True Americans

graphic by haewon ma

The O’Reilly Factor aired a segment this week in Chinatown to gauge the Chinese-American reaction to the 2016 campaign and U.S.-China relations. However, not only did the segment fail to convey any serious sentiments felt by the Chinese-American community, it depicted an entire culture as different than the rest of America.

“Do I need to bow to you?” “Do you know Karate?” (Which is Japanese, by the way.) “Do they call Chinese food, in China, just food?” These were some of the questions asked by the interviewer in Chinatown while he fooled around with nunchuks and oriental-sounding music played in the background. Fox News was seemingly able to cram every possible stereotype of Chinese-Americans into a five-minute video.

Fox News later tried to walk back on this segment, characterizing it as political humor. But Fox News is well-known as a major network, with millions of viewers, which broadcasts serious news–hardly a venue for satire. And if Fox News wished to air this segment as a break from their more serious reporting, they made a fatefully wrong choice in sending their “comedian” to Chinatown. The segment was unbelievably racist.

The segment, which ostensibly seeks out Chinese-American political views, was puzzlingly filmed in Chinatown. If the objective was truly to survey typical Chinese-American opinions, why was Chinatown chosen, instead of a random street survey of Chinese Americans? The segment soon revealed that its choice of Chinatown was no accident, as it deliberately strived to portray Chinese Americans as exotic. The reporter seemed to only interview people with an accent. Fox News even went as far as to put English subtitles in an interview with someone who spoke fluent English. The segment also portrayed Chinese Americans as thieves. The interview asked a street watch vendor: “Are these hot?” implying the goods were stolen. As a Chinese American, the segment made me feel like Chinese Americans aren’t seen as true Americans.  The implication is that we only live in Chinatown and speak unintelligible accents.   

I didn’t find this segment funny, as Fox News intended it to be. I found it terrifying.

The video is terrifying because Fox News made no effort to disavow racism; they promoted it. They sacrificed an entire culture to score a laugh with their narrow-minded constituents. This segment justifies the middle school bullies who harass Chinese-American students with hurtful stereotypes. It doesn’t depict Chinese Americans as respectable citizens. It depicts them as strange, foreign, and decidedly un-American.   

Chinese Americans are, by definition, Americans. No American is more “American” than anyone else. America is a collective. And this collective is great because each and every one of its individual components is great. The insinuation that a group is merely the sum of its stereotypes is probably the most un-American thing anyone could do.


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