Fox News’ stunningly racist interview in Chinatown won’t do any favors for Donald Trump

It fits into a long history of “othering” Asian Americans.

Fox News reporter Jesse Watters learning Taekwondo, a form of Korean martial arts. CREDIT: Screenshot
Fox News reporter Jesse Watters learning Taekwondo, a form of Korean martial arts. CREDIT: Screenshot

In a Fox News segment filled to the brim with offensive stereotypes about Asians, reporter Jesse Watters took to the streets of New York City’s Chinatown ostensibly to interview Chinese people about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But the video, which has been harshly rebuked by Asian advocacy organizations and journalists, isn’t likely to do Trump any favors among Asian Americans, a demographic group he’s struggled to attract.

“Am I supposed to bow to say hello?” Watters asks two women at the beginning of the segment, which aired on Monday night. The rest of the nearly five-minute long segment intersperses clips from old movies and television shows featuring Asian characters with modern stereotypes about Asian people.

In one interaction, an Asian man affirmatively answers that he supports Trump, but his answer is intentionally subtitled despite the fact that he is speaking with only a slight accent. In another, Watters asks a shopkeeper whether the watches he sells are “hot,” or stolen. Watters goes to a Taekwondo studio, a form of Korean martial arts, and asks a man whether he knows Karate, a martial art developed in Japan. He asks people on the street questions like, “Do they call Chinese food in China just ‘food’?” Finally, he asks a man on the street to teach him to say in Chinese, “This is my world.”

(For the record, the man teaches Watters the phrase in Cantonese, a Chinese dialect mainly spoken in Hong Kong.)

“They’re such a polite people, they won’t walk away or tell me to get out of here. They just sit there and say nothing,” Watters told O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly at the end of the segment.

O’Reilly claimed that the video was in “gentle fun,” though he acknowledged the segment would likely receive letters from viewers.

“They’re such a polite people, they won’t walk away or tell me to get out of here.”

That explanation didn’t exactly go over well with Asian American advocacy organizations this week, who pointed out that the video segment “openly ridicules” their community.

“Although The O’Reilly Factor may believe this was ‘all in good fun,’ the segment does nothing more than play up every offensive stereotype of Asian Americans that the community has fought against for decades,” the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice said in a statement on Tuesday. “What they should have done is to talk about the important role that Asian Americans can play in this upcoming election.”

The segment is a particularly offensive way to talk down to Asian Americans who are considering how to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

The segment contributes “to the stereotype that Chinese Americans don’t care about or understand the U.S political system,” Dr. Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies and the director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland at College Park, told ThinkProgress.

It also makes use of stereotypes that suggest “Chinese Americans are foreigners in their own country,” according to Wong, an assumption that has long been used to disenfranchise them in the United States.

“This trope has been utilized to cast question on Chinese Americans’ belonging in the U.S. since the late 1800s, when Chinese were denied citizenship because they were deemed too foreign and distinct from white Americans to ever become full members of the U.S., let alone vote,” Wong said.

Asian Americans have long been the source of objectification and racial jokes in the United States. About 35,000 Chinese came to America to help build the railroad along the west coast during the Gold Rush in the 1840s. White workers at the time viewed Chinese workers as “racially inferior and unfit to be part of American society,” foisting them into the national spotlight as a “Chinese Question.” Slogans like “The Chinese Must Go!” reached a fever pitch around 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which only ended in 1943. That year, Congress opened up immigration quotas for Chinese immigration with 105 visas. Yet fast forward to today, racial jokes about Asians are still acceptable in Hollywood, as Vox pointed out.

Restrictive immigration provisions against Chinese Americans are no longer around. But they do parallel some of the immigration policy plans supported by Trump, such as his promises to deport the country’s undocumented immigrant population, severely limit Muslim immigration, and track Muslims in a database (an effort similar to what Japanese Americans underwent during World War II in internment camps).

That historical context may partially explain why only 14 percent of Asian American voters intend to vote for Trump in November’s presidential election, according to a Fall 2016 National Asian American Survey.

“Recent research shows that Chinese Americans, even those who are citizens and registered to vote, are much less likely to be mobilized politically by the two political parties than their white and black counterparts,” Wong noted. “This kind of Fox news feature only helps to justify, unfairly, party leaders’ neglect of the Chinese and Asian American community.”

Watters — who initially gained some notoriety after he accosted former ThinkProgress reporter Amanda Terkel in 2009 while she was on vacation — often releases controversial segments where he resorts to stereotypes about marginalized groups.

As Media Matters reported, Watters has produced dehumanizing coverage about the homeless — in one segment, asking a young girl whether she felt scared when she sees homeless people. He has also made derogatory comments about women, rape victims, and immigrants. Most recently, Watters showed up at Princeton University in April and asked people if they were offended by loaded words and phrases like “ghetto,” “black crime,” “slum,” “Islamic terrorism,” and “white privilege.”

Fox News has yet to comment on Watters’ latest racially offensive segment.