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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

April 11, 2007

Written by C.N.

Larger Context of Imus Racist Comments

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the controversy regarding radio talk show host Don Imus’s recent comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, in which he called the student-athletes “nappy-headed hos.” Imus has a history of making controversial and even racist comments and surviving, but as many observers point out, he finally crossed the line this time.

As you’ve also probably seen, the outrage and backlash against Imus has been significant. He’s been suspended for two weeks and several of his show’s advertisers have pulled out. It goes without saying that I join the overwhelming chorus of those who condemn his comments as profoundly offensive and blatantly racist.

His comments clearly expose the racial differences involved as a White male making racist comments toward Black women. Despite his apologies and the fact that he runs a ranch for disadvantaged children (many of whom are of color), I absolutely agree that he deserves every bit of the criticism he’s received and needs to be fired, immediately.

The point of my post here however, is to try to place this incident in the larger context of American race relations. Specifically, in the wake of this entire controversy, I find myself asking, “Where was the overwhelming national collective outrage when Asian Americans were the targets of racist comments by various radio personalities?”

As detailed on the pages of sites like AsianMediaWatch.org, in the last few years, there have been several incidents in which radio talk show personalities have made equally offensive and racist comments about Asian Americans. Some examples:

  • December 2004: Star (aka Troi Terrain) of Philadelphia’s Power 99 WUSL morning radio show yelled to an call center work in India, “Listen to me, you dirty rat eater. I’ll come out there and choke the ‘F’ out of you. You’re a filthy rat eater.”
  • January 2005: hosts of the ‘Miss Jones in the Morning’ show sang a ‘Tsunami Song’ which mocked the victims of the South Asian tsunami, using racist terms such as “chink” and “Chinamen,” and called the drowning victims “bitches.”
  • April 2005: Craig Carton and Ray Rossi (the “Jersey Guys” of New Jersey 101.5 FM) made racist comments and characterizations of Arab Americans and Asian Americans, calling them “Damn Orientals and Indians” and speaking in “ching chong” gibberish.
  • January 2006: Adam Corolla made disparaging “ching chong” comments against Asians on his show and disparaged the Asian Excellence Awards.

To be fair, in most of these instances, due to pressure from Asian Americans and other community organizations and activists, the guilty parties did issue apologies and in the case of Troi Terrain, he was fired from his job. But to the best of my knowledge, none of these incidents attracted nearly the same level of overwhelming national, collective outrage as we’re seeing regarding Imus’s comments.

In other words, it was almost exclusively due to the outrage and work of Asian Americans that we were able to receive some justice in these cases — we received very little, if any, help from the mainstream media or American society in general. So my question is — is that fair?

Before I go further, I want to make it clear that I am not interested in perpetuating some sort of “Oppression Olympics” in which groups of color compete with each other in pointing out that historically, they’ve been more oppressed and institutionally victimized than other groups and that therefore racist incidents perpetrated against them are more important or significant.

Instead, my point is that I hope incidents like this remind us all that whenever we encounter racism that we should feel compelled to attack it, regardless of what racial group we identify with and/or to what racial group the offense is directed. This also applies to the mainstream media — they need to keep in mind that racism happens to all groups of color. In other words, in the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Larger Context of Imus Racist Comments" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/04/larger-context-of-imus-racist-comments/> ().

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