In recent months, BuzzFeed’s garnered a lot of traffic from, and done a public service by, publishing lists of hugely racist things that people are willing to say in public, whether it’s spotlighting the bizarre and horrifying comments on a newspaper article, the racist and homophobic reactions to the Capitals’ Joel Ward’s overtime goal against the Boston Bruins, Twitter reactions to the Tim Tebow trade, or the ugly things commenters said about black characters in The Hunger Games. But somewhere along the way, wires appear to have gotten crossed, resulting in the publication of this immensely bizarre list of reasons “why Asians are the superior race.”
Now, I get that the list is supposed to be funny. The article has a subhead that signals that intent loud and clear: “By use of deductive reasoning, I have concluded that Asians are the superior race. This is scientific proof.” But as with the awful Ashton Kutcher PopChips ad we discussed earlier today, in which the actor appears in brownface to play a stereotypical Indian single man, this is an attempt at humor that has nothing to say about race, or about racists, and elicits nary a chuckle.
It might be one thing if the list was full of stereotypes or things that were so blatantly untrue that the article was an attempt to parody ridiculous things racist people believe about Asians. Instead, it’s a recitation of common-to-the-point of boring statements: everything is cuter! they’re weird in ways that white folks find laughable but not contemptible! they’re a source of memes for Western audiences! This isn’t a parody of a mindset: it’s an investment in it. (Also, the piece seems to believe that, a single banh mi reference aside, “Asian” mostly means Chinese and Japanese.) This isn’t actually a list about the superiority of any given Asian country or any given Asian culture. It’s not a Tiger Mother argument. It’s about the fact that white people find some cultural practices that originate in Asian countries more entertaining to consume than, say, the sight of middle-aged dudes in Lederhosen. It’s a joke about superiority that ends up reinforcing a sense that people from Asian countries are inferior, that these cultural practices are worthy objects only of amusement rather than actual interaction.
What worked about BuzzFeed’s lists of Tweets and comments is that they were intended to spotlight the ridiculousness of racist and homphobic statements. Somewhere along BuzzFeed’s edit chain, that purpose seems to have gotten lost, while the form and subject matter stayed on. Style and subject tend to drive traffic. But purpose ought to determine what’s worth publishing, and which pitches are worth rejecting as fast as possible. Especially when the evidence is clear that you can garner as many clicks and as much attention for doing something worthwhile as for ginning up controversy.