Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Geez, people….do you have to throw race into EVERYTHING?

Posted by chinesecanuck on May 28, 2008

Racialicious has a post today about a recent Quiznos commercial where an elderly laundry manager eats a $5 bill. The elderly laundry manager is of Asian descent. Now, I have seen this commercial, and I just thought the entire thing was stupid (just like many food-related commercials today), but I would never think of it as racist. Perhaps it’s because some people in our society are just a little too race-sensitive. I mean, I could totally hear people going bananas over a commercial, movie or television show where an Asian woman is portrayed as very society matron-like. After all, she’s obviously TRYING TO BE WHITE, right (by the way, no pun intended on this one)? And an Asian person, especially a woman trying to be white is A STEREOTYPE we want to get rid of. People will say that, despite there being dozens of “old money-esque” society matrons in places like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Now, I *DO* think this commercial is a little demeaning to people of a certain age.

Another thing I want to add:  Who’s to say that they intended to cast an Asian actress for this?  The audition notice could very well have only asked for someone who can play a woman of a certain age.  Not all notices specify race.  While white is the default for “race neutral” casting (for the most part, anyway), people need to remember that colour-blind casting IS done, though it seems to be more common in live theatre (as I’ve said before, the television/movie crowd is probably a tad bit too sensitive to go for something like this)

Note from ChineseCanuck:  Hello?  Just because I’m of Chinese descent (Chinese Canadians share a similar history to Chinese Americans, btw), doesn’t mean that I have to be offended by the commercial.  In fact, I think most people take the race thing too seriously, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand why as you can see from my posts. 

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3 Responses to “Geez, people….do you have to throw race into EVERYTHING?”

  1. Hmm, this one is complicated.

    In Toronto and other large Canadian cities, Chinese Canadians aren’t stereotyped as laundromat owners and people who eat anything. Chinese Canadians are stereotyped as immigrants, university-educated, and rich.

    This commercial may be offensive to in some areas of the United States that have really outdated stereotypes about Chinese being rat and dog meat eaters, organized-crime gangsters, uneducated, and poor. Yes, there are people in the United States who still have these stereotypes. For example, the Clinton campaign received lots of donations from New York’s Chinatowns, and many Americans think this is blatant fraud, because Chinatown’s residents are assumed to be dishwashers, criminals, and illegal immigrants. Now if it was found that Chinese Canadians in Markham donated a lot of money to some mainstream political campaign/party in Canada, I don’t think Canadians in general would find it suspicious.

    Basically, there is probably a cultural split between Asian stereotypes in Canada and Asian stereotypes in the United States.

    With regards to your “trying to be white” and “society matron-like” stereotypes, I think that only applies to very rich Asian Canadians, those who attended private school. Examples of more general Asian stereotypes, or rather Chinese Canadian stereotypes, are the stereotypes that you have of Chinese people in Markham: HK Chinese girls with mall-rat voices, people who stick to their own kind, Pacific Mall, people who are good at and go into math and science instead of the humanities and social sciences, etc. These are *stereotypes*, and it isn’t an accurate representation of Markham.

    NOTE: This reply has been slightly edited for style and content.

  2. Sabrina said

    The very title of this post “Geez, people….do you have to throw race into EVERYTHING?” should’ve been included in Lazare’s published reactions alongside reactions like:

    Are you Asian American? I wonder how do you know what offends someone else? (I work in a Chinese restaurant, where they slurp their soups and drink loudly without concern—offensive to you or me perhaps, but not to them.) Would you have said the same thing if the actress in question were Caucasian? Probably not. You see a woman of Asian descent. I see a woman. —Lou Lohman

    Because essentially, they are the same stereotypical “shut down the discussion” reaction that is typical of people who would rather not recognize racism, who don’t bother to understand how the long, painful history of Asian Americans in the laundry business was steeped in and still to this day contribute to racism in America.

    I don’t get why you have to dismiss the validity of offended reactions. Did you even look at the cartoon below the article? Because that is how Asian Americans were portrayed back in the day. Do you not know about the “Two Wongs Can Make It White” Abercrombie t-shirts that were almost universally decried by the Asian American community? (At best, they reinforced already ingrained stereotypes, and at worst, they called on the painful history of Asian American laundromat workers as a joke.) Now I get that things are not the same for Asian Canadians. But you better know what you’re talking about before you dismiss this as some sort of overly-sensitive, pc playing the race card game with no basis (no basis except for history and constant reworkings of it today of course).

    –Here’s a little bit of Asian American History–
    Asian Americans were initially forced to go into the laundry business after they were left unemployed at the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which they were brought to complete as indentured servants, but were also barred from most other occupations except for service occuptions (but I guess you don’t think that race has anything to do with it):
    “Because they were forbidden from owning land, intermarrying with Whites, owning homes, working in many occupations, getting an education, and living in certain parts of the city or entire cities, the Chinese basically had no other choice but to retreat into their own isolated communities as a matter of survival. These first Chinatowns at least allowed them to make a living among themselves. This is where the stereotypical image of Chinese restaurants and laundry shops, Japanese gardeners and produce stands, and Korean grocery stores began.

    The point is that these did not begin out of any natural or instinctual desire on the part of Asian workers, but as a response to prejudice, exclusion, and institutional discrimination — a situation that still continues in many respects today. Nonetheless, even in the face of this hostile anti-Chinese climate, Chinese Americans fought for not only their rights, but also for their dignity and self-respect. Although they were forbidden to become citizens and therefore to vote, they consistently challenged their unequal treatment and unjust laws directed at them by filing thousands of lawsuits at the local, state, and federal levels.” -fromAsian-Nation.org: The First Asian Americans

    “Prior to exclusion the majority lived in agricultural areas where the business and labor-contracting elite seldom exceeded 15 percent of the community. Exclusion virtually eliminated Chinese laborers in small western towns and left only a smattering of Chinese restaurant or laundry owners. And it drove the majority together into Chinese enclaves within the cities where entrepreneurs and professionals constituted some 40 percent.” – from Timeline of Asian American History

    –Here are some recent incidences where “laundry” has been racially invoked to refer to Asian Americans–
    “Asian American activists say that an ad that ran in a Providence, Rhode Island, magazine was demeaning to Asian women and uses an outdated stereotype. One group demanded an apology:

    Dear Mr. John Elkhay,
    Maestro, Chow Fun Food Group, Inc.,

    We, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and the undersigned, would like to express our concerns with the marketing and publicity campaigns for ‘Chinese Laundry,’ a restaurant in Providence, RI, owned by the Chow Fun Food Group, Inc. This petition was placed online on March 17, 2008, and will be delivered to the Chow Fun Food Group, Inc. by March 20, 2008, for your consideration.

    In the month of February 2008, the Chow Fun Food Group ran an advertisement for ‘Chinese Laundry’ in Providence Monthly that featured a black and white image of a nude female torso with traditional Chinese characters tattooed down the side of her body, and a black banner containing the text ‘see what you are missing’ across her breasts. A bar of text across the top of the advertisement read, ‘good things come to those who wait.’ In March 2008, the advertisement was again printed in Providence Monthly, this time with the words, ‘the wait is over.’ We the undersigned find the advertisement and subsequent marketing of ‘Chinese Laundry’ objectionable for its dehumanization and commodification of the female form, and its exoticism of Asian cuisine and culture. While we recognize that ‘sex sells’ is a common marketing tactic, this particular image evokes racist stereotypes of Asian women as hypersexual, submissive and ‘foreign.’

    We the undersigned also object to the name of the restaurant, ‘Chinese Laundry,’ which disregards the discriminatory practices of late 19th and early 20th century America that forced Asian American immigrants into these forms of domestic and servile work.” -from New Amercian Dimensions: Asian Americans protest ‘Chinese Laundry’ Restaurant

    “Days after hitting store shelves, new Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts featuring caricatured faces with slanted eyes and rice-paddy hats had Asian Americans in the Bay Area and beyond demanding a public apology from the retailer.

    The Midwestern clothier, which targets the young, affluent and active, said it was surprised by the mounting controversy over the T-shirt designs.

    One has a slogan that says, ‘Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make It White.’ Beside the prominent lettering are two smiling figures in conical hats harking back to 1900s popular-culture depictions of Chinese men.” from SF Gate: Asian Americans rip retailer for stereotypes on T-shirts

    Further reactions:
    “After thousands of Asian American university students and the Organization of Chinese Americans raised their voices last week, forcing Abercrombie and Fitch to recall a new line of T-shirts featuring Asian cartoon characters, this is what Thomas Lennox, the company’s senior public relations official had to say:

    It’s not, and never has been, our intention to offend anyone. These graphic T-shirts were designed with the sole purpose of adding humor and levity to our fashion line.

    As ‘damage control’ press conferences go in the corporate world, you will not find a more artful example of evasion and misdirection. The media accepted Lennox’s statement without further questioning, even though:

    – No one ever accused Abercrombie and Fitch of intending to offend Asian Americans. The purpose of the protests was to call the company’s attention to the fact that the T-shirts were offensive, because it was obvious that nobody in authority at the company knew that they were.
    – No one ever suggested that the T-shirts were designed in a spirit other than of humor and levity. But the caricatures were deliberately chosen with historical antecedents in mind. If most Asian Americans cannot look back on those early stereotypical images and laugh, it is because we recognize the discriminatory effects of racial stereotyping as a persisting problem, and not as an amusingly quaint fashion of a bygone era.” – from ModelMinority.com: Why Abercrombie and Fitch Still Doesn’t Get it

    Frankly, I’m offended that you were able to ignore this stuff…if you didn’t know it, then you have no business implying that people feel the way they feel because “they have to throw race into EVERYTHING.” And I’m not even getting into the whole representation of Asians as eating anything that’s referenced in Racialicious.

  3. Sabrina,

    chinesecanuck is Chinese Canadian.

    Chinese Canadians had a similar history, built the Canadian Pacific Railway, worked in laundromats, etc. However, because of recent immigration history in the 80s, these stereotypes of Chinese Canadians are outdated. Or at least it’s outdated in major Canadian cities. Small Canadians towns may still have these stereotypes, especially if they have little interaction with Chinese Canadians.

    I’m Chinese Canadian, and I didn’t find it racist, until after reading the analysis, and then saw how it could be reinforcing stereotypes in certain areas of the United States.

    However, chinesecanuck generally takes the “white point of view” and considers herself a Banana.

    *This reply has been slightly edited*

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