I know that I need to lighten up and not take life so seriously. I know that I need to pick and choose my battles. I know that in the grand scheme of things this is really not a big deal.
But it is annoying. I couldn’t believe Oprah was doing the Asian language gibberish thing on her show this morning.
I was watching Oprah this morning – a show on standards of beauty around the world. I was actually laughing at myself for watching the show while doing my 45 minutes of cardio on the elliptical at the gym. There was a moment of dissonance and irony for me. Anyway, the show was highlighting how women all over the world define beauty and about the things they do to beautify themselves.
The segment I’m referring to was on Japanese women and how they value smooth porcelain-like skin. Oprah held up a sample tube of a popular whitening cream, looked at the name and because Oprah doesn’t read kana or kanji she made up what she thought was an “Asian” sounding series of sounds. NOOOOO! Argh. The audience laughed. The Japanese woman who was on live feed through Skype giggled and corrected Oprah and correctly pronounced the name of the product. Oprah then went on to say, “That’s what I said.”
There were good lessons to be learned because even as the audience (and I include myself in that generic label) could laugh or look in horror at what other women will do to achieve their culture’s standard of beauty we all know our own dirty little secrets. The show was actually something I could see using as a springboard for cross-cultural conversations about beauty, race, ethnicity, gender and class. The reporter, Mara Schiavocampo, talks about how she was surprised to learn that Asian women straighten their hair (long, black, straight hair = Asian/Asian American woman stereotype). One segment touched on hair weaves – how much American women will pay to have real hair weaves, how some some of that hair comes from women who sacrifice their hair to temple gods, and how some of those women live in poverty.
Segment after segment there were women from around the world – Iran, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia – who would look right into the camera and SPEAK IN ENGLISH to tell Oprah and her audience about their beauty secrets. So why couldn’t Oprah look in the camera and just say, “Thank you.”?
Nope. Oprah ended that particular segment just making noise. I’ll just end my morning by writing The Oprah Show a comment:
Dear Oprah, I watched your show this morning on beauty standards from around the world. For the most part, I enjoyed the show.
I was, however, disappointed at your attempt to read Japanese. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, one seemingly light-hearted moment as you made “Asian” sounds instead of correctly pronouncing the name of the beauty product you were holding is not a big deal.
However, many of the women interviewed for the show sincerely wanted to show your audience how other women from around the world define beauty and strive to achieve it. Many of those women spoke with great pride and in English, not once making fun of Americans and the crazy things we use or do in the name of beauty.
There were good lessons to be learned about stereotypes (your guest reporter mentioned how surprised she was to learn Asian women straighten their hair) and about class (women who can get plastic surgery with payment plans and Indian women getting $2 for their “dead hair” v. women who pay thousands to have “live hair” woven onto their heads).
But, I found that brief moment where you and then your audience laughed at your version of “Japanese” was disrespectful and disappointing.
Sincerely, Kathy Khang
OK, the endorphin rush is over.
Kathy – THANK YOU!
you rock my socks.
I sincerely hope that you send that letter to Oprah! This is NOT okay.
I hope rocking socks is a good thing 😉
And yes, I did send my little letter to Oprah this morning. I’ll let you all know if I get any response.
In the meantime, I am going to go push back my cuticles, whiten my teeth and curl my eyelashes. For real.
You were linked from Angry Asian Man. Thanks so much for bringing this to our collective attention. I, too, have written a letter:
I have always admired you and all the hard work that you put into your show. You are a great role model with good sense and a good heart. I would have voted for you for President of the United States before any of the other candidates fielded since Bill Clinton last ran.
That said, I am so disappointed that you mocked Asian languages when coming up with a “name” for a beauty product from Japan. While I have no doubt that you had no ill intentions, it is one of the most mean-spirited insults that non-Asians still regularly spew at Asians, something that demeans them on school yards and city streets. Given your stature in our society, your use of this epithet validates its usage to your viewers. I certainly hope that you would consider pointing this out in your show.
[…] in the World?!? – Oprah, Shame on You What in the World?!? – Oprah, Shame on You � More Than Serving Tea […]
I didn’t see this particular show, but I remember another groan-worthy moment in which Oprah was interviewing Tom Cruise about “The Last Samurai” several years ago. Oprah was discussing something along the lines of the romantic sexual tension between Cruise and the Japanese female lead, and said, “Well they have to do SOMETHING besides eating rice!”
Wow, shut the hell up, Oprah. That’s right, all Asians do is “eat rice”. Of course the audience of (white) women thought that was just the cutest comment ever.
What’s with this obnoxious talk show hosts (I’m looking at you, The View) and their decidely unfriendly-stance towards Asians and Asian Americans?
John, glad you sent a letter to Oprah. It will be interesting to see if we get any sort of acknowledgment. Thanks for visiting from the AAM site!
D., I agree. I’m just tired. Yes, there are far more “serious” things, but just the other day I had a kid come up to me and yell, “Hey, where are you from? I speak your language!” The ignorance and lack of understanding starts young, so I smiled and said, “I know. I speak English just like you.”
D, the reason talk show hosts show disrespect is because they concentrate on and respect only whatever culture is currently the flavor of the month.
I saw this episode of Oprah, and while my memory may be fuzzy, I am pretty sure that Oprah made an actual attempt at pronouncing the name of the product. The product’s name was written in letters (as opposed to characters). Oprah sounded it out the best that she could. Then, the Asian woman that she was speaking to via Skype corrected her. Oprah, jokingly said, “That’s what I said.”
Yep, I saw it too, and you are correct. She absolutely made a real attempt.
I appreciate your post, and find Oprah’s mocking statements to be offensive, but I am actually more appalled (but not surprised) that you and all of the commentors above pretty much glossed over the fact that the product was a SKIN LIGHTENING CREAM. I mean, I understand blanched, white skin is “valued” in Japan, but that doesn’t mean we as Asian Americans cannot call that out as inherently racist, demeaning and vile. If we continue to accept skin lightening as a beauty solution and cultural norm rather than a full-fledged effort to deem darker skin “ugly,” we’re all part of the problem.
I mean, I’m not defending Oprah, but I think she was actually quite gracious considering she is a darker-skinned black woman who was essentially promoting a product which is anti-black.
Can you imagine if Lisa Ling was the host of a similarly-themed show and someone came on and said, “In the West, big eyes and a sharp, pointed nose are considered classically beautiful. Women in the West use products to enhance their eyes and get nose jobs in order to achieve this effect. It’s just what the culture values!”
I work daily in Asian American communities, and this sort of glossing over issues that affect darker-skinned Asian Americans (South Asians, etc.) and dark-skinned people in general is pretty typical. Please try to be more aware next time.
I agree with Xian Li. Some of us find the pervasiveness of skin lightening creams in Asia more offensive than Oprah’s nanosecond of insensitivity.
does anyone know what the name of the cream is?
I hope that someone sends you a letter every time you make a mistake. We should always be very sure to point out everyone’s mistakes. That way, we can puff up our chests to show how perfect we are. I think your first few statements were the most accurate part of your article. It must be exhausting being so easily offended by everything. So now I feel great about myself because I just pointed out your crappy article and lame-ass letter.
WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
IS WRONG WITH YOU RACIST PEOPLE
THE FACT THAT A WHITE OR ENGLISH SPEAKERS CAN SIT THERE AND HAVE SOME TROUBLE WITH READING DIFFERENT AND VERY VERY VERY VERY!!!!!!!!!!!!! HARD LANAUGES AND SAY IT WRONG AND OU CALL THAT RACIST WHAT IF NON ENGLISH PEOPLE SAY ENGLISH WORDS WRONG
IS THAT RACIST NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HELL IT IS
ITS CUTE AND WE “HAVE TO RESPECT” UNFAIR AND RACIST THAT MANY MANY NON AMERCIANS WHO CAN’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH ARE ALOUD TO BECOME AND BE CITZENS.
WE HAVE TO TO SHOUT AT THE OR LAUGH IF THEY CAN SPEAK ENGLISH YET WHEN WE TRY TO SPEAK ONE OF THE HARDEST LANUAGEST NO ONE SHOWS RESPECT.
lots of people like Penelope cruz pretend they can’t speak english like simple word even though she learnt it YEARS ago and learnt others much harder one sense but still doesn’t know what car means.
and the fact you hate dark people shows how racist japanese are beyonce is not nicole kidman so stop making her japnese ads look like her
Doublestandard, since you’re commenting on language, it’sone thing to make mistakes speaking or writing aa foreign language but a different matter making aggregious (not sure of spelling) mistakes in one’s own language. Case in point: the word is “learned” not “learnt”/ “allowed” not “aloud”. I’m just saying.