A range of voices from the academy continue to chime in on the issue. Bo Lim, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University provides his perspective on the DVZ controversy.
The authors of Deadly Viper and Zondervan have heard from Asian American Christians that the book is hurtful and have apologized, but they continue to sell the book. By their actions it appears they do not believe that the book itself is harmful. I believe the authors and Zondervan do not believe that the book is harmful because they do not understand that the U.S. is a racialized society and the how negative ethnic stereotypes function within such a culture.
The U.S. possesses a legacy of inequities based upon race. In America black means something different than in Africa. Yellow in the U.S. means something different than in Asia. Because of this the authors cannot bypass the concerns of Asian Americans when they employ Asian stereotypes. A recent event in Seattle demonstrates the harm in importing foreign cultural symbols without the consent of Americans of the same race. The Seattle Zoo constructed an East African village within the zoo grounds complete with people from the Maasai culture. The Maasai were proud to display their culture in the US, but it is African Americans who have had to deal with a history of being caricatured as primates. It is African Americans who have to deal with comments like, “Your people are in a zoo?” The use of Asian cultural symbols by the authors of Deadly Viper may possibly flatter Asians, but it may cause harm to the Asian American community because we are a racial minority in the U.S.
Certainly negative stereotypes are insulting, but are they actually harmful? Yale historian Matthew Jacobsen observes that the phenomena of “pan-whiteness” which emerged in the 20th century is defined by the following two characteristics: one had to shed ethnic identity markers that were traditionally not white; and one had to perpetuate acts of violence against non-whites. I can attest to an example of this from my youth. At the middle school I attended in San Francisco we had so many recent Chinese immigrants that Cantonese and Mandarin could regularly be heard in the school yard. I recall when a white friend of mine grabbed a hold of a smaller student speaking in Chinese, slammed him against the wall, and screamed in his face, “This is America! Speak English!” I am ashamed to say that I laughed consentingly at his actions in my desire to be accepted by my white friend.
Will Deadly Viper encourage acts of violence against Asian Americans? I should think not given its target audience. But what it does do is objectify Asian Americans in the same demeaning manner as those who do engage in acts of violence against Asian Americans. While not encouraging violence, Deadly Viper does support Jacobson’s definition of what it means to be white in America. Viewed in this manner the book is harmful to not only Asian Americans, but also to white Americans since it reinforces a destructive identity of what it means to be white.
A couple of weeks ago while shopping at a Game Stop in a Seattle suburb I unintentionally annoyed another white patron. He and I were both in search for good deals on used PS2 games and apparently he didn’t appreciate the fact that I was in competition with him. He was there with his son and I was with my children. He grew so angry that he openly began to boast of how he was going to beat me up, punch me out, and smack me down while his son giggled gleefully at the machismo displayed by his father. Unsurprisingly, he referred to me as, “That damn Chinaman!”
The man did not assault me, but I do wonder if his son will grow to one day assault my children or another Asian American. Unfortunately Asian Americans continue to be objectified as “damn Chinamen” or “Chicka Wah Wah” (see ch 5). I am particularly troubled by the depiction of Asian women in the book. They are stereotyped as the submissive and sexy Geisha girl, the martial arts mistress, or the dominating Dragon Lady. They are exotic objects either to be feared or mastered by men. While the authors and Zondervan are not responsible for causing injustices against minorities, they are responsible for how they respond to them. If Christian discipleship involves seeking justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24), our responsibility is to fight against hurtful stereotypes in order to bring harmful acts to an end.
To my Asian American sisters and brothers I remind us that if we are going to claim that an injustice has taken place then we must advocate for others who are in similar need. Otherwise we are merely engaging in identity politics and the accusation is true that we merely show the race card when it conveniences us. To the authors and Zondervan, do not recall the book due to political pressure. Recall it if you believe that is the just thing to do. If you do recall the book please educate the masses of people who comprise your audience why you chose to do so lest blame fall on Asian Americans.
 Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998). I am indebted to Jonathan Tran for introducing me to this work.