Funny Faces Communicate Stereotypes Too

June 12th, 2012 | Categories: Race

Listen, my kids and I make funny faces all the time. There are lots of ways to make a funny face. Yahoo images provides lots of fun pictures of funny faces. Manipulating your mouth, eyes, nose, cheeks, tongue, and even ears provides lots of options. But not one of the images on Yahoo! includes a picture where someone uses their pointer fingers to pull back the corners of their eyes. Why? Because as the Yahoo! omission suggests, it’s not funny.

And I understand that photobombing is fun. Even cats and dogs can be part of the fun of photobombing. And photobombing that involves funny faces is even better. But, ultimately, it seems photobombing that involves ‘slanted eyes’ is not fun or funny. At least that’s what can be gathered when Yahoo! once again picked up on the problem of this particular (not-so-funny) face in a recent Sunday Yahoo Sports article.

Why is this face not so funny? Hello Ello provides great insight into her emotional response to this offensive face. If, after reading the article, you are still wondering why it is offensive, the answer is with Ello’s second to last paragraph where she discusses her daughter. Ello write, “She didn’t understand why he was doing this, but she knew it hurt her.” What Ello is talking about here is exclusion. Even at her daughter’s young age of six years old, her daughter knew that the face meant she was being excluded.

In essence the ‘slanted eyes’ face communicates the stereotype that “Asians are foreigners.” The ‘slanted eye’s is a reminder to Asians that they are different, not like the rest of the people ‘here’ and, so, are foreign. According to the stereotype of the ‘forever foreigner’ Asians are assumed to be foreign despite their fluency with the English language or their self-identified status as Americans or Asian Americans. Those perceived to be of Asian descent may often be asked, “Where are you from?” or “What bought you to this country?” This question robs Asian Americans of their nationality and treats them as “less American” (Kawai, 2005, p. 117).

Even Ello’s six-year old daughter could interpret the meaning of the ‘slanted eyes’ face as a stereotype. It begs the question, if a corporation like Yahoo! can understand the stereotype and a six-year old can understand the stereotype, why didn’t Humberto Quintero realize that funny faces communicate stereotypes too?

Perhaps he should look it up in a dictionary…or a t-shirt.

Reference:
Kawai, Y. (2005). Stereotyping Asian Americans: The dialectic of the Model Minority and the Yellow Peril. The Howard Journal of Communications, 16, 109-130.

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