By Priscilla Ouchida, JACL National Director
When JACL was founded in 1929, the community was eye-deep in anti-Asian racism. “Yellow peril” had a strong foothold in American culture, and British author Sax Rohmer had launched his Dr. Fu Manchu character, which continues to serve as a prototype for an evil criminal genius. Who would James Bond be without his Dr. No or Flash Gordon without his Ming the Merciless? To add insult to injury, the villains were often portrayed in “yellow face” by white actors.
These stereotypes continue to surface today — UCLA student Alexandra Wallace’s rant against the “hordes” of Asians in the library or a recent episode of CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” in which the whole cast portrayed extreme Asian stereotypes. Why does JACL care.
Treating stereotypes as comedy is not “harmless.” When Jay Leno makes a joke denigrating Koreans as dog eaters, Asian children get bullied in school for being dog eaters. An incident surfaced a few days ago in the NFL about behavior in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room where professional football players used stereotype “comedy” to bully their Japanese American athletic trainer. When national media legitimizes stereotypes, there is a harmful trickle-down effect.
Unfortunately, in the past two years, anti-defamation has become a growth program in JACL. A new incident crosses my desk every other week. In October 2013, Jimmy Kimmel aired a skit on his late-night show in which a child promoted the killing of all Chinese — the show incited international protests. Kimmel was followed by the Kate Perry “Geisha” performance at the November 2013 American Music Awards. Just as we finished lauding a great episode of “Hawaii Five-0” on CBS that delved into the incarceration of Japanese Americans at the Honouliuli confinement site, we were back to have a discussion on “How I Met Your Mother” that landed on almost every known anti-Asian stereotype.
Underfunded, JACL’s program addresses school bullying, hate crimes and defamation. The program is one of many programs that are categorized as “Social Advocacy.” If we polled the membership, the program would probably not rise to the list of Top 10 — it should because it is a critical program that impacts the everyday lives of our children and our community. Stereotypes and defamation are the tinder for racism.
As JACL continues its work with media networks, the organization has an opportunity to stand up against stereotypes and defamation. While we have the TV networks’ ears, we should take our message to the next level and invest in the opportunity that has been presented to us.
Originally published on February 21, 2014