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By now, a huge chunk of the population has seen the video of international relations professor Robert Kelly being interrupted by his two young children who walked in to his study while he discussed politics in the Korean peninsula with BBC’s James Menendez.
If you haven’t seen it, check it out below:
When I watched this video, I could not stop laughing. As the son of a journalist, I know exactly what it’s like to be a kid when a parent is conducting an interview and one party has to hold a straight face while the other struggles to shoo the children out. Of course, my episode was not televised — thank God — but I could relate.
And suffice it to say, watching one kid sucked into the hallway after the other while yelling “ow ow ow!” was simply classic. I have probably watched that video at least five or six times now.
However, the laughter came to an end in the following days as comments emerged on social media where users either suggested Kelly’s wife was a “nanny” or a “maid” of sorts. What these reactions insinuated was that, for some, it was too much to process the idea that a Caucasian man could be married to — and I suppose have kids with — an Asian woman.
Normally, I don’t like to comment on racial issues, because it’s such an especially touchy subject. I also don’t like to lecture white people about their supposed ignorance, so I’m going to approach this as honestly as I can while presenting both sides of the argument. So please, be patient as you continue reading.
To get into it, there’s this prejudice that a white man with kids could not possibly be married to the woman in the video. People joked that Mrs. Kelly — whose name is Jung-a Kim, by the way — was “probably fired” after the incident.
Kelly and Kim are married and live in Korea. It is very usual for Westerners to marry non-white people. When I was little, I remember visiting the former Turkish ambassador’s — Robert’s — house and meeting his Turkish wife.
Someone falls in love with a person from the country they work in. Go figure.
But more to the point, where does the idea spring from that the women frantically scrambling to gather her children is suddenly an employee? Every parent scrambles to get their kids out of harm’s way or to prevent them from doing something or being somewhere they shouldn’t. What changed here? I don’t mean to be too accusatory, but race absolutely changes some peoples’ perception of the gender dynamic.
Phil Yu, a blogger at Angry Asian Man, said in an interview with the LA Times, “There are stereotypes of Asian women as servile, as passive, as fulfilling some kind of service role … People were quick to make that assumption.”
Our own opinion section editor pointed out that people often assume that her mother is Asian and her father is white, when in fact it’s the other way around. Although interracial marriage between white and Asian couples is becoming more common, “predominantly, still, the wife is the Asian one and it’s always rich white dudes who bring a souvenir (back from Asia).” This boils down to a cultural assumption that white men can take whatever they want and minority women should be happy to abide, and so it goes unquestioned.
Similar stereotypes persist for black and Latino women in interracial marriages. It’s a real shame that mothers can’t be immediately recognized for their role as the birth-givers by default of their skin color. What makes people assume the mother is not a child’s biological predecessor? Is it really that unthinkable for a white man to not “keep it in the bloodline?”
A study conducted by OKCupid, the online dating site, found that women of all races tended to favor dating white men. White men, however, are more likely to date white women or Asian women than anyone else.
That being said, white men are still likely to marry outside of their race. But why? Well, maybe because white people still make up about 80 percent of the general population and white men specifically make up the majority of that number, at least when it comes to the dating scene. If you live in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, etc., that white guy is bound to meet a woman of another race.
While racial dynamics are improving, or at least have improved over the course of the last century, this is still a predominantly white country with traditional Protestant values that give most Americans their biases and prejudices. And because of this homogeneity, mistakes are sometimes made, but people sincerely don’t mean any harm by it.
This is what takes me to my defense of the ignorant.
For starters, the people who assumed the mother was a nanny have reason to expect that, considering how flustered and panicked she was when she burst into the room, as if she could have been fired for not adequately handling her job under such fragile circumstances.
Considering a lot of people in the U.S., especially those who have the luxury of wasting their days away on social media forums, have caretakers or housemaids of sorts who happen to be minorities, it’s not entirely unreasonable for one to assume something of the sort.
Even my own mother initially assumed Kim was a nanny or caretaker of sorts. I was surprised, but not angry by any means. Most baby boomers grew up in a much more homogeneous era then we millennials did, it’s important to be considerate of that. If they were born in our time, their perspectives might be different. And that ignorance doesn’t just permeate age groups, but different states in the U.S., especially by geographic location.
Most people in the U.S. don’t have a proficient, let alone thorough, understanding of East-Asian culture. It has only been in the last 50 years or so, with the introduction of martial arts, manga and anime, and a rising influx of Asian people to the West in general as a result of globalization, that people are becoming more familiar with Asian customs and norms, let alone be more likely to meet and/or date an Asian person.
I guarantee that if you ask any random stranger on the street — regardless of race — nine times out of ten they would have absolutely no idea who Xunzi is, let alone what his philosophy is. I say this because I study East-Asian culture, and whenever I talk about complex subjects regarding the Pacific theater — China, Japan, Korea, etc. — I have to extrapolate back hundreds if not thousands of years to get my point across.
This is not the most informed and cultured society, but don’t blame individuals personally for their ignorance. Most people don’t know any better and tend to stick to things they are familiar with. We don’t have the best education system in the world, and considering the U.S. is smack in the middle of the continent, we tend to overlook issues outside of our country. Many people in the U.S. have a diluted perspective on issues of multiculturalism because we’re not as close to people who live in the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa or East and Southeast Asia.
Remember the Fox News video by Jesse Watters about his trip to Chinatown? Yeah, I do too. It bothered me back then and it bothers me still that Watters wasn’t fired. Mainly because his voice is one of ignorance and he spread it big time. The press is supposed to broaden people’s perspectives, not diminish them.
The media often plays a critical role in perpetuating idiotic stereotypes because that’s what people are familiar with. It can change, and it has to. Otherwise, we all miss out on the opportunity to learn.
Asia has a very unique culture and rich history. People squander the opportunity to learn more about it by refusing to go beyond their own preconceived notions of the culture, and that goes for any culture, nationality, etc. When you get to know something you tend to gain respect for it. My respect for Asian culture has led to me to become friends with a lot of Asian people because we often have shared interests in one way or another. As a result, we learn something about each others’ backgrounds.
This is where we have to use our personal power to make a difference.
It’s our job as the educated to inform people about international cultures and civilizations and remember where most people are coming from. We cannot educate in a pushy or condescending way. Nobody is going to accomplish anything by getting upset every time a racial connotation pops up in social discourse and yelling “check your privilege, white people!” because we can’t accomplish this challenge alone; everyone, regardless of race, has to work together.
This, in turn, will lead to a desire to diversify and welcome more people of all walks of life into American society. This is why it’s called progress and not “flipping the switch on racial prejudices.” These things don’t happen overnight, no matter how badly we want them to.
Contact Assistant Visuals Editor Jesse Hughes: firstname.lastname@example.org.