I don’t know if I have the energy or bandwidth to write this but it’s important so here goes…
Some of you may have already been aware of the controversy over the marketing behind a book called Deadly Vipers. The full title happens to be: Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership. The book was supposedly published in 2007 (didn’t hear about it then) but I think their team have recently been making a more concerted effort to grow the vision & community known as Deadly Vipers. The book is written by Mike Foster & Jud Wilhite – two Caucasian brothers. And I am intentionally choosing to use the word brothers because they are indeed brothers in Christ.
Let me first say this: I have not yet had a chance to meet Jud and I’m sure that at some point or another, we’ll cross paths and I’ll very much enjoy our fellowship. I only hear wonderful things about him and his ministry/leadership. As for Mike, I have actually had the pleasure of meeting him in person earlier this year. I have never ever seen him with bad hair – a problem I have at least every other day which thus explains my usage of hats. But I digress. In fact, I think I was actually in the same car (with a few other dudes) driving to a group lunch in LA, engaged in some casual chit chat, and exchanged an email or two since that initial meeting.
Mike and I have some mutual friends (as corroborated by the nearly all social media knowing Facebook) and they love this Mike dude like crazy. I don’t know much about Mike, or about Deadly Vipers per se, but I like Mike and immensely respect the intent and idea behind what he and Jud have been and are seeking to do with Deadly Vipers. While I haven’t had much engagement with DV, I have been a big fan of the concept and spirit behind “People of the 2nd Chance.” Most folks don’t know this but Mike is also one of the co-founders of XXXChurch. The guy loves Christ and loves to see change take place…deep change. This is why I respect him and look forward to getting to know him so that I can call him a good friend and not have Facebook dictate our friendship or encourage me to ‘Poke Him.’
But having said all of the above, I too was disappointed by the marketing behind the book and the recent ramping of the DV cause. I don’t have the energy to list stuff (busy with some exciting stuff at Quest Church & launching One Day’s Wages) but let me share the list that my good friend Soong Chan Rah (professor at North Park Seminary) shares on his blog:
Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:
- This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise. Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent.
- This image presents Asian as sinister enemies.
- This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”
- The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.
- The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.
- The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.
- You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.
- The bottom line. You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people. You are using another culture to make your message more fun. That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.
I know there are going to be folks that will respond to Soong-Chan’s post and list as…
Ahh…over-reactive. How often have I heard that word.
- You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
- It’s all about Jesus.
- Chill out…it was just a joke and even a compliment. You’re overreacting.
- And the list goes on.
Let me share 3 general thoughts here and I’ll step aside for you nice folks to share your thoughts and engage in respectful conversation.
1. It is indeed offensive.
Why can’t people understand that? Folks may not have known but now you know… Even if you don’t get it and even if a handful of your personal Asian friends don’t get it, it is offensive because it perpetuates stereotypes and caricatures. By no means am I calling the book or the authors racist! Not at all…but people need to understand that does and can offend many Asians. Even if you don’t understand…can you trust your brothers and sisters that are speaking to you that it’s offensive and degrading – even if I can completely acknowledge and understand that there’s no single malicious intent in the motivation.
2. We need to shout.
Folks may think the reactions of some are over-reactive but not the case. But having said that, there are seasons and situations you have to shout…how else will people listen especially when hardly anyone fears or respects the voice of Asians and Asian-Americans. You know what I’m talking about, right? Our image of passivity is something we collectively as Asian Americans must confront.
The blunt truth is that these kinds of caricatures simply won’t fly with some other ethnicities. Let me keep it real: Can you imagine the media letting Miley Cyrus go had she painted her face brown or black and mimicked caricatures of an African American? If the publishers of this book chose to title the book in a way to capture the words and media images of Urban Hip-Hop African American culture, would it be accepted, defended, and celebrated?
If we don’t shout and at times, be an angry asian man…who will? Remember the Abercrombie & Fitch campaign featuring the infamous Two Wongs can make it White, who shouted? Hardly anyone…people just kept on wearing the AFs.
3. I am a fan of Reconciliation and a believer that everyone deserves 2nd chances.
I have no desire to vilify Mike, Jud, or their team. In fact, I’m ready to defend them and their characters. But there is no defense for the marketing and the images used to promote the Deadly Viper book & cause. I also know Soong Chan very well (in fact, he’ll be a guest at our home in couple weeks) and I know that when he called out Mike, Jud, and Zondervan, he wasn’t trying to publicly smear them. I stand with Soong Chan and others that are simply trying to say: “Please listen to what we’re saying” and “Let’s work together to make this right…”
I can go on but let me just say this:
As much as I respect the authors and value the idea and content of the book (I have yet to read it but who can’t support the importance of Character & Integrity?)…in good conscience, I could never recommend this book (as it’s currently laid out) to anyone for the simple fact that while folks will push back and say,
“You can’t judge a book by its cover…”
…the reality is that we’re all prone to judging books by its cover and the reality is there are folks who are judging Asians by the cover and we’re tired of fighting these stereotypes and caricatures. I’m more than a cover or a caricature:
I’m tired and to be honest, tired of shouting sometimes. Looking forward to hearing from others and the anticipation of deeper understanding and friendships…