MSNBC’s Katie Phang, AAPI trailblazers shed ‘cultural inhibitions’ in primetime special
She “struggled to fit in” as a first-generation Korean American, but MSNBC’s Katie Phang is now sitting at the head of the table — leading a discussion on what it means to be a part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Phang, the host of her eponymous weekend MSNBC show, is the face of “The Culture Is: AAPI Women.” The special, part of MSNBC’s “The Culture Is” series, is poised to air on Sunday at 10 p.m. and stream on Peacock.
The show centers around a dinner table-esque chat with a group of high-profile women, including Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff, playwright Julia Cho, comedian Mona Shaikh, chefs Christine Ha and Suu Khim, fashion designer Chloe Dao, Rise founder Amanda Nguyen, “Pachinko” author Min Jin Lee and former AT&T Business president Anne Chow.
“They’re icons and trailblazers in the AAPI community as women. And they were willing to sit down and have very honest and transparent conversations about their journeys, what they’ve gone through, what they’re celebrating, and kind of moving forward, what their messaging is for the next generation,” Phang told ITK.
Leading the chat produced some sometimes-eye opening anecdotes, such as when Shaikh opened up about the reason she said her family encouraged her to chug milk as a kid.
“In the South Asian community, being fair-skinned is a very big deal. So we also have this crazy belief system in South Asia and I would say definitely in Pakistan, that if you drink milk, it makes your skin white,” Shaikh said with a laugh to the women in a clip obtained exclusively by ITK.
“I’m lactose intolerant, you guys!” Shaikh exclaimed.
“I’d be sitting at the breakfast table every morning and my mom would tell my dad, ‘Tell her she has to drink the milk. If she doesn’t drink the milk no man is going to marry her — she’s too dark,” Shaikh recalled to gasps from the group.
Phang said she was just as “upfront and blunt” with the women about her own experiences being born in the United States to South Korean parents.
“It was a struggle growing up being Asian. I didn’t want to be Korean because I grew up — for all intents and purposes — in South Florida, where there’s not a large AAPI community. And so I really struggled to fit in,” Phang, a Miami-based lawyer, said.
The special debuts amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by more than 300 percent in the country in 2021, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Asked about airing “The Culture Is: AAPI Women” in the current climate, Phang replied, “Unless we keep it on the front burner, unless we keep on pushing the issues and making them visible, my fear is that it’s just going to be a flash in the pan in terms of coverage.”
The special comes as the trial attorney-turned-TV host marks the one-year anniversary of “The Katie Phang Show.”
Phang, 47, noted with a sense of awe that she’s an “Asian American woman with my own name on cable news on a show.”
When she sat down at the table to film the MSNBC special, Phang said she told the participants to cast off their “cultural inhibitions.”
“It is almost in our DNA as Asian American women to be reserved, to be circumspect, to be discreet about what we’ve gone through. And part of it is because we don’t want to bring shame, dishonor, or embarrassment to our families,” she said.
“But when you completely muzzle that, when you completely don’t have those honest conversations, there’s a fear that you’re going to repeat generational trauma.”
“I wanted to make sure that not only did we at the table say, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been through that like you,’” said Phang, “but I wanted to make sure that people who tuned in to watch can also say even when they’re not AAPI, ‘I’ve had that experience, either with my family or with men or women, relationships, education, jobs — that you’re kind of shedding those labels of what you’re supposed to be and what your life is supposed to be defined as, and I know it’s not exclusive to our community.”
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