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Oh dear. It seems that we’ve ruffled a few feathers.
Last week, I wrote about a McDonald’s ad campaign in Japan featuring one “Mr. James,” a wacky gaijin nerd who speaks in broken Japanese (pictured), and the outrage that’s ensued over this depiction of white foreigners there. Regarding that outrage, I cited the blog Debito.org, written by an American who’s now a naturalized Japanese citizen, who 1) compared Mr. James to Stepin Fetchit–a reference that has since been removed from Debito’s post, although it was mentioned on Japan Probe, too–and 2) suggested that if McDonald’s put a “full-body ‘ching-chong-chinaman’ with funny glasses and protruding teeth saying ‘Me likee McFlied Lice,’” it would never fly over here in America.
But, of course, the ching-chong-chinaman with funny glasses and protruding teeth speaking broken English is a frequent flier here on TV and in corporate advertising, and I provided a couple examples of this (also, um, try reading our blog some time). After seeing my post via HuffPo, Japan Probe took my providing counter-examples of extant “Asian versions” of Mr. Jameses in American pop culture and advertising to mean that I “don’t care” about stereotyping when it happens to white people:
Over at the Huffington Post, a pair of Asian-American women who call themselves Disgrasian has written a short article about Mr. James. The authors seem offended by stereotypes of Asians they witness in American ad campaigns and they’ve also expressed disgust with stereotypes of Asians they believe were present in a recent Marie Claire article about Asian trophy wives. When they look at the Mr. James commercials they recognize the same kind of stereotyping, but don’t care because “Karma’s one wacky bitch, isn’t it?”
Japan Probe then put up a screengrab from one of our vlogs where Diana and I are both smiling, as if it were somehow photographic proof of just how blithe and smug we are about other people’s problems (guess they didn’t realize we were talking about burrito-fucking in that one). But hey, I’m not complaining, that photo of us isn’t half-bad!
I’ve enjoyed Japan Probe in the past, but here their reading of my post is just fatuous and dumb. It’s not that I don’t think Mr. James is an unflattering stereotype of white people in Japan. And it’s not that I don’t care. But I find the outrage leveled at this Mr. James character by certain people to be verging on histrionic. Comparing Mr. James to Stepin Fetchit? Really? Stepin Fetchit was an African-American stereotype popularized in the 20′s and 30′s. He was known as “the laziest man in the world,” and “a befuddled, mumbling, shiftless fool.” But one of these fools is not like the other. It’s important to remember context here, that Stepin Fetchit was a minstrel character created during the time of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the systematized oppression of African-Americans that followed slavery. I mean, slavery, okay? Over two hundred years of slavery. It’s morally bankrupt to put a fool like Mr. James on par with a fool like Stepin Fetchit; stereotypes like Stepin Fetchit were instruments, ultimately, in reinforcing the second-class status of blacks–and not just socially, mind you, but legally. Stepin Fetchit didn’t merely offend. Stepin Fetchit made the abuse of our constitution, the miscarriage of justice, the legalization of inequality, and the back of the bus only that much easier to live with.
(I can only think that Debito reflected on this, and that’s why the comparison between Mr. James and Stepin Fetchit has been removed from his original post.)
But let’s get back to me not caring. I provided examples of Asian versions of Mr. James in my other post so as not to say, And now we’re even, but rather, Open your eyes, racial stereotyping is all around us, and actually, it’s often tolerated or ignored or dismissed, and yes, it’s sometimes even tolerated or ignored or dismissed by YOU. And that’s why I call Mr. James the face of karma. He’s getting people who don’t want to think about race issues or don’t have to think about race issues to think about them. He’s getting people who can’t be bothered or don’t see what’s wrong with stereotypes so long as they’re stereotypes of other people–the very thing Japan Probe accuses me of–to suddenly declare that negative stereotyping is bad all-around and, by golly, everyone oughta do something about that.
Well good. It’s about time more people did.