Chris Rock’s decision to spin humor out of negative Asian stereotypes only feels disappointing in context – it was done amid a backdrop of diversity awareness and directed at a group already convinced their minority status receives little attention.
As a comedian known for building legendary bits around the sort of self-deprecating humor ever present within the black community, we shouldn’t expect any ethnic group to be off-limits. If a “child labor” or “look at these kids math” joke had been delivered on some HBO special, we’d all have a laugh and think nothing of it. On this stage, however, it highlights the sort of hypocrisy and utter lack of sincerity which make the Oscars, and other events like it, so hard to stomach.
Before #oscarssowhite hit the internet like a cruise missile with its guidance system on the fritz, the Academy had no intention of wheeling Common out to deliver an award or Whoppi (a white favorite) a speech. The lack of authenticity is staggeringly apparent. It’s as if black celebrities, namely those tolerated by older white folks, were bombarded by the sort of desperate call typically reserved for super heroes – “Please, Mr. Freeman, we need your help. You’re our only hope.”
It was a line up change forced by the sheer volume of social media pressure rather than legitimate, grass-roots social relevance. It may grab Oprah’s attention, but kids struggling on the wrong side of St. Louis aren’t talking about Will Smith’s Oscar snub – they’ve greater, more personal concerns.
This sort of wildly successful, largely elitist Twitter campaign doesn’t gain traction within the Asian American community, even if it implies their inclusion. After all, nothing about #oscarssowhite explicitly sells diversity as a “black” issue. Yet, oddly, no other ethic group can claim they were widely represented on Oscar Sunday. Perhaps they rang Lucy Liu, found she wasn’t interested, and discovered they’d hit the end of their Rolodex. Sure, Sophia Vergara showed her face and Alejandro Gonzalez took home a statue, but in the shadow of 13 black presenters, it felt shallow.
Why, then, do African Americans seem to hold sole ownership of racial diversity issues in 2016? They’re the most vocal and lack a sticking point which holds the tongue of other racial minorities – African Americans, as a general rule, don’t possess immigrant status and therefore project a greater ownership of this land and her culture. This perception doesn’t in any way diminish the clear impact of so called “immigrant” minorities on America’s cultural whole but rather highlights a difference in mentality.
The “nail that sticks out gets hammered down” or some other piece of pithy Eastern philosophy may work to explain the issue – keep your head down, work hard, stay out of the way, minimize your foot print. This is a message driven into the heads of many immigrant children and, in time, it finds its way through to subsequent generations in some form or another. To demand equality or “representation” is to create distinction. In order to make the statement “People like me aren’t being accounted for” you must necessarily accept that you’re also one of those people – a victim or product of uncontrollable forces. It breeds exactly the kind of categorization immigrant parents have spent years educating out of their children to great effect.
I suspect a good number of Asian Americans will shrug these comments off as trite or harmless, a perspective I’m in little position to judge. However, as is often the case, there’s another, more complicated and necessary conversation enclosed within otherwise trivial satire – the Oscars represents our need to measure the validity of someone’s plight by their desire to “rally the troops”, beat a drum or blow up Twitter. In a world increasingly bent towards the idea of “victim hood” as social currency, protecting rightful claims requires us to remain cognizant of how much we print. Hypocrisy and duplicitous demands represent a flooding of the marketplace, conditions which may lead to a wholesale loss of its value or legitimacy. Only when placed beside one another, as was the case Sunday, do we get a true sense for how social media melds with mob mentality to cloud an otherwise critical conversation. Black issues gained a nationally televised pulpit while Asians got a few math jokes..