Recently, I had a startling and distasteful run-in with a racist slur. It made me realize that in this liberal broad-minded society that we think we have created, the heart of darkness looms always. In a recent issue of Frank magazine which comes out of Ottawa, the shape of my eyes and nose were alluded to in an overly racist way. The remarks were couched in a sly manner, asking the reader if they thought my eyes had been altered by plastic surgery. In a subsequent edition, they shifted the inquiry to my nose, comparing a picture of me as a teenager with an off-the-TV screen image of me now, forty years later.
It is my habit never to comment on remarks or critical analysis about my work. But as others pointed out to me the racist nature of the comments about my eyes and nose in relation to my Chinese background, I realized I must reply, if only to let others of Oriental background know that I would not let pass this kind of remark about myself. I was also deeply shaken to realize that this was being passed off in the guise of humour in Canada today by anonymous writers in a magazine with intellectual pretensions to investigative journalism. In addition, the implication that I as a woman could not look the way I do without facial surgely (the racist element aside) was grossly insulting. Misogyny and racism make pretty nasty little bedfellows. I would not dignify the sexist derogations with a reply but the racist ones I answered in the following way:
There is always a need for unforgiving satire and I therefore read your comments - accurate or inaccurate on my activities with equanimity and sometimes a smile. However, your remarks about the shape of my eyes and facial features cannot be dismissed without comment. These remarks are racist, not only towards me, but by implication, towards all Orientals. They are contemptible and unacceptable in our society. We learned in school that a sucessful savage satire always has a strong moral base. Regrettably, you are abdicating yours.
In the kind of society we have which is unique in the world, racist slurs and innuendos masquerading as humour have no place. Everyone must stand up and not allow them to be voiced without comment that they are racist. Remember Prince Philip in China and his comments about slit eyes? He wasn't excused for it. Nobody should be.