By Laylita Day
I started to notice a disturbing trend among certain TV shows. Each one featured a biracial character, specifically a woman who had an Asian mom and White dad. The disturbing part of this was the fact that none of the Asian moms are actually in the shows with one slight exception. This caught my attention mainly because I too have a White dad and Asian mom. My mother and I are fairly close, so seeing show after show where the biracial daughter has no contact or knowledge of her mother made me feel uneasy. I began to ask myself why there were so many M.I.A. Asian moms in biracial TV families.
In Bones, shown on Fox, there is the character of Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin), who is portrayed as half Chinese and half White. Her White father, played by Billy Gibbons has made several appearances on the show, while there is neither a sighting nor even a mention of her Asian mom. In Nikita (Maggie Q), shown on The CW, we are again met with a biracial woman whose White father shows up (for one episode before being killed off) while the mom has no place in the show. In Scorpion, shown on CBS and featuring Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), we are faced with another White father who slowly comes into his daughter’s life after a long absence due to the death of his wife, Happy’s mother. Again the Asian mom is written out of the story. In Beauty and the Beast, also on The CW, the character of Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) provides us with another biracial woman. This time we finally get to see an Asian mom, but who is immediately killed off. She does appear again in flashbacks but only three times. The fact that Catherine’s father, both her biological one and not biological one appear more often continues the trend of making the White male character/father a higher priority than the Asian character/mom.
By presenting the White father, viewers can clearly see the protagonist as biracial, which is needed in network TV considering the growing population of biracial and multiracial people today. According to the 2010 Census, the multiple-race population grew faster than the single-race one by 32 percent from 2000 to 2010 with 9 million people identifying as multi-racial. Those identifying as White and Asian were the third largest group at 1.6 million and grew at about 750,000, an increase of 87 percent.
But the problem remains that the selective depiction of biracial characters and their families creates a lack of representation for biracial families and the issues they deal with. These issues could include obvious cultural clashes, but the real importance of being able to see these families is to make known both the joys and struggles of living in a society that still grapples with accepting interracial dating, marriage and being biracial. Possible reasons for not showing more non-Whites, in this case Asian moms in biracial families, could stem from the opinions of writers and producers, attempting to show diversity while still reinforcing the tradition of having mostly White characters and/or trying to avoid backlash at showing a married interracial couple with a child, such as what happened with the famous Cheerios commercial, depicting a White woman with an African-American husband and biracial daughter.
This latter possible reason is especially important in showing how part of society still thinks negatively about interracial couples and biracial families, how such families are still considered not appropriate and not “normal”. That’s exactly the very reason network shows should present such families more. The more they are depicted in the media, the less unusual they will become and hopefully more accepted and understood. It could also give biracial families a platform to present their families in all types of ways. Such depictions could include being the only ones in a neighborhood or town and dealing with racism, living in highly diverse places and not seeing any difference in their lives from anyone else, or experiencing something else entirely. Until these narratives are explored and represented on TV, the general public may only see one version of biracial families, effectively stereotyping them and misunderstanding what it means to be a part of such families. The same can be said for gay families who also fight for accurate representation.
On a broader level, the trend of missing or killing off characters of color is not limited to Asian moms in biracial families. One could say that the M.I.A. Asian moms is simply a case of using the common tragic dead/missing mom story trope, but even if that is part of the answer, there are shows that give the impression that the non-White character is just a temporary diversity filler. Examples include Joss Carter (Taraji Henson) from Person of Interest (creating an all-White cast), Michelle Lee (Liza Lapira) from NCIS, Dominic Vail (Adam Craig) from NCIS: Los Angeles (replaced by the White character Marty Deeks), Dr. Olivia Fawcett (Mylène Dinh-Robic) from The Listener and so on. Of course there could be behind the scenes issues, such as the actor/actress does not want to continue the role, but even with that consideration, one usually can see that the replacements or lack of these characters creates a less diverse cast afterwards and that is the real problem.
Coming back to the issue of Asian moms, while we see these strong biracial Asian female protagonists who play diverse roles (cop, spy, forensic artist and mechanical engineer) and get a taste of the diversity that we see in real life, each show still falls short of what could be an even better, more accurate depiction of biracial families. Showing only one group, White dads, while excluding or ignoring the Asian moms of biracial families only reinforces a separation of the two groups. This leads to an opposing depiction of biracial families that lessens the impact of having a biracial character. While not every show with a biracial character has to depict the whole family, not every show should be absent of them too. These families do not always have to be portrayed as happily together because that is not always the case in real life. But shows that make an effort to show a biracial character should try to make an effort to show the biracial family that goes with the character and the experiences that surround them. Otherwise it is not a true depiction of biracial life for half Asians, but a very one-sided one where the image of biracial is shown but not discussed. For biracial families, it is time to be seen and heard no matter what backlash is thrown their way.