The Trauma of Racism: Yellowface

This article is part of a series called “The Trauma of Racism,” where we highlight the effects racism can have on minority populations.
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Phil Chan (Courtesy: Eli Schmidt)

As a young boy, Phil Chan was already attuned to racism in ballet performances. Today, the New York City-based dancer works to fight racism with “Final Bow for Yellowface,” a movement that aims to make ballet more inclusive.

The movement is based on the term known as yellowface, or the yellow-ing of white skin. Like blackface, yellowface connotes racism and has a history of being used in performance art.

Chan and fellow dancer Georgina Pazcoguin encourage ballet companies worldwide to commit to creating an inclusive environment on- and off-stage.

Almost every major ballet company has signed the pledge.

“I think we’ve pushed the conversation,” he said. “The best practice for the entire field has now shifted.”

A Shift in Conversation

Although “Final Bow for Yellowface” started in 2017, it has taken on new meaning amidst an ongoing wave of alleged anti-Asian hate crimes.

Chan says his family, who live in the San Francisco Bay area, have felt the trauma of this crime wave.

“A lot of them are afraid to go out in public,” he said.

Living in New York City, Chan himself is on guard in public, especially on the subway.

“I’m definitely a lot more hyper-aware than I was before,” he said.

In response to this growing anti-hate movement, he and his co-founder decided to host virtual events aimed at inclusion.

A virtual conversation series launched last May for Asian American Pacific Islander Month.”What’s the Tea?” featured prominent Asian American dancers discussing their experiences in the field.

“There was this need for community for dialogue,” he said.

The success of that series inspired “10,000 Dreams” this month, which features prominent Asian American choreographers.

As live performances resume, Chan hopes to put forth content made by diverse creators for diverse audiences.

“We need to shift to a multiracial way to do this art form,” he said, “We cannot afford to be elitist and only for white people anymore.”

For more about Final Bow for Yellowface, visit

Published by Mallika Rao

Freelance Writer, Blogger

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