Spy plane crisis fans anti-Asian bias
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Mon Apr 16 08:02:21 MDT 2001
San Francisco Chronicle
April 14, 2001
CRISIS INFLAMES BIAS AGAINST ASIANS
Ethnic stereotypes in broadcast, print media prompt protests
Marsha Ginsberg, Chronicle Staff Writer
Political cartoons, radio high jinks and satiric skits that feature Chinese
characters with thick glasses, buck teeth and heavy Asian accents sound
like a throwback to an era when American society lacked sophistication and
But these scenes played out across the country after China detained 24 Navy
crew members whose spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet. Some
observers say the backlash rivals the anti-Asian sentiments of World War II
"In times of conflict, it is a norm that any country will ridicule the
other. It happens all over the world," said Federico Subervi, an associate
professor in the communications department at the University of Texas at
Austin. "But it's more about politics. It's the policy, not the people.
This is ridiculing the people."
Especially disconcerting, experts said, is the fact the stereotypes have
emerged in the news media -- whose organizations of late stress diversity
within their ranks. Among the recent incidents was a skit during a meeting
of top newspaper editors.
BAY AREA BROADCAST
Even the Bay Area, where Asian Americans are about 20 percent of the
population and where people pride themselves on tolerance, has not been
Radio talk show host Don Bleu spoofed the spy-plane standoff April 6 in
what he called a "fry over."
He then called a restaurant in China and teased the person who answered,
who apparently could not speak English, as music from the Oscar-winning
Chinese film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" played in the background,
according to listeners.
Listener Christine Rivera said she called Bleu's station, Star 101.3 FM, to
complain that she was "repulsed and offended by these ignorant remarks."
The station offered a "generic apology," she said.
The stunt prompted Philip Ting, president of the Organization of Chinese
Americans in San Francisco, to call for a public apology.
"Xenophobic climates lead to persecution, hate crimes and murder," he wrote
in a letter to the station. "Your insensitivity to throwing more fuel on
this fire is all too glaring."
Neither Bleu nor station managers could be reached for comment yesterday.
Ting said that elsewhere in America, radio commentators have called for
Chinese American internment. A station in Springfield, Ill., suggested
boycotting Chinese restaurants. Another commentator called people with
Chinese last names and harassed them.
Outspoken Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant, who once said
political correctness "drives me crazy," enraged Asian Americans with a
cartoon that appeared this week in many Bay Area newspapers.
The cartoon, which The Chronicle declined to run, portrays a buck-toothed
Chinese waiter delivering cat gizzard noodles to a customer who concedes he
had been "slowly getting used to doing business with China."
The waiter trips, dumping noodles on the head of the customer, who says the
waiter must have been waiting for an apology. The waiter jumps up and down
while saying, "Apologize Lotten Amellican!" The customer, who gets up in a
huff and leaves, is Uncle Sam.
The 1,700 member Asian American Journalists Association said Oliphant's
work "crossed the line from acerbic depiction to racial caricature" and
yesterday demanded that he stop using racial stereotypes in his work.
Editorial cartoonists are given some leeway in material, association
President Victor Panichkul said, but "this in no way excuses base ethnic
insult. Gross racial parodies cannot be explained away as merely 'tart'
Oliphant, a nationally syndicated cartoonist, could not be reached to comment.
EDITORS LAUGH AT SKIT
Another glaring example of racial stereotyping was a skit during the
opening of last week's American Society of Newspaper Editors convention.
The skit, by the renowned Washington, D.C., satirical troupe Capitol Steps,
featured a white man dressed in a black wig and thick glasses impersonating
a Chinese official who gestured wildly as he said, "ching, ching, chong,
The room full of top editors, predominantly Caucasian, laughed heartily.
But Amy Leang, a Chinese American student photographer assigned to the
cover the skit, saw no humor in it.
Leang said she was so upset by the incident that she awoke the next morning
crying. She was encouraged by members of ASNE to write a story about the
experience, portions of which were cited in news stories nationwide.
Experts said the skit was well out of bounds.
"Here we have the leading opinion makers -- the ones who dictate what goes
into the papers -- laughing like a bunch of 5-year-olds," said Helen Zia,
an East Bay author and expert on Asian American affairs. "It sends a
message to editorial teams. What they think is appropriate is discouraging,
in the middle of a potential international crisis."
Capitol Steps initially defended the skit as "a satirical portrayal of a
Chinese official encountering an equally satirical portrayal" of President
Bush. Yesterday, the troupe offered regrets to Leang and the Asian American
"We are sorry anyone was offended. This was only meant to provide laughs
during a tense situation," producer Elaina Newport said.
ORGANIZATION WON'T APOLOGIZE
Others have called on ASNE to apologize. Association President Tim McGuire,
editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, rejected the suggestion.
"Very few people reacted the way (Leang) did," he said. "I don't think we
can make an apology because we didn't control anything."
Did he laugh at the skit?
"Of course I did," he said.
The skit was particularly embarrassing in light of the organization's
efforts to increase newsroom diversity.
"We're encouraging people to get into the business and we let something
like this happen under our watch," said the association's diversity
Carolina Garcia, managing editor of the San Antonio Express News. "We're
not doing our job."
Many Asian American experts have said similar stereotyping probably would
not occur against gays or African Americans or Latinos.
"There's a certain amount of knee-jerk racism when it comes to China and
other countries in Asia," Zia said. "This is degrading and tapping into a
real level of hostility people have on the street. It's bullying and it's
E-mail Marsha Ginsberg at mginsberg at sfchronicle.com.
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