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Sneaky racism? Or not?

Okay, an interaction on Facebook kinda freaked me out today. A friend (K) posted a photo of a toy box for a knock-off "Barbie" doll, with text on the box that said things like "Everybody is quick to come to do the friend with me!!" and "High beautiful doll series" and "The doll of the high quantity." So ... embarrassingly bad translations, right? Well, when I think of really bad translations, I think of Hong Kong film subtitling. So I posted some kind of joke about Hong Kong subtitlers moonlighting.

Well, one of K's other friends (who I have met many times but don't know well at all) got really offended and said I was being racist -- she's Asian, though I don't know whether or not that is relevant -- that I was implying that bad English = Chinese. Huh? I was totally confused at first, because I wasn't thinking of the Hong Kong subtitlers as Chinese, or Asian, or anything in particular ... except really sucky translators! The particular *kinds* of grammatical errors on this toy box (wacko lack of idiom-understanding, incorrect but sound-alike words, etc.) just struck me as being similar to the ones I've seen in often-unintentionally-hilarious Hong Kong flick subtitles.

I've seen lots of movies with subtitles. I've read lots of books in translation. But it's only been the Hong Kong flicks that had the really amusing subtitle problems. It's only the Hong Kong flicks that sounded remotely like the language on this toy box. (I've seen some similar wackiness in anime subtitling upon occasion, but usually only on bootlegs, and it isn't nearly as common. In Hong Kong flicks, it's pretty much omnipresent.) So when I saw the humorous language, I thought of Hong Kong movie subtitles. So the connection between one example of humorously bad translation and another example (well, entire genre, really) of humorously bad translation didn't have anything to do with race in my head.

But when I said so, K's friend persisted in insisting that my thinking was racist. I don't know if I explained myself very well, it being a conversation conducted entirely through Facebook comments, but it left me feeling unsettled.

Racism (and homophobia, and sexism, and weightism, and all other forms of discrimination/prejudice/bigotry) is a *very* important issue to me. I mean, maybe *the* most important issue in my life. So when someone accuses me of being racist (as has happened maybe twice before in my life), my first reaction is to vehemently deny it, and my second reaction is to look within myself to see if the other person might have a point, because if there's racism in my heart, then I want to root it out. I want to shine a bright light on it, expose its wrongness, and find a more open-minded way of looking at the issue.

I really don't think I was being racist in this situation, but K's friend got me thinking. It hurts me *a lot* to be accused of something like this. I don't want it to be true. I'm pretty sure it isn't. If you feel you might better understand K's friend's perspective than I do, please do speak up. I'm totally open to discussing this.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 3rd, 2011 05:09 am (UTC)
This is such a loaded issue. I almost feel like everyone is racist in some way. We all make assumptions, and someone, somewhere is bound to be offended by some of them.

It's even hard for me to explain, but I feel like a lot of people think that there isn't a lot of Asian racism around, but the truth is that there are plenty of assumptions people make about Asians that are racist. It's just that these assumptions are mostly positive (like, all Asians are smart, etc.) so a lot of people don't see that as racism. I mention this, mostly because, I think the Asians I know who seem to be, I don't know, more militant about their correction of people, may be are subconsciously trying to combat that. If that makes any sense.

One of the big negative things is the whole English as a second language thing. I know some people who are super sensitive about that (especially because a lot of people only think of Asians as Chinese or Japanese and forget about the rest of us).

That being said, I don't think you were being racist. I see what you mean. And I have had plenty of moments where I have seen bad grammar and thought something like - "that totally reminds me of karoake!" because my parents and sister-n-law have a lot of karaoke discs/songs that are from Asia and so half the lyrics are wrong, lol. Wrong in a very specifically Asian way (like you mean with the Hong Kong films) It always makes me laugh. But like I said I know plenty of people who would be offended by that.

I think, like I said, there is always someone, somewhere who can or will be offended by something you say or do.

Not to say that there isn't genuine racism out there. Definitely there is. But I know that wasn't your intent, and maybe it's just the fact that I "know" you, but I have never thought of you as racist in any way. I guess the difference to me is that I don't believe you think all Asians are bad English speakers/writers. If you did, and if that was what you meant, then yes, it would be right to call you racist. But that wasn't.

I'll give you a short example of something I heard a DJ on the radio talking about the other day. She said that she loved gambling with Asians because "they were great. so funny and hilarious" She said that if you play black jack with Asians and they are afraid to bust or something, they say "monkey" over and over again. (Which I have never heard in my entire life.) And then she said "but they have to be real Asians".

To me, that is an example of a stupid person who is racist without even realizing that she is. She told the other DJ with her that he should go to any of the casinos and find a Black Jack table with Asians and he would see because they all do that, every time.

*That* is racist. She actually believes that.

Your joke? Not so much.
Feb. 3rd, 2011 06:24 am (UTC)
I'm really frustrated by this situation. I am very open to other points of view and learning things about my self so that I can become a better person, but I feel like this woman just isn't even listening to me. I need to think about this some more.
Feb. 3rd, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC)
Probably best not to worry so much about what this person thinks. She's just someone on the internet who is judging you based on one sentence. Hardly fair is it? She doesn't really know you.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
She's actually a RL friend of a very close friend. I've met her many times over the last 20 years or so, though I certainly wouldn't say that I know her well. But I did think I had a basic feel for her personality before this, so it was rather shocking!
Feb. 5th, 2011 07:45 am (UTC)
That just makes it worse doesn't it? She knows you in real life and she still thinks you are seriously being racist. I still say it's best not to worry about what this person thinks and that she is judging you too harshly based on one sentence.
Feb. 5th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC)
I agree. Unfortunately, I will almost certainly encounter her at future social events. But, like I said, we've never been particularly close, so it should be easy to just avoid her.
Feb. 8th, 2011 05:47 am (UTC)
Sometimes people just aren't meant to be friends. *shrug*

Ignoring is probably the best solution.
Feb. 3rd, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
I got very annoyed with a mom at Mimi's preschool this week. Since it's Chinese New Year, her classroom is having a potluck on Thursday. The mom was in charge of telling parents about it and asking them to bring something, and her message said (emphasis mine)...

"Please see the sign-up list in the Mallard classroom for potluck options. Parade will begin at 11:30AM and will be followed by the potluck lunch (please pack a lunch for your child this day-in case they don't like the food)."

We've had potlucks in class before but this is the first time anybody has suggested bringing a lunch in in case the kid won't eat the food! I found the assumption kind of offensive. Then again, I do have the child who lives on cheese. Maybe her kid is the same way. Still, it's bad enough when kids refuse to try anything unfamiliar. Why should we parents encourage that "'strange' food = yuck" mentality?

Anyway, even though I was offended, I have not said anything to the mom (or even the teachers yet) but I did make a point of telling Mimi that there was going to be a yummy lunch.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
Huh. That kind of suggestion makes perfect sense to me (given how picky some kids can be), but only if it's given for *every* potluck. Do different people do the announcements each time? Maybe this mom just has pickier kids, and therefore is more aware of such potential problems, and wants to save both parents and kids some food-related drama? I mean, maybe this particular mom would have given that suggestion regardless of what kind of food was involved. But if this same person has made other announcements for other kinds of food and *not* included this caution, then I'd be mad, too.

But I agree that the automatic assumption that kids will refuse to eat something is disheartening. Childhood is all about trying new stuff, right?
Feb. 4th, 2011 11:13 am (UTC)
I think the attitude in Europe is very different toward people who don't speak a language perfectly than it is in America - which is no surprise, since just about everyone has neighboring countries with different languages. I am far from perfect in German (in fact, I can't say a single word without people not only knowing that I'm not a native speaker, but also knowing that I'm American, due to our different vowel pronunciation), but rarely feel that people are judging me for it. The majority of people that I see on a daily basis don't speak English as a first language, and make mistakes, but I'm happy that were able to communicate.

I do think that weird translations are funny. Why shouldn't they be? But I don't think that there is anything wrong with people for not getting a translation right (sometimes, I do think a company should shell out the money to get a decent translation, though!)

There's a difference between noticing that someone said something incorrect (funny or not) and thinking badly about the person because of it.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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