Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | racism
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The Minority Militant blog posted this (R-rated) trailer for the new Jeremy Piven comedy about car salesmen, "The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard." Towards the end of the trailer are two segments showing an Asian character played by Ken Jeong. In the first scene, which we've seen in the G-rated TV version of the trailer, he opens a bank bag a customer paid him for a car, and his face gets covered in the blue dye they put in stolen money. Ha ha, make fun of the short Asian dude who can't catch a clue. I can live with that, though it makes me squirm a bit. In the second scene, which ends the R-rated version of the trailer, Piven's character, an uber-salesman, is motivating the sales force (which includes Jeong's character) by citing Pearl Harbor. "The Japs... flying in low and fast," he says. "We are the Americans, and they are the enemy." Huh? Is this about the art of war applied to the art of sales? Or is it about Japanese cars vs. American cars? "Pearl Harbor. Never again! Pearl Harbor. Never again!," Piven screams and gets the others to yell along, even the Asian guy. But one of the older Caucasian guys starts eyeing the Asian guy and then shouts, "Let's get him!" A free for all ensues, and all the salesmen kick and pummel the Asian guy.

This photo, reportedly of Joe Jonas, shows him pulling his eyes back to mock Asians for a photo. Sigh. First Miley Cyrus, now a Jonas Brother -- coincidentally, another Disney music and movie star -- pulls his eyes back in a stereotypical slant for a photo. 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.

Singer and actress Miley Cyrus with friends in a racist "chink-eye" pose. The photo is making the rounds on the Internet. From Angry Asian Man: Miley Cyrus, the super popular teen pop star for her Hannah Montana song-and-dance act (she's also the daughter of country singer Billy Ray "Achy Breaky Heart" Cyrus), is shown with a group of friends in a photo making the rounds online, pulling back her eyes in a "chinky" or "slanty-eye" pose. It's clearly a racial stereotype, the same kind of stupidity practiced in photos last year by the Spanish Olympic basketball team and the Spanish national tennis team team. What kind of role model is that for young girls? What's a young Asian American girl supposed to think when she sees the photo? That she deserves to be the butt of racial stereotypes? Or a young European American girl? That it's perfectly fine to make fun of people who don't look like you?

The OC Welch Ford dealership in Hardeeville, SC, resorted to racist ads to sell cars. UPDATE: Dec. 19: Sometimes, good sense wins out. Despite the car dealer's initial refusal to back down from the racist sentiments of radio ads that ran a couple of weekends ago, it appears Detroit may have exerted some influence. The Japanese American Citizens League, which has a national anti-hate crime campaign funded by Ford Motor Company, released a press release that announces a public apology from Ocie Welch, the owner of O.C. Welch Ford Lincoln Mercury in Hardeeville, SC:
Mr. Welch issued a press release and sent the apology for his comments in the recent advertisements to the JACL. He stated: "I would like to apologize for my comments in recent radio advertisements. I am passionate about my love for Ford, and I mistakenly and wrongly conveyed this passion. I do not and will not condone discrimination and am sorry for any hurt I have caused." The JACL acknowledged the apology and noted that car dealers are one of many businesses suffering as a result of the economic downturn. The JACL issued a letter to Mr. Welch in which it stated that the remarks were hurtful and potentially harmful to all Asian Americans because they were reminiscent of racist sentiment during the recession in the 1980's that acutely affected the auto industry in Detroit. During that period, Japanese automakers were often scapegoated as the sole source of the economic hardships. It was in this environment that Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American, was beaten to death on the streets of a Detroit suburb by two autoworkers who blamed Chin for their problems, saying, "It's because of you that we're out of work." Chin was not Japanese, nor was he or Japan responsible for all the unemployment caused by the recession. Instead, Chin was the tragic victim of a climate of economic fear abetted by racism. He was victimized by racism in the same manner as Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps in remote areas of the United States during World War II. It is for this reason that the JACL abhorred the remarks of the radio ad for the racism it invoked and for any misplaced anger it may have inflamed. The JACL has worked with American automobile companies on various programs in the past and partners with Ford Motor Company on a youth leadership and empowerment program which includes anti-hate issues.
Read the original post by clicking the "Read More" link, and listen to one of the radio ads:

Stereotypes sometimes are based on a kernel of truth, but they're twisted and blown out of proportion and used out of context. Sometimes, stereotypes can even be "good" in that they're not negative images. But trust me, a stereotype is still a stereotype. It's a generalization that's not universally true, and even the good ones are impossible to live up to. Asian Americans are very familiar with the stereotype of the "model minority." It goes like this: Asian Americans are smart, quiet, dependable, hard-working and never complain. Asian American kids are smart, quiet, straight-A students, play classical music on instruments like piano, cello and violin, and never complain. It's all hogwash, of course... but it's based on that kernel of truth. Asian Americans were known for a hundred years for successfully assimilating into mainstream American society. It never completely worked because we could never be accepted racially into the mainstream like European Americans could, but Asian immigrants and their families worked hard to become economically successful in America. But a brand-new report published by New York University, the College Board and Asian American educators and community leaders found that the idea of "model minority" is a myth, and that the APA (Asian Pacific American) population is as diverse and no more homogeneous than the rest of America.
“Certainly there’s a lot of Asians doing well, at the top of the curve, and that’s a point of pride, but there are just as many struggling at the bottom of the curve, and we wanted to draw attention to that,” said Robert T. Teranishi, the N.Y.U. education professor who wrote the report, “Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight.”

Clint and Spike are having a spat. (from Gawker.com) File this under "you're too sensitive" if you want, but I think people of color notice these types of media mistakes because they reflect, deep-down, America's lack of evolution on the diversity front. From Gawker a few days ago: an MSNBC reporter described Spike Lee as "uppity" because of his back-and-forth spat with Clint Eastwood over the lack of African American soldiers represented on his two films about the World War II battle for Iwo Jima, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." When Lee's criticism, which he made when he was at the Cannes Film Festival in May, was published, Eastwood responded that Lee should "shut his face." I linked to the Gawker story in my Facebook page, and this morning I got an IM from a friend in New York, Peter V, who said he didn't get what the fuss was about. "Forgive my ignorance - but is 'uppity' a racial slur? I missed that one," he said. I thought about it, because I had immediately linked to the Gawker piece, but upon reflection, he was right "uppity" in itself is not an offensive word. It's the historical context that I was responding to. "In itself, no," I replied. "But someone in the national media should know the loaded nature of using the word when referring to a black man.... She may not have meant anything by it, but shame on her. It has hundreds of years of hate and hangings behind it..." As I explained in a follow-up email, the parallel, for me, is that I grew up hearing the phrase "sneaky Japs" -- all my life, from other kids in school, on the playground, at work (back in the day, when workplaces were less enlightened) and elsewhere, from all ages.

I've never seen Denver's Asian American community rally so quickly around an issue like they have around the botched satire, "If it's war the Asians want... It's war they'll get", that ran on the website of The Campus Press, the University of Colorado's venue for budding journalists. There's been a blizzard of emails flying around town from groups and individuals, outraged postings (including mine as well as Joe Nguyen's commentary on AsiaXpress), and TV and print media news reports. A collective of APA students who've organized a Facebook group called Colorado Asian American Organizations organized a meeting yesterday at Denver University, where about 40 people showed up. Erin attended, and also sent out notices to some of the local media, so there were TV crews from several stations on hand to cover the discussion. Attendees included not just students, but community activists, older APAs and also African Americans and Latinos.

I'm always amazed at how young "journalists" can write really stupid stuff and then hide behind the cloak of "satire" to defend themselves. That's what happened this week, when the University of Colorado's amateur student news site, CampusPress.com, ran a commentary by Max Karson titled "If it's war the Asians want... it's war they'll get." It's not very well written. It's self indulgent in an immature, self-possessed manner. It's confusingly filled with hate language and alarming statements for much of the column, then it veers into surrealism, and suddenly, if you weren't sure whether it's supposed to be a joke (I wasn't), you start to realize it's not serious. The problem is, so much of it sounds serious, and feels serious, and perpetuates racist stereotypes and statements about Asians that I've heard all my life. So why wouldn't I take it seriously?