Asian Fail?

Cidu Bill on Nov 20th 2012

Is this joke racist? And would it be more acceptable if the cartoonist were Chinese-American?

I know nothing about Vic Lee, by the way: he could be Chinese-American for all I know. Or his real name might be Viktor Lebowski.

Now this being said, perhaps I’m getting too semantic here, but I don’t necessarily equate “racist” with “offensive.” Recently Rupert Murdoch wrote “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti- Israel in every crisis?” I thought it was brilliant that he managed to be both pro-Israel and anti-Semetic in the same 12-word tweet (though granted, some of my fellow Chosen People were offended).

But hell, I reacted with amusement when a white supremacist told me he couldn’t believe I didn’t know that my people secretly ran all the banks…

(and of course we had a similar discussion last year)

Filed in Bill Bickel, Pardon My Planet, Rupert Murdoch, Vic Lee, comic strips, comics, humor | 23 responses so far

23 Responses to “Asian Fail?”

  1. Cidu Bill Nov 20th 2012 at 08:28 pm 1

    Just for the record, an “Asian fail” means getting a B.

  2. Lost in A**2 Nov 20th 2012 at 08:30 pm 2

    Stereotypical, but not ‘racist.’ In my view, any way.

  3. fj Nov 20th 2012 at 09:00 pm 3

    The character happens to share the same last name as the cartoonist (he calls her “Mia Lee”), so I take that as a pretty strong indicator that he probably is of Asian heritage as well.

    Regardless of Lee’s ancestry, if you are making fun of stereotypes, it generally doesn’t qualify as racism. And that’s how I read this comic.

    Mia is, however, implying that 920 would be a pretty typical SAT score for a non-Asian. That probably would be racist if it were not 1) absurd and 2) her score as well. (A 920 SAT puts you in the bottom 2.2%).

  4. minor annoyance Nov 20th 2012 at 09:23 pm 4

    I never figured that character for having any specific identity aside from a trophy girlfriend perennially auditioning mates (but not a golddigger — That’s the girl in the tiara who always seems to be dating or marrying scarily old geezers).

    The other women are defined largely by their relationships (discouraged old married lady, young wife and mother, nervous single in nervous relationship). The men are defined even more by the relationships. I get the feeling Lee is a lot more interested in sexual politics than race or anything else.

    Sexual politics and odd one-off puns.

  5. Arthur Nov 20th 2012 at 10:11 pm 5

    ff, I didn’t think that 920 would be about the second percentile. We geezers
    think of the SAT as a two-part test, so a 920 would be about 460 each. The
    20 year old SAT percentile table I found puts that near the 70th percentile,
    which is reasonable. I know nothing about Mr. Lee, but I suspect this is the
    kind of number he had in mind.

  6. yellojkt Nov 20th 2012 at 11:13 pm 6

    The show ‘Glee’ had an episode called ‘Asian F’ where the Chinese guy singer/dancer got an A- on a test and was told by his parents to quit the New Directions so he could study harder.

  7. fj Nov 21st 2012 at 12:44 am 7


    On the current 2400-point SAT, it is the 2.2th percentile, but you are most certainly right: she’s referring to a math+verbal score out of 1600, not 2400. But I think that should be about the 30th percentile, not the 70th percentile.

  8. James Pollock Nov 21st 2012 at 02:31 am 8

    “Mia is, however, implying that 920 would be a pretty typical SAT score for a non-Asian. That probably would be racist if it were not 1) absurd and 2) her score as well. (A 920 SAT puts you in the bottom 2.2%).”

    Agreement with the preceeding notes that it makes a big difference if you’re talking 920 out of 1600 or 920 out of 2400. To further clarify, I believe that the SAT is normed so that 500=50th percentile, so a 920 would be somewhat less than 50 th percentile on the old, 1600 point SAT. Many standardized tests are normed, which is why it takes 6 to 8 week to get results instead of having them hand you a score report on the way out.

  9. James Pollock Nov 21st 2012 at 02:34 am 9

    Forgot to answer the original question… is it racist? Depends on your definition of racist. If you take the typical view, that “racist” means unfounded negative beliefs about a race, or about an individual because of their race, then no… studying harder, being smarter, and (usually) doing well in school are not negative beliefs. If you take a more expansive view, that “racist” means unfounded beliefs of any kind about a race, or about a person because of their race, then yes.

  10. Olpera Nov 21st 2012 at 08:41 am 10

    I,m sorry but from my viewpoint I can’t see any racism in this comic - rather a sarcastic innuendo on the subject of American mediocrity and indifference regarding general knowledge.
    Note that despite her Asian descent, she claims to be a “real American” and backs this up with a reference to her poor SAT-result. No racism in that unless you consider “real Americans” being an exotic race.
    Most of comments above seem to me as irrelevant and redundant. NOTE: Not necessarily typical for Americans in general.

  11. Morris Keesan Nov 21st 2012 at 09:59 am 11

    When did the SAT add another 800 points, and where do those points come from? Is there a third test in addition to the Math and Verbal, or did each of those get inflated to 1200 points?

    (and how sad is it that I still remember my scores, from the SATs in 1969?)

  12. fj Nov 21st 2012 at 10:22 am 12

    The additional 800 points are from a written essay. It was added in 2005.

    The SAT is not normalized on a yearly basis, but, yes, the test was designed to produce a mean score of around 500 per section. The test was recentered in 1995 to account for declining test scores as a larger, less-selective pool of students were taking it.

  13. Mark M Nov 21st 2012 at 11:16 am 13

    On a side note, are Asians really smarter on average? I have always wondered if our view in America is skewed because no Asian of average or less intelligence is going to travel here to learn English and study at a foreign university.

  14. Elyrest Nov 21st 2012 at 11:45 am 14

    “(and how sad is it that I still remember my scores, from the SATs in 1969?)”

    Morris Keesan - That’s not sad. It was a major event for you at the time. I still remember mine from the 70’s. What’s sad is remembering the lyrics to the themes to silly sitcoms and TV/radio ads. I’m a walking 1960-70’s jingle.

  15. Judge Mental Nov 21st 2012 at 12:10 pm 15

    If the essay was added in 2005, the woman in the strip would have to be no older than 25 years for the 2400 score to come into play. I think its a pretty safe assumption she is referring to the 1600 point scale.

    I find it interesting that most seem to be dismissing the notion that this is racist because the stereotype is not negative. I am not saying the strip *is* racist, but the notion that something is only racist if it is negative in nature seems odd to me. Racism has become sort of a nebulous phrase these days, but when I was a boy, racism was first defined to me as “belief that one race is superior to another”, which this strip seems to epitomize.

  16. Mark in Boston Nov 21st 2012 at 01:33 pm 16

    A better caption might have been “Well, I may be of Asian descent but I’m still a real American. I’m sick and tired of people from other countries taking away our jobs.” Or “Well, I may be of Asian descent but I’m still a real American. Global warming is a hoax. Science is nothing but lies. And there’s a Socialist Muslim in the White House.”

  17. Winter Wallaby Nov 21st 2012 at 02:18 pm 17

    I don’t think this is racist, because I see it as mocking the stereotype, not promoting it.

    But like Judge Mental, I find it interesting (a little weird, actually), that people would find the stereotype not racist because it’s not negative. The stereotype that Asians are smarter is the same as a stereotype that non-Asians are dumber - surely that’s racist to non-Asians?

  18. Pinny Nov 21st 2012 at 04:55 pm 18

    Re: #15 (Judge Mental)

    Although the actual SAT has 3 parts worth 800 points each, colleges base their acceptances on the sum of the Math and Verbal only. I found that out when each of my older kids applied to college. (Unless it was only their colleges.)

  19. Keith B Nov 21st 2012 at 05:39 pm 19

    @13, I can’t find a reference at the moment, but I do recall at one point encountering the fact that observationally, Ashkenazi Jews have the highest scores on IQ tests, followed by Asians, then whites, then blacks. However, there is a stronger correlation between one’s parent’s socioeconomic status and one’s score on an IQ test than one’s race and one’s score. Plus, an IQ test really only measures how good one does on IQ tests; it doesn’t necessarily correlate with what we consider “intelligence” (some child psychologists once told my parents that I was mentally retarded, solely because I didn’t know that one should wear a raincoat outside when it was raining (because I had never done so)). Drawing conclusions about race and intelligence from it is premature and bad science.

    My personal (and anecdotal) experience is that my Asian peers were “smart” not so much because they actually had more intelligence, but because their parents (and entire family) were far more strict on them regarding their grades than my parents were. In other words, it was a culture thing, not a race thing. See the “tiger parent” debate a few months back.

  20. Cidu Bill Nov 22nd 2012 at 01:38 am 20

    I had a similar observation, Pinny: my kids took all three parts — but when they and their friends discussed their scores, they only spoke of the math and verbal parts and how they rated out of the potential 1600 points.

  21. Fred C. Nov 22nd 2012 at 11:30 am 21

    Sorry, folks, of course it’s racist, and it matters not one whit whether the cartoonist is Asian. Is it also offensive? No, it’s too mediocre and forgettable to elicit any outrage.

  22. padraig Nov 22nd 2012 at 11:54 am 22

    @13 and @19, other than the cheap labor immigrations from the 19th century, most Asians come here voluntarily, often for education purposes. That costs a LOT of money. I often ask people, do you think they send the dumb ones?

    For instance, I used to work with Chinese biostatisticians who worked in English. If you moved to China, how long would it take you to be able to do biostatistics there? So, these are some seriously bright people.

    The kids you see getting great test grades in high school now are the next generation of those folks. All the talent their parents had plus the advantage of learning this stuff in their new native language. Our kids’ only hope is that the Oriental kids all get addicted to MTV and video games.

    So their population back home probably has about the same distribution of smart and dumb that other countries have. It’s just the ones that come here that throw off the curve. When that happens in the other direction we call it a “brain drain.”

  23. Meryl A Nov 23rd 2012 at 03:09 am 23

    Seems to me that a B is a Jewish fail also and a 920 on either the old or new SAT scale would not be acceptable to Jewish parents either. Actually a grade of 100 might night be enough. - True story. In NYS we have a set of state exams called the Regents that one needs to pass to graduate from high school. They are taken over the years one is in high school at the completion of various courses. I took my first Regents in 9th grade (in the late 1960s) in Algebra. The exam was 3 hr maximum time allowed and one had to stay for a minimum of 2 hrs. I finished the exam in an hour and half, sat there staring at the wall for half an hour, then turned it in and left. When I got home mom was upset that I was home so soon. A week or so later we got our grades. I got a 100 (perfect score). Came home. Mom - well what did you get on your Algebra Regents? Me - 100. Mom - Don’t worry, next year you’ll study harder and do better. Me -?

    Everyone is somewhat racist - after a year of dating my Italian, RC husband I was invited to Christmas dinner with his family. His grandfather kept asking me if I liked macaroni (spaghetti in this case). He was just trying to be nice and make conversation (and as I quickly learned really was very nice), but I found it a bit off putting and thought it was because I was Jewish.

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