31 comments on “Even deeper than skin deep?

  1. “Would you dismiss this as an innocent joke?”

    no, No, NO! I certainly would never rank Oprah anywhere in the same arena as the KKK, but her joke was definitely done in bad taste. What’s worse is that her prominence in the media seemingly validates racially and ethnically pointed jokes to her viewers. If she hasn’t already apologized for this, she should IMMEDIATELY!

  2. I, of all people, appreciate your insight on a lot of issues. But this is one where I think you’re getting carried away. With all the amazing work Oprah does, it’s hard to hang this over her head. I’m not a big fan of hers either. But her work speaks for her. It’s louder than one joke done in poor taste.

  3. “But her work speaks for her. It’s louder than one joke done in poor taste.”

    KC, shouldn’t Oprah’s history of philantrophy and goodwill toward others have stopped her from making the comment in the first place? If I was a cynic (like a certain “Unmitigated Word” blog host I know…) I would have said that all of Oprah’s good deeds were the product of some of self-inflated and insincere attempt to showboat or to silence critics – while her Asian joke revealed her true character. Now I’m certainly not saying that. I like Oprah. I’m just pointing out how quickly people’s good deeds can wind up becoming a zero-sum game when they do something boneheaded.

  4. “What’s worse is that her prominence in the media seemingly validates racially and ethnically pointed jokes to her viewers.”

    Good point Kenya. Being Lebanese, some people’s racial and ethnic bigotries come out when they’re talking to me. Example of a conversation I would have:

    Person: So, where are you from?
    Me: Michigan
    Person: No, no, no. I meant where are you originally from.
    Me: Oh! I’m sorry. I must’ve misunderstood the question. I’m from Michigan.
    Person: blank stare

    Sometimes I have to smile and laugh to myself when I have to deal with ignorance like this. I wish people with louder voices and bigger platforms can address these issues for smaller people. People like Oprah. But, as this post points out, even she adds to the pile on of racial/ethnic bigotry.

  5. “Person: So, where are you from?
    Me: Michigan
    Person: No, no, no. I meant where are you originally from.
    Me: Oh! I’m sorry. I must’ve misunderstood the question. I’m from Michigan.
    Person: blank stare”

    LOL!

  6. Um, I guess I didn’t see it as offensive because I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing to the English language when I see a word that I’m unfamiliar with. If I was presented with an extra-long word that can only be found in the medical dictionary, I’d probably do the same thing.

    Was she imitating an Asian person or was she simply jokingly trying to read a word that she KNEW that she couldn’t pronounce? If she was imitating an Asian person, how do we know that she was imitating an Asian person?

    Also, JJM (hey girl!)
    How is your above conversation showing bigotry? In my opinion, it’s showing ignorance in not knowing how to phrase a question. By definition, bigotry is “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own”. The person you were talking to was just a little slow… 🙂

    So Andre, am I racist if I purposely mess up the English language?

    🙂

  7. I think y’all are missing the bigger picture here. Oprah’s comments may have offended Asian people, but she’s certainly no racist nor were her comments made with an enmity. She grew up in a rural and segregated Mississippi, so I’m sure that she of all people has a sensitivity toward marginalized people.

    Racist? Come on y’all.

  8. @ KC/Joslyn,

    Oprah wasn’t mocking the English language. She wasn’t jokingly using Ebonics. She wasn’t speaking with a Spanish accent. She was mocking the language and speaking patterns of Asians. THAT’S racist. Even if that’s wasn’t her intention and even if she doesn’t possess a single racist bone in her body, her comments came across that way. If Rush Limbaugh did a segment on his show where he spoke using Ebonics, black people would be outraged…and rightly so.

  9. I read a comment from the previous post about the “White Pass”. One commenter said as long as the intention was in the right place, we should pardon the sin. Another person responded by basically saying we can forgive the sin, but still at least call it out.

    KC, I agree with you on a number of fronts. Oprah is not racist and she wasn’t deliberately being condescending. But when racism DOES occur, not calling it out will only lead to more of it in the future. History has shown us that the best way to eliminate a problem is to confront it. Unless somebody says something and stop apologizing for her, Oprah will continue thinking that the she did nothing wrong.

  10. “Um, I guess I didn’t see it as offensive because I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing to the English language when I see a word that I’m unfamiliar with. If I was presented with an extra-long word that can only be found in the medical dictionary, I’d probably do the same thing.”

    Trying to read a word written in your language is ten times different than jokingly imitating a person of another ethnicity in a another language that you don’t know at all. There were no English subtitles at the bottom for her to sound out. She was just saying things that SOUNDED Japanese. This could have only been worse had Oprah been ‘reading the label’ as “Ching Chong Chinnng.”

    This story is not a huge deal, not something to hit the streets over. But like another poster said, sitting back idly is almost like condoning the behavior.

  11. The “bad taste, but not racist” argument has been beaten to death here. The biggest part of this story is also the least talked about.

    “Now, I could get into the interesting commentary my hommie Malik had about how skin whitening coincides with self-hate.”

    That’s the most important issue here. You’d think that Oprah would be doing less to promote skin lightening creams. Making light skin the standard of beauty with darker skin being a cultural abnormality. Hmmm. where have I heard that before?!

    Oprah was insensitive. I will give you that. But promoting skin lightened cream is the end all of tasteless behavior.

  12. This is further proof that we should never have a TALK SHOW HOST leading the discussion on racial sensitivity and redefining the standards of beauty. Especially a talk show host so obsessed with HER appearance.

  13. “Trying to read a word written in your language is ten times different than jokingly imitating a person of another ethnicity in a another language that you don’t know at all. ”

    How???

  14. Ok Guys, I’m not trying to be augmentative or anything but here’s what I need explained: What is the difference between purposely mispronouncing a word in your language (which, if we’re being totally honest, we’ve all done) and mispronouncing a word in someone else’s language?

    I could see if she did what an above user said she could’ve done:

    “This could have only been worse had Oprah been ‘reading the label’ as “Ching Chong Chinnng.”

    Ok if she would’ve done that then yeah..she’s wrong

    But she actually tried to sound the word out even though she knew she was wrong. I think people were laughing at how WRONG she sounded, the same way we smile at little kids who try to pronounce difficult words….the same way I smile at my Dominican stylist who tries to pronounce my name…the same way I STILL laugh at myself for thinking that “c’mon” was actually “C-MON” (hey I was in the second grade..

    Anyway, I digress 🙂

    So because she purposely mispronounced the word now she’s racially insensitive? Would she had been a racist if she would’ve looked at the bottle and said “MAAAN I’m not going to even TRY and pronounce THIS word!!!”

    I guess my issue is that when I was in Spanish class I mispronounced words all the time….in (as an above user stated) Hispanic speaking patterns….because I was trying to speak Spanish. (When you try to speak another language you automatically use the speaking patterns, as emphasis are placed on certain syllables) I knew I was wrong, but I wasn’t mocking their culture! It simply showed that I couldn’t pronounce the word!

    I think that we can’t be too trigger-happy on the racism thing….

  15. I was counting on the fact that you and KC were actually trying to make a point instead of just arguing for the heck of it. I’m glad to see that. Now to address your questions/comments:

    “But she actually tried to sound the word out even though she knew she was wrong.”

    If she really believed that the sounds that came out of her mouth were anything close to what the characters actually said, fine. I doubt it. Tossing out random Asian sounds is NOT the same as making a whole hearted attempt to know, learn, and recite the language.

    “Would she had been a racist if she would’ve looked at the bottle and said “MAAAN I’m not going to even TRY and pronounce THIS word!!!””

    If she said something to that effect, she would’ve been indicating that she at least doesn’t know what it says and will not make some insincere attempt to try. Saying “I won’t even bother [because this is too hard]” makes the person appear cultural indifferent, yes, but not with the same level of mockery that would come from basically making up a string of Asian sounds.

    I notice you keep using the word “pronounce” as if she made a valid attempt to say the word correctly. Your misprouncing a word in a Spanish class (“class”, as in you’re trying to LEARN the language) is different than just mocking a language.

  16. I was going to sit this one out at first; let everybody duke it out. But I’ll chime in as well.

    (1) I think it’s important to note that while Oprah’s actions were racist, she’s not racist. I never said that. Being able to say “that was racist, and here’s why…” is at its core infinitely different than just coming out and saying “You’re a racist.” J-Smooth from Ill Doctrine made the point well enough, so I won’t even try to top it.

    (2) Kenya, I agree. Joslyn, Oprah wasn’t simply mispronouncing words that she knew or attempted to know. That makes her fundamentally different than somebody like you sitting in a Spanish class mishandling words you’re actually attempting to learn. Had the Japanese woman on the show initially told Oprah what the words said, Oprah attempted to repeat them, and came up with what she said, that would’ve been another ball of wax. But generating Asian sounds that fall in line with meaningless gibberish is not the same as making an honest mistake in trying to sound out a word (a REAL word).

    Some of my international students have names which I find very difficult to pronounce. But they are very receptive to my attempts to get them right as long as they know I’m making the effort.

    One of the problems with Western nations is that we often exhibit a cultural and hemispheric arrogance; where everybody needs to conform to the English speaking world. But that discussion is for another day.

  17. It bothers me when people attempt to justify certain behaviors by saying “Well, its not as bad as…” Regardless to how bad it is in relation to something else, it’s still BAD! Using relativism to justify wrong doing corrodes our sense of morality. Its even worse when people refuse to accept how damaging and dispariging some remarks are. I pray that Oprah realizes what she’s done here.

  18. I think you’re reaching on this one. I don’t think she was trying to imitate or mock anyone in any way. She was doing something that many people do, myself included, when they come across an unpronounceable word. They make gibberish noises. It’s just a silly way of showing that you don’t know what the hell you’re reading.

  19. OK so again: what’s the difference between purposely mis-prounouncing a word in your language and doing it in someone elses? It just seems like we’re pulling the racist/bigomist card a little too swiftly. People purposely misprounounce Biblical words all the time ( which are Latin and Greek). We keep saying that there is a difference but what is it?

  20. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. I maintain that “pronounciation” is based on our knowledge and experience with a language and gibberish is just some nonsensical way of communicating our ignorance of a language.

    For instance, reading the name “Malik” could easily have different pronounciations based on how well I know the English language. Having not ever met you or talked to you in person to verify the correct pronounciation, I’ve concluded that your name is pronouced “Muh-leek”, based on what I’ve experienced with other “Maliks” spelled that way. But in that same vein, “Ma-lick”, “May-leek”, “Maw-lick”. “Mau-leek”, or any number of other pronounciations could be used to sound out that particular combination of letters. Oppositely with Oprah; unless she actually knows Japanese, there is no way for her to see this: 標準語 片仮名…and be able to “pronounce” it. What she did was reach for things that ‘sounded’ like they would be Asian. Therein lies the problem.

  21. “Oppositely with Oprah; unless she actually knows Japanese, there is no way for her to see this: 標準語 片仮名…and be able to “pronounce” it. What she did was reach for things that ’sounded’ like they would be Asian. Therein lies the problem.”

    I agree.

    How did you make those characters, by the way?

  22. @ Cyn: I actually just did a copy and paste from a website. I just grabbed a bunch of Japanese characters to prove a point.

    @ Malik: I dunno either. I’m assuming there wasn’t, since the product was in fact Japanese. Besides, I’m thinking that if there was some sort of transliteration, at least the “expert” on the panel would know the name of the product. She simply referred to it as “a face whitening cream.”

  23. Cynthia,

    I also have to apologize. When I making my last response to you, I typed your name in the name field by accident. I didn’t notice it until I posted the response. I’ve since made the change, but I hope you didn’t freak out seeing me responding under your name.

    Forgive me. I make really stupid mistakes like that when I look at my blog too long. 🙂

  24. No worries, old chum. I didn’t notice. Besides, everybody wants to be like me. Why should you be an exception? 🙂

  25. Dre, Dre, Dre,
    What happened to Imitation being the greatest form of flattery? I think it’s hysterical when black people, in particular, imitate white talk. It’s alway’s “I think I’ll go down to the Banana Republic and pick up some khakis” Sounding a lot like Ted Kennedy. So what! One of my funniest stories (or at least I think so) is when I caught two southern guys imitating me and my friends by talking as fast as they could. I damn near split my side. “Higuysdoyouhaveacampsitewecouldrentwe’refromupnorth.” Seriously, lighten up, we all do it. How many people here have imitated a Southerner? A Brit? An Arab? I would personally love to here Andre’s impersonation of a white guy. I’ll bet it’s hysterical. There’s so much god-awful hate going on, let’s not focus on something so minor.

  26. Even after all of this banter, I’m still not sure what the offense is. I only got that Oprah was making fun of her own self in not knowing how to pronounce the words. I could not see the label clearly, but, she seemed to look at the bottle as if reading a label. If it was in fact in Japanese (glyphs, not words), then, unless she can read the language, yes – she was insensitive.

    As the Angry Black Man, few people pull the race card more than I, but, I just don’t see this as being insensitive. However, I have to call this one like they call the football replays – not enough indisputable evidence to call it one way or the other. I do, however, look at some of the other remarks and wonder how folks think that just because they “do the same thing” that makes it OK. Racism and discriminatory actions run both ways. Those “little” faux pas actions are,by any other name, a faux pas.

    Oprah is wonderful, and I rarely watch the show, but, promoting a skin-lightening cream – now that’s beyond ridiculous and, IMHO, portrays self-hate to the max. Peace.

  27. @ HC:

    What happened to Imitation being the greatest form of flattery?

    I’ve always considered that quote hogwash. At least from the standpoint that imitation in the mocking sense was never flattering. Perhaps if I had a person so fascinating by me that they wanted to emmulate me (i.e. be like me), that would be flattering. But even in that case, after a few minutes, it would just be weird.

    I think it’s hysterical when black people, in particular, imitate white talk.

    Again, I was never down with argument. When the inverse happens, black people are outraged. Now, I concede to at least one point: the racist history blacks faced was burgeoned and cemented by the practice of mockery (minstrel shows, for example). True, this is in no way similar to the jokes we hear about white people. But why make the jokes in the first place? Whenever blacks ridicule whites, it sets the stage for the “double standard” arguments. Frankly, most people don’t have the acumen or the appreciation for history to recognize the significant differences between those various expressions of humor.

    There’s so much god-awful hate going on, let’s not focus on something so minor.

    Sometimes, looking over the “minor” things paves the way for the “major” things to be justified. Besides, who becomes the arbiter of what’s minor?

    @ Freedom:

    Even after all of this banter, I’m still not sure what the offense is.

    After you get through – what Charlie Gibson called a blizzard of words – the issue is whether or not Oprah was “reading” a label or trying to stereotypically mimic an Asian person. I’m leaning toward the latter.

    As the Angry Black Man, few people pull the race card more than I, but, I just don’t see this as being insensitive.

    On a hunch, I decided to check around the blogosphere to see if any Asian folks were offended by this. As it turns out, I wasn’t just blowing smoke. That tells me even if you, I, or another non-Asians didn’t consider Oprah’s antics insensitive, some Asians did.

    …promoting a skin-lightening cream – now that’s beyond ridiculous and, IMHO, portrays self-hate to the max.

    No argument there.

    Thanks for your comments.

  28. @ “skin bleaching”: I’m not sure if this is spam or if this was deliberated posted on my blog. But assuming this post is legitimate and was indeed made by a live person, I’ll respond.

    You’ve put me in somewhat of a bind here. As I’ve said many times before, I generally don’t suppress speech, even on topics where I disagree. That said, I won’t delete your post. But please note my strong objection to the products you are peddling here.

    Although skin bleaching may offer satisfaction that comes with achieving a certain Eurocentric standard of beauty, I argue that engaging in such a practice is more destructive than it lets on. There is currently a negative self-hatred commonly associated with the desire to bleach one’s skin. But added to the mix are the assortment of severe skin conditions that can come with the long term use of certain skin bleaching cosmetics.

    I’m sure you’ve heard all this before and it’s not likely that I will be able to change your mind. But I ask you to at least consider the consequences of unleashing this stuff to the world.

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