Mr. Lucas, Sigh, I Am Not a Carpet

October 12, 2004

That's right, Oriental. And then he said it again, Oriental-style sword fighting!

Now, I would like to think that I'm over my whole PC police phase. But that would assume that people have somehow become sensitive and enlightened, and that still doesn't seem to be the case regarding Asian America. You've heard it before, but G. Lucas would never say something like, "Now here we have some Negro-style cotton pickin'."

This also clears up a lot of questions I've had about the new episodes --the seemingly racist characters of Jar Jar Binks and those vaguely Asian-y alien senators (with vaguely asian-y gibberish) in Episode II. I've long wondered, what was George thinking?

Now I get it: he had no clue.

Not for a second do I think that George Lucas intended to offend anyone, to aggravate racial stereotypes, to use a word has grated on me since my Kansas childhood. I think the man is a genius of filmmaking innovation, someone who will go down in history as an icon who transformed the film industry. I'm not just saying that because he's my boss, either. (And I'm desperately hoping I don't get fired from writing this posting... Mr. Lucas, if you read this, I offer you my pro bono services as an Asian American cultural consultant! Or, um, lunch-fetcher?)

I certainly don't think the use of the "O" word ranks up there with the bevy of other issues Asian Americans face: the Patriot Act, glass ceilings, hate crime, immigration, etc. etc...

But, (the inevitable "but") I do think it matters. Among other issues, the term evokes a time of the Chinese Exclusion act, anti-miscegenation laws, a colonial stance toward most of Asia, and violence against Asian Americans. It offends many.

Mr. Lucas lives in the Bay Area and a lot of Asians and AAs work for him (hopefully I am still one of them). So many people must have seen the interview: producers, directors, sound crew, production assistants, marketing people, engineers from down the hall. Did no one speak up? Did they have a discussion and decide it was no big deal? Did anyone even notice?

More than anything, the incident reminds me of how much work we still have to do in getting the mainstream American mind to a basic level of sensitivity to Asian American issues. In the fight against racism, we can at least try to reach the well-intentioned who live in our own backyards. Eliminating the "O" word is just the first, tiniest step.

In the end, it's our responsibility to define ourselves. African Americans got America to be sensitive to their representation by making a lot of noise. Why should it be different for us? Whining will get us nowhere; being articulate, present, forceful and twice as good will.

I for one, will try to stay employed until the Christmas party, when hopefully I can corner George and we can have a friendly chat...