As an Asian American growing up in the New York area, I love Jeremy Lin. I don’t even like basketball, but it was exciting to see someone who looks like me on television in any capacity, let alone sports. My brother has his Lin Knicks jersey, and I swore this season I would get into basketball enough to follow the Nets for Lin alone. So I was intrigued when the New York Times ran an essay yesterday by sports correspondent Andrew Keh called ‘I Was Never Jackie Chan, and I’m Not Jeremy Lin‘. It’s a great read, and quick, but if you haven’t seen it yet, Keh writes on the reality Asian Americans face being compared to other Asian Americans.
“An absence of reference points for Asian identity in popular culture has helped create a perpetual stream of hackneyed encounters, for men and women, children and adults,” writes Keh.
He notes, in a way that’s both humorous and infuriating, that he looks nothing like Jeremy Lin. He’s just an Asian guy.
Keh isn’t alone in this–practically every Asian American I’ve talked to experiences this. Growing up, I got compared to Mulan and Lucy Liu on a regular basis; one field hockey teammate even ran the gamut of all “Asian-ish” cartoon characters she could think of: Mulan, Pocahontas, Lilo, and Dora the Explorer. It is racism in it’s laziest form.
“It’s common as an Asian-American to feel like an unwilling participant in society’s lazy word association game: See someone Asian, say something Asian,” writes Keh. And when we look at the racist language used to talk about Asians, it’s almost always lazy! Chris Rock at the Oscars was lazy, Jesse Watter’s Chinatown segment was lazy, and Twitter Racists were so lazy they couldn’t even get former Miss America Nina Davuluri’s ethnicity right! (Phoenix Tso of Jezebel put together some tips of how to be a better racist–worth the read.)
I’m going to focus on three anti-East Asian terms because I feel most at home there, having been called some. They are, for one incredibly lazy, and for two, probably the most common for (East) Asian Americans. Let’s break them down by the term, the origin and the meaning.
Jap and Nip
Terms for a person from Japan or Nippon, Jap and Nip were primarily used during World War II as a racist term. How lazy is this? About as lazy as someone calling an British person a Brit. And yet Americans embraced the racist term, particularly post-war as Japanese Americans resettled after being released from internment camps.
Gook is actually a bastardization of ‘guk’, the Korean word for people. Hanguk literally means Korean people, Miguk means American people. Americans utilized this term during the Korean and Vietnam wars as a racist term for Asians, but it’s got an imperialist past behind the term as well. Soya Chung of Race Files addresses this in her blog titled “The Origins of ‘Gook'”.
This really takes the cake in terms of laziness. Chinaman. China. Man. Man from China. I don’t really know what more to say. Historically, the term was popularized in the Western part of the country with Chinese (male) laborers working the railroads and the gold mines, but again…it’s just so cringe-worthingly lazy. Much in the same way that calling any Asian guy playing basketball Jeremy Lin.
Do better racists.