In case you had no childhood and don't know, Brenda Song is a 31-year-old actress known for playing early prototypes of the manic pixie dream girl on kid's shows like Nickelodeon's 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd and Disney Channel's The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Brenda Song is NOT, however, a 40-year-old racist banshee who screeches at her co-hosts on the talk show The Real: That's Jeannie Mai. Twitter knows this—sort of.
After rapper Young Jeezy confirmed long-standing rumors that he was dating Mai on Instagram, Brenda Song became a trending topic with over 20k tweets. Why? Because Jeannie Mai has a history of fetishizing black men and was formerly married to a white, racist Trump supporter. And Jeannie Mae has said that the one celebrity she hates to be commonly mistaken for is Brenda Song. So, after Jeezy confirmed he was dating Mai, a disgruntled fan called out Mai's history of racist comments by posting, "Here's Brenda Song's racist ass saying she only f**ks Black men but married white. I wish her and Young Jeezy all the best."
The commenter attached a clip of Mai declaring her love of black men on The Real, with the bizarrely tone deaf caveat: "For me, dark meat on the side, white keeps me mean and lean. You know, that's why I married a white man."
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While she attempted to smooth over her comment later, she only piled on more cringe-worthy statements: "I like a good brother, I do! I think they're cute!" She acknowledged the comment sounded "horrible," but after hearing her attempt to back-pedal, her co-host advised her she was only making it "sound worse, don't explain it!"
Hordes of commenters quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of calling out Mai's racist rhetoric while confusing her for another Asian female. Without knowing the joke that Jeannie Mai hates being confused for Song, the comment reads as another drop of ignorance in the bucket of Twitter vitriol. But plenty of commenters defended the mix-up, even without knowing the context or being in on the joke. Among over 20k tweets, those comments boil down to, "Yeah, but they do look the same...don't they?"
It's mystifying that so many could disagree on the facial similarities of two Asian women. But then again, maybe it's not. Yes, Song's parentage is Thai-American and Hmong while Mai's is Vietnamese and Chinese; and those are distinct, unique cultures; and Asians do not present a monolithic face. But in America, where Asians only comprise about 5% of the population, representation of Asian faces in the media are still scant. Only 1% of Hollywood's leading roles are given to Asian actors, and even after Crazy Rich Asians' box office success, disparities in mainstream representation (and even pay) still continue.
So while "they all look alike to me" is a familiar form of coded racism, that perception is legitimate, however uncomfortable. It's eerily grounded in the science of how our brains perceive differences when we're simply not exposed to faces unlike our own. Simply put: When your face is unlike 95% of the population, people are more likely to confuse you with someone else. (And that's to say nothing of the fundamental flaw of how we construct the notion of "race," the growing percentage of mixed race Americans, or the immeasurable number of people who "pass" for a race other than what they identify as).
If anything, #BrendaSong points out that American media is still homogeneous to a fault, and racist rhetoric should not be answered with even more racist rhetoric. Ultimately, even Twitter knows that all Asians don't actually look alike, and that old line isn't even fit for an ironic joke in 2019. The true tragedy here is that Brenda Song's quiet life low-key dating Macaulay Culkin and her beloved roles as London Tipton and Wendy Wu had to be dragged into the comments. Boo you, Twitter.