SNL excited us with Bowen Yang, but the news of the show’s first Asian-American cast member lasted about as long as a Venus sunny day. Within hours, audio from Shane Gillis, another newly casted SNL member, surfaced and clouded over our victory parade.
Check out his comments on full display here:
Gillis quickly apologized after the video went viral, but the incident offered an opportunity to discuss an under-spoken topic: Bigotry against Asians is more acceptable in America than most marginalized groups. Had Gillis said the N-word, the F-word, an anti-Semitic word, he would’ve been fired and deservingly so. Gillis’ apology didn’t even feel needed; and it reminds many Asians of the reality of Oppression Olympics.
I have been told many times by white, Latinos, blacks and yes, other Asians, that Asians are a privileged group. “Chink” is like “cracker”. It shouldn’t be said, they explained, but it’s also not that bad. They use that damning misleading statistic that the median Asian income is higher than all races and, therefore, it’s okay to talk shit about us. In an age of diversity and wokeness, “Asian humor” is still created by many non-Asian people (mostly white) or Asians who cater to a white audience’s stereotypes of Asians (Dr. Ken Jeong). Shane Gillis isn’t the root of this problem; he sells comedy to white people and this is what his audience wants. The real question is, is that the kind of audience SNL wants when they had decided to keep him? This decision reminds many Asians who have experienced racism in the workplace, only to find their non-Asian/white co-workers “warned” or given a slap on the wrist.
The reality is this: black audiences will boycott when racism is done. Same for Latinos and the LGBTQ communities. Rightfully so. These groups know a truth that Asian-Americans have yet to learn: no one else will fight your battles as hard as your own. SNL knows it can survive the Gillis hiring because there will be no boycott, much like many know that you can shout racist slurs at Asians and not fear consequences.
Reactions from several prominent members of the Asian community have been mixed between soft slaps to hard truths. One in particular disappointed me. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang remarked, “I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots.” I preferred that Yang mentioned the disturbing frequency of how Asians are used in cheap shots, rather than imply that all marginalized groups are equally given cheap shots. It was a good opportunity to spotlight our community’s voice and instead he chose a more mainstream, one-size-fits-all answer. Yang also insisted that Gillis shouldn’t lose his job, an opinion I highly disagree (to be fair, Yang did offer a sit down with him). Bowen Yang’s hiring means little to Asian-Americans if Gillis’ past comments and half-hearted apologies are allowed to slide. This would be a shame because Bowen Yang’s casting now looks like it was done for pure optics. At best, my excitement for watching him is tainted when Gillis shares the stage with him.
As an Asian, I’ve experienced too many times when non-Asian people can say whatever they want to my face. I know this happens to other marginalized group, although I do see a slight evolution with many other groups in that people are using more coded language and even catching themselves when saying something bigoted. This still isn’t true for many Asians in 2019. I don’t understand why it’s still okay for us to be called “those people”. If we’re going to be living in a new era where respecting diversity matters, it’s high time we all get to the finish line together. Asians have been left behind. We are not “more privileged”; we simply don’t fight back enough. Words like “chink” and “gook” should not be acceptable as much as any other slur.
Like Asian-American stories? Please consider giving my novel Asians Don’t Date a chance. Now available on Amazon. Thank you.