From Huffington Post: Rush Limbaugh took the opportunity of Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S. to show off his “ching-chong” impression of the Chinese language. How mature… it’s so juvenile to make fun of a foreign language and foreign people by mocking how you think they sound. That’s third-grade stuff. Many Asian Americans have heard “ching chong” aimed at them growing up, and it was always by schoolyard bullies — ignorant schoolyard bullies who pull the stunt to make themselves feel superior.
I’ve felt the sting of this taunt, followed by crap like “Ah-so! Harro! Go home, chink/Jap! Ching-chong ching-chong!” The bullies always pulled back their eyes into slits and bared their lips to show buck teeth while they spat out their hatred.
It’s one thing for ignorant children to use racist taunts to put down others. It’s another thing entirely for an adult to do it, and especially shameful for someone with the public reach and potential impact of Limbaugh. He’s showing his ignorance for all the world to hear.
This is related to the issue of civil political discourse. When someone of Limbaugh’s stature uses racial language to mock an entire people and their language, he’s giving a signal that it’s acceptable to do this, to make fun of foreigners, to think that Chinese (and by extension, all Asians) are weird and exotic and inscrutable.
Somewhat to his credit, Limbaugh notes that Chinese probably find English equally obscure and inscrutable. But then he goes on to speak in a disgusting fake-Chinese accent that makes my stomach churn. I grew up hearing that too, and find it sad, no, pathetic, hearing it from Limbaugh.
Rush isn’t the first national personality to do this, and he won’t be the last. In 2005, Adam Carolla, Howard Stern’s heir on CBS radio, pulled a “ching-chong” stunt. In 2007 an Ohio radio DJ, Josh Garber who broadcast as “Lucas,” used a racist accent on his show to mock Asian business owners. And in 2006, Rosie O’Donnell pulled a “ching-chong” act on the daytime talk show, “The View.”
In each of these cases, the broadcaster made a public apology.
We’re waiting, Rush.
(Cross-posted from my Posterous pop culture blog.)
Update: Here’s a hilarious response from the LA-based Asian American comedy troupe 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, schooling Rush on how to properly mock Chinese:
Wow, has anyone ever really taken this guy seriously? I hate to imagine anyone who does… He’s a true discredit to culture and intellectual thinking in America.
Thanks for the comment, J-Flix. Unfortunately, Limbaugh has a huge and rabidly loyal following who believe everything he says — literally. His legions call themselves “Dittoheads” because they agree with him and parrot whatever he says.
Hey Gil, So here’s a question about your description “racist accent.” At what point does a bad imitation become racist? Is a fake French “har har har” or pseudo-italian “Itsa me, Mario!” just as offensive as trying to imitate Asian accents? Does it become more or less offensive if people are attempting to repeat someone’s real accent, or if they are repeating a cultural stereotype? And what if the poor attempt at recreating a real accent sounds a lot like a cultural stereotype? Or do the actual regions and languages involved play more of a part? (For example, a bad Irish accent by an american might be less offensive than a good Southern black accent by someone who is neither) I don’t think one could say that people shouldn’t put on accents at all — look at Hugh Laurie in his role as House. This isn’t really in response to Limbaugh; he’s obviously got issues. I’m really just curious what you think, and where you feel that line is.
Good questions, Kalani, and I have to admit to a shifting target as far as the response. I’ve grown up with stereotyped accents aimed at me that are clearly racist (the whole “ah-so, harro” thing), or in a clearly racist context (radio DJs making phony calls to Asian restaurant owners for a laff and putting on the bad “Chinese” accent). So I know when that’s racist, and when it’s someone trying to sound genuinely like an Asian. But I know what you mean by non-Italians putting on Italian accents, or French, or British or whatever. And honestly, I squirm when I hear the evil Russian accent on a TV show, or a Middle Eastern accent, and wonder if it’s very accurate, or whether it’s so broad that it borders on a stereotype. I don’t know the right answer in these cases. But I know when it’s racist about Asians. I can feel my stomach clench….
That makes sense, Gil. I guess it ends up being like any insensitive teasing or aggression– the line may be different for different people, but some things clearly are over the line and even if it’s not clear, if someone says “Stop, this isn’t fun for me,” it’s important to listen.
I saw “Murder by Death” over Thanksgiving, and while my grandparents were laughing at Peter Sellers’ performance, it made me very uncomfortable. Thank you for having this blog and these conversations.
Gil: please google “I’m Tired of Hearing People Call Me a Chink” by Evelyn Lau. Evelyn is a famous Chinese-Canadian writer who wrote that short but poignant editorial for the Vancouver Georgia Straight (www.straight.com) about 5 years ago, I believe.
She points out that even though 21st-century Vancouver is very cosmopolitan, with people from all over (its Asian and South Asian communities alone make up about a quarter of the people there) she still occasionally (and surprisingly) gets racial taunts like she did when she was younger (I think that maybe she’s in her late 30’s now.)
Excerpts: “Go back to your own country!” (‘which incidentally, is Canada.’)
“You Japanese monkey!” (‘I am Chinese.’)
You’re right, it’s especially pathetic and shameful that someone like Rush Limbaugh would do that…Matt Stone and Trey Parker don’t claim to be pundits or intellectuals though, so “Team America” was a bit less offensive in that regard (though it’s still pretty offensive to Arabs, Muslims, Koreans and other Asians, etc.). Any comments?
Thanks for the comment, John. I haven’t read the Lau book though I’ll order it. Sounds great. I also didn’t see “Team America,” though I read the protests about it.