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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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