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Kim: After Fox News ‘Chinatown’ segment, let’s talk about anti-Asian racism

Justine Kim, Op-Ed Contributor

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I am all for writing respectfully about sensitive issues, but this incident is one that many people can agree calls for “taking the gloves off.”

Though the memory of Jesse Watters’ racist Chinatown video segment on Fox News may have faded in the minds of the general populus, each time I think about how Jesse Watters managed to shove every antiquated stereotype into a three-minute, poorly-edited segment, I want to grab Watters and shake the ignorance out of him.

I saw the video just days after it was released on YouTube through a series of flabbergasted posts from friends on Facebook. My first reaction was pure shock.

I watched it over and over again to make sure what I was hearing and seeing was correct. The premise of the video is that Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters, who has a regular segment called “Watters’ World” which appears on “The O’Reilly Factor,” went up to random New Yorkers to talk to them in the wake of China being mentioned multiple times by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate.

I didn’t expect Fox to include many supporters of Clinton in the video, but I also didn’t expect Fox to put subtitles throughout. Asian Americans are often seen as the “perpetual foreigner,” a stereotype initially created to antagonize Chinese immigrants — one that has lasted more than 100 years. Adding subtitles to accompany the interviewees perpetuates the “othering” of Asian-Americans in this country. It was particularly troubling to see during one statement of a Chinese man who had a slight accent but surely would be understandable to most. If the words used by this man were easy enough for Watters to understand, they were clear enough for the viewers to understand, too. Adding subtitles poked fun at this man and others like him, putting accents and Asian Americans as the butt of a very, very unfunny joke. Watters even pauses dramatically to make fun of other interviewees who do not understand his questions. The video continued with jokes about martial arts and clips from “The Karate Kid.” If this was Fox News’ idea of sampling Asian-American culture, it was a slap in the face.

I had hoped that by 2016, privileged, talentless scum like Watters would not be on television, much less spew his uninformed “humor” across a mainstream network like Fox News. Not only did Watters create a sad excuse for comedy, but Bill O’Reilly is also complicit in its release. O’Reilly framed Watters’ endeavor to Chinatown as an attempt to sample political opinion. The two did not portray a vision of Asians and Asian Americans that was diverse, multi-dimensional or complete.

This video raises a larger question: Why did Watters think it was acceptable to make Asians and Asian Americans the butt of the joke? The roots of this answer seem to lie in the model minority stereotype, which has socialized many to see Asian Americans as a demure, apathetic group.

Speaking for myself as an Asian American, I refuse to be silenced. In an interview following the backlash against Watters, Bill O’Reilly stood by Watters’ statements and claimed complaints were invalid because they came in 36 hours following the video and were largely from the “far left.” O’Reilly brushed off these criticisms because the video’s intentions were to be humorous, he said. To this, I say: Just because someone doesn’t complain immediately after the clip was released or your target audience hasn’t complained yet does not make this video any less offensive. Humor does not need to be racist, nor does it need to be performed at the expense of others.

Watters is still on the air. Shortly after the segment aired, he tweeted a non-apology claiming his interviews are “meant to be taken as tongue in cheek” and that he regrets “if anyone found offense.” After about a week, I noticed that as angry as people seemed, not much action was being taken. Northwestern’s campus often feels to me more reactive than proactive, and yet this complacency is something I am also complicit in. We should not let slide the anger and disappointment from this offensive video and should instead use it as a moment to reflect on racial issues on our own campus. I call upon the Asian-American community on our campus to spread awareness about why the video was so bad in the first place, and to encourage those who stand in solidarity with our communities to fight against the perpetuation of the stereotypes it contained.

Asian Americans lie in what I like to call the “purgatory” of America’s race spectrum. Because of the visible success and privilege that some Asian-American communities have attained and the perception that Asian Americans are deemed “honorary whites,” our community’s issues with racism and discrimination are less visible in mainstream media. Coalition building and trying to become educated in the experiences of other marginalized groups are crucial in the fight against ignorance in this country and on our campus. That, and also the more immediate goal of getting Watters off the air.

Justine Kim is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at justinekim2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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