If you haven’t already watched the web series Quiet Tiny Asian, that is required viewing before you read this interview and also before you continue living your life. It’s a video guide to being an Asian American woman created by comedy duo SJ&GINNY. Whether you are an Asian American woman or you know an Asian American woman (hi hello you do it’s me), you will glean some wisdom from Quiet Tiny Asian.
SJ Son and Ginny Leise became SJ&GINNY after meeting in an improv class. They started hosting a live comedy show together in New York called The Shame Game and made videos to promote it. One of those videos, " Drive-By Street Harassment," has now been viewed over two million times.
Continuing to create comedy that addresses sexism and racism happened naturally for SJ&GINNY. Leise tells Bustle in an interview, “When we were writing [The Shame Game] we always prioritized our real experiences and writing about what was going on for us, and it ended up being really personal. That was a creative choice we carried with us. “
That choice comes across clearly in their work. As an audience member, you can always sense when diversity is an afterthought, a list item on a whiteboard in a marketing meeting. Quiet Tiny Asian, however, is an example of the kind of smart, conversation-driving entertainment that can happen when you start with a team of diverse people. The series stars Son, is directed by Leise, and was produced by Kollaboration, a production company that focuses on Asian American content. As Leise explains, “So much conversation about gender and race has ended up in our work because that’s the stuff we’re working through and thinking about in our personal lives.”
Quiet Tiny Asian begins a conversation about microaggressions that needs to continue happening because as Son and Leise put it, “There was no lack of material.”
These Types of Asian Microaggressions Happen All The Time
In less than five minutes, Quiet Tiny Asian runs the gamut of microaggressions Asian women hear. The compression of these stereotypes into such a tight format mirrors the feeling of what it’s like to be constantly bombarded by these types of comments. They happen on the street, with friends, at work. Leise wrote the ninja joke heard in the episode above after hearing Son referred to as being “so quiet! Like a ninja!” in a pitch meeting.
The entertainment industry is not lacking when it comes to portraying Asian stereotypes. “If we had a second season, I think we would include some of those perceptions of Asian meekness being reflected in the media,” says Son, explaining how so many of the acting roles currently available for Asian women are that of victims, sexual and otherwise.
Microaggressions Are Not Compliments
One of the scenes cut from the series showed Son’s character being asked to split the bill at dinner, with the assumption being that Asians are good at math. There is the notion that a stereotype isn’t harmful if it portrays someone in a positive light. These types of comments that are seemingly small are, as Leise puts it, “very difficult to unpack.” But the fact remains microaggressions are not compliments. Attributing a characteristic, however seemingly positive, to a person based on their race is a form of racism.
Everyone Can Help Address Microaggressions
Acknowledging microaggressions is a necessary first step to preventing them in the future, but it’s important to remember that it is a first step. “It’s easy to say ‘I am not a racist person’ but these things are tricky,” says Leise. “[Microaggressions] are ingrained, and we don’t always see them for what they are.” Leise, who is white, acknowledges that there is always room for growth. “My advice to people looking to be good allies would be to stay humble about the fact that you’ve likely f*cked up quite a bit in the past, and chances are very good you don’t know everything yet."
Yes, Racism Against Asians Exists and We Need to Be Talking About It
Because Asian Americans as a racial demographic are doing well overall socioeconomically, there is often the assumption that discrimination against Asians does not exist. Microaggressions are normalized and become an assumed part of the Asian American experience. Son talks about how she realized this after her initial reaction to Michael Luo’s New York Times open letter to the woman who told him to “go back to China.”
“My first thought was, well, you know, this happens all the time. And then I was like, ‘Wait, how have I internalized or accepted this kind of bullsh*t for so long that that’s my first reaction?’” Son says that open letter by Luo inspired her to create Quiet Tiny Asian.
“It was personally difficult to make this series because it took a lot of encouragement to say that this matters. Asian microaggressions are constantly something that we as Asian Americans grow up thinking we need to get over, we need to ignore ... we need to grow a thick skin.” Seeing Luo’s letter encouraged and allowed Son to also say, “My experience matters.”
Son hopes we continue listening to Asian Americans' experiences. “We need to be hearing more stories of Asian racism now or else it’s going to continue to be forgotten.”
As Son and Leise continue to create comedy like Quiet Tiny Asian that shares stories of underrepresented voices, I for one will gladly listen.