Emmy Award-winning news cameraman Kristopher Li was relaxing with his family last week, watching Yes, Dear, when he was jolted from his seat.
It wasn’t an earthquake or sudden health emergency, but rather the word “chinaman” that spurred Li to action.
The character responsible for uttering the slur was that of veteran actress Vicki Lawrence in the March 1 Yes, Dear episode, “Owner’s Suite.”
Character 1: Hey, you guys are going to have a blast at the basketball game.
Character 2 (Vicki Lawrence): Now are the Lakers the team that have that giant china – man?
Character 1: No – that’s Yao-Ming! He’s on the Rockets. But the Lakers have their own giant — Shaquille O’Neal.
Seeing the shocked look on his 13-year-old son’s face, Li knew he had to do something.
When Li’s friend who works at a local radio station invited him to go on the air to talk about the episode and its potential impact, he gladly accepted.
And he’s calling on others in the Asian Pacific American community to let their feelings be known.
“A lot of people including mainstream Americans and some [APAs] don’t even know that ‘chinaman’ is offensive,” Li says. “If the network apologizes, then more people will realize this is a word that should not be used.”
Various APA organizations have issued statements, ranging from irate to moderately concerned. But so far, CBS network executives haven’t responded let alone apologized.
The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), a watchdog organization monitoring the networks and movie studios, has sent a letter of protest to CBS and demanded an apology.
Jennifer Kuo, president of MANAA, says the organization had given the network a list of Asian terms to avoid — including “chinaman” — because of their racial overtones.
“It’s frustrating when something like this happens,” she says. “We’ve sat down with CBS executives to talk about this. We’ve tried to help them out, but it looks like they’re ignoring us. Why do we give them all of these things if they’re not going to read it?”
Shortly after the episode ran, Karen Narasaki, head of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium in Washington, D.C., called the show’s producers, Greg Garcia and Alan Kirschenbaum.
She says, “They told me they were trying to portray an insensitive, out-of-touch woman.”
She adds, “I told them they should have included people reacting to her comments to make that point, and they agreed.
“They say they will take out the scene before that episode is re-run, and I think that’s good. It’s an education process.”
S.B. Woo, president of 80-20, an APA political activist group, says, “Since they’ve decided to cut out the scene, I’m only moderately satisfied.
“The show, itself, is not really that important. The fact they have ignored the racial slur is more important. I’m willing to give CBS another chance, but if there is a next time, we’ll really go to war!”
John Tateishi, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, is angry that the producers and the network have given only a limited response. He believes a slur on one APA group is a slur on all APAs.
“Mainstream America can’t distinguish between the different ethnicities in the Asian communities,” he says. “So what is directed to one group certainly isn’t limited to that one group in the minds of the people who make such stupid comments.”