Chris Rock’s commentary on #OscarsSoWhite: a step backward in racial equality

Comedy has always been a means of raising social awareness, but at what point do we draw the line?

The 2016 Academy Awards, more commonly known as the Oscars, was heavily criticized for solely recognizing white actors and actresses, leading to the trending hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite.” In addition to criticizing the selection of only white nominees, many actors and actresses of various ethnicities boycotted the event, leading to a large media frenzy. The controversy over the Oscars’ ethnic diversity only refueled when Chris Rock brought two Asian children onstage to comment on how all Asians are diligent and good at math.

Making a couple of jokes about race is standard practice, both from the customs of the award show and Rock’s style of comedy. But Rock took it upon himself this year to publicly bring attention to Asian stereotypes. Judging from the reactions to the Oscars, Rock did use his humor to alleviate the tension surrounding the #OscarsSoWhite, but disturbingly did so by placing the stereotype on a different minority population—Asian Americans.

In addition, Rock continued to comment on how the Oscars failed year after year to nominate enough African Americans. However, he failed to present the fact that other ethnicities have been even more underrepresented in Hollywood. Among those unrepresented ethnicities are Asian Americans. According to the New York Times, although Asian Americans are becoming more prominent in western media, actors like Ken Jeong are still asked to represent stereotypical Asian roles. An additional study conducted by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that at least half of film productions, both on television and streaming, had non-speaking roles played by Asians, and if they did have Asians casted, that they were rarely in leading roles.

Diversity is not an issue that applies to one race or one ethnicity. Rather, it is a problem of perception, stereotyping, and a general lack of tolerance for differences. As such, the lack of diversity is not a problem that applies exclusively to African Americans, women, or other perceived social minorities. The lack of diversity is rooted in the inability to see others as genuinely equal. Therefore, to remove the stereotype of one ethnicity to place it on another incorrectly defines diversity beyond repair. It somehow suggests that moving the problem around creates a temporary fix, whereas the reality is that it creates a failed scenario similar to that of transferring a bully to multiple schools, hoping the issue will somehow go away.

Ultimately, Rock showed the world that it is not acceptable to target African Americans in the film industry, but that it is fine to transfer the target to another minority. He showed the world how easy it is believe in false diversity, and unfortunately, a large portion of his audience bought it.