Asians traditionally don’t speak up about injustices — it’s the “don’t bring attention to yourself,” “don’t complain, it’ll cause trouble” syndrome. But more and more, Asian Americans are different.
So when Rosie O’Donnell mocked the sound of the Chinese language a week ago on “The View,” the Asian American Journalists Association’s New York chapter e-mail list began a spirited conversation, with most members outraged and demanding an apology and some cautioning that O’Donnell hadn’t gone on a racist “rant” like Michael Richards, and that it was a poor attempt at humor.
I wasn’t laughing. Like many Asian Americans, I was familiar with that “ching-chong, ching-chong” sound, from when I was taunted by European-American kids telling me to go back where I came from. That sound makes my gut clench as much as a punch. (Click here for the video on YouTube.)
I wondered why Barbara Walters, the producer and one of the other hosts on the show, hadn’t done anything about this. And, I wondered if O’Donnell would have made the comment if Lisa Ling were still one of the other hosts.
In the meantime, O’Donnell’s spokesman was quoted in the NY Post, saying, “She’s a comedian in addition to being a talk show co-host. I certainly hope that one day they will be able to grasp her humor.” The Post’s typically demure headline on the item was, “ROSIE TO ASIANS: LOOSEN UP.”
Sigh. It’s Asian Americans’ fault for taking offense. We don’t have a sense of humor. I’ve heard that excuse so often as a cover for unconscious (and conscious) racism, that I could puke.
New York City Councilman John Liu has taken up the cause, and now what had been a low-level buzz within the Asian American community is about to explode into primetime. Expect it to make “Entertainment Tonight” if it hasn’t already.
Sure, this isn’t as heinous of a racial incident as Michael Richards’ blowout against African Americans. But this kind of low-level disrespect — and Asians’ historical tendency to take it without complaint — is why Asians are so invisible in American pop culture.