New Apple iPhone app gives fortunes in stereotypical “ching-chong” accent

The Lucky Fortune iPhone app tells fortunes in an offensive "ching-chong" accent.I realize that when I point out how something as seemingly benign as the “won ton” font bugs me, readers might think I’m being petty and overly sensitive. But I hope those readers will respect my opinion if something does piss me off. Plus, I hope everyone can understand why certain things are just plain offensive to Asian Americans, not as a result of over-sensitivity but simply because they’re racist stereotypes.

One of them is the “ching-chong’ accent that comes out of the“>Lucky Fortune iPhone app, which Apple has approved for its iPhone App Store while they turn down other apps.

Both Jennifer 8 Lee’s Fortune Cookie Chronicles blog and Gawker have pointed out that this app is racially offensive. The Gawker post includes a video of the app in action.

It’s a cute idea at first: You break open a fortune cookie, and hear one of a series of pre-recorded fortunes.

The problem is the voice that reads the fortune is a fake Chinese accent — the kind I’ve heard all my childhood and even as an adult, when a racist taunts me. “Go back where you came from, Jap/Chink/Nip/Gook,” go the echoes in my head today.Asian Americans call it a “ching-chong” sound, a phony rendition of what a white person think is the sound of Chinese.

It wouldn’t be such a sore point if it weren’t for the fact that this vocal stereotype keeps cropping up from time to time, even in my adult life. I faced down some punk kids on a suburban street who “ching-chonged” me a decade ago, and told me to go home because I drove a “Jap car” (They drove a Honda, which I not-so-gently reminded them was also Japanese). Rosie O’Donnell raised the ire of AAPIs on “The View” a few years back when she “ching-chonged” on Camera… and then made a flip non-apology apology (the “I’m sorry YOU were offended” type of apology). Shock radio jock Adam Carolla thought it was funny to “ching-chong” his way through a joke routine on CBS radio, and got a swarm of angry protest from Asian American groups.

This form of verbal “humor” wouldn’t be tolerated if it mocked African Americans, or Hispanics. But it always seems acceptable, even in the 21st century, to mock Asians. What’s with that?

On the Lucky Fortune iPhone app, the voiceover is accompanied by the familiar sound of a gong (supposed to evoke Asian cultures) and the familiar notes of the phony melody often associated with Japan even though it’s not Japanese at all, but like the ching-chong accent, an approximation of what westerner think sounds like a Japanese melody. It’s the Asian equivalent of the Atlanta Braves war chant that Native Americans hate, and if you know the new wave rock song “Turning Japanese,” it opens that single.

I sent off an email to the company, FunVipApps, pointing out that it’s an offensive stereotype and asking them to change the voiceover (and the music track), or remove the app altogether. I’m sure there’s a way to submit a complaint to Apple too.

We really shouldn’t have to put up with such obnoxious portrayals of Asians in America. It’s 2009, and there are multiple generations of Asian Americans who have no accent, and are as American as anyone else.

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10 Responses to New Apple iPhone app gives fortunes in stereotypical “ching-chong” accent

  1. The reason they use asians for jokes…to make fun and then say it was a joke…can’t you take it? because we as a group don’t stand together…No we are not going to take it any more ..because those are the first things the majority do before it becomes an acceptable way of hurling racist comments…do it once…no reaction from us and you will see more…we must in a loud voice shout at them to stop before more racist remarks start appearing in PUBLIC…we are the toooo quiet minority…people still say to me…you have no accent what country are you from….I am a citizen and was born here 66 yrs ago when they said all kinds of racist things…threw rocks signed petitions to make us move….so Asian Americans stand up…history does repeat it self if one does not stop this
    racial stereotypes….mocking the way we speak…look …have pride in who you are….we are and should be diligent so the past does not catch up and repeat itself…because we did not pay attention to what is being said about us separately or as a group……in a disparinging manner…or you will see more and more racist remarks about asians…used as joke material….well it does not make me laugh…

  2. Invasian says:

    I too am so sick and tired of constantly being faced with racist stereotypes and then being ignored or told to lighten up and take a joke.
    You know when people say “There’s an app for that!” Well, when it comes to racism, there really is!

  3. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Janice and Invasian (great username, Invasian! ;-). My Caucasian friends think I’m too sensitive (but they understand, and try to see things from my perspective). But honestly, it’s frustrating to deal now as an adult with the same crap that was flung at me as a child. This society doesn’t seem to have learned anything.

    My partner Erin and I saw Helen Zia speak at Colorado State University last night, and she gave a sitrring speech about changing the world one step, one person at a time. That’s what I hope this blog can do, since it’s partly aimed at educating non-Asians.

  4. I was surprised at Apple for falling asleep on this one. The message is clearly racist and in bad taste. Since Apple likes to test their products before they launch them, they have a Product Feedback page for their stuff. I emailed my review through this page.

  5. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Mouse! I figured Apple must have a “report app” avenue, but I ended up sending a note directly to the developer. Haven’t heard back yet, though.

  6. One post at a time, Gil, one post at a time. =)

  7. KR says:

    “This form of verbal “humor” wouldn’t be tolerated if it mocked African Americans, or Hispanics. But it always seems acceptable, even in the 21st century, to mock Asians. What’s with that?”

    This man speaks the truth!!!

    It seems to me that racism is not racism if the Asians are the victimized party.

    Racial taunts and stereotypical depictions would be considered insensitive and malevolent if they were levied against any other group of people. Meanwhile, similar actions against people of Asian descent always appear to be greeted with humor and derisive add-ons.

    This is truly an odd state of affairs…

  8. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks KR — yes, this is a truly odd (and disturbing) state of affairs!

  9. Pingback: The Racist iPhone App: A Blogosphere Roundup > MTV Iggy Blog > MTV Iggy - Global Pop Culture, Latest Trends and New Music

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