CBS Wrong to Allow ‘Chinaman’ Slur
Asian Week, Commentary, Samson Wong Posted: Mar 17, 2004
We’ve had a couple racial faux pas lately. Presidential candidate Wesley Clark and broadcaster Steve Kerr naively blurted out “Chinaman” on different occasions. However, both apologized and explained that they thought using “Chinaman” was like using “Frenchman” and “Englishman.”
These two incidents were revelations. First, a community forgave their sin of ignorance. And these two pledged to redeem themselves by promising not to use the word and educating others not to use it.
Their foolishness spoke to how archaic the use of “Chinaman” is. It’s a fossil of a word that rarely comes up in public. Its obsolescence signifies society’s acceptance of the Asian Pacific American community. When used by Kerr and Clark, the word was an empty shell, devoid of racial intent. In a bygone era, the word was backed by hateful prejudice against APAs. Kerr and Clark never had that hateful intent.
Clark and Kerr also were also in impromptu situations. Kerr was doing an analysis of an ABC-televised basketball game featuring Yao Ming. Clark was providing an off-the-cuff remark during a National Public Radio interview.
But there was a difference when CBS let slip the “Chinaman” remark on March 1.
In an episode of “Yes, Dear,” a character quipped to audience laughter, “Now are the Lakers the team that have that giant Chinaman?”
This line likely was not impromptu. The line had to be scripted, rehearsed and taped with opportunities for review by CBS’ diversity monitors. Vicki Lawrence, an acclaimed actress, used the line without objection. CBS allowed the line to be broadcast despite 12 “CBS Partners” dedicated to the network’s diversity -- including the NAACP, Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and East West Players.
CBS might argue that the comedy has license to use such a slur. However, license should be consistent. Since Lawrence on the show referred to Yao Ming as a “Chinaman,” then why not label Shaquille O’Neal with the ethnically offensive term “mic,” rather than “Irish”?
In the end, there are no laughs for CBS, a broadcasting institution that allowed “Chinaman” to slip through its electronic and diversity net.
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