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Pet Sins March 2006

Miss Jones' Tsunami Song - where did the hate come from?

The controversy concerning radio hosts Miss Jones' and Todd Lynn's performance of producer Rick Delgado's tsunami parody is well-known by now. The song was condemned not just by Asian Americans, but by many in the Black community as well. It has sometimes been claimed that Blacks are quick to jump on discriminatory behavior directed towards blacks but reluctant to condemn discriminatory behavior committed by blacks against others, but the community response to the tsunami song shows this is not necessarily the case.

Unjustifiable and cruel as Miss Jones' and Todd Lynn's conduct was (Todd Lynn said, "I'm gonna start shooting Asians" at one point in the song), I think it would help everyone to understand the reasons behind this resentment for Asians which has been expressed on more than one occasion by black radio jockeys and also by the average man in the street. There is a perception that Asians are the 'favored' people of color compared to blacks, domestic or African, in the eyes of largely-'white' governments of First World nations. The tsunami did not claim as many lives as the Rwandan genocide or the AIDS epidemic that is slowly bleeding Africa to death. Yet the outpouring of 'international' compassion for the Asian crisis is so much greater than it is for African disasters. Perhaps it is not accurate to compare responses to a sudden crisis like the tsunami with responses to a slowly-building crisis like an epidemic or war, but even when similar natural disasters (albeit on a smaller scale) occur in Africa, they don't get anywhere near as much international media attention. We also see this kind of inequality on a personal, social level. White/Asian intermarriage occurs in greater numbers than Black/White intermarriage despite the fact that Blacks far outnumber Asians in the US.

I have no idea what goes on inside Miss Jones' head and maybe her hate has nothing to do with this perception that Western governments are much more willing to spend money helping Asians than they are to help Africans. But I can see why many blacks feel resentful of Asians, whom they feel have suffered so much less but gotten so much more sympathy. Having said that, I am not claiming that racial hatred directed by blacks towards Asians is justified. I am saying that silencing racist RJs (not that it shouldn't be done) does not deal with the real source of hatred. To reduce hatred between blacks and Asians, there needs to be a reduction of the economic disparity between the two groups, and both groups need to be educated about each other.

I do not think Miss Jones/Rick Delgado/Todd Lynn even know who they are hating. I was puzzled that the tsunami song mentioned 'chinks' and 'Chinamen' as the disaster victims when the affected areas are nowhere near China and the majority of the Asian victims look nothing like 'Chinamen'. Most of the disaster footage I saw featured South Asians (Indians and Sri Lankans) who definitely do not look like 'Chinamen', as well as Southeast Asians (Indonesian and Thai) who generally look like a cross between South Asians and East Asians, but still cannot be mistaken for 'Chinamen'. Rick Delgado's image of the Asian tsunami victims as 'Chinamen' and 'chinks' really makes me think he hasn't watched much tsunami coverage at all. He probably heard the word 'Asian' on the news and then automatically made the association of 'Asian=Chinamen' which shows how misinformed Americans in general are about Asians. ['Asian' is not a 'race' - many races live in Asia, and not all Asians are yellow 'Mongoloid' types like most Americans imagine them to be.] I would speculate that the possible chain mental reaction that led Rick to write the song is: "hear the word 'Asians' in the news" -> "immediately associate the word 'Asian' with 'Chinamen', ignoring actual media images of tsunami victims" -> "the word 'Chinamen' evokes emotions of scorn and hatred", which then precipitates the tsunami song. Well, of course, this is just a theory, but I think it can be argued that if Rick was more educated about Asians, he would have been able to craft a more ethnically and geographically accurate 'insult'. ;-)

Although Rick is responsible for the song's existence, it is unfortunate that Miss Jones and Todd Lynn chose to involve themselves with it, which some may attribute to their pre-existing hatred for Asians. Indeed, this comes out clearly in their reaction to fellow RJ Miss Info, who disagreed with the song's message. Miss Info happens to be Asian. The best comeback Todd could conjure up in response to Miss Info's objections was "I'm gonna start shooting Asians." Miss Jones tells Miss Info she's only complaining because "you feel superior, probably because you're Asian." What Miss Jones appears to imply here is that Miss Info feels superior to blacks. In short, Miss Jones is calling Miss Info a racist when Miss Jones is the one who sang a racist song. I am much saddened by the use of this tried-and-true tactic of "If you disagree with me, you must be prejudiced against my kind." This has been used not just by Miss Jones, and not just by other black individuals but also by other people of color to silence disagreement when they know they are in the wrong.

This use of "if you disagree with me as an individual, you must be prejudiced against whatever group I belong to" absolves the individual of responsibility for his or her own behavior. On one hand, we demand to be treated fairly as individuals, e.g. we've all heard individuals say, "I want to be known as a good actor, not as a good *Asian* actor", or "I want to be seen as an outstanding academic, not as an outstanding *black* academic". But on the other hand, some of us revert to hiding behind a 'group' by claiming that personal disagreements are really 'race wars' when the situation suits us. True, there are times when interpersonal conflicts reflect/stem from racial prejudice in one or more parties, but sometimes I've seen people use this claim even if it is clear the response they are receiving is deserved and has nothing to do with their race. This sort of dishonesty and double standards we use to 'win' arguments really hurts us more in the long run than it hurts our 'enemies', real or imagined.

If we make it a point to turn our resentment of racial inequality into positive action for our own community (instead of negative, destructive activities against other people), then we will go much further.