Jay Leno Addresses Past Racist Asian Jokes Throughout His Career

The issue of racism against Asian Americans has been at the forefront of discourse lately in the [...]

The issue of racism against Asian Americans has been at the forefront of discourse lately in the wake of a terrifying spike in hate crimes, with an increase of 150% over the course of 2020. The discussion caused "Stop Asian Hate" to trend and has inspired a reckoning with the past actions of others. One of the major components of this spike was the racist rhetoric used around COVID-19, particularly by former President Trump. This conversation has caused many to re-examine past behavior and how it fed a racist narrative that has reached a boiling point.

One of the facts that many people brought up was that one of the motivating factors for Gabrielle Union's dismissal from America's Got Talent was the fact that she complained about a racist against Asians joke that guest judge Jay Leno made on set. Coupled with a nearly 15-year campaign from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), who have been speaking out against Leno's history of racist jokes for years, the former host of The Tonight Show has prompted to issue an apology.

"At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless," Leno wrote in a joint press release with MANAA leader Guy Aoki. "I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them."

"At the time, there was a prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don't worry about it," Leno continued. "Whenever we received a complaint, there would be two sides to the discussion: Either 'We need to deal with this' or 'Screw 'em if they can't take a joke.' Too many times I sided with the latter even when in my heart I knew it was wrong."

"I am issuing this apology. I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part," Leno concluded. "MANAA has been very gracious in accepting my apology. I hope that the Asian American community will be able to accept it as well, and I hope I can live up to their expectations in the future." The general response to Leno's apology was skepticism, so we'll see if the comedian backs up his apology with actual action and a genuine attempt to protect a marginalized community.