Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | racism
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Pekin Chinks -- the high school school mascot name of Pekin, Ohio until 1980 In the midst of the media hullabaloo over ESPN's "Chink in the armor" headline about Jeremy Lin, I had a conversation with a journalism professor at the University of Colorado, where I work as staff adviser to the CU Independent, the student-run news website for the Boulder campus. What the media need, we decided, is remedial lessons in racist imagery and epithets. Both the editor and anchor who were disciplined by "the Worldwide leader in sports" claimed they didn't mean anything racial by the use of the phrase with the "c-word." OK, granted, the phrase is an old one used to describe a weakness in armor, but who would use the word today and NOT feel a twinge of conscience, a mental red flag, about its century of use as a racist slur? Why wouldn't you use any number of other words? Apparently, some people -- especially young people -- today don't know or don't remember that the "c-word" is the equivalent of the "n-word" to Asian Americans. That's a good thing, because it means the word is seldom used as a slur these days. But that doesn't mean we can start using it willy-nilly again. I grew up having the word hurled in my direction as kids yelled at me to "go home." I've been called every one of those words: "Jap," "Nip," "Gook," "Slope," "Chinaman," "Ching-Chong," Slant-Eye"... an entire dictionary of racist words. Some of them as you can see, have non-racial meanings, like slope or nip. But call me over-sensitive, when I see the words "chink in the armor" or "nip in the air" in print my stomach clenches. And the same goes for an awful lot of other Asian Americans, although yes, not every Asian American agrees (you can call Michelle Malkin anything you want, I guess and it won't bother her). The Asian American Journalists Association released a Media Advsiory on covering Jeremy Lin last week, and hopefully that will help curb some of the national media's dumber inclinations and make writers and editors think at least a moment before they blurt out something they'll regret later. But what can you do if some journalists (and people in general) don't know that certain words or phrases have a racial connotation, perhaps a forgotten one from the past? I've met a few people who honestly didn't know that "chink" is an offensive reference to Asians. The fact is, words and their meanings evolve. The Pekin, Illinois high school team for many decades was called the "Chinks" even though their mascot was a dragon (see the graphic above). In 1980, after years of controversy and over the objection of the students, the team was changed to the Dragons. I'm sure they didn't think the word was so bad because they didn't mean it as a racial epithet. Even the seemingly benign word "Oriental" has evolved. It originally referred to the Orient, or the Far East. Some Asians today still use the term to describe their grocery stores, and it's still commonly used to describe rugs (from the Middle East). But it was used so often as a word to refer to negative stereotypes that today, the acceptable word in common usage is "Asian." "Oriental" is for rugs, "Asian" is for people. The Asian American civil rights organization JACL has a series of pamphlets including this one, "Word can kill the spirit... 'Jap' is a derogatory term!" that lists some of the slurs that target Asians. The JACL's various pamphlets are available digitally on their website but they're hard to find. The AAJA also is revising its APA Handbook for covering Asian Americans, with this addendum currently available (they'll be combined in the new revised edition being published this summer). Other than these, there aren't a resource that I know of besides a few websites including this Wikipedia entry on ethnic slurs where people can go and learn about or check whether certain words are slurs or not. Maybe I should write a quick ebook. But here's one more example just this week of an innocent use of a word that made me feel uncomfortable, and I'm glad I acted on my instincts to reach out and educate a friend:

UPDATES BELOW, INCLUDING OTHER REACTIONS, MORE LINSANITY, FUNNY STUFF, JIN RAPPING ON LIN, AND JASON WHITLOCK AND FLOYD MAYWEATHER'S TWEETS Asian Americans have slowly become visible in American professional sports -- player by player, sport by sport. Some sports were conquered early. Most people know stars from the ice skating world such as Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Ohno or Michelle Kwan --...

I can't think of a good reason for me to want to live in Arizona. Via Yahoo, here's news that a judge has ruled that the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American Studies course violates state law because it's "designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals." Part...

This ad from Citizens Against Government Waste, called "Chinese Professor," hit the fan just a few weeks ago as the campaign season was hitting its fever pitch, and it fanned the flames of outrage among Asian Americans across the country. It's not subtle: The commercial obviously perpetuates an ugly, evil vision of Chinese as grim, committed enemies of America, gloating over a fantasy collapse of US world power and the rise of a gray-tinted China... with a gigantic visage of Chairman Mao glaring over an auditorium where a professor gloats to his students. Here's Angry Asian Man on the ad, and the original post on The Atlantic that analyzes the spot. Angry Asian Man also tracked down a couple of extras who were hired for the commercial, and they explain that they knew the commercial was conservative, but they had no idea their stint sitting in an audience and laughing on command would be put in such a grim, stereotypical context. There's not much more to say about this ad, except it turns my stomach -- and it aired tonight while we were watching election returns.

CU Independent faculty advisor Amy Herdy has guided her students from its darkest days to a new campaign against racism and prejudice. The bus sign above her is part of the students Three years ago this week, a student news website at the University of Colorado sparked a firestorm of protest. The website posted a column by a student, Max Karson, which ineptly tried to address racism on the CU campus by poking fun at Asian stereotypes. The column, "If It's War the Asians Want, It's War They'll Get," stirred the Denver area's Asian and Asian American communities to organize and demand changes at the University. The timing was unfortunate, because it ran on Feb. 18, just a day before the 2008 Day of Remembrance, when Japanese Americans mark the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II. The column joked about "locking up" all Asians. The area's Asian communities weren't amused, and rallied quickly to protest. So did student organizations not just at CU, but at the states other universities. National Asian American and civil rights organizations sent letters of protest to the Campus Press, but to the CU administration. In the two years since, there haven't been a lot of concrete changes at CU in general over racial issues as far as many students can see, but there have been lots of changes at the Campus Press. Its faculty advisor, Amy Herdy, a former colleague of mine at The Denver Post, was an early target of protesters but it turned out the rules for the website prevented her from having editorial control. It's a student-run website. But since then, Herdy and the students who run the website have been busy rebuilding the class's reputation, upgrading its commitment to quality journalism, and have worked hard to avoid ever allowing something like the "War Against Asians" column from bubbling up again.

Lou Jing with her mother on the Chinese talent show that made her a lightning rod for discussions of race in China. I know I spend a lot of posts writing about the ongoing racism and stereotypes that Asians face in the United States. That's my passion, and it's important to me. But I'm also aware that racism exists all over the world. At its worst, that's why genocide still goes on, after all. And, I'm sad to say, racism is rife in Asia, even (especially?) in Japan, the country of my birth and family roots. It's a tribal instinct to separate people by ethnicity, and we just have to constantly work at rising above those instincts in the 21st century, when we live in a much smaller and much more intertwined world. My mother, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s with my two brothers and I when my father (himself Japanese but born in Hawai'i) was transferred stateside for his federal government job, is about as old-fashioned as they come. She's been in the U.S. for over 40 years, but she's still FOBish ("Fresh Off the Boat") in a lot of her values, even today. When I called my parents to announce that my first wife -- who was European American -- and I were going to get a divorce, her first comment wasn't anything sympathetic. She said bluntly, "See? I told you you should marry Japanese." Thanks mom, for the support. So I was saddened but not exactly surprised to follow the controversy in China over Lou Jing, the Shanghai-born college student who's shown in the video above, singing on "Go! Oriental Angel," China's version of "American Idol." Lou (pronounced "LOH") is mixed-race. Her mother is Chinese and her father, whom she's never met, was African American. She's a beautiful young woman, and a talented singer (her favorite performer is Beyonce). That's a picture of Lou with her mother on the TV show, above. But she's such an unusual sight in China that the TV show labeled her "Black Pearl" and "Chocolate Girl," and the media picked up on her inclusion in the show and made her a national racial sideshow. In a cultural switch from the "You speak such good English" line that Asian Americans get in the U.S., she's grown up hearing people ask how she can speak such good Chinese. "Because I'm Chinese" is her answer, of course. Following her appearances on the TV show, the Chinese blogosphere became filled with hateful comments aimed at both mother and daughter, venting outrage that her mother would have sex with a black man and calling Lou all manner of names and telling her to leave China (she will if she gets her wish for post-graduate study in the U.S.). There are a lot of different ethnic groups in China, and they don't all get along, as witnessed by the recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han in western China. But the majority of Chinese -- 90% -- are descended from the Han race. Although some Chinese are tolerant, many apparently are not. CNN has a good video report with accompanying text about the racial issues that Lou Jing has sparked in China. Here's a video of Lou performing on "Go! Oriental Angel":

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 http://www.funvidapps.com/Site/LuckyFortune.html">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.

Sometimes, protesting works. It took about a week of buzz on the blogosphere to get the attention of Paramount Studios for the obnoxious racism disguised as satire in the trailer for the comedy starring Jeremy Piven, "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard." The scene shows car salesmen worked up by the thought of Pearl Harbor being attacked by the Japanese and chanting "never again," until they all pounce on an Asian character in the film. Piven's character then tries to make light of the hate crime by trying to blame the Asian. It's a clumsy reprise of anti-Japanese sentiment from 70 years ago, with a scary flashback of the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death by two Detroit autoworkers who thought he was Japanese (he wasn't) and somehow directly responsible for them losing their jobs. Well, enough outrage over this scene built thanks to coverage from Asian American blogs including Minority Militant, Angry Asian Man and 8Asians, that the JACL released a statement expressing outrage a couple of days ago, and several national organizations announced a protest yesterday. (There were also letters of protest sent around by individuals like actor Ken Narasaki and Soji Kashiwagi.) The protest was held yesterday, and though I haven't noticed if national mainstream media had picked up on the issue, Paramount has heeded the protest. A little while ago, I received this email from JACL:
PARAMOUNT APOLOGISES TO THE JACL Los Angeles -- The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation's largest and oldest Asian American civil rights and community advocacy organization, welcomed Paramount Pictures' apology for "racially demeaning language" in its recently released film, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.