Fox News Showed Us the Long Road Ahead Towards Addressing Cultural Misappropriation
My grandmother may be over 80, but to her, there is something off about the epicenter of Los Angeles. She hides in her small flat, and only on occasional family trips where my family drives down to LA does she venture out in floppy sun visor and sunglasses. Having lived in the U.S. during the height of racial tension and conflict, she still senses patriotic judgment via her propensity for assimilation to American culture, and an uneasy sense of passive racial stereotyping.
That’s why I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting through Fox News’ “Watters’ World” segment on Chinatown. Not only does the blatantly misinformed mix of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultures misappropriate the distinct cultures of Asia, the Chinese American community was done a disservice by reinforcing the trope of an isolated community cut off from the workings of American society. Throughout the segment, Watters embarrassed nonnative English speakers, Chinese elders, and hardworking shopkeepers on live television. While his reporting could have been used to gather the political opinions of Chinese Americans—an often neglected group in American politics whose growing demographics are quickly making up a large amount of the electorate—instead, he drew on stereotypes to make fun of Chinese culture, and reinforced the notion that Chinese Americans are detached from American politics, even though “in the last three election cycles [since October 2016], the number of Asian American voters grew by more than 600,000 in each cycle” (NAA Survey).
In Watters’ alternate “world,” Chinese Americans have been reduced to the curators of knockoff timepieces, and a yellow blur indistinguishable from other richly diverse Asian cultures. In one section, Watters asks Chinese Americans if they were upset that “Trump has been beating up on China during the [presidential] debate.” Though some Chinese Americans are proud of their Chinese heritage and still consider themselves as nationals of both America and China, Watters’ assumption that all Chinese Americans are still tethered to China shows the passive racism that exists in America; why not ask white Americans if they still feel tied to their European roots? It often feels as if American means black or white; jet-black hair is an immediate indicator of “foreigner,” or “alien,” harkening back to the days of Chinese exclusion that passively haunts social expectations today.
Thus, even though Watters sprinkles mollifying segments that look culturally correct, seemingly showing his understanding of the rudimentary basics of what the Chinese zodiac calendar is, the light heartedness fails to mask the offensive nature of his segment. His piece serves as a euphemism for inherent racism, driven by either a xenophobic temperament, or—even more frighteningly—obliviousness of the racism harbored in this so called “light comedy piece.” Because of Watters, we take steps away from cultural understanding and thoughtful exploration into the oft neglected Chinese American electorate. Perhaps someday, my grandmother would be able to walk the streets knowing that she is accepted as an American, and respected as a person of proud Chinese heritage.