We’ve been diving into Faith and Race at Quest lately, with the second in a three part class last night, and our conference quickly approaching. This past week, a situation with Christian publishers Zondervan and (white) authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite has lit up the blogosphere. Much of the initial attention came from Dr. Soong Chan Rah, the North Park prof and ECC minister who will be speaking in the upcoming conference.
So what’s the deal?
Mike and Jud have published a book and series of resources called “Deadly Viper Character Assassins” that use blatant Asian stereotypes and references to Asian culture to sell their materials. The materials themselves have to do with encouraging integrity and fighting against allowing sin to control your life. Somehow, Asian stereotypes including ninjas, sumo wrestlers, nonsensical Chinese characters, and even a white guy using a fake “asian” accent in a video have been used to market the materials. Huh? What’s okay about conflating all Asian cultures into a generic “Asian” theme, and using it to market Christian materials, thus incorporating offensive, racist sterotypes alongside the Gospel message. Dr. Rah said it so eloquently on his blog:
My contention is not about the content of the book itself (i.e. – the material that discusses integrity and character). It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways. Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states: “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”
Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book. You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others. In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point. It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture. You’ll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters. You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures. These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.
Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:
This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise. Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=35881373178&ref=mf
This image presents Asian as sinister enemies: http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=deadly+viper&init=quick#/photo.php?pid=2233965&id=101311418670
This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”
The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.
The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.
The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.
You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.
The bottom line. You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people. You are using another culture to make your message more fun. That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.
In response to all of this, what can YOU, as a Christian, do in response to this situation?
1) Write to the Publishers. Zondervan is the Christian publishing house backing the materials. They’ve asked that protest emails be sent through their online forum at http://www.zondervan.com/Cultures/en-US/Company/FAQ.htm?QueryStringSite=Zondervan Click on the “contact us” tab, and type in your response.
2) Write to the Authors. Mike and Jud’s blog about the materials can be found at http://www.deadlyviper.org/blog/
3) Spread the word as a Facebook status or Twitter message. Here’s a sample message that can be cut and pasted into your status with the URL’s shrunk down for space: just sent my letter of protest to Zondervan. You can too: http://tinyurl.com/ykzte8q Make your voice heard! Wonder what I’m talking about? Click here: http://tinyurl.com/ygwjfwy
What are you waiting for, get online and ACT! Together, we can make a difference.