New York City politician Margaret Chin made history in 2010 when she became the first Asian-American woman to serve on the council as well as the first Chinese person to serve as a council member for District One, which includes the Lower Manhattan and Chinatown. Unfortunately, as an Asian American woman, Chin is still subject to stereotyping and discrimination.
Whilst using Facebook to promote her official office page, Chin noticed that the website had a problematic recommendation for her. It actively asked her to change her page designation from government official to government official AND Chinese restaurant owner. In fact, if Chin hadn’t noticed and rejected the recommendation, it would have applied them without her permission.
Whether based on her name or on the numerous Chinatown businesses she supports and visits, the Facebook Information request is in embarrassingly poor taste and incredibly disrespectful. It implies that a Chinese politician representing Chinatown HAS to also be a Chinese restaurant owner.
The label not only being recommended but also being enforced also suggests that an experienced politician is incapable of properly representing themselves or their race. Facebook trusts that its racist algorithm clearly knows all.
Chin’s team condemned the incident in a long and poignant statement:
This Facebook notification sends a disappointing message to users of diverse backgrounds that as long as your name sounds ‘foreign’ or ‘different,’ you will never truly belong.
While making this correction presented only a minor inconvenience, I have to wonder how many other Asian Americans and communities of color have felt marginalized, misrepresented or stereotyped – either directly or indirectly – by this technology.
Facebook holds enormous power to connect and educate people from all corners of the world. Instead of pulling us apart by enforcing dangerous biases that marginalize certain groups, Facebook’s technology should be bringing us closer together.
Asian American Pacific Heritage Month presents a special opportunity for us to recognize the struggles that Asian Americans have overcome – and continue to face – in the fight for equality and representation. I hope that Facebook can see this unfortunate alert as an opportunity to fix this problem, and rectify any other systemic gaps that reinforce harmful stereotypes.