On Asian “accents”


It started when I was in kindergarten, and I was so proud I did not have to go to Bingo class, unlike my friends, because I could speak good English -

although I had no idea what a yellow dog that could spell had anything to do with Chinese. 

(I figure out now that it was probably called Bilingual class)

I am lucky. I speak the fluent, accentless English of newscasters, the dialect spoken by the children of immigrants, that we learned not from our parents but rather from watching Sesame Street and other things on tv.

Last year, a white facebook friend of mine posted, “In order to celebrate Chinese New Year, me talk rike chinese man arr day.” 

And then told me that she was “sorry I was offended” and “she didn’t mean anything by it” when I (nicely, sweetly) told her that that shit was not okay. She said that she saw it the same as doing an accent, like Irish. Or British. Or Italian. (for bonus points, she even said that she has lots of Asian co-workers and friends, and LOVES Asian people, and so is not a racist.)

And when one of my white friends gets drunk, he thinks his “Asian accent” is hilarious.

And I was told by a coworker about the time my Asian coworker mispronounced “Barroway” as “Bwawwoway” and how hilarious it was.

Here’s the thing - can you guess how many Asian people I know who actually say

me rikey

me from _____

me so solly

(or, if you like, the fetishized versions: me so horny, me love you long time)

if you said ZERO, then ding ding ding! Congratulations, you have working brain cells.

No, my misguided fb friend, the “Asian accent” is not an actual imitation of an accent, comparable to your bad British/Irish/Italian - but rather a mockery of Asian people and their supposed inability to speak English. It is the perpetuation of the image of Asian people as perpetual foreigners in America.

Like that time when my family was at an Italian restaurant, and we were speaking to my father in Cantonese, and a drunken white lady said very loudly, “GOD when you come to this country at least learn the language!”

Or when my father was pulled over for speeding, and although he said “what’s the problem, officer?” the first thing the state trooper said was, “Do you speak English?”

Your fake “Asian accents” are not harmless and silly, because at the root of the joke, it says - you, you are stupid. You cannot speak English. You are Other. You do not belong.

my parents have been in this country for 30 years. They have been American citizens for 30 years.

And they are very self-conscious of their imperfect English, afraid that it makes them look ignorant, knowing that it marks them as immigrants. That, after 30 years, you can still be told (in not so many words) that you do not belong.

The Cultural Revolution started in China when my father was 13. He was pulled out of school and, later, sent to work in the fields. (He escaped to Hong Kong when he was 18, but that is another story for another time.)

When my father came to this country, he had a middle school education and did not speak a lick of English. He worked as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, the evening shift that ran until 3 or 4 in the morning, and went to school during the day.

It took my father ten years to earn his bachelor’s degree. He is now an engineer.

Is this not your “American Dream?”

When my mother came to this country, she spoke very little English. She got a job as an entry level clerk. Over the years she earned one promotion after another. She is now management at a large federal agency, and manages funds for the whole state.

Is this not your “American Dream?”

And my father didn’t understand why his coworkers said, “flied lice, flied lice!” to him over and over and laughed.

And my father is still afraid to speak in a professional setting, even when he has ideas. 

And my mother still checks and double checks her professional e-mails with me, for fear of mockery from the same people she manages.

And people don’t understand why I can’t take a harmless joke. Why I don’t think that shit is funny.

No, I don’t “rikey.” 

No, I won’t “love you long time.”

And no, I’m not sorry.

So, please, kindly - FUCK OFF.

(via racebending)


(Inspired by the commentary on this post)

For the purposes of anti-racism struggles, that’s all you need to go by.

Yes, the term, “colored” is not normally associated with Asian people these days, but it was definitely used to label people of Asian descent in this country in the past. We have been and still are the targets of White racism:




Believing the fallacy that people of Asian descent are not authentically or legitimately ‘Colored’ or ‘People of Color’ is wrong because:

1) It ignores the long history of racial discrimination and persecution of Asians in the U.S. (e.g. the Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Japanese-American internment during WWII, explicit campaigns to drive Asians out of the American West, the lynching of Asian Americans. (Which is something that is not commonly known due to the fact that many Asian and Mexican victims of mob violence in the 19th c. were classified as ‘White’ in official records*)


2) It ignores the history of White European imperialism in Asian countries, which intersects with White racism against Asian immigrants in White-majority countries. I assure you that White imperialists certainly did not view Indians, Chinese, or Vietnamese as being anything other than ‘Colored’


Imperial map of Asia, source of map

European man receiving pedicure from South Asian servants

White European man receiving a pedicure from South Asian servants

3) It plays into the White racist divide-and-conquer strategy.

Even a brief look at the history of race/ethnicity in U.S. law alone makes it apparent that a key aspect of White racism has been the classification of non-Whites according to (white-defined) categories.

Those hailing from Asia (as well as the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Latin America) have been legally categorized in a myriad of ways—very occasionally as White, but more often as non-White (e.g. Ozawa v. United States, United States v. Thind). In general, Asians have occupied a strange ethno-racial limbo as ‘Other’ (e.g. the Census prior to 1870). As far as Whites were concerned, Asians might not have been ‘Negros’, but we certainly weren’t White either. Our otherness made us targets for discrimination and violence, and—because our right to citizenship has constantly come under attack—we’ve historically had as little recourse to the protection of the law as African Americans have.

Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming

Massacre of the Chinese at White Springs, Wyoming (source)

Yes, Asian people have (somewhat more recently than you think) enjoyed certain perks due to our ethnicity/race compared to Black and AmerIndian people (e.g. ‘the model minority’). But that’s just a more recent aspect of the divide-and-conquer strategy, which the White hegemony has used to pit minorities against each other so as to distract us from the real problems facing our communities.

And yes, some Asian people are complete racist dicks to those who aren’t Asian or White, but that’s internalized White racism. If you’ve been kicked and beaten by your master for years, then suddenly given a few scraps from his table, would you throw them in his face? Or is it more likely that—as beaten down as you are—you’d give in to Stockholm Syndrome and play along? (To be clear: that’s an explanation for Asian racism, not an excuse.)



Even so, incidents of Anti-Asian bias (e.g. Vincent Chin, Wen Ho Lee) and straight-up racist violence occur frequently enough these days that Asians are hyper-aware of the fact that many—including non-whites—don’t view us as Americans, let alone ‘Colored’. We’re simply foreign ‘others’.

So if White is grudgingly treating you OK, while Black and Brown seem to hate and distrust you, then whom do you ally yourself with? More importantly, who benefits from this apparent alliance?

In the American black-white paradigm of race relations, ‘others’ like Asians get shit on no matter which side we’re on. So the Asian internalization of White racism makes a twisted kind of sense as a survival strategy, particularly if your natural allies (other victims of White racism) are treating you like foreigners and even equating you with the oppressor himself. 

My point: Asians’ conflicted, sometimes tense, relations with African Americans and those who have been historically, categorically considered ‘Colored’ is an artifact of White racism. This means that if you exclude Asians from ‘Colored’ solidarity against White racism, you are reproducing a highly successful strategy of White racism.

Let that sink in for a minute.


To conclude: Anti-Asian exclusion from POC solidarity movements is ignorant, wrong, and just plain stupid. Asians’s current role as a prop of White racial supremacy is not our doing, just as our historic role as the foreign ‘Other’ is not our doing. The peculiar place of Asians in race relations today has been the result of the intersection of White racism, xenophobia, and imperialism. It is a mistake to think otherwise.  

TL;DR: Questioning the identity of Asians as “people of color” reinforces White racial supremacy.

(Source: downlo, via ladyinayellowdress)