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In Spy Plane's Wake, Crude Jokes and Racist Stereotypes Make Chinese Americans Queasy
Published on Wednesday, April 18, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle
A Great Wall of Unease
In Spy Plane's Wake, Crude Jokes and Racist Stereotypes Make Chinese Americans Queasy
by William Wong
 
FASTER THAN you can say "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," my mood has changed - from feeling good to feeling paranoid about being an Asian - specifically a Chinese American - in America. That is what a little spy plane accident along the southeast China coast can do.

While many Americans are happy that the 24 U.S. Navy personnel aboard the spy plane are back in the good old U.S.A., I've been in a funk. The near crisis between the United States and the People's Republic of China put me and other Chinese Americans in the middle, not a comfortable place to be right now.

I'll tell you why.

When two Springfield, Ill., talk-show hosts at station WQLZ call for the internment of Chinese Americans the way the federal government locked up Japanese Americans during World War II, you can begin to understand why I might feel a little queasy.

When the same radio personalities advocate a boycott of Chinese restaurants until "our troops" come home, you will know why there's a knot in my stomach.

When Don Bleu, a popular radio disk jockey on 101.3 FM in San Francisco,p calls a restaurant in China and mockingly teases the person who answers the surprise call, you can sense the rage building inside my normally calm interior.

When Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant engages raw racist stereotypes to depict a Chinese waiter, then you will know why I might question the sanctity of the First Amendment.

When some of the top newspaper editors in the United States, at their annual convention, laugh at a crude skit by a group called Capitol Steps mocking Chinese people, you will know why I am depressed about my chosen profession.

All these incidents have occurred since a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet on April 1.

Adding to my melancholy has been the super patriotic tone - sometimes indignant, sometimes hysterical - of major news media personalities such as Katie Couric, Tim Russert and even the usually mild-mannered David Broder of the Washington Post.

Appearing on Sunday's "Meet the Press" show on NBC, Broder said, "The Chinese are not nice people."

A journalist myself, I had to ask how he knew that. Has he met all 1.3 billion of them? In fact, over the past several weeks, "the Chinese" have been labeled a lot of nasty things.

Here is where it gets disconcerting for me and other Chinese Americans.

Understand this: Even though I am of Chinese descent, I am no stool pigeon for the People's Republic of China or its leaders. I am not privy to their thinking or strategizing about positioning China in the unpredictable geopolitical landscape of the 21st century.

For that matter, I know very little of the inner workings of our government.

Otherwise, why was I - and perhaps you? - surprised to learn that U.S. spy planes were buzzing China's coastline. For what purpose? As far as we know, China isn't sending spy planes along the California coastline.

Targeting China as the next Evil Empire has been an evolutionary process in the United States. The new Bush administration apparently plans to talk and act tough toward China.

That isn't going to make life any easier for me and other Chinese Americans.

Some Americans appear not to be able to distinguish between Chinese Americans and Chinese from China. We all look alike, I guess.

William Wong, a Bay Area freelance writer, is author of "Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America" (Temple University Press, 2001).

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

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