What happened, and how I feel about what happened
For those who don’t do entertainment news, or watch TV, here’s the summary. The sitcom, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), starring some of my fave actors (including Neil Patrick Harris and Allyson Hannigan), produced an episode as an “homage” to kung-fu movies. In “yellowface.” With white actors and kimonos and fans and fu manchus.
When I saw the news on this piece, I felt my stomach drop, because I knew, KNEW, that I was going to be disappointed by ignorant people. I was not disappointed about being disappointed.
Here are my thoughts on this in a jumble:
- You know, I DO do race jokes. I do think that they come up in settings that are not offensive. Jokes can be insight into cultural truths. And let’s face it, Asian culture can be so funny. (See this Asian dad. My own dad is NOT like this at all, but I still think the caricature is accurate and funny.)
- Yellowface and kung-fu parody is NOT an homage to Asian culture, and it does not inform any real cultural truths. It’s not humor to write in bit parts about uninformed stereotypes of black/African-American people (yes, both terms, some prefer one or the other) in blackface, and it’s not humor to be just shy of taping some slanty eyes and using a heavy Asian accent when white actors lampoon Asians. There is definitely more to be said about the Asian portrayal in media in general, but that’s for a different post.
- The writers of the show did apologize, and I accept that apology on behalf of myself. No, it’s not possible to always know what you’re doing will be horribly offensive. It should not ruin you forever. (Unless you are the former CEO of Lululemon. As Colbert puts it, “hirarious.“)
- The media is equally disappointing with their headlines of “racism claims” (thanks CBS News and Entertainment Weekly), and “people up in arms” (thanks CNN). This backlash is not imagined and it’s not overreaction, but thank you for your amazing journalism that is perpetuating this problem. I’m sorry you’re not sorry.
- The most disappointing part is that the episode had to be implicitly approved by MANY MANY people before it got made and aired. This means large numbers of people were aware that this could possibly be really offensive…and still okayed it. Neil Patrick Harris had to OK it. Allyson Hannigan had to OK it. The writers and producers and all other actors thought it was OK.
- This is most disappointing because it really highlights the pervasiveness of this sentiment that it’s “just a joke.” Oh hey, btw, my life and my experience has not all been A+ and piano competitions, and my experiences are not “just” a joke. OK, maybe it has been a bunch of A+’s and piano competitions. And that’s funny. But the joke is definitely so much more complex.
Now here’s something that will certainly get me some shit. I don’t watch HIMYM. I was going to start, because I got the DVD set as a gift. I’ve seen a few episodes, and they were funny. And you know what, since I didn’t find those episodes particularly offensive, I acknowledge that I too am part of the broken system.
I am not perfect, and I say offensive ignorant things. Usually, they stay with me for years, and I can’t get over how offensive they are and why they ever left my mouth. I once tried to join a conversation with a Peruvian girl from my MBA class by talking about these great pupusas I had recently eaten. Which are Salvadorian. And she looked at me like I was the dumbest piece of crap ever. What I meant to say was that the restaurant I went to also had Peruvian dishes. It was way too late to recover from that, so instead I just shut up and melted into the ground. I remember the incident every single time that she is tagged in friends’ Facebook posts.
But I learn. And this takes me to the examples of people who are NOT LEARNING. As a teacher, this infuriates me.
What “non-other” people said
As you may have seen, the website Public Shaming does a lot to highlight the terrible things that are said on Twitter. I’m a little surprised and disappointed that this topic has not hit their radar. There are positive tweets, and there are people learning from this. There is much discussion that wasn’t there before (even as of last night at 7PM).
Why am I sharing these negative tweets and opening myself up to flaming attacks? Because they hurt me. Personally. Because people are not learning, they are just accepting that Santa Claus is white. (Because he just is. And because I feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean that things have to change.)
A few ground rules that would really help me out:
- Please do not flame or engage with these people on Twitter. It’s not going to help them learn. They will learn when they’re ready to learn.
- Don’t flame me for being personally hurt. Engage me in conversation to help me learn.
I don’t understand how I am a racist for not thinking that kimonos and kung fu even start to describe my entire culture. Or, as I tweeted yesterday, culture-S. We are not one culture. We are many cultures. Also…I do not think that word means what you think it means.
Why yes, I cried at home over how mean CBS was. Mean mean mean! I’m going to tell my mommy! Then kung-fu everyone!
Let me grow some balls now, because balls will make me more relevant.
OK, we’re not the MOST oppressed people. Hey Asians, let’s go out and pick on those who are more oppressed than us! (Also, jealous much of our “success?”) UPDATED to add: He’s a burgeoning “comedian”, according to his Twitter profile. I hope he doesn’t use these jokes.
Actually this is 100% why I don’t watch Big Bang Theory. Because it’s not smart, and it doesn’t actually say anything about smart people that pushes the envelope of cultural truth.
Nope, not offended by Kill Bill. Now THAT was an homage.
Um, YES. We are ALREADY saying that. Which didn’t stop me from being shocked when I drove up to the drive-thru window of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Thanksgiving day to see all the girls serving coffee with paper feathers and headbands with the Dunkin Donuts logo. Oh…my…god…justdriveawaywiththecoffee…
That’s the LAST STRAW. Now you’re making fun of us because we’re short?!?!
Thanks for listening, and hopefully learning. You don’t need to tiptoe around me with race jokes. Race jokes and racist jokes are different. Above all things, know your audience. (And that is definitely a different post for a different day.)