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Op-Ed: Dismantling Subtle Racism Toward Asians

While NASCAR continues its diversity efforts, a tweet from a prolific driver indicates how much further we have to go for equality. (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

While NASCAR continues its diversity efforts, a tweet from a prolific driver indicates how much further we have to go for equality. (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

When it comes to covering the stories surrounding the motorsports world, the spotlight is typically on the drivers and teams at various tracks across the world.

The focus is around the winning racer and crew after a hard day’s work. There’s moments when a close call or bitter defeat are chronicled, reminding us all about the human element of motorsports, and for all intents and purposes, the sports world.

Regardless of who crosses the stripe as the winning driver and team, motorsports and our world prosper when it’s united as one. Banding together, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, the differences that are a part of us, behold a marvelous sight as that of seeing the stars and planets during the night.

Then, there’s the case when prejudices are cloaked as humor or affiliation with another. During a time when our world is reeling and attempting to unite despite our differences, it would seem that there’s still so much progress needed for equality.

A day after a thrilling, competitive GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin posted the following in a tweet that has since been deleted.

While Hamlin did not tweet to or mention Kyle Larson’s Twitter handle, his tweet, which incorporated a clip from a Family Guy episode, depicts a stereotype disgustingly and overly done toward Asians. In this case, the stereotype reinforces how Asian women cannot drive a car.

Hamlin’s tweet became a mini thread in which he justified it because it was “funny as sh*t,” his friendship with Larson and for those offended by the clip to “lighten up.”

For those who aren’t Asian, of course, the clip and tweets were funny and an instance of those who did not like his tweets as being soft, not being able to take a joke.

There were numerous fans on Twitter and the Reddit NASCAR forum who reveled in Hamlin’s tweet, regarding it as “Grade A shi*tposting,” or a supposedly hilarious take.

A joke about a race or ethnicity is not a joke at all. Defending a tweet that minimizes and demeans a race or ethnicity simply because of a friendship or it being funny does not make it OK.

Hamlin’s tweet is beyond offensive. It’s reprehensible.

As one of the few Asian Americans who covers NASCAR, I have worked hard toward finding a genuine, full-time opportunity to be a part of this industry. In fact, I work a full-time job outside of motorsports media while pursuing my MA in Digital Journalism while writing and editing content for The Podium Finish as a genuine, bona fide motorsports journalist.

I’ve traveled to various races on my own dime, spending the past 14 years covering the sport that I loved since my childhood. I’ve believed there’s a place for me and others of my background to be welcomed and accepted.

After all, NASCAR is supposed to be the sport that welcomes everyone. The series has initiatives like Drive for Diversity that aims to promote inclusivity for women and people of color with quality roles within the industry.

In fact, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Larson, is an Asian American, a first in the sport’s 74 years of existence. It seems like a great time as any to be an Asian American, much less, a Filipino American covering NASCAR.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s tweet is a sad reminder that a joke, laden with racist undertones, can be spoken and defended. With numerous fans defending Hamlin, it makes someone like me feel very lonely and wondering if there’s others feeling similarly in like shoes with Hamlin.

Throughout my 14 year motorsports journalism career, I’ve been subjected to racism at the track. From fans who’ve tweeted or messaged hateful, racist words toward me, even when it’s a simple tweet about a happening in a NASCAR race, to the dirty looks I’ll sometimes get from some of my peers at the track, initially, I’ve told myself to ignore them.

It’s about working hard versus worrying about the thoughts and actions by others, so I thought.

Some have told me to dismiss those moments or, as Hamlin tweeted, that it’s “a joke” and “lighten up.”

Dismissing the concerns and pain from someone in my shoes does not console me and others. It minimizes us and reinforces that it’s inconsequential to target Asians, essentially open season to make deplorable jokes at our expense.

Two years ago, Corey LaJoie openly mocked Asian Americans on episode 46 of his MRN podcast, Sunday Money. When LaJoie recalled an experience of ordering a Philly cheesesteak from an Asian vendor, he did so with a stereotypical accent.

Although MRN pulled the episode, that moment had me wondering if LaJoie and others perceive Asians like me in this intolerable manner. It did not fully resolve this issue and it seemed as if the incident was swiftly dismissed.

On Monday afternoon, Hamlin tweeted a clip from Family Guy that labeled the Asian woman driving the car as “Kyle Larson.” If this was a joke about Larson’s tangle with Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota co-owned by Hamlin, on the final lap of the GEICO 500 at Talladega, it did not just fall flat.

It was beyond unacceptable.

It was a reminder that perhaps folks like me and other Asians are perceived in the same fashion by Hamlin. And this is where such silence and compliant behavior of Hamlin’s tweet and similar mindsets like his being considered “a joke” needs to stop.

The stance that people like me cannot take a “joke” is despicable.

Recently, Frances-Kai-Haw Wang of PBS News Hour wrote in her article on Apr. 11 how Americans easily dismiss an atrocity toward Asians that needs to be addressed.

As Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, chair of the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC) said in Wang’s article, “Part of American culture has been minimizing and pretending discrimination against Asian Americans can’t and does not exist.”

Anti-Asian American racism, as Wang points out, comes in the form of physical and verbal harassment, avoidance, spitting and coughing, business downturn, vandalism and graffiti and online and social media harassment. Regardless of Hamlin’s intent, his tweet fits into an action of Anti-Asian American racism.

Stereotypes toward Asians, seem to be justified because people of my ethnicity and background excel at so many things as Kat Chow wrote in an NPR article from July 11, 2013.

The concept that Asians are the model minority of America also serves as a means justifying the “jokes” toward us when they’re really racist and hurtful.

Being Asian doesn’t mean we are all bad drivers, great at mathematics and are financially rich.

Being an Asian should not be something requiring defense.

Being Asian doesn’t mean that a racist dig, regardless of tone and intent, should be tolerated.

Being an Asian means a sense of pride of our roots, like any other race and ethnicity across the world. It means celebrating who we were, who we are and who we can be.

It means being one of more than 50 different ethnic groups, all with different stories, histories, arts and cultures that can and should be celebrated.

Hamlin’s tweet, train of thought and mindset, like the countless infractions against Asians, needs to be in the past.

It’s not because it’s 2022 and because I, like many Asians, are tired of the racist acts and words against us since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, there’s cases where hate crimes and racist acts against Asians are swept under the carpet.

I want to feel like I can go into a NASCAR track’s garage area, media center and pit road solely judged by my abilities, character and work ethics, not by my color and ethnicity.

I want to know that others of various Asian ethnicities can feel welcomed like their comrades and not harassed or subjected to racism, regardless of its form.

It’s because we desire and respect, just as anyone else deserves.

We can do better. And we need to do better.

We have to do better all across the board.

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.




    Mario Andretti

    April 25, 2022 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you for writing this. This was an insightful and informative commentary of why instances of keeping things to oneself; “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it!” Denny Hamlin is stupid for his tweet and I’ll never respect him or cheer for his team.



      April 27, 2022 at 3:00 am

      I call this op-ed “The Reply.” Although, I am not Asian, I too had to respond to those cheers and “melting” “snowflake” tweets. I could not let those tweets stand without another voice that countered.


    John Parr

    April 26, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    Must say that being an Anglo-Saxon white 59 yr old male embarrasses me at the moment. Am so tired of how people justify their comments as “it was just a joke”. My cousin is Pilipino American and also have a cousin that is African American. Plus a half-brother that is Italian American. The key here is the word American, we are all American. We as a country need to get past making “jokes” at the expense of those looked at as being different from the average “White” person. Hopefully it will not take us older generations dying off in order for the mind set “racism” of people to change allowing more acceptance and seeing people for who they are and not for their ethnic heritage.

    • Rob Tiongson

      April 26, 2022 at 10:03 pm

      John, this was most kind of you to comment. I appreciate it and you.

      I agree. No matter our background, whether we immigrated or were born here, we’re Americans and we need to understand and realize there’s more to America than just Caucasians. There’s so many racial and ethnic groups here and the beautiful part is the majority is the differences we have here.

      I think what you did is a promising start for me to realize there are good people around like you. So thank you.



    July 17, 2023 at 10:29 am

    I think, perhaps, that because Asian and Asian Americans are unlikely to speak out, there is a presumption by many that they are not offended by the comments. This is a very good lesson to those of us who may be diligent in consideration of races or religions that openly react to this type of insensitivity and yet we (or I) tend to ignore that same courtesy to others. There is a fine line between humor and harm.

    • Rob Tiongson

      July 18, 2023 at 7:42 am

      John, I think that this is a preconception that needs to be broken. The perception may be that Asians and Asian Americans are not offended by comments or idly stand by. In reality, the lot of us are offended and have been. I think the consequence of us speaking out against such bigotry would be further insults and the insinuation that Asians and Asian Americans cannot take a joke for being “too woke.”

      It is OK to find humor in most things and to smile and chuckle about things but it is another when the malicious intent is embedded deeply within a comment laced as a joke. I appreciate you realizing and picking up on the message and intent of my op-ed from last April. I think we still have a long ways to go but I am hopeful good interactions like this remind me that good people appreciate people of color and any walk of life more times than not. Thank you!

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