Tag Archives: anti-Asian racism

Can’t You People Take A Joke?

27 Aug

This past Saturday, Gawker ran an article featuring Olympic swimming champ Ryan Lochte’s sister Megan yukking it up on a comedy show. Presented as a “field correspondent,” Ms. Lochte describes a trip to China while tossing out some pretty nasty racist stereotypes and slurs, including liberal use of the word “chink.” I won’t get too far into the details as you can see the clip here.

 

Responding to criticism of her performance, Ms. Lochte had the following to say -

This was not a real interview, and it in no way reflects my true feelings or persona whatsoever. The intent was to make fun of the ignorance of people who actually do not have an understanding of other cultures and speak in racist ways. The skit and my character were supposed to be making fun of ignorance.

I’m not sure what’s so funny about racist ignorance, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, Megan Lochte is not the source of the problem. She’s just a symptom.

The problem is that we’ve made it okay for white people to behave like racists as a joke, as if, ha ha ha, aren’t racists hilarious? To which I answer, not to their targets.

While this should seem obvious to any thinking person, many comics (Chelsea Handler and, once upon a time, Andrew Dice Clay, being notable among them) play the racist ignoramus for laughs and, ahem, for cash. They shield themselves against accusations of racism by reasoning that by playing with race, they are addressing a societal truth, not just sweeping it under the rug.

This, to me, is the comedy equivalent of white folks making racist “observations” and then using the shield “but don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are…” to deflect the perception that they’re racists. Take away the shield, and all you have is someone trying to avoid being called a racist while providing justifications for racism. Likewise, remove the comic’s shield of playing the racist as an ignoramus, and all you have is someone giving audiences permission to laugh at racist jokes.

Now I know a bunch of folks who argue that what makes this kind of so-called comedy funny is that it makes us uncomfortable and forces us to have to face ourselves. But I call b.s. on that rationale. It makes people like you and me who understand racism is a serious problem uncomfortable, and it might even make us laugh, but that’s not what it’s doing for most (white) people.

For most people, joking of this kind sanitizes racism by reducing racist stereotypes to a bunch of punchlines and racists into socially marginal idiots whose worst crime is looking ignorant.

The fact is, racist words are attached to racist actions that exist on a continuum that includes voting for racist policies, acts of harassment, and even violence, and that’s not the half of it. The climate in which racism thrives is one in which racist social policy can define standards of law enforcement and social programs, education, and commerce and in which racists operate at every level of our society – in academia, medicine, education, even (I’ll go so far as to say especially) in elected offices.

For this reason, where race is concerned, we need to tread carefully.

The extraordinary suicide rate among Native Americans is not funny. The wildly racist way in which drug laws are enforced is in no way hilarious. Armed vigilantes patrolling our Southern border, sex traffickers selling Asian women as “wives,” the falling down horrible standard of schools in communities with high concentrations of poor brown people are not matters about which people ought to be laughing. Whites parodying racists trivialize the consequences of racist people’s attitudes and behaviors.

When people like Ms. Lochte make jokes about “chinks,” they’re opening up a social space for racism that would be better left closed. We fought too long and hard throughout the violently racist history of this country in order to try to close that space by changing the public consensus on racism.

Now, the same opening that Ms. Lochte is stepping into in order to develop her career is the opening that makes it okay for Mitt Romney to make jokes that wink at racist birtherism and that allows someone like Pat Rogers (who thinks New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff meeting with American Indians “dishonored” notorious Indian killer and white supremacist Gen. George Armstrong Custer) to rise to the Executive Committee of the Republican National Committee, one of the most powerful political organizations in the world.

So maybe it makes me uncool that I won’t laugh at these jokes. But if being called uncool or a thought cop is the only consequence, let’s let them call us names and say something about it.

And no, the fact that comedians of color sometimes play to similar punchlines is not the same thing. Where white supremacy is concerned, white comics’ racist jokes are gestures of compliance. When people like Dave Chappelle or Margaret Cho make jokes that parody themselves or white racism, those are acts of defiance. There’s a difference.

Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?

10 Aug

A while back I wrote a post called White Identity Politics. In it, I wrote:

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-whites as inferior and deviant, whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

I was trying to make the point that while whites seem to think of themselves as raceless, they in fact are the inventors of the whole system of race. They have a racial identity, and their historic (and contemporary) role in creating and perpetrating racism is as integral to that identity as surviving slavery and facing it’s continuing legacy of injustice is to the identities of African Americans.

In the name of white racial identity, whites have engaged in genocidal warfare against Native Americans. As the victor in this war, whites took land and natural resources not rightfully their own and corralled the surviving Native Nations onto reservations and forced them into inequitable treaty agreements, before attempting to make them disappear entirely through programs of forced assimilation. And ever since, it’s been part of white identity to celebrate white settler history and tout U.S. exceptionalism in spite of the fact that this nation is founded upon genocide.

Whites enslaved Africans – they invented race as we know it for this purpose. Even after a war was waged to end slavery, whites invented convicted leasing. Through this system, they unjustly imprisoned Blacks for the purpose of re-enslaving them. By doing so they not only created a pool of free labor, they terrorized the mass of the Black community of the South into remaining in poor jobs, often for their former masters and their descendents, for fear that they would be imprisoned since unemployment was a crime for Blacks in some jurisdictions. And where Blacks are concerned, much more followed, including Jim Crow and our current war on drugs (notice how I bring that up constantly? I think you should, too).

Whites vilified, persecuted, and alternately exploited and then excluded Asians and waged a war against Mexico and forced them into an inequitable sale of territory that includes all or part of seven U.S. states. And there was Jim Crow, lynchings, mass race riots targeting Black and Asian laborers, and more, and largely with impunity. I would go on, but I think you get the point.

The whole of the U.S. experiment in democracy is marred by incidents of racist brutality, violence, and warfare, and the legal diminution, dehumanization, and exclusion of people of color.  In fact, it is what most characterizes race relations in America.

If an attempt were made to racially profile whites, the picture we would come away with would be anything but pretty. So I’ve been wondering lately, why is it that in spite of the fact that very nearly every modern mass shooting is committed by white males there is still no white racial profile of the mass shooter. One would think that a population, defined by race by their own choosing, that has for so long condoned mass murder, especially in the name of their race, would be, therefore, suspect every time an act of terrorism and mass murder took place in America. But they aren’t.

There is also no federally commissioned Report on White Families that parallels the Moynihan Report. When we think of welfare, we don’t see white people even when welfare was created for white people. When we think of drug crimes, we see Black people in spite of the fact that whites drive the illegal drug trade in the U.S. And we don’t just see them, we arrest them, prosecute them, and imprison them en masse.

A Race Files reader sent me an article by Tim Wise about the 2001 Santee, CA mass school shooting resulting in injury to 13 white children and the deaths of two, asking the same question. In it, he says:

…once again, we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after white boy, with very few exceptions to that rule…, decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.

In the wake of last Sunday’s mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (by no less than a self-professed white supremacist) I think the question needs to be asked again. Why is there no white profile? I’m not saying it’s just, nor that racial profiling is the solution, but as long as law enforcement is going to continue to racially profile people of color, I think we need to create an echo chamber around this issue and say it again and again, white is a race, it has a history and tradition, and mass murder is by no means outside of it, so why aren’t we talking about this?

Racism for Sale

4 Aug

Baker Skateboards, owned by professional skateboarder Andrew Reynolds (also the owner of Brigada Eyewear), recently released this t-shirt featuring a caricature of professional skater Don “The Nuge” Nguyen. Seriously, this is no joke. They really did go there and do that – right down to caricaturing an Asian accent calling the guys “good orr boys” and naming the car the “General Li.”

Not at all shy about profiting from racism, the Baker Skateboards site responded to criticism of the t-shirt by TMZ by posting the following on their website under a picture of the shirt -

“Roll over to Retard TMZ for how we are damaging the asian community with this new baker tee! goodlooks on the free advertising Tmz!”

Boy, they can dish it out but they sure can’t take it. But retard? Honestly? I guess it wasn’t enough fun to profit off of idiotic racist slurs so they decided to insult people with developmental disabilities, too. I would question their maturity, but I have too much respect for 5 year olds.

But the school yard bully behavior of Baker Skateboards to one side, this t-shirt requires a response. It’s not just an example of profiteering off the misery of others, it’s irresponsible.

Bullying is among the most frequently named problems facing Asian American students. And if you want details about what that looks like, roll over to this.

And it doesn’t stop with kids, as evidenced by the case of 19 year old U.S. Army soldier Daniel Chen. Mr. Chen was subjected to weeks of racial harassment while in training, and then violent hazing once deployed to Afghanistan.

Daniel Chen responded to the hazing and harassment by committing suicide. And, BTW, Asian Americans commit suicide more frequently than members of any other ethnic group in the U.S. excepting Native Americans.

But I’m guessing the folks at Baker Skateboards are aware of the racism facing Asian Americans and simply don’t give a rip. If they did, they might consider for a moment how the controversial t-shirt fits within a larger context of Asian American experiences with racist stereotyping, scapegoating, intimidation, and violence.

Making jokes of the sort featured on their t-shirt  trivializes this context. Worse, it makes racism of this sort cool in the skating subculture by giving it the endorsement of a popular retailer owned by a famous skater.

When we trivialize racism by making jokes about it we contribute to a climate in which folks think racism isn’t such a big deal. And, you know, maybe it wouldn’t be if all racism amounted to was speech. But, of course, we know that racism isn’t just about what folks say. Racist words and images have the power they do because racism is also expressed in actions ranging from political persecution (as in the case of African Americans and the war on drugs) to employment discrimination and even to violence.

When we make jokes like the one on the t-shirt, we are tacitly endorsing the whole range of ways in which racism is expressed in our culture, and that ain’t a thing to laugh about.

Those Were The Days…

25 May

I lived in Washington, D.C. for a while in the ’90s, during Marion Barry’s second term as Mayor. I remember it as the city where I had to hail cabs while my Black colleagues stood back from the curb or the wait for a ride could be a long one.

Having some experience of D.C. and Mr. Barry behind me, his recent anti-Asian rants, while sad, were no surprise.

But the subtle and not-so-subtle racism expressed in the responses? That kind of caught me off guard. I mean, his obvious bigotry ought to be addressed, for sure, but holding him to a higher standard because he’s Black? That’s just uncool.

Now, to make matters worse, his apology to Asian American constituents included an anti-Polish slur. Sigh. Reminds me of an uncle I’d rather not name.

My uncle and Marion Barry are about the same age. They were both in their early 30s when Richard Nixon took office. Nixon was taped repeatedly referring to Blacks using the “N” word and worse in conversations with Henry Kissinger. Nixon once complained to John Erlichman that Great Society social programs were a waste because Blacks were genetically inferior to whites.

For people of Mr. Barry’s generation, overt racism was like the air we breath. I’m not excusing it, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind.

More important, I think, is to be clear that there’s quite a difference between the racism of Marion Barry and that of, say, Republican leaders. Their explicit strategy is to exploit white racism in order to build a Republican majority in Congress.

One piece of that strategy, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere in this blog, has been to target African Americans in a tough on crime campaign, the cornerstone of which is the war on drugs. The mention of Nixon is apropos here since tough on crime was a brainchild of his administration. Today, there are three times more African Americans in prison than in college dorms, and the ratio is not much better for Latinos.

Yup, a little perspective would do us some good here, especially since reducing racism to insensitive statements requiring public apologies trivializes the most damaging, less overtly expressed racism of those for whom racism = mega-millions in profit.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to run across this blog post about Mr. Barry’s racist rants. It sort of puts the whole incident in context. And on a weekend that evokes nostalgia in many of us, it felt just right.

I’m taking a few days off, so it’s what I’ve got for you. Now, pass me a Bloody Mary and turn on the ESPN.


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