Bowen Yang, left, and Joel Kim Booster attend the Los Angeles premiere of A24's "Dicks: The Musical" on Sept. 18 in Beverly Hills, California.
Mostpeopleof color have had this painfully uncomfortable experience. Still, I don’t think anything can top the cringe factor of what happened to Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang.
An article published in Out magazine criticized The Hollywood Reporter for mixing up the two Asian comedians. Unfortunately, the Out writer also got them mixed up in their own piece. That’s right: While trying to point out an injustice toward two queer Asians being mistaken for each other, they did the exact same thing. Witnessing it all play out online was like opening a Russian nesting doll of microaggressions that wouldn’t stop revealing themselves.
In the piece, posted Dec. 6, Out magazine attributed a quote from Yang to Booster. As the flustered cherry on top of all this, the writer also said that “Booster and Kim continue to be two of the funniest comedians working today.” (Again, “Booster” and “Kim” are the same person.) Both errors have since been corrected, and the Out article now includes a correction note and apology for the misattribution, saying it “deeply regrets” its mistake.
By the way, we’re not going to call out the writer by name because we’re not interested in being petty to another presumably queer person. And at media outlets, there are usually multiple eyes on a story before it’s published. So when non-Asian writers do shit like this while writing about Asian people, it’s often a team folly.
Still, as a queer Asian person, it was especially exasperating to witness a writer getting these comedians’ names wrong, especially when Yang and Booster are so beloved by our community — and the Out piece was supposed to be in their defense. Booster rightfully roasted the piece on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The deep irony of this post is Out ALSO misidentifying us,” he wrote. “What is happening. This feels like a social experiment.”
And then he said this:
Bowen and I promised each other that this year we’d suppress our urge to make the people who mix us up feel better afterwards. No more “no worries you’re okay, haha” to assuage people’s guilt. I still give people a lot of grace but sometimes it’s good for people to sit in it.
I believe he’s right — maybe we shouldn’t rush to try and comfort people about mistakenly mixing us up. At the end of the day, the whole experience is more embarrassing for us than it is for them, and as much as we might want to play it off, it’s dehumanizing and makes us feel interchangeable.
Human error is inevitable, and I know mistakes with no malicious intent will continue to be made, but it is important to let people “sit in it” instead of immediately forgiving. Maybe that’s the only way editors, writers and everyone else in the world will pay more attention to these details, which are, uh, kind of important.
Studies have shown that Black people, Asian people and members of other minority groups are frequently mistaken for others of their race in the workplace — and in the criminal justice system ― which takes a toll on our overall quality of life. If people can’t tell you apart from the other Asian person in the room, how do you expect to stand out and be promoted? What reason do you have to believe the individual effort you’re putting in will be valued?
Maybe it’s time for a larger shift, like hiring more writers of color to write about people of color — media is still overwhelmingly homogenous, and 76% of journalists surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2022 identified as white. Maybe in addition to asking white people to “do better,” publications should just bring more people of color aboard.