A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.


  1. Lisa March 23, 2011

    Thanks for posting to James’s video. I had not seen it before. In processing what he has to say, I have to admit that, as a white person, I find there to be almost no forum for identifying with Alexandra. If I admit on behalf of white people that “ching chong” is a phrase they we just seem to not understand as derogatory and continuously perpetuate to harmful ends, then I automatically hear things like, “Why are you blaming only white people? Other races use these and other racial slurs?” These sentences were literally said to me after the situation two months ago when Rush Limbaugh used the slur.

    I’m sorry for all the pain this video caused you and others and for my role and the role of white people in perpetuating this ridiculous ignorance and insensitivity. Perhaps one redemptive prayer would be that the speediness and scope of technology allows for clarity once and for all about the fact that perspectives like this, and, in particular, this seemingly never ending “ching chong” stuff are offensive, inappropriate, and derogatory.

    • Kathy Khang March 23, 2011

      Lisa, James’ video just went live today and it seems that technology will work to our advantage in getting the repsonse out quickly.

      I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. Seeking reconciliation across the racial divide is impossible if you and I can’t sit at the table to be honest, make some mistakes and have a posture of learning.

      As far as the “Why are you only blaming white people?” question (and I’ve heard that as well) is that I’m not blaming all White people for Alexandra’s comments or Rush’s comments, but I would like for White people to consider their role in the conversations about race and racism. And, honestly, it’s one thing for me as an Asian American to joke about accents by mimicking the accents of some of my family members because it is a shared experience within the Asian American community. It’s our inside joke, for lack of a better way of putting it. I had a college professor ask me where I learned my English because in his opinion I spoke without much of an accent.(!) I’ve had to own the pain, so to speak, and sometimes I can turn that into some laughter within those safe groups.

      I often feel like white or non-Asian American acquaintances are offended because they get left behind. They can’t enter into the world fully, and speaking “ching chong” isn’t going to help them. They can’t own the pain and laughter behind those inside jokes because they often are the perpetrators, and in Alexandra’s instance she uses the pain of being the “other” to further distance herself and claim superiority over the “other”. It’s complicated.

      Thanks for your apology, Lisa.

      • Lisa March 23, 2011

        Just to clarify, I completely agree with your whole third paragraph, but I find that I run into a bump in communicating these feelings within my own race. Even though I know that “American manners” and “ching chong” are very much alive, we (whites) unfortunately have deceived ourselves into believing that it’s not and that if it is, it is pretty far removed from us. Our (white American) individualism allows us to distance ourselves form every possible connection. It’s not right. It’s not an excuse. It’s a problem.

  2. mark March 24, 2011

    I agree with the a lot of what you say. Our constitution gives us all the right to express our views without fear of state or federal reprisal. It gives us i.e. we the people, the ability to create and maintain views & beliefs that fortify freedom. In all its forms. That is how when I read your post, I can get past you personal religious views. Even though when you start with the Jesus this and pray for that you lose that commonality we i.e. You & I, do share.
    I am sick and tired of distinctions of African American, Italian American & … ect. I was born here In Chicago, Does that make me more american than you?? Does that mean your heritage of being “Asian” gives you some different bead on what it means to be human?? Or does your personal belief in christianity mean you know God??
    More than anything else our fore fathers understood zealotry and endeavored to give us a platform free from terror of church & state. They wanted you to choose a better path, than the ones that have oppressed men & women like you & I, all through history. This is what draws people to this country. Long before the “dream” was bought & sold to an unwitting public who really just needed a safe place to create & endeavor in their futures. This is in part how capitalism trumps democracy any more. It is divisiveness of what is right action in our two party system. Humanity wants to know better i.e. of good and will, to love & remember what is the truth as we know it today. Not keep the blinders of failing religions & politics to prevent all of us from growing in the direction of being “Human” We have Laws for Laws, policies for rules, and look around you do you feel safe In this global home? I don’t. I see leaders who lie so they can line their pockets & find covert ways to hide their true agendas. Divisiveness is bleeding our humanity dry. I like you, and I hope you can hear and come to embrace what I;m trying to get you to remember.

  3. Melody March 24, 2011

    I don’t represent “white people” but I am white, so I must ask your forgiveness for this hurtful, ignorant rant and the people who think like this at any way okay.

    I only watched her video now. I had heard about it but not paid any attention.

    Beyond that I have to go think about this and ask God to speak. Sometimes I am so ashamed of being a PWP.

    — today I am a grieving Privileged White Person.


    The James Choung video is incredible. Thanks for sending that on.

    • Kathy Khang March 25, 2011

      Melody, thank you for your comment and for taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable places so many of us would rather ignore. The place of privilege is not only held by “white people” but when those situations arise, it is extremely encouraging to me to know that you are someone who is willing to take the risk and responsibility to engage.

      Blessings to you!

  4. tiffwong March 24, 2011

    thanks for posting the video.

    never realized/though much about choosing justice AND reconciliation. simple yet profound. i can only imagine what the body of Christ would look like if this was our framework, especially in light of all these divisive/touchy topics lately.

  5. […] chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?” A friend I have made because of the internet responds to the student’s video as a Mom and an American and one of the Asians that the young lady at UCLA […]

  6. mark March 26, 2011

    I really don’t believe you or I can fight ignorance. All I believe we can change is our personal behaviors. Teach our children to be respectful of all people. The further we cling to what distinguishes us as to our color or country of origin… we remain part of the problem. Perhaps I see it through too Idealistic glasses. We have heard the cheap, political, dogmatic, banter about a “the global community” From men with less than honorable motives. News Flash We have been in that community from the get go.

    Do you think God intended for us to know how to live together or do you think God wanted us to discover how to create our own future, as a race of conscious beings, one and all?

    Look to each politic and religion. Have they found a global acceptance? A resounding “No”, echo’s… In “Rome” not the failed state but the religious center, they have this sang that reads as follows:

    “It does not matter what the truth is, if it brings people to faith.”

    Faith is good when the light of knowledge is dim or when we are in darkness. In other words faith is the absence of knowledge. Emotional intelligence, like that gut feeling that is intended to get us to see the direction of right action for each experience,is part of our human condition. Railing on about what “divides us” is not the tonic, “our commonality” is, & is a part of our human condition as “well”.
    I like the way you write and put together your thoughts.
    I object to outdated modalities and social misfortunes of contemporary ignorance of any hue. “Divisiveness” Is not the inditement you thought it was. It is the light that is shining on what we know to be the still too common “problem” of our age and the ages… God did not have a different anvil for each ethnic race of being. He only needed the “ONE”.

    • Kathy Khang March 28, 2011

      Thanks for reading, despite our differences and because of our common ground.

      I agree. We can change our personal behaviors. But, I respectfully disagree with you on a different point. I believe we can fight ignorance. I can’t change anyone else’s behavior through my words or actions, but I can make sure there is a different voice, a different story out there that runs up against the current narrative.

      • mark March 28, 2011

        Thats not fighting ignorance, thats adding dialog to a chaotic argument. You can’t change someone’s limited views, they are the only ones who can decide to make better choices. In very much the same way I can’t convince you that Jesus was just a man or a son of God. And the catholic church is just a self serving entity. As many religions are. If your Ego is so grand how come you are writing a blog and not solving all the ill’s of society?
        Reasonable dialog based on the best information is the only way we can bring about better i.e. of good and will, hearts and minds. Kids have always bullied, there are just more ignorant parents with a lack of proper leadership. I don’t know what all the answers are but, I know what won’t work. That is thinking that your voice in the dim will cast enough light to change the views of an ignorant segment of our society.

        When god speaks to me and I listen, he doesn’t ask me to convince you of anything he asks me to care for his creation. The way I do that, is to add reason to reasonable dialog, like this. Leadership across the globe is in trouble because they have tainted agenda’s, lets cultivate honest leadership and watch humanity ascent to a greater awareness. When we actually use the gifts of humanity as they were intended to be used we will know a greater peace.
        Frank, reasonable dialog without agenda of politics and religion that is how we start our ascension of humanity.
        I want to thank you for finding my humble blog. It is just my way to connect to the abused and suffering with the honesty of my story, next time you come, if you come again, let me know you cared to look. Again, thank you. Be good to your self, it is contagious.

  7. Ben March 28, 2011

    We need to put this subject into perspective. If you were to do an in-depth study of the experiences of Asian children in American schools from grade 1 to graduation, my guess would be that most will have experienced regular racial harassment, baiting and even violence from their non-Asian peers. Most of the time, teachers will overlook this racial harassment or in some cases even contribute to it. This is just a fact of life for many Asian children.

    It is in this way that hostile, intolerant, and racist attitudes towards Asians become ingrained in American society – Wallace is simply the product of a culture whose young learn to express anti-Asian attitudes from an early age. You may have noticed that American kids possess an amazing vocabulary of racial epithets that demean Asian people – this isn’t normal, it’s disturbing, yet ubiquitous.

    • Kathy Khang March 28, 2011

      Ben, thanks for reading and commenting! I’m not sure anyone has lost perspective on this issue, except for those who can’t understand why AW’s video was offensive and are surprised by the backlash and strong response objecting to AW’s video.

      Regardless, racism as a fact of life should not be an excuse to ignore the AW’s appearing on YouTube, etc. Being bullied to the point of ulcers and migraines and depression should not be the American dream I pass on to my children.

  8. g March 31, 2011

    Bravo! Well said.

  9. Jing April 28, 2011

    Hi Kathy, This is such a good article. I’ve seen that disgraceful video as well on youtube. I’m all for freedom of speech but it was really offensive to us Asian Americans so I feel you girl! I hope that girl learned her lesson.

    I hope you feel better. 🙂


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