Tuesday, June 2, 2009

perpetually think of asian americans as foreigners

I don't normally post commercials, especially for a grossly abusive and unhealthy outfit like KFC. I'm posting this one because it exemplifies so well something that white people often do--think of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners.

I mean . . . is this for real?

As Angry Asian Man points out about this ad,

As you can see, it features folks of varying size, shape and color debating the merits of fried versus grilled chicken... including two Asian dudes dressed in ethnic costume for no apparent reason. Seriously, everyone else in the commercial is dressed "normally," but these two Asian dudes -- speaking in heavily accented Engrish, for good measure -- are going full Oriental.

What is the reasoning behind this? Once again, the Asian guys serve as the funny foreign element in the commercial -- looking, speaking, and at the end of the spot, dancing like silly-ass fools. That's racist!

I don't know, perhaps KFC would like to hear from you about this. Customer contact info here.

Law Professor Frank Wu calls the racist phenomenon exemplified by this ad the "perpetual foreigner syndrome." The term should be self-explanatory, but for many, it's not. Wu's label basically identifies a common American conception of Asian Americans as outsiders, as "un-American," no matter how fully they signal their American-ness.

Advertisements like this one play up to and perpetuate this syndrome. Ordinary Americans demonstrate that the syndrome has penetrated and infected their psyches when they laugh along with such portrayals, and when they think of those who object to them as oversensitive purveyors of "political correctness."

I called KFC and complained. It took a few minutes to get through, but then I spoke to a pleasant and very cooperative person, who wrote down my complaint and promised to "pass it on to upper management." I added my voice to what I hope becomes an indignant clamor, demanding that they take the commercial off the air.

Will you call? (I don't see an email address on their contact page.)

U.S. 1-800-225-5532
Canada 1-866-664-5696


  1. I thought the same thing when I saw this commercial.
    My wife and I were just pissed. Neither of us is Asian, but we could understand exactly how it would feel to be Asian and see that commerical. Just a slap in the face for no reason whatsoever.

  2. See the recently deceased Ron Takaki's discussion of this.


    There's a lot more to the video but part of why he started studying race and American identity was because of being perpetually encoded as "foreign" despite having been born in the US.

  3. Yah I haven't known what the fuck to make of these commercials. The two Asian dudes stick out so much because of their dress it's just like...really?

  4. "...dressed in ethnic costume for no apparent reason."

    This really got me. What the hell were they doing in that attire? In a KFC commercial? It reminds me of the Six Flags commercial with the Asian man yelling for no reason (ONE FLAG!.. SIX FLAGS!!). What, is he about to kick someone's ass? The stereotyping is so blatant.

  5. At first I wanted to think that the two were sushi chefs, but then they spoke in the "engrish" accents and I was like "Um, the point of that was...?"

    I haven't dealt with KFC in the longest time, so I'm not as hip to their antics or the reasoning (or lack reasoning) behind them. That commercial is definitely a slap to the face of the Asian community, though.

  6. Maybe they're trying to say that KFC is so healthy and great that even Japanese chefs love the stuff!

    But using that logic, they should have thrown in a French or Italian chef with corresponding "accents" to make that run...

  7. Sarcasm --> So familiar. I've seen sooooooooo many national commercials with guys dressed up in Irish or German or Norwegian, etc... costumes acting like total tools.

    That was just ridiculous. "Oh, look, those goofy "Orientals" are at it again. They're so weird, but they know to "stay in their places" and "obey" so we let em' hang around". Just a dreadful commercial.

    In the real-world, I've seen it often take the form of, [someone introducing European-American to Asian-American] "Hi. This is Roger." [European-American responds] "Oh, hey man, where you from?"

    Yeah, ignorance is bliss only to the ignorant one in the dominant group.

  8. Thank you for mentioning that KFC is abusive. Many on the far left are mocking toward animal suffering, for some strange reason.

  9. I also thought at first that they were sushi chefs, but it quickly became clear they were just dancing stereotypes. Yuk. Who the hell approved of that crap at corporate? The stupid, it burns!

  10. If they're supposed to be teppanyaki chefs, which would make some amount of sense since it's *grilled* chicken, they should at least be tossing the chicken around in the air, rather than just waving the bucket, because nobody gets it.

    If they're simply supposed to be random people interrupted from whatever they were doing (being at the office, fake-shopping in a home depot commercial, being at school, cheerleading practice?) and that activity was just movie extra style random martial arts with unmatched uniforms...fail.

  11. The question becomes why didn't
    KFC, the Ad company (or the focus groups conducted) not see how wrong this is?

    I think Asians (and people in general) need to say enough.

    You would think we would have come further since the old Calgon: ancient Chinese secret commercial.


  12. I've worked in the customer service world for almost a decade now and I can guarantee you the KFC representative you spoke to was more likely planning a game of Tetris on her cell phone rather than taking your complaint seriously. I know this because it's how we I was taught when I worked for Target.com and these race baiting mothers would call and complain that the ethnic version of some hot new doll is only available online, which would then incrue extra shipping charges and what not.

  13. "race baiting mothers"? What do you mean, Tyler?

    I heard the woman on the phone typing my complaint into a computer, so I hope it did get added to other complaints about the ad. She sounded sincere enough.

  14. What I mean is, folks with all kinds of exotic names like Shakisha or Lecharles, stuff like that, would demand we give out concesions to make them happy and continue to be our customers. Race baiting is probably not the correct term to use, but the point still remains the same. Calling 1-800-KFC and speaking with some dolt that makes less than 8 dollars an hour and expecting this person to actually do something productive about this issue is a little far fetched. The best way to counteract stuff like this is to spread the word via the internet with blogs and other mediums.

  15. You see, Macon, what Tyler really means is that customers of color would have the audacity to ask for respectful service. How dare they ask for availability of an item that was deemed exclusive to them? They should accept limits. Don't like items only available for white customers? Deal with it.

    Tyler, you meant to use "race-baiting". Admit to it and back up your assertion. You added to your definite usage by referring to the names of the customers.

  16. I don't construe this as racism, I don't think the kfc makers were out to insult anyone and I being half asian am not. I thought it was kinda trippy and out of place, hell they could've been Beni Hanna or Sushi chefs that enjoy fried chicken. Maybe I just have too much of a positive self image to be bothered and sensitive about stupid shit like this. Bitching and moaning might make some noise in the right ears, but it won't change actual and very real racist views.

  17. What do you think of this one?

  18. Dwight,

    I'm not Asian-American at all, so, you can scold me if you wish.

    I don't think this post suggests that this is an example of explicit extreme or even explicit moderate racism.

    It is, however, in my opinon, certainly racist. Further, I think it is naive not to make connection between this sort of racism that perpetuates stereotypes and the real-world racial discrimination, slurs, and sometimes attacks that occur.

    The average American is incredibly culturally incompetent. In many cases, ALL Americans know about those "other" people is what they heard from their racist uncle or what they see on TV or film.

    I don't see it as being benign the way you do.

  19. I agree with cdwriteme that it's not blatantly racist. I'm Asian and I don't find it 'offensive'. But it does perpetuate stereotypes (e.g. of Asian Americans being foreigners). Perhaps 'racism' is a strong word to digest for some in this case. But it definitely is an act of 'Othering'. i.e. Asians in general remain as this exotic 'Other' and is not accepted as part of the norm. It would be different if all the characters in the ad were in some sort of traditional garb, or more obvious occupational garb such as a (black) basketball player, (white) construction worker etc. Then all the stereotypes are being equally played. It's the contrast between the exotic Japanese and 'normal' people that makes it look out of place.

  20. @Macon, honeybrown1976 - perhaps Tyler was calling them "race-baiting" because over the phone, they sounded like white women giving out fake names they thought sounded black, just to stir shit up, rather than actually being customers who wanted to purchase the dolls, who might have gone to someone that could *actually help them*.

  21. @Psycho, I didn't think of that angle. That's a plausible explanation.

    However ---

    Whenever, I hear the phrase, "race-baiting" stemming from someone who's white, I tend to think of the negativity associated with it. For example, discussing race/racism equates to "keeping it alive".

  22. hi,

    this is an interesting issue you bring up. 'foreign' can be an alienating label, but its application is sometimes hard to distinguish from respect. after all, when something is too foreign it defies comparison!

    i examine issues like this in my blog, as well; i invite you to take a look.

    you write beautifully.

  23. I agree that it is inappropriate, but I would not post the commercial on my blog. I think it's a plot by KFC. They know bloggers will pick up something perceived as racist without being blatantly hateful and then post it all around, increasing the exposure of the public to the ad. And as we all know, it doesn't matter what the message is, if it's repeated enough it will sink in. In this case, the message is KFC.

  24. I do have to say that the idea of being perpetually foreign is adopted by many Asians as well, unfortunately. I am mainly referring to older generation immigrants (such as my parents) who either see themselves as having to prove themselves to America (which they see as synonymous with white people) or they're just not interested in fitting in anyway, in either case they don't include themselves as part of the normal American population. This actually annoys me more than whatever white people in power and the media are doing.

  25. psychoceramics -
    "If they're supposed to be teppanyaki chefs, which would make some amount of sense since it's *grilled* chicken, they should at least be tossing the chicken around in the air, rather than just waving the bucket, because nobody gets it.

    yeah i agree with you, but the thing is most Americans don't even know what that is. I have seen it myself that most Americans are to scared to dive into Asian culture let alone even eat the food. Its how they identify us based on what they have seen on tv, and since they never tried to relate to us they don't know how Asians really are.

    Among my own friends they make jokes about me being Asian, but in all for fun though. But, when it comes to them wanting to learn about my own culture they are interested because they have never befriended someone from my ethnic background.

    all of us have to open up and listen to each other and not make assumptions based on dumb portrayals that the media creates

  26. Another aspect of this is really obvious to me here in Australia whenever crimes are committed. If the person committing the crime is Asian, African or Middle-Eastern in origin, the newspapers and websites are flooded with idiots complaining about multiculturalism, claiming people from said ethnic group can't fit in, and demanding they be sent back to where they come from.

    Of course, the perp in question is probably a citizen and quite likely to be locally born, but that doesn't seem to matter. Always a foreigner.

    Strangely, if a white guy named "John Smith" committed a crime, no one would even think of citing his ethnicity - it's irrelevant, because white guys are seen as "the norm".

  27. I can attest to what you (the author) are saying with all my heart. In the mean time, I also understand why stereotypes are created in the first place, and there is always a reason behind everything! Having said that, this doesn't justify racism and stereotyping.
    I was a bit naive when I first made it to the US for my degree, thinking I'm all set as long as I speak proper English. After all, hey they say this is a melting pot isn't it? But hell no when I came to learn a gloomy fact (it's obvious to me anyway) that the ENTIRE SOCIETY is heavily conditioned by the racist Hollywood. The racial stereotypes come in both ways, the good (jews and western Europeans) and the bad (Africans, Asians, muslims, etc.). In one word, this country might slowly lose foreign talents to other competitors if this thing keeps on going. BTW I'm Asian and just made it to the US since 05.

  28. I've boycotted KFC for two reasons now, because they make mediocre fried chicken (mine is better) and this commercial. I was born and raised in NY State, and can honestly say that I've met people (particularly asian) who are more "American" than I am. I can't consider anyone in this country as a foreigner because we are a nation of foreigners. My family got here in the 1950's from the Caribbean, but legally we (along with all who immigrate to the US, no matter how far back) are as American as any other citizen of the US, and should be treated as such.


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