Asiana Airline Crash Brings Out the Racists on Twitter

Yesterday, an Asiana Airlines passenger jet crashed at the San Francisco International Airport. Upon impact, the plane was smashed to pieces and then caught fire. At least two passengers are reported dead and 181 more were injured among whom at least 26 are children. Hilarious, right?

What, you don’t think so? Then you obviously haven’t been following twitter where a bunch of people heard about the crash and then laughed so hard their racism popped out. Some cringe worthy examples of the kind of ranting joking going on are on the Public Shaming tumblr. Here’s a taste:






That last one is a classic. I mean, who hasn’t busted a gut when Asian children are tormented by other kids jabbing crap in front of their faces with the question “can you see?” But, really, the hash tag #toosoon? in the first screen shot is what really got me.

Note to @littleslav. I’m not even going to call you racist because I only do that when I think the person to whom I’m speaking is educable. Your asking if it’s “too soon” to turn tragedy into bad comedy erased that notion from my mind in no time flat. There’s a cure for racism that can be found in education, but the prerequisite for learning is empathy.

This Week in Blackness Managing Director Elon James White was one of the few playing for our side, exposing the racist tweets via @elonjames because “I’m just not in the mood for the bullsh[*]t. When I saw it I knew folks were gonna be asses. I figure lets air them all out.”

In the interest of airing them out, let’s take this down. I’m not wasting virtual ink on the whole stereotype of Asians as bad drivers. Suffice to say that people walking around with images in their minds of Asians as near sighted, cultural Mr. Magoo’s on our roads are beyond innocently ignorant. They’re mean spirited, not to mention aggressively racist.

But, what I think needs further examination here is how easily racism allows people to reduce Asians and other people of color to mere objects. And then, once we’ve been objectified, to use us to leverage everything from humor to profit to public policy, with those last two often going together, btw.

For instance, the model minority myth is a form of anti-Asian racism. It reduces Asian people to a stereotype created in order to make us into an ideological crow bar designed to leverage backlash against the black Civil Rights Movement. And it’s been used that way ever since, even if we’ve been doing it for so long that, anymore, we don’t even know what damage it does.

The myth started in the 1960s with the first targets being Japanese Americans. J.A.s rise to middle class status just twenty or so years after mass internment during WWII was explained as a result of industriousness, and a group-think commitment to being cooperative, self-sacrificing, and, most importantly, under-represented among felons and keen on succeeding without government assistance. The not-so-subtle subtext of the myth, popularized through the media against the backdrop of black urban uprisings, was that black people were impoverished because of deficient work ethics and a tendency toward criminality. If you buy that, you’ve already bought the idea that government programs like affirmative action and busing are no solution for those weaknesses.

The jujitsu of stereotyping is that, regardless of whether the stereotype is “positive” or not, it still turns its targets into objects that can be used for other purposes. For instance, a variation on the model minority myth was used to deflect anger over the lay offs resulting from the slow down of the U.S. auto industry in the 1980s onto Japanese industry. Instead of blaming U.S. auto makers’ hubris and over-confidence, we explained lagging sales on Japanese workers who were cast as self-sacrificing drones who were more industrious and cooperative, and therefore more productive and cheap, than American workers. The all too predictable outcome was a rapid rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, with perhaps the most famous example being the murder of Vincent Chin.

And, as racism is, after all, a pack of lies made up to justify a horrifically oppressive political system, stereotypes can change to suit the political needs of those who invented them. Asians used to be the sneaky, inscrutable, disloyal and forever foreign “yellow peril.” In this role, we were the justification for nationalist economic policies, espionage and war, like the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The model minority can easily morph back into the yellow peril as the political climate shifts against Asia. In the case of South Asians who have been targeted for Islamophobia, that’s already happening.

And, finally, as the Asiana crash jokes on twitter demonstrate, objectifying us also makes us useful for a good laugh. Even in the face of the unimaginable grief of the families who lost loved ones, the equally unimaginable trauma of those who lived through the terror of the crash landing, and the horror of survivors’ guilt the pilots must be suffering, some folks make jokes. After all, objects don’t have feelings, do they?





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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

17 replies on “Asiana Airline Crash Brings Out the Racists on Twitter”

One word to describe them….IGNORANT. And that’s the only nice word I can use online.

Wow….I don’t know what to say for people like that. Their cold reactions to the death of those girls are just racist and beyond comprehension. I could imagine how the parents of the two deceased girls are feeling right now. My condolences goes out to them.

@littleslav…The only thing Slavs are good for is to be Germany or Russia’s b!tch. In earlier times they were the Roman Empire’s b!tch.

@ AS
Oh man AS, did you read the Article? Your statement is as ignorant and pitiful as the ones that gave cause to this debate. ‘Slav’ is a category used to group individuals living in over 14 countries stretching between Hungry and Russia. I hope you can appreciate the scope of this territory. You are not generalising a racial stereotype, but rather reveling in the historical predicament of a geographically and racially defined group of Individuals. Please realize that categories themselves have no independent existence. They are merely a place holder – a social construct, whose application is a reduction of individual people to an imaginary lowest common denominator. Thus i am doubly appalled: once for the (maybe more forgivable) idiocy of countering ignorance with more self-righteous ignorance, and secondly for doing so in celebrating countless atrocities through the same mentality used to legitimise them in the first place. Please think critically about this kind of statement: They reproduce and legitimise the same mode of thought that you yourself were attempting to criticise.

Thanks for being appalled! I was about to respond and saw this and thought, okay, no need for that because this is brilliant! Thanks for the education. Much appreciated.

Those tweets remind me so much of a conversation I had about a year ago with someone where I work;
He: Stupid joke about Asians who can’t drive.
Me: [long pause of silence – cold stare] I have an adopted son who is Asian. He has a perfect driving record.
He: Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t know
Me: And that makes a difference because…?
He: Well, of course I wouldn’t have said that.
Me: I see. You would have been more careful and merely told the joke behind my back. And that’s better because….?
He: I SAID I’m sorry! Are you trying to make me feel like some kind of asshole or something?
Me: Certainly not. I couldn’t possibly improve on your own work in that regard.

of course he wasn’t sorry he told the joke per se. He was sorry it resulted in an embarrassing situation for him. Over the years i’ve had exactly the same sort of thing happen regarding gay “jokes” with people who didn’t realize I’m gay and with comments about people of color by people who didn’t know my husband is black. It is depressing but at least it has honed my ability to riposte. On the other hand, my husband has to occasionally deal with comments from other black people that he must be an “oreo” because his partner is white – including from his own family who can’t make up their minds if his being gay or being partnered with a white man is a worse disgrace. After 17 years, they still can’t cope with either issue so we just ignore them. They are the ones who suffer for it, not us because we simply will not accept the suffering.. Likewise with the jerk who told the Asian “joke.” He was humiliated in front of witnesses – a useful learning experience, and call me petty if you will but I enjoyed providing it for him.

OR it could just be that jokes about Asian drivers are funny. I make jokes about my pale white friend blending in with the sheets if he needs to hide and my black friend just closing his eyes and mouth at night…so relax. If you feel the need to run to the internet to complain every time someone offends you, I predict a short, stressful, miserable life in your future.
P.S. Im Asian and if I had to lay odds on % of Asians who can’t drive vs black vs white, Id wager Asians to have the highest. So would you if you’re being honest. The only broad stroke that beats Asian is African (Somalian, etc)..and those of you honest people left are nodding your head in agreement right now

What? I don’t mind a joke — if it’s actually funny — but how do you figure Asians have the worst driving records? Let’s hear how you know that.

These twits – posting the racist Asian driving comments – are well beyond racist….I don’t think the word has been invented for them yet. People died…what would prompt a joke?

Scot – great piece. Your voice needs to be heard by more folk of African descent!

To clarify, the joke I referred to in my post above was not funny- it was of the slant eye variety and it was racist. Yes, ethnic humor can be very funny but the norm we have arrived at is that it is only funny when engaged in by a person of the ethnicity in question. Margaret Cho and Chris Rock are both VERY funny, but much of their material is not interchangable.

You are a brilliant writer. When I read your article this summer, I was overcome with emotion – realizing that I and my family were part of the web of white supremacist oppression because my family is so proud of being the “model minority.” We read this article aloud in my class on White Privilege this summer (for my grad program: Principal Leadership Institute at UC Berkeley – MA in education, focused on Social Justice and Equity in K-12 education.) Coincidentally, I happened to read the one line about South Asians (I am one). I was too overcome with shame and anger at the thought of being used as a pawn of suppression that I could not even finish speaking the sentence. Thank you for your brilliant, fact-based, passionate, and articulate writing.

Thank you, Sanjay. I do love hearing that the articles are being used in classes and trainings. Having Race Files used in this way is one of our goals, so you really made my day by sharing this story. A lot of us have been used as pawns. The model minority myth is actually mainly rooted in Japanese American and Chinese American experience. Civil rights groups in both communities actively participated in promoting the idea that they were model minorities, both through ordinary propaganda campaigns and by investing in sociological studies. These studies, coming out at around the same time as the Moynihan Report on Black Families made the case that the Chinese and Japanese were not just ideal citizens, but definitively not black, contributing to the idea of blacks as a “problem minority.”

The thing to keep in mind is that, while we may disagree with what was done, the rationale for this kind of myth making was mass internment, anti-communist persecution, and legal exclusion. These groups weren’t just trying to create opportunity for themselves at the expense of others, they were trying to secure their citizenship. The problem is, especially when the stakes are highest, we tend to draw our bottom lines behind our own heels and in front of other people’s toes. We need to learn to define self-interest in much broader terms, and root our efforts in an understanding of how to advance the common good. That requires self-reflection, humility, and real compassion, all of which your comment reveal you have in buckets.

Good luck to you. Given where you’re located and what you’re studying, we might well run into each other some time. ChangeLab has an office in Oakland.

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