crash dump summary (yes, something is wrong with Sum Ting Wong)

Stack top:

Surely you’ve seen the Asiana fake pilot names thing by now.

It’s hilarious! And problematic. It is possible for something to be both, for sure, but when I encounter something horrible and hilarious, I try to be precise about why the thing is horrible, then laugh. The problem in the Asiana pilots case is that I haven’t seen much acknowledgement that there is anything amiss with these made up names.

[example, if I haven’t butchered it for you already — the ‘green, yellow, pink’ joke re: Puerto Rican speakers of English: I love this joke because I relate to the n / ng allophony, but I recognize the stereotypes it is based on.]

On first sight, I knew that these names revealed that something was not ok. Days went by, and I didn’t see any similar sentiments when this was shared in my various feeds, and I began to wonder if I was crazy. Finally, I talked to some friends, who assured me that I was correct, and began to help me articulate the problems precisely.

So I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with chuckling — I did too. But like, head desk a little first, gently? Have rain before the parade — it makes the head-ground more fertile.

[without further ado, or metaphors in the mix:]

Call stack:

Unhandled exception – linguistic yellow-facing. I just made up this term, so I’ll explain what I mean:

The blackface minstrel act was where white performers put on black face paint and mocked black people, for the consumption of white audiences.

Here, we see a presumably white newsworker dressing English phrases in “Asian”-sounding  names that mock how some Chinese people speak English, for the consumption of white audiences (it’s mainstream media — white people are the audience by default). This is linguistic yellow-facing because it’s done via language, not minstrel performers.

How is it mocking?

1. The ‘t’ in Ting / ‘w’ in Wong, from Sum Ting Wong: Dental fricatives (th) are (afaik) not in Chinese / Japanese / Korean. Neither is English ‘r’. When you learn a new language with sounds that you didn’t store in your ears by age 4, you’ll mess up some of the sounds at first. A lot of Asian immigrants do this. For contrast, try pronouncing ‘xiao4’ (smile).

2. The lack of copula (‘are’) in ‘wi tu lo’: Roughly speaking, Mandarin Chinese doesn’t use verbs of being! Ever thrash between “por/para” and imperfect / preterite when trying to form Spanish, and mess up? Similar screw-up.

So the names make fun of the ‘Chinese accent’ in both syntax and pronunciation.


According to third comment here, these names actually did originate from the blackface minstrel shows.


Recall that the flight was from Korea, and that the actual crew was Korean. This is actually the point that I want to stress most: the fact that these are fake Cantonese names is just another way of saying “you all look the same” — that is, assertion that ‘Asian’ is a homogeneous bloc, thereby removing individuals’ heritage and replacing them with some faulty set of stereotypes. Hello Kitty geishas doing math eating egg rolls, e.g.

[Going back to ‘Wi Tu Lo’: Korean /does/ use the cupola. The syntax-mocking is off. Moreover, Korean uses only a small set of family names, and the fact that these fake family names were not in that set should be an immediate giveaway, were the American public familiar enough with Korean. I hadn’t been until help from Niall + internet.]

You can do it by faking the pilots’ names in an ethnicity that does not match their actual ethnicity, or you can do it like the guy in this video:


In light of the Zimmerman acquittal, racism is obviously at large in American society. Different segments of society (Florida vs. PNW, MA elite vs. AZ sprawl dwellers vs. OH structural unemployment poor) are racist in different ways, racism comes in many magnitudes and various directions, and the effects of said racism are just as varied. Acknowledging and dissecting any racist instance strengthens awareness of all racist instances, so that’s what I’ve done here.

Here, appalled koala will give you a hug:


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