Hmong-American actor pans KDWB — and ‘Gran Torino,’ which he starred in

Thursday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press features one of the most fascinating commentaries on KDWB-FM’s controversial lampooning of the Hmong community.

Bee Vang, a Brown University student by way of Minneapolis, batters the argument that because some Hmong laughed at the “joke,” it is therefore no problem:

Those of us who discipline ourselves properly can in turn be made into armor by a society determined to defend colorblindness every time a race skirmish breaks out. But no matter how many Hmong human shields KDWB hoists upon their battlements, the fact remains that “Thirty Hmongs in a House” was racist and harmful. It was aimed at a minority community from which the white creators felt no threat, and hence could condescend to with impunity. Yes, we all have freedom of speech, but some have more than others. If we Hmong avail ourselves of it, we might just be laying the groundwork for more backlash.

That’s well-put, but not the most fascinating part. Vang ropes in his own scarred history as an actor in “Gran Torino,” which some Hmong liked but many found offensive — and did not hesitate to tell him so. Vang isn’t kind to the Clint Eastwood film:

In a similar way, after Gran Torino’s release, Hmong around the country were furious about its negative stereotypes and cultural distortions. I know this acutely because when I spoke at public events, they came out to confront me. I found myself in the awkward position of explaining my obligation as an actor while also recognizing that, as a Hmong American, I didn’t feel I could own the lines I was uttering. I also told them that although many of us on the set had objected to aspects of the script, the producers preferred whichever Hmong “cultural consultant” had the most amenable take on the matter and would lend credence to whatever Hollywood stereotypes the film wanted to convey. I reminded my critics that this was a white production, that our presence as actors did not amount to control of our images.

KD’s schoolyard antics and b.s. “apology” are the latest in a long line of immorality and disingenuousness on morning radio, which at times sounds programmed for an audience dressed in white sheets.

Believe me, I get the argument that “we make fun of everyone” and “comedians are truthtellers who spare no quarter.” The difference between no-talents like the KDWB’s warbler and geniuses like “South Park” is true fearlessness, taking on the truly powerful more often than the powerless, and hitting the former with disproportionate force because, frankly, that’s what the truth requires.

Anyway, Vang’s is a great read, so get to it.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Joe Schweigert on 04/07/2011 - 09:31 am.

    Thank you David for the excellent summation of Vang’s piece. I can’t remember the last time I read an opinion article in the Press, but here I go.

    Also, your last paragraph gets it exactly. Couldn’t have said it any better.

  2. Submitted by JB OBrien on 04/07/2011 - 12:46 pm.

    FYI, David, KDWB issued an additional apology on the air from Dave Ryan on Monday. Ryan was out all last week when this story broke on vacation. The original airing of the song happened back on March 22nd, and nothing happened over a week. I heard the on-air apology, which was more direct and was heartfelt and sincere from Ryan. Yes, their show is entertaining with some comedy that could be considered downright dumb. But, racist? No. For an audience that is dressed in “white sheets”? No. Maybe the KQRS Morning Show. But, not KDWB’s Dave Ryan show. To compare Ryan’s show and intent to Barnard’s is just downright incorrect and wrong.

  3. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/07/2011 - 03:04 pm.

    The irony is that the publicity over KDWB probably created many times more negative publicity for the Hmong than the original KDWB parody did.

    I grew up near the Hmong concentration on the east side of St. Paul and still co-own my parents house over there. Thus, I have a personal “longitudinal study” of the Hmong over time.

    First off the positive. I have noticed that a lot of young Hmong have pretty good cars. The “welfare Cadillac” is a myth if for no other reason than vehicles are titled and this is computer cross-checked aggressively if you are on public assistance. People tend to report the “blingmobile” if you are on public assistance”.

    The “good wheels” of many young Hmong is due to the fact they are working and productive members of society. They generally came from smaller families and grew up in the US. Good for them.

    On the other hand, if you drive by the housing projects southeast of Phalen Lake it is almost all Hmong and you see plenty of “broods” there. (for lack of a better term)

    This is a classic recipe for long-term multi-generational welfare dependence.
    Twenty-five percent of the Hmong are in Minnesota which has only 2% of the US population.

    A poster claimed that the KDWB really bad (like in “lame”) parody was written by a Hmong. Might be true!

    It can be like the biblical “reformed harlot”. To give a personal example of this I have had very long hair for more than thirty-five years. I know countless way to diss hippies, druggies and those who claim I am trying to “look like a women” (no! the long hair goal is to attract women) .

    Also, I tend to compensate by trying to be more articulate and clear thinking so people can see that drugs (which I never took) didn’t “fry my brain”.

    Hopefully that shows in this posting.

  4. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 04/07/2011 - 06:15 pm.

    Ryan apologized for poor judgement. Done deal.

    I’m personally fatigued at how much each group blows up every wrong done to them. Don’t like Ryan? Turn the dial.

    I don’t agree with everything that is said, but I also understand that humor can push the envelope. Watch Craig Ferguson at night, he pushes the envelope constantly and is hilarious.

    Sorry, but I defend speech and hate to see people with an agenda determine what can and can’t be said.

  5. Submitted by Boa Lee on 04/07/2011 - 08:18 pm.

    I would like to correct Stan and JB. Dave Ryan did make an on-air apology on Monday, which I have heard. If you have not, I would encourage you to do so because you will see that it was actually a non-apology — much like the statements from Rob Morris and the updates posted on the station’s website. Ryan said he is sorry IF he offended anyone. Further, he insinuated that those who are offended are not regular listeners, nor from the Twin Cities. Incorrect. I WAS a regular listener AND live in the Twin Cities. I was appalled. The apology is akin to Denny Hecker saying, “IF some people think stealing money is wrong, then I am sorry” or a child molester saying “IF I inappropriately touched your child, I am sorry.” I would hope our society is bright enough to see right through that and call it what it is: a complete lack of respect and accountability…a non-apology.

  6. Submitted by JB OBrien on 04/08/2011 - 12:18 am.

    Boa, yes, Ryan did say those things. But, I heard him say “we apologize for offending ANYONE”.

    And, yes, there were certainly listeners in the Twin Cities who were offended. To Stan’s point, then change the channel. I wonder how many of those who were “offended” even listened to Ryan’s show? As popular as it is.

    You certainly can feel apalled, as this is America. Just like I can tell you that comparing the Ryan deal to Denny Hecker or Child Molester is just flat out incorrect. Same as comparing Ryan’s intent to what Tom Barnard has done for race relations in the Twin Cities as being identical. Uh, wrong.

  7. Submitted by Boa Lee on 04/08/2011 - 08:11 pm.

    You really have to listen to that again. Your quote is not entirely accurate as he says “…to anybody that was offended.” (It’s at the end.) He also says most of the people who are against the song “don’t live here” and don’t understand the show or have never listened to the show. INCORRECT. I have lived here for more than 20 years. He states that by giving poor Hmong kids mittens in winter or letting a Hmong person do War of the Roses, he has “earned the right” or “earned that equity” to say things that lead to institutionalized racism. His comment that “that’s what friends do” (slander) is unacceptable for this Minnesotan. He also says he’s “embarrassed” that he has to apologize. He feels uncomfortable as a result? Really? Imagine how I, a Hmong woman, feel. The station just has to own up to having poor judgment and publicly recognize the impact this particular act could have. He has to stop misrepresenting the point.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/14/2011 - 03:29 pm.

    //And, yes, there were certainly listeners in the Twin Cities who were offended. To Stan’s point, then change the channel. I wonder how many of those who were “offended” even listened to Ryan’s show? As popular as it is.

    Yes, we can change the channel. But we can also complain, picket, and demand apologies, it’s all good and allowed in a free country, so if you tired of it…

    Gregory #3

    You’re history, sociology, and economics are little dodgy. Every group of immigrants that ever entered our country in any numbers clustered in low income housing until they got established, and many stayed clustered for decades or longer- ever been to Little Italy in Boston? Ever heard of “Hells Kitchen” in New York? This is not a recipe for welfare dependance. On the contrary the Latino and Vietnamese immigrants have revitalized many areas of our cities in the last couple decade from “Eat Street” to Lake Street.

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