The Chinese community has been cheesed off recently by the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, as the correspondent Jesse Watter came to Chinatown in Manhattan and asked stereotypical and racist questions. Social media exploded after the segment was broadcasted on national television, and Chinese protesters gathered demanding an apology. Yet, Bill O’Reilly remains standing by Jesse Watter and refers the outrage from the public as an “organized campaign.”
I watched this footage. I asked the same question as Ronny Chieng does on the Daily Show: how is this thing news? And among all the disrespectful things he did in Chinatown, what I find the most shameful is the moment when he questioned two old Chinese people who couldn’t understand English. He thought it was funny to show some awkward silence when talking to someone who didn’t understand the language, but what he actually did was challenge the most basic and fundamental respect and politeness this society values.
Language is important in shaping a community and identifying a community member. Common language is the basis for communicating, sharing opinions, collaborating and even debating. However, people are forgetting the fact that speaking is fundamentally an ability, just as walking or seeing. It should not be taken for granted that everyone in this country has enough language proficiency to express his or her opinions and utilize speaking as a way to defend his or her rights. As in O’Reilly Factor, when facing a man asking racist questions in a language they don’t know, the old Chinese people could not, even if they wanted to, retaliate the ridicule imposed on them. They could only respond to Jesse Watter with an awkward smile, half friendly and half puzzled.
And it is not them to blame. If we can respect people who can’t walk, if we can respect people who can’t see, why can’t we respect people who can’t speak? We have made great effort to make our facilities and infrastructures accessible to people who have special needs, yet it seems that we forget how to make our society accessible to those who have difficulties in speaking for their rights. We have emphasized making an environment comfortable enough for those who have physical disabilities, yet our community is shying away from those who can’t express their opinions properly.
The barrier of language may be more deep and severe than the barrier of race and identities, but there is less awareness of it, because the victims suffering from this do not have a voice and cannot confront the injustice they face, and so we may never hear their stories. It is difficult to protect their rights and keep them from bullying in terms of language. We can only count on our conscientiousness and our humanity. But for a civilized community, it is necessary.
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