That Racist Chinese Laundry Commercial…

If you haven’t seen this outrageous commercial yet, then prepare yourself for some serious SMH action.

I’m not going to discuss all the reasons why this commercial is so racist and inappropriate. I’m just assuming that such reasons are self-evident.

I do want to take this opportunity to briefly comment on recent Asian American engagement with racial issues.

In a growing number of American contexts, being non-white is cool, and not just in the Air Jordan, Fresh Prince, Straight Outta Compton sense. Capitalizing on the progressive racial climate of most metropolitan areas, many Asian Americans have learned to criticize white America for its racist history. We’ve jumped on the bandwagon and proclaimed racism as the 8th deadly sin. While privileged in many ways ourselves, we’ve learned the language of white privilege and systemic injustice, and we aren’t afraid to speak this language publicly.

In many ways, it’s been good for the Asian American community. Although not completely silent, we have not exactly been known to speak out against injustice with as much conviction as the Black and Latino communities. I’m glad that we are increasingly vocal about how systemic injustice and white privilege are real, and how racism is a sin with deadly effects.

However, in my observation of recent Asian American engagement with social issues pertaining to race, I’ve noticed a certain unhealthy trend. I’ve noticed a tendency for Asian Americans to predominantly engage racial conversations as victims, rather than perpetrators. This tendency of Asian Americans to exclusively identify with victims rather than perpetrators of racism must be checked and rectified.

I’ll never forget the moment when my black friend said to me: “I can’t be racist. I’m black.” I don’t doubt that he has been a victim of racism, and probably to a greater extent than he has been a perpetrator of racism, but to assert immunity from such a sin is a dangerous thing. My fear is that by chiming into race conversations as mere victims, Asian Americans are engaging in this dangerous mindset as well.

The racist Chinese laundry commercial demonstrates that the sin of racism is just as much a Chinese problem as it is a white American problem. In fact, one might even make an argument that Asia is more racist than Europe and North America.

Chinese people, Asian people, non-white people, they can all be racist too. In fact, we are. We are all racists to varying extents. I don’t say this to relativize the racism of, say, the Southern slaveowners or the South African apartheid. But my point is that we must never forget our dual identities as victims and perpetrators of racism.

Sure, the racist laundry commercial was Chinese and not Asian American. However, in the same way that Asian Americans often have more than just white Americans in mind, but also colonial (and maybe even contemporary) Europeans when we speak of white privilege, should we not then admit a measure of corporate solidarity with our own racist kin in Asia?

The point is this: racism is not just a white person problem, nor an American problem. It’s a universally perverted response to God’s diverse creation. We are all victims, and we are all perpetrators.

So how about this:

What if we all spent more time repenting of our racism than proclaiming our victimhood? What if we all spent more time mourning over and speaking against the victimhood of others, rather than our own? Isn’t such the way of the kingdom?

Andrew Ong

Andrew is a third-generation, San Francisco Bay Area ABC (American Born Chinese). He and his third-gen wife have two daughters and still live in the East Bay. After graduating from the University of California Irvine and Westminster Theological Seminary, he completed his PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. He presently serves on staff at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California. Andrew's a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

3 thoughts on “That Racist Chinese Laundry Commercial…

  • June 6, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the article Mr. Ong!

    I also have friends who say something to the extent of “I can’t be racist. I’m black”. I had a similar reaction to what you lay out in this article. I do want to come to their defense a little though.

    I came to learn that what they meant by “racism” was largely if not entirely systemic, so a person can only participate in “racism” if they are a part of a group that has the power to do so. They clarified that they definitely can be guilty of prejudice, just not racism.

    I’m still not sure I 100% agree, but it was helpful for me to understand where they were coming from and that they weren’t declaring themselves immune from the sin of devaluing other peoples and cultures.

    • June 6, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks for that perspective! I’ll be sure to show more charity and sympathy toward those who say “I can’t be racist, I’m black.”

  • October 22, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Racism is prejudice and power. Nonblack people of color have power over black people due to the nature of white supremacy having antiblackness as the base.
    We can’t undervalue the importance of checking prejudice, simply because it just is wrong. But racism in long term effects a whole people group when parrotted; only prejudice, on the other hand, doesn’t.


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