Saturday, March 03, 2007

Skits That Teach...Racism?

It didn't make the headlines but here's something that caught my attention when I read about it on the NextGener.Asian Church blog. Apparently, Zondervan recently published a book entitled Skits That Teach that has some rather uncharitable stereotyping of asians.


Let me offer you a sample from Zondervan's Skits That Teach by the Skit Guys (Eddie James and Tommy Woodward) published in 2006. A skit book meant to be used by youth groups all over the US features the following:

"Herro, Dis is Wok's Up Restaurant calling to confirm your order. . . . I think that, yes, you total is 14 dollar 95 cent."

"Herro? This is Wok's Up Restaurant again. We have drive and drive, and we can't find you house. We don't find you house soon, you pu pu get cold. Pu pu good when it hot."

(Hostile) "Okay, we drive for long time looking for you house. I tell you, you go outside and I look for you. I am driving a red Rincon (Lincoln) Continental. You pu pu still getting cold. Bye!

"Okay, I drive for long time and I stil not find you house. So I am eating you pu pu! Ruckiry it still warm. I was hungry, so I eat it. Mmmmm . . . this pu pu is good. (Smacks lips a few times) You on my bad rist. You don't call us anymore. Bye

I'm not sure what the skit was originally intended to teach but I shudder to think that any Christian youth group would actually run with that skit.

Perhaps some might wonder - why is this skit even a problem...what's the big deal...why not overlook this altogether?

I think I can best answer that by referring to John Piper's paper on Stereotypes, Generalizations and Racism. In it, Piper makes this point -

"Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalizations...Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life."

The essential difference between generalizations (which are morally neutral) and stereotyping lies in the intent and effect. Generalizations are nothing more than simply exercising our God given ability for pattern recognition. We notice traits about people of a particular culture or of a specific race. That's normal. Stereotyping is picking on a trait and using it to humiliate or denigrate another. It's uncharitable and as Christians we need to stand against this form of racism, whether or not it affects us personally.

It saddens me that this content found its way into a Christian book and survived the editor's cutting room. However, it's a reminder of the power of indwelling sin in all of us - we are not all racist but we all have potential to sin in the area of racism. If you don't believe that, you probably don't know your own heart.

This post isn't about judging the authors or publishers. It's about drawing attention to the opportunity we have as the church to be distinctive. We should aim to be a picture of unity - celebrating differences, rather than maliciously making fun of them. When we err, we can love the brother we've legitimately offended, by acting swiftly, sincerely and with equal concern as if we ourselves were targeted.

If we do this, we can tell the world about true racial unity by pointing them to Jesus Christ and his Church.

10 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, Very well stated. And I couldn't agree more.

Blessedly, this story seems to be taking a good turn.

http://www.ysmarko.com/?p=1379

Craver VII said...

Does true racial unity mean we can never laugh at ethnic jokes? I hope not. Speaking for myself, I am not offended when I hear a joke about Hispanics, homeschoolers, or stereotypes pointed at my political leanings. Again, speaking from the receiving end, I cannot assume that someone is “out to get me” whenever they try to say something funny. If I do, then I could be the one closing the door. Heaven will not be ethnically homogeneous. God made us different, and when properly understood, our differences should be celebrated, not mitigated.

Having said that, there certainly is a place for using discretion, especially in Christian curriculum. Here’s my gut feeling and my gut reaction: I do not think the skit was bad, but I do not think it was prudent, either. Unless the author has demonstrated a pattern of ostracizing people on the basis of ethnicity, I think it’s a minor, forgivable offense.

andre said...

Ted,

Thanks for the comment and the link reference.

Craver,

Thanks also for your comment. I'm glad and grateful you shared your heart and earnest point of view. Here's why I think I disagree. My point is not that we can never laugh at ethnic jokes...but the point is that when that when you pick on an ethnic trait for your own benefit without consideration to how it may impact others, it's sinful, not simply an "indiscretion". It doesn't pass the test of love, which is what I think Piper is getting at and is why I think his analysis is insightful.

There is a fundamental difference between celebrating differences and selfishly getting a laugh at the expense of your brother. I don't think someone is out to get me and personally, I don't care but my post is actually meant to raise awareness that generalizations that are not used in love is sinful stereotyping.

Am I wrong? If so, Craver or anyone else, please join the conversation and let me know how.

Craver Vii said...

Point taken. :-)

andre said...

Craver

Thanks...I hope I didn't reply too strongly. I do have a passion for us to grow in being able to think about race relations biblically. Like everyone else, I need to learn as well.

Grace to you

L.L. Barkat said...

I think this is what I liked about the movie Crash. On the one hand, it stereotyped quite heavily, making for humor on many sides. Of course, part of what made it work was that the stereotypes crossed boundaries. It wasn't just one group that was singled out.

And, in the end, some of the characters clearly lived outside the stereotypes, even escaping the bondage of their own original thoughts of who they were or should be. This was a powerful thing.

In the case of that movie, I think it worked. In the case of the skit you mention here, I see nothing particularly redemptive or thought-provoking... just picking on one group for laughs. As much as this makes a statement about racism, it also reminds us that good art is not simple to produce.

andre said...

LL,

Welcome back. This little corner of the blogosphere wasn't the same without your participation.

I didn't see the movie Crash but your point about it being difficult to take stereotypes or generalizations and use them redemptively is spot on. Good art is uncommon, good art dabbling in stereotypes is rarer still.

Camy Tang said...

Hi Andre,
Thanks for posting on my blog. I apologize for assuming everyone who posted about the issue did so with anger--obviously I hadn't read yours, which is both thoughtful and polite.

You are right in saying that just because someone did not maliciously intend to offend, that it's still not okay. I read the skit and personally, I did not find it offensive, but since posting my blog post, I have had friends--most notably, a mother with a half-Asian daughter--who would have been hurt if the skit were performed in her own church. I commend Youth Specialties/Zondervan for how they responded to the situation.

Camy

andre said...

Camy

Thanks for your comment. I was also not personally offended by the skit because I don't speak like that and truly don't know anyone else who does. However, I did see it as wrong because it neither glorifies God nor does it communicate love to others who may feel ostracized by it.

I am eager for Christians to set the example for charitable, grace filled unity. The world has no answer for that kind of love.

Anonymous said...

I have two things to say. First, who made the joke? Oh right, the skit guys. Professional Comedians!! It was funny, so it is fine! And besides, who are you to say they don't like Asians or don't show love to them. You really shouldn't take this seriously. It was a joke and it is meant to be laughed at! I thought it was hilarious not because I am a racist who thinks Asians actually talk like that, but because the actual words and the accent with which they are spoken is hilarious! If you encountered a person who talked like Forrest Gump, would you criticize Tom Hanks or the films' writers for being insensitive to people with speech impediments? No, you'd still find the movie Forrest Gump funny because no matter how close it comes to the actual behavior of a real life person, the movie was still hilarious! And so was the Skit Guys' joke. Sorry if I sound mean or harsh, I just think somebody's making mountains out of molehills.