Monday, February 11, 2008

Sad way to celebrate new year

Last night I went to Angry Asian Man and found this very disturbing post "Come get 'slant eyed' at The Goat" (click on title for link and image of flyer).

I tried to import the image into my own post, but I couldn't find a way to do it, and when I tried to "google" for more information or images related to this flyer, nothing came up.

Which means, there has been no public outcry in Raleigh, NC or thereabouts.

If you haven't yet clicked on the link, the flyer, printed on yellow paper, is an advertisement to celebrate Chinese New Year at a bar called "The Goat" which, after a google search for this establishment, prides itself on being a local dive bar with a diverse clientle.

The flyer says this:

"Come Get Slant Eyed @ The Goat. For Chinese New Year's Feb. 6th, 4705. Come party in your best Chinese outfit. $50 Gift Certificate for Best Outfit! Party favors and lots of giveaways!

Also on the flyer is a parenthetical note next to the name of the bar "(no offense") and at the very bottom of the flyer is an image of a Chinese dragon.

Ironically, the fact that the bar owners wrote "no offense" on the flyers signals that this wasn't just a case of simple ignorance, as in "Woops, we had NO IDEA that someone would be offended by asking people to come dressed as Chinese people with their slanted eyes--our bad!" They clearly had a sense that this flyer WAS offensive, would be interpreted as offensive, and to head off criticism they decided to tell people that they are not trying to be offensive--in other words, if we, the viewers of the flyer, are, indeed, offended, well we're just oversensitive because the intent was not meant to offend.

At which I call bullshit. It's like people saying "Just kidding" for some kind of passive-aggressive remark. And this is just patently offensive. It's racist. It's wrong. And it makes me sad. And angry.

I mean REALLY??? In this day and age??? That someone, somewhere would make these comments, would liken getting drunk to having racial features, and to phrase it in such a racist way--tying it into a cultural celebration that billions of people around the world celebrate--a holiday that is the equivalent in China of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Chinese New Year lasts 15 days--it's celebrated for over a week. All that news coverage of people being stranded in blizzards trying to reach their homes during the holiday? These workers in Southern China, predominantly outside of Hong Kong get one vacation a year, and that's so they can travel to their natal homes and visit their families and pay respect to their ancestors and celebrate the lunar new year. It is the largest mass migration in one period on earth that occurs on a yearly basis. These people risked freezing to death to try to visit their families because the holiday is that important. Let me repeat: Chinese New Year is the equivalent of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July--maybe with Mother and Father's day wrapped in for good measure. This isn't some quaint exotic cultural ritual--this isn't something to exploit for selling more drinks in the most obnoxious way possible.

And don't get me started on "Chinese outfit"--have these people ever seen pictures of Shanghai and Beijing? THESE ARE MAJOR METROPOLITAN CITIES IN WHICH PEOPLE DRESS JUST LIKE PEOPLE IN PARIS, ROME, LONDON, NEW YORK, AND YES RALEIGH, NC!!! What the hell??? Do they think that Chinese people are all rural dwellers wearing black and blue peasant outfits, or even worse, are they expecting "exotic" women with cheong soms or EVEN WORSE geisha outfits? I mean, probably you could show up in a sari and they wouldn't have known the difference. Or those damn rice paddy hats. And I don't even want to imagine the kind of taped eyes that proliferated in the bar that night. I weep to think of the patrons who participated in this promotional stunt. I weep for the hapless Asian American customer who just wanted to grab a drink after work and instead was inflicted to this racist side show.

But perhaps no one came dressed up. Perhaps the good citizens of Raleigh and the surrounding area thought the whole thing was patently offensive and NO ONE came to The Goat that night. One can only hope.

I've written letters to area newspapers and newsoutlets. The cynic in me doesn't think anything will happen. But in case anyone out there in cyberspace wants to add your two-cents, this is the link to the "Letter to the Editor" page of the Raleigh News & Observer (click here).


Jason Clinkscales said...

Wow... that was just DU-UMB.

I don't know if there's anything else I can say about that.

CVT said...

This is a prime example of the interesting state of overt racism in the U.S. I have often contended that - in today's America - there are clearly races that are "okay" to make racist jokes about in public. Right now, I'd say Asian people rank right behind Latinos (specifically Mexican) for overt racism.

On a day-to-day basis, I believe I hear more racist Mexican jokes than any other. What with immigration being such a political lightning-rod, it seems high on people's minds.

However, in a more public forum, I think racism against Asian people is more obvious. How many modern movies make use of played-out "Asian shopkeeper" stereotypes for an easy laugh? The "Asian-as-foreigner" is often made fun of - fake "Asian" accents thrown around for comedic effect.

And then there's this flier. Doesn't particularly surprise me.

The reason I think this all plays out is because of the strength (or lack thereof) of political and non-governmental organizations that fight for "Asian" rights. In this day, there are a number of strong, predominantly African-American organizations that can bring awareness to overt racism on that side. But for Asians? Often overlooked or dismissed. And I put that (mostly) on the lack of prominent Asian people in government or media. Asian people are thought of as meek and submissive. Until we get some strong, prominent voices heard on a consistent basis (and respected for it), we will continue to be thought of in that way (and ignored when we try to speak up).

I'm lacking the ability to write clear thoughts right now, so I'll tie it off here. I hope I got my point across (somewhat).

- I should also point out that the strong presence is also why there's probably more hidden racism towards African-Americans than other races. Nobody wants to publicly get caught out saying something about African-Americans, but they sure as Hell will act out on it or say things when they think they are in private.

Paul said...

Ugh. As if "no offense" absolves willful use of derogatory language. It's like saying, "I think you are stupid," and then saying, "no offense." :P

I just read this blog post about the valorization of "politically incorrect" that reminds me a bit of that celebration of racist speech as humor -- "Somebody Kill Me Now".

Brian Hunt said...

I agree with everything that CVT wrote. Unfortunately, people don't take racist statements as seriously about non-black minorities.

I am a black male and I have noticed over the last few years that more non minority people are making racist remarks to me about Latinos or Asians as though I will condone it because it's not about me. What they often fail to realize is that I speculate that they would make comments about me if I wasn't around.

Jennifer said...

Thanks everyone for your comments--and for your support that this flyer is, indeed (as Jason says) DU-UMB and racist and offensive.

Paul, I appreciated the link to the blog about "political correctness"--I do think that there is an incivility that often rules, esp. in cyberspace. And CVT & Brian, yes, there does seem to be this sense that it's OK to make anti-Asian or anti-Latino comments to non Asian and Latinos (or sometimes in front of them) because somehow the scale of racism is going to be perceived as "less than" and I also think, as Brian noted, that there is also a belief that if you don't "identify" with the group in question then you won't be offended.

But I am offended not just by sexist comments because I'm a woman or anti-Asian remarks because I'm Chinese American--I am also offended by bigoted remarks against gay and lesbian people because although I'm not queer identified I am an advocate for queer rights and I find jokes against African Americans to be racist and wrong and I have told people so on the rare occasion when I've had the displeasure to hear such a joke (to be honest, I can't recall the last time someone told me a racist joke because they know I'm not going to find it funny).

Anyway, all of which is to say, we need the anti-racist praxis--we need to stand up to all forms of oppression, in part for what Brian also noted--just because the joke, this time is anti-Asian doesn't mean that next time it won't be anti-African American or Latino or queer, etc... etc...

Jason Clinkscales said...

Also as a black male in the US, I have always believed that there was this totem pole of racial offensiveness and response as CTV and Brian have mentioned. It amazes me.

CVT said...

Jennifer and Brian's remarks reminded me of how often people DO allow things to go if it's "not about them." And how people expect that. As a very ambiguous mixed person (I am half Chinese/white, but don't really LOOK either), I have had people attribute all sorts of racial backgrounds to me. Everything from Hawaiian or Mexican (most common) to mixed-African-American. What I've learned through that is:

1) What people are willing to say behind other people's backs. Because of mis-attribution, I have often been around racist comments (usually jokes) meant to be "okay" with me because they assumed I was another race.

2) People will project whatever race is most convenient FOR THEM onto me, so that they can tell the jokes and keep the stereotypes they want to. Some examples are a guy who said all sorts of things about Asian women in front of me, assuming I was Latino and would think it was okay. Had he not had a stereotype of "Asian" in his head, he likely would have been able to take a step back, notice my ambiguous features, and perhaps thought better of his first judgement. I have had the opposite happen, as well.

3) This doesn't happen to my brother. My brother has very clear Chinese features. People may misattribute his "Asian"-ness (i.e. think he's Japanese and not Chinese), but everybody knows he's Asian. Therefore, he hasn't had the same experience as me. People don't "slip up" in front of him, and he is therefore unaware that people who tell one set of jokes TO him will say another set when he has left the room.

All this has caused me to have a very universal response to ANY prejudicial comments. Because of my constant "Other" status (no matter which race I'm with) I find myself identifying with whichever "Other" is the butt of the joke or comment at the time. I've even lied about my background a few times just to make my point hit home harder when I respond. This goes for sexuality and gender, as well (even though I haven't been judged as a female). But because I've had a taste of what it's like to experience prejudice on a number of levels (and "as" a number of different races), it's not so hard for me to get upset about other versions.

And so - to all those people of color out there: if somebody is willing to make a racist/sexist/homophobic comment about another category of person IN FRONT OF YOU, you can be damn sure that they are making similar comments ABOUT YOU when you aren't there. Think about that next time you condone ANY of that in the future.

Some day I'll leave a short post.

Jennifer said...

Please don't leave short posts! I really appreciated how thoughtful your comment was--and how important to remind us that standing up for others is, indeed, standing up for ourselves, in more ways than one.

Keep up the good fight!