The Office Politics of Racism

Early in her career, Julie Chen had plastic surgery to make her eyes look "less Asian." She didn't come to that decision in a vacuum: a boss at a local station in Ohio told her, "You will never be on this anchor desk because you're Chinese."

Julie Chen 

(Photo Credit: Julie Chen's Twitter)

Chen revealed this on "The Talk," which she currently co-hosts. Slate excerpts her further discussion with her boss:

"He said 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have in Dayton? ... On top of that because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you're on camera, when you're interviewing someone you look disinterested and bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small.'"

This wasn't a case of one bad boss, either. Later, an agent refused to represent Chen unless she had surgery, going so far as to give her a list of doctors. Eventually, Chen decided to have the operation.

"I will say, after I had that done, the ball did roll for me," she said on her show. "Which I struggle with. You know, wow. Did I give in to 'the man' and do this?"

The internet of course immediately buzzed with opinions about whether Chen should or shouldn't have had plastic surgery. Leaving that question aside for a moment -- or forever, since it's no one's business but Chen's whether she decides to have any procedure -- the incident is significant because it shines a light on how casually racism is integrated into a work environment.

Sure, you could say that Chen's boss was doing her a favor, laying a painful truth on the line in order to help her career. But on the other hand, he had an opportunity to change that truth, by putting a talented reporter on the air and allowing her audience to see a positive representation from a race other than their own. After all, if prejudice is fear of otherness, then giving high visibility to people from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds is a way to make viewers appreciate the similarities, not the differences, between all people.

To view the video, click here

Tell Us What You Think

Did Chen's boss help her career, or perpetuate a problem? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


  1. 6 gahe 31 Aug
    The irony is, Chen's eyes still look Asian. They just don't look *stereotypically * Asian.
  2. 5 ManipulativeAuthors 20 Sep
    People like this author live in a fanciful world.  A world that says one man’s action can actually change the nature and meaning of “comfort” of an entire metro area like Dayton.  It’s very easy for them to want others to put their livelihood on the line and risk their job or profit margin to overcome some perceived societal injustice; something they themselves would probably never do, which they’d never admit.  Let’s face it what the manager did was simply state the honest truth, in his humble professional opinion, about the industry she wants to be in; how did this evolve into being called an act of “racism,” at least that’s what’s being implied by the author. If I feel my clientele would be best served by a female Asian bartender for instance instead of one that’s a White male due to the fact my patrons are all Asian males then that’s a business decision, it’s neither a racist or a sexist one.  Similarly, if my bar was instead a male burlesque club in Oakland and my clientele were all Black women, then I would want to hire mostly Black males.  Again, simply a business decision.
    All of you wannabe authors out there, STOP WITH THE MISUSE OF THE TERM RACISM!! Please…
  3. 4 Velma 20 Sep
    In terms of career, I feel her boss did help it.  Many will sell their soul for a career because they believe that the position that you hold is more important than the person that you are.  This is another prime example of people who are really not comfortable in their own skin; people who allow a dollar to determine their success.  Many people don't have to be a number one anchor and they are still very happy & successful.  The hungry for power, prestige, and fame is alluring to many at the sacrifice of themselves.
  4. 3 Cris 20 Sep

    Oh I feel so sorry for her.... She had a choice and she made it. It would seem her career was more important than her heritage.Connie  Chun did not have any eye surgery.

  5. 2 CM 20 Sep

    Perhaps her career progress may have a tiny bit to do with the fact that she married the Network President Les Moonvie.  Hmmmmmm

    Let,s hope it was hard work.

  6. 1 Terrance Bennett 19 Sep

    Only wish it was that simple for a color person, if such a thing truly exist, "The Office Politics of Racism"....


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