My life, Racism

If you can’t make fun of Chinese, who can you make fun of?


I was very surprised to see this sauce in the grocery store the other day. I’m amazed that it still carries that name. It took me back to my childhood in the 1960s, when racist humor was widespread and blatant.  Mr. Magoo’s buck-toothed and pigtailed assistant Charlie called him “Mistah Magloo!” and “Numbah one bloss man.” Confucius jokes were popular: “Confucius say man with one chopstick go hungry.”

We had several 45s* of Buddy Hackett comedy routines delivered in a broad “Chinese” accent, including Chinese Rock and Egg Roll, Chinese Waiter, and Chinese Laundry. My sister and I found them amusing and memorized every word.

When I’ve recited portions to my kids, they’ve been visibly uncomfortable, having grown up in an era much more sensitive to racism. “What’s funny about foreign accents, anyway?” my daughter  asked me.

What indeed? I had no answer.



*Vinyl records about the size of a CD with one three-minute recording on each side




18 thoughts on “If you can’t make fun of Chinese, who can you make fun of?

  1. Buddy Hacket was hilarious. No, today, the only people it’s okay to ridicule in public is white people—especially Americans.
    This post reminded me of the commercial for a detergent back in the 60’s or 70’s in which a lady asked the Chinese guy at the laundry how he got the clothes so clean, and he replied, “Ancient Chinese secret!”

  2. theinfiniterally says:

    I watched an old Incredible Hulk episode a few months ago in which Bill Bixby employed the Chinese accent for humor. I guess I hadn’t realized how much of that sort of thing was still around when I was a child.

    What’s difficult to understand for younger people and people from historically diverse areas, I think, is how insular most of the world was in even the recent past. Most Americans weren’t exposed to Asian culture outside of television and movies. We didn’t yet have the Internet. If you’ve never met anyone who talks differently, and issues of cultural sensitivity haven’t yet had time to ferment, yes, of course, accents are going to seem funny. If you’ve seen documentaries where Western anthropologists live among remote native cultures, you see the same sort of giggling reaction from the natives.

    Sensitivity is a wonderful thing, but so is understanding.

    • There’s still a fair amount of ethnic or racially based humor, but it has shifted somewhat, reflecting our current stereotypes: Chinese buffets, Indian call centers, Indian software engineers, Middle Eastern taxi drivers, Mexican illegal aliens, Middle Eastern terrorists. Remember the spate of jokes about the cowardly French in the early days of the Iraq war?

  3. ahhh but joke on you western devil as you are what you eat… that even meaneth what you consume with yo eize! 😀 nothing personal, you understand 😀 … but I agree until I want a poo poo platter dag nabbit! and then as you read your tony hillerman wherein you learn the English Chicken is a word in Navajo for doo doo and yet american gals are all in love with chicken! which is a tangent I perpetrate on you on purpose, that the component forms of how aspartame is made and degrades back into is something chicken is far far higher in naturally and this with a mango is ungodly high in a second componant and voila, dieet anything is bad for one…yet chicken mango is healthy?… hmn, back to being saucey…. ah so! 😉

  4. I remember the time when I worked as an Flight Attendant, this word was heard frequently. Of course some of the crew members would make fun of it. But we heard it from the Japanese. Every time they thanked for something, they would say “Ah-so” 😀 😀 :/ 😮 😮

    • My Korean ex-girlfriend worked as a hair stylist. She found it amusing that the Vietnamese nail girls would say, “Pick color! Pick color!”

      I don’t think this kind of humor will ever really go away. It just changes with time.

  5. Well, people can be like Archie Bunker and make fun of the French…the English…the Germans…the Italians…the Mexicans…the Puerto Ricans…etc…???

    Kids ask great questions, don’t they?! 😀

    I have relatives (adopted and married in) who are Korean, Chinese, Mexican, African American, and etc. So when people tell a racist joke, I wait until they are through and then I tell them about my family. That always kills the laughter. (Yes, I get a kick out of doing that!)

    HUGS!!! 🙂

    • There’s always going to be joking when people from different groups get together. When I was a kid we had Polack jokes, but I haven’t heard one in decades now. I once met a kid from a part of the US where they told Bohemian jokes. When I worked in relief and community development, the agency Food for the Hungry was jokingly referred to as “Food for da Hunky”. In Colombia they’ve traditionally had similar jokes about people from Pasto, the city where I spent my first two years, or Marinilla, a town near Medellín. People joke about their own groups, too. My Mexican American boss once sent me a link for the fictitious game Accordion Hero. I don’t think ethnically-based humor has to be demeaning, but it often is.

      • Yes. It depends on who the person is…how close you are to them…if you “get” their sense of humor….what you can joke with them about. 🙂
        But, some jokes are just plain demeaning. 😦

  6. lol. i used to think things like that were so racist, that is until i started going to ethnic enclaves like the chinatowns and the little brazils. it was there that i saw what real racism was. so when i see old time jokes like this, it doesn’t really faze me.

    by the way, there’s some famous political activist/artist from China and i had to do a double take when I read his name. it’s : Ai Weiwei. I’m not joking.

  7. Here in the UK, we have enjoyed great benefit from being a union of 4 nations with very distinct cultures and dialects. It has spawned a glorious canon of ‘racist’ jokes. Usually, the basis of the joke is an absurd illustration of the (often interchangeable) stereotypical idiosyncrasies of the joke’s target nation. Often, these are exchanged between Jocks, Paddies, Taffs, and Sassonachs by way of good-natured banter, and a good time is had by all. I don’t look forward to the day they are outlawed.

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