Guy Aoki (born May 12, 1962) is a Japanese-American civil rights activist. He is the leader of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which he co-founded in 1992. He is also a contributing columnist for the Rafu Shimpo, and debates publicly on Asian American issues.
Sarah Silverman controversy
In July 2001, Aoki became embroiled in a public controversy stemming from his objection to a joke told by comedian Sarah Silverman, which involved her use of the ethnic slur "chink", in an interview on the July 11, 2001 episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In the interview, Silverman explained that a friend had advised her on how to avoid jury duty by writing a racial slur on the selection form, "something really inappropriate, like, 'I hate chinks'." However, Silverman said that she ultimately decided that she did not want to be thought of as a racist and instead wrote, "I love chinks." The Associated Press quoted Aoki: "There is no excuse for something like this to have made the air. The term is the most offensive possible reference to a person of Chinese descent." NBC and Conan O'Brien issued an apology, but Silverman did not, insisting later on the July 26, 2001 episode of Politically Incorrect that she did not believe that Aoki was genuinely offended, but exploiting the opportunity for publicity.
Silverman and Aoki later appeared together on the August 22, 2001 episode of Politically Incorrect, along with host Bill Maher and panelists David Spade and Anne-Marie Johnson, the latter of whom was chair of the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Employment Opportunity Committee. After Silverman repeated the joke for exposition’s sake, she opined that it made an implicit statement about the wrongness of racism, rather than legitimizing it. Johnson, however, questioned the humor in the joke, and Aoki opined that such slurs should not be used in an off-the-cuff manner because it legitimized their use, and that use of the word “chink” was no better than the use of the word “nigger”. Aoki, while acknowledging that satire was a legitimate practice, asserted that Silverman’s execution of it was not successful because it ran the risk that people would assume she actually subscribed to the racist viewpoint of her character.
In July 2003 Media Action Network protested the British program Banzai, which is produced by Channel 4. Following the first U.S. broadcast of the series on the Fox Network on July 13, 2003, the Media Action Network accused the program, a spoof betting show that parodies Japanese game shows, of employing demeaning stereotypes of Asians. About 20 members of the group carried signs and shouted slogans outside a presentation by the Fox network to TV critics in Hollywood. Aoki commented, "This is like an Asian minstrel show. Can you imagine the black version of Banzai?" Fox spokesman Scott Grogin responded by saying, "We've received an entire range of comments on the show, both pro and con", and that as a satire, the show should be viewed as "tongue-in-cheek". According to Aoki, in discussions with the MANAA, Fox offered to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the show, but Aoki indicated that this would not assuage the MANAA, who wished the program not be broadcast at all.
- "Banzai sparks US protests". BBC NEWS. July 18, 2003.
- Facebook page of group listing year of founding
- Jun Xing, Chun Hsing (1998). Asian America Through the Lens: History, Representation and Identities. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7619-9176-X.
- "Book Reviews". Journal of Mass Media Ethics. 16 (1): 62. 2001. doi:10.1207/S15327728JMME1601_6. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
- “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” July 11, 2001
- Politically Incorrect. ABC. July 26, 2001