In between jokes and jabs at things like the Jollibee mascot, torturing Cars characters Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater, and polls in which 42% of Americans, when asked to "name famous Asian Americans," could not name one (while only 11% named Jackie Chan), late-night host John Oliver gave a brief, yet jarringly in-depth look at America's disturbing and frequently ignored history of violence, racism, and inequality against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Sunday night's half-hour episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliverwas entirely dedicated to dismantling the Asian American "model minority" myth as "a tool of white supremacy."
The episode comes nearly three months after the Atlanta shooting spree in which the gunman targeted massage spas in Atlanta, ending the lives of eight people, several of which were AAPI women. The killings, though not considered racially motivated by FBI Director Christopher Wray, reignited a conversation about anti-Asian violence, as well as activism that is traced back to a hate crime in 1982 Detroit.
The segment featured a news clip from around the same time as Chin's murder that shows metro Detroiters bashing Japanese-made cars for ".50 cents a smash" as a means to take out their displaced anger due to the decline of the American auto industry, which, as Oliver points out, was just the beginning of widespread violence toward Asian Americans.
Chin's attackers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz managed to avoid jail time, paying just a $3,000 fine and three years' probation after the judge hailed them as "longtime, hard-working members of the community."
"These men are not going to go out and harm somebody else," Judge Charles Kaufman said at the time. "I just didn't think that putting them in prison would do any good for them or for society."
As Oliver said, it gets worse.
Kaufman had also said Chins attackers "weren't the kind of men you send to jail," which, when reading between the lines, is code for "these dudes were white."
"That's the thing about the criminal justice system, at the end of the day it's more race art than race science," Oliver said, implying that justice is subjective.
Oliver added that Chin's murder was the catalyst for a new chapter of Asian American activism and political identity.
You can watch the segment below but, really, just watch the entire episode.
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