Awkward

01.02.13

Is Google Play’s ‘Make me Asian’ App Racist?

Upload your photo and this Android program will give you yellow skin and slanty eyes. Offensive or funny? Winston Ross talks to the Korean-American pastor asking Google to take it down.

Racism? There’s an app for that.

Tucked in amongst offerings of Google Play app developer “KimberyDeiss” are a couple of head-scratchers: “Make me Asian” and “Make me Indian,” which allow anyone who has “ever wondered to present himself as a person of another nationality” to upload a picture and poof! turn into an instant stereotype. The “Asianmaker” slants the eyes, adds a rice paddy hat and a Fu Manchu mustache, and even yellows the skin. The “IndianMaker” adorns the user with a headband, some war paint beneath the eyes, and long hair—and promises, “Now you will not get bored!” It also suggests, “Compare the results with your friends and laugh heartily!”

Or, not so heartily. Washington, D.C., pastor and Korean-American Peter Chin downloaded the app himself recently (“It just made me Asian-er,” he told The Daily Beast) and he didn’t find the experience at all funny. “Racist” is the term he prefers.

“It’s remarkably offensive,” Chin said. “‘Make me Asian’ isn’t really an appropriate term. It’s more like, ‘Make me a chink.’”

Chin launched a petition at change.org to convince Google to remove the app from its offerings at Google Play, which is the Android version of Apple’s app store. Developers upload and sell apps, users download them for free or for a price, and Google takes a cut.

The petition has more than 7,000 signatures. The app is still available. Its creator didn’t respond to an email from The Daily Beast, but Google did—sort of.

“We don’t comment on individual apps,” a Google spokesman wrote in an email. “We remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies.”

Among those policies: “Hate speech: We don’t allow the promotion of hatred toward groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

To be fair, there’s nothing really overtly hateful about the app, and they’re among a library of harmless “make me” options, from fat to old to Frankenstein. And there are plenty of (mostly white) people who get the humor.

“Gezz people ever heard of a joke its just like make me old, and fat booth ... Dont let the media control you, lighten up,” posted Raymond Urias, along with a five-star rating. Then came this gem, from “Tux Dillard”:

“So what if someone is rasict who are you to someone how to think and live this is america your allowed to be who you are someone tell so.”

Even an Asian person found it funny, or something. Kyounghun Lee called the app “perfect...! i’m asian...! but I still want to be asian..!”

Chin says he’s willing to give such “ignorant” people a pass, understanding that they simply don’t understand how offensive the apps are. He understands why people might say, “Hey, there’s a ‘Make me Irish’ app too.” But the problem here is that the Asian stereotype in particular—the slanty eyes and yellow skin—is a current racist trope, still used to discriminate against Asians, just as there was a time when Irish and Italian stereotypes were used to discriminate against them.

It’s more like, “Make me a chink.”

Over time, those other stereotypes “have become so watered down, and discrimination against Italian-Americans is not quite as common,” Chin said. Maybe someday there’ll be a similar “progression” for Asians, Chin said, but we’re not there yet.

And it’s Google’s job to realize that, Chin added, noting the company’s “Don’t be evil” motto.

“They’ve taken other apps off of the Android market before because they were racist or offensive—they took off a Nazi-themed thing,” Chin said. “I get the sense they don’t feel this is in the same realm, that it’s not as universally offensive.”