On January 6 during a segment on his show, Steve Harvey unintentionally set off a firestorm of angry reactions regarding his controversial comments on a book title he reviewed. The book was titled “How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men”, and Harvey joked that the book included only one page: “’Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank you.’” He then proceeded to hypothesize a second book, “How to Date a Black Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men” with one page: ‘You like Asian men?’ ‘I don’t even like Chinese food. It don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.’ Several aspects of his spiel conjured up a negative reaction – the demeaning treatment of Asian men, the ridiculing of Asian cuisine, and simply the generalization that all Asians are Chinese.
When I first watched it under the context of my friend’s Facebook rant, I found it deeply offensive. Asians, already misrepresented and underrepresented in the media, do not need another talk show host to reemphasize another stereotype that Asian men are not as desirable. But as I discussed it with friends of other races, they told me Harvey’s words were not intentionally racist; people pointed out that he could have simply been ridiculing the nature of the book itself, yet I was still unconvinced to let this issue go as a light-hearted joke. Perhaps his intentions were light-hearted, but truth about how Asian men are represented in society magnified the wrongdoing of his joke.
For one, the odds that are stacked against Asian men are evident in not only their lack of representation in the media, but also their misrepresentation from the countless stereotypes perpetuated by the constant ridiculing in Hollywood films. Mr. Chow embodies all the stereotypes – short, annoying, Chinese man, all completed with the mentioning of his smaller than average friend (the male anatomical private part). And apart from the periodical anomalies such as Glenn from “The Walking Dead” and sitcoms like “Fresh Off the Boat”, there really aren’t other characters to counter this stereotype. So while we should not be overly sensitive and critical about jokes regarding race, in cases like these, this over-generalization could be harmful in the long run, as the stereotypes are used so excessively to the point where they are perceived as truth.
The other surprising element to me was the lack of publicity this story received. I discovered this story by a friend’s rant on my Facebook feed, not through the trending page or on any other news site, which seemed odd to me since, as someone who is accustomed to reading stories on Facebook trending, racist comments made by celebrities are commonplace amongst the ranks of trending stories. Yet this blatant diss Harvey made to Asians failed to even garner half the attention of Facebook users?
As an Asian, the constant stereotyping is frustrating, rude, but also harmful. When comments like Harvey’s are made so flippantly, people listen, and people subconsciously take into consideration these stereotypes as truths. For Asian men who hear Harvey’s words, it can drastically impact their self-image seeing a well-known comedian joking about the lack of desirability towards Asian men, especially with the audience laughing maniacally in agreement.
Mr. Steve Harvey, your fluke on Miss Universe could matter less to me, but this issue is real. Your words as a celebrity talk show host have more impact than you deserve to have, so choose them accordingly.