YouTube has been a strong tool for the Asian and Pacific American community. In addition to aiding Janet Liang’s “Helping Janet” movement register more than 20,000 new bone marrow donors, YouTube has changed the APA identity in the United States by letting the community represent themselves as they are, rather than through the lenses of the mainstream media.
Ten of the top 100 most subscribed YouTube channels prominently feature Asian and Pacific Americans. Combined, they have over 21 million subscribers and 4.5 billion video views. Without YouTube, film makers such as Freddie Wong, Ryan Higa, Kevin Wu, Wesley Chen, Ted Fu, and Phillip Wong, as well as musicians such as Clara Chung, Marié Digby, and David Choi would not have the audiences they have now. New media allowed them to represent themselves as they truly are: varied, diverse, with roots in the urban, middle, and upper classes, and most importantly, immensely talented.
Granted, some well-known YouTubers might reinforce old stereotypes. Michelle Phan’s and Lindi Tsang’s ever popular makeup tutorials may reinforce traditional views of Asian women being exotic. Davin “Peter Chao” Tong’s racial satire might fly over many heads. However, their ever so slightly negative contributions are nothing compared to the unexpected identities represented by the genuinely American Kevin Wu and Ryan Higa or the urban roots showcased by hip hop artists Chantarangsu and Park.
The success of these YouTubers has helped pave the way for more positive Asian characters in mainstream media, such as Daniel Dae Kim’s characters in Lost and Hawaii Five-O and Harry Shum Jr.’s and Jenna Ushkowitz’s characters in Glee. However, this exposure is a double-edged sword. While the breaking of negative stereotypes is good, the visibility of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the mainstream as either academically exceptional or inherently talented reinforces an issue that has long plagued our community, the status of being a model minority.
This is through no fault of the people who are successful. Popular YouTubers are popular because they have worked hard to continually produce content and achieve their success. They don’t mean to cause harm. Alone, their actions have very little effect, but the addition of their exceptionality to the already-established stereotypes of academic excellence in our community only makes it more difficult for us to be represented as what we truly are.
As a whole, new media has helped Asian and Pacific Americans. The stereotype that we are all studious, exotic, and of the upper-middle class is weaker now than ever before. But this victory is only a small one in the series of battles we still have to face. This exceptionality is only another stereotype we have to overcome. Is it strange to be hampered by the perception that you are successful? Maybe. But for every successful person in our community, there are also those who need support, but aren’t getting it because they aren’t visible. For every exceptional student or talented dancer or musician, there is someone being bullied or hazed, and that’s not going to end until our community is seen as what it actually is: just regular people. (end)