Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
It began with the tedious contrivances of blaming “kung flu” or “Chinese virus.” Surely, “woke” critics thought, this was what accelerated the spike in COVID-19 anti-Asian hate incidents. Then soon came the invectives against “white supremacy” and “white nationalism.”
Back in 2008, I starred opposite Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” playing the lead Hmong role in a tale of two people transcending their differences to form an unlikely human bond. It was a historic cinematic moment for Hmong people around the world, despite its copious anti-Asian slurs.
At the time, there was a lot of discussion about whether the movie’s slurs were insensitive and gratuitous or simply “harmless jokes.” I found it unnerving, the laughter that the slurs elicited in theaters with predominantly white audiences. And it was always white people who would say, “Can’t you take a joke?”