Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, an unquestionably racist portrayal of Japanese-Americans
I think what I’m trying to say is that I love to celebrate cultural and ethnic identity, but I know that discriminating or holding a prejudice based on cultural and ethnic identity is racism.
However, my greatest dilemma in this is whether I contribute to racism. Let’s explore 3 cases.
- An acquaintance once asked me, when we first met, whether I liked Chinese food. She was obviously implying that I like Chinese food because I’m Chinese. This was offensive to me, but I told her, “Yes, I like Chinese food, but I’m actually Lao. Do you know where Laos is?” Of course, she had no idea — probably because she thought all Asians were Chinese.
- A friend once asked me whether he was correctly dancing to an Asian song. He proceeded to weave his arms upward. I don’t have much knowledge about how Asians dance (except that we fricking kill on ABDC and that us Lao can fawn like no other) ((Fawn is a traditional style of Lao dance.)) but I could tell that my friend was not interested in learning whether he was actually dancing correctly; he simply felt like doing something that felt Asian. This was offensive to me and I said, “I don’t know. I’m not Chinese.”
- I started trying to speak in an Asian accent. My sister is really good at it, and so I ask her to help me practice. I know a lot of Lao people that carry the accent that I try to mimic. I use the accent because I think it’s funny, but I know that all Asians don’t speak like that. Further, that accent isn’t what makes an Asian person Asian. You will not assimilate into our culture if you start speaking in a broken and drawn-out accent.
I don’t think that I directly contribute to racism, although I probably contribute indirectly. If I saw someone who wasn’t Asian speaking in a mock-Asian accent, I would be ticked — even if that person were honestly learning about Asian cultures. That is my dilemma: Why do I feel like it’s okay for me to feign an accent, but I feel like beating up non-Asians that feign the accent? Am I contributing to racism? Is it wrong or racist that I really do think Asian babies tend to be cuter? Where is the line separating a celebration of culture and a discrimination based on culture? Can only people of the same group poke fun at their group? What are your thoughts?
Image from Cult and Paste