What is SYMBOLIC ANNIHILATION?
Life is an ever changing journey of self discovery. We're constantly on this path of trying to figure out who were are in this world, our place in it and how we connect with one another. One thing that connects humans to each other are our experiences. Whether they are individual or shared, our experiences and the stories that come from them are how we connect to each other, create and build relationships. Sure, most organically this is done from human to human but another way we find connection are through the stories told in media. We look for the faces most similar to ours to see if our stories are being told, if there is something we can relate to.
“There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.”** It’s essentially the active un-represenation of cultural groups which is why representation does matter. Imagine growing up as a person of color and only ever seeing white stories told. You one hundred percent questions yourself, your identity and start to feel ashamed that you don’t look like the people you see on screen.
Growing up I definitely was not proud to be Asian American. In fact, I could probably say it was something I hated. On Saturday’s while my white friends got to sleep in, wake up late and watch “One Saturday Morning” I was in Korean school. They got lunchables, I got Asian lunches which always had seaweed, kimchi and some other pungent foods that I would always throw out. I “white-washed” myself and at times I hated that I wasn’t “white” and as a kid to an awkward teen and a young adult, there were times where I felt I wasn’t good enough.
This internal identity crisis not only manifested in myself but in how I made friendships and relationships. In high school, I was lucky enough to find a group of Asian Americans girlfriends (who are still my best friends to this day) who definitely had the same identity struggles as I did. We weren’t “Asian” enough to hangout with the super Asian or ABG Asians, but we were Asian so we didn’t necessarily fit in with the white girls who wore the exact same Hollister and Abercrombie outfits we did and watch Laguna Beach religiously like we did either. One friendship in particular I made in high school was with my best friend Kaisa, who I kid you not looks like freaking Princess Elsa from Frozen. As far back as I could remember, she was one of the first people to really make me feel proud to be Asian. She and I have a relationship and bond that I don’t have with anyone else, we had some similar experiences growing up that connected us but on the surface, when you just look at us we’re definitely different. I remember the first time Kaisa came over, my mom of course made Korean food. She made some of my grandma’s dumplings or mandoo. And to my surprise Kaisa loved them, she also shared my love of jelly pens and Hello Kitty. To this day Kaisa still asks for my grandma’s mandoo. I definitely got lucky with my friendships and it still shocks me to this day that Angel, Amanda, Kaisa, Nikki and Michelle are some of my closest friends.
But for some reason I always limited myself when it came to romantic relationships. I do think this is in part that I just never wanted to be involved with someone who was anything like my dad aka Korean, stubborn, close minded. From there it manifested into this “I don’t date Asian guys” stance and I do think it does have to do with symbolic annihilation. Fifteen, twenty years ago we didn’t have the Henry Goldings or the Charles Meltons on our screens. I had Paul Walker, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Chad Michael Murray. When we did have Asian males on our screens they were often portrayed in a very undesirable image. When you see a specific cultural group represented time and time again in the same undesirable manner, you end up thinking that’s actually the case in real life. Which as a wise 30 year old, I now know is not the case at all, haha. I mean did y’all watch Crazy Rich Asians?! There’s a lot of handsome half naked Asian men in that movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on HBO right now. Do yourself a favor and go watch it.
2018’s #AsianAugust was so goddamn amazing. Asians from all different nationalities fought for better representation, really fighting against this system of symbolic annihilation. I’m going to be completely honest, I cried watching Netflix’s To All The Boys I Loved Before. I’ve also become more emotional as I’ve gotten older so maybe that explains the crying but that scene where Noah Centineo’s character asks for the yalkult and found it to be yummy reminded me of my best friend Kaisa and my grandma’s dumplings. #AsianAugust really showed main stream media that we too are multifaceted human beings with equally as important stories and meaningful stories deserve to be told. The forward trajectory our pop culture and media are moving at needs to continue if we hope to breakdown this system of symbolic annihilation. We need to continue sharing the experiences, connection and stories of people of color because at the end of the day we’re all human. Humans on a journey of self discovery, trying to find our place in this crazy world.
**Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters by Sara Bobolotz and Kimberly Yam “https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-on-screen-representation-matters_n_58aeae96e4b01406012fe49d"