Some people might wonder what the big deal is. It’s just a funny face (Cyrus, for one denied that it was mocking Asians at all).
All I know is, I grew up with (white) kids making the same face to me: leering, making buck-teeth smiles, pulling their eyes back and saying “Ah-so!” and laughing crazily like they’d just done something really clever.
It wasn’t cute or funny then, and it isn’t cute or funny now.
It made me sick to my stomach as a kid who felt disempowered, and seeing famous (white) people doing it now brings all the bile right back up again.
The face simply reminds me that many mainstream Americans of European ancestry think that all Asians — ALL ASIANS — are different from them and can be made fun of. And worse, the unspoken signal is that this is OK because these slanty-eyed people are so meek and so exotic and so… different from “us” that they’ll never complain or fight back or even object.
Well, more and more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are fighting back these days. And we have civil rights organizations like MANAA that can speak out for those of us who haven’t found our voice yet.
There are so many images of racial stereotypes in American pop culture history — my partner Erin Yoshimura gives a powerful, effective workshop on Racial Artifacts that includes Aunt Jemima, Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians and the Frito Bandito among them…. Some still exist, though they’ve been stripped of a lot of the overt racism that spawned them. Some, like the Fritos TV commercials, have gone by the wayside, but are available on YouTube in the original very racist versions and the later, cuter, “sanitized” versions.
Our society thrives on demarcating the tribal differences between people, I guess. It’s some deep-rooted genetic need to always create an us-vs-them dynamic.
Well, as a long-time “them,” I’m getting pissed off about all of this stupidity.