Outrage culture: Purim in China edition

I’m going to start with the end of the story, a quick call to NON-action on the outrage piece of my post. The event originally advertised is tonight, it has been (quietly) re-themed, and it is not in my interest to hunt out and seek consequences for the original intent at this point in time.

But I am still writing this post because there were so many missed opportunities to be an ally and to learn from the responses and to actually create community – so instead *I* am going to take the opportunity to create my own closure.

Building the outrage

Where to start, where to start. I guess we could start with the picture that I came across two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning.

Purim in China
It’s like one of those Highlights Magazine pictures – how many things are wrong with this picture?

Chopstick font. Fortune cookies. With fortunes in Chopstick font. A caricature of a Chinese man in traditional dress. Holding a hamentashen. With a fortune. In Chopstick font. Incredible Chinese Acrobats (not an official performing group, more about them in a little bit.) Chinese Photo-Op. PHOTO OP. Martial arts – which ones? (I’m assuming not Krav Maga.) “Chinese Fun”. For Kids – MORE CHOPSTICK FONT. “Costume” contest. Sumo. Wrestling. Sumo-Effing-Wrestling. I guess the dragon is okay. Did I miss anything?

Ok, it’s just a party. An offensive party. Can’t regular people throw a party anymore?

But it’s not just “regular people” throwing a party, it’s a school. A school that serves toddlers to 8th grade. In the school brochure, they advertise that their students “learn to be respectful of others’ practices while being true to the practices they learn at home.” I guess that’s why a “cultural” party theme was chosen.

The outrage onion has layers…

I came across this image on Twitter because…wait for it…they were advertising for help wanted on Craigslist.

China themed party needs waiters and performers
Blocked out location because, again, this is not a witch hunt, this is a catharsis.

The ask: We are hosting a Chinese theme Party on March 21 and looking to hire Asian looking waiters in traditional Chinese outfits (two male and two female). no servings skills or training is necessary, but preferred. pay $20 per hour. (about 4 hours for this event) Also looking to hire a Chinese acrobat show and martial art presentation. Doesn’t have to be very professional 🙂 Ready to pay reasonable rate.

Asian-looking? Like, any Asian? Chinese outfits? BYO Chinese outfits? Also, a acrobat show – the Incredible Chinese Acrobats hadn’t been arranged yet? And the martial arts presentation was in fact advertised as a workshop, which, as anyone doing a workshop knows are two VERY DIFFERENT things. Also professionalism not necessary, any amateur acrobat would do.

Commence the outraging!

Yeah, I took it to Twitter and Facebook – replying with jokes because that’s my defense mechanism. Jokes about submissive Chinese not fighting back. Jokes about the Chinese custom of sumo wrestling my leggings onto my body in the mornings. Jokes about what possible activities of “Chinese Fun for all” could be. Jokes about seeking trained panda bears for performance.

These post-2016 days, if I can’t laugh at something, I’d just be crying all the time.

But we did not mean to offend!

And the outrage got responses from the source:

  • English is not my first language.
    • Mine either, and?
  • It [is] similar to Disney world style for around the world pavilions, when you come in and you feel like you[‘re] present in a particular country from decorations to food and music. [It] create[s] an atmosphere that you like visiting there.
    • Last I checked, Purim is not Disney World, nor is it a time for teaching about other cultures.
  • We have celebrated Mexico and Italy before.
    • I’m either really glad or really disappointed that I didn’t know that when it happened.
  • We will do better in the future.
    • Like two weeks into the future? Like this year? Because you’d better do better by then.
  • And my PERSONAL FAVORITE: Can you please help me to find an acrobatic and martial art contacts that I can invite them?
    • Let’s be 100% clear. 1) I did not mention in any of these things that I was Chinese. 2) I’m actually NOT Chinese from China. 3) I do not belong to any Chinese cultural organizations, nor am I an acrobat or have any skills in martial arts that would suggest that I would know anyone who would be an acrobat or have skills in martial arts. I CAN’T EVEN TOUCH MY TOES.

My list of outrage demands:

  1. Remove the images and advertisement. To their credit and the credit of all the allies who shared the FB event, Tweeted the ad, left voicemail messages, and reached out on Facebook, this actually happened pretty immediately. This happened even before some of the other responses that came in above. Thank you, thank you, to my friends and other allies who made the call-outs happen.
  2. Publicly apologize for the missteps. Many apologies were sent through Facebook. One came as a reply on an original post, but came along with some variation of bullet points #1 and #2 above. Others came through private message on Facebook, one with bullet point #3 above. At no point has a public apology been made on their own Facebook feed (where the party first appeared) or anywhere else that I have been able to find. And unlike others, I myself have not received any personal apology that conveys understanding of transgressions.
  3. Re-theme (or cancel) the party. After phone call follow-ups and Facebook refreshing of their Facebook page and events, a re-theme was confirmed on Monday morning of this week. Tonight’s party is a themeless Grand Banquet, with the only vestige of the former party remaining as Kosher Chinese food, which, to be honest, is probably delicious. (I myself have enjoyed food long ago at the former Shalom Hunan, which was pretty tasty for shellfish-free Chinese food.)

How to achieve detente

Outrage culture is tough. There is a need to address and combat the injustices we face and not to sweep them under the rug like they never happened. It is not “snowflake” of me to be offended by a party I wasn’t planning to attend – there are children involved who should not be raised to accept this kind of ignorance as normal because it is perpetuated by the elders in their school. AND when people have told you that they are offended, it is not their job to teach you where you were wrong OR help you be less wrong (or MORE wrong – can you imagine if I actually knew any acrobats? Or trained pandas?)

And in case it is not readily apparent: My culture is not a costume. My culture is not a monolith. And in case it is also not readily apparent: protesting against offensive Purim themes is not anti-Semitic. Covering all my bases here.

Things I wanted to do:

  • Write to all the testimonials on their website, asking if they knew that this was happening, and if they wanted to be associated with this happening.
  • Go protest outside the party, with my signs (“my culture is not a costume”) and possibly make a note of all people who were trying to show up in costume and ask if they really REALLY wanted to be that kind of an ignoramus.
  • Call the news, call the people I knew in the news, fire up a big outrageous mob so that I can get in on all that outrage glory.

None of these things achieve detente. None of these things would really make me feel better. I vowed not to do any of these things unless the party actually happened. (Before Monday, I was still planning to go to verify that it had or had not been re-themed in order to evaluate next steps.)

What I did (and do) not want:

I do not want the school to get shut down. I do not want the children exposed to an outrage mob. A school should be a safe space for the children that are there, and this is a learning moment for the adults of the school.

My real demands

I want a lesson to be learned, but I must accept that without a public apology, all I can do is hope and trust that the correct lessons have already been learned, and that the lesson learned was not “those Chinese people are pissy snowflakes”. (Some of us are. Another post for that.)

I want myself to be bold enough to approach future ill-conceived “China-themed” or any other themed parties with the same or more effective determination. This is not to say that themed gatherings are forever banished, but there are ways to promote culture with respect and sensitivity, and those ways involve lots of communication, planning, and typically NOT hiring on Craigslist.

I want to put this post out to the world to make sure that this narrative exists beyond the space in my head, and that this is not something that happened in the shadows that will not come to light. I don’t need to name and shame, but I do need to tell the story.

And the best that I can do for myself and my outrage, is send it off with voice and an arc and a whisper of hope that it will reach someone and make them think twice about their actions.

Hey, May 5th is coming up. I’m looking at you.

UPDATED TO ADD: Apparently I give them too much credit. A picture was added today or yesterday with them in Chinese costume. Guess I’m going after that public apology. [double updated to remove the actual photo because I am the nicer person and I’m going to stay that way. And I’m going to bed knowing that I am the nicer person.]

#HowIMetYourRacism and the disappointing reality of ignorance

Apparently this passes as OK for primetime TV.  Photo: CBS.

Apparently this passes as OK for primetime TV. Photo: CBS.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)