Still Mad At Chris Rock

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I am an Asian American woman, half Japanese and half Taiwanese, born in Massachusetts. My stepson is mixed race; his father is white. We consider race often, but we’re also just a family that has to buy a lot of different hair products.

I thought Chris Rock was smart and hilarious until Sunday night. I was anticipating what he was going to say like everyone else. The Oscars are not as important as anything real. Like #BlackLivesMatter or rape culture or Syrian refugees or mass shootings. The Oscars are just about movies, we know that, duh. But this is a year when we had SO MUCH cool stuff happening with people of color in the media, when the conversation had seemed to be shifting, where we’ve been talking to each other instead of just against the system. Hamilton rocks, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar are killing it, Beyoncé flexed her considerable power with Formation, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Between the World and Me. Straight Outta Compton! Creed! And then we had #OscarsSoWhite. It’s been such an exciting year, and I’ve been cheering for everyone as a fan and a minority. I’ve been feeling buoyed by it, as if the conversation included the broader community of people of color. Cary Fukunaga made Beasts of No Nation. Then Chris Rock made a joke about Asians being good at math.

Jesus H. Christ.

Thanks for taking us back to 1984, Chris. When kids from school prank called my house to order chow mein and yelled “Ching chong!” at me in the park. We are not all good at stupid math, ok? I failed my AP Calculus exam.

But seriously, is that what you think of us, Chris? We’re still the silent nerds, the abandoned prostitutes, the Long Duk Dong? Is it going to take another 30 years before people think twice? This year of all years, we still have to stand up and call people out for being offensive, so that they can tell us not to be offended because it was just a joke. Jokes are supposed to be funny, dammit.

When it happened, my immediate reaction was to stand up, point at the TV, and yell, “RACIST!” (That’s how stupid it was, Chris. So stupid.) Some people have posited that it was a meta joke about outrage culture, but that seems extremely generous. I’ve been trying to see it like that for a couple days, ruminating, doubting. And no, I’m still mad at it.

I could see the meta joke in Ali G’s bait and switch and am not really outraged. He pointed out the stereotype all the people in the audience have in their heads. By using pauses. Chris just said, Asian kids are good at math, YUK YUK! And if you’re mad at that, they also work in factories in China because they are child engineer laborers. BADUM TISH! Isn’t that one tired, racist joke followed by another? And, thanks for the slap in the face; I was completely mistaken about being part of this conversation.

You know how many recognizable Asian actors there are working today? We have like 20. This is not to discount people still coming up, people who came before, or people in theater. I’m just talking off the top of my head: Steven Yuen on The Walking Dead, Ken Jeong, the Fresh Off the Boat family, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Masi Oka on Hawaii Five-O, Sung Kang from Fast and Furious. Maggie Q, Jamie Chung, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari. John Cho and Kal Penn. Maybe you could name a few more, like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Joan Chen. But when they kill off Glenn, we’re going to lose 5% representation.

I suppose it’s gotten better since the 90s, when all we had were some kung fu stars imported from China who weren’t allowed to kiss their co-stars, Ming-Na Wen, and Margaret Cho. And before that was Dustin Nguyen, Jonathan Ke Quan, Pat Morita, Connie Chung, George Takei, Bruce Lee. And from the silent film era, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa. It’s not a lot.

What I’m trying to point out is that as far as media representation is concerned, African Americans have been more successful and also inspiring. (See here; Latinos are in the same boat as us.) That is not to ignore the fact that the Asian American stereotypes are easier on us and less life-threatening than African American stereotypes in real life. Arthur Chu says it all way more eloquently here. I just hoped that someday, somehow, Asian Americans could get cast just as frequently as the token.

But I get it now. We have to keep yelling if it’s going to get any better for the tiny camp of Asian Americans in the media. (We are so tiny in the general American population anyway, we can’t even differentiate our actual races, but we are still underrepresented.) White people are going to continue to discount us as the model minority, who perform just as well as them (which is not true of all of us) and so are excluded from affirmative action. And to Chris Rock, we’re the ones you can kick to the curb without consequence. It’s so hypocritical and infuriating and completely demoralizing, this year of all years! Essentially, from every side, #DiversityExceptForAsians?

Even though I have found myself in the position of angrily explaining redlining and the war on drugs as the only person of color in a room, it’s naïve of me to expect that anyone else would be trying to understand another minority’s experience. (But look at this.) Chris Rock has no responsibility to represent anyone except himself, it’s true. But I’m allowed to still be pissed off about his stupid joke that threw us under the bus and created mini Twitter race wars when really we should be working together.

Here’s your consequence. I’m not watching you anymore, Chris. It’s all Kevin Hart, all the time!

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