Tag Archives: stereotypes

an open letter to The Walrus: on why “chinaman” jokes are not acceptable

posted by jroselkim

Dear Editors of The Walrus,

I was really enjoying reading Noah Richler’s feature “My Dad, the Movie, and Me” until an unexpected racist joke hit me like a ton of bricks towards the end of the piece. Mr. Richler describes a conversation he has with his best friend, who tells what Mr. Richler describes as “his signature punster’s bad jokes.”

“Noah, when does a Chinaman go to the dentist?” he asked.

“I dunno, pal. When?”

“Tooth-hurty.” (p.48)

Mr. Richler states that this “joke” occurred after his father’s death, so I can safely say this happened sometime after 2001. Little did I know that “a Chinaman” was still used as a “funny” term in the 21st century. I was also unaware that we were still okay with making jokes about the hilarious ways that Asian people speak. Because those Asian people, they just can’t speak English correctly, no matter how long they’ve been living here, right? And those silly Chinamen – many of whom worked under terrible conditions to build our railways – they still deserve those awesomely bad puns after all these years, don’t they?

I’m not sure if that qualifier “bad” Mr. Richler uses in the piece sufficiently describes the kind of offensive attitude his friend exhibited. Do we still live in a society where we make bad puns about the “others” and print them without thinking twice? Frankly, I am equally appalled that the editors and the copy editors at The Walrus let this joke pass on to the public (many of whom are – inevitably – of Asian origin). It makes me feel ashamed to be subscribing to a magazine (which prides itself in serious, in-depth journalism) that is in fact so blind to a hurtful racial stereotype.

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america’s next top “high fashion” model is…not diverse

posted by jroselkim

This is what high fashion looks like, according to Tyra Banks.

It feels like that time when I was a bit full but still insisted on an all-you-can-eat option at a Japanese-Korean food restaurant (which I just knew wasn’t going to be good but couldn’t resist), the restaurant would be controlling my meal by giving it to me in portions and refused to actually let me eat the promised menu unless I finished every course.

In other words – I feel a complicated mix of self-loathing and outrage after watching the premier of America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 15. Self-loathing because I am a) constantly sucked into this hysterical and cringe-worthy “reality” and b) admitting that I have watched all of the freaking 14 previous cycles (wow, how many hours of my life is that where I could’ve enriched my brain with, say, foreign language learning?) The outrage, however, stems from how the idea of “high-fashion” (though, this is still Tyra’s version so it probably means nothing to someone like Karl Lagerfeld) still being so exclusionary and exclusive.

So, America’s Next Top Model is like, totally changed, you guys. Instead of a fashion spread in Seventeen magazine, the winner now gets a fashion spread in Italian Vogue, which apparently is the mecca of all models and launches high-fashion model careers all the time. This means nothing to the plebians like me who can’t even sift through American Vogue on a regular basis.

But what does this REALLY mean for the show? So far, it means:

1) no more body diversity: there has been at least one plus-sized girl that gets picked every season, and Tyra gives some mandatory spiel about how all body sizes are beautiful. The plus-sized girl would stick around for a while, only to be booted off after the judges would start making comments about them looking too ordinary, commercial, old, or all of the above. Except for that one time when that plus-sized girl won, because I guess they needed to pay lip service or something. But there is NONE of that – not even the superficial lip-service part – this season.

2) no Asian girls: I admit, Asian contestants are pretty rare on the show to begin with, but there’s been a smattering of them. April in season 1 was half-Japanese and went pretty far in the competition. I remember Gina from Season 6, who was a textbook bimbo case and said she only liked dating white guys, and was generally embarrassing to watch. Then there was Sheena in Season 11 who was Japanese and Korea, who eventually got booted off because she was too “sexual.” This cycle, I did not see a single Asian face even in the “semi-final” stage.

Granted, ethnic diversity is hard to come by in the fashion world. But Asian-Americans are so rarely represented as potential for top models. Not that I look to this show as some kind of an anchor for American culture. But from the continuation of the show and the frenzy some of the contestants display, it certainly serves as some kind of a cultural milestone for some. So where the azns at, Tyra??

Reality TV, I wish I could quit you.

[Photo from realitytvmagazine.sheknows.com]

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invaded: august

posted by missmsian

Another wild month for Azns in North American media. Check out July and June for more news.

Good Pakistan, Bad Pakistan

Prime Minister Harper appoints Salma Ataullahjan a senator–making her the first Pakistan-born person to hold that position–and paints her face into Duccio’s Madonna and Child. Not really. But close; she does give the standard I-love-diversity-and-integration speech. And every self-righteous liberal gives himself a pat on the back, satisfied he’s fulfilled his affirmative action quota for the year.

Not everyone is fooled by those crafty, crafty Pakistanis, though. The National Post reminds us that while some Pakistani-Canadians are diversity-loving political puppets, most are actually TERRORISTS. The best way to remind us, of course, is by running three articles called “All roads lead to Pakistan,” “Canada’s battle with radicalization” and “Don’t call it Islamophobia” in the same issue a few days after the devastating floods and basically implying that if we contribute to relief efforts, we’re funding terrorist activities. Thanks for enlightening me.

Dear Ignorant …

The opposite of blatantly racist reporting is the equally annoying “pitiful immigrant story” some newspapers like to run.

In response to a Toronto Star editorial called “Exploited immigrants,” letter writer Robert Manders opines:

“Is Ford in Oshawa treating Asian immigrants like slave labour? I don’t think so. Are the Bay or Sears hiring young Asian women to work long sweaty underpaid hours in their alterations department? No. Do stylish shops on Queen St. have secret employees toiling unseen and in distress? Highly unlikely. If the miscreant employers are of Asian origin, say so.”

Actually, yes, they are–here and overseas. Exploitation has a broader definition than you would imagine.

The Muslims are boarding!

Creepy dude films a few women wearing veils boarding a flight and extrapolates from his little vignette that the West is letting terrorists onto airplanes for the sake of political correctness.

BUT IT GETS WORSE BECAUSE …

The Tamils are landing!

Run! Away! Criminalize them before they arrive on shore! Falsely conflate a liberation movement with terrorism!

Wasn’t it John “Father of Liberalism” Locke who defended the right to revolt against an unjust government in Two Treatises of Government? So, actually, you could say the LTTE is operating within a liberal-democratic system. Okay, there may be gaps in this argument, but it’s no more flawed than this logic, which has been popular among mainstream media:

Brown people –> on boats –> terrorists

Do you speak wif broken Engrish accent?

You may not be able to get job interviews, but you’re welcome to attend a diversity casting call.

No, they’re not casting for a particular show. But, hey, if there’s ever a biopic about a white woman who rescues inner-city kids or a movie that requires slumdog millionaires, murder victims, enemies of the U.S. army or an IT geek-best friend … well, you might get a call after all.

At least networks now look like they’re doing something about unequal representation in the entertainment industry–a point brought up by this report that says Sikhs are misrepresented in pop culture.

Groundbreaking research

Victims of stereotyping and racism are screwed in life. You read it here first.

These are a few of my favourite Fordisms

Trigger warning: contains racial slurs

“Those Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over.”

“Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?”

On a video about homosexuality in Toronto’s South Asian community: “I have no problem giving money out to physically or mentally handicapped children or seniors, but spending $5,000 on this video is disgusting, it is absolutely disgusting to spend this amount of money on this, whatever it was called, video.”

Oh, Calgary

The private deck at this home, that “will only sell to a white buyer,” won’t have “colored people peaking [sic] into your backyard.” Good to know.

Let’s face it. We’re all terrorists.

In previous months, we at least had a celeb scandal (thanks, Tiger) or exotic food story to balance out the coverage of Azns. Not this month.

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knives chau: the pleasant surprise of scott pilgrim

posted by jroselkim

Being a good Canadian (who also wondered whether Michael Cera could pull off yet another similarly constructed awkward-boy role), I went to see Scott Pilgrim last week. And I had a surprisingly positive experience.

There are lots of good reviews and commentary about the film’s graphic novels origins, its soundtrack, and everyone’s acting abilities, so I won’t go into it too much. What I DO want to talk about though – because I haven’t seen this discussed in too many places yet – is how the film actually does a semi-okay job of portraying an Asian woman through the character of Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong).

Okay, perhaps changing that ridiculous name could’ve been a huge improvement in making her portrayal semi-okay to okay. I also realize this is not the screenwriter’s fault, but rather the original graphic novel writer’s. Now, onwards with more in-depth commentary! SPOILER ALERT.

When Knives was introduced onscreen, I couldn’t help but groan at another Geeky and Asexual Asian Girl and whispered to my movie companion, “not again!” Yes, she is a token Asian character in an exclusively white Toronto-scape. Yes, she starts out in the movie as an annoyingly chaste and innocent girlfriend, the only person in the whole world who is blind to utterly loser-like characteristics of Scott Pilgrim. Then again, we could attribute her blinding and irritating naivete (I almost typed “knivete,” true story) to her young age and not her ethnicity, as she is the only teen in a film (although everybody else behaves like a teen I knew in high school).

I was totally ready to lose Knives after Scott Pilgrim appropriately used her to get over his too-cool ex-girlfriend then dump her once he spotted the even-cooler-than-his-ex girl (whose name I cannot remember for the life of me. That must be a bad sign for the screenwriters in selling that girl’s character as “cool,” no?) But then the movie pleasantly surprised me by a) having Knives stick around and b) giving her a pretty central role in defeating the Ultimate Bad Guy of the movie. She even gets to say to Scott Pilgrim: “I’m too cool for you anyway”!

Some of you might say: well, the writers make her say that so Scott Pilgrim can continue his “real romance” with the white girl as he was always meant to. And that is probably true. It’s kind of sad to see Asian women be the “exotic in-between” girlfriends who aren’t even real girlfriends, but pure ego boosters for the main character’s lack of masculinity. However, I think the film at least tried to break away from that flat characterization by evolving Knives’ character by giving her a chance to grow up into a more substantial person on her own.

(note: I have not read the graphic novels so I have no idea how much of this is from the books themselves, or the screenwriters’ adaptations. )

Am I praising this movie for making its only Asian character stick throughout the whole story? Have my standards dropped this low?

(By the way, I think Scott Pilgrim’s character is what irritates me about “nerdy boys” coming back in style. First of all, the guy is all self-involved and more whiny than my 16-year-old brother, then he manipulates and deceives Knives all the time. Dear media: these are not “cute, nice guys” – these are just douchebags with youthful-looking faces. Stop conflating the two categories.)

[Photo from Slashfilm.com]

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you are racist against yourself

posted by ellephanta/Celine

This very interesting stereotype about asian parents unwilling to let their offsprings date or associate with white people (or any other race besides their own), I think suggests in subtle ways that “well, asians are racists too”.

But of course. Asians are capable of doing and saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. Or did you think that they were objects that are incapable of thinking, screwing up, changing, learning?

My race certainly doesn’t immune me from being racist towards my own race or any other race. It’s our actions, not our identities themselves that are either racist or not. I certainly run into a lot of racism (against white people, black people, etc.) in, for example, the Korean first generation immigrants community in Toronto (the one I’m most familiar with), especially in our parents’ generation (people of our generation are often just as bad, but in a subtler and different ways than our parents’, something I hope to write about at one point in the future) that remain thoroughly uninformed on race theory and the marginalized status of racialized people in our community.

But consider this: Most of those in Toronto’s Korean community with language barriers separating them from anybody who is not a Korean-speaking Korean are effectively segregated from the rest of Toronto, like a bubble in the middle of a bustling metropolis. I think this has real negative consequences. This certainly does not aid them in dispelling their messed up preconceptions about whole races of people — which, by the way, was first conceived by them through messed up representations in media, their one of very few source of contact with non-Koreans — and instead, as a small town might, intensifies xenophobia and other in-group out-group attitudes.

My parents have lived here for ten years and they do not have a single friend who is an English-speaking white person. This is not closed-mindedness on their part, but simply a refusal to take shit from people. They rightfully don’t want to be patronized because they’re grown-ass adults of remarkable intelligence and insight, but every encounter they have had with white people, they were patronized. They don’t want to be treated like “an identity” and they don’t want their failure to speak fluent English to mean that people can treat them like children – but every encounter they have had with white people in Toronto, they felt like they were in kindergarten – so they got fed up and quit. I’m not sure if I condone them quitting, but at the very least I understand it.

My parents have always been committed to feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-ablism, anti-nationalism, pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, anti-classism, anti-war, free speech, and freedom of religion (yes, even before they moved here and were “enlightened” by the flourishing “multiculturalism” in Toronto) as all of their friends back in Korea have been. They’re brilliant and kind and wise and in love with humanity and I love them very much, even though they’re super flawed as we all are and we fight often (my dad sometimes gets weirdly nationalistic when his masculinity is threatened but then my mom calls him on it), they are way more open and caring than a lot of young people I met at Queen’s University.

They’ve always been critical of bigotry in South Korea, and now of what they find in Canada and the U.S., as they obviously should and would be, given that they’re sane — just as a sane white person would be of their community if it is racist, anti-feminist, etc. My parents and their friends don’t give a crap about the race of the people their offsprings date as long as they’re cool and awesome, as they should. As white people should too. As any sane people should. They’re not exceptions to the rule (“asians have racist beliefs, and Celine’s parents are exceptions”) because there is no rule. One just think there is because they just love putting a whole race of people in an imaginary group and generalizing about them.

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i want to get your name right!

posted by djtrishna

This video is effing hilarious.

“That’s it, I’m leaving. I need some whisky.”

I hear ya girl, I hear ya.

I am mostly laughing at Steve here. And how often this happens to folks of colour on a daily basis. It’s funny cause it’s true and I understand how it feels. And it’s totally absurd.

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let’s go fishing, said the angler to the worm

posted by ellephanta

In response to this eloquent, wonderful post by missmsian!

I have played all three roles (expert, token, snitch) as a racial minority in a room full of ignorant people and their buttsniffers before, but now I’m devoted to playing an aggressive snitch. It always feels disgusting after you’ve played either the expert or the token and there were occasions when, after having sniffed the butts of some white people who’s “figured everything out”, I would burst into tears back in my room without being able to explain why exactly. Now I know it’s the feeling of repulsion towards oneself that comes from whoring out one’s selfhood to serve somebody else’s purpose. Much of my first year in undergrad was spent in a struggle through this.

But once I’ve figured some stuff out, I quit my post as an expert or a token. It’s really hard on a person’s dignity to play those two, and in comparison, playing an aggressive snitch, though the role warrants you the reputation of being rude or mean or bitchy or whatever, is the easiest on the spirit. Calling on bullshit with focus, once you get into the habit of it, is a lot more satisfying than trying to act like you represent the entire race of your “people” or whatever the hell they want you to do.

However, I don’t associate at all with people who would push me into any of these roles anymore. Also, if you make really good friends, the friends you meet through those friends are likely to be good too, and I find that I have had to deal with this shit less and less.

But when I do encounter this shit for whatever reason, I declare loudly that there is no way I can be friendly about it. (I apologize about the foul language, but I just hate to call it a “situation” or a “conversation” or even “stuff” because I care about words, and those words are good words that I refuse to associate with the shit that sometimes goes on at these social gatherings.) I tell them straight that they may not use me to jerk off and that I don’t “respect” their “viewpoint”, because it’s not a viewpoint, it’s just shit.

I literally say these things out loud to those that try to pigeonhole me into these roles, trying with all their might to be right and superintelligent with some help from a racial minority to fill in for their lack of perspective outside of their own, to nod along with them. I don’t even do it privately by going “hi, can I talk to you in private?” anymore. I have tried that before and discovered that one can easily evade a real conversation in privacy by saying stuff like “well, I didn’t mean to offend you, but I’m sorry I did, I didn’t realize that you were a delicate little flower that can’t take a joke,” and then asking “are we good? I hope you know that I’m a good person and that I mean well,” and walk away from it thinking “I took a criticism well today! I must be an open-minded person!”

So when I’m calling people out, I make sure that the audience is still there and what I’m calling them on has happened in the last five minutes. I want to be a snitch while it’s hot. I want them to feel the humiliation of being called on their bullshit and be punished socially for it. It doesn’t matter what political stance, opinion, awareness, etc. the audience has, because if I’m being honest, none of that should affect what I say to point out the absurdities of the “conversation” we are having.

Unsurprisingly, there is an element of surprise when I set out to call them on it. When their bullshit is pointed out and condemned, especially in front of an audience, it gets surreal for them. Wait, “Miss Minority Perspective”, hold on – I don’t understand – you are speaking up? Inconceivable!

Thoroughly humiliating them for trying to use me as a prop for some “theory” they have on race or crime or culture or psychology or whatever, prevents further encounters with them in the future, which is actually awesome. Once I actually told a guy who was talking about the permissibility of “positive” jokes about race along the lines of “Azns are good at math yay” and tried to bring me, the only racial minority there in a room full of white people, “into the conversation” to “offer a perspective” (a euphemism for “tell this people oh yeah, I find those jokes about my race funny because they are positive! so that they notice how bright I am”) in these exact words: “Sorry, but I can’t let you use me as a dildo.” I proceeded to explain to him as one would to a child who doesn’t know better how my race is not a joke, etc. and then I have never had to talk to him again after that, which was really damn pleasant. It was like a breath of fresh air to never again listen to him lecture people on something he doesn’t know anything about.

Oh but wait, Celine, don’t you think you should have an “honest dialogue” with people you don’t agree with? To that, I say: I don’t “disagree” with them. I refuse to “disagree” with them because, how do you “disagree” with ignorance? “I disagree with ignorance” just sounds ridiculous. It’s not a real opinion and there is no real dialogue here. It’s just dangerous idiocy.

Secondly, let’s put it in perspective: Alas, I do not know or interact with 99.9% of the global population anyway. I can only hang out with people within my reach, and the rest of the people I may enjoy the presence of, I have no access to. This frees me from the need to hang out with people I do not want to be. Also, I may die at any moment. Life is short and I happen to want to derive as much joy and happiness from my short life as possible. So I have absolutely no obligation or desire to talk to people that are interested in using the already marginalized minorities in the room like a blowup doll for the end of some quasi-intellectual orgasm. (Though, if they are Stephen Harper or someone influential or whatever who can actually do something about some things, I may against all my inclination take my time to talk to him and give him my all but that’s neither here nor there, because our prime minister probably doesn’t want to talk to me.)

The only kind of real dialogue about race between someone ignorant about the racialized experience and someone who lives it is one that involves a lot of listening. It involves real honesty and an authentic desire to figure this whole mess out, to make the world we all share a more tolerable place so that we can be happier together. Just because you decide to call an interaction “a dialogue”, it doesn’t make it so. I find that it’s harder than you think to have a real dialogue. But like learning to ride a bicycle, you try it and when you fall, you pick up and then try it again.

I haven’t come up with a rulebook or anything, but I think one thing is for sure: In a real dialogue, nobody tries to use each other to claim the superiority of one’s own experience. It’s not a battle with guns and bombs thrown at each other. The desire to exploit the other doesn’t belong in it.

As a result of my lifestyle as an aggressive snitch, I sure have my share of enemies but on the other hand, I have no shortage of sane friends, and I actually think I owe that to my very conscious refusal to deal with bullshit (it didn’t come naturally to me like it does to some people and I have to sometimes fight my laziness and order myself: “You can’t let this shit continue”), how comfortable I feel in my own skin as a result, how much I love and respect myself, etc. which comes from refusing to feed interactions in which I feel like a symbol or a “point” or a prop, rather than a person. I know some people are capable of being friends with people with fucked-up politics, but I’m not. The very sight of great ignorance mixed with great arrogance makes me want to vomit. I realize that this visceral reaction to bigotry is a hardness and a flaw, but anyway my life is a blast and relatively bullshit-free and I have yet to encounter what I would consider a negative consequence of this lifestyle.

I know in the first paragraph I callously called those who play a token and an expert buttsniffers, and I sincerely apologize for that. Often I am just harsher on those that do, because I was once doing all that stuff, sometimes even actively. I am humbled again and again by how hard it is to be a good and strong person, and how bad I am at it. So I don’t want to blame those of us that sniff butts and it is no one’s responsibility to correct the wrongs except their own, but I am nonetheless angry when somebody says “well, my other Azn friend said…”

I used to respond to that with “well, your other Azn friend is a buttsniffer,” but more and more I realize that I should instead say “identifying as a racial minority doesn’t make you anti-racist, just as a white dude who is actually committed to anti-racism isn’t racist by default. And also, here you are, doing it again, treating your friend like a token and an expert.” And so I try to say that instead. I’m learning. It’s a process.

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