“Chink!” “Jap!” “Where are you from?” “Do you eat dog?” “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” “Do you know Kung-Fu?” From the racist to the innocuous, issues of culture, ethnicity, and discrimination are prevalent themes for Asian minorities in the United States.
The Asian desire to be “American” and fit into mainstream society in the U.S. can be challenging as reminders that they are “perpetual foreigners” can be seen in jokes, teasing, and at times outright racism. from Psychology Today
Anti-Asian racism recently has been cited as 100 reported incidents per day. And that’s just the reported ones. There’s violent racism and casual racism against Asian Americans so today I am focusing on the depiction of Asian characters in children’s books, specifically “slant eyes.”
Let’s start with Italian chef Gianluca Gorini who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant daGorini in the Italian town of San Pietro in Tuscany. He posted a photo of his team making slant-eyes and wearing racist hats on Instagram. It’s racism as “humor.”
And it happened in December of 2019.
A Michelin-starred chef apologized for posing in a racist photo with staff making slant-eyed gestures
(from Business Insider)
This also happened in 2018:
“On Telemundo’s morning show Un Nuevo Dia, two hosts — James Tahhan, aka “Chef James,” and Janice Bencosme — flashed the slanted-eye gesture.
Slant-eyes are racist. End stop.
Thus, depicting slant-eyes in illustrations is also racist.
Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen (@readingspark) tweeted:
Let me follow this up with: it’s also racist when the images are drawn by Asians or Asian Americans. We’ve internalized these orientalist images and been taught that this is how we mark ourselves as Asian. No, it doesn’t have to be this way. Stop drawing slanted eyes. Just stop.
Yellowface is Just as Offensive as Backface
“As Robert G Lee, associate professor of American studies in Providence, Rhode Island, stated in his book Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture: “Yellowface marks the Asian body as unmistakably Oriental; it sharply defines the Oriental in a racial opposition to whiteness.
Yellowface exaggerates ‘racial’ features that have been designated ‘Oriental,’ such as ‘slanted’ eyes, overbite and mustard-yellow skin color”. Mickey Rooney did that for his character Mr. Yunioshi in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is a prime example of yellowface.” from South China Morning Post
Racist Depictions of Asian Children in Picture Books
This is by no means an exhaustive list of racist depictions of Asian children in children’s books. In fact, it’s the tip of the iceberg.
This is from Jammy @jamlamlaser:
2nd Asian kid in the book of majority white kids and animals, and he is ALSO BRIGHT YELLOW.
@SchoolZone WHAT THE HELL.
The third elusive Asian kid.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU
Diana Gutenberger blogs on racist depictions of humans in The Story About Ping.
Dr. Seuss has been called out for being racist but have you noticed that the ALA has not changed the name of the Geisel Award? The ALA first proposed changing the Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Geisel award in 2017. I’m assuming that because ALA hasn’t changed the name of the award, they are ok with Dr. Seuss’s racism.
Eyes as slits or slant-eyes is a lazy racist way of illustration and are, by no means, a problem from long ago that is just now surfacing.
Feel free to add books that you notice that have Asian children drawn with “slant eyes” or eyes as slits. I think you’d be surprised to see how many recently published picture books have racist depictions of Asian children.
p.s. Related posts:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.