Thursday, December 17, 2009

Speaking of Racial Teasing . . .

Remember when Miley Cyrus did it?

And when one of the Jonas brothers did it?

Many people defended them as just being young and stupid.

Now Toby Keith has done it -- the eye-pulling gesture, when Will Smith rapped about "black, white and yellow [a problem in and of itself!]," at a party while in Norway for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony of all things. Keith can't use youth as a defense. Does that just make him stupid? Or are we willing to call it what it is, a racist gesture?

Toby Keith made a hand gesture at a Nobel Peace Prize after party last week that has two Asian organizations seeing red.

During an impromptu performance in Norway with Will Smith and Wyclef Jean, Keith briefly pulled back his eyes in a stereotypical expression when Smith rapped the word "yellow" about 26 seconds into the song "Rapper's Delight," reports.

While the move didn't garner criticism at the time, now that the video has gone viral, Asian organizations are slamming the "Shock'n Y'All" singer.

"Toby Keith embarrassed himself and his country, denigrated the Nobel Peace Prize and offended Asians and Asian Americans by using a crude, racist hand gesture," a
spokesman for the Asian American Justice Center tells TMZ.

"By doing this, he is telling Asian fans, ‘You don't matter, you're not on my radar,'"
chimes in a representative from the Media Action Network for Asians.

* * *

Keith has yet to issue a formal apology, and his reps are dismissing the incident.

"No one at the concert thought Toby was out of line," his camp said. "Everyone was impressed with his rapping skills and that's it . . . all of the artists liked each other, hung out, and it was a very friendly,genuine, and supportive atmosphere."

So it seems Keith's defense is that none of the black guys were offended, and they liked each other, so no way can the gesture be racist. "Some of my best friends are people of color. . . ."

I look forward to the blogosphere's determined attempts to minimize what he did. That seems to be what always happens after something like this. I can hear it now: "He didn't mean anything by it." "Stop being so sensitive." "It was a joke." "Maybe he was just scratching his eye." "Just because he did this doesn't mean he's a racist." "My brother-in-law's cousin's hairdresser is Asian, and he said it wasn't a big deal." Sigh.


SustainableFamilies said...

What racist hand gesture did he make? I didn't know there were racist hand gestures

Wendy said...

Another point is this, he cannot say "I didn't know". It is not like Miley Cyrus (and of course her dad) are unknown in Keith's circles--country music. He knew, he didn't care.

When will the excuses end? Better yet, when will consumers stop continuing providing support for those that don't have the sense to not offend others intentionally? You are right, he is not a child. He cannot claim ignorance although his behavior really shows that he is.

SustainableFamilies said...

Did you notice this?

Orphanges may be as good as... adoption? hmmmm....

The Gang's Momma! said...

At the risk of sounding judgmental or harsh . . .

None of us should be terribly surprised. It's not like he's the epitome of political correctness or genteel, polite, considerate behavior. In any circle. He represents a circle within his genre that glorifies "redneck" behavior. This coming from a big country music fan. Just not his particular, crass niche of country music.

A Chinese Dad said...

Malinda, did you know that this "eye pulling" gesture is not considered offensive to most Asian Americans? I have been living in America for almost 25 years. I didn't even know it was supposed to be offensive to people of East Asian descent until a year or two ago. I am not being funny or trying to disagree with you. I know none of my immigrant Asian American friends would find this gesture offensive because we are very comfortable with the shape of our eyes. However, I have noticed that it is always American-born Asians who are offended by this gesture. Here is my thought. Maybe kids growing up in America (e.g. American-born Asians) have been subconsciously brainwashed by kids-oriented entertainment messages on the American standard of eye shape beauty to the extent that they equate East Asian eyes as less desirable "little beady eyes." Interestingly I asked my kids recently if they had been teased about their unique eye shapes. My daughter said yes but she also said it didn't hurt her feelings at all because she felt it did not apply to her because she felt she had very big round eyes. The kid(s) who made the gesture was saying it like a playground rhyme and did not target anyone specific. I know for sure that a presidential political campaign in 2000 used this gesture to get the support of Asian Americans but nobody complained about it except that Rush Limbaugh mentioned it briefly on the air to point out the double standard. Of course, the presidential campaign used Michael Jordan to present the message and made everything OK. I will send the link if I find the said message.

A Chinese Dad said...

Found a link to a 2000 Democratic presidential primary ad where Michael Jordan endorsed Bill Bradley. I could not find this video on YouTube. So I don't know if Jordan actually pulled his eyes when he said it. I remember Limbaugh had a field day on the "eye shape" reference. I don't take comments from a sensationalist seriously. So I am not saying Jordan actually did this offensive gesture.

"I know the kind of America I want for my children," Jordan says. "It's a place where every family has good health and no family suffers the tragedy of gun violence. It's a place where every child has a bright future, and where skin color or eye shape doesn't matter anymore."

notsocalm said...

Chinese Dad, you wrote "that this 'eye pulling' gesture is not considered offensive to most Asian Americans," but then go on to say that "it is always American-born Asians who are offended by this gesture".

First of all, aren't American-born Asians also Asian Americans? And secondly, just because *you're* Asian and *you're* not offended doesn't mean that it's not RACIST or that the rest of us are being oversensitive.

People don't use this gesture to make Asians feel warm and fuzzy.

A Chinese Dad said...

notsocalm, I knew my comment would offend some people. Please understand that that was mot my intention. I merely wanted to point out the possible root cause of the perception of this offensive gesture to some people. Observing my own daughter growing up in America over the years, I have come to believe that the very reason that she doesn't want to identify with Asians is because she has been exposed to the subtle message of the white beauty. She thought she was white before she started preschool. After all, all the beautiful kids on TV are white and her own skin is not dark either. Then at pre-K 4, she was sadden to learn that all princesses in the books had blonde hair while she had black hair. We told her about Snow White who had black hair but that didn't help her. Later she became a huge fan of a girl in High School Musical who has black girl. She read up on everything about that actress, including the fact that she is 1/8 Chinese. My point is this: The reason that our children are offended by this eye-pulling gesture is because they have been led to believe that Asians are not pretty because all the pretty "role models" are white and oftentimes blonde. I never hesitate to point out to my daughter how pretty Julie Chen (Weather Channel) and Emily Chang (CNN reporter) are. And they are! Our daughters need "beauty" role models. That, I believe, explains why immigrant Asians in America don't find this gesture offensive. After all, they grew up in Asia and have seen all kinds of Asian beauty. I absolutely hate the way that American entertainment industry depicts Asian men and women on TV and movies. No wonder our children growing up in America reject anything Asian. If you want to be offended, you should be mad at Asian American actors and actresses like Lucy Liu on a Saturday Night Live episode where she dresses in a traditional Chinese silk dress working on the nails of her white boss, serving a pot-cooked puppy stew to her guests, and later pulled a rickshaw around with a coolie hat on.

You really can't do anything about what other people think of you. What you can do is to not let what you think of you get to you.

notsocalm said...

Chinese Dad, I am actually in agreement with much of your recent comment about the predominance of white/Western standards of beauty. I think it is vitally important to surround both boys and girls of color with role models of all kinds, including (but not limited to) physical beauty. However, I am still unsure of your claim that "immigrant Asians in America don't find this gesture offensive", as well as your final paragraph:

You wrote "You can't do anything about what other people think of you" -- which may be true for a single person or incident, but if communities/people as a whole take that attitude toward racism? That's a whole lot of complacent, complicit approval going on. I prefer to be an anti-racist activist, working to educate and inform people rather than throwing up my hands in defeat.

And your last sentence, about choosing not to let things "get to" you? Sounds like like the "stop being sensitive" comment that Malinda mentioned in the original post -- and one which I've gotten so, so often when I try to call out racism when I see it. It seems like everyone knows that dismissing people as "oversensitive" is a tried-and-true strategy to excuse the racism being perpetrated and silence the voices of the people working to fight it.

Signing off.

Anonymous said...

asian dad, I cannot disagree MORE with what you said.

Asian-americans don't hate the eye pulling gesture because we're ASHAMED of our eyes. We hate it because the gesture PUTS down our eyes. It's just like how black people don't hate their skin tone but hate it when whites don black face. It is NOT done in kindness.

And then you speak of asians from asia who aren't offended. Well, the reason they're not offended is because they're not acculturated. They come from a country where they're a part of the privileged majority and even though they are now the minority in america, they STILL haven't shrugged off the comfortable sense of security that only those int he privileged majority have. They don't realize the gesture is derogatory. The same way many immigrant chinese people cannot tell when an american is laughing AT them rather than with them.

Anonymous said...

And lastly, to Chinese dad, if you are indeed a dad, how will you feel when your kid(s) is subjected to the eye-pulling gesture at school and is made to feel like "the other" in their own country?

The eye-pulling gesture by non-asians is a way to de-normalize asian eyes. As in, the only way to have asian eyes is if the "normal" caucasian eye is deformed in some manner.
Eye pulling is to mock perfectly normal asian eyes as abnormal.

When whites don black face, do you honestly think it's because they ADMIRE black skin? Black face is to make a mockery and caricature of normal black skin, just like eye pulling is to make a mockery of asian eyes. Eye pulling doesn't even create a realistic looking asian eyes. It only produces a deformed caucasian eyes.