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It’s Racist to Assume the Asian Mom in That Viral Video is the Nanny

In 2017, some white people still assume that the only kind of relationship that can occur between whites and people of color is one of employer to employee. That’s racist.

Aside from the adorbs reaction of most viewers, the viral video of Robin E. Kelly — a professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University — in a remote interview with BBC News about North and South Korean relations has been gaining traction for another, more disappointing reason.


As the video shows, not far into the interview, a child playfully wanders into Kelly’s office, quickly followed by a baby in a walker and an Asian woman, who wrangles the two children out. It’s one of the funniest and most precious things circulating on the web right now.

What’s not precious is some (white) people’s assumption that the Asian woman is Kelly’s servant or nanny. She’s not. She’s his wife.

Of course, the bigger question is: why did some people assume that this Asian woman was the hired help to Kelly, a white man? Why did so many people assume that she was “frantic” and “frenzied” for fear of losing her lowly position, not because she’s a mother behaving as a mother?

Angry Asian Man blogger Phil Yu had a go at these questions and offered this simple, but concise, observation: “People fell back on stereotypes.”

He’s right.

Elaborating, he said, “There are stereotypes of Asian women as servile, as passive, as fulfilling some kind of service role.”

What he’s describing here is, basically, none other than good old-fashion racism.

Whether we’re referring to Mammy and black Jezebel, the sassy Latina or the docile Asian woman, racism finds a host to feed off of using exaggerated, erroneous and destructive stereotypes. These stereotypes reinforce what Toni Morrison calls “the master’s narrative,” a blunt concept that invokes the African American slave experience as well as the history of racism in the human species.

In the master’s narrative, the slaves (blacks and people of color) must always be depicted, portrayed or cast in a subservient position relative to the freedom and absolute rule of massa or boss (whites). The master is the better of the slave, white is the better of non-white and this must be shown. And from this exhibition arose the very stereotypes pointed out earlier, a tool of racialization that has historically served to substantiate the inferior position of an inferior people.

In 2017, many whites are still desperately clinging to the master’s narrative, frantically holding on to the frail program of white supremacy, still believing that to be white is to reside at the top of the human pyramid and to be a person of color is occupy the bottom.

Think about that for a moment. In 2017, some white people still assume that the only kind of relationship that can occur between whites and people of color is one of ruler to ruled, lord to servant, master to slave, employer to employee.

In this case, it is a white professor and his Asian wife. But the #nothenanny hashtag reminds us that there are plenty of other examples of this particular form of racist stereotyping, of insisting that the universal function of women of color is to serve powerful, white men.

Think about what that says about us as a country — as a world. Then think about the kinds of pejoratives that makes you want to throw at the next person who says we live in a post-racial America.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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