18MR Launches Petition of "Make me Asian" App

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The “Make me Asian” app, created by developer KimberyDeiss and carried on the Google Play app marketplace, is patently offensive.  It takes dated and racist stereotypes of Asians and overlays them onto a user’s photographs: the ol’ rice paddy hat, fu-manchu mustache, and slanty eyes. 


It may purport to be all in good fun, but the truth is that these are degrading characterizations that have been used to humiliate Asians for centuries, myself included.  And because it is offensive and hateful to Asians, it is a violation of the guidelines that all Android developers are required to adhere to, and should be removed immediately on that basis alone.


But to be frank, most Asians know that such characterizations are not at all rare in our society -- one example being that political candidates for national office like Pete Hoekstra and Jim Renacci have felt comfortable using similar imagery in their campaigns.  Asians have grown used to such stereotypes, not because they are not offensive, but because of their sheer overabundance.  So out of all the ridiculously offensive content out there in the real and digital world, why does this app stand out, and why is it the focus of this campaign?


It has something to do with Google.


Being the second largest technology company in the world, the products that Google develops and creates have a way of becoming mainstream very quickly – think about Gmail or Google Maps, or how even the term “google” is now a verb that has worked itself into Webster’s Dictionary.  Google has become a powerful normalizing force in the world, a dynamic which is only strengthened by their motto “Don’t Be Evil”, a motto used to assure consumers that Google can be trusted to do the right thing.  And it’s clear that many people take them at their word, putting enormous amounts of their personal data in Google’s hands.


But herein lies the problem.  No, Google did not create this app directly.  It was created by a developer named KimberyDeiss, who created the similarly reprehensible app “Make me Indian” – as in, “Make me Native American by Slapping War Paint and a Feather on my Photograph”.   But Google does carry both on their branded app store - appropriately called GOOGLE Play - and provides the space and resources for them to proliferate and be placed in the hands of tens of thousands of consumers.  In fact, the “Make me Asian” app has been downloaded over 50,000 times, the “Make me Indian” app even more. 


In this way, the technology giant has lent this app and others like it a sense of legitimacy because the average app user does not actively distinguish between an app made specifically by Google, and the ones that are carried on the Google Play store.  They are all just Google Play apps.  They only know that they went to the Google Play site and downloaded an app that jokingly takes Asian stereotypes and slaps them on pictures.  And that can’t be offensive because good and moral Google would never allow an app that is offensive to billions of people to exist on their Google Play site, right?  Therefore, one assumes that such characterizations are not offensive, but mainstream.  By virtue of Google’s pervasive influence and ostensible commitment to the common good, they are unconsciously normalizing racist stereotypes, a dynamic which is heightened even further for the very young, whose lives are profoundly shaped by technology.


A similar effect takes place not just for individuals, but for other companies.  Over 1,500 people have sent a message to Google that this app is racist and offensive and should be removed.  But if Google then determines that despite this outrage, such content deserves a place on its branded site and refuses to remove it, why should any other company act differently?   If it’s on Google Play, then why not the Apple App Store?  Why not the app store for the new Windows phones?  Why would any other company feel the need to act more responsibly than Google has?  After all, Google has set the precedent that a company can simply ignore our indignation, as has been the case for centuries, and we will just shake our heads and meekly slink away.


No, I don’t think so.  Not any more.


The campaign is designed to send a message. With the help of the Asian American advocacy group 18 Million Rising and Change.org, we are sending a message to the second largest technology company on earth that stereotyping Asians and Native Americans is nothing short of racist and hateful, as hateful as the characterization of any other race or ethnicity or culture.  If Google removes other apps for hateful content (which they have), then this app should be no exception.  To do any less would be a ridiculous double standard.  And we will not simply turn away in disgust as such characterizations are perpetuated and normalized by a company that expresses commitment to not being evil.  We also send the same message to other companies that they can expect the same outrage should they follow Google’s example.  But in a broader sense, we are flipping the script for our society at large, a society in which hateful stereotypes are so accepted that they can even be exploited to run for government office.  We are saying that although many may believe these stereotypes are acceptable, they are not.  Not for the 18 million of AAPIs and rising.





Peter Chin is the pastor of an inner city church in Washington D.C., husband to a courageous breast cancer survivor, and father of four adorable children.  He writes for Christianity Today and Relevant Magazine, as well as from his personal blog where he discusses the intersection of faith, family, and race.  You can also follow him on Twitter at @peterwchin.



Please sign and share 18MR's petition to Google Play here:

“As a community, we take a stand against KimberyDeiss’ mobile apps ‘Make me Asian’ and 'Make me Indian'. This racist and offensive portrayal of Asians and Native Americans perpetuates damaging racial stereotypes and should not be distributed on the Google Play Store. The apps should be removed immediately.