The start of the Lunar New Year is as good a time as any to consider the real State of Asian America. Judging from some recent events, it’s not nearly as perfect as you Tiger Mom lovers out there might believe.
Oh sure, an Indian American, Satya Nadella, will become the new head of Microsoft.
But if you didn’t notice from President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, there was a lot more on class inequality than racial inequality, or anything else for that matter.
Perhaps it’s the broad brush that covers us all, under the banner of that quickly outdated term, “the 99 percent.”
That phrase must have too much truth in it, or the Orwellian rhetoricians wouldn’t prefer the more general “income inequality.”
What about “racial inequality?” That seems to have become a matter of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The country has enough problems.
Even the president’s usual comforting litany,in which he names every racial group and protected minority–you know, the list of “white, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, gay, lesbian, transgendered, disabled, etc….” —all that was missing from this year’s SOTU address.
The president did mention our ancestral home by region (“Asia-Pacific”) and specifically said the words “the Philippines” and “the typhoon” in a way that connected with Filipino Americans.
But then he delivered this replacement line to remind us that our concerns are not totally forgotten.
Said the President: “We believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.”
To that statement there was no joint applause or “standing-O.”
So I guess all of us–left, right, and middle—can agree on something.
So why doesn’t it all ring true to Randy Gener and his husband Steve Nisbet?
RANDY GENER UPDATE
Gener, 46, is scheduled to have his second brain surgery in two weeks on Wednesday.
An award-winning Filipino journalist and gay rights activist, Gener was beaten in New York City on Jan. 17 in a vicious attack initially investigated as a hate crime. But after an arrest last week of an African American suspect, Leighton Jennings of Queens, the charges were quickly downgraded.
Police took Jennings’ story, reviewed surveillance video, and came to a conclusion. Commissioner Bill Bratton said near definitively: “It was not a bias crime.” He prefers to call it “a tragic street altercation.” Jennings was later arraigned on misdemeanor assault charges and released on his own recognizance.
Gener awaits his second brain surgery on 1 p.m. EST on February 5.
I wrote about Gener last weekend and hoped he was well enough at least to see the Super Bowl and Bruno Mars.
“He was unable to watch Bruno or the game,” responded Nisbet in an e-mail to me.
Nisbet said Gener was resting comfortably before surgery. “He is talking, but much of it lacks coherence,” Nisbet wrote.
That’s critical because the NYPD hasn’t yet heard Gener’s side of the story. A surveillance video doesn’t tell all. Maybe Gener can recall if the physical beating came with an epithet—an “F” word. Any one will do.
One that rhymes with “gag it.”
Even “Filipino” would work to make a case for a hate crime.
But Gener is in no condition to say.
Nisbet continues to work with the Anti-Violence Project in New York and remains “baffled by the reduction in charges.”
In lieu of justice, he stays focused on Gener’s recovery and asks for prayers.
“I am asking for all those who prayed for Randy the first time to return to prayer wherever they are between the hours of 1 p.m and 5 p.m. on the 5th,” Nisbet said. “It worked the first time, and I believe it will again.”
Health will be needed if the Gener story is to become a more reassuring example of the relative value of Asian Americans in our society.
For now, in terms of racial equality, our status?
It sure feels less than equal.
“SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”
You can’t have a Gener story unless you have the continued perpetration and acceptance of stereotypes.
Enter “Saturday Night Live,” again.
I’ve written about SNL before and had hopes that the show would display greater sensitivity and diversity when it hired a new black cast member and black writers.
But I was wrong.
In last Saturday’s opening monologue with Melissa McCarthy, we were subjected to this:
It’s McCarthy upside down on a wire mocking Hong Kong style kung fu movies.
Now that’s a funny sight. McCarthy’s the flying warrior twerking in mid-air.
But why stop at funny when you can add a dash of taboo racism and really yuck it up?
First came the Asian-inspired music, just in case those of you playing along at home didn’t get they were mocking Asians.
Even that could be excused as a minor slight, because we all know that whenever Asian Americans speak, we like to preface our comments by banging gongs to make sure people know we’re in a room.
But the topper was Taran Klllam, a white actor and the husband of Cobie Smulders, a star of “How I Met your Mother,” which recently engaged in a nasty use of “yellowface.”
On SNL, Killam, with one eye squinted and one eye raised, displayed a full-geometric facial slant.
But the offense came when he did “yellow voice” through his lips.
His guttural “yo-yo-dojo” accent placed him firmly in the land of intolerance.
Ah-so, SNL couldn’t find an unemployed Asian actor/comedian to denigrate his own people?
I just saw veteran comic Henry Cho, the Korean American with a Southern accent who just married a white woman from Arab, Alabama, on the “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
Now Cho’s funny.
But white folks doing an Asian voice? Killam’s accented narration is cringe-worthy.
Accents remain the MSG of comedy. And we all know what the sign says in all our favorite Chinese restaurants.
We don’t want it in our comedy either.
Detractors might ask, why be so sensitive? It’s just a joke, right?
It wouldn’t be so wrong if more Asians appeared on shows like SNL. We might be able to move the racial barometer and say some things are OK, because of other authentic portrayals in the media.
But until then, real Asians are mere cameos, and shows like SNL rely on racist caricatures.
The Twitterverse was quick to show disapproval, including the hashtag #saturdaynightlies.
Today my mom told me how embarrassed she is of her accent. I wonder why she’s embarrassed? Because you made it a joke. #saturdaynightlies
— Suey Park (@sueypark) [February 2, 2014](https://twitter.com/sueypark/statuses/429860367364132864)
The joke doctor might say “First do no harm.” At least not to unintentional targets of your satire. And who are the targets of an accent joke but innocent immigrants?
For SNL, playing fire with race is apparently the way it prefers to get its edge. But SNL is also corporate comedy at its finest, which means they respect one thing–money-making star-power.
It’s the diversity SNL acknowledges.
Bring us your Drakes, your Kerry Washingtons, your Jennifer Lopezes
And Bruno Mars.
If you saw the Super Bowl, you saw the anointing of Mars as an undeniable global
pop super star.
It was only the biggest Super Bowl half-time show of all time: More than 115
million tuned in, according to Fox Broadcasting.
Mars is the face of diversity. With a Filipino mother and a father who is a
Puerto Rican/Hungarian Jew from Brooklyn, Mars is the picture of the new
We have to hope these stars use their clout to change show biz attitudes, so
that the jokes don’t always come at the expense of people of color.
It’s no small thing.
When we lose the little battles and become the butt of jokes, something like a
Randy Gener story becomes commonplace.
All the little slights have an impact in the real world.
The public learns from somewhere that Asian Americans don’t count. Popular
culture is a great educating force. If the message is “we don’t count,” then we
To paraphrase the president’s State of the Union, it’s time to do away with
attitudes toward Asian Americans and other minorities “that belong in a ‘Mad
That’s the kind of deep-rooted change that would make a difference to all Asian