Another week, another outrageous act of racism (or two). This week, we were treated to the unveiling of a ridiculous song that is audibly awful as well as racially offensive. “Asian Girlz” by something called Day Above Ground (a band that looks as if Creed were headlined by Mark McGrath and then re-imagined as a boy band… Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) is by any rubric a truly racist song. What’s really criminal about it though is just how mind numbingly dumb it is. But here is the thing: dumb racist things are all over the place. On Twitter, on Facebook, on Youtube, and everywhere you look you can find videos and comments that are really insensitive, that isn’t surprising (people are awful). What is surprising is how a professionally produced video for a band was able to go so wrong. How many eyes have laid eyes on this abomination and thought, “Yeah, this is fine.”?
I famously wrote about another racist song as the inaugural post for Jamesonstarship.com but “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J pales in comparison. That song was, at least, accidentally racist. “Asian Girlz” revels in it.
Also spelling “girls” with a “z” is dumb.
The song is nothing more than a list of asian stereotypes thrown together in a string of lines devoid of logic or larger meaning. The video is a master class in sexual objectification. You can’t help but feel pity for the young woman whose sole contribution was dancing provocatively and faking an orgasm in a bathtub (She has since expressed regret for her role in the video).
I sincerely apologize to all who feels that I set Asian women back 50 yrs. I know I lost respect from a lot of ppl. It wasn’t my intention
— Levy Tran (@MissLevy) July 31, 2013
I’m sure the band thought that this was just a fun and lighthearted attempt at being “funny”. The song certainly tries to be funny, but it doesn’t even achieve that. What’s left is just stereotypes aimlessly thrown about and nothing redeeming. There are also curious lines such as:
17 or 23, it doesn’t matter to me.
Or: Come and sit on my lap or we’ll send you back
Awesome sentiment fellas.
But again, if this were simply a self made youtube video it could just as simply be dismissed as a poor decision by a band of idiots. Instead, many people saw this before it was released and either didn’t realize it could be construed as racist or didn’t want to speak up. This seems to happen a lot more than it should.
Something is systematically wrong here.
Clearly, there is disconnect between how things are conceptualized and how things play out, even by people whose job it is to avoid these very kinds of situations. I, of course, can’t be sure, but my instinct tells me that Day Above Ground wouldn’t consider themselves as racist. They are quick to point out that one of their members from Indonesia. While that isn’t a compelling defense of what is unmistakably a racist song and video, it does suggest they have no intention of being overtly racist. Instead, they are just ignorant. So they are just like most of us. We need to look at this because it will help us better ourselves.
This is why diversity is important. This is why things like Affirmative Action and workplace non-discrimination laws are monumentally important. It’s not that people are not well meaning, most people are. But their perspective is so narrow – mostly white, mostly male, mostly heteronormative – that they begin to forget that other perspectives exist. When only one perspective is being shared, and in a lot of industries that means the perspective of the “Boy’s Club” but also the perspective of white culture, it’s hard to identify places where problems are for people you can’t empathize with. And from that white perspective, “Asian Girlz” seems silly and harmless. After all, can’t we poke fun at stereotypes? Like on the blog “Things White People Like”? Unfortunately no. From the perspective of minorities, it can be demeaning and derogatory.
The sad fact is, it probably took Day Above Ground all of 30 minutes to come up with the stereotypes they used throughout the song. Those stereotypes reduce an entire continent of people to a simplistic group of “proto-asians” who, you know, eat white rice and throw ninja stars and are good at math! That level of insensitivity should be unacceptable. It would also be obvious if the band, its producers, managers and film crew, took some time to shift their perspectives.
One of the biggest differences between white Americans and American minorities is privilege. That eye rolling, groan inducing term that makes internet commenters cry “reverse racism” and become defensive to the point of catatonia. Despite its threatening nature, it applies here. White people have the privilege of being beyond hurtful stereotypes. We are able to laugh at our own expense in a way that other groups cannot without feeling the slight tinge of doubt that comes with asymmetrical abuse. As usual, Louis CK explains this best and hilariously:
This article wasn’t intended to turn into a “give me a break, white people” thing (although I love writing those and lately it seems like all I do is roll my eyes and say “give me a break, white people” when I go on Facebook), but it’s a problem and one that this case – and recent others – illuminate. It seems that the answer to “How was ‘Asian Girlz’ possibly made?” is “By not adopting a perspective that seems unimaginable to most people in places of privelege: that stereotypes can hurt.”
Another week, another “Obama interrupted by a heckler” story. Only this time it was Michelle who received the honors. At a fundraiser in Washington, Michelle Obama was repeatedly interrupted by Ellen Sturtz, a gay rights activist demanding Michelle make President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order. Michelle Obama unceremoniously, but effectively shut her down by saying “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have a choice.” The other people in the crowd chose the First Lady.
While I sympathize with her cause, someone should tell this woman, and, “Get Equal”, the group that put her there, that their tactic is a waste of time and energy (and money).
Heckling has probably been around forever. The inability for people to distinguish appropriate and inappropriate times to speak up are universal to the human condition and there will always be a person who can’t help him or herself. The use of “plants”, people put into a situation where they are specifically meant to cause a ruckus for the advancement of some agenda, is newer but still not unheard of. Presumably it is meant to bring attention to a pet cause or injustice by hijacking the spotlight from a person who already has attention. Ellen Sturtz knew this would be talked about on twitter and in blogs, that’s why she did it. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell her that her cause isn’t the type to be aided by heckling. Gay Rights has about as much attention as any cause in the country right now. Heckling doesn’t work passed that.
In this way, heckling is like terrorism. It typically doesn’t work, it’s counterproductive to the intended goals of the person employing it, but it is incredibly common. As with terrorism, heckling is a sure way to sever any chance of ever coming to a compromise. It takes the debate away from the “issue” and into the realm of personal violations, vendettas and pride. Terrorism emboldens the victims and makes them dig in their heels because any concession is now viewed as a “win” for the other side, a side that has just violently “wronged” you. Instead of listening to the terrorists’ demands, the victims end up invading Afghanistan. Heckling elicits a similar response. Instead of listening to your concerns, the victim ignores them on principle.
The mock outrage that Ellen Sturtz expressed after the event was really the puzzler. She not only made herself look extremely rude, but if she were taken at face value (she shouldn’t be), she’s also idiotic. What did she expect Obama to do? Tracy Clayton at theroot.com put it best:
Sturtz…stated that she was “taken aback” by Obama’s response, because apparently the idea that she would do anything besides hand Sturtz the microphone and get her husband on the phone is surprising.
But like terrorism, heckling is (relatively) cheap. It doesn’t take much to get a lot of attention. If attention is all you want, whether for recruitment purposes, or simple megalomania, then it is an attractive choice. But to say with a straight face that you did this for gay rights is disingenuous. For one thing, you are heckling Michelle Obama, not her husband. She, presumably, has some sway when it comes to his opinions but probably very little in actual policy outcomes. Second, you are screaming at a President who has done more for gay rights than any other President in history and likely even the rest combined. Let’s face it, even the folk hero, Bill Clinton, presided over a presidential term that saw “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” AND “Defense of Marriage Act” passed. And George W. Bush was worse. You could be frustrated at Obama’s slowness in fully getting behind the gay rights movement (I certainly am), but this isn’t exactly the Iraqi citizen defiantly throwing a shoe at George W. Bush, Obama is a misplaced target.
So on the whole, this act of rudeness accomplished nothing. Fortunately for Ellen Sturtz, her goal of equal rights will most likely succeed anyway (and a new poll shows most people think that it is inevitable), but she will have done nothing to help it come about. If she really wanted to help she would find ways to work with an administration that has shown a willingness to work towards equality rather than grandstanding and alienating the people she needs to help her achieve her goal.
For goodness sake, sit down, shut up, and do something.