By now, you’ve heard of the controversy surrounding how all the acting nominees at the 2016 Academy Awards were entirely White, with no actor of color nominated. And you probably saw host Chris Rock’s take on the situation throughout the Oscars awards ceremony. And hopefully you saw the skit in which three Asian American children were used as props for a rather weak and ultimately offensive skit.
Lots of people and many Asian Americans have rightfully called out Chris Rock’s skit as downright racist. One of the best critiques (in my biased opinion) comes from fellow Asian American professor, UMass Amherst colleague, and my wife Miliann Kang in her piece at Contexts magazine, titled “An Asian American Mother’s Question to Chris Rock and the Academy.” An excerpt:
Out walked three Asian American children, wearing tuxes and thick glasses. Chris Rock introduced them as accountants from the prestigious firm of Pricewaterhouse Coopers—Ming Zu, Bao Ling, and…David Moskowitz? Then anticipating the pushback, he added that if anyone was upset they should “just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.”
I looked over at my sixteen year-old daughter who looked stunned. Was this really happening? She loves Chris Rock. She loves movies. We were right there with him, so what happened? . . .
These are the oldest tricks in the racial playbook -— kick the next person down on the rung. Divide and conquer. Shame and blame. Dump the pain on someone else. I know Chris Rock did not create these problems, and he has done much to try to address them. And whether or not Chris Rock made racist jokes about Asians, Hollywood would still have a race problem. But on this night, he also added to them. . . .
I thought we were further along than this. I thought my child would not have to endure the same inane, stupid racist jokes that I grew up with, not on the playground, not in the movies, not on a night that was supposed to highlight the importance of diversity in the movies.
Again, I am obviously biased since the author happens to be my wife, but I think her valuable contribution to the discussion of this incident is to both put it in the larger institutional context of the U.S. racial landscape while also personalizing its effect on our family as well.