by guest contributor Jenn Fang, originally published at Reappropriate
When I first saw the video of Rosie O’Donnell unleashing a long string of guttural “chings” and “chongs” on The View last week, I was upset and offended, but thought it was another in a long line of racial celebrity gaffes that would no doubt engender some outrage and inevitable apology. The pedestrian racism of using “ching” and “chong” to symbolize Chinese language and culture was so utterly obvious to me that I dismissed any need to respond with outrage. The public outcry would be immediate and swift, I was sure. The apology would, no doubt, strike the chords we are so familiar with and I projected that by today, the whole shitstorm would’ve died.
Boy, was I naive. And, boy, was I wrong.
This story really started hitting home not with Rosie’s “ching-chong”-ery, but by the response. On the Internet, readers started rushing to Rosie’s defense. Hundreds of readers around the blogosphere weighed in, incapable of or unwilling to equate Rosie’s joke with racism.
Comments on the story have taken several classic, yet undeniably ignorant, turns.
1. Rosie Didn’t Mean To Be Racist.
There are those who take pains to explain Rosie’s joke to the Asian American community, refuting racism with arguments of intent. One reader at Gawker wrote:
Rosie wasn’t necessarily mocking the Chinese. It is all about intent. The friggin point wasn’t “Chinese people sound funny” it was “they’re talking about the View in China, this is what I imagine it sounds like.” Get a grip, people.
This is Rosie O’Donnell’s own stance. On her blog, Rosie repeats (ad nauseum) that her intent was not to offend, but to mock Danny DeVito being drunk as news elsewhere in the world. She writes in resonse to one reader,
it was not my intent to mock
just to say how odd it is
that danny drunk
was news all over the world
even in china
it was not meant to mock
These types of responses emphasize the majority-centric view that most people have towards racism. When intent reigns supreme, then the problem with racism is not about the victim of the racist action, but the perpetrator and their intent. This outlook on racism only benefits the oppressor, who no longer has to consider the victims of his oppression. Not surprisingly, it is the same people who belong to the majority who perpetuate this self-interested treatment of racism.
Was it Rosie’s intention to mock the ridiculousness of Chinese newscasters getting all a-twitter about Danny DeVito on The View? Possibly, but what Rosie actually made a joke about was how Chinese language sounds to English audiences. And, as a Chinese American, Rosie’s use of “ching-chong”-ery to refer to my language and heritage struck home; why should my resulting racial pain play second fiddle to Rosie’s intent? This is just another form of blaming the victim.
2. If It Were (X), They Wouldn’t Be Mad…
Many of the Rosie defenders argue the hypothetical that if Rosie O’Donnell had cited German or French or Italian newscasters, no one would argue that it was racism. A reader at Defamer asked,
If she’d imitated the Italian language, would anyone have cared?