientalism (the problematic fetishization of Asia by whites) and anti-Asian oppression.
It also excludes our South Asian and South East Asian siblings and cousins, who do not share the skin complexion predominantly found in East Asia but are a part of the Asian American label of communities, despite being often omitted in the mainstream white consciousness.
Second, the term “near Asians” is not commonly found in Asian American media or academic analysis. There is no commonly-known or well-understood meaning among Asian Americans I talked to about what this phrase means.
A search for the phrase in the Journal of Asian American Studies, one of the leading journals of Asian American studies, did not return any results for the phrase “near Asian.” No results were returned for the same search term in several other journals on ethnic and cultural studies.
The only result for “near Asian” on Project Muse was “Dead White Men: An Essay on the Changing Dynamics of Race in US Action Cinema”, published in the spring 2010 volume of Anthropological Quarterly, and the (problematic) article only juxtaposes the two words to discuss the actual physical proximity of a character in The Matrix and how Asian imagery appears near him on-screen in conjunction with his character.
Based on context, I assume the phrase in the website is meant to refer to either people who appear Asian but are not, and are, therefore, “nearly Asian” — a category description I find baffling and hard to define — or people who share Asian American experiences and cultures but do not descend from an Asian or Asian American family line — which places a significant emphasis on bioessentialism (the belief that a property is innate or natural by focusing on a biological attribute) for a definition and understanding of Asian American identity. As a phrase, it reminds me much of this CollegeHumor video, which satirizes the notion of a judgment of Asian American identity:
Third, I have no idea what a reference to two Asian Americans (the old vs. new) is supposed to mean.
From a physical perspective, Asia America does not refer to a place on a map; many an article in Asian American studies and publications have explored the notion of a geography for Asian Americans, noting the flaws in such language and the particular challenges that arise for commonly-understood concepts, such as nation-states, when “Asia America” is examined closely. In the same way that there is no marker on any map that identifies “Black” as where Black people in the United States come from, there is no place on any map labeled “Asia America.” (“Africa” is not, and never was, an acceptable answer to “where do Black people come from,” and you are a bad person if you say it.)
Furthermore, implying that such an Asia America does or could exist is hugely problematic, considering the history of Asian Americans being excluded from land-based American rights, and the continued racism experienced by Asian Americans who are excluded from full American social citizenship with hackles like “Go back to your own country!” The geography associated with Asian Americans is a sensitive subject and should not be taken lightly.
From a historical and cultural perspective, there is no clear and easy divide between what would constitute a “new Asian American” versus an “old Asian American”. Certainly, there are generations of Asian Americans, some older than others, who have lived through different experiences; however, such generational differences do not map indisputably to being a large-scale, community-wide sociocultural concept.
For example: While first-generation Asian American parents (who immigrated from Asia to the United States) are not U.S. citizens, their children generally are citizens by virtue of birth, and grow up in environments dominated by cultures other than what their parents grew up with. This experience has been well-documented in Asian American studies and literature, with the most popularly known likely being the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, which follows several common Asian American experiences: Feeling a sense of “otherness” at school, wanting “white people food,” and struggling to come to a sense of identity that reconciles Asian American realities.
But this cultural and social division, and the differences that arise from the legal rights and privileges associated with citizenship, do not arise to the level of forming a “new Asian American” — it is all Asian American, a part of the unifying and common experience shared amongst all of us as we struggle to navigate the new challenges that arise in everyday life, such as when interacting with government and quasi-official bodies like the College Board, the FAFSA, or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Fifth, it is wrong to refer to the “revealing backstories” and “hidden talents” of the Asian American community. Prolific scholars such as Gary Okihiro and Lisa Lowe and artists such as Viet Thanh Nguyen have long documented and promoted the deep and wide-ranging experiences, skills, talents, and history of Asian American communities.
These stories and experiences are well-known to Asian Americans and are only “hidden” or “unrevealed” to white people, whose dominating and popular media outlets have not focused upon or given Asian Americans respect in such a way as to make us “discovered” to a mass-white audience. It is the same criticism that dogged a New York Times article on bubble tea in 2017: Simply because something is new to white people does not make it “hidden” or “revealing.”
Sixth, the implication that Yolk is “the” place for “uninhibited, authentic expression” of Asian American identity problematically connotes that there are no other avenues or opportunities for such expression. This is just patently false: just the one example, the Angry Asian Man blog, singlehandedly decimates such a notion, with the uninhibitedness and authentic-ness of the blog put right in the name: “Angry Asian Man.”
A lot of this hinges on the definite article “the,” which by the nature of its grammatical meaning, suggests “the one and only, to the exclusion of all else.” (There is only one White House — the White House — and one commonly-understood United States — the United States of America, to the dismay of the United Mexican States, more commonly known as Mexico.) But even “an uninhibited, authentic expression” would still imply that such avenues did not exist before, erasing the contributions to Asian American identity that publications like Hyphen Magazine have accomplished. The monopolization of Asian American identity in media by a single entity or group is problematic by its very nature, as it forces a singular perspective and interpretation onto the cacophony of Asian Americans. A chain of Walmarts does not make diversity.
A human analysis
Such a problematic attempt to monopolize Asian American-ness in media is exacerbated by an examination of the six individuals listed on Yolk.tv’s website.
Of the six listed, four are presumptively white, based on their appearance in their photographs and the etymology of their names; only one person is identifiable as Asian American, and his biography on the Yolk.tv website and on LinkedIn describes him as a tech entrepreneur and investor; not as anyone with any involvement in Asian American communities or any experience with Asian American media.
The roles held by the four presumptively white individuals — Co-Founder and President, Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer, Chief Business Development Officer and CTO (I’m inferring Chief Technology or Technical Officer) — are among the most senior of all corporate officer and managerial roles, and I’m guessing are among the most well-paid. I was unable to find any documentation of historical involvement in Asian American communities and media among any of them.
However well-intentioned, such an arrangement is fundamentally problematic; it is gravely insulting for anyone, particularly white people, to attempt to tell or monopolize on Asian American stories. In much the way that putting on blackface is gravely unacceptable, putting on “yellowface” to exploit Asian American-ness is racist and problematic, and no level of good intentions or artistic homage excuses such an act.
Furthermore, the positioning of white individuals in the highest-paid positions of what is marketed as an “expression of Asian American identity” is hugely problematic against a backdrop of the exploitation and suffering of Asian Americans by the direct effect of white people throughout history. The “colonization” of Asia by white-dominated colonial powers — including the United States’ involvement with Japan and the Philippines — and the inhumane treatment of the first people of Asian descent in the United States — the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Acts, and the government-ordered warrantless detention of people of Japanese descent — are painful and real economic exploitations of Asians and Asian Americans with lasting effects to this day.
I wish to be as polite and assume best intentions as much as possible, but I cannot help but feel that this is a continuation of such exploitation: Unable to directly exploit Asian Americans because of civil rights protections won by activists in the past, white people are now turning to indirect means to continue their economic exploitation of people like me.
It may be my sensitivity, but they are real, they are well-founded, and it is white people’s responsibility — not mine — to deal with it.
Long dunk, but why pick on them?
Yolk.tv is comparatively new. The thinness of their website, the lack of incoming references, and the two-month age are clear and convincing signs that this is a new project and will develop in the future. It may seem unfair to place harsh and seething criticism on something so young. After all, I wouldn’t like something I’m working on to be treated like how I’m writing about Yolk.tv right now.
I write about this at such length because this is not the only instance of this happening — where a group of white people, however well-intentioned, insult and delegitimize Asian Americans by portraying us as “new”, “underrepresented”, “hidden”, and “undiscovered.”
It is not the first, nor will it be the last, of attempts by white people to intrude upon and exploit Asian American history, Asian American experience, and Asian American stories for their benefit.
It is one example of a long pattern of white people implicitly disrespecting people like me by refusing to acknowledge our existence, our ability to do things, and the right of us as Asian Americans to direct and control our own lives.
It is not unacceptable. It is not forgivable. It was not okay before, it is not okay now, and it will not be okay in the future.
Asian American stories are not “hidden” or waiting to be found. Like our Black and Brown cousins, we have been speaking and shouting and yelling about our own stories and our own experiences for decades.
It was merely white people who did not listen. It is not my job to ensure that they do so.
It’s my second post ever, and what a long one~! I hope you don’t mind long stories like this. I sometimes get into big and deep rants. Let me know what you think!