Ixnay on the ockerymay

Photo: Brennan Schnell. http://www.flickr.com/photos/eastscene/5913142040 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

2011, Questlove in Ottawa, where they totally talk funny

It’d be nice to start the new year by exalting another good apology. Let’s see.

The hiphop band The Roots went on tour in Japan. Drummer Questlove kept up an effervescent beat of reactions.

After a while people started calling him racist for Instagram posts joking about the accents of Japanese people speaking English, specifically about the pronunciation of ‘r’ and ‘l’.

One thing people criticized was a conversation between Questlove, his manager/agent Dawn Englehart, and Padma Lakshmi. Questlove wrote “Hey @dawnenglehart is it racist for me to write the Sour Tlain? #chipanesedownunder2013”.

Englehart (who I gather is of Korean ancestry) replied, “Nah you’re in The Loots. You’re allowed.” and then amended that “Arrowed.” To which Lakshmi (who I gather is of Iyengar Brahmin ancestry) added, “Hahahaha ha! You ruys clack me lup”.

Questlove marveled at people speaking Japanese, posting a video of a woman speaking Japanese with the intro, “Ladies and gentlemen, they are talking in tongues.”

He also posted a tiny video cutting between a passenger snoring on a bullet train and Questlove’s horrified face. “Not offensive,” I thought. “It’s a Japanese guy, but it could be a white guy, or a black guy. It would only be offensive to post if it were me.” But then I noticed it was titled “McSnoleArot.”

Is this racist, in the sense of meaning that Japanese people are inferior? I don’t think so. He’s saying Japanese speakers talk funny. Ethnocentric is a better description. Evaluating people on how well they conform to your own culture. Making fun of people’s accents when they’re speaking your language? “Ha ha, you’re bilingual!” I myself avoid having a laughable accent in Japanese by not speaking Japanese, but it’s not a point of pride.

I’m surprised someone as smart and thoughtful as Questlove would do this. I suppose he hadn’t thought it through, and was treating a Japanese accent – or really, the fake Japanese accent of switching r and l sounds – as a word game, sort of like Pig Latin.

Since then, Questlove has taken those Instagram posts down and put up this excellent apology on Facebook:

ok. addressing the elephant in the room on christmas

unfortunately, i’ve offended my asian brothers & sisters with an IG post which i made during my recent tour of japan. in that post, i likened a japanese department store employee’s vocal intonation to that of a (church) deacon speaking in tongues. clearly, i didn’t intend to offend anyone (asian or otherwise), clearly, i *thought* that comparison was funny-cute

… and clearly i thought wrong.

in hindsight, it’s easy to see how my post was yet another example of the ugly, american flipping yet another ugly/racially/culturally insensitive script. so, let me make this abundantly clear….


And no, it wasn’t Duck Dynasty/Phil Robertson mean spirited-xenophobic dumb (but the last time i checked, sleep was still the cousin of death)

—look. i’m a human being and dumber yet, i’m a public figure. if you’re lucky enough to be either of the aforementioned, then not only should one stay clear of saying or writing hurtful things, one should actively work against feeling comfortable, thinking hurtful thoughts. given that black culture consistently finds itself at the butt end of so many offensive “outsider” jokes, I should be way, way more sensitive (after all, who’s zooming who). I for one, should never allow my cultural bias to take precedence over my “examined life” (clunkers be damned). i know the whole kinder and gentler thing reeks of a self serving political correctness, but eff it, it’s “all me”.

so, here i am once again, publicly coming to terms with some more of my stupid “say, say, say” ish. allow me to ask for forgiveness and understanding from anyone that i’ve offended. I will be better in 2014 (i promise)

-thank you.


He says it so well, there’s nothing to add. Some complained that he refers to one of his obnoxious posts and omits the others. But that’s a quibble – what would be the value of recapping each lame joke?

Photo: Simba Madziva. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Derivative version by Miranda GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Questlove in Philadelphia, 2007. Not even starting.

It’s a really good apology. Questlove takes responsibility. He says he didn’t mean to offend, that he only meant to be funny – and that he was wrong to think that. He says exactly what he’s apologizing for – not being mean-spirited, but being culturally biased, unfunny, and dumb.

Well played. Happy new year!

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7 Responses to Ixnay on the ockerymay

  1. Amy k says:

    As always, Questlove is a class act. Love this guy.

  2. SMcC says:

    Surely, “anyone I’ve offended”, should be, “those who I’ve offended”?

  3. Bud says:

    Who’s zooming who? Love it.

  4. Pingback: Making fun of those accents is how I stay sane | SorryWatch

  5. Pingback: A roundup of GOOD celebrity apologies! | SorryWatch

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