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Steve Harvey isn't apologizing for his Asian men jokes (though his show kind of did)

This was posted on Saturday, January 14, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

I've been blogging for more than 12 years and have faced a fair amount of abuse in the comments section and on social media. I have a thick skin. It takes a lot to insult me.

Part-time Atlantan Steve Harvey -  a man I've interviewed numerous times over the years as he promoted his radio show, his TV shows, his books, his clothing lines and his charitable work - disappointed me with his off-hand jokes about Asian men on his syndicated talk show a week ago. As an Asian-American man who was once married to a white woman, it hit close to home.

He was doing a bit showing ridiculous book titles. There's a 2002 book he identified called " How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men ." (It's real!)

That in and of itself is easy to mock and the studio laughed for several seconds, but he chose to tackle it in a way that basically plays into the stereotype that Asian men are sexually undesirable - especially to women of other races.

"That's one page too!" Harvey said. "'Excuse me, do you like Asian men?' No thank you.'

Then he went with an alternative title: "How to Date a Black Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men."

"Same thing," he said, then imitated a black woman: " 'You like Asian men?' I don't even like Chinese food. It don't stay with you no time... I don't eat what I can't pronounce.' "

As is his wont, he laughed at his own jokes to accentuate how funny he was.

Why is this funny? For some, it's because there is an unfortunate nugget of truth there. OKCupid did a 2009 study of response rates based on race and white women were least likely to respond to Asians and Indians over any other race. But he was wrong about black women. They actually responded more often to Asian men than black men (though less than white men.)

In an updated 2014 OKCupid study, there were a few shifts. Black women preferred Asian men over Latino and white men though not as much as black men. White women penalized Asian men but disliked black men even more. (Sorry Steve!)

Other studies also show that Asian American men have a tough slog in the dating world, though black women have comparable if not worse challenges. One dated 2007 Columbia study said an Asian man would have to earn $247,000 more than a white man to be of equal footing.

A couple of days ago, I contacted Harvey's trusted right-hand man Rushion McDonald, an executive producer of Harvey's talk show, to see if he could wrangle a comment from Harvey. McDonald is a super nice guy and tight with Harvey, but as of Saturday afternoon, he had no luck getting any statement of any sort for me directly from him.

And yesterday, it became clear Harvey was not going to apologize at all for his jokes after meeting with Donald Trump .

Instead, he complained about the social media backlash. “I ain’t been laughing that much over the past few days,” Harvey said to the press at Trump Tower. “They’re kinda beating me up on the Internet right now for no reason. But, you know, that’s life, ain’t it?”

UPDATE later Saturday night: His show apparently did offer this statement late last week, which could be seen as an apology of the "if you were offended" variety. I received it only after I posted this although I had requested something from the show itself on Thursday. Interpret as you will. As we know when it comes to public apologies, statements released by a show are a step removed from the source itself talking about it:

“Steve Harvey was poking fun at unusual book titles in a comedic segment from Friday’s show. His comments were never meant to demean the Asian community and the show sincerely apologizes to anyone who was offended.”

UPDATE #2: Four days after I wrote this, he posted an apology on social media. Given the belated nature of it and the fact it was probably written (or at least vetted carefully) by a publicist, take it as you will.

As the Hollywood Reporter noted, the asexualization of Asian American men goes back more than 150 years. It is kind of the opposite problem for black men, who are often pegged with the "hyper-sexualized" stereotype.

The reporter Rebecca Sun noted:

This isn’t edgy humor. It’s tired — so tired, in fact, that its origins can be traced all the way to the mid-1800s. To counteract the massive wave of imported cheap Chinese labor (“coolies”), Asian men were subject to a series of targeted laws that systematically stripped them of rights that signified manhood, such as property ownership, job opportunities and the ability to marry freely. The legislation worked hand-in-hand with the campaign on the cultural front, warning men and women of the Yellow Peril and peppering newspapers with caricatures that clearly showed these coolies as less than regular men. (MTV News' webseries Decoded has a good — and educating — rundown of this history.)


Several New York Asian-American politicians - Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), Councilman Peter Koo (D-Queens), Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) and Rep. Yuh-line Niou (D-Manhattan) - wrote a letter to Harvey requesting an apology that doesn't appear forthcoming:

“In just one short clip, you and your producers managed to insult Asian men, white women, and black women with a single skit. Your statements were racist, sexist, and completely inappropriate for a public figure on a show broadcast to millions.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.