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Essay: Asian Americans Are Not Caricatures, But the ‘Neenja’ Video Makes Us Feel Otherwise

Dear Ms. Murphy,

We're writing to congratulate you on the success of your music video "I want to be NEENJA." We thought the first rendition was going to be a one hit wonder, but you managed to exceed all our expectations upon release of version 2.0. Really, congrats.

First off, did you know that "neenja" is actually spelled "ninja"? And that it's actually part of Japanese culture? So why are you taking "Chow to Chinatown"? You're also missing several verbs in your lyrics­­. It should be "I AM almost a ninja." Please proofread before producing (and figure out which country you're talking about).

Actually, we're hoping your song is just a huge misunderstanding on our part because if you wrote this on purpose, then you must not think very highly of Asian Americans.

Because even though we're all individual human beings with different experiences and backgrounds, I guess you think we all open locks with our chopsticks and know kung fu? And even though some of us just immigrated here from our home countries (Azerbaijan, Japan, Qatar, Armenia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Bangladesh, Kuwait, South Korea, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Laos, Syria, Burma, Lebanon,Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia,Tajikistan, China, Maldives,Thailand, East Timor, Mongolia,Turkey, India, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Oman, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Vietnam, Israel, Philippines, Yemen), while some of us have spoken English all our lives, we all somehow have the same accent. Maybe because to you, all Asians look the same and sound the same. If this is your way of admiring Asian culture, we're not feeling the love.

If the lyrics weren't offensive enough, you just HAD to sing it in an accent­­. What kind of accent is that anyway? Is it supposed to be Chinese? We get it. You like ninjas. Most people do. Then just say it normally: ninjas are awesome. Why add in the horrible faux accent and grammar? Is this what you think of your Asian friends? If so, I'm surprised you have any (except that one poor Chinese lady who you claim is now your "good friend" after subjecting her to your "neenja" song).

We know you think you didn't do anything wrong. It's all in good fun, you say. We're all for a good joke, especially if it's funny. Yours wasn't. You say we're picking on you and being too sensitive. FYI, we let a lot of things slide. When we were little, other kids made slanted eyes at us and mocked us in horrible Asian accents. We didn't say anything because we thought it'd go away when we got older. A lot of it did. But your song reminds us that there are still people out there who think of Asian Americans as caricatures.

And you know what, we're sad to hear that you're losing business over this. After all, the issue at hand is your song and not your beds. But you'll be just fine, because you can get away with it. If someone hadn't dug this out of internet­ obscurity, it would have gone unnoticed. Or maybe you wanted to be noticed. I mean, why else would you post ANOTHER version of your "neenja" song, even after so many people were appalled by the first one? I guess you thought it was OK the second time around by adding in our commentary (without our permission, by the way). No, don't apologize. It's our fault for being offended.

Honestly, even if we weren't offended, it still doesn't give you the right to mock other races or cultures. This isn't the era of "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Back then, America thought it was OK to mock minorities, especially exploiting the "buck­-toothed China­man reference." Well, it's 2016. The era of ignorance should be over. Because of your song, we know there's still room to improve. So, thanks again for reminding us.

Screenshot from Jennifer Murphy's "Neenja" video
This screenshot from Jennifer Murphy's "Neenja" video shows a man dressed as a ninja, picking a lock with chopsticks. via YouTube/Jennifer Murphy

Generations of Asian Americans have tried to break out of the stereotypes we've been boxed into. We're thought of as the "model minorities." We're obedient, we work hard, we're good at math, we never speak up, we have no people skills, we're overly­ studious, we have strict parents. Because of these stereotypes, a lot of non­-Asians think that Asians do not face real discriminations, that we don't have "real problems." But the struggle is real. We just might not show it.

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Here's the larger picture, just so you know we're not singling you out: the reason people (not just Asians) have been so offended by your antics is that people continue to feel and think that it is okay to perpetuate racist Asian stereotypes, especially on a national stage. None was more evident when Chris Rock trotted out three Asian kids on stage at the Oscars en route to one of the most tasteless and unfunny jokes about how Asian are good at math. He also managed to subtly include a child labor joke in there, which is not funny and also a real problem that needs to be addressed instead of laughed off.

Ms. Murphy, this is a free country. You can be creative and funny if you like to be. You're allowed your opinions. But try not to be ignorant, hurtful, and oblivious — especially after thousands upon thousands of people have told you so. It doesn't suit you. Put your talents towards celebrating other cultures and diversity. Make that your Ninja Way.

Sincerely,

The Double Chens & Friends

Mike Chen, Dan Chen, and Yi Yang are the hosts and writers for YouTube channels Double Chen Show and Double Chen News, which tackle "all things Asian" in the forms of comedy sketches, news and pop culture commentary, and educational videos on traditional Chinese culture and history.

NBC News reached out to Jennifer Murphy, who provided the following statement in response to the criticism of her video:

My videos and my projects are meant to "Ignite Joy" in others. I am sorry to anyone that was offended by anything I've created. Please know that I only want to spread positivity. I cannot stop being "me" in order to try and keep everyone happy, all the time. I am hopeful that the Asian community and everyone else following this story can understand my viewpoint, appreciate my good intentions and take a stand against the cyber-bullying and threats I continue to receive. And I invite anyone to view my light-hearted videos by visiting YouTubeBlonde.com, or to learn more about my Go Girl initiative to empower girls and women globally at GoGirlWorldwide.com.

Sincerely, Jennifer Murphy

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