Thursday, January 5, 2016
In July 2013, Asiana Airlines flight 214 crashed on its final approach to San Francisco Airport, killing three teenaged girls. In the aftermath, one particular news report went viral: the names of the pilots were revealed, except they were all clearly fake, and (as though a name like Sum Ting Wong isn’t enough of a clue) they were unfortunately very racist, too.
That someone would make this joke and broadcast it is no great surprise. The producers were ultimately fired.
What did surprise me, however, were the people who found it funny. One person, a well-known media personality, reposted it with the comment “OMG this is hilarious, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life!”
“Really? These seem like pretty negative stereotypes to me,” I quipped.
I was trying to be considerate. I know him to come from a family of unapologetic card-carrying Lefties. He attends protests and we’ve had many conversations about marriage equality, globalism, animal conservation and climate change… but racism? I couldn’t say with certainty that we’d spoken about it, so in fairness I shouldn’t really assume.
“I wasn’t laughing AT the joke,” he responded, “I was laughing that it was made at all, and allowed to go so far.”
Yikes. Even in text, it was clearly a lie; about as convincing as my son trying to talk his way out of trouble.
Another equally prominent journalist (also left-leaning, incidentally, but less so) jumped to his defence, saying the Japanese used to make fun of his name, so it should be okay to make fun of them in return.
I resisted the urge to point out that Asiana Airlines is South Korean, the victims were Chinese, and the Japanese had nothing to do with it.
As debate rages around the appropriateness of Section 18C of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, and anxiety builds around the treatment of refugees and the impending inauguration of Donald Trump in the US, this little anecdote reminds me that racism comes from both sides of politics.
About this picture: when either side of politics seems too extreme, sitting in the middle is more like sitting on this chair. Or at least I think it’s a chair.