Hate Crime? Los Angeles Times Sees ‘Casual Racism’ In Mispronouncing Asian Name

Los Angeles Times staff writer Ashley Lee has apparently found the latest kind of hate crime in an article titled “The casual racism of mispronouncing an Asian person’s name.”

The Los Angeles Stage Alliance had an Ovation Awards ceremony where they mispronounced Jully Lee (sounds like Julie). At first, the Los Angeles Stage Alliance apologized to the “AAPI community” for this Jully Lee disrespect, and organized a task force that would take steps towards a “transparent transformation” to become an ally of the “BIPOC and marginalized community.”

There was such a freakout that more than two dozen local theaters withdrew from this Alliance, and it disbanded!

Imagine the Oscars being canceled after the named La La Land the Best Picture! But of course, that wasn’t a racial insult. Or wait, since Moonlight – a film about a gay black man – had its Best Picture moment flubbed, that’s casual racism and homophobia. Right? Disband the Academy Awards! 

Ashley Lee called the ceremony “disastrous” and bitterly complained “I find it exponentially more disrespectful that this error was made during an event that celebrates the theater, an industry in which artists of color are already pressured to water down their stories, language and entire selves to be palatable for white artistic directors, collaborators and audiences.”

So she wasn’t having critics of the Times story on this: 

One went the extra mile to make fun of Jully (pronounced like Julie) Lee, who was nominated for her performance in East West Players’ and the Fountain Theatre’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. Wrote the reader: “How do you say her name? Is it Jelly or Jolly?”

I was so disheartened to read these comments. The Ovation Awards’ snafus — and some of our readers’ reactions to the news coverage of them — are emblematic of the casual racism in the theater world and the world at large.

Mispronouncing someone’s name, accidentally or on purpose, at the very least demonstrates a selective laziness to learn the correct way to address or acknowledge a person. The name is perceived as particularly difficult only because it’s beyond the white European names that have been deemed normal.

Naturally, this was turned around on Republicans: 

When done willfully, it’s a conscious decision to weaponize one’s name — a deeply personal signifier of ethnic background and family lineage — against them, othering and invalidating them in a culture that already upholds white supremacy. This was the strategy of former Georgia Sen. David Perdue in referring to Kamala Harris, his Senate colleague and the Democratic nominee for vice president at the time, as “KAH-mah-lah? Kah-MAH’-lah? Kamala-mala-mala. I don’t know — whatever.”

….Such encounters sprout name-based microaggressions like “assignment of an unwanted nickname, assumptions and biases about an individual based on their name, and teasing from peers and educators due to cultural aspects of a name,” according to Ranjana Srinivasan, whose research advocates for the mental health of South Asian Americans.

It should go without saying that people organizing an awards ceremony — just like broadcast journalists — should make a pronunciation guide to get names properly announced out of a respect for accuracy as well as the subject of your reporting. But even Joe Biden said “Camel-a.” It’s not racist. Kamala has said “Camel-a!” 

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