Who would be idiotic enough to find the Asian tsunami tragedy?
Some of the staff at Hot 97, a New York City hip-hop radio station, that’s who.
Miss Jones, the star of the Hot 97 morning show, is back on the air on the New York station.
In January, the station’s morning show crew, led by “Miss Jones” (Tarsha Jones) tried to get some cheap yucks by airing a parody of the 1980s charity record, “We Are the World,” with new lyrics about tsunami victims, sung in off-key falsetto and including some atrociously insensitive sentiments – even by radio morning show standards.
Worse, the song featured the unmistakable stench of racism, with words such as “chinks” and “Chinamen” in the lyrics. (The full lyrics follow at the bottom.)
If Hot 97 is like many popular radio stations, parodies are probably part and parcel of the morning show’s routine. But it’s truly mind-boggling to think that anyone at a major market radio station could find anything funny in the tsunami.
It begs the question, would this have happened if a similar disaster occurred and 200,000 people died in Europe? Latin America? Africa? North America?
As it happened, it wasn’t funny, even if some people at the station thought it was. And the public outcry over the stupidity of the song, which was aired four times during one week and featured on the station’s Web site’s home page, got the crew in hot water. Within a few days, Hot 97 had pulled the song, posted an apology on its home page, saying the station, “regrets the airing of material that made light of a serious and tragic event” – a classic non-apology apology that lays the blame on anyone who was offended instead of saying the song itself was offensive. The apology didn’t address the racism in the song.
Korean-American entertainment reporter Miss Info objected to the song and was attacked on the air.
The management also announced the morning show crew would donate one week’s pay to tsunami relief, and later added the station’s parent company, Emmis Communication, would kick in $1 million.
When the furor didn’t die down and advertisers began yanking their commercials, the station felt the pain and suspended its morning show staff indefinitely, then fired two staffers (producer Rick Delgado, who actually write and recorded the song, and Jones’ sidekick Todd Lynn).
So far, Newsday, Toyota, McDonald’s and Sprint have refused to air ads during the morning show.
But Jones, who didn’t sing on the recording but went along with it, was allowed to go back on the air. Her original return date was to be Feb. 9, which was the Lunar New Year, and Asian organizations objected to the timing. When she finally returned on Feb. 11, Jones issued a public apology at the start of her shift, which some critics have called insincere.
The controversy is continuing not only because of the song’s incredible insensitivity, but because of its the deep-rooted racism it revealed.
A clip making the rounds on the Internet captured a remarkable, four-minute segment of dialogue before the song, during which Miss Jones and Todd Lynn harangue the morning show’s entertainment reporter, Miss Info, who is Korean-American. “That song is really offensive to me, and I opted not to involve myself,” Miss Info says during the exchange, and refuses to endorse it.
The other members of the show attack Miss Info for not being part of the team, and Jones snaps, “I know you feel you’re superior because you’re Asian, but you’re not.”
Todd Lynn joked about “shooting Asians”; he was fired from Hot 97.
Later, Lynn says, “I’m going to start shooting Asians.”
Miss Info wasn’t fired, but she took time off and has yet to return to the air. According to her lawyer, she’s considering suing the station for creating a hostile environment.
By the time the actual song plays, the racial undertones are made explicit with epithets including “chink” and lines that mock the homeless children who “will be sold in child slavery.” Not surprisingly, Asian advocacy groups and civil rights organizations have continued to criticize Hot 97, and on Valentine’s Day a protest was held in front of the station.
The station no longer has any mention of the Tsunami Song or the flap it caused on its home page, and no mention of the money it supposedly will send to Asia. It’s as if it never happened. There is, however, a prominent link to a Black History Month section that states proudly, “We make black history everyday.”
An ominous shadow lingers over the controversy, and it hasnÃ¯Â¿Â½t been addressed by the mainstream media. ThereÃ¯Â¿Â½s a bitter history of tension between the Asian and African American community, and this incident adds another chapter to that history.
Author and journalist Helen Zia has written eloquently about this tension Ã¯Â¿Â½ especially in New York City, where a couple of much-publicized clashes between African Americans and Korean merchants flared up over a decade ago Ã¯Â¿Â½ in her book, Asian American Dreams.
Both Asian and Asian American organizations are working with African American groups to make sure this incident doesn’t flare up into anything worse.
But I’m nervous — I’m afraid this song and the way the Hot 97 crew reacted to it reflect that beauty isn’t the only thing that’s skin deep.
So is ugliness.
Here are the lyrics to the “Tsunami Song”
There was a time, when the sun was shinig bright
So I went down to the beach to catch me a tan
Then the next thing I knew
A wave 20 feet high came and wash your country away
And all at once, you can hear the screaming chinks.
And the no one was safe from the wave.
There was Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away
You can hear God laughing, swim you bitches, swim.
So now you’re screwed, it’s the tsunami,
You better run and kiss your ass awake, go find your mommy.
I just saw her float by, a tree right through her head.
And now your children will be sold in child slavery.