- Stephanie Fung
A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Viv Yau
We saw Viv Yau popping up on social media calling for more awareness and action against the portrayal of Asians in mass media’s imagery of the Coronoavirus and had the opportunity thanks to our collaboration with Asians in Britain to learn more about this movement. Read on and get involved!
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m the founder of Bee Influence, an influencer marketing agency where we essentially work with clients to market their product or services using social media influencers. We’ve recently also launched a talent management programme as part of the business so we’re representing influencers. Our focus is on representing a more diverse roster. This means having as many different people from as many different backgrounds as possible, especially from marginalised communities—in particular East Asian and South-East Asian influencers because I feel that we are so underrepresented.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I kind of just met an investor who planted the seed in my head in terms of starting my own business. It really gave me the confidence to do that. It’s a bit weird because usually, you see other businesses go through Dragon’s Den to try to receive investments. However, I just had this opportunity right in front of me and I never really sought out the opportunity. I was extremely fortunate and I was at the right place at the right time and my investor saw something in me and the business. So, that’s how it started.
What pushed you to start this campaign to stop the disproportionate depiction of East and South-East Asian depiction in the media?
The reason why I started the petition was because of an Australian article in The Guardian and how they were depicting East Asians in the article related to face masks, which I thought was unfair. You see five East and Southeast Asian people in the forefront of this picture taken in Sydney (below, taken from The Guardian site), Australia. It was meant to be talking about the whole Australian population, but that photo just disproportionately represents the Australian population.
People leave Flinders Street Station on 21 June. Australia updated its Covid face mask position in response to rising coronavirus cases in Melbourne, with new rules making face masks mandatory across Victoria.
That wasn’t the only article that I saw because I’ve seen it enough times to feel that something needs to be done. In some instances, we’ve got the images changed because we explained to them how the images negatively affect our communities and perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes and idea that all Asians are responsible for Coronavirus in some way or are Coronavirus carriers.
So, I emailed The Guardian's complaints department which went through to David Whitfield, the Assistant Readers’ Editor and we got a response very quickly. However, I was extremely disappointed with the response which you can see on my Instagram (@itsvivyau) where I’ve created detailed threads about it.
Essentially to summarise his response, he denies what we were saying in terms of the imagery being discriminatory and he comes up with rebuttals by listing 10 articles and how the articles don’t show "people like you." In fact, he believes that the article that I complained about shows people like us displaying good behaviour, so we should be grateful for how they are depicting us in the media. This really sparked a lot of rage in me and that night, I started the petition on Change.org. You need to get at least five signatures in order for it to be registered on the website so I was texting everyone so sign it.
I also host this podcast called "But Where Are You From?" and I have built a really nice community of East and Southeast Asian people and we all follow each other. A couple of them got in touch with me; they also felt the same. I also managed to find other people who shared the same thoughts as me. I can’t remember how we all found each other exactly, but somehow the six of us, six women, were all connected to each other. Then, one of the women suggested we start a Whatsapp group to chat about this together. It was really nice to find a group of people who feel the same way as you because it can feel quite isolating when you think that you’re the only person in the world to say something and care about this.
After a week of us complaining and trying to figure out this big mess of an issue, we’ve realised that we have uncovered something that was way bigger than just one news outlet. It involves politics—worldwide politics. There are reasons why governments are dispatching and displaying these types of imagery. It’s all influenced by what’s going on in the world.
We’ve also discovered issues with systemic racism in these organisations. The truth is that the top editors of these news outlets are mainly all white with rarely any people of colour, especially black people. Not only that, these images are from Getty Images. The question is how are Getty labelling these images on their website? There is this whole network of issues that we uncovered and it was extremely emotionally exhausting and draining. We’ve realised that it’s not just The Guardian. It’s our entire system that needs fixing.
However, thanks to Daniel York Loh (@danielfyork), an activist, musician, artist, actor etc., he has a connection with Sarah Owen (@SarahOwen_), who is a Labour MP from Luton and is also a British East Asian. He then sent her the petition and at that time, we only had less than 3000 signatures. But, because she understands what we’ve been through, she went straight to Parliament and raised this issue with them. She basically asked the government what they are doing to tackle hate crimes towards East and South Asian people because the media are contributing to this issue at hand. Whether they chose to admit this or not, it’s not like the media is doing this in a very overt way.
Initially, you might think that there’s no issue with the media just showing one East Asian person wearing a mask in a Coronavirus-related article. However, when you see it repeatedly, it’s reinforcing the idea that we are somehow connected to this and puts us on a monolithic block in terms of who we are. That’s really dangerous because it results in racial hate crimes, abuse and also hate speech. Owens raised this with Victoria Atkins, the minister for safeguarding and they have promised to meet with us and we are now waiting for this to be confirmed.
Since the initial push in Parliament, we have now reached over 10,000 signatures. That is a big milestone for us and we were really keen to get it to 10,000 signatures before our meeting with Victoria Atkins in September. We’ve managed to achieve this within a month and this just shows that you don’t have to personally experience this to do something about it.
However, we’re still in step one. We’ve not even managed to make any changes. We still have a lot to go when it comes to how we actually tackle all these issues. Meanwhile, whilst we’ve been petitioning, we’ve also linked up with other organisations who are also fighting against this. We’ve been working with an organisation called End the Virus of Racism who are also crowdfunding to start the first not-for-profit organisation to tackle hate crimes against East and Southeast Asian people. So, we’ve been volunteering our time to help with that as well. We just really need to tackle these issues ourselves because the government isn’t going to do it so we’re going to take it into our own hands and do something about it ourselves.
Other than helping to sign the petition, what else can we do to support this movement?
There is so much you can do. Carry on sharing resources on social media. If you see imagery on the news that is not related to East and Southeast Asian people where it’s about Coronavirus, but we are being used as poster children of the article, complain. It takes only two minutes to do this.
We still have a lot to do, but more people are speaking up about this which does make a difference. Recently, the BBC was caught using the N-word and they racked up 19,000 complaints. Without this significant number of complaints, they wouldn’t have issued an apology. Unfortunately, it took for someone to leave the organisation for them to actually say something about it and apologise for their actions.
We can all help each other. I think we all feel empowered that we can do our own bits. We can all do different things. What I’ve learnt recently is that not everyone is going to be as vocal about it as I am. People do a lot on their own privately and in their own time, almost kind of supporting the cause silently. This is something that is really valuable as well because no route is better or worse.
Bee Influence: https://www.beeinfluence.co.uk/influencer-network
Sign the Petition: https://www.change.org/p/bbc-stop-depicting-east-asians-in-coronavirus-related-media
You can also hear more about Viv Yau’s work on the High Expectasians podcast Episode 8: COVID Ain't Real.