Racism abounds following Rosie

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?

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Commentaries on James Kim from Chris Tashima and me

by Carmen Van Kerckhove


Yesterday’s episode of Pacific Time on KQED featured two commentaries on James Kim. One from the actor Chris Tashima, star of the upcoming Eric Byler film, Americanese, and one from me.

You can download the MP3 here or click the button below to listen. The commentaries start around the 20-minute mark.

This was my commentary:

I didn’t know him, but it seemed like we could easily have run in the same circles. I’m just a couple years younger than him, also Asian, not quite the tech evangelist he was, but I definitely have my geeky streak.

Apart from those attributes, what made me feel a special connection with James, Kati and their two daughters was that they were an interracial family, just like mine, just like the families of many of my friends. And I just don’t see families like ours on TV very often.

Sure, there are more and more TV shows featuring interracial couples – think of Grey’s Anatomy or Heroes – but the focus is solely on the couple. We don’t get to see what that relationship looks like after the excitement of a new romance wears off, when children enter the picture, when the world no longer revolves around just two people, when love becomes something bigger.

But that’s exactly what we saw in the photos of the Kim family. It was hard to take your eyes off those pictures – they were so vivid and colorful, the warmth and joy practically leapt off the screen.

Like the photo of James in the park, holding his adorably chubby baby daughter, smiling as he looked to the side while his other daughter stands in the background, pensively chewing on a piece of candy. Or the other photo with the baby resting peacefully on James’s chest, while Kati looks on with a loving and protective gaze.

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Do Korean-Americans control the black hair care market?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

There’s a self-funded documentary causing some buzz online. The documentary, “Black Hair,” is by a white filmmaker named Aron Ranen.

It positions itself as an expose revealing that “Koreans have come to control virtually every aspect of the multi-billion dollar, black hair care industry, from manufacturing to distribution to retail sales, while simultaneously employing tactics to put African-American merchants and wholesalers out of business,” as per this EURWeb.com article. (Thanks to mr guy for the tip!)

I haven’t had a chance to watch the entire thing yet, but it’s definitely an interesting topic. I worry though, that a project like this will only serve to escalate tensions between blacks and Koreans. In fact, one of the black distributors featured in the film was arrested for allegedly attempting to burn down the store of a Korean competitor.

Also, I wonder if the film will attempt to explore why it is that African-Americans don’t control a larger share of the black hair care market. After all, there’s been a long history of entrepreneurship among black women, in particular (think Madame CJ Walker). What happened between then and now? And how were Korean immigrants able to break into this industry when the barriers to entry — in the beginning, at least — must have been quite formidable?

Below is a trailer of the documentary, but you can actually watch the whole thing online on YouTube:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

links for 2006-12-15

John Liu thinks Rosie’s weak apology is acceptable

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What is up with our Asian American leaders? First Guy Aoki hands Adam “Ching Chong” Carolla a yellow pass, now John Liu is accepting Rosie “I still think it was funny” O’Donnell’s apology. I just got this in my inbox:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: John Choe
Date: Dec 14, 2006 2:37 PM
Subject: [JohnLiuNYCCouncil] CM Liu Accepts Rosie O’Donnell’s Apology for Anti-Asian Caricature

Dear Friends,

Rosie O’Donnell apologized today for her stereotypical caricature of
Chinese people on “The View,” a talk show broadcast over the ABC
Network. For more information, please see links to recent news
reports below.

Council Member John Liu will be on television tonight to discuss
Rosie’s apology and to highlight the broader issue of promoting more
understanding in our society. The discussion will be broadcast on CNN
Headline News at 11:01 PM (EST).

John Choe | Chief of Staff
Office of Council Member John C. Liu
The Council of the City of New York

Ugh! Black/white racism and Rosie’s lame apology

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What a freakin’ nightmare. As you might have noticed this blog was down practically all day. My host had to reboot my databases or something like that (I have no idea) and so my last two posts have completely disappeared.

Update: Oh looks like some comments got deleted too, so sorry folks. Please re-post if you remember what you wrote.

I don’t have time to repost everything, so basically I’ll ask you to please go and read these at their original blogs:

Beyond black and white racism – Reappropriate

Jenn takes on CNN’s lame black/white-only approach to racism:

How ironic, then, that the same article that purports to examine institutionalized, subtle racism is, itself, perpetuating the Black-White paradigm of race relations in America…

Based on the article, one would never even consider the effect of racism on non-Blacks or non-Whites; race becomes perceived as a problem that oppresses only African Americans, while those of us who are neither Black nor White become lost in the shuffle — despite the very real racism that we, too, face. With the Black/White paradigm, non-Blacks and non-Whites are faced with only two checkboxes to indicate their racial affiliation, neither of which describe us even remotely. Imagine if the National Census were using that system of racial self-reporting.

Rosie just apologized! – MAMAZILLA

Geraly tackles Rosie’s lame-ass so-called apology on The View this morning. Also check out Angry Asian Man’s take on it. Also, the video is here on YouTube:

then… THEN, i almost wanted to strangle someone. first of all, joy behar seems pretty dismissive of the whole thing. then, either she or rosie says something like,” are there any asians in the audience?” and two asian women in a front row wave. joy asks them if they were offended by the ching chong and they go “NO!” and clap and say “it was really funny”.

WTF!!!??? were they planted there or something???

How historical racism makes it hard for people of color to trust

by guest contributor Jack Turner, originally published at Jack and Jill Politics

Trust. That’s the word of the moment.

If you want proof that the impact of past racism is still felt today, take a look at this intersection of science, religion, culture, race, politics and conspiracy theories covered in this week’s Sunday Times article, “DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don’t Trust Them.”

The article covers the trouble scientists part of The Genographic Project are having. Their goal is to more fully understand the migration of original peoples out of Africa and across the globe. Their tactic is to use DNA analysis of still-pure indigenous people to help in that effort. Their problem is with Native Americans who fear that the white man is up to his old dirty tricks again:

They argue that genetic ancestry information could also jeopardize land rights and other benefits that are based on the notion that their people have lived in a place since the beginning of time.

…indigenous leaders point to centuries of broken promises to explain why they believe their fears are not far-fetched. Scientific evidence that American Indians or other aboriginal groups came from elsewhere, they say, could undermine their moral basis for sovereignty and chip away at their collective legal claims.

I’m sure we can understand why Native Americans might have a wee bit of hesitance in signing contracts with white scientists and believing that the DNA research will come back to haunt them, but it’s a sad case. I’m a pro-science kind of guy. The pursuit of truth is a good thing. This is an interesting question, but the discovery of its answer is hampered by a long history of backstabbing and “broken promises” suffered by Native American folk.

As a black person, I completely understand. After Katrina, a lot of black people thought that the government intentionally blew up the levees around the Ninth Ward to protect the property of wealthy (and predominantly white) New Orleans residents. The Tuskegee Experiments, COINTELPRO, dropping a bomb on the MOVE organization, not to mention slavery, Jim Crow and election shenanigans, contribute to a general distrust that black people have in “the system” often to our detriment.

One extraordinarily sad consequence is our people’s reluctance to visit doctors regularly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded the question (or accusation), “isn’t racism over?” or “why does it matter that Richards said the N-word?” or “well I didn’t do anything, so let’s just move on.” It’s hard to just move on when attempts to move on in the past have been met with further oppression, and it’s not just the folks of color who suffer. These Genographic scientists are suffering. Human knowledge is suffering. Everyone’s public health is suffering.

And the core issue is trust.

On a slightly-related note, I found the following aspects of this genetics story interesting:

  • One problem is that the religion of many Native Americans teaches an origin story different from what science is likely to find. They are afraid that science will undermine their religious beliefs. Hmmm, where have we stumbled across this before?
  • Also, I just read today that 90 million Americans believe the government was directly behind or intentionally allowed 9/11 to happen. How much you wanna bet there’s a disproportionate share of black and brown folks in that mix?

Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World