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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."

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:

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“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

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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.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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