Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chinese Take-Out and Sushi for One

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

My agent sent me an article from Publisher’s Weekly that discussed this incident:

Chinese Take-Out Spawns Christian Controversy

And here’s also a blog post that talks about it in more detail:

The Fighting 44s

This is Soong-Chan Rah’s blog:

The PCS blog

In sum:

Apparently Zondervan (yes, my publisher), who has partnered with Youth Specialties, had put out a youth leaders skit that had stereotypical Asian dialogue, which offended many Christian Asian Americans.

In response to the outcry, Zondervan/Youth Specialities put out a sincere apology and is not only freezing the remaining stock of the book, but also reprinting it and replacing the copies people have already bought. I am very proud of my publisher for how they have handled this situation.

The skit writers have also issued a public apology. (I feel sorry for them, because they were only trying to write a funny skit, not stir up this maelstrom of internet controversy. I’ve been in youth work long enough to know how it probably went—they were probably sitting in Starbucks and getting a caffeine high, and they started throwing out more and more outrageous ideas for a skit that would entertain ADD teens.)

And isn’t it very telling that the publisher who buys my book, which is the very FIRST Asian American Christian fiction novel in the entire CBA, is Zondervan? That says a lot right there.

I understand how many Asian Americans—particularly Chinese Americans—would be offended by the dialogue in the skit. It can give a wrong impression of the Asian American culture.

However, as an Asian American myself, I have to say this:

I have known and heard Chinese restaurant owners who speak in just that accent. That piece of dialogue is not incorrect, at least in my experience, although granted, it is a stereotype.

Obviously, not all Chinese restaurant owners speak with an accent or would say something like the dialogue in the skit.

I’ve been to many Chinese restaurants and I have relatives who own or are good friends with the owners of Chinese restaurants. (I actually like Chinese food more than Japanese food, to the chagrin of my mother.)

Not all owners have that strong an accent, but many do if they are first generation Asian Americans. Heck, many Japanese American restaurant owners have strong accents, too.

Maybe I’m ignorant of these things, but I didn’t see how it was so very bad. Was it the accent? The substance of what the character was saying?

I personally thought the dialogue was really funny, especially the end when he eats it! Am I somehow degenerate for thinking it was hilarious?

(The only thing I didn’t recognize was the use of the word pu pu, which I’d always thought was a Hawaiian word for appetizers, not a Chinese word for food. At least, that’s what I’d grown up to understand.)

I’m also a bit disappointed that so many Christian Asian Americans responded with some hostility.
Update: Thanks to Andre for pointing this out, but not all bloggers who responded did so with anger, and I hope I didn’t imply (with my above statement) that everyone did.

I understand their objective—they don’t want something so blatantly ignorant to happen again—but for many bloggers I read, their responses were emotional and aggressive.

I personally don’t like reading people from my own racial group responding this way when I don’t personally feel the same way, and making it seem as if all Asian Americans think as they do.

I personally don’t like the hostility I’m reading, because the people involved certainly didn’t set out to deliberately bash Asian Americans.

And now I’m probably going to get flamed for thinking this way, but I really feel I have to say something as an Asian American author, who has worked with Asian American youth at my Asian American church for ten years, whose Asian American Christian novel comes out in September.

This whole controversy has made me totally worried about Sushi for One?.

Are Christian Asian Americans going to rise up against me for writing characters with accents because that’s offensive to my ethnicity?

Will I be ostracized because I find humor in some Asian American stereotypes?

Will I be considered insensitive because I make fun of aspects of the Asian American culture, since I grew up in it?

Are all Asian Americans going to be offended by what they perceive as incorrect portrayals of their culture?

I am hoping to show many different aspects of the Asian American culture—people with accents, people without. Some stereotypes that are true, some that are not.

However, are Asian Americans going to be offended by things they think I shouldn’t make fun of?

I am not of a serious turn of mind (and those of you who are long-time blog readers certainly know that). I find humor in a lot of things. I’m not the most PC of people.

Asian American culture is FUN! Sure, there are very serious aspects of Asian American history, but growing up Asian American is hecka fun!

A lot of the things I make fun of in my novel are true not only for Asian Americans, but also for other ethnic groups. That’s what makes it funny.

I mean, my own mother laughed her okole off when she saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and I don’t think she’s even eaten Greek food more than a couple times, much less known any Greek Americans.

Besides, what is chick lit but finding humor in the things that are all around us? Finding the absurd in the things we grow up with?

Your thoughts?
PS--> Feel free to disagree, although please keep cussing to a minimum.

Update: Just to let you know, nobody at Zondervan or Youth Specialties asked me to write this. I'm doing this just because this is my own personal reaction to what I've been reading in cyberspace.

39 comments:

  1. Were the authors of the skit Asian-American's? The reason I ask is that I wonder if they were, would the Asian American community make a fuss? I mean, if an Asian American wrote it (or a book like you have), would they accept it even if it was making fun of their own community? I'm not trying to sound mean or anything (I'm not), just wondering.

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  2. I came to Christ 17 years ago. My track coach was (and is) the greatest man I know, and a devout Christian. He invited me to his church, but really it was his life, his example that brought me to Christ.

    His wife, his kids were all strong believers. During the olympic games held at atlanta, I was in his home watching the opening ceremonies with his family. The ceremony was impressive, and I asked my coach’s wife what she thought about it. She nonchalantly said, “Well, it was nice, but there were too many black people in it.”

    Fast forward a few years, and I am sitting in a service at my home church in Missouri. During an announcement for a new outreach to international students, a non-Asian woman dressed in a kimono (traditional Japanese dress)stepped up to the mike. She was an elder’s wife. She feigned an accent, in which she spoke in halting English. The congregation roared with laughter. There were two Asians in church that day. One was me. The other was my unchurched friend. He turned to me and said, “this is bullsh__.” He got up, turned around (we were sitting in the front row) and walked past the crowd of 800 laughing and guffawing faces. To my knowledge, he has never stepped into a church again.

    When he (and I)walked out, it stirred a controversy. Some were concerned that the way we walked out was too militant and not a new testament model of reconciliation. Some were concerned that we were hurt, and needed inner healing. Some were concerned that we didn’t get the joke, and did not understand that no harm was intended. Not once was the elder’s wife held accountable. The problem, it seemed, was us. Thicker skin, an improved sense of humor, inner healing, less outrage, and a less serious disposition seemed to be the order of the day.

    My coach’s wife, the elder’s wife, and my church family are good, godly people. I mention these incidents to point to the hidden-ness of racism. If it were blatantly ugly and obvious, the aforementioned people would be quick to repent of it. I know that as a fact. If racism only reared its head by malice aforethought, godly people everywhere would have no part of it. It is it’s latentness that endows it with the ability to propogate and avoid detection.

    Zondervan may have asked you to put out some feelers, and my gut is strongly telling me that you (and zondervan) are in for an unforeseen volume of influential criticism.

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  3. Well, I'm about as white bread American as I can be, and that's to the late 1790s in the family tree (with one Canadian and one Hungarian, the rest in the USA). I've read quite a bit of ethnic lit in my literature studies, and that includes Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, all of whom include dialogue with dialect. I can't imagine it will affect your book or your sales or your standing in the writing community.

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  4. I'm just a regular old white person, too, but I did grow up in NY State and was surrounded by a variety of cultures. I think culture is what makes life fun. Every culture has their quirks and things that make them unique, I think. If we can laugh at ourselves and our uniqueness that is a good thing. We are all the same (as in human) but "variety is the spice of life." Most of my neighbors were Italian and some of the things that they would say and do were hilarious. Like the Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. What a funny story that wouldn't be as funny without some of the cultural quirks. I personally think that having ethnicity makes you feel like you belong. Even being Christian is a culture of sorts. Heck, only Christians would laugh at people poking fun at Christian cultural icons. Example, I thought Kristin's teasing about J. Vernon McGee's voice in What A Girl Wants was hilarious, but a non-Christian wouldn't even grin because they would have no clue who he is. Does that make sense?

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  5. I think this is an issue that we need to talk about in the Christian community if we are to be a true light in a dark world. I loved the tone of the apology of the Skit Guys and feel Zondervan made me proud to be part of CBA by their immediate and humble response. Compare that to Regan Books's initial defending of OJ's "If I did it..."

    As far as your writing Camy, you'll see that humor writers can't help but offend SOMEBODY. I recently had a woman write me to say she felt I was promoting an unhealthy lifestyle with a scene that makes fun of those who are REALLY into exercise. She also said I shouldn't have put chocolate recipes in my novel -- and made the theme "When life get's sticky -- dip it in chocolate."
    My response was to first grab a piece of dark chocolate to calm my nerves... Then I wrote a very nice note telling her she had a good point and asked for suggestions on how to include more healthful activities in the next book. So... it looks like the FAC girls may take a stroll after their chocolate fondue party. ; )

    Keep your chin up! I'm excited to see how God is going to use your books to build bridges!

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  6. well here's my two bits:

    as an Asian American (specifically half Chinese) I'm not too offended by this situation. There doesn't seem to be any mocking in the dialogue nor is there any blatant racism in it. They just seem to be phonetically spelling what they hear. Amy Tan did it in her books. This has happened before with other accents. I have seen this used the most in Christian fiction with African American slave speech from the civil war. I'm not saying I am in favor of it, I'm just not really bothered. So while it might be difficult to understand what you're trying to read, it's not offensive. So when your book comes out Camy, I won't be offended at all :)

    on the other hand there have been times when Asian Americans have been targeted by this type of stereotyping. what comes to mind is those Abercrombie & Fitch t shirts- 2 Wongs Don't Make a Right. Now those I do feel highly offensive. If another race had been targeted there would have been huge offense and outcries. I just don't like it when people use race to target someone. I went to a predominately white elementary, middle and high school and I got teased a lot for being Asian even by Christians. (Everyone pulling their eyes so they're all squinty every time they saw me). It just made me feel self conscious because I always stood out. Also Asians (at least to me) can never seemed to be truly defined as whether they are a minority or not (apparently I could never apply for any of the minority scholarships). So it's just frustrating sometimes. Ok i just went off tangent...

    Bottom line: It's about time there was an Asian American Christian Fiction novel. Here here. If I was a drinking person, I'd tip my glass to you.

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  7. As a haole I can sympathize with the whole racist/minority issue but I've HEARD this accent in Chinese restaurants. It just didn't strke me as any big deal but judging from the outcry maybe it should have. I like to think I'm culturally sensitive to different races but maybe I'm just immune to it because of all the racist jokes I heard growing where people made fun of their own cultures or their friends and that person would just laugh and insult them right back. You know the jokes I mean, Camy, the ones about how many x does it take to change a lightbulb, etc.

    As a haole attempting to protray Hawaiian characters I'm not sure how it will ultimately be perceived. They are another minority group that can be very touchy with culture, language, etc. I guess as a writer we can only do the best we can, pray and leave the results up to God. That's the only thing I can think of.

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  8. No one is saying there is wrong in phonetically spelling accented words. It has been done in great literature like Uncle Tom's Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, to name just two.
    That is vastly different when the accents are mocking,condescending, and takes away from the humanity of an individual or group of people. Let's stop pretending that we don't know the difference.

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  9. camy,

    as an asian american male, i found the "skit" offensive. why? quite honestly, it was the genre.

    literature is one thing, but a performed piece where you have this kind of dialogue occurs for any other culture is no good. this opinion stems from asking the question of myself, "what makes the kingdom of God a light in this world compared to the kingdom of man?".

    if the dialogue of this entire skit is to make light of these types of "crank call" to immigrant delivery people then how is the edifying for a Christian to laugh at in a "church" setting?

    the context of which these things are to be performed make a great difference to the flavor in which it conveys. as an author, you have a freedom to set that context, to determine what it is you wish to share, to direct the reader and lead them to a place of understanding.

    so if we are to look upon this skit, then i would hold up that same criteria. if it were in the asian american church context, i'm sure asian americans performing this skit would laugh. but what is the point? was there a lesson involved?

    furthermore, what upsets me even more is the lack of kingdom vision among asian american Christians as well. racism is so prevalent amongst asians themselves it seems highly hypocritical for anyone to really respond in a negative fashion. to this, i commend you for sticking your neck out.

    however, when it is all said and done, i wouldn't want any "skit" published by a company that so wishes to narrowly lay out a take on a situation to be in a Christian resource book. whether it is mocking asian americans, the dutch, mexicans, africans, or whatever race is out there it just seems to me that it is material that can be used and abused.

    to sum up... novels, it's ok. performance pieces to be put out to churches across the nation where there may never be an asian face walking into their churches... bad. afterall, i wouldn't want a "skit" out there portraying american indians as lazy, land hoarding, poor, and shady casino owners would you? it's all about the genre...

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  10. Solomon, I really appreciate your comments. You have a good point that skits are a very different medium than novels.

    I've been in youth work for 10 years, and performing that skit with my youth group would have had them rolling with laughter. But, as you said, mine is an Asian church with Asian performers.

    "What is the point?" you ask. In a youth group setting--it's all about starting the group time with humor and activity. Breaking the ice. Warming the kids up for more discussion. A jumping-off point for other topics, whether related or not.

    I've seen various youth group resources attempt this over the years with many skits, both good and bad. I appreciate a good skit because I've seen many bad ones.

    I read that one, with my own background and life experiences, and it didn't strike me as being derogatory or degrading to me. I thought--still do think--it's funny. I can't lie and say it offended me if it just didn't.

    However, I can see how it might foster wrong ideas in a church that has no Asians in the congregation--although as America grows, hopefully those churces are becoming fewer in number.

    I honestly appreciate your earnest comment. I want to assure you I'm not here to pick a fight--I simply want to reveal my own viewpoint about it rather than letting people think I agree with all the other bloggers blogging about it. I appreciate and sincerely wish for rational dialogue on it.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.
    Camy

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  11. Hey Camy, I found the skit funny too, and I'm an Asian born and bred in Asia. But then, I did grow up in an international school and so I have an American accent. Perhaps if I had a 'typical' Asian accent, I would find it offensive. I really don't think there should've been such strong outrage though because I believe that the writer's intentions were not to insult and be racist.

    I will be reading your novel and laughing at all the funny bits when it comes out!

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  12. Camy,
    As a writer, you have to appreciate the power of the written word. As a youth worker, you have to know how impressionable kids are. As a Christian writer, I hope you appreciate your power to shape the next generation.
    There is more criteria as to whether or not something is acceptable than
    1) whether or not it makes you laugh
    2)whether or not you personally found it offensive.
    I can assure you there were plenty of Nazi's that were unoffended by the holocaust, and perhaps even found humor in their plight.
    There is a more stringent requirement when it comes to Christian writing, criteria connected to social responsiblity irrespective of the writer's personal self-opinions. You have yet to show us that you understand this.

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  13. Camy - I'm an Asian American author and editor (one of the few AAs working in Christian publishing). One of the things that I've been saying throughout this whole skit controversy is that if more AAs were present at Zondervan or Youth Specialties, the offensive content might have been caught before publication.

    The tricky thing, in my mind, is honoring diversity of culture or ethnicity without perpetuating stereotypes or inadvertently demeaning someone's identity. The problem with the skit (and humor in general) is that the genre itself tends to ridicule and mock - humor is usually at someone's expense. It is not the best genre for teaching about cultural sensitivity or critiquing societal racism.

    The skit writers' intent is not at issue here - what is more significant are the unintended consequences of their choices. Mark Oestreicher at Youth Specialties says that he grieves over the thought that an Asian American kid may be in a youth group where the skit is performed and everybody laughs at the making fun of his or her Asian identity. Mark pleads with youth pastors who have the original edition of the skit book to please, please, please not use the skit, to destroy it or return it for a replacement copy. There's more at stake than whether or not it's funny to me or you - in 1 Cor. 12 terms, it's about the members of the body honoring one another, especially the parts with less honor.

    I work in non-fiction and have absolutely no expertise in fiction, except as a reader. But my sense is that fiction likewise has the potential to either perpetuate simplistic caricatures of people or to demonstrate the complexities and nuances of a cultural heritage and experience. The Asian American community has long discussed whether Amy Tan's novels or a movie like Mulan are good or bad for how the general public perceives and understands Asian Americans. I'd say that like most everything in life, they're a mixed bag, but on the whole I'm grateful for Asian American contributions to pop culture. It is far better that these AA cultural artifacts are present than if AA voices were not heard at all.

    (BTW, have you seen the book More Than Serving Tea? It's the first book by and for Asian American Christian women, kind of a Leaving Deep Water or Joy Luck Club for Christian AA women. I was the project editor for the book, and the authors write about how they deal with stereotypes and expectations and also how they find their voice and lead as AA Christian women.)

    So anyway, let me encourage you to be a good steward of your position and role as the first Asian American Christian chick lit author. Whether you like it or not, you wield an immense amount of power and influence, in that many white evangelical Christians will be forming their perceptions based on the narratives you write. I'll be pulling for you and your books, because I'm a publishing industry professional and I know that if they don't do well, Zondervan won't be inclined to publish more fiction by AA authors. But if your books sell, they'll be open to doing more books by more AA authors. So blessings to you in your writing - may you wield your influence well.

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  14. I like what Al Hsu said in his comment, and I think it nails it on the head: "Fiction . . . has the potential to either perpetuate simplistic caricatures of people or to demonstrate the complexities and nuances of a cultural heritage and experience."

    Your desire to play off Asian American stereotypes for the sake of humor is a slap in the face to all who have suffered because of such stereotypes. It is a blow to everyone who has striven so hard to knock down the caricatures.

    Resorting to stereotypes is lazy writing; perpetuating a stereotype for the sake of personal gain (and to the detriment of countless others) is simply wrong.

    However, unlike Al Hsu, I am not pulling for your success. I hope you don't mind me saying this. The success (or failure) of a novel is not always indicative of the its moral "rightness," and if this book, with its AA stereotypes, becomes a runaway hit, that will only open the door to more demand for authors willing to chink-chonk and pu-pu their way to literary stardom.

    To the extent, however, that your novel demonstrates "the complexities and nuances of a cultural heritage and experience," I wish you the very best.

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  15. Your response, along with others who believe that these comments are harmless, contribute to the continued degradation of Asian Americans in America. The mere tolerance of stereotypical portrayals and caricatures enables the white power structure to keep perpetuating them. What makes me even more annoyed at your naïve comments is because you are being used to portray us as social prudes or as the “PC Police.”

    “Hey, my Asian friend finds it funny so it can’t be racist.”

    Do you have any idea how often that response is encountered when charges of racism are being debated? Do you have any clue at all? Whites are using Asian Americans, such as you, as clubs to bash the rest of us down.

    Also, to the people that reported that many Chinese speak with the same accent; that much is true. I’m not saying that Asian Americans shouldn’t be portrayed occasionally with stereotypes but the problem lies in the fact that Asians are constantly portrayed in a stereotypical fashion which is consumed by the white population. The next generation of whites will grow up on those stereotypes and taunt the next generation of Asian Americans. The cycle will continue to perpetuate itself forever. How do you think Asians would treat whites if ethnic Chinese media constantly portrayed white women as whores and white men as child molesters? Every white person needs to ask themselves how they would feel if whites were constantly portrayed in this fashion? Would they enjoy it? Doesn’t Christianity preach the Golden Rule where one should treat others how they themselves would like to be treated? Most of the white people I’ve met in life live up to the stereotype of being racist or racially ignorant; would it be ok to constantly portray them as such?

    If media outlets such as American movies, television, books, video games, radio, and other sources of media showcased Asian Americans as normal human beings from time to time, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Instead, whites choose to portray us as inhuman caricatures in a demeaning fashion, which makes it easier to dehumanize us. If you can dehumanize someone, you can do anything you want to them.

    The perfect option is balance and that’s what I think most responsible Asian Americans are striving for. You, sadly, are not a responsible Asian American and you’re making the jobs of the responsible ones most taxing.

    I keep hearing about what these skit artists’ intentions were. I’m of the firm belief that intention is meaningless because intention is impossible to prove. With that logic, the skit in question was harmless but if the same skit was created by the KKK, it would be an outrage? How do we tell the difference?

    What’s the difference between the Abercrombie and Fitch shirts and this skit? They both seek to portray Asians as the same caricature so why is there outrage over one but not the other? I’m sure Abercrombie and Fitch didn’t intend for their shirts to be offensive either so how can you rationally explain how one is more offensive than the other?

    I’ve never known why the Asian community is having such a hard time dealing with their own portrayals in the media. Your attitude explains it perfectly. As “Rob” said on Marko’s blog, you fit the perfect description of a “scab,” a worker that crossed the picket line and is undermining the workers’ strike.

    I’m not saying this to be malicious or evil. Your failure to acknowledge the bigger picture must be pointed out but if you choose to embrace the stance of willful ignorance, go right ahead. I’m merely warning you that your sentiment is what will cause these “jokes” to blossom into real world discrimination and racism.

    I’m not guilt free when it comes to making fun of Asians and Asian Americans. However, I am very careful who is listening to what I’m saying. Since whites only see stereotypical images of Asians in American media, I do everything possible to dissuade them from these stereotypes so they can view us as normal people. However, Asians already know we’re normal people so I make no qualms about making fun of Asians in front with them.

    The word for today is “Yin and Yang.” It means balance. If whites consumed more and more examples of Asian Americans as normal people, we can let them eat some stereotypical comedy as well.

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  16. Hi Al,
    Thanks for your insights into this, as an Asian American, as an author, and as a publishing industry professional. You add a lot of dimension to the discussion.

    You bring up a good point and make me more aware of the social implications of fiction--and my novel, more specifically. I'm so used to having other people consider chick lit as simply entertainment that it didn't really occur to me that my novel might be taken more seriously than other chick lit novels because of my ethnicity. Maybe I was being too optimistic that fiction readers are completely color blind.

    I had never heard the discussions that Amy Tan's books might be bad in some way to how AAs are perceived. That's a new one for me. I enjoyed her books because so much of it was familiar to me, and I assumed other people enjoyed it because so much of it was new and different to non-Asian American culture.

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I hadn't heard of it and I intend to order it. It looks like something I'd enjoy reading.

    I also think I remember reading a review of your book in Relevant magazine last year. At the time, I remember thinking that it seemed like a book that's very appropriate to the Silicon Valley area, full of dot-coms and dot-bombs.

    Thanks for your comment and insights!
    Camy

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  17. The reason why many regard Amy Tan's books as derogatory is because Asian men are portrayed as horrible human beings whereas white men are everything good in the world.

    Personally, I haven't read her books so I can't vouch for them. However, the movie was very derogatory towards Asian men but it may have been changed by, again, Hollywood which is controlled by white men.

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  18. I think that we have become so adament about not racially offending people that sometimes we lose sight of our art. It's the motivation. As always, God looks on the heart. What was the spirit of the skit? What was its purpose? Surely it was not meant for anything demeaning. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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  19. That's absolutely ridiculous. CH Green, did you just brush over my reasoning on "intention" or do you just speak because it's your turn to talk? The question needs to be raised if people just want to absorb evidence to support the conclusion that they want to believe rather than absorbing every single facet of evidence and then forming a conclusion.

    From what I gathered, as long as one doesn't think something is racist, then everything is perfectly fine then, isn't it? Is that what you're saying because that's certainly the vibe I'm receiving. After all, as long as God knows who's racist and who's not, the Asian person can be at ease. After all, the non-racist throwing rocks at an Asian person actually feels like styrofoam whereas the real racist's rocks are actually rocks.

    Hilarious.

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  20. Okay, I've been watching your comments and was trying to stay out of this because frankly I'm not Asian-American and I felt like if I jumped into the fray many would think I was just "another white person who doesn't understand" blah blah blah.

    But I have an 11 year old daughter who is half Japanese, that makes her Asian-American. So...I'm jumping in.

    We used to live in a predominantly Caucasian community and she was the ONLY Asian American child at her small elementary school. Yes, she was made fun of. Children would make fun of her eyes, call her "Chinese girl" , and speak to her in their made-up Asian accents.

    So, my point is... I did not read the skit, I think by the time I clicked over all I could get was an excerpt so I'm kind of going a little blind here. But, I can see how people are offended. I'm sure the intent wasn't to offend anyone at all. But if my daughter had been sitting in church and the youth group (which is predominantly Caucasian) did this skit, it would have hurt her feelings.

    If this skit were written by Asian Americans and performed in a predominantly Asian American church by Asian Americans then I don't think it would be a problem. But from my understanding this skit could've been performed by anybody, anywhere.

    Your book though, is written by an Asian American woman who is merely writing about her own culture. You're not generalizing about Asian Americans, you're writing a story about characters based on what you know of your own culture. I believe that's different. I'm from the South, so in my writing I tend to have Southern characters and yes some of them have that Southern thing going on in their speech, because that's what I know.

    (I'm not trying to argue with anyone or say anyone is right or wrong, I'm merely stating my opinion. And trying to do it in a nice manner which I've noticed that some people who are commenting are forgetting to do.) And I'm sorry that some are being not so nice Camy, you don't deserve that at all. Because you have a right to your own opinion just as much as anyone else. And you have a right to post it on your blog just as much as anyone else.

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  21. Let me throw in one more observation. I don't think the Zondervan skit book is in the same category as Camy's book. The skit book was written by white guys and was intended for public performance by mostly white churches and drama teams. That's entirely different from Amy Tan or Camy writing about our own Asian American culture. It's the difference between an insider's take on her own experience and an outsider's caricature making fun of that experience.

    Camy mentioned My Big Fat Greek Wedding earlier, and I think part of the reason that movie resonated with so many was that it was written and directed by a Greek woman reflecting her Greek family experience. James Joyce said that in the particulars are the universals. That's why so many audiences beyond just Greek ones appreciated that movie. That's why I love Chaim Potok's novels about Orthodox Judaism, even though I'm not Jewish - there are elements of the Jewish family experience that resonate with my Asian American family experience. (Incidentally, Potok himself was deeply impacted by Irish Catholic authors like Joyce, which is another example of the transcultural power of particularity in our stories.)

    Now, even though I am really not the target audience for chick lit, I did read the Bridget Jones books and a few others like that. And I read The Dim Sum of All Things a few years back because I was intrigued with the idea of Asian American chick lit. I was actually somewhat impressed with that, since it dealt with Chinese family dynamics, workplace conflicts, racial stereotypes, interracial dating and other related issues in a fairly amusing and entertaining way. It wasn't great literature, but it wasn't intended to be. So even though chick lit isn't really my sphere, I'd argue that we need Christian Asian Americans there, just as we should be present in other spheres and genres.

    Camy, you're certainly not going to be able to please everybody in your writing. But what we as authors can do is listen to critiques from all sides and think through issues we previously may not have wrestled through. When I wrote my suburban book, I knew I wasn't going to please all the hardcore urbanites that think suburbia is inherently vapid and shallow. But I listened carefully to their critiques of suburbia, and I learned from urban ministry folks about what it might mean to champion justice even in a suburban context. So you might not be able to address everything that various Asian or non-Asian folks want you to say or be or do, but I just encourage you to listen and be stretched by the interaction.

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  22. I believe the previous poster’s comments on “forgetting to be nice” were directed at me and, honestly, I make no apologies. I can forgive ignorance but I cannot forgive people that defend or provide excuses for ignorance. Tolerance for ignorance, coupled with conviction, is just as heinous to me as Satan is to Christians.

    Delia said:

    “If this skit were written by Asian Americans and performed in a predominantly Asian American church by Asian Americans then I don't think it would be a problem. But from my understanding this skit could've been performed by anybody, anywhere.”

    What was the reasoning that caused you to arrive at this conclusion?

    The problem is that this racist skit can’t be performed by non-Asians. The reasoning is very simple. Asian Americans are allowed to make fun of Asian stereotypes because Asian Americans see the other side of the community. They know that Asian Americans are human beings that operate outside of stereotypes. Whites, on the other hand, only see the negative side because that’s all Asian Americans are portrayed as in American mainstream media. Take two minutes and browse some Asian American activism sites and you’ll notice that the portrayals of Asian Americans in American media is very troubling and how it leads to psychological trauma.

    Until whites are bombarded with images of Asian Americans as being normal people, then whites will be allowed to consume the racial and stereotypical aspect of the community. Until that happens, you can’t responsibly handle the stereotypical comedy.

    This is the main root of why it’s still socially acceptable to berate, belittle, and demean Asians and Asian Americans in this country. Meanwhile, it’s not tolerated against black Americans.

    I also disagree that Camy’s book, while honest, can’t be derogatory towards Asian Americans. As one Asian American activist said, “aside from a few publications, most of the Asian American literary works are comprised of nothing but white supremacy.”

    It’s all about balance. Whites write books with good and bad whites. However, Asian Americans must also be conscious of the message they’re putting out. As Amy Tan’s book proved, portraying all Asian men as bad while all white men are good, people are obviously going to be angry at the racism of their own Asian authors.

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  23. though i agree, there is a lack of positive images within the media of strong asian american male figures, i disagree on the point of the amy tan portrayal in the movie.

    quite honestly, despite the "majority" of whites looking good, i distinctly remember one guy in the movie portrayed as cheating on his asian wife. not exactly a positive in my eyes, even though some people may think his female opposite was being portrayed as a non-communicate woman, it's not as if the male character still had an excuse. afterall, is it not within God's law that one should not commit adultery?

    to that, i must ask the question for those who grew up in 1st and 2nd generation homes if you did NOT grow up with confucian values being propogated without our knowledge? if anything, an "escape" from asian culture is an escape from confucian values of male domination that DO occur and still DO occur in asian societies.

    how many asian men beat and cheat on their wives and think it's ok? my own mother who is a 1st generation chinese american will testify to this... and my father who is also a 1st generation is an example of this.

    so to say that the portrayals in the movie should be critiqued as unqualified would be simply dishonest to the confucian confusion that has gone on in 1st and 2nd generation conflicts. so, simply put, the problem is much more nuanced than people think.

    i can personally relate and understand the need for strong male figures in the media... however, let us be quite honest... there is no "golden society" or "golden age" of asian pride anywhere in our heritage. as a matter of fact, i believe i can safely say that asians are even more racist against other asians.

    with that much said, i believe there is a lot of "in house" cleaning by which the gospel needs to do within the hearts of men... and it's evident by ALL of these posts that it is not an easy nor a simple task to dismiss. afterall, these genre's require a lot of thinking about.

    it's good to note that when john bunyan's incredible work of "pilgrim's progress" came out, there was a hot debate over the nature of its material. yet, when we look back, it's a remarkable work that has stood the test of time, been edifying to many christians, and was the most popular book in the european world at one time.

    again, where is it that the two kingdoms of God and man meet? how can we be light's to the world reflecting the light of Christ? to each of us, there is a specific calling to minister. if the problem has been corrected with the brother, then reconciliation is in order.

    there are incongruencies with all world views when put up against the Christian world view. it's not an easy task to look to ourselves to weed out the problem, that's why it's time to put down the pitch forks and hold up the light to our own problems. take the plank out of your own eye first...

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  24. That's just it. There is a big difference between Asians from Asia and Asian Americans. We have our own sub-culture in the United States.

    The problem lies in the fact that the majority of non-Asians cannot make the distinction between the two. Herein lies the problem; all the portrayals in this skit, are just reinforcing stereotypes of anyone who looks remotely Asian.

    Also, I wish to point out another example of how this skit can easily explode into demeaning racism.

    There is a Youtube video that pretty much runs through the same stereotypes.

    http://cky-brandon-dicamillo-racist.blogspot.com/

    Take the time and check out the comments. With the comments on this blog, this shouldn't be racist either but I guess someone else already pointed it out with this gem:

    "It's not racism unless people take it as racism, and if they take it as racism, they are racists."

    I guess that leaves whites blameless. How convenient.

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  25. Al, this experience has definitely stretched me in good ways. I've seen God's hand in a lot of the things around this issue and my blog post.

    Solomon, I agree with your comments about the Amy Tan movie, and the questions you raise for each of us to think about are very insightful. But I think it would be best that we don't reignite the debate here. When the movie came out, I and my friends in AACF and Campus Crusade had loooooong discussions about it. It expanded my view of Asian American gender relations, and how that is evolving even now.


    I responded to one person privately with the observation that my book is a novel, which means it is aimed at fiction readers. Fiction readers are mostly women (statistically), who read for amusement and entertainment. My novel fits in with other chick lit and romance novels that are out there, yet it shows specifically Asian American Christians dealing with non-Christian family members and friends.

    I hope my book also informs fiction readers about unique aspects of Asian American culture from an insider's point of view and allows them to see many things that fiction readers of any ethnicity can relate to. Things like sibling rivalry or grandmas/aunties who nag single women about getting married as soon as possible. I hope to bring American fiction readers of different ethnicities closer to each other.

    My novel is made to fit in with the fiction marketplace, with commercial and mainstream novels, and to appeal to fiction readers. This is where I felt God wanted me to write. This is where my prayers have pointed me.

    Your own ministries may lie in other areas, other avenues, other media.

    Camy

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  26. LOL...I'm sorry, this amuses me. It's not even about race or culture, people...the real thing is about how people are perceived. I'm white and from the south and have a STRONG southern accent (so I'm told) and I can't tell you how many movies I've watched (think THE BIG EASY and SKELETON KEY) where the Louisiana characters are portrayed as dumb hicks with southern drawls. Do I take offense? No. Maybe I should. But ANY form of written avenue, IMHO, is the author's impression. Can I get angry or offend because someone perceives my "heritage" a certain way? No. Maybe I just have a warped sense of humor, but those movies, slams that they are on southerners, amuse me. Why? Because we're ALL different, even within our race and creed, and I believe differences should be celebrated.

    Personally, I didn't think the skit was derogatory to anyone. That's just me. Maybe I don't take forms of entertainment too seriously. Who knows?

    Hey Camy, tell Zondervan they can write skits involving southerners with heavy drawls and I won't get offended.

    It is, after all, for ENTERTAINMENT.

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  27. Reread my previous explanation because it pretty much nullifies your comment.

    "Also, to the people that reported that many Chinese speak with the same accent; that much is true. I’m not saying that Asian Americans shouldn’t be portrayed occasionally with stereotypes but the problem lies in the fact that Asians are constantly portrayed in a stereotypical fashion which is consumed by the white population."


    It's not wrong for Asians and Asian Americans to play stereotypes but it's troublesome because they don't have positive portrayals in mainstream media to counter stereotypes. White people, including Southern whites, have negative stereotypes and roles in mainstream American media but they also have many positive roles which makes them appear diverse or, dare I say it, human.

    Asians don't have that. Until that happens, Asian stereotypes are always going to countered as "racist." If whites showcase one stereotypical joke, that's fine. If whites showcase two stereotypical jukes, that's fine too. However, the media has taught us that whites have a history of the same incidents and if you step back and look at the bigger picture, there certainly is a racist agenda.

    Whoops, there goes your argument.

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  28. Delia wrote: Whites, on the other hand, only see the negative side because that’s all Asian Americans are portrayed as in American mainstream media.~~

    How's that for a nice bit of stereotyping. Racism? "Whites only see the negative".

    What if someone said, "Asians only see the..." Immediately, I'd hear cries of racism.

    Well, the shoe is on the other foot here.

    Chick Lit is a genre that has fun with stereotypes. Whether it's the desperate to marry single girl, or the desperate to get ahead career woman, or the nagging Jewish mom, or the overprotective Latin mom, or the autocratic German dad, or the food-happy Italian aunts, or the klutzy best friend, or the witty gay pal, or whatever.

    Sometimes, we ethnic folks really do need to lighten up and not think that "whites" are all out to get us.

    If anything, what I've seen in the media has given me a POSITIVE impression of Asians, because of the stereotype of the hard-working, smart, polite, family-oriented, etc. It may be a stereotype, but it's a stereotype that brings on positive thoughts, not like the negative stereotypes that have burdened the black community, or even the Latino community, of which I'm part.

    If we don't allow others to see us as even we allow ourselves to see us--as having areas that are laughable, which ALL ethnicities have--then we impose a segretation there.

    It's like the N-word. If it's so bad, then no one should use it, not even blacks. Period. No one. But if one group gets to use it, it's saying, "You're not one of us. Stay out."

    And that is segregation.

    This discussion tells me we are a long way off from any sort of sense of true community, because we all are carrying way too many chips on our shoulders.

    We'll know when racism is lessening: When skits like this won't push buttons.

    Our church, previous one, which was mixed, mostly white, but some black and some Hispanics, had a youth skit that had the Desi/Lucy thing. Desi with the thick accent, Lucy making fun of not understanding.

    I'm a Latina. I accept that sometimes, it's hard to understand a person with a thick accent and that there IS humor in that. It's the spirit of it, how it's done. Motivation and attitude does matter. I don't see malice everywhere, but clearly, some do.

    There are plenty of real acts of racism. But if we can't laugh at our own idiosyncracies, we're lost.

    And, excuse me, but I've eaten in tons of Chinese restaurants where I can barely understand what the employees say. Just as I"m sure many folks are clueless as some of the Cuban restaurants' employee's thick accents. It's part of American life, this land of immigrants. So, as a land of immigrants, maybe we can cut each other some slack if we find ourselves amusing.

    And I wonder how many of the Asians pointing fingers at Camy have used the term redneck with the ease they generalize about "whites."

    As far as positive portrayals, I can think of some right off: Daniel Dae Kim in CRUSADE, B.D. Wong in Law and Order, Tia Carrera in RISING SUN, Garrett Wang in ST, Lucy Liu in Charlies' Angels, Grace Park on Battlestar Galactica.

    Would it be nice to have greater diversity in general (including more devout and conservative characters of all races and genders?) sure. Evangelicals are scarcer on tv and in films than Asians and Hispanics. And look how long it took to get Hispanics regularly on tv, considering the huge numbers in this country?

    But to say that a comedy skit proves racism? That there's malice and a desire to subjugate? Oh, please. At most, a lack of sensitivity to the hot button issues and P.C. sensibility of our times...

    Mir

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  29. Robin, that reminds me of a tv show a coupleyears ago that didn't last long. Some real estate milieu. ONe of the main characters was a bombshell Latina with an accent and big curves and crazy to get married. Now, I recognize the stereotypes there, but I found her the most enjoyable of the characters. I'm sure some got all hot under the collar cause, "Oh, there it is. Latina women are just overblown sex kittens." Please. LIke anything else, some are. Are we supposed to portray all Asians as bad at engineering and math so as not to blunder into stereotypical territory? The truth is, two of my best friends in high school were Chinese Americans, and, yep,they were really, really good at math and physics and went on to engineering studies. Gee, I guess I should have suggested they study sociology or something unmathy so they weren't stereotypical, I guess. Hm.

    Excuse me, I have to go put on red nail polish and lipstick and a girdle for my fat hips cause, hey, I'm Latin.

    (Oh, wait, I do have big hips and dozens of tubes of red polish and lipstick. And my father was strict and overprotective and my mother was superCAtholic and really did want to overfeed everyone! I AM A STEREOTYPE!!!!!!!!!!!")

    Mir

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  30. Mir,

    I didn't write that, the Ray person wrote that after quoting something else I wrote.

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  31. LOL...maybe I just have a warped sense of humor, but I love to laugh. At myself, at our similarities and our differences. I believe if more people looked at things for what they were--ex. ENTERTAINMENT, then there'd be a whole lot less of the "racism" cry. PUHLEEZE. We're such a smoldering pot of everything now...NONE of us are pure nationality now. I love learning about different cultures and like sharing mine. Does that mean I'm making fun of them if I laugh at something they do, or they me? I don't think so. I think it's called RELATING. I'm sorry, I just think we'd all be better off if we'd all just stop taking things so personally and learn to laugh at life. I mean, c'mon people, THIS IS NOT OUR HOME! And once in paradise, I don't think it'll matter one little bit what nationality we were on earth. Seriously. Can't we find more to get "up in arms" about? Child abuse. Drug abuse. Murder. Homeless. But someone's going to take the time to get vocally "offended" about a humorous skit? Oh my. Turn the other cheek people, and get a sense of humor!

    Oh, Mir....I'm one of those people who have such a hard time understanding anybody but a southerner. But I love listening to the languages. Then again, not many people can understand cajun, so it's all a wash. I just laugh through it. When all is said and done, who do you think will have more stomach ulcers and stress attacks--the people who get "offended" over some source of entertainment, or the people who laugh and take things on the lighter side? Hmmm...there ya go! LOL

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  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  33. Camy

    I was someone that posted on the Skits that Teach controversy. I think your assumption that all who wrote, wrote primarily out of personal anger. I did not but I was grieved that the content was released because the content was not glorifying to God and it was a significant error in judgment.

    Maybe I misunderstand, but you seem to be asserting that simply because the authors may not have been motivated by malicious intent, makes it ok. Actually, it is not. However, it highlights the remnant of indwelling sin in all of us, working insidiously, behind the scenes in our hearts. The real test is the test of love - is the content loving? Unfortunately, it is not.

    But rather than regurgitate my points, do read my post Skits that Teach Racism on my blog.

    Grace to you

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  34. If somebody can't poke fun at their own culture, then what's the point of writing about your own culture? The movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" with George Clooney is one long movie making fun of Mississippi Rednecks. One whole branch of my family are Mississippi Rednecks, and there were even a few in the KKK and an old-school Democrat who refused to change his voter registration when the platforms flipped in the late 50's.

    Did I find the movie offensive? Not in the slightest! I laugh every time I watch it because I can totally see one of my ancestors doing every single thing in that movie. Yeah, there's a lot of stereotypes about poor Southern whites in that movie. But every single one has some grain of truth in it. That's what makes it funny to us rednecks.

    I don't think one should be offended by their past. Those of us who are victims of steroetypes should take the time to educate the rest of the society about what we're really like. Stereotypes included. If we can't laugh at ourselves when the situation calls for it, then why bother? Tell them it's ok to laugh. And that it's ok to get upset. But you gotta balance the two IMO.

    Sometimes I think more cultures should be like the rednecks and take great pride in playing up on stereotypes. It can be so much fun!

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  35. As your editor it's my job to point out stereotypes, racism and cliches -- which I did, and you fixed them. I never saw your portrayals of Asian Americans as negative stereotypes, mainly because you are Asian American and you live in that subculture... I felt you were allowed to make the observations you did because you are commenting from inside. Nothing in the book struck me as a harsh portrayal of Asians. I believe you were simply observing and commenting on (albeit with exaggeration for humor) the realities of life around you, the same as ANY humor author. The best humor comes from the deepest truth, and your book rings true. It's funny, but at nobody's expense. Besides, isn't it good for all of us to laugh at ourselves once in awhile?

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  36. One more point of clarification for anybody who might still be following this thread - several people have commented about having the ability and freedom to laugh at themselves and such. Yes, it's certainly true that some people take things too seriously, and that there is an appropriate place for humor. I'm at a multiethnic staff conference right now, and I'm happy to laugh and enjoy the particularities and fun of being the diverse body of Christ together.

    That being said, one speaker commented today that racism is not merely prejudice, but also the power to wield that prejudice in negative ways on particular communities. That's why it's one thing for people to laugh and critique and make fun of their own heritage and tradition, and it's another thing entirely for people in the majority culture to wield their power in a way that disenfranchises others. So it's not that certain people are too thin-skinned or don't have a sense of humor - again, it's the question of what is most edifying for the body of Christ, how do we build one another up rather than merely amuse ourselves at our own or others' expense.

    Yes, laughing at ourselves can be fine. But when that humor moves outside a particular cultural community, laughing with others can often turn into laughing at others in destructive ways. I don't have any easy answers on this since humor is so subjective. I enjoyed O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I'm not entirely sure that its portrayal of white Southerners is all that helpful. I also recall being rubbed the wrong way by As Good As It Gets - I know Jack Nicholson's character was intended to be a jerk and not a role model to be upheld, but in the movie theatre, the vibe was that people were laughing along with his abrasive prejudicial comments, not laughing at him as a character. And that just didn't seem healthy to me.

    There's a lot more that could be said, but I'm grateful for this dialogue. Thanks to all who have chipped in, and thanks, Camy, for your willingness to engage this conversation!

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  37. The easiest way to see if this is racist is to take this skit and change it so Blacks are the main characters. So instead of the ching-chong-type accent, it was all ghetto-talk with a lot of loud, boisterous expressions.

    In this case, would people find it racist?

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  38. I am an Asian living in Asia, and no offence to the Caucasians here, but my words have been deliberately misconstrued by Caucasians even though I know the other party knows darned well what I'm about. I have a slight BBC accent, so it stands to reason that they couldn't possibly misunderstand me unless they were deliberately doing so. I won't go on a rant because we snigger when non-Chinese try to speak Chinese to us. It works both ways, and tolerance is the key. The thing is, I wouldn't put up a skit about Caucasians trying to speak Chinese. Neither should Zondervan.

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  39. This is a great discussion...clearly shows why race is such an important topic for Christians to dialogue about, and why we've all been hurting b/c the mainstream Christian culture generally doesn't want to engage in it. I think it's the lack of dialogue that allows the majority to think it should be a non-issue. I work in Christian publishing (shh) and I can tell you that it's a topic that few people want to touch w/ even a 10-yard pole. Even non-white people like me who would love to dive in know that we'll get our heads bitten off by readers, and so we learn to accept it when we're told, "Um, that's a bit sensitive...probably not a good fit for our magazine. I wish we could, but I doubt the powers that be will okay this."

    I went to a Christian university for my freshman year, and while we were smack in the middle of a very diverse community, the school was probably about 98% white. Here's the main comment I would hear that pretty much sums up the problem: "The Bible says that in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free (etc), so why can't we quit talking about racism and stuff from the past and be One In Christ?" To us non-white students, this meant: One in Christ=Be Like Us (Normal) and everything will be great.

    The problem is that the majority culture doesn't realize that what they think is "normal" is really their specific culture. Even more specifically, Christians of the majority race think that their cultural Christianity is just Good, Normal, The-Way-It-Should-Be Christianity. So it's a given that many won't think that they're really telling minorities to assimilate and forcing their culture on them; they just think that these minorities should quit whining and being difficult and disagreeable (and obnoxious, unChristlike Christians at thgat). Any hint of dissonance, disagreement, hurt, or even anger is immediately translated as unChristlike behavior. Until the majority culture is willing to recognize that they have a specific culture and the power to normalize it (just watch TV)--and that it isn't the only valid culture, it will forever be baffling and even annoying to them as to why minorities don't just shut up and stop being offended. (And we'll keep hearing the line about "I'm _____, and if someone was making fun of my particular white culture, I wouldn't be offended, so what's your problem?") And until majority Christians recognize that their cultural understanding of how things should be doesn't hold the monopoly in the kingdom of God, we'll continue to be a divided church. It's not the responsibility of minorities to continue to just shut up and assimilate in order to create an appearance of unity; I believe we need the initiative of the majority culture to come down.

    Al makes some great points here, particularly about how racism requires "power." Whenever this idea is brought up, though, I often hear people talk about how they don't have power, grew up "poor" or didn't get the handouts that minorities get, how they have been victims of "reverse racism," etc. How could they have "benefited" from institutional racism? Basically, this is something I've found is really hard for white Americans to accept (although the ones who do end up being amazing catalysts for change and growth). The fact is that the mainstream church seems to hate talking about race and racism, and many people have never given much thought to the dynamics of these things.

    Which leads me back to the original topic (for which I'm 4 months late), this is why I wholeheartedly commend and respect Zondervan for their response to the situation. I know a lot of people would just roll their eyes and mutter Christian obscenities ("whining PC liberals!"), but Zondervan has sought to understand and listen to their customers, and taken the high road of humility. While many thought the situation was ridiculous, anyone who goes to a non-white or very diverse church immediately knew why this was a disaster and impossible to use in their churches. I go to a white church, but was just at the VBS program at my parents' church. While the church has lots of white people (the older members), the VBS probably had about 2-3 white kids out of 70. There was prayer in 4 different languages, 2 of these Asian languages. The thought of using curriculum like this would have been unthinkable, particularly as many of the kids' parents attending the kids' program were not church-goers. All this to say, while Zondervan initially acted in ignorance, they've opened their eyes to the reality of the American church and chosen to act on that. So yay, Zondervan.

    And Camy, I do think it's beyond awesome that you've gotten this book deal and that they believe in you (Karen Ball is good pepo). I personally don't think you have to worry about your books, as most people have said here--because you yourself are Asian American, you have your life experience to go on--jokes/fun-poking that stem out of experience is from a completely different planet than racial jokes from an outsider. (Which is why when someone claims/protests, "Well, my friend who's [fill in the blank] said [blah blah about their ethnic group], so [what I just claimed] isn't a stereotype or racist or anything," what they just said isn't valid or justified.) I think your voice will be a refreshing one, and I doubt Asian Americans will be offended by your characters!

    Sorry for the looonnngg comment. One last thing! I just saw your books in the trade catalog I got at ICRS, and my first thought was: cool! My second thought: Why in the world are they putting not-Japanese girls (including one in a Chinese shirt) on the cover of your 2 books w/ Japanese American protagonists? I mean, maybe they can't "tell the difference," but sheesh. :) Nothing new there. Anyway, congrats on your book deals--and blessings on your new relationship with Zondervan!

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