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Rosie O'Donnell Racist 'Joke:' Hey Rosie! It AinÂ’t Funny No More

Dec 13, 2006

It is encouraging to see that someone is challenging Rosie O’Donnell’s racial slurs. What is not encouraging, however, is the small amount of attention her racism received in the mainstream media. Given the lack of public outrage, one would surmise that it is never okay to use the N word, but it is open season for the C word, especially if said on national television.

Hey Rosie! It Ain’t Funny No More

Hey Rosie! It Ain’t Funny No More

Here is what happened. Actor Danny DeVito recently made the rounds of talk shows to promote his new movie. His apparent drunken state was a hot topic for a short time on entertainment and news programs. Rosie did not appreciate the media obsession regarding DeVito’s sobriety, and she voiced her displeasure on “The View.”

"The fact is that it's news all over the world. That you know, you can imagine in China it's like: 'Ching chong … ching chong. Danny DeVito, ching chong, chong, chong, chong. Drunk. 'The View.' Ching chong."

When confronted, she said she was doing it to be funny. In other words, Rosie’s cool, so shut up and get over it.

New York city council member John Liu told reporters O’Donnell’s remarks hit a raw nerve for many Chinese and Chinese Americans who grew up hearing those kinds of taunts. “We all know that it never ends at the taunts,” he said.

O’Donnell’s comments also underscored the dark realities of life in these United States for everyone of Chinese descent. We have never been an invisible minority, no matter how hard we tried to stay out of the fray. And, sadly, we are not the model minority we worked so hard to become.

In 1990, a group of prominent Chinese Americans founded the Committee of 100 to provide an Asian-American perspective to U.S. relations with China and Asia, and to address the concerns of Americans of Chinese or Asian heritage. A few years ago, the Committee of 100 and the Anti-Defamation League commissioned a national survey to see how non-Asian Americans view Chinese Americans. The results were disturbing.

Sixty-eight percent of non-Asian Americans have "somewhat negative" to "very negative" attitudes toward Chinese Americans, and most do not differentiate between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general.

Nearly one-third believe we are more loyal to China than to the United States; 24 percent believe we are taking away too many jobs from Americans; and 23 percent are uncomfortable with the idea of an Asian-American president.

These findings are disturbing because nearly everyone agrees Chinese Americans possess qualities other groups hold in highest regard. Ninety-one percent believe we have strong family values, a feeling shared by 98 percent of the most prejudiced Americans. And 67 percent say we place a higher value on education than do most other groups in America.

If we possess such admirable qualities, then what causes such negative beliefs? Two reasons: People fear what they do not know, and people do not respect those who do not respect themselves.

The history of this country is full of Chinese-American contributions, but schools rarely teach them. May has been Asian Pacific American Heritage Month since 1992, yet neither of my daughters remembers classroom discussions about their heritage. School administrators must be encouraged to include Chinese-American history in their curricula. Adults must provide programs for civic and social organizations.

At the same time, Chinese Americans must work to stop anti-Chinese behavior and rhetoric. When was the last time you saw a performance in black face? Yet a Houston, Texas, radio station used to run a skit where someone calls a Chinese restaurant and, in the most racist Chinese accent imaginable, asks for Chickity Chinese Chicken.

They got away with it because no one said, "This is not acceptable and you will not do this again without suffering severe economic and public consequences.”

Our history in America has taught us to keep quiet and endure humiliation and disrespect. Our ancestors came to this country with the same dreams and desires of other immigrants: To live in a land filled with the promises of freedoms and opportunities. In return, they suffered exploitation and massacre. People called their women whores, and the government kept their families from joining them. Public schools would not admit Chinese children, and the courts would not allow Chinese testimony. All these things happened because their looks, their speech, and their culture were strange and viewed with fear and suspicion.

The Committee of 100 survey showed us how little things have changed. People still look upon us with fear and suspicion. We contribute to their negative feelings through our silence, which allows them to believe we are worthless and encourages them to act accordingly.

I am a second-generation Chinese American. My father's people were Native Americans and Europeans. My Chinese-American daughters are Daughters of the American Revolution. We are no longer Chinese in America. We are Americans. And to all the Rosies out there is this message: Treat us with the same respect as you expect.

John David Powell is an award-winning online journalist, a communication professional, and a contributor to the Christian History Project.


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