Last week, Walmart pulled a Osama bin Laden-themed Halloween costume from its website under pressure from members of the Sikh community who say the product is offensive to 9/11 victims and perpetuates stereotypes and spreads further ignorance about turbans and beards: Osama Bin Laden Halloween Costume Removal Demanded By Sikh Advocacy Group In Letter To Walmart And Amazon.
In letters to Walmart and Amazon, the Sikh Coalition — the largest Sikh American advocacy organization in the United States — requested removal of the product, saying the costume “perpetuates negative stereotypes about turbans and beards that have led to violence and discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities.”
Think that’s bullshit? Tell that to Prabhjot Singh, the Sikh Columbia University professor was assaulted last weekend in a violent hate crime, by attackers who called him “Osama” and “terrorist.”
The Turban & Beard Instant Costume is manufactured by Fun World Costumes, which makes outrageous outfits of all varieties, including the super-fun racist ones. I skimmed through the Fun World website’s wide selection of Halloween costumes, and picked out just a few of my racist favorites:
Really? It comes with a fake hard-on, towel, shirt, and lotion.
"Dream Catcher" YAY FOR SEXUALIZING AN ENTIRE PEOPLE
"Kung Fu Master"
what is this
ABOUT THE FILM:
Stuyvesant. Bronx Science. Brooklyn Tech: all nationally ranked public high schools considered among the best in New York City and the nation. Each year, thousands of 8th graders compete to secure coveted spots at these elite schools by taking the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (the SHSAT). Admission is granted based solely on that single test score.
Only one in five will get in.
Accusations of racial discrimination have been leveled against this one-test-only policy, as black and Hispanic youth, comprising 70% of the city’s total public school population, now represent only 5% of the student body at some of the specialized schools. Meanwhile, Asian Americans and whites form supermajorities. In September 2012, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights to challenge this admission policy.
This documentary follows the struggles and challenges of a diverse group of students, many of them immigrants and working class, as they prepare for this all-important test.
WHY THIS FILM IS IMPORTANT
Education is one key path to social justice, and Tested will spotlight this, along with hot-button issues relevant to our “post-racial”/Obama era:
- Access to high-quality public education. As income gaps widen in America, the education gap is widening as well. Large segments of the public, minorities in particular, are now at risk of being left behind. With the growing importance of technology and information, what can we do to ensure every child has a chance to participate in the American dream?
- Equity and social justice. While polling shows the American public generally approves of policies that address past racial discrimination, support for these programs is diminishing, and the Supreme Court — as witnessed in the recent Fisher v. Texas case and another on the 2014 docket — seems determined to chip away at such programs. While not necessarily directly addressing affirmative action, our film will look at the SHSAT through the prism of fairness.
- Race versus class. From free school classes to ethnic-based programs and private tutors, the film will touch on what prep options are available to whom and at what financial cost. We’ll also examine the fact that at some of these specialized schools, over fifty percent of the students are Title I, many coming from poor neighborhoods and immigrant families.
- The Tiger Mom and model-minority myth. Often discussions on education policy present issues as white versus black and brown. We will include the often overlooked Asian American perspective, adding a whole different set of stereotypes to the mix and attempting to sift through them.
The film will examine how communities of color, using stereotypes, are pitted against one another in a fight for dwindling public resources. The film is especially timely because of the recent NAACP LDF legal complaint. Even as public education comes under fire, it remains one of the few tools available to help disadvantaged and immigrant families ascend America’s socioeconomic ladder.
WHO WE ARE
CURTIS CHIN — Director/Writer/Producer
Curtis’s last film, Vincent Who? has screened at over 300 colleges in four countries and won awards from the National Association for Multicultural Education and the Asian American Justice Center. He’s excited to be back in NYC to work on Tested, his second feature documentary film.
ADAM WOLMAN — Writer/Producer
Drawing on his experience at HBO Digital, Disney|ABC Television Group, MTV, and CBS Productions, Adam consults for writers, entertainment tech companies, and other content creators for television/film/the web. Before moving to L.A., Adam was an independent producer in Boston, and also dipped a toe (still wet) into politics as a lobbyist and speechwriter for Mass Citizen Action.
SAM HENRIQUES — Director of Photography
A product of New York’s public schools and with two daughters of his own currently in the system, Sam knows firsthand how complex it can be to navigate NYC’s public school system. Sam recently won an Emmy for The Good Soldier as Producer in Documentary & Historical Programming. He also worked on Portrait of Wally, Nursery University andAngola, which was nominated for an Academy Award.
The following is a reflection on a few of the issues raised in the recent Gavin McInnes satirical article “Tackling Asian Privilege,” published on the libertarian magazine website Takimag.
Upon opening the webpage for McInnes’ article, the viewer is confronted with the image of an Asian male with black sharpie scrawled across his face. The most prominent phrase written on his forehead declares, “WE’RE LUCKY WE’RE ASIAN.” McInnes claims Asians are more educated, more privileged and richer, among other things. The article rests on the assumption that unlike the narratives of other minorities, who are oppressed and living in a system that isn’t to their advantage, the Asian American narrative is the opposite. He is saying that, as Asian Americans, we don’t experience this minority struggle and are actually the ones doing the oppressing.
McInnes executes satire in the article by equating privileges usually attributed to whites to Asian Americans instead. He tries to demonstrate that white people aren’t the only ones who are “privileged.”
He lumps all people of Asian descent into the convenient stereotype of being conventionally successful and educated by the markers of American society without any regard to how many different nationalities and experiences are ubiquitously labeled as “Asian” by this country’s census.
Asian Americans overall have a poverty rate of 12.6 percent compared to the national average of 12.4 percent. This is compared to the national averages for blacks and non-white Hispanics living below the poverty line, which are 26.7 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively. By these numbers, Asians are disproportionately less poor than other people of color in this nation. For context, whites in America have a poverty rate of 9.9 percent.
However, these statistics and McInnes’ analysis do not show the strife of Asian Americans of Southeast Asian descent that came to America as war refugees in recent decades. The poverty rate among the Hmong is 37.8 percent, the highest in the country for any one ethnicity. The rates for Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese follow close behind at 29.3 percent, 18.5 percent, and 16.6 percent, respectively. Clearly not all Asians are wealthy. Furthermore, on top of this harsh economic reality, these demographics have also had their fair share of difficult experiences: war, civil unrest and immigrating to a culturally unwelcoming place where they don’t know the language.
Additionally, I take issue with the assumption that racial oppression is only measured through wealth and education. Many Asian Americans appear to be as successful as their white counterparts because East Asian cultures incidentally value education by virtue of Confucianism. This emphasis on education often translates to monetary success in American society, since higher education here provides access to well paying jobs in the medical field and beyond, as mentioned in McInnes’ article when he complains that “though they comprise less than 4.8% of the American population, they make up 8.3% of all doctors.”
Instead of understanding the cultural conditions that lead to economic and academic success for many Asian Americans, American society rewards Asian Americans with “good” stereotypes and expectations.
On a personal note, every math class I took in middle and high school was marred with the expectation that being good at math was an inherent skill. I actually struggled with this tremendously, and it’s a large factor in why I was never fond of mathematics.
When I did well, I wasn’t worthy of acknowledgement or reward because I was just displaying my “natural abilities as an Asian person.” When I performed poorly, I would get taunted twice as much as my white peers, because not only did I make a bad grade, I simultaneously was a disgrace to all other Asians for going against my own “nature.” What “good” is this stereotype that “Asians are smart and educated” when it never lets me win?
In fact, I still feel these pressures in a different way from my friends in college. I have friends who periodically invoke caricatures of Asian people to tease me about studying a social science instead of a hard science. “Dishonor upon your family,” they’ll exclaim when I bring up politics or talk about social issues, as if it makes me an inferior to care about something outside of math and science. In the eyes of many, it makes me a less authentic Asian person in some way, because they have a very stifling view — that is ultimately dehumanizing — of what it means to be Asian.
McInnes goes on to say that “when asking for a loan or writing a check, an Asian never has to be concerned with how he or she will be perceived. Asians can say swear words or wear secondhand clothes without anyone assuming it’s due to poverty or illiteracy.” This is completely untrue and is clearly written by someone obtuse in regard to racial experiences. When my mother goes to the bank and talks to the representative, do you think she isn’t worried about how her broken, accented English will come across to the banker? When my entire immigrant family of more than six people lived in one tiny house after they came to this country, do you think that they didn’t worry about the poverty they were living in? Do you think that my aunt and uncle didn’t feel self-conscious about wearing Goodwill clothing to school when they came to the U.S.?
And how is it that I don’t have to worry about how people perceive me when my entire life I’ve had to deal with bullying and various dehumanizing stereotypes about Asians? For example, my eyes have been the subject of both subtle and blatant ridicule for as long as I can remember. “Slanty eyes, chinky eyes, gook, flat features, snake-like eyes, open your eyes, Linda!” — the list of hurtful terms that I’ve accrued from others over my lifetime to describe my face is lengthy. These terms and phrases have been piling up from kindergarten to my freshman year of college. No matter how well-intentioned the speaker means them to be, they are nothing but dehumanizing. Coupled with the subversive functions of Western advertising, movies, television and the make-up industry that all constantly reinforce the worth of large dark eyes with long eyelashes and deep lids, how can I be anything but self-conscious of my “slants-for-eyes?”
This isn’t an attempt to garner the reader’s pity, but rather an example in showing just how inconsiderate and ignorant McInne’s article is. How can I read something as satire when it asserts that I don’t have to worry about other people’s perception of me, when so much of the pain I’ve had growing up has been because of how people perceive my Asian features and identity? And this is not even mentioning all of the racially targeted catcalling that I’ve experienced. The earliest occurred when I was 12 and walking home from the bus stop, and someone yelled from a car window, “sucky sucky five dolla.”
While Asian Americans are a privileged minority group on the spectrum in many ways, McInnes’ article deserves all of the fire that it receives for how shallow his interpretation of “Asian privilege” is. Any Asian person can tell you about all of the racial oppression they experience in this society. McInnes’ implication that Asians are as privileged as whites as a joke is very unfunny to anyone who actually is Asian and understands the nuances of the Asian American experience. You don’t get to silence an entire group of people and get away with it unscathed just because you’re writing “satire.” Writing satire about an entire race of people that disregards their actual input and opinion is at least a little bit reflective that you don’t value their worth, so what does that say about McInnes as a white male writer? How is he innocent of any racist criticisms waged against him?
Inspired by Natalie Portman’s SNL rap video, Susane Lee says:
My latest project DREAM BIG is a comedic rap music video that highlights my journey as an Asian-American actress in Hollywood. It pokes fun of the common stereotypes and draws a lot from my own personal experiences. It is my greatest desire to see leading roles in TV and Film more diversified and thus a closer representation of how our world really is!
NAPAWF-SD is mobilizing folks to be aware the upcoming “Asian Bar Crawl” in San Diego (http://www.facebook.com/events/194049470764732/).
Please read our letter below. If your organization would like to sign onto the letter, please let us know by Saturday (9/21) noon as we plan on sending the letter to the promoters and all 7 restaurant owners that afternoon.
Please also spread the word. Thank you!
Dear “Asian Bar Crawl” promoters and restaurant owners,
We recently learned about your Asian Bar Crawl event on Sunday, September 22nd, and we have concerns about the way the event is being represented and publicized, particularly the images of costume ideas you display on your website and Facebook event.
While the costume ideas may be seen as a joke or are intended to be “for fun” at the event, they are horribly offensive and inaccurate representations for many Asians and Asian Americans. They reduce Asian cultures and traditions to a few stale, narrow stereotypes, when ironically, the purpose of your event is to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, not demean it.
In the spirit of celebrating and respecting these cultures and their histories, we ask that you hold off on the “sexy geisha kimono.” Your costume suggestions are blatantly misogynistic and racist.
In fact, we ask that you remove the entire costume portion of the bar crawl.
If you are going to make a profit from this event, we suggest donating and supporting Mid-Autumn New Year Festivals organized by local Asian American communities, to get a better sense of the meaning and history behind the festival and the real communities that are a part of it. The history and spirit of the Mid-Autumn Festival has nothing to do with cosplay.
Here are website links to a few local events and an article, which elaborates why the costumes you promote are offensive and not appropriate to advertise:
Little Saigon Foundation’s Lantern Festival
San Diego Chinese Historical Museum Family Moon Festival
"We’re a Culture, Not a Costume"
We hope to be able to resolve this situation with you soon. Until then, we will mobilize with Asian American, Pacific Islander and other supportive organizations to spread the word and boycott this event.
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum - San Diego Chapter (NAPAWF-SD)
[Name of your organization here]
GET AWAY FROM OUR FESTIVALS.
Yesterday I was blessed to be a part of a video project of AALEAD, an organization based in DC that supports low-income and underserved youth, where some awesome kickass high schoolers were talking about stereotypes and how to react to them.
I told a couple anecdotes in my interview about how I never really handled racism or stereotypes in…positive ways. I use the ellipse because although they were positive for me in my development as a strong woman, they’re not what I recommend preteens and teens doing.
For example, in sixth grade I remember some high schoolers making fun of how I didn’t have developed breasts. First off, EW why are high schoolers targeting a sixth grader in a sexual manner?! I ended up picking up a rock and flinging it at them, striking one boy in the head. I went home and told my mom, expecting some kind of punishment. Instead I got a stern look but a gentle “good for you for standing up for yourself.”
I also tried to break peoples’ expectations and stereotypes about Asians in my own special way. While I was a bright kid, I was angry that people assumed it was only because of my race. So I intentionally failed classes and tests to “prove my point”. Not sure how I ever graduated high school, to be honest. Ha!
Like I said, not exactly the best two ways to react to being stereotyped.
How do you combat stereotypes? What would you tell a high schooler who’s facing harassment and stereotypes?
The Hangover Part III comes out today, so here’s an interview with Ken Jeong who plays the character Mr. Chow.
Who is the man behind one of the most problematic and controversial representations of Asian America in pop culture? Here’s a blurb from the press release:
Jeong earned his undergraduate degree at Duke University and went on to attain his medical degree at the University of North Carolina. Jeong completed his Internal Medicine residence in New Orleans, all the while developing his comedy.
In 1995, he won the Big Easy Laff Off. The competition, judged by former NBC President Brandon Tartikoff and Improv founder Bud Friedman, turned out to be his big break as Tartikoff and Friedman urged him to head to Los Angeles. Jeong began performing regularly at the Improv and Laugh Factory, and was seen on a number of television shows, including “The Office,” “Entourage” and “MADtv.” It wasn’t until his pivotal role as Dr. Kuni in “Knocked Up,” though, that Jeong solidified himself as a feature film comedian.
Will you be seeing it today?
Rachel Rostad - “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang”
this performance deserves to be experienced in whole (rather than gifs)
This was performed at Barnard just a week ago? I wish I could have been there to hear this. The part that goes, “I wasn’t sure if I was sad, but I cried anyway / Girls like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him / I’ve seen all the movies, I’ve read all the books / We were just following the plot.”
Oh, and Cho and Chang are both Chinese and Korean surnames, not just Korean!
FIRST-EVER ASIAN AMERICAN SUMMIT ON STEREOTYPES COMING TO LOS ANGELES’S JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MUSEUM ON MARCH 23; event brings together artists, academics, advocates and critics for a candid discussion of negative and distorted images of Asians in U.S. popular culture — and how to address, erase or subvert them.
This article from CNN had such potential. I thought for sure when I read the first few paragraphs that it was going to explore gender stereotypes about Asian American men and how damaging those stereotypes are. Instead, Michael Hung continues on to a general gist of “I’m not like the other guys” (in my opinion) and ends it with a sex scene with a white woman.