Dear Kate, Making Slanty-Eyes is Not Good For Your Asian Kids
I used to think you were one of us Hapa Mamas, since you are arguably one of the most famous (and most bountiful) mothers of mixed-race Asian kids, but a picture, as they say, tells a thousand words. You know the photo I’m talking about, the one that's surfaced on Twitter, showing you wearing a plastic geisha wig and pulling your eyes into slants?
As a new mom, I tuned into Jon and Kate Plus 8. I so related to your travails of diaper changing and bedtimes, and your beautiful tawny brood reminded me of my own (much smaller) brood. You felt like an old friend. But after a season or two, I gave up my naïve hope that your show might feature tots in hanboks or maybe some cross-cultural interaction with their Korean grandmother. Even your attempts to prepare a Korean meal for your family degenerated into Ancient Chinese secrets.
I tried to reserve judgment when the photo first came out, because I know people sometimes make mistakes, especially when they think they are in a private moment. Then you explained what you were doing in a post on your website, simply titled “Photo”:
This was a happy memory of mine. It was a happy time for me and Jon, smiling and “goofing off” together. Jon and I were opening fan mail together one afternoon — which often filled the garage of our Elizabethtown home — and when we opened this plastic Asian dress up wig sent from a caring fan, we smiled, each taking turns posing in it and snapping photos (on my phone) of each other. Naturally, I “slanted” my eyes to show him my best Asian impression, which made him smile.
So the photo was leaked off of your private computer? When your cookbook is about to be published, and Robert Hoffman’s tell-all ebook Kate Gosselin: How She Fooled the World is also about to released? That sucks. But usually this kind of incident brings out the “I’m sorry (if only because I was caught)” explainers, and I noticed that nowhere in your post is anything even close to an apology. Instead, you refer to a racist gesture as a “happy moment”. And of course, you can’t be racist… you married an Asian! You even describe the person who sent you this geisha costume – complete with plastic wig – as a “caring fan”.
One thing I agree on with you. It IS normal for young children in mixed-race families to wonder about differences in appearance. You write:
It’s normal to talk about and even “exaggerate” the feature differences between family members of a biracial family as they are noticed by curious growing children within the family.
There are many ways parents of multiracial children can have honest discussions about race and teach kids about their heritage. However, using hurtful gestures is not one of them.
Like Jon, I was once a little Asian kid growing up in the Midwest. Let me tell you, at times, that was not fun. Plenty of kids pulled up the corners and of their eyes and made "ching-chong" taunts at me. Those are not happy memories.
I had hoped that my own hapa children, growing up in California, would not have to face that kind of racial bullying. Yet my own second grader came home from class one day, telling me that other kids were making the slanty-eyes at him. I wondered where these children were even getting the idea to do that, since we live in the supposedly “post-racial” 2000s.
Now I know. I’m not saying you’re personally teaching children how to taunt a new generation of Asian American kids. If anything, your slanty-eyed picture is a reminder that there are people out there who still consider it perfectly fine to mock Asians and to justify it by suggesting that it's a compliment.
So Kate, your slanty-eyes have opened up my eyes to the racism that still lurks beneath the surface in 2013.
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.