The Gate is Not Ours to Keep
Updated: Feb 18
Dear Asian Youth,
The term gatekeeping isn’t exactly new to our vocabulary, especially now with social activism and cultural trends becoming increasingly widespread and gatekeepers being a resolute part of it all . To define gatekeeping in an academic manner, it may be described as the act of controlling or limiting a person’s access to an identity, community, or movement. A gatekeeper is an individual, usually more heavily involved in a situation/been involved for a longer period of time, who takes it upon themselves or feels entitled to make decisions regarding whether or not someone else should be “let in” or “included”. Examples of gatekeeping can be seen everywhere. Take the K-pop fandom for example: long-term fans of a specific group may ask new fans complicated, stress-inducing questions about their favorite idols to ensure that they are genuine followers before letting them into the fandom. Certain skateboard gangs often require a certain skill level or specific tricks to be mastered before considering someone a true skater.
In theory, gatekeeping makes sense. It might seem unfair or wrong when someone assumes a certain identity or title for performative reasons, when they really are not genuinely invested in or impassioned about the topic at hand. However, certain gatekeepers have become far too extreme with their behaviors, which adversely impacts individuals who wish to pursue their passions, improve their knowledge, or simply feel a sense of belonging. So here are my two cents on gatekeeping and why it bothers me. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a user on Instagram being attacked for speaking up about the #StopAsianHate movement. I couldn’t quite grasp why he was under attack, and when I looked into it further, the reasoning that I got was far from satisfactory. Asian users (amongst others), were complaining about how this user “does not look like someone who would care” and “has never spoken on the issue before”, as he was a white teenage boy living in Europe. Due to his lack of previous involvement in activism and his racial identity, his raising awareness about the problem at the peak of the issue must’ve been “performative” and “for clout”. I understand that performative activism (activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than done out of devotion to a cause) is a problem in and of itself, but something about the attacks on this user did not sit right with me. You never know someone’s intentions and mindset towards a certain subject. As individuals already deeply involved in making strides within the #StopAsianHate movement, your words of discouragement may have hindered an individual genuinely wanting to educate themselves and change their behaviors. It is not our place to deem someone “qualified” or “allowed to” advocate for a cause.
The same can be said for general hobbies and interests. Many of my friends have been on the receiving end of gatekeeping, whether it was playing a new video game or participating in a new sport. Those who are already long-time community members often look down upon those who are not as experienced. Most of the time, if someone wants to join in on a cause or start practicing a new hobby, they come with an open mind and a keen sense of interest. The main motivation for their participation is passion. But if we choose to shun those who do not possess as much knowledge and are unwilling to interact with them, we are, dousing their flame. Gatekeepers – because they enjoy the exclusivity and status – there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. But remember that every expert also started as the new kid on the block, exploring something they knew very little about. You have come a long way to build everything you know, how would you feel if someone was there to dishearten you from the start? Would you still be here? Would your passion still remain? To me, toxic gatekeeping is an elitist practice that must be dismantled. It hurts many communities, those within and outside of it too.
We must recognize that no one is fully knowledgeable about all topics in the beginning; we all start at the same point of ignorance. The important part is allowing people to be explorative and giving them the opportunity to learn and grow. Our world is imperfect, with many issues still unaddressed. If we become gatekeepers with hostile attitudes toward newcomers wishing to be better-informed, we are halting and even backtracking previous efforts for change. I understand that gatekeepers don’t always have bad intentions; people tend to gatekeep because they are so heavily invested. However, your role is to drive forward greater change instead of stifling new voices. Few burdens are heavy if everyone lifts.
Editors: Bri S. Lydia L. Leah C. Simran G.
Cover Photo Source: Behance