CHICAGO – If you think there’s no one on the planet who doesn’t understand that yanking up the corners of your eyes is offensive to people of Asian descent, well, you’re absolutely wrong.
The most recent examples come from one of the most diverse and integrated corners of society – professional sports. The first, in late October, occurred during the World Series, when the Houston Astros’ Yuli Gurriel, who is from Cuba, made the offending gesture, and appeared to utter the word “chinito” at Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, whose mother is Japanese.
Hispanics on social media denounced the open racism that’s widely accepted in Latin American countries. But those sentiments apparently didn’t reach Edwin Cardona, a midfielder for the Colombian national soccer team who, in early November, made the same gesture at Choi Chul-soon, a player on the South Korean national team.
Both Gurriel and Cardona immediately apologized, expressing their regret, but their missteps are only the latest in a long line of high-profile people mostly getting a pass when they made racist comments or gestures regarding Asians.
When basketball star Jeremy Lin, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, played for the New York Knicks, sports media reacted to the 2012 “Lin-sanity” with headlines like “Chink in the armor” and others referencing fortune cookies and diminutive genitals.
Lin recently told his Brooklyn Nets teammate Randy Foye, on Foye’s podcast, “Outside Shot w/ Randy Foye,” that such disrespectful incidents paled in comparison to what he experienced in college, when he heard racist slurs from fans, opposing players and even another team’s coach.
“So, when I got to the NBA,” Lin said. “I thought this is going to be way worse. But it is way better. Everybody is way more under control.” Think about it: Having his manhood mocked in news headlines was better than the abuse he endured while playing for Harvard.
This may be because it’s a constant insult if you’re an Asian male. This past January, Eddie Huang, the restaurateur and author of the memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” which inspired the ABC television show of the same name, said as much after comedian Steve Harvey did a bit implying that a black woman would never date an Asian man.
“Every Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us,” Huang wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we’re naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl.”
Again, such messages don’t break through. Last year, at the Academy Awards ceremony, Chris Rock paraded a trio of Asian children out on stage as pretend PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants and made a tasteless “model minority” joke at their expense.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released a statement afterward, but the only people paying attention at that point were the ones concerned that, as Korean-American author Matthew Salesses noted: It seems to be OK to make fun of those who comprise our country’s fastest-growing racial group.
“The truth is, racism toward Asians is treated differently in America than racism toward other ethnic groups. This is a truth all Asian-Americans know,” Salesses wrote on the website of the Good Men Project. “While the same racist may hold back terms he sees as off-limits toward other minorities, he will often not hesitate to call an Asian person a chink, as Jeremy Lin was referred to, or talk about that Asian person as if he must know karate, or call him Bruce Lee, or consider him weak or effeminate, or so on.”
The South Asian versions can be summed up in three words: “Oh my goodness.” They are the subject of comedian Hari Kondabolu’s new documentary, “The Problem with Apu” – a reference to the cartoon Kwik-E-Mart proprietor from “The Simpsons.”
Featuring many of America’s most successful South Asian actors and comedians – Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Sakina Jaffrey and others – the documentary delves into the pain caused by a contemptuous parody in one of TV’s most successful and longest-running shows.
Sure, it’s comedy. But when a bunch of comedians, actors and even a former U.S. surgeon general tell you how destructive “Apu” has been to their actual lives, it merits reflection.
I’m looking forward to seeing it. But no one should need a whole movie to know it’s wrong to make fun of Asians’ eyes or how they talk.