"Kill everyone in China," said a 6-year-old boy, to which Kimmel replied: "OK, that's an interesting idea."
The segment triggered an immediate reaction: Chinese and Chinese-American groups picketed outside ABC studios and even petitioned the White House; subsequently, while both Kimmel and the network have apologized, the anger has not yet entirely subsided.
In fact, the reaction to the Kimmel gaffe has been so strong that it has even triggered a counter-reaction from those who believe that the Chinese groups overreacted. Anthony Tao, a Chinese-American writer and principal author of Beijing Cream, an excellent blog, wrote:
A serious question, fellow Chinese community members: what kind of joke—something actually funny—with the word “China” or “Chinese” in it would you consider acceptable? Where’s the line that, if not crossed, won’t make you go signing an online petition as if anyone** thinks killing all Chinese people is actually a good idea?
I understand Anthony's logic, but disagree with his point here; obviously, even the most paranoid, jingoistic Chinese person knows that the United States harbors very few people (much less children!) who hold mass-murdering fantasies about China. I'd guess that just about everyone in China realizes that the humor (or attempted humor) of the segment was just how outrageous the boy's comment was, as well as Kimmel's deadpan reaction.
But the reality is—and the incident on Dutch TV confirms this—that offensive references to Chinese people remain common in popular culture. A doctoral student who sings opera on the side is casually mocked for his racial similarity to Chinese immigrants who work in restaurants. A boy calling on everyone in a country to be killed is just an innocent, amusing comment from a little rugrat. And it isn't just China, either: In September, a CNBC host in employed a mocking Indian accent to discuss the value of the rupee, India's currency. So it goes.
In March, my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an op-ed in The New York Times discussing an incident in which the African-American actor Forest Whitaker was stopped and frisked in a Manhattan deli by the owner, who didn't recognize him and suspected him of shoplifting. Once the owner recognized Whitaker, he was mortified—because he didn't consider himself a racist. Wrote Ta-Nehisi:
The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion.
That applies in the case of anti-Chinese racism, too: It isn't just that the Dutch TV personality is a jerk (though, frankly, he seems to be), or that Jimmy Kimmel and his producers are particularly insensitive (they might be, though having watched the show I doubt it). It's that we still live in a society where these sentiments still arise, and that these "slip-ups" occur with numbing regularity.