I am a resident of Todmorden of East Asian extraction and I was stunned and upset by the Asian caricatures allowed to walk down our high street on Saturday as part of the Todmorden Carnival.
To represent the theme of the “Far East” there were people dressed up, for example, with pigtails and ‘slant-eye’ make up, or in Chinese takeaway container costumes. I can understand a child or two who perhaps don’t realise that this could be offensive, but I can’t understand how a classroom teacher or a youth group leader can think it was okay to dress an entire group of children like this.
If the theme was Africa, would we see groups of children “blacked up” with spears in their hands? By the looks of this, I dare say we would.
The fault is not only with the group leaders, but also with the carnival organisers who put forward a theme which opens itself to such embarrassing stereotypes.
Last month I attended the Cultural Fusion event at Todmorden High School and was warmed by the breadth of participation from the different school groups in the area. A couple of weeks ago, I was so pleased with the full attendance and enthusiasm of the audience at “Taking Flight”, a performance at the Todmorden Unitarian Church about immigration and the search for home.
How can these two events exist in the same town as a carnival which reduces one of the most dominant cultures of the world to Fu Manchu moustaches? Two steps forward, one stumble back.
I know some who read this letter will just try to dismiss it as being “politically correct” but the reason why these stereotypes are no longer acceptable in most of our society is not a function of political fashion but because most people have realised that lazily reducing people to stereotypes and marking them as “exotic” or “other” robs them of their individuality and their humanity.
I’m not upset because Todmorden is putting out naïve out-of-date images of Asian people but because the action of adults validating these ideas directly affects the way people, especially children, will relate to me in my own home town.
In addition to being an East Asian resident of Todmorden, I am also the person who started the Handmade Samba Band which has been a part of the Todmorden Carnival the last few years. It is one of the few live music acts in the carnival and has been lending a vibrant energy to the procession.
We love to play in the Carnival, but we don’t want to put our name to another parade like this year’s.
Come on Todmorden, let’s think more carefully about how we want the world to see our values in the street in this very public statement!
Andrew Kim, Todmorden.