Reactions to Racism in an Asian Nail Salon

We’ve all seen the endless jokes about Asians who work in nail salons, massage parlors, and donut shops. This is often an easy target for stand-up comedians such as Anjelah Johnson and her popular skit mimicking the Vietnamese nail salon workers:

Why is it such as easy target? Primarily because such businesses are in fact heavily intertwined in the Asian American community. Its easy for people to make fun of this and yet they don’t take the time to understand that this is a deeply rooted issue for Asian Americans that stems from early immigration into the U.S.  These comedians don’t take the time to understand the hazardous effects that such an environment has on our community (such as chemical exposure from glues, polishes, etc. infecting the nail salon workers). To make matters worse, one of the more popular things to make fun of is the fact that Asians talk about their customers in their own language. Apparently, speaking in one’s native tongue automatically justifies suspicion of gossip.

Needless to say, over the years these places have often become correlated to the Asian American community. So when filming a hidden tv show to try and focus on racism towards Asians, where do they choose to film it? An Asian-owned nail salon, of course.

What Would You do? is an ABC hidden camera television show where actors perform scenarios of conflict in public. The show focuses on the bystanders to see how they react to such situations. Recently, they performed a skit in a nail salon with Asian actors performing as the workers. The Caucasian actress was told to be racially offensive and she performed her task with flying colors. She began to comment rudely on the worker’s quality of life (justifying herself with the fact that the worker didn’t understand English) and went on to make racial comments ranging from Asians being bad drivers, good at math, and all the other Asian stereotypes you can think of.

All this was performed in front of unknowing customers and sure enough, the customers reacted.  I was pleasantly surprised with just how riled up the bystanders were concerning this blatant show of racism. During each instance, the other customers spoke up about the actress’ rudeness. It was evident that her comments were not okay and it is a simple reminder to us that not all is lost. Its easy for us to point out the number of racist instances that our community has endured, but we must not forget that this is not always the case. While this certainly doesn’t fix the larger issue at hand, it is a reminder that there are people who understand what we continuously face.

Check out the What Would  You Do? skit here: