By Jessica Jin
Erasure. Erasure. Erasure. Erasure. Erasure.
I’m saying it enough times that it hopefully doesn’t sound like a word anymore. That it disappears. I am Chinese. Erase my yellow skin. Erase my eyes. Erase my black hair. Put me on a stage where white men watch me. Watch them laugh. I’m invisible so they see right through me. Put someone else on stage, dressed in my skin, so they finally see me. I am whole. I am peace. I am transparent. I am erased. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.
What they never tell you, what the inevitable most-protected most-taboo thing to say is, is that we don’t live in a post-racial society.
People of Color are Other.
This is a fact. To say otherwise is to erase the reality of racial conflict, Black and Brown and Yellow death that continues to this day. This hour. This second.
The Gilbert & Sullivan Players are putting on a production of “The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu” this weekend. In the Crimson article they released only a few days before this show, they claim to be striving towards a vision of a “humane Mikado.” The dilemma they face?
“Strike “The Mikado” from our season, and ignore one of the most problematic but well-known G&S; shows, or try to confront it by reimagining it and subverting authorial intent.”
The intention is beautiful. I want to imagine a world where I can take a show based in the humiliation of my race and of Black races as well, hold it in my hands, and make it good. A show that includes the line “Toko for Yam,” a Victorian-era British-colonial term for beating a West Indian slave. A show that names a white person dressed as a Japanese person “Yum-Yum” and “Nanki-Poo.” Isn’t it beautiful? I subvert it, I take out “Toko for Yam.” I take out “Yum-Yum.” I take everything out of it. Its racist undertones are gone. I smile. My white donors smile.
The intention is misguided. To call not putting on a play with distinctly racist colonial roots that have modern-day impact “erasure,” is to not fully know what erasure is. Erasure is sanitizing the script until it becomes palatable to the diversity-initiative sensitivities of the audience, and the cast.
When asked earlier why the Mikado could simply not be put on, the response from G&S was that there was a set rotation of shows. The response was that the play was a favorite of the donors.
When Asian protestors did nothing more than create a Facebook Group to organize protest against the Mikado, to gather in support and solidarity of cultural defense, we received disrespect and dismay from members of the G&S cast, rather than the “welcome invitation to engage with the historical and contemporary implications.”
The words they said:
“I honestly think protesting this show would prove to be a waste of everyone’s time, because if you were to see this production or talk to any cast/staff, you would understand that this is not the type of show that needs to be opposed.”
“Are we ignoring the fact that the president of the company is Asian-American and that the *subject* of this production (via its staging and dramaturgy — as opposed to the subject of the original text) is the exotification and commodification of Japanese culture for audiences that blithely indulge in racist consumer habits?”
The words they didn’t say:
I am not listening to you.
I am not aware that I could be wrong.
I don’t want to be wrong.
I’m sorry for forgetting.
Chinese bodies under the railroads.
I understand that you all have worked hard on this show. That it is a product of your effort, your sweat, and your tears, and you need it to be good. None of us who are fighting your show are devaluing all of your hard work. But here it is- despite your noble intentions, I despise it. It hurts me somewhere in the vast ocean between where my parents call home and where I call home. I wish it were never born. I think of the title of your play- “Titipu”- and I think of how laughter sounds after my mother speaks broken English. I think of British colonials giving my great-grandfather opium until he had no more money left and my grandfather didn’t go to school. I think of your eyes, looking away from all of us. Shame. Looking back, with anger and defensiveness. I see you seeing right through me.
I am finally quiet.
I won’t respond.
-PostIt Comix is a weekly comic strip + blog post series that I (Jessica Jin) will be running throughout the year.