Friday, October 12, 2012

Racist Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu was on the David Letterman show tonight and said that she doesn’t run outdoors because then, she would get dark and start looking Filipina.  She then followed this up by saying that this won’t “match.”*

It isn’t so much the fact that Liu expressed such abhorrent sentiments on national television that bothers me.  Rather, it’s the way she didn’t think it was a big deal to make these glib observations that irks.  It’s almost as though Liu felt that what she was expressing was a sentiment that was so pervasive that saying that looking dark was a mark of inferiority and thereby insinuating that those who are comparatively darker skinned are ugly was just, you know, telling it like it is.

Sadly, Liu’s thoughts are far from being anomalous. I spent my formative years in Hong Kong and trust me, I know from painful personal experience that these ideas are out there.  Also, after interviewing different Filipina and Indonesian migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and Singapore, it struck me just how accepted it is to judge people’s worthiness based on skin tone.  In these cases, migrant domestic workers’ skin tone was seen as valid criteria for determining their employment.  More than one migrant domestic worker I interviewed told me that their recruitment agencies, spurred by prospective employers, prioritized the hiring of lighter skinned Filipinas and Indonesians, with one woman even telling me that her employer rationalized this by saying that hiring someone with dark skin “will scare the children.”   Others told me that their employers in Hong Kong and Singapore saw Filipinas and Indonesians’ dark skin as a sign of poverty and dirtiness; indeed, their employers’ rules that insist that their clothes are washed separately from other household members’ clothes because employers didn’t want their ‘dirt’ to literally rub into other people’s clothes is a direct manifestation of how employers fear being contaminated by dark skin.  All of this shows how value is tied into class and gender as well as to race and to color.

Although I doubt whether these sentiments are freely expressed in North America (the Lucy Liu incident being an exception, of course), this doesn’t mean that perceived racial hierarchies among different Asian groups don’t exist.  Although it would be tempting to assume that the immigration experience binds different groups of Asians together, if anything, it almost seems as though these divisions are hardened in the diaspora. In fact, Asian racism against Asians is so commonplace in North America that entire stereotypes about how “Asians hate other Asians” have become a standard trope that comics such as Russell Peters incorporate this in their acts.  His classic piece on how Indo-Canadians compete with Chinese-Canadians when it comes to bargain hunting is a brilliant example of how different Asian groups are suspicious of each other. 

My own experiences with attempts to form Asian-Canadian solidarity coalitions in Canada show that sadly, we are still a long way away from trying to work in solidarity with each other to achieve common economic, political, and social goals.  A lot of Asian-Canadian organizations fight against each other, not only for the very limited resources that are available to support their work, but also for recognition. For instance, though I initially participated in the discussions among different Asian Canadian groups on forming a unified “Asian Canadian” response to the notorious MacLeans magazine article on universities being “too Asian,” I, as well as many others, were soon disgruntled.  Not only was “Asian Canadian” coded as being “Chinese Canadian” and “Korean Canadian” to the exclusion of other Asian groups, attempts to engage in dialogue across these different groupings were thwarted because only certain voices and certain perspectives were being prioritized; heck, a lot of the correspondence that was sent on our list-serves were written in Chinese, making it inaccessible for those who could not read Chinese characters!   What experiences of “Asian Canadians” are then being privileged and being seen as the norm? 

Consequently, Liu’s sentiments deriding Filipinos for being dark makes sense when you see these in the broader context of how different Asian groups are socialized into distrusting and excluding each other and, yes, ranking each other on the basis of arbitrary criteria like skin tone. 

*Shout-out to DSS for telling me about this!


  1. iluvhsj93 reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
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  3. pyrolynx reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
  4. fyfilipinopride reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
  5. entegegenwartigung reblogged this from crossedwires and added:
  6. iarnasoldat reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
  7. elledeparis reblogged this from drunkonaether and added:
    Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? How are going to compare the plight of the millions of people with dark skin...
  8. drunkonaether reblogged this from elledeparis and added:
    First off I didn’t say racism doesn’t exist. I never said nor did I pretend the world revolved around me. I said that...
  9. livviedoo reblogged this from cali-khalessi and added:
    all of the above. shit.
  10. feorin reblogged this from crylightprincess-moved
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  17. aguhon reblogged this from mswyrr
  18. me13in reblogged this from mswyrr and added:
  19. i-gloriana reblogged this from mswyrr and added:
    #lucy liu #as a woman with white privilege i have no right to judge liu’s behavior #but neither do i want to ignore it...
  20. mswyrr reblogged this from crossedwires
  21. crossedwires reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
  22. makibakamoments reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
  23. bluelads23 reblogged this from gradstudentdrone and added:
    Seriously I’m Filipina and I’m not even hurt.
  24. carmela-balboa reblogged this from gradstudentdrone
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