Chris Rock, the Oscars and the myth of the positive stereotype

Jeff Kang | Staff Writer

The 88th Academy Awards was full of controversy and debate, as many African American actors and actresses such as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith united to boycott the event. Such individuals disparaged the 2016 Oscars for its Whiteness, lack of diversity and the fact that no actors or actresses of color were nominated for any award this year.

The selection of Chris Rock as the event’s host also attracted much attention from the public and media as he satirically criticized Hollywood for its racism and lack of diversity. “Hollywood is sorority racist,” he stated. “It’s like we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.”

However, many people voiced their concerns over a racist joke that Chris Rock made on Asian stereotypes. During the awards, Chris Rock brought three little Asian children on stage and told the audience that they were hardworking accountants of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Afterwards, he said, “If anybody is upset about that joke, just tweet it on your phones, which were also made by these kids,” alluding to child labor problems in China.

This joke instigated individuals such as Jeremy Lin to censure him, asserting that the gig was blatantly racist and in conflict with his message against racism in Hollywood. Many people, including myself, felt that he acted like a hypocrite as he passionately spoke for racial equality among African Americans but used a racist joke to make fun of Asians. They were also arguing that Chris Rock’s joke represented a terrible double standard—implying that racial inequality only applies to African Americans.

Nevertheless, there were many others who thought that Chris Rock had done a very good job as the host. Several journalists mentioned that Chris Rock’s Asian joke effectively exposed the nation’s lack of diversity, opportunity and racial equality. In addition, some people even questioned why Asians would get mad over a positive stereotype indicating that Asians are generally smart and diligent.

Although I do not think that Chris Rock made the joke with a malignant intention to belittle Asians, I find such reactions and perspectives very problematic. Here are two reasons why:

First, Chris Rock should have made this joke at one of his standup comedy shows, not at the Oscars because it really had no message; it just went for cheap laughs. Having three Asian kids on stage as accountants of PricewaterhouseCoopers neither emphasizes the importance of racial equality nor sheds light on the problems of child labor in China. There was almost no one in the audience that seemed to show signs of discomfort or concern. Rather, most people energetically laughed, applauded and cheered at the end of the gig. I felt bad for the children on stage that probably did not even know why people were laughing at them. In other words, the joke just did not fit into the context of ‘racism in Hollywood.’

Secondly, to anyone who believes that positive stereotypes exist, I can confidently say that this is simply not true. The term itself is a deceitful oxymoron that tricks people into thinking that stereotypes can be justified. I find it melancholy that so many people expect individuals of specific ethnic backgrounds to behave in certain ways. Not all Asians want to be accountants.

I am proud to say that I am a Korean college student that has never taken an advanced math class during high school, majors in history, writes for Student Life and likes journalism. The so-called ‘positive stereotype’ can hinder people from finding their true talents, make them feel uncomfortable that they are different and discourage them from exploring their interests. One should not judge another person based on stereotypical generalizations because every human being is unique in his own way.

I am not arguing that Chris Rock is a racist who needs to be punished for making a joke. The job of a comedian is to make people laugh and his performance at the Oscars was excellent. However, people need to stop lying to themselves that the joke helped viewers recognize racial problems in Hollywood and the United States. As I mentioned above and emphasize once more, there is no such thing as a positive stereotype.

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