Is It Offensive?
There's a video that has been making the rounds that shows the singer, Drake, impersonating Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao. The skit shows Drake - as Pacquiao - in the recording studio talking about his love of music amongst other things and, well, just watch......
What do you think? I thought the skit was hilarious and not in the least offensive or racist, but the video has apparently caused offense amongst some Filipinos. The Facebook site of the Philippine newspaper, Inquirer, has asked readers if they consider the skit to be racist, to which most have answered "no". This link shows some reactions to the skit - mostly positive, but a few not so much. Another Filipino blogger has written a post explaining why he thinks the skit was racist - here - calling it a type of blackface.
Whilst I understand the sentiment of those who are uncomfortable with the skit or have found it racist or offensive I don't agree with them. Where I agree with those who are offended is that we have a responsibility to examine these kinds of representations of Asians in the media because the vast majority of the time those representations are overwhelmingly demeaning and negative. In this case, however, I think that we have to look at the context and the big picture in order to be able to truly assess the intent of the skit.
There is a major difference between the Drake skit and the typical "comedy/satire" that mock and demean Asians. We have to remember that the usual demeaning representation of Asian people de-individuates us, meaning that this kind of racism relies not so much on observation of particular individuals, but rather draws from the library of stereotypical and racist conceptions of Asians - some of which are decades old - that are based more on the product of the mainstream racist imagination than on any real interaction with Asian people. After all, you cannot know Asian people and be their friend if you interact with them the in the way modeled by the media. So, all the "ching-chong" representations of Asians are not based on observations of individuals, but are mostly drawn from mainstream-created unrealistic stereotypes the purpose of which is to demean and dehumanize Asian people.
Drake's impersonation of Manny Pacquiao, by contrast, does the exact opposite to the above. Firstly, it is an impersonation based on the observed behaviour, mannerisms, and speech of a real person and not merely a regurgitation of tired stereotypes. Manny's love for singing is parodied, and his "renaissance-boxer-man" approach to life is cleverly satirized, and it is all delivered using an accurately executed Filipino accent and a well-observed Pacquiao humility. In other words, whoever wrote the piece actually bothered to observe aspects of Pacquiao's character and demeanour and was thus able to produce a clever personalized parody of a real, individual, Asian person instead of the typical dehumanizing allusions to slant eyes, and gibberish language imitation.
That to me is the crux of why the piece was not racist; instead of saying the usual "look! An Asian! Ching-Chong!", the piece was individualizing an Asian man through parody, instead of de-individuating and dehumanizing him. Whether this was by design or if it was merely a happy accident I do not know but I think that, in a sense, the skit is one of the most normalized depictions of an Asian man that I have ever seen, simply because it is based on the actual observation of a real, individual Asian man.