Good Fun for Whom? When Outsiders Visit Chinatown

With the recent outrage due to an episode of “Watters’ World,” a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a conversation of Asian-American discrimination has ignited. These are just two of the many incidents that highlight the ways in which Asian-Americans are made to feel like outsiders, unwelcome in a country some were born in and know as home.

The fact that Fox News thought the “Watters’ World” segment was appropriate to air illustrates a prevailing — albeit largely hidden — mentality surrounding Asian-Americans. Beginning with a seemingly innocent task of interviewing Chinese-Americans in Chinatown to get their opinions on the numerous mentions of China during the presidential debates, the interviews — if you can even call them that — soon devolved into a reiteration of numerous Asian stereotypes. As “The Daily Show” correspondent Ronny Chieng points out, Jesse Watters doesn’t even bother with using the correct Chinese stereotypes. Watters, the face behind “Watters’ World,” asks Chinese residents if they know karate, a Japanese martial arts form, and uses footage of him in a taekwondo studio, a South Korean martial arts form. A South Korean flag is seen quite clearly in the background of the footage from the taekwondo studio, which somehow went unnoticed by the entire staff at “The O’Reilly Factor.” Beyond melding various Asian cultures into one foreign fascination, Jesse Watters also targeted elderly Chinese residents who didn’t speak English and mocked their silence with added cricket sound bites. He acknowledged that they were “such a polite people,” yet, despite all their politeness and civility, Watters and O’Reilly thought it was appropriate to demean and mock both Chinese culture and Chinese people living in the United States.

The consequences of such negative portrayals are still persistent, even if they’re disguised as cultural fascination. Recently, Michael Luo, an editor at The New York Times, published a piece about a time when he was told to “Go back to China…Go back to your f—cking country,” by a woman on the streets of New York City. After witnessing the entire incident, Luo’s seven-year-old daughter asked her mother, “Why did she say, ‘Go back to China?’ We’re not from China.” Despite being an American-born citizen, a Harvard University graduate and a journalist, he is still subject to the same racism his immigrant parents would more typically face. No matter how much success is achieved nor how much Asian-Americans accept American society as their own, they are never made to feel that they truly belong here.

Asian-Americans also face an uphill battle when it comes to representation within media and Hollywood. Although most would argue that blatant racist portrayals are a relic of older, less civilized times, examples such as Chris Rock mocking three young Asian children at the Oscars prove otherwise. Less blatant examples range from casting white actors and actresses as Asian characters and a lack of casting Asian-Americans in general. Ken Jeong, a prominent Asian-American actor, writes: “Out of 409 scripted shows, four have Asian-American leads.” With less than one-percent representation on TV, it is unsurprising that racist stereotypes continue to be perpetuated. Hiring more Asian-Americans actors and actresses has been, and still is, a much-needed first step to countering the negative stereotypes Americans have of Asians.

Seldom does the thought of Asian-Americans and their experiences come to mind when discussing racism and discrimination in today’s society. Perhaps because, as Luo puts it, “we’re generally not outspoken.” This silence shields the experiences that many Asian-Americans face on a daily basis from public knowledge. It’s difficult for even Asian-Americans born in the U.S. to identify as a “true” American when constantly reminded that their parents are from different countries and heritages. The oft-posed question of “Where are you from?” usually carries the expectation of somewhere exotic, and an answer naming a plain American city often prompts the question again: “But where are you really from?” This insistence that, despite having been born and raised in the U.S., one is still a foreigner is just one of the many ways Asian-Americans are made to feel out of place within our society.

These instances clearly exemplify the anti-Asian sentiment still persisting in America. Asian-Americans and their allies must continue to loudly criticize such outdated portrayals of Asians in media and the xenophobia waged against Asians in daily life. Especially those behind the content, like Watters and O’Reilly, need to be held accountable for their carelessness and lack of social empathy.