Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | stereotypes
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I grew up in an era before political correctness, when racial jokes were a staple of standup comedy. I'm talking jokes by white comics about minorities. It took until the '70s when black comics like Richard Pryor started turning racial humor on its head, making fun of white people as well as blacks. These days, there are Asian American standups who tell some hilarious jokes about AAPIs, and our sometimes peculiar cultural values and traditions. But it's been a long time since I heard a joke about Asians told by a white person. So imagine my bemusement when a co-worker whom I'm friendly with (as opposed to a friend with whom I might socialize), came up to me in the office kitchen today. "I'm sure you heard this, but I'm going to tell it anyway," he said excitedly, chuckling to himself. "So this Oriental man goes to the doctor (first wince) to have his eyes looked at (second wince, since I just heard about Miley Cyrus' 'chinky-eyed' photo). The doctor looks at him and says, 'I have some bad news... you have a cataract.' 'I don't have a cataract,' the man replies. 'I have a rincon continentaru.'" Ba-da-boom. Big wince. And, a laugh. Or two.

Asian Americans (and Asians around the world) should be up in arms about this. Yet another "official" photo has been found, of an Olympic team posing with its members pulling back their eyes to make them slanted. This time it's four members of the Argentine Women's Soccer Team, mocking their Chinese hosts in a photo in a national sports magazine....

OK, I had to post these two photos, in which Spanish athletes mock Chinese by pulling back their eyes to make them slanty -- ha ha ha. The first is a posed shot of of the Spanish Olympic basketball team. It was used in an ad in a Spanish newspaper, which calls into question not only the photographer, athletes and team management's judgment, but also the national newspaper's staff and management. The second photo is of the Spanish tennis team, celebrating after defeating the Chinese to go on to the Fed Cup finals earlier this year. Man, I haven't seen that done since I was in grade school -- in the mid-1960s, when the expression was "enhanced" by the person sticking out his (or her, apparently) buck teeth and speaking in a heavy, phony Asian accent, saying crap like "ah-so!" and "herro, I solly, no tickee no laundoree." You'd think we'd moved past that kind of third-grade cruelty by now, but nope. Not in Spain, anyway. What were they thinking? Are racial mocking stereotypes acceptable in Spain where they're frowned upon here? Do Chinese athletes go around finding ways to mock Spanish athletes? These photos disgust me.

Growing up, I didn't think much about it, but seeing old Westerns now, it's amazing to me that movies got away with casting white people in the roles of American Indians or Mexicans -- almost always as "bad guys." Seeing these movies today, you could tell they're not ethnic actors, and could almost see the smudges from the makeup smeared over their faces and hands. It wasn't any more sophisticated than the blackface makeup white actors wore to play African American roles in silent movies or the early talkies, wide-eyed, shiny black visages like masks, singing about "mammy." You don't see that any more, at least, not with blacks and Latinos. Hollywood also has a long and tiresome tradition of "yellowface" -- having Caucasian actors portray ethnic Asian roles. And, unfortunately, you can still see that on the big screen today. The most famous early examples of yellowface are the various actors from Warner Oland and Boris Karloff to Peter Sellers who played the evil, inscrutable Fu Manchu; Oland and Sidney Toler as the detective Charlie Chan in a series of hit movies; and the German-born, diminutive Peter Lorre as the Japanese detective Mr. Moto in another string of movies. Even the great Katharine Hepburn, one of my favorite actresses, put on yellowface, to play a Chinese woman in the 1944 movie "Dragon Seed."

The Boulder Daily Camera today ran a front-page story about the recent study about Asian Americans and the model minority myth. The study found that because Asians are not all high-achieving academic wiz-kids, and that the diversity of the Asian communities (we're not just Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, but also Laotian, Hmong, Cambodian, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and so on) and the range of generations from first-generation immigrants with poor English skills to fourth, fifth or sixth generations of Americans, leads to a reality that's less modeled and more uneven. Not all Asian Americans go into the top Ivy-League schools, either: a growing number is opting to go to community colleges instead of major universities. The article quotes CU professor Daryl Maeda, an assistant professor of ethnic studies:
Another part of the “model minority myth” — that Asian-American students should perform well in science, technology, engineering and math fields — also can be unfair to students, Maeda said. “Some are great at music or English,” Maeda said. “And if they don’t live up to the model minority myth it puts an extra pressure on them, giving them the idea that they somehow aren’t good enough in their endeavors.”

Here's a blog post I just came cross, from AdAge.com, that adds to the dialogue on the use of the word "uppity" to describe African Americans. Pepper Miller points out that some African Americans take the use of "elitist" to describe Barack Obama as code for "uppity":
As another example, WVON-AM Chicago talk-show host Perri Small nailed the rationale for black frustration over charges of Sen. Obama's "elitist" attitude during an appearance on CNN last month. Ms. Small explained that many in the black community took "elitist" to mean "uppity," a particularly troublesome translation as the term "uppity" dates back to pre-Civil Rights and the Jim Crow era. Despite progress in the black community, "uppity" continues to be perceived as code for blacks who do not "stay their place."

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.