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The J-word and Other Indignities

By October 17, 2014No Comments

By Bill Yoshino

Last year at this time, the editor of the Chicago Shimpo told me about an exhibit on World War II at the Chicago History Museum. The exhibit contained a blaring headline from the Chicago Tribune, “Atom Bombs Doom Japs.” The use of racial or ethnic slurs is unsettling in any context, even if it’s part of a headline from another era.

I contacted the museum’s curator and explained that even though the racial slur was in a headline from decades ago, we were concerned because people who view the display, especially the young, may think its use is acceptable and that education about intolerance is a continuing challenge for each new generation. The museum acted quickly to alter its interpretation to indicate the J-word is a racial slur.

This was the first in a number of incidents we responded to during 2013. In January, we contacted executives at Google regarding an app called “Make Me Asian,” which purported to be a fun way to appear to be Asian. It used overlays such as a “coolie” hat and “Fu Manchu” mustache that could be placed on photos. Needless to say, it was a convenient way to mock
Asian Americans, and Google removed it.

There were other incidents in 2013 where we responded to the use of racial slurs at KLFY television in Louisiana and KNPR, Nevada Public Radio, and even alleged hate crimes at Columbia University in New York and at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and where an Asian American man was menaced in Kissimmee, Fla., by a knife-wielding individual who uttered racial remarks.

The point of all of this is that racism, defamation and the use of racial stereotypes continue to occur and even proliferate with the ease of Internet access. There is a need to respond whenever incidents occur. Unlike the N-word, the use of the J-word and other Asian slurs remain because people think they can get away with it or because they just don’t know better. Ignorance may be bliss, but not when it has the power to cause harm.

In its book “Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice,” the Anti-Defamation League guides parents to “name the behavior when you see it: What you did was name-calling. Then, declare it unacceptable: We don’t call people names.” This is a good lesson for all because certain expectations are non-negotiable.

The role for the JACL is first to challenge the use of slurs and then to educate so that shallow behavior can be turned into a more nuanced understanding about the harm inherent whenever slurs are used. But, to make a difference, it takes a chorus to respond. Be sure to add your voice whenever you hear or see acts of racial defamation.

Originally published on January 17, 2014