Thursday, February 15, 2007

more racism by me

I like ethnic jokes. That is, jokes that celebrate our diversity or poke good-natured fun at cultural trends.
I don't tend to like jokes that put people or cultures down, or jokes that reinforce blatantly negative stereotypes. If a stereotype *is* involved, it has to be clear that no one involved in telling or hearing the joke actually believes the stereotype applies to anyone as an individual.
One has to be very careful about one's audience -- not to weed out people the joke is *about*, but the opposite: I don't want to tell a joke that might reinforce the bigotry of someone who hears it.
If you think all this makes me a racist, I'm fine with that.
So aaaanyway...

I forwarded the following joke to a friend at work:

Q: How do you know your house has been broken into by an Asian gang?
A: Your TV's gone, your VCR's gone, and all your kid's homework is done.

Yes, it's a stereotype, but it's a positive one*, and one with some basis in reality**. I didn't think it would be offensive.
However:
I got the email address wrong. Instead of sending the joke to my friend and close co-worker Sean, I sent it to the only Asian-American at the entire company, my half-Japanese-half-Polish colleague Sean.

When my friend Sean didn't get the joke, I checked the address details and had a minor heart attack. I didn't know Sean #2 well enough to send him that type of joke. I immediately sent him a grovelling email apology, explaining the situation, hoping it wasn't offensive, etc.

He sent me the following reply.

Bryan,
I have already reported this incident to the HR department.
Actually, just to clarify:
The stereotype of academic overachievement applies mostly to Chinese and Japanese students, whereas Asian gangs tend to be made up of people from Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, etc). I think the joke should really be:
Q: How do you know your house has been broken into by an Asian gang?
A: Your TV's gone, your VCR's gone, and the dog has been prepared in a delicate peanut sauce.

Sincerely,
Sean



*Yes, I realize positiveness doesn't mean a stereotype wont' be offensive.

**My belief (broad brush): if you go to China, you'll find just as many stupid people as you do here. But the Chinese students you compete with at university are not your average Chinese student -- they are the top performers out of a billion Chinese people. The selection process to get to come to school here from China differs from the selection process Americans go thru (ie, got passing grades and have some money or a loan?). Add to that a potential cultural influence toward valuing discipline, achievement, family cohesiveness/support, etc, and you might have the basis for a stereotype of Asian school success. Blah blah blah.

6 Comments:

At Thu Feb 15, 02:39:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Sean2's response is absolutely hilarious. I think you should get to know him better. Sounds like a fun guy.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 05:50:00 PM PST, Blogger jay aitch said...

What?! You mean you thought the Asian man wouldn't have a sense of humor???????

gotcha

 
At Fri Feb 16, 06:16:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

I think Bryan was not worried that the Asian guy wouldn't have a sense of humor; he was worried that he didn't know him well enough to send him a joke of that nature.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 07:19:00 PM PST, Blogger Extrem4 said...

Even though I vaguely recalled the story i forgot the punch line and I laughed all over again thinking of Bryan paying for his mistake.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 09:38:00 PM PST, Blogger jay aitch said...

It was 'tongue-in-cheek,' anya ransuns. At least meant to be....

 
At Fri Feb 23, 11:33:00 AM PST, Blogger si said...

i also had heard the "joke" before but had forgotten his response. (sean o, right?) and we all know what a racist you are... :)

 

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