You know how you catch the last part of an ongoing conversation and they weren’t even talking to you?
At work recently, my manager was talking to someone else and he ended with the phrase, “…that was the chink in the armor.”
I spun around in my chair and said, “What did you call me?!” It sparked surprise and then laughter in the people within earshot.
But this is a double-edged sword, where I can make a racial joke, but it bothers me when others make that joke. It’s like someone not black trying to make use of the “N” word. It simply doesn’t work, does it? And here Rosie O’Donnell is juxtaposed by making a racist joke against Chinese on the one hand and quick to spot homophobia on the other.
Now I’m not saying that Rosie is a terrible racist for doing this. After all, she got her start as a stand-up comedian. And let’s be frank, comedy is really the place for racial and cultural commentary, right? I mean, if I were to be objective, perhaps I’m simply mad at Rosie for not working at her Chinese impersonation as hard as Russell Peters.
Racial/cultural comics are a hot item from Margaret Cho to Dat Phan to many, many others. And despite their desires to transcend their cultural joke material (which after all, pigeonholes people into a caricature), it seems almost an obligatory rite of passage that they make commentary on what it’s like to be Asian in America. It’s something that hails back to Richard Pryor and Red Foxx (in terms of how they commercialized and humorized Black angst), and it’s an interesting phenomenon accelerated by media that perhaps has as much or more impact on how we come to view ourselves than our immediate social circles. In other words, these voices with those faces, do more than comment on Asian-ness in America, they define it and they help me determine who is capable of speaking for me and who is incapable of speaking for me.
But ultimately the part that bothers me most, laughter notwithstanding, is that in doing so, the “Other” (people who are not like me and the land that is not my motherland) have a significant role in determining what I think of my “Self”. Granted, there are many spokespersons (comedians included) who speak for my Self, but the Other seems more free to be themselves than I can be my Self. Sure, now that we’re in the egalitarian 21st century, I can delineate what the Other can say about me, and I can reciprocate the attitude of exclusivism or even imperialism that they can, but by then, I have wanted for too long to be the Other and not my Self.
Indeed there are many chinks in my armor — and so for a laugh, I will take the offense as often it seems my only defense. I will in essence, laugh at my Self for I do not know how to hate the Other and love them too. Race matters indeed, to disagree is laughable.
Thank God that Jesus died for Asians as well, I would not know where else that freedom might come from. To God, the Great Other, may you mold my Self.