Humanising British East and South East Asians:
The positioning of East and South East Asians into British society means we are celebrated as a model minority. But this myth does a disservice to the realities of being British East and South East Asian [BESEA]. It is a misconception that exaggerates the socioeconomic success of BESEA, perpetuates a denial of racial reality and continues false stereotyping.
Worst still, the myth is a form of systemic oppression which renders BESEA invisible. Being unseen means issues affecting BESEA can be simply ignored because our struggles don’t even register. Consequently, BESEA in arts and culture are underrepresented, marginalised and maligned. In short, we are dehumanised.
Increasing our visibility is a vital step in emancipating BESEA from invisibility and frees us from a chain of systemic discrimination. We seek representations of BESEA in the mainstream media that are not one-dimensional or ‘other-ing’, thereby normalizing our voices and faces. In this process of humanising our identity, we work towards building a new generation of role models and storytellers who are unencumbered by stereotyping and a society where we are no longer ridiculed, perceived as threats or the perpetual foreigner.
Lobbying for the term British East and South East Asian:
Under the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) label, we have never been able to refer to ourselves, using the correct geographical term, Asian. This is another slight to BESEA and part of parcel of the way our experiences of racism and racial discrimination are not acknowledged.
Asian is a term in the UK which describes those whose heritage is that of the subcontinent of India. BESEA have been stuck with being described as Oriental or Chinese. For the most part, China or identifying as Chinese became the catch-all. This ignorance of the differences between the rich spectrum of ethnicities is symbolic of a lack of understanding driven by a colonial perspective and amounts to the racist notion that “we all look the same.” This should be abolished.
In the same manner that the term Black has now come to be understood, to represent and describe people of Black, African and Caribbean heritage, we believe that using the broad term British East and South East Asian can act as an umbrella and acknowledge our diversity.
We use the term BESEA to mean people of the following descent: Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and their diasporas. These people remain severely underrepresented in the arts in the UK.