HomeAsian AmericansYolk.tv CEO Speaks Out After Backlash

Yolk.tv CEO Speaks Out After Backlash

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By Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor

The CEO of an Asian American multimedia magazine is speaking out after his new venture faced backlash on social media.

On Tuesday viral tweets highlighting the problematic nature of a Yolk.tv, a new Asian American multimedia magazine went viral. The Yolk.tv website is now down for site maintenance.

Bettina Makalintal appears to have posted the first tweet, calling the magazine’s branding “weird.”

Vanessa Chan, a fiction editor for Tri Quarterly Magazine, posted screenshots of the media company’s website before it was taken down. In the screenshots, Yolk.tv labeled itself a multimedia magazine for Asian Americans celebrating “all of the colors in and around yellow.” Many Asian Americans took umbrage with the use of the term yellow, which is considered a slur.

Chan also highlighted a section which described the magazine as a place “where Asians and ‘near Asians'” coexist. AAPIs expressed confusion at the term.

It was later adjusted to “Asian adjacent,” but the quick change was not received well.

Chan and several other AAPI Twitter users expressed concern that the boardroom appeared to be majority White.

After tweets went viral and changes to the website were poorly received, the website shut down for site maintenance.

AsAmNews spoke with the magazine’s CEO Jonathan Sposato, who is half Chinese and Korean, to shed some light on the magazine’s intentions.

Sposato clarified that Yolk.tv was not created by White people.

“I started it,” Sposato told AsAmNews in an email. “I am the founder, CEO, and 100% investor of yolk.tv.  I am the sole person on the cap table, although of course shares will be granted to others as we evolve.”

Sposato said his goal is to elevate AAPI’s.

“This current project we are incubating is an earnest attempt to elevate AAPI’s,” he said in an email. “I want to create a platform to showcase more AAPI writers, filmmakers, podcasters, and storytellers; people who should be on a big stage with a big engaged audience.”

Some critics noted that the project bore a similar name to Yolk Magazine, which was founded by AAPIs in the 90s. Sposato said he spoke with the founders after applying for a trademark.

“I applied for the trademark knowing that the old magazine was now defunct,” Sposato said. “I also reached out to the original owners to confirm this, and if true, to inquire about licensing or buying their URL. They were very gracious in responding back, and I consider myself very lucky to have made their acquaintance over Zoom over the last year.  They created something cool and have been supportive of my efforts despite having very busy day jobs no longer in publishing.”

He also explained the roles of some of the White media team listed on the website.

Heather Lowenthal is a TV/film producer and Sposato’s wife. Sposato “brought her in” so they could tell the many stories they’ve shared about Sposato’s family. Tracy Dethlefs, a producer for the magazine, is the parent of a Korean adoptee. Ben Press is a “Hollywood superagent” who Sposato says has been instrumental in securing meetings with top AAPI talent.

In his email interview, Sposato apologized for the use of the term “yellow” and the name Yolk, which references the term.

“Again I sincerely apologize for causing offense,” Sposato said. “We chose the color yellow for it’s obvious associations with the name ‘Yolk.’  In coming up with our site name, we found ‘Yolk’ to be an apt symbol for an Asian American minority surrounded by a white majority America.”

Sposato said their use of the term “yellow” was inspired by writings from NPR’s Kat Chow who suggested the use of the word might force people to acknowledge its long history of racism. He notes their “blindspot” was that others did not see it that way.

Sposato also apologized for the use of the term “near Asians.” It was meant to describe allies like his wife.

“Again I sincerely apologize for any consternation I have caused,” Sposato said. “My use of the term ‘near asian’ in the very early landing page copy (not meant to be final) was in reference to allies who are very close family members or friends.  My wife is White and she is literally near me witnessing my journey.  It is not, as the twitter-verse has denounced, a reference to anthropological lineage nor used to diminish someone who is mixed race.  It simply means an ally who is physically close.  It’s that simple. I am happy to just say ‘allies.'”

The magazine is now going back to the drawing board. Sposato reached out to Bettina Makalintal who offered great insight into how they could improve. He told AsAmNews that they plan to make the following four changes immediatley, with more to come:

1. Effective immediately, we are accelerating our efforts to close agreements with more AAPI’s on our leadership team, as well as securing key AAPI notables on our board of directors.  Truth is, many of these were pending but I am even more eager to close candidates sooner vs. later.  Stay tuned for more.

2. We will be changing our name from “Yolk.tv” to a new name that will be less polarizing.  It’s an opportunity to broaden our thinking, and to not bring forward the many sensitivities associated with the term.  That said, we will be acknowledging this transition when we launch and honor our agreement to spotlight the original Yolk team.

3. Effective immediately, we will standardize on the term “allies” to mean allies.    

4. Effective immediately, we will be onboarding more younger writers, and generally a more diverse group of team members including south asians. We want to make sure we are not unintentionally offending or marginalizing folks.

Are you happy with the changes? Let us know in the comments below.

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