Here’s why I like this new Comcast commercial: It’s part of the new trend of showing Asian Americans in ads who are just, well, American, and not so much Asian. They don’t speak with accents and they’re not doing stereotypical stuff like martial arts and tech geekery. Instead, this kid and his dad are watching TV. The Target commercial I included in a post back in October has a mom who’s hip-hop dancing and playing tether ball with her kid. And of course, there’s Kylie, the adorable Asian American girl who’s pushing Windows 7 like nobody’s business (see her latest commercial below).
Also, I like this commercial because Shaquille O’Neal is in it. He’s been a spokesman for Comcast this year along with mopey-faced actor (and Republican speechwriter/commentator) Ben Stein in a series of silly commercials. But this one has Shaq alone. To me, this is significant for two reasons:
First, it’s all too rare to see Asians and African Americans together in a light-hearted repartee, in a warm relationship, in mainstream American culture. I’m really glad to see this, even though it’s in an artificial environment of a TV commercial.
Second, Shaq made racist comments towards Yao Ming, then a rising rookie in the NBA, in a radio interview back in 2002, and I wrote about it in a column:
It’s hard to believe how often this happens: Asians are once again the target for obnoxious, offensive racist comments, and Asians once again are staying relatively quiet about it.
The latest incident involves Shaquille O’Neal, the superstar player for the NBA’s Lakers. In December, he responded to a radio interviewer’s question about his thoughts on the Houston Rockets’ rookie center Yao Ming, a player from China. His reply, as reported by writer Irwin Tang in the Jan 3 issue of AsianWeek: “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.'”
I know the sting of these words.
I’ve felt the hot flush of shame and rage when someone has used them towards me. I’ve been called a Jap, Nip, a Chink, a Gook (that one was especially popular during the Vietnam war, because our GIs called the enemy Viet Cong “gooks”), and I’ve been told in obnoxious sing-song cadence “ching-chong Chinaman” and “go home,” as if the United States of America were not my home. And, I’ve been told more times than I could possibly count, “ah so,” as if this were some ancient ritual greeting of Japanese, usually spoken with eyes shut to slits and overbite bared in yellowface buckteeth.
O’Neal’s taunt to Yao was aired several times by a Fox Sports radio host in mid-December, and the host, Tomy Bruno, reportedly announced the comment was not racist and invited listeners to call in and make fun of Chinese. Irwin Tang, a writer who heard Shaq’s comments, tried to get the national media interested in this outrageous display of prejudice. The Organization of Chinese Americans made the only outcry, demanding an apology from Shaq, who predictably shrugged off his remarks as a joke.
I’m not saying Shaq is any more racist than I am. But the fact that he didn’t think twice about those comments towards Yao Ming reveals that at the time, he wasn’t very mindful or sensitive to the multicultural world that we all now live in.
I bet he’d never say the same garbage today, about any Asian player in the NBA. I hope not, anyway. And, I love seeing him hangin’ with the Asian American kid and dad in this commercial.
It’s a small, maybe insignificant thing to most people, but I like to think it represents progress.
Here’s Kylie’s latest commercial. Microsoft even loaned her out to Sony so she could help sell Vaio computers:
(Many thanks to 8Asians.com for keeping an eye out for these commercials with Asians!)