A few days ago, Rush Limbaugh caught some flak from Asian-American Congresspeople for an on-air impersonation of Chinese premier Hu Jintao.
I remember a few years back, Rosie O’Donnell caused a similar kerfuffle when she used the “ching-chong” expression to describe Chinese people talking. She apologized for it and said she didn’t realize it was offensive. Limbaugh compared himself to Sid Caesar as a defense.
On occasions like these, I feel sorry for white people. It’s kind of hard to keep track of what offends whom, and why. The rules are diferent for everybody. Most people who aren’t Asian-Americans probably don’t realize why we would be hurt or offended by someone doing a jibberish rendition of Chinese. After all, no one gets offended when someone impersonates an Italian. And it’s probably a complete double standard. I’m Korean–Korean people do the ching-chong thing to make fun of Chinese people all the time, except it’s even meaner-sounding because most of us are more familiar with the language.
Our specific problem is that most of us (Asian-Americans) carry around a secret fear that no one considers us real Americans. It probably has something to do with the way we immigrated, a history of being segregated and distrusted, and quite frankly, even the way in which Asian communities self-segregate to a certain extent. It’s a hard thing to express or clearly understand–but then again, they all are.
Political Correctness is the cure-all solution. Just don’t say anything to anybody that might cause a problem. It clears up the public discourse almost entirely of racist speech, which is nice, I guess. I certainly don’t want to hear any podcasts from 21st-century Georce Wallaces. I highly doubt it makes anyone less racist, though.
It’s good for people like Limbaugh to demonstrate their obtuseness and tone-deafness. And it’s good for people to complain about it. Argument, I find, is generally better than repression. For Asian-Americans, at least. Maybe not for the cast of the Jersey Shore. It is, inescapably, always going to be complicated.