Hello. I’m Marley (not my IRL name), I’m in my late twenties, I’m a quarter Japanese and usually refer to myself as mixed race, and I’m going to talk about my feelings re: the Blind Banker, the second episode of BBC’s Sherlock. I am NOT a sociologist; I did not study race relations in college; I do, however, follow some really awesome social justice blogs that talk about race in the US specifically and I will totally rec the fuck out of them at the end of this post. I do realize that TBB and, of course, all of Sherlock was written for a British audience, and while that undermines my authority it certainly does not undermine my feelings. So, um. On with it?
I’m going to assume, dear Reader, that you’ve seen the episode. So here are a few quick facts about it:
1. all of the Chinese characters are criminals. Soo Lin is reformed, but she was a criminal. She was a smuggler. There are no characters of Chinese descent in this episode who are not criminals, and no characters of Chinese descent in any other episode who have names.
2. some of the white people are criminals, yes. BUT NOT ALL OF THEM. And that’s important, because it presents the white people as individuals. The Chinese people are all smugglers. A monolithic group.
3. Soo Lin’s brother is the one to kill her.
3. None of our Chinese characters survive this episode.
So, let’s examine that. Basically, our Chinese characters are a disposable, monolithic group of criminals who kill their own family members without remorse. That’s not a pretty picture to paint of a group of people. And yes, the show never says all Chinese people are like that; however, it actually goes out of its way to show us all the “perfectly normal” Chinese people who ARE, actually, PART OF THIS GROUP. Soo Lin is a perfectly nice, pretty woman who works at a museum JUST KIDDING SMUGGLER. There’s a kind of sweet old-ish lady running a shop JUST KIDDING LEADING THE SMUGGLERS. Ooh, Chinese characters graffitied all over the wall, for ALL OF THE MANY MEMBERS OF THE CHINESE SMUGGLING RING to read on their way home on the train.
The Chinese characters are treated like pieces of the plot, not like characters. Soo Lin loses and gains her accent depending on when she has to seem more “exotic.” (My darling Nyxe frequently calls out the “is that security?” line over the phone at me.) She is given so little agency in defending herself that instead of running from the threat left to her at work—so, you know, they know she works there?—she hides out in her museum so as not to leave her pots. Because that’s exactly what a brilliant woman who left a smuggling ring and got an amazing job where she is considered an expert in her field would do, right?
But we can rely on the trope of the self-sacrificing Asian (sacrificing herself for her work, right). We can rely on the trope of the Asian woman being submissive to the men in her life (won’t even fight her brother, all right). We can rely on these stereotypes to ease our way out of critical thinking about Soo Lin’s character, so we don’t question the lazy writing. And when it’s all over, we can get rid of the Chinese characters and not deal with their weird smuggling ways.
I’m not Chinese. I can’t comment on the circus or on the tea pots (although Wiki says “Yixing teapots absorb a tiny amount of tea into the pot during brewing. After prolonged use, the pot will develop a coating that retains the flavor and color of the tea. It is for this reason that soap should not be used to clean Yixing teapots. Instead, it should be rinsed with fresh water and allowed to air-dry.” and does not say “pour tea over your tea pots, y’all”). I hope someone can and does.
It’s lazy writing. Lazy writing that relies on racist tropes (submission, self-sacrifice for no fucking reason). Lazy writing that hits racist themes (all the same, all criminals). That doesn’t mean it was meant to actively hurt the Chinese community.
But goddamn, it hurts when you just want to escape into a fun show and you’re shown, again, that there’s no escape for you. People read and watch TV to escape the shit that happens in their lives, but sometimes books and TV throw it at you, too. And it sucks. It sucks so hard.
(Not commenting on the sword fight. NOT. COMMENTING.)
This is not an essay or anything. This is maybe up to twenty minutes of thinking/writing/talking to Nyxe on the phone, hi Nyxe! Other people will have other things to say. Some people may have a lot of other things to say, but maybe they won’t say them. Maybe they’ve been told “you’re just too sensitive” or “it’s not a big deal” or “it’s just a show” one too many times, or a thousand too many times.
But I want to think we’re all a reasonable group of people, and we can respect each other and each other’s feelings. I may be wrong. I guess we’ll find out? But I would love to have the conversation. I am personally going to prioritize Chinese voices, and then POC voices in general, over white voices, and I am going to do that BECAUSE I think we need to hear more from the people who are directly affected by the racist tropes I’m calling out here. I don’t think the tropes in this episode affect white people in the same way. If you want to understand WHY I am saying TBB is relying on racist tropes, then you will have to listen to the people who are affected by the racist tropes.
If you just want to argue with me, I may not respond. Just fair warning. :D I’m no expert. I’m just a woman who wanted to show a little support to an unhappy anon, and who really respects BBCSherlockFTW for having this conversation with me in a very respectful way. I hope I am being respectful, too.
Now! For my recs!
Check out esoterica here on Tumblr (LURK. LURK HARD. SHE’LL RIP YOU APART IF YOU CROSS HER. OH GOD BUT SHE’S SO GREAT.). Google the Angry Black Woman, read Angry Asian Man, check out Racialicious. Racism is a really hard subject to sink your teeth into, because it hurts so much. But it’s so worth it. Knowledge = power and all that.
Thanks for reading.
EDIT: oh god, jhameia too! She’s on tumblr. She’s grand!