Kat Chow

Kat Chow is a journalist covering race, ethnicity, and culture for NPR's new Code Switch team. In this role, Chow is responsible for reporting and telling stories using social media, sparking conversations online, and blogging.

Prior to coming to NPR, Chow worked with WGBH in Boston and was a reporting fellow for The Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper in Phnom Penh.

While a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, Chow was a founding member of a newsmagazine television show and freelanced for the Seattle Weekly. She also interned with the Seattle Times and worked on NBC's Winter Olympics coverage in Vancouver, B.C. You can find her tweeting away for Code Switch at @NPRCodeSwitch, and sharing her thoughts at @katchow.

For this week's episode, I sat down with my Code Switch teammate Gene Demby to dig into one of our favorite topics: rep sweats. It's the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows or movies starring people who look like you, especially when People Who Look Like You tend not to get a lot of screen time.

My dad, who came to the U.S. in 1969 from Hong Kong, who speaks English-lilted-with-Taishanese, who has lived in Connecticut for two-thirds of his life — three times the length of his time in Asia — still uses the word "Oriental."

It's always a casual reference. "This place used to be a Oriental restaurant," he'll say, as we drive by a boarded-up storefront that once was a Chinese take-out joint.

He doesn't use it in a derogatory way. It's just his go-to term for anything Asian, whether that's food, a business, a person, an idea. But I keep trying to get him to stop.

On a recent March morning at his home in a New Jersey suburb, Anthony Mendez was on his living room couch with his 9-year-old daughter. He was watching the previous night's episode of Jane the Virgin, studying his own performance as the show's unseen narrator.

So you walk into the new Korean joint around the corner and discover that (gasp) the head chef is a white guy from Des Moines. What's your gut reaction? Do you want to walk out? Why?

The question of who gets to cook other people's food can be squishy — just like the question of who gets to tell other people's stories. (See: the whole controversy over the casting of the new Nina Simone biopic.)

Jeremy Arambulo, a Filipino-American comic artist who lives in Los Angeles, says he basically came out of the womb knowing the legend of Bruce Lee, the kung fu king. "He's like our Elvis," says Arambulo. "If we didn't have him, geez, who would we have? Charlie Chan? I don't know. Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's?"

In Fresh Off The Boat's first episode, Eddie Huang walks into the cafeteria of his new middle school for the first time, toting a brown paper bag. As he looks for a seat, we're reminded that on top of the usual new school jitters, Eddie's the lone Asian-American kid in a sea of white faces, each with their prepackaged Lunchables and prepackaged friend groups.

Recently, we've been talking a lot about onscreen diversity and how much browner TV has gotten in the past few years with shows like Empire, Master of None and Dr. Ken and showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Nahnatchka Khan injecting more people of color into the system.

Around this time in 2014, ABC had just canceled the sitcom Selfie, starring everybody's ideal boyfriend John Cho and Karen Gillan. Cho was the first Asian-American male to play the lead in a rom-sitcom — he called his role "revolutionary" — and fans lamented that the show was just finding its legs when it got cut.

The word "diversity" gets thrown around a lot in these parts, and recently, it has come under a lot of scrutiny; it's easy to invoke, but what does it actually mean?

Grace Lee Boggs, who has spent much of her life advocating for civil rights and labor rights, became such a noted figure in Detroit's Black Power movement that people assumed she must be partially black. In some of her FBI files, Boggs, who is Chinese-American, was described as "probably Afro Chinese."

(We'll let that sit with you for a moment.)

And that's not the only assumption she's defied. For almost a century — she turned 100 Saturday — she's challenged how people think about their own activism.

Pages