ASIAN LEADERSHIP COLLECTIVE STATEMENT: HAPERCOLLINS AND THE REMOVAL OF BRIAN WONG STORY FROM “THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN” BY DAVID WALLIAMS AND TONY ROSS.

In March 2021, Asian Leadership Collective reached out to the HaperCollins team regarding the The World’s Worst Children story of Brian Wong by Walliams and illustrated by Ross.

Subsequently there was a further meeting including Georgie Ma and our founder and director, Anna Chan who spoke to the publisher about next steps. As mentioned in The Bookseller article, the story of Brian Wong is due to be removed.

Speaking to The Guardian, HarperCollins stated that “In consultation with our author and illustrator we can confirm that a new story will be written to replace ‘Brian Wong’ in future editions of The World’s Worst Children,” […] “The update will be scheduled at the next reprint as part of an ongoing commitment to regularly reviewing content.”

Asian Leadership’s statement:

Whilst it is encouraging that HarperCollins is seemingly taking some actions from the meetings we had earlier this year, it has been a slow process in them coming back to us on next steps. Asian Leadership Collective believe HarperCollins can be more transparent and take actions which shows their accountability and leadership as the 2nd largest consumer publisher in the world. We believe this is an opportunity for HarperCollins to build on their values “in building respectful relationships, constantly innovating and championing diversity of thought helping us to create a fair, diverse and inclusive company that is a leader in our industry.” 

If HarperCollins were to publish a press article, and include a case study of the Brian Wong story in partnership with ourselves and those involved in the meeting, this would be a strong start for the publisher to being a powerful advocate for all communities. We believe HarperCollins is more than capable in actioning the above and in showing that they are an inclusive, strong thought leader and ally on these issues. 

There must be transparency and accountability when dealing with situations which have caused harm and raised important questions about company responsibilities.


Wording above on the “Who we are” HarperCollins website here

Questions asked to the publisher included:

  • How it came to be that David Walliams could release a children’s book which is harmful and perpetuating negative stereotypes? Especially given Walliam’s dubious history and caricaturing in the show “Little Britain”, where some of episodes have now been banned due to their content.  
  • What processes of sign off did this book go through – were there any checks for the appropriateness of content, especially those which might cause distress to the communities it was looking to represent? 
  • How diverse is the team for the sign off and creation of children’s books at HarperCollins? Could these harmful narratives have been spotted earlier on in the process? 

Examples of harmful stereotypes in the story:

  • Model Minority: The book draws on stereotypes which perpetuate the model minority myth, branding Brian Wong as a “swot”. 
  • Racist Taunts: The seemingly harmless rhyming of “Wong” and “Wrong”, for many East and Southeast Asian people who have this surname is a racist taunt on their heritage and an othering which is not acceptable. 
  • Racist representation: The illustrations which accompany the story depict a child with small eyes and glasses. This image falls in line with imagery used to perpetuate Yellow Peril cartoons. These caricatures were used to slander and cause mistrust of East and South East Asian communities. 

Asian Leadership Collective supports and stands with the East and Southeast Asian communities and their right to fair and equitable representation in the publishing industry.

Asian Leadership Collective works to increase and amplify leadership representation of East and Southeast Asian people within their place of work in the UK. This includes those of mixed East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) heritage. We support and encourage allies in their journey for inclusivity and equality; providing a safe space for learning and engaging with the ESEA community. Asian Leadership Collective is a registered Community Interest Company and member of Social Enterprise UK, our focus is to provide resources and give back to community in the UK. Visit our website and social media for more information.

We are available for any further information regarding the statement above.

Press contact: Anna Chan

Email Address: annachan@asianleadership.co.uk

Other media articles covering the Brian Wong story:


JOINT STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE SEWELL REPORT: ETHNIC DISPARITIES AND INEQUALITY IN THE UK AMONG ESEA COMMUNITIES

This is a joint response by the authors and supporters of the published Response to the Call for Evidence on Ethnic Disparities and Inequality in the UK (published January 2021). This follows the publication of the Report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities on 31 March 2021.

The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities chaired by Tony Sewell has found that there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK and that Britain is a “beacon” for race relations worldwide. 

As a group of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) community leaders, activists, academics, and migrants in the UK, we know this not to be the case. 

In January 2021, we submitted evidence of racial and ethnic disparities and inequalities as experienced by ESEA communities in the UK to the Commission, which we note has no members of ESEA heritage. Our submission demonstrated that there is a severe lack of representation of ESEA people in positions of power in the private sector, media, politics, and other decision making positions — amounting to about 0.27%. This is far below the proportion of ESEA people in this country, which is around 1%. However, this is itself a severe under-representation because of deficiencies in reporting ethnic data in the UK. We also found that Filipinos make up to 1 in 4 Covid-19 deaths amongst NHS staff. Despite this and despite being the third largest nationality working for the NHS, only 9 Filipinos have managerial posts with any ability to influence strategy and policy in the NHS.

From the above evidence to the racist Hostile Environment policy’s inhumane treatment of migrants, unlawful new plans for the immigration system, and the racist views espoused by our Prime Minister and other public leaders, we are surrounded by overwhelming everyday evidence that racism is embedded throughout and upheld through British policies and institutions.

Acts of racism, discrimination, and hate crimes are the outcomes of racist beliefs and institutions in mainstream British society. The report argues that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism”, implying racism has no link to any of these factors and that it can be neatly separated apart from these systems and institutions. This is tantamount to saying racism is not the Government’s business. Research conducted in 2020 by the Runnymede Trust with the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow demonstrates the pervasiveness and multifaceted nature of structural racism. In 2017, the Scottish Government produced a report on racial inequalities in the country that clearly identified the effects of institutionalised racism through the awarding gap between white-identifying individuals and ethnic minorities in the education system and employment. In 2016, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a report providing comprehensive data and statistics of the same gaps throughout the UK. The EHRC further confirmed that the Home Office broke equalities law with the introduction of the Hostile Environment policy, which exposes the structural racism of the institutions that govern us. The intersections of class, race, and gender, at the very least, exacerbate the consequences of systemic forms of racism for specific demographics in the UK and further marginalises them. This pipeline that disenfranchises particular groups here is evident of the racist underpinnings of the UK that continue to privilege whiteness. 

Organisational racism can be seen in action in how British statutory agencies, such as the Metropolitan Police, continue to use terms such as ‘Oriental’ to identify and categorise anyone assumed to be of East and/or Southeast Asian heritage. The deployment of such derogatory terms in official policies and data collection highlights the continued colonial attitude towards ESEA people by British institutions. The 2021 Census too, fails to collect disaggregated data by ethnicity, using instead the umbrella category “Asian – Other” for non-Chinese ESEA people.

We also have serious concerns about the way in which data is presented and used in the report. In much of the data, there has been little to no attempt made to statistically isolate the effect of institutional racism, to separate it from other forms of discrimination, disadvantage, and other individual factors and hence it is not possible to draw sound conclusions based on the evidence presented. For example, the report (p. 55) cites evidence that “indicates that attainment is closely related to socio-economic status – once this is controlled for, all major ethnic groups perform better than White British pupils”. This data is used to dispel institutional racism, but actually cannot prove anything since the statistical study is so poorly designed. For one, it does not control for major individual differences in effort. In this specific case, ethnic minority groups who are cited as performing better than white pupils (after controlling for socioeconomic status) may be doing so because they spend more time studying or are studying more effectively than white pupils. If this were the case then this could point to institutional racism since non-white pupils need to work harder to prove themselves. This lack of statistical rigour damages the evidence presented in the report. A selective and superficial use of data is used to support a certain narrative, something which Tony Sewell made clear years before taking charge of the Commission. 

Furthermore, this report excludes the experiences and outcomes of ESEA people who are not Chinese. This over-representation of the Chinese ethnicity and its use as a proxy for ESEA reinforces the model minority myth of a monolithic high-achieving, successful community — erasing inequalities and issues within ESEA communities and pitting them against, for example, Black Caribbean and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities. Perhaps nowhere is this approach better encapsulated than in Recommendation 6, an inherently racist policy. Being stereotyped and further racialised is not the representation that minoritised communities are calling for.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020, the Government’s recently proposed policing bill, and emerging conversations about Covid-fuelled racism against East and Southeast Asians, this report effectively silences and dismisses concerns and experiences of racialised people in the UK — washing the Government’s hands clean of any responsibility. This is a political act of neglect, which we firmly reject and condemn. 

Signed:

Anna Chan (Asian Leadership Collective)

Susan Cueva and Francesca Humi (Kanlungan Filipino Consortium)

Dr Daniel Fujiwara (London School of Economics and Political Science & Simetrica-Jacobs)

Kimi Jolly, Aerin Lai, Jacqueline Wallace (East and Southeast Asian Scotland – ESAS)

Professor Vivienne Lo (University College London)

Miles Ng, Hau-Yu Tam, Kim Richards, Daniel York Loh (End the Virus of Racism)

Mai-Anh Peterson (besea.n)

Dr Diana Yeh (City University)

Supporters:

Mariko Hayashi (Southeast and East Asian Centre – SEEAC)

Feiya Hu (Racism Unmasked Edinburgh)