Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Why Is It Still Okay to Make Fun of Asians?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

At the Oscars last month, in a performance for which he’d be praised for skewering Hollywood’s lack of diversity, host Chris Rock took a moment to introduce PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that tallies the votes. “They sent us their most dedicated, accurate, and hard-working representatives,” he said. “I want you to please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling, and David Moskowitz.” Three Asian kids in tuxedos walked onto the stage, briefcases in hand. “If anybody is upset about this joke,” Rock added, “just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids.”

In one brief skit, Rock managed to perpetuate three common, distinct stereotypes about Asians or Asian Americans: the model minority student, who is born a math genius; the foreign child laborer, who assembles tech gadgets for pennies and kills American jobs; and the silent, obedient immigrant, onto whom we can project whatever identity we please.

“I’m a fan of Chris Rock because he’s a guy who tells it like it is, and I was really looking forward to hearing what he was going to say in his monologue. But I was just so disappointed,” said Guy Aoki, founding president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. “I called it child abuse. He abused those three cute Asian kids, which just pissed everybody off.”

Rock’s jokes, and the laughter from the Academy Awards crowd, showed that even in this age of supposedly excessive political correctness and internet outrage, many still think it’s socially acceptable to make fun of Asians. Of course, many others don’t: Rock’s jokes caused considerable anger from the Asian-American community. On Tuesday, 25 Academy members, including Sandra Oh, George Takei, and Ang Lee,sent a letter to the Academy condemning the “tasteless and offensive skits” and calling on the organization to “preclude such unconscious or outright bias and racism toward any group in future Oscars telecasts.” The Academy responded by promising to “be more culturally sensitive” in the future.

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