100 years...has anything changed?

2007 marks the 100th anniversary of the Vancouver race riots in Chinatown and something called Japtown. During the riots a white supremacist group marched to city hall to demand a "white Canada." 2007 also marks the 60th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, a wonderfully misnamed piece of legislation that eliminated all Chinese immigration to Canada.

The face of Vancouver has certainly changed since then, and it is possible to live in parts of Richmond and never have to speak a word of English. (Possible for some - impossible for me as I do not speak Chinese).

I use this information to provide context for something I came across recently on the Angry Asian Man blog, something so astounding I actually wrote to the authors of the work to ask, "What gives?"

The following is an excerpt, now removed, from a book called Skits That Teach, published by Zondervan, and written by The Skit Guys, Eddie James and Tommy Woodward. The book is meant as a teaching tool for Christian youth leaders.

"Herro, Dis is Wok's Up Restaurant calling to confirm your order. . . . I think that, yes, you total is 14 dollar 95 cent."

"Herro? This is Wok's Up Restaurant again. We have drive and drive, and we can't find you house. We don't find you house soon, you pu pu get cold. Pu pu good when it hot."

(Hostile) "Okay, we drive for long time looking for you house. I tell you, you go outside and I look for you. I am driving a red Rincon (Lincoln) Continental. You pu pu still getting cold. Bye!"

"Okay, I drive for long time and I stil not find you house. So I am eating you pu pu! Ruckiry it still warm. I was hungry, so I eat it. Mmmmm . . . this pu pu is good. (Smacks lips a few times) You on my bad rist. You don't call us anymore. Bye!"

As you can imagine, this caused quit a stir in the sizable Asian Christian community, prompting this apology from The Skit Guys. Mark Oestreicher. who works for Youth Specialties, the company that is responsible for the publication, offered this apology on his blog. All of this prompted me to write this letter to Mark, which I forwarded to Eddie and Tommy.


My name is Thomas Wong and I am a Chinese Scottish Canadian living in Vancouver. I was a regular church goer for over 20 years. I am currently in law school and am graduating this year.

I came across the excerpt from James and Woodward's book, Skits that Teach, on the Angry Asian Man site at http://www.angryasianman.com/angry.html. It's a good read for people who, for whatever reason, seem to struggle with the idea that racial stereotypes are offensive.

Mark, I am a reasonable man, and I read your apology with great interest. I believe you are sincerely trying to do good work, and that you were mortified by the content of the book. I also believe that James and Woodward are genuinely apologetic.

Having said that, there is one point that I feel is being lost, or at the very least misunderstood. I will reproduce the excerpt here for reference.

(See excerpt above.)

Without being Asian yourself, I am sure you can see how this is repugnant, foul, and abusive banality. It is, quite simply, inexcusable. I do not mean that it is beyond forgiveness. I mean that content such as this has no possible excuse. It is wrong in every sense of that word.

The part that I feel is being glossed over is the idea that James and Woodward did not mean to be offensive. You state this in your post, and they mention this in their apology. I suppose this is meant to indicate that they were not deliberately setting out to abuse anyone, which is undeniably a good thing. However, the fact that they did not intend that effect does not make this somehow less abusive. In fact, to me it makes it far more abusive, since it indicates that they wrote the skit, believing it to be humourous, completely oblivious to the possibility that an entire ethnic group, a stunning one third of the earth's population, might find it horribly offensive.

In other words, they were CASUALLY horribly racist. They wrote it the way a young child might write a swear word in a letter to Grandma, not knowing what it means. They wrote it thinking they were being funny - and that was it.

This utterly baffles me. It makes me wonder just how insular the church is these days, as it attempts to justify and stake out increasingly untenable positions. My own personal views on the church are not my main point. Intended or not, this hurt me. It made me angry.

It is the 100th anniversary of a race riot in Vancouver that almost burned down Chinatown. It is also the anniversary of the passing of legislation that forbid Chinese immigration to Canada. Racism is not a laughing matter. I would expect, nay demand, that followers of someone as enlightened as Jesus would know this inherently. I don't think the writers need to "consult" with Asian church leaders. I think they need to consult the Gospels.


Thomas Wong

As of this posting only Eddie James has written back, with what I believe is a genuine apology. However, I feel that the fact that the book is still being sold, albeit in an altered form, indicates that this is being handled from a financial perspective. A true apology would rip this book from the shelves and demand their return from bookstores.

My favourite part about all of this? That the racism is being called a "sin," and that this is evidence that we are all susceptible to "sinful ways." Racism isn't a sin. It's at best stupid and offensive, and at worst an excuse for genocide.


At 8:28 AM, Blogger Al Hsu said...

Thomas - I think the steps that Youth Specialties has taken are quite remarkable - freezing stock and pledging to destroy existing inventory. That's actually more than I expected Zondervan to do; the easy way out for them would be to fix the next printing but continue to sell the current edition. It's basically impossible to "recall" books (especially those already in the hands of end readers), but it is possible for Zondervan to alert all their accounts, bookstores, distributors, etc. and notify them that the book is being reprinted and existing inventory can be exchanged.

I have no idea if Zondervan has done anything of this nature. There is nothing on Zondervan's website about this that I could find, no apology, no statement about the book being corrected (though if you try to order their book from their website, it's listed as "Availability: Out of Stock").

Something that somebody blogged about was a grassroots effort at the local store level, for folks to go into stores, see if they have the offending book and show it to the manager and alert them to the whole situation. My guess is that the news hasn't trickled down to many local bookstore managers yet - there were a few blogposts about bookstores being very receptive to customer concerns and pulling the book and notifying regional managers and whatnot. This doesn't excuse Zondervan's responsibility for a systemic, top-down response, but it is something that we can do on a bottom-up ground level.


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