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  • Andrew Hsieh

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park left Hawaii Five-0. Here’s why it matters.

Take one glance at a movie poster, and it's pretty clear: most actors and actresses in Hollywood today are not of Asian descent.

You’re not the only one who’s noticed. A 2016 study from the University of Southern California analyzed over 21,000 characters on more than 400 films and TV shows between September 2014 and August 2015. Turns out, only 28.3 percent of characters were from non-white racial and ethnic groups, even though they make up 37.9 percent of the U.S. population.

That's why actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park made such a huge impact as Asian American leads in CBS' Hawaii Five-0. And that's why Kim and Park rocked Hollywood last week when they announced that they would be leaving their show after being offered 10-15 percent less money than their white co-stars.

To put it into perspective, Kim and Park, along with fellow Asian American regular Masi Oka, represented the 57.4 percent of the Hawaiian population who are of Asian descent. Their names are in the opening titles, like any other television regular.

But to CBS, already the network with the least diverse lineup, Kim and Park were worth 10 to 15 percent less than non-Asian regulars Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan ... who, unlike Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer in Friends, didn't think it was a problem.

Yeah, but aren't they rich enough anyway?

Sure, Daniel Dae Kim has been in everything from 24 to Lost. And Grace Park is a sci-fi institution with her work on Battlestar Galactica. But acting isn’t the only profession in which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are paid less than their white counterparts.

In fact, Kim and Park's 10-15 percent discrepancy is just a drop in the puddle of unfair wage gaps. According to a 2017 study from Hired, a job-matching company, white men outearn every other ethnic or racial group in the workplace. For every dollar white men earn, Asian men make 96 cents, and Asian women make 87 cents.

That’s just Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) as a whole. If you disaggregate AAPI by sub-groups, those disparities become even wider. According to a report from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), Indian, Taiwanese and Chinese men and women make the same or even more as white men. Japanese and Korean men tend to make as much or more as well.

Still, those are outliers in the larger picture. In fact, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander groups disproportionately make much less than the average white man. Burmese women make the least, at a mere 43 percent of the average white man’s salary. Fijian women make 45 percent, and Nepalese men and women 51 percent. To say nothing of Hmong, Pakistani, Samoan, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Thai and many other groups who all make less than their white peers.

Why is this happening?

As NAPAWF notes, this wage gap doesn’t come down to just one reason. Factors like access to higher education, which tends to produce higher wages, are decisive, especially when considering students who would be the first in their family to attend college. And even when they make it to college, people of color still tend to make less money post-graduation than their white peers, which elongates the amount of time required to pay off student loans and other debt.

Even so, education is just one possible reason. With AAPI being more likely to support multigenerational households, or with racial discrimination in the workplace, there is a multitude of factors that create such a large wage gap.

Those factors also mean that the “model minority” phrase that people throw around is way off. Organizations have commented on the “invisibility” of the wage gap that exists within disaggregated AAPI communities, which tends to be overshadowed by “model minority”-type success.

After all, “AAPI” comprises more than 50 different ethnic sub-groups and more than 100 different languages and dialects: something not easily generalized.

Back to Hawaii Five-0

So Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park aren't being greedy here. Their stoic refusal to be paid less for equal work is simply a protest against what's really at stake: policies that actively discriminate against people of color.

That’s why organizations like NAPAWF and the Wage Project exist. Lobbying for bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act and helping workers seek fair wages under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), these organizations aid people who would otherwise face difficult situations-- including lengthy court proceedings-- alone.

Moreover, NAPAWF and similar groups advocate for individual communities, rather than focusing on the “model minority” groups, to bring attention to more granular AAPI groups. NAPAWF sponsored an event series earlier this year on Asian American feminism, and lead rallies to demand economic justice across the United States.

How can I help?

As NAPAWF says, if you’re looking to help-- besides donating-- educating yourself and your peers about the invisibility of the AAPI wage gap is a great start, even if it’s as simple as a tweet.

The Equal Pay Today! Campaign comprises over 20 organizations who gather together to promote Equal Pay Day, or April 4; NAPAWF has made March 7 Asian American Equal Pay Day. Aside from using #AAPIEqualPay and #NotYourModelMinority on Twitter and Facebook, you can also check your state’s efforts in combating the wage gap. Then, you can contact your representatives to express your support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, and closing the wage gap in general.

Sure, we can’t all be Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. But we can protest like them and make our voices heard. As Kim posted on his Facebook page, “The path to equality is rarely easy, but I hope you can be excited for the future.” To him, that means a new show on the horizon. But to us, we hope it means equality for all communities, in wage gaps and beyond.

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