Monday, June 30, 2008

Why you should care about golf

I know I have written about my appreciation (dare I say love?) for golf elsewhere in this blog, but I want to take a moment and talk about why you should care about golf.

[This is a course in Whistler, British Columbia]

First of all, I'm not trying to argue that golf is problem free or that anyone should be enamored of golf. For many, watching golf on tv is about as stimulating as watching paint dry. For others, going out once on the fairways and having the most frustrating time hitting a tiny ball with a thin stick was an exercise in pointlessness that they never want to repeat. And for the socially conscientious among us, how can we sanction a game (and for many, this is a game and not a sport--begging questions of athleticism and physical prowess) that has all sorts of "-isms" associated with it? Elitism, sexism, racism, anti-environmentalism, and homophobia (OK, last one didn't end in "-ism" but I think you get my point).

I was reminded of all these issues when I read this entry in Poplicks' blog titled "Equality at any cost?" The post was about the recent flap at Phoenix Country Club over the inequitable status of their female members--recently The New York Times reported on this case of gender discrimination at elite golf clubs (click here).

[By the way, if the topic of gender discrimination and elite golf courses rings any bells in your subconscious, it's because around 2002-2003 there was a BIG FLAP about Augusta National, host of the annual Masters tournament (what some in golf circles believes is THE premiere golf major of the four majors--U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship). Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, organized a boycott of Augusta National due to their discriminatory practices--specifically, they do not allow women to join the club. If you want a thorough and fairly unbiased account of this issue read Alan Shipnuck's The Battle for Augusta National: Hootie, Martha, and the Masters of the Universe. What I can tell you as a golfer and as someone who just finished the book, is that the Masters continues to be held every April; Augusta National continues to bar women from its club; and most people seem to have forgotten about all of this...except maybe we shouldn't have.]

Poplicks asks:

"Is equality always worth striving and fighting for in principle even when one struggle for equality still reifies or leaves untouched other structures of inequality?"

And my answer is yes.

Because if you don't think your life is touched by what goes on at a golf course, particularly an elite golf course, think again. Most major business deals happen on golf courses. Most executives in Fortune 500 companies golf. Corporate sponsors of golf tournaments proliferate on the PGA and LPGA. Unless you are living totally off the grid in the U.S., your life is touched and impacted by corporate America in a fairly significant way. Where you bank, where you shop, the car you drive, the bank that holds the mortgage on your home (or the home you rent), the television you watch--this is all corporate America. And the people who sit on the boards of these companies, who make decisions about finances and environmental issues and who to hire and more importantly promote within the upper ranks of their businesses--these people golf.

We want, we NEED the people at the top levels of corporate America to be conscientious of women, people of color, working-class and poor people, queer people, the environment and so many other issues that impact the lives of people who are not in a position of power and influence. If corporate America continues to discriminate, on and off the golf course, this is NOT good for any of us, regardless of whether you identify with a disenfranchised group,, because we are ALL impacted by discrimination and at bare minimum, how could you perpetuate sexism when all of us must have at least one kick-ass woman (hopefully a mother/grandmother/sister/daughter/niece/aunt) in your life that you would never want to see discriminated against.

I'm not trying to overstate the case--like golf is a means of mind control for the elite (like the Borg in Star Trek--they are trying to assimilate you one fairway at a time) but I am trying to demonstrate that the culture of Corporate America is tied up into golf -- that golf functions more like an institution than a mere game. And so as an institution with power--especially a diffuse and nebulous power (which makes it all the more tricky to pin down) the kinds of discrimination that continue in elite clubs and on golf courses is something we need to combat.

Putting aside issues of race (although there are HUGE inequities of race going on at elite courses) and looking at gender discrimination, there are some telling quotes by academics who study the link between that damn glass ceiling that women bump their head into in Corporate America:

"In the course of our study of issues confronting top executive women, we would ask women what, if anything, they saw as a barrier to further advancemet in senior management, in rainmaking success, in gaining membership in The Club. Over and over again, we heard variations on the same theme: golf" (162).

"'I finally learned how to play. Golf's not so hard, but thd problem is the country clubs. They are the most sexist, and don't allow women to play at the times the men are playing. One day I had three male clients from Detroit flying in to play golf with me. They arrived at ten A.M. and we had to sit around until we were allowed to tee off at one-thirty'" (162).

"Jane Blalock [former pro-golfer and president of a sports marketing firm] is well aware of the final reason many women have not yet caught the golf fever: the discriminatory attitude of many country clubs toward women players" (166).

[Above quotes taken from Members of the Club: The Coming of Age in Executive Women by Dawn-Marie Driscoll and Carol R. Goldberg, New York: The Free Press, 1993]

"In a study of executives who manage 'corporate-government affairs,' Denise Benoit Scott found that the women in such positions 'share meals with staff members and other government relations officials but never play golf.' In contrast, men in such positions 'play golf with a broad range of peole in business and government, including legislators and top corporate executives.' As one of the women she interviewed put it: 'I wish I played golf. I think golf is the key. If you want to make it, you have to play golf.'" (52-53).

"A few months before Bill Clinton was elected president, his future secretary of energy had some pertinent comments about the importance of fitting into corporate culture and the relevance of playing golf. 'Without losing your own personality, said Hazel O'Leary, then an executive vice president at Northern States Power in Minnesota, 'it's important to be part of the prevailing corporate culture. At this company, it's golf. I've resisted learning to play golf all my life, but I finally had to admit I was missing something that way.' She took up golf" (53-54).

[Above quotes taken from Diversity in the Power Elite: Have Women and Minorities Reached the Top? by Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998]

I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and learn to play golf (although I do enjoy it myself) but I do think that we should care about whether or not Phoenix and Augusta and Burning Tree and other clubs are excluding women. And just as you can't pull apart race and gender, I guarantee that clubs that act in a discriminatory fashion towards women are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for non-white players.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A totally partisan film short

A friend of mine sent this to me--some of you may have already seen it since it has gone "viral"--but apparently the filmmaker is an alum of Southern U. so I feel compelled to give it a plug here--and because I am a dyed-in-the-wool-true-blue-Democrat. Just be forewarned: there is nothing nuanced about this film short--it's totally partisan:

I'm Voting Republican:

I'm surprised that the filmmakers didn't take up the issue of immigration, since of all issues "protecting our borders" strikes me as being a very red Republican platform as in anti-immigration/lets-seal-off-the-borders/ship 'em home kind of mentality. And yes, I'm being hyperbolic, and yes, I'm talking to YOU Lou Dobbs! Then there's always the tried and true bugbear of terrorism...maybe they'll make a sequel--it would also allow them to get more representation of Middle-Eastern/Arab Americans and Latino/Mexican Americans in the frame--because there's nothing that spells self-loathing like Republican. You only have to look at Michelle Malkin and her support of racial profiling and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII to see that being Asian American, for her, only goes so far in terms of cross-ethnic identification.

[For more on the film, go to the website "I'm Voting Republican."]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thoughts on Buffalo Boy and Geronimo

Back in late April I began a series of posts mulling over the definition of Asian American literature--specifically thinking about the boundaries of Asian American literature and the expansion of that term. My musings were prompted by the announcement that James Janko's novel Buffalo Boy and Geronimo had won an Asian American book award. If you want to read my initial post on this issue, click here.

I had promised to give a review of Janko's book once I finished it, and I had actually finished it a while ago but got side tracked by other issues and projects. However, a recent comment by a friend of Janko (click here) made me realize I should revisit this subject and weigh in on Janko's novel.

The first thing I'll say is that Janko is a gifted writer. His descriptions of the natural landscape of Viet Nam--the animals and plants and insects of the region of Viet Nam along the Cambodian border--truly made the novel come alive and gave a perspective to the war in Viet Nam (the American war as those in SouthEast Asia refer to this conflict) sorely lacking from other narratives (I hope someone will work on the novel in terms of eco-criticism and/or environmental justice). The novel follows two narratives, Nguyen Lu, the titular "Buffalo Boy" and Antonio Conchola, "Geronimo," whose lives eventually intersect. I'm not going to provide a summary here, if you want to know what follows you should read the book, it's a worthwhile read. What I will say is that I enjoyed the story and will be interested in Janko's other writings, if he continues his literary career, because I think he has a good eye for detail.

However, I never doubted the literary merit of this work--it's not why I was disturbed by the book winning this award (although I have to be honest and say that a book that was eligible for the award, Lois-Ann Yamanaka's novel Behold the Many is a stronger story; her voice is lyrical and haunting and polished (this is her sixth novel I believe), whereas Janko, as a first time writer, has a few places where I think he could use some more editing and revision). Let me repeat something I wrote in my April 28 blog post: I believe that writers should be free to write whatever subjects they choose. My criticism of this novel winning an Asian American literary award isn't about Janko's right to author a novel where he does not "match" the identity of his protagonist or any other "authenticity" arguments. Nor am I trying to impugn Mr. Janko's character--as his friend noted in the comments section of the April 28 post, Janko seems to be a man respectful of Vietnamese culture and Asian American politics.

What I am concerned about--what I already voiced in the April 28 post, is what the conferring of an Asian American literary award to a novel set in Viet Nam with a main character of Chicano background written by a white American man signals for the expansion of the category "Asian American literature."

Because after reading this novel, it is not clear to me what exactly qualified it for the status of "Asian American" other than the fact that one of its main characters is "Asian" (ie: Vietnamese) and the other is "American" (ie: Mexican American specifically) and that it is set in Viet Nam (an Asian country).

So this begs the question: what does it mean for a work of literature to possess an "Asian American aesthetics" because that's essentially what troubles me about this novel winning this award. It's not that I think the novel was poorly written or uninteresting or without literary merit. But in thinking specifically about issues of race, there are many questions I am left with that remain unanswered either by the novel itself or by the novel winning this particular award:

*Why was the American medic made to be a Chicano man? His ethnicity seemed to be important--the fact that he was not a white American. In fact, I interpreted both the reference to Germonimo as well as the continued references to Spanish and other aspects of California Chicano culture to be significant to understanding the character's personality and motivation, and a partial reason he is targeted by a white American troop member. So race seems to be playing a role in this novel--a recognition of racism if you will. But how this gets translated into an "Asian American" issue seems to puzzle me--not to say that Asian Americans shouldn't be interested in other forms of racism and race outside of their community, but in terms of marking or signaling a concern that is "Asian American" there seems to be no hint of that in the novel itself.

*Why the reference to Germonimo? Cross-racial and cross-cultural identifications abound in the novel--but I am not sure I understand the purpose of these markings and what the author is trying to demonstrate with them, other than an attention to marginalization and perhaps stereotyping/myth making.

*If there is no "Asian American" content per se in this novel, why was it up for consideration? Is Asian American literature now to be understood as any type of literature set in Asia that features an American character or penned by an American author? In which case, are novels written by Pearl Buck now to be understood as Asian American? Or Mark Salzman's The Laughing Sutra?
[By the way, Mark Salzman is a great writer and I love The Laughing Sutra as well as another one of his novel's Lying Awake--although I wouldn't consider either of them Asian American].

Ultimately what I think is bothering me is the power of representation. It's not that I believe my "voice" is any more "authentic" than a non-Asian American person's--especially given the fact that I often feel that some of my experiences are not necessarily typically understood as "Asian American" (ie: large extended maternal family from Jamaica that identifies as mixed heritage or in some instances mixed-race), even while others seem to be typically Asian American (childhood in the SF Bay Area). It's that finally we're at a moment when we, the Asian American community, as imperfect a group as that is, is trying to make itself understood, legible if you will, within the larger American (read mainstream white) culture and society--and understood in a way in which we are not simply the standard stereotypes of foreign immigrants or insulated and insular ethnic communities.

So having a book that seems not to have any discernible or explicable or legible Asian American content written by someone who does not "identify" as Asian American win an Asian American book award given by an Asian American association begs the question:

What does it mean to be Asian American?

And if the category has become so broad that affiliation with something Asian and something American qualifies, than what does this do for the state of Asian American political enfranchisement and social/cultural awareness in the U.S.?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Poem of the day: "Looking Out"

"Looking Out"

It must be odd
to be a minority
he was saying.
I looked around
and didn’t see any.
So I said
it must be.
-- Mitsuye Yamada

from Camp Notes and Other Writings, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

For more on Mitsuye Yamada, click here. To order her book of poems (and other writings), which deal, in part, with her experience incarcerated in an American concentration camp during World War II (aka: The Japanese American Internment), click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dancing & Smiling

A friend sent this to me this morning and watching it made me smile:

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

For more info, check out the website -- if you are like me and become obsessed with finding out not only where the hell Matt is but who the hell Matt is, you will watch one of the lengthy video lectures that he has embedded in his "About" section and you will hear him share anecdotes about traveling that will make you nod your head and agree with him that Americans are too insular and isolated in terms of their thinking about the rest of the world and that while globe trotting certainly won't solve the problems of the planet, there is something to be said about going outside your comfort zone and traveling to places and meeting people from cultures completely foreign to you that is so true.

[June 25, 2008--Addition: I just remembered what it was that I liked about Matt Harding's video commentary. He talked about Rwanda being one of his favorite places (it's in the second dance video, Dancing 2006) in his travels, and he spoke about going there during Hope week, which is the week that honors the Rwandan Genocide--and when he was there it was the 10 year anniversary of the atrocities. And when he described what he loved about the particular clip of him dancing with the kids in the clip (you can see more of him dancing with the kids in the Dancing 2005 Outtakes) he said that most of the time, in the U.S., our only images of Africa are of deprivation and horror, which alienates us from people who live in these countries. And that there aren't enough images about everyday people doing everyday things and being happy. It's a similar sentiment I've heard among people working in developing nations and in various sub-Saharan African nations in particular--that for most of "The West" we view "Africa" as this mass continent of darkness, literal and figurative, and associate it with privation and war, famine and genocide and oppression. And that this renders individual countries and more importantly, individual people as an indistinct mass of suffering rather than seeing them in their own particular ways as people with distinct personalities and histories who have stories to tell that aren't simply about being victimized. I think it's an important perspective--not that we shouldn't be reminded of past horrors, like Rwandan genocide, or ongoing atrocities, like what's happening in Sudan, but that there is also resilience and resistance and strength and hope. And dancing.]

Monday, June 23, 2008

Now introducing: Michelle Obama

Mixed Race America owes an apology to Michelle Obama. There have been plenty of posts about her husband, about his campaign, even about his family of origin (his sister, Maya, and his mother, Stanley Ann). But until now, there hasn't really been a post devoted to Michelle Obama herself. And that's a shame, because Michelle Obama is an AMAZING person, someone I've been reading about with interest ever since the campaign began.

So let me introduce you to Michelle Obama, a woman you probably have been reading about in various forums, on and off line, for over a year. And let me tell you, briefly, about the Michelle Obama I've gotten to know through reading about her and seeing her in various media outlets (and in my own reading-viewing between-the-lines about her):

*She is intelligent, strong, and savvy, and something people don't note directly but that comes across in her quoted comments: she is interesting and funny!

*She has strong opinions and convictions. And a woman with strong opinions and convictions is a woman I want to get to know.

*She is politically adept at handling the overwhelming criticism and not-so-veiled attacks on her by various politicos and media outlets. She is not a shrinking violet or a naive rookie to politics. I know she hasn't faced the level of scrutiny that she is currently bombarded with, but considering the scrutiny and the racism and sexism, she's doing really well (I mean, c'mon--we've been talking about racism vs. sexism in the Democratic primaries, but how many talking heads have noted that it's MICHELLE OBAMA who is at the intersection of BOTH sexism and racism in this presidential season (and don't even get me started about how frustrating it is that everyone wants to pull the two apart--as if you can talk about racism without talking about sexism--the two are so intertwined--but trying to talk about this twinning is so difficult because these issues are complex (sigh).)

*She is real. Michelle Obama doesn't put off that fake vibe or tense vibe of other first lady candidates. Although everyone has been comparing her to Jackie O, the former first lady that leaps to mind when I think about her is Roslyn Carter. Because I think Roslyn always came across as very real. Of course we can also look to former first ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt (supported her husband but also was a strong woman who reached out to people) and Hilary Clinton (smart, strong career woman who caught a lot of flack from people for being a strong, smart woman with her own career) for points of comparison.

*This last point is really irrelevant, but I thought I'd toss it out for what it's worth: I think Michelle Obama is a very attractive woman--she's just so striking! And although I do find it annoying that news articles spend a lot of time detailing the dress of women in politics, whether it's the politicians themselves like Hilary Clinton, or their partners like Cindy McCain, the truth is, Michelle Obama does have a certain flair and style that makes her stand out--she just looks like a confident, beautiful woman--this is probably why people compare her to Jackie O. The thought of her in the White House is really staggering--I am giddy just thinking about it.

There's so much more I could say about Michelle Obama, but I'm going to end by listing some links for you to check out from others who have written about Obama.

*A recent New York Times profile on her that talks about re-tooling her image for the upcoming presidential show-down--it lists some of the attacks on her, as well as provides a PDF version of her senior thesis from Princeton on race relations--and by the way, I don't get why people are making a big deal of her thesis--goes to show that we really ARE uncomfortable talking about racial differences/racism/prejudice.

*A New Yorker magazine article about her from March 2008 that is fairly detailed.

*A recent blog commentary from Sandra Kobrin on eWomen News about the attacks on Michelle Obama and the website devoted to exposing the sexism and racism being thrown at her (called Michelle Obama Watch).
[Thanks to my former student "A" from MHC for giving me this link]

*A very thoughtful commentary about Michelle Obama and the racism and sexism surrounding the discourse around her by Tami at What Tami Said. For you regular readers, you known how much respect and love I have for Tami and her blog--if you do a google search for "Michelle Obama" you will find other posts that she has written about her, but this one is one of the best.

Finally, if you want to see how Michelle Obama fares in one of the most mainstream media outlets around, you can see her on "The View." Her stint on the show demonstrates how versatile and media savvy she is--and she is able to hold her own in this format, which is no small feat!

[June 25, 2008--Addition: The Huffington Post has created a page specifically for Michelle Obama, so if you want to get your latest news on her, click here]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

She's #1! Lorena Ochoa

This post is for you golfing fans--although non-golfers may also be interested to be introduced to the current #1 ranked female player in the world: Lorena Ochoa.

[I chose this photo so that you could see the torque of her body when she swings a club--her belt buckle and hence her torso is facing forward in the direction that her ball just flew but notice the way her club and arms are twisted around her body--that's great form!]

I think that the golf media has often overlooked Ochoa in the past--perhaps because she doesn't have the typical (or stereotypical) all-American girl looks of Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, or Cristie Kerr. But Ochoa's dominance within the LPGA can't be ignored and certainly with Annika Sorenstam's impending retirement, the tour needs a new force to galvanize galleries and inspire people not only to follow the LPGA but to take up the sport of golf. In particular, the LPGA could use a rolemodel to inspire young girls and women to start hitting the links.

Lorena Ochoa could be that rolemodel. Read this latest profile of her in The New York Times. And be sure to check out her official LPGA page, which also lists her official website and the charity that she founded in Mexico. By all accounts Ochoa is not only a gifted golfer, she is a really generous person, caring and compassionate and kind.

She is also a great reminder that "America" includes countries like Canada and Ochoa's home country of Mexico--and certainly Mexico's ethnic history is about as mixed as you can get. So Mixed Race America gives a shout out to the #1 ranked female golfer, Lorena Ochoa. Be sure to catch her at the US Open next weekend--she's certainly a golfer to watch.

[By the way, this whole post is dedicated to my friend "S" on the West Coast, who has been bugging me about including other golfers than Tiger on this blog and showing some love to Latinos by including Ochoa--so this one's to you my former golfing partner "S"--the biggest Fresno State bulldog fan I know]

[June 24, 2008 -- Link addition -- Tip of the hat to Dance for alerting me to this SI article on Ochoa--the more I read about her the more I think she is amazing both because of her golf prowess but more because she seems like a really wonderful person, which seems to be a rarity in professional sports--someone who truly is "good" (in the moral sense)]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Who is John McCain?

The political junkie in me can't resist writing about the presidential elections--especially because both candidates are more than relevant to the topic of race in America--especially the idea of a mixed-race America (Obama, we already know about--but many people don't realize that John and Cindy McCain adopted a daughter from Bangladesh--which makes his an Asian American family of sorts).

So lets spend some time talking about Senator John McCain.

And the first thing I want to note, is that McCain is almost untouchable in terms of mainstream media criticism. There are some severe inconsistencies in his voting record that don't get noted, his legendary foul temper and language that doesn't get reported, and his use of the racial slur "gook" (which, apparently he hasn't used in public since 2000) that never gets discussed. Oh, and most disconcertingly, the issue of his emotional and mental fitness to be President of the United States based on his five-plus years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison.

Let me say first off, I hope that John McCain has an on-going relationship with a therapist. A really good one. And a psychiatrist who can offer him meds. I think there is a stigma about mental health--and it'd be GREAT if McCain could go public with his own mental health issues (if he has been seeing someone that is) in order to discuss publicly and candidly what it's like to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, I have no idea whether he does suffer from PTSD. But you have to ask yourself this question: What is worse, the idea that a man was held captive for over five years and tortured and walked away without developing PTSD or a man who is still grappling with the demons from that period by undergoing psychotherapy and medicating himself appropriately.

I'd have ENORMOUS respect if McCain were on meds and seeing someone for PTSD. It would make SO MUCH SENSE. And if he's not getting help (or hasn't gotten help in the past?). Well, I think that says volumes about the stigma of mental health. But here's the real crux of the problem: we can't talk about this. Certainly not on NPR or The New York Times or CNN. No one is going to dare insinuate anything about his mental fitness connected with his time at the Hanoi Hilton. This is what I mean about McCain being untouchable.

So this is why his "gook" comments don't get reported on (see this former post and this post by Angry Asian Man).

And this is why his infamous "c---" slur against his own wife, which I reported about back in this post, doesn't get mainstream coverage. The exact quote, as reported in Cliff Schecter's book The Real McCain: Why Conservative's Don't Trust Him--and Why Independents Shouldn't is as follows:

"In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, 'You're getting a little thin up there.' McCain's face reddened, and he responded, 'At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.'"

[For a review of Schecter's book, along with a few other recent tomes on McCain, see this review by the New York Review of Books, which lists some major inconsistencies in McCain's voting record]

A Baptist minister tried to ask McCain if this really happened during one of McCain's town hall meetings--McCain refused to answer because the minister used "bad language" and the minister was escorted out of the building (for more details click here).

Finally, for a humorous take on all of this, see the clip below:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Got privilege?

Remember the "Got Milk?" ad campaign? And the spin-offs (one of the most famous being "Got Hope?" supporting Obama for America).

Well a few years ago at an Asian American studies conference, I bought a t-shirt that says "Got Privilege?" on the front, and on the back it has various icons of a dollar symbol, a bride & groom, a male symbol, and most perplexing for most folks, an insect--which is supposed to be a wasp, which is supposed to be the representation of the acronym W.A.S.P. (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant).

[If you head over to Blacklava, you can see the t-shirt and the food variations that they also have, like "Got rice?" and "Got adobo?" and "Got sushi?"]

Anyway, I've been thinking a LOT about privilege since I've returned from my 4-day stint at The Greenbrier resort (see the first post on "West Virginia--the haves and have-nots").

Because the truth is, I have A LOT of privilege. And while it's easy for me to feel righteous, especially when I wear my "Got Privilege?" t-shirt, of the various icons on the back I can identify with at least two of them: I have both financial and hetero privilege. The hetero thing I'll leave aside for now, to focus on the thing Americans really hate to talk about in any substantive and honest way: money.

And this is what I mean. When is the last time you flat out asked someone how much they made? Or when was the last time someone flat out asked you how much you make? We are more likely to ask the intimate details of someone's divorce than to breech the subject of salary. And most of us feel pretty defensive about this subject. Why? I'm not too sure--but I think it's either fear of seeming like we have too much money or not enough. Or perhaps it's something else--the fear of being judged once you reveal your salary. That's what I think. If I were to go public with my salary, I would be judged for the choices I make. Not sure where this fear comes from, but maybe it has to do with the fact that I judge others.

Let me explain.

I have a prejudice against rich people. I realized this when I was at The Greenbrier and I assumed that everyone else at this resort was there because they were paying top dollar and had the means to enjoy the resort--to pay $20/hour for tennis or $25/hour for crouquet or to dress in tie and jacket to have a $50 steak at their dining room. And I found this type of conspicuous consumption to be wasteful. And when the adolescent swimmers in the indoor pool were acting up, I assumed that they were the children of the rich and wealthy and therefore OF COURSE they misbehaved like rude barbarians--what do you expect of rich people's children? They have no manners and expect that they own the world.

But then I realized that to everyone I came into contact with, they were assuming that I was wealthy enough to afford a stay at The Greenbrier. And with a big BANG I realized that the truth is--I AM privileged. Maybe I don't make the kind of money where I can afford to pay thousands per night in a bungalow, but I have the means to afford the time off to enjoy the bungalow at someone else's invitation. And perhaps relative to the residents of White Sulphur Springs, I AM rich since I make over twice the median income of the town. And I can afford to have a spa treatment (which I did--I treated myself to the "Greenbrier" treatment--which included a sulphur bath, a sauna, a scotch-shower (which is a nice way of saying that someone takes two jet streams of water and hoses you down in a rhythmic manner--similar to hoses at a car wash and don't ask me why, but it felt good) and then a 50-minute full body massage, where my masseuse worked out all the lactic acid that had built up in my shoulder blades, which is where I hold all my stress and DAMN IT IT FELT GREAT!).

So am I a hypocrite? This is something I've been mulling over. Because the morning of my spa treatment I voiced to some friends that I wasn't sure I would ever want to return (they are thinking of making this a yearly meeting) because I wasn't comfortable with the atmosphere of privilege and wealth. And then the next thing I know, I'm luxuriating in a spa pool and enjoying the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle.

I have colleagues who complain about teaching 3 days a week instead of 2 days a week. And I know this sounds utterly ridiculous to anyone currently working a 40-hour a week job in which you have to clock in and answer to a supervisor. I try to remind myself that I am truly privileged to be a university professor--to have the time and leisure and luxury of working on esoteric and abstract problems of the mind--to immerse myself in reading novels and secondary sources on topics that truly stimulate me. And that the students I teach at Southern U. are some of the best and brightest in the nation and that in itself is a real delight.

I also think that I shouldn't try to be so harsh in judging myself or my colleagues in our academic privilege, just like I should try to be less righteous and harsh in judging the patrons of The Greenbrier. Because it's all relative--the people who worked at the resort--the ones who cleaned my room and served my meals and took care of the grounds--they didn't know I was there as someone's guest--and even if they did, would it matter? I'm still an overly privileged professor with my summer free and with connections good enough to get me to The Greenbrier on someone else's dime.

Anyway, it was a good wake-up call, for me, to examine my own privilege and my own righteous attitude. And to also think about the way I consume money and other resources and the message I want to send through my consumption to my friends and family and my students. I guess this is another privilege I get to have--the ability to question myself and to try to make better choices in the future.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Do

Have you ever noticed that people hate being told that they can't do something? Little kids know this all too well; they hear "no" from adults (particularly their parents). And I think that as we grow up, we often retain the knee jerk reaction of hearing "no" because it feels as if someone is infantalizing us or controlling us.

And if you add on irrational prejudices as the rationale for why we are told no, well I think very few of us would be able to keep our tempers. And yet, the truth is, so many people for such a long time in our nation's history have been told "No."

*Women were once told they couldn't vote.

*African Americans were once told where they had to sit using public transportation.

*American Indians were once told where they could live.

*People of different races were once told they could not marry.

If you have never known what it's like to be told "no" as an adult--just stop and think for a minute what it would be like to have something that seems so fundamental to everyone else--like the right to vote, the right to public transportation, the right to live where you choose, the right to marry--and imagine if someone said, "Sorry--everyone else can do these things, but based on this one part of who you are, we're barring you."

Which is why I'm calling attention, again, to how great and yet how ordinary California's recent decision to overturn the gay marriage ban is--how great and ordinary the recent weddings that are taking place all over California truly are.

Because the right to marry--the right to decide you want to join in matrimony, whether secular or sacred, with a person you want to spend the rest of your life with--this should be something that any consenting adult gets to do. It should not be remarkable--it should be ordinary. And the fact that it has taken the California Supreme Court to make this into an ordinary act for all people, gay or straight, is remarkable, because we have a social and cultural climate that does not seem queer friendly.

[This is Doreen Wong and Jennifer Pizer celebrating the California Supreme Court's May 2008 decision to overturn the gay marriage ban]

Yet let me quote from a New York Times article back in May that made comparisons between the Perez decision in 1948 (the decision to allow inter-racial marriage and overturn California's anti-miscegenation laws) and the recent decision in May 2008 to overturn the gay marriage ban:

“Perez was a really courageous decision,” said Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern and the author of “Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines” (Yale, 2006). “It was handed down at a time when it was just taken for granted that legally entrenched racism was not anything you could do anything about.”


Although I think almost everyone would agree (or almost everyone who reads this blog would agree) that entrenched racism is still a problem in the U.S. (and in many other places around the globe), I think we can also agree that "legally" there are recourses and resources to combat racism that just didn't exist in 1948, as well as a cultural atmosphere that would not support rampant, public racism and discrimination of the type that Perez vs. Sharp had to face.

There is an entrenched homophobia in this country. It cuts across race, religion, and region. And yet, the parallels to Civil Rights struggles around race in the 1950s and 60s seem very apt. And so I HOPE that one day, in the not too distant future, when I talk about social justice and civil rights, my students will think that it's utterly BIZARRE that there were ever laws preventing people of the same sex to marry. Because that's how they react when they hear about anti-miscegenation statutes today or when they get the full background behind the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia.

In the meantime, we can at least celebrate the small victories--like Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin--the couple who were one of the first to get married back in February 2004. They were the first, and only, couple to be married by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Monday, June 16, 2008. Congratulations Phyllis & Del--you waited a long time for this ordinary right. I hope others don't have to wait nearly as long.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Notes from the land of golf and money

It turns out that at The Greenbrier resort there ARE a few things that are free:

*the air (which has a fresh pine scent from the lovely mountain climate)

*the pools (both an indoor lap pool of mineral water, which is apparently how this area got to be known as the destination of rich and famous vacationers and the outdoor pool, which is gorgeous in a way that only an outdoor pool at a resort can be gorgeous and meant to look at rather than swim in)

*hiking (this does not include a guide--for that you can pay someone around $45 to lead you on a customized hike of the area)
and most importantly for my purposes

*wifi (which isn't listed under the "Activities" heading of the resort, but as I opened up my laptop last night, I found out that, indeed, Greebrier springs for free wifi--so they are one up on The Hyatt corporation, which makes you pay $10/day)

For those of you just tuning in, I'm here for a few days in a retreat situation, and I have some spare time before lunch to share a few thoughts of what it's like to be among the leisure class (of which I'm sure academics are actually a part of, at least in terms of time if not money).

*Upon our arrival, we were given the option to have a bellman (I guess they figure that's a more dignified title than "bellhop" meet us at our "cottage" (a 4-bedroom house) to help with our luggage. These particular employees were all African American men -- the people at the registration desk were all white.

*When we walked into our cottage we discovered that every light had been turned on in every room and every tv set (there is one per bedroom and one in the living room) was turned on. I suppose this is a way of making guests feel *welcome*; I thought it was a colossal waste of energy and proceeded to turn everything off.

*Because I am a rabid golf fan and it was the tie-breaker 18-hole playoff at Torrey Pines to determine the winner of the 2008 US Open (more on that below), we ate lunch at "Sammy Sneads" at the Golf Club. For $17 I got a cheeseburger and the pleasure of watching Tiger and Rocco square off on two huge HDTVs. I also had the discomfort of being (a) the only non-white person in the restaurant, which I expected, but still, it's never fun and my feelings of racial paranoia are doubly exacerbated when I also feel the class discrepancy (b) hearing some yahoo behind me say to his companion loudly enough for those of us in the area (and there were around 50-75 folks in this restaurant) "Wow, I can't believe you just said that about Tiger, that's borderline racist!" I turned around in my chair to see which table full of white men in their 30s and 40s had made this comment, but it was impossible to figure out.

*There are plush terry cloth robes in each room with a little note telling us that while we are free to enjoy our robes in the comfort of our cottage, we should refrain from wearing them while in the hotel, spa, or club areas. I guess they don't want a bunch of us prancing around in our skivvies with just our robes--although I'm sorely tempted to walk into the main lobby with just the robe on. What are they going to do, tell me to take it off?!! OK!

*It's beautiful here. I mean, it is. I feel out of place, but I also am writing this from the wide porch of a serene environment and there is only the sound of birds chirping and wind rustling through trees. The grass is green. The sun is bright. All is right in the world...if you have the money to afford such opulence and the ability to turn a blind eye to the deprivation that most of the world endures (and lets face it, almost ALL of us are guilty of this to some degree)

Finally, because I already mentioned that I am a rabid golf fan, let me just end with an early Happy Birthday greeting to Sam Alexis Woods, who will be turning 1 tomorrow.

[This photo was taken in mid-December 2007--she's being held by her grandmother, Tida]

Some of you may have heard of Sam's dad, Tiger and that he's just won his 14th major golf tournament when he barely bested Rocco Mediate in a sudden-death hole-off after 18 holes of a playoff after 4 days of U.S. Open tournament play at Torrey Pines.

If you aren't a golf fan--tune out now. If you are, then let me say IT WAS GREAT GOLF. I WAS SCREAMING AT THE TV SET AND CLAPPING AND SCREAMING SO HARD THAT I SCARED MY DOG.

Anyway, here's to you Tiger. You played in pain. You played your heart out. And here's to you Rocco--I was rooting for you too--it would have been great for you to be the oldest golfer to win the U.S. Open. And here's to Tiger's happy mixed-race family in front of a statue of Tiger with his deceased father, Earl.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

West Virginia--the haves & have-nots

On Monday I'll be leaving for a retreat that will be held at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia (long story about the kind of retreat it is and why I'm going and why it's being held at a AAA Five-diamond resort--can't get into details but lets say, I'm not the one footing the bill by a LONG shot.)

I have to say that I have some mixed feelings about this trip. First of all, the last time I was in West Virginia I felt distinctly unwelcome by the hostile stares and curt responses Southern Man and I received everywhere we went. Although Greenbrier will be distinctly different from the Hampton Inn we stayed at outside of Charleston. For those of you thinking that "Greenbrier" and "West Virginia" are ringing a bell in your mind, if you are a golfer you will know that it has a world class champion golf course (the Ryder Cup has been held here) and Sam Snead was the golf pro at the resort back in the day. But its real notoriety came when it was revealed in The Washington Post in 1992 that a secret bunker underneath the hotel had been built to house the members of Congress in the event of a nuclear catastrophe (it is decomissioned and apparently you can take a tour).

But what really makes me pause is the clear class discrepancy between those who can afford to stay at The Greenbrier and the town of White Sulphur Springs. I did a google search and found this site that breaks down things like median income, race, professions, housing prices, crime stats, and other demographics in this town. Essentially, the town exists to service the resort--most people are employed in service related positions, 74% have a high school education, 9% have a college degree, and 6% a graduate or professional degree (according to the U.S. census, the national average of Americans who graduate with a high school degree is 80%, 15.5% have a college degree, and 9% have a graduate or professional degree). The median income is $28,300 (the national average according to the U.S. census as of 2004 for men was $40,798). 81% of the town is white, 15% is black, 1% Hispanic, 1% American Indian, and 2% are two more more races. They don't even LIST Asian/Asian American.

This is clearly a town of have and have-nots, with the have nots being mostly the people who work at The Greenbrier and the haves being people who show up for a few days (or weeks if they can afford that much leisure--both in terms of time and money since it's $20/hour to play tennis and $25/hour to play crouquet--can you BELIEVE they charge you to play croquet???!!!)

I'm assuming there will be wifi there, but who knows if they are going to charge $20/hour for its use, so I may not be blogging or moderating comments until I return later in the week.

So here's to an early happy father's day to all the Dad's out there (literal as well as figurative) and I'll be sure to report back on what it was like to be in THIS version of West Virginia when I get back.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Barack Obama is our first (fill-in-the-blank)

A few days ago there was an interesting discussion flying around on the comment section of one of Racialicious's posts titled "Is Barack Obama black or biracial?" If you click on the link above, you will see some CNN footage and then the comments section, which both does and doesn't address the CNN footage.

And really, the comment thread was fascinating in many ways. There are nearly 100 comments (mine is #97--I got in late to the discussion) but I thought given the fact that I work on issues of mixed-race, that I've been an ardent supporter of the Obama campaign, and that this is a blog called "Mixed Race America," it'd be a good time to throw out some thoughts and solicit some comments/observations from folks out there in the blogosphere.

"Some thoughts about the post & comment thread "Is Barack Obama black or bi-racial?"

*I don't think it's an either/or question. I think Obama can be black and bi-racial. And I think he has said as much by saying he is a black man raised by a white mother and white grandparents. And I think if we are going to think about environment, then it's CRUCIAL to consider the multiracial/multiethnic population of Hawaii and the particular politics of Hawaii (ie: indigenous Hawaiian population suffering under U.S. colonialism, current Asian settler community in the majority, racially speaking, who dominate positions of power within Hawaii, Islander status/mentality of not being part of continental U.S.)

*I think everyone is free to choose his/her own identity; however, I think some identities are going to be challenged more than others. If I started to tell people I identify as a black woman because I want to be in solidarity with African American people (a piece of advice bell hooks once gave to me) I think many if not all people would find this hard to accept and many people may also find it offensive/disrespectful towards African Americans.

*As much as I know racism is a pernicious and invidious force in the world, I hate feeling like it dominates or controls the way I think about myself--but I also recognize that as an Asian American woman who teaches at a university and lives in a college town, I have the privilege of not being faced with virulent forms of racism in my daily life and therefore I don't feel the effects of racism in the same way that someone else who doesn't have my profile may feel it in every way, everyday.

*We don't listen enough to one another. We are often defensive--trying to protect ourselves, our territories, our rights. I link this to an American cultural trait, but perhaps it's a human defense mechanism. When people say they suffer from racism; when African Americans of various hues talk about experiences of discrimination; when Obama himself claims a black identity but also clearly does not dismiss his mixed-race background and mixed-ethnic heritage (which includes family in Kenya, a sister, brother-in-law, and nieces and nephews who identify, in part, as Asian American, multiple family members married to various folks of different nationalities and ethnicities living around the globe, childhood experiences in Indonesia as well as Hawaii), we need to HEAR him and respect his identity.

*We have a hard time accepting what may seem (but is not) two contradictory points: that Obama is both black AND bi-racial AND mixed-heritage

[note: I'm big on the mixed-heritage thing--partly because I think there are many of us who may be "monoracial" but have experiences that are multicultural, even more than the usual push-pull of the U.S. color line. For example, at a recent academic conference workshop, I told the organizer that while I didn't identify as mixed-race, I also never felt comfortable as Chinese American because my mother's Jamaican cultural background and nationality made me *feel* like I had grown up Jamaican--at least as much Jamaican as Chinese in terms of food, cultural referents, and family members who identified as such. The organizer noted that many transnational adoptees also share similar sentiments, and that a former student of hers who grew up Japanese in Peru but was now living in the U.S. also felt distinctly dislocated and "mixed" although he appeared to be a monoracial individual. And Sang-shil at Land of the Not-So-Calm has a great post about the differences between Korean American identification and Korean adoptee identification.

*Ignoring race, not talking about race, not discussing issues of race will not make racism go away. A letter to the editor of Newsweek magazine recently suggested that people should stop focusing on Obama's race because more people were worried about the economy and war in Iraq and could care less about his racial identity--and that it's our inability to let go of race that is causing the problem.

And while I agree that there are issues that certainly seem like they should be front and center, like the economy, the war, and I'd add the environment, believing that if we stop focusing on an issue it will disappear is simply naive. Someone's "race" isn't the problem--racism is. But getting everyone to agree on what racism looks like and to understand that it will look and feel different for different people depending on life experience, what you look like, where you were raised, who your family is, what social group you hang out with, your gender, sexuality, income, level of education, height, weight, and host of other factors too long to get into...PEOPLE! HUMANS ARE COMPLEX! AND RACE IS COMPLICATED! AND RACISM HAS BEEN AROUND THE WORLD FOR A LONG, LONG, LONG TIME AND KNOWS HOW TO MUTATE. Trust me, if I thought that not talking about race would end racism, I'd have shut up a long time ago and started to blog about my dog and would have written my dissertation on Jane Austen (whom I love--don't bash Jane!).

OK, enough from me. I'd love to hear what YOU think. I'd love to hear from a variety of voices--from people around the U.S. but also around the world. From people who identify as bi- or multi-racial. Obama supporters or Clinton supporters or even McCain supporters (are there McCain supporters reading this blog? do you feel marginalized here? Really, this is a welcome space, although I could understand why you may not want to leave a comment on such a lefty-liberal blog).

What kind of first is Obama? Is it naive to think that people can choose to identify however they want? Are some identities harder than others for people to accept? And why do we keep wondering about Obama's identity and not McCains? Is it really that obvious what McCain's "race" is?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Debunking the model minority myth

You would think that in a blog dedicated to issues of race in the U.S. and my own focus on Asian American issues I would have written an extensive post on the "Model Minority Myth" (lets just abbreviate to MMM for the duration of this post) and yet, after a quick search, I saw that I've alluded to MMM in several posts and assumed everyone knew what I was talking about. But I've never elaborated.

And I think the time is right for a post debunking the MMM because a report just released that was conducted by/sponsored by NYU, The College Board, and various Asian American educators has just been released and it takes on the MMM--stating, very clearly, the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the MMM.

For example, the stereotype that Asian Americans excel over all other groups (including whites) because of genetic superiority in terms of intelligence or cultural superiority in terms of work ethos. Or that Asian Americans are a bunch of nerds who study the hard sciences and math. Or that Asian Americans are taking over all sectors of education and crushing everyone like Godzilla crushed Tokyo. But the MMM is also particularly dangerous when used as a tool of divisiveness. As in, people point to Asian Americans and say "See?! We don't have a race issue in this country. Look at all the hard working Asian people--why can't those other minorities be just like them???" In fact, it's no coincidence that the phrase "Model Minority" was coined in the mid-1960s -- first in one news piece to praise hard-working Japanese Americans and then a year or two later, in another news essay praising hard-working Chinese Americans and their ability to assimilate and capture "The American Dream."

The New York Times has a piece about the report (click here) and one of the things it notes is that this stereotype is NOT true. First of all, the report notes that "Asian American" is a broad phrase and captures a host of various ethnic groups that span a vast region that is extremely diverse. And if you look at rates of graduation and educational achievement for SouthEast Asian Americans (especially Hmong, Cambodian, and Vietnamese) they suffer low educational achievement, high drop out rates, rates of incarceration, and poverty levels.

Also, it's REALLY important to remember that the MMM is a stereotype that has been linked to Asian Americans and like with many stereotypes, there is a cyclical and self-perpetuating nature to them. Asian Americans see that they are supposed to excel and so they do. This is simplistic, but it's part of what Stanford researcher Claude Steele has called "the stereotype threat." (btw, Claude's more conservative cousin is Shelby Steele, but you should NOT get the two confused--Shelby believes it's rational to cross the street when you see a black man because society has programmed you to link African Americans with crime in your head. Claude does NOT take this pov, and has done groundbreaking research at Stanford to show the ways we are being programmed and that we can FIGHT this programming and the stereotype threat we perceive--that everyone is subject to--and that the way to have a more integrated and mixed-race society is to recognize that these ARE stereotypes and not inherent qualities associated with particular ethnicities or racial groups). See Steele's article in the Atlantic Monthly "Thin Ice: Stereotype Threat and Black College Students" and a brief interview with him at Mount Holyoke College (click here).

The Model Minority Myth is just that--a myth. It is NOT true that Asian Americans are smarter than any other racial/ethnic group. It is NOT true that Asian Americans are succeeding more than other ethnic/racial groups--especially other ethnic/racial minorities. The myth and stereotype does disservice to Asian Americans who are not high achieving and who are struggling with poverty and racism. It does a disservice to other ethnic and racial minorities who are told, "Why can't you be more like those Asians" and it's simply BS to think that there are some cultures who value education more than others. What society or culture in this world is going to say, "Nope, we don't place a premium on learning...we don't care if our young people become educated."

If the MMM was really true, then how come Asian Americans aren't ruling the world, I mean SERIOUSLY! If Asian Americans are so smart, how come we aren't dominating the banking world? Winning the Nobel Prize in various scientific fields on an annual basis? How come we don't hold most of the patents in most of the technological advances? How come we don't comprise half of the Fortune 500 company CEOs? Or have major representation in Congress? Or just in the field of education--why is it that in the one field we are supposed to absolutely DOMINATE--higher education--there are only 33 APA presidents of any colleges or universities in the nation--that's less than 1% nationwide. Clearly, we aren't such a model minority after all.

To read the full report, go to the College Board's website here. And for another piece (a bit dated but still relevant) that takes on the MMM click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who are your peers?

This morning I went to the county courthouse to sign in for Jury Duty. And I was really *hoping* that I would get called to serve. Because I've always wanted to sit on a jury. Truly. I know that sounds crazy to a lot of folks. But I've just thought that the American legal system, flawed as it is, does have this really interesting process--to have people be tried by a jury of their peers. I could go on and on about what I do think is flawed about our system (and I'm sure you could too). And yet, the opportunity to be part of the process--to see and experience what it looks like from the inside. I think it's a rare opportunity--to actually make a difference in our judicial system--to play a small (and in some cases like the Rodney King trial or Vincent Chin) or perhaps large and historic role.

I never made it into the jury box. There were about 50 people. About half a dozen claimed some type of hardship or medical difficulty or personal relationship with one of the people in the case that prevented them from serving. And the random shuffle didn't yield my name, so they selected the jury pretty quickly and the rest of us went home.

Of the 50 people in the room, I was the only visibly Asian American person. There were about a dozen African American people; gender-wise it seemed about equally male and female; and age wise we ranged the gamut--on the jury box was a young teen who just graduated from high school and literally JUST turned 18 and someone else who declared themselves to be in their late 60s (it wasn't mandatory that people announce their ages, but for some reason, the majority of people did).

And as I looked around me, I kept thinking about the phrase

"Jury of your peers"

Because if I were ever in a courtroom in this county, would I have a jury of my peers before me? I mean, race is really only one barometer, right? Clearly, outside of places like California or Hawaii, I'm not ever going to be faced with a jury that is going to look like me--at least not a significant portion. And in the South, it's conceivable that my "peers" would largely be white men born and raised in The South.

Are these my peers?

How about education. Or career/job history. Or gender and sexuality.

If you found yourself in a trial situation, who would YOU want to be the jury of your peers?

All I know is that I would *hope* that the jury would be a reflection of "My America"--the one I aspire to see around me--which is a diverse America and a mixed-race America.

Guess I better hope not to be taken to trial in my county. And I guess I'll wait another 2 years to see whether I make it into the jury box.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday morning queries

I think a symptom of my writer's block for my book is that I'm also having blogging block. So this morning I'm throwing out a series of queries--some things I really honestly have questions about, others that are more open ended/opinion oriented.

Here goes:

1) While I was out in CA I brought along the book Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy, which is *supposedly* non-fiction, although the events and characters (there is a golf instructor called "Shivas Irons" who is a bit hard to take seriously) are sort've wacky and mystical and hard to swallow. It was recommended by several golf friends, but I just couldn't get into it--and I was on an AIRPLANE where I'll basically read anything, including the in-flight magazine, because I hate flying and need to distract myself.

So here's the question: does anyone know of any GOOD golf books/novels/stories--particularly ones that feature either female golfers or golfers of color--and I DON'T MEAN THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. Maybe, just maybe, the book is better than the film. Maybe the mystical man who comes out of the mist is not supposed to be African American--because really, the whole thought that you had a movie about golf set in the South in the inter-war period and a young black man comes out of nowhere to help a white golfer with his swing and NO ONE acts like it's bizarre??? And NO ONE uses a racial epithet? Talk about fairy tales. But really, I'm thinking of teaching an American Studies class on golf--something that really addresses the issues I hold near and dear like race, gender, sexuality, the environment, and the love of the game. I figure teaching a class like this would NOT be preaching to the choir--and I'd love to teach a good golf novel--it doesn't have to have a female golfer or golfer of color--I'll take any good golf novel I can find. But it'd be a nice bonus if there were a fictionalized Lorena Ochoa character out there in a good short story or two.

2) I've been hearing the phrase "off the reservation" a lot lately in political circles. Most frequently I seemed to have heard it in relation to Clinton's presidential run when her husband would make statements not approved by the campaign and talking heads would say that Bill was "off the reservation."

Where does that phrase come from? It seems BIZARRE to me--because if it is obliquely referring to American Indian reservations, then the whole metaphor seems odd and flawed. Or am I misunderstanding this colloquial expression? I think when people employ it they are saying that someone from within a group is making comments or acting in a manner not consistent with the ethos or politics or ideology or philosophy of the group--or just isn't conforming to group norms. But from an American Indian point-of-view does this even make sense? Perhaps the "reservations" in question aren't meant to refer back to Native Americans but what else would it refer to and in an American context, don't you hear that? And isn't the whole phrasing of it as such, then, insensitive, inaccurate, and just plain racist? Because the American government created American Indian reservations as places where various tribes could live after we (US government and American settler/colonizers/immigrants--which means you and me unless you are an indigenous person reading this) displaced them of their land? How did this expression acquire its political connotations?

3) Obama's running mate--who should it be?. OK, this post is really directed more at those who support Barack Obama and/or the Democratic party, although I'd love to hear from anyone else with an opinion on this issue (US citizen or not). And the implied subtext of my question is, who should it be that will give this ticket the best chance of beating John McCain in the general election? And on a somewhat related note, has anyone ever wondered if John McCain was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? I know it's REALLY verboten to talk about that--to in any way question his mental or emotional state post-Viet Nam. But I don't mean this in a critical "he's-not-fit-for-the-White-House" way (although I don't want to see him anywhere NEAR the White House) but in a "Wow-this-guy-needs-help-because-of-his-anger-issues" kind of way. He is on record as calling his wife a c*** as in "shut up you f****** c***" when she jokingly made a jab at him on the Straight Talk express bus during the 2000 primary run (there were reporters on the bus who recorded the incident). If he's willing to insult his wife in this manner in front of reporters, what goes on during their private domestic spats? Can't we get this man some help?
[June 21, 2008: CORRECTION: McCain made these comments back in 1992 NOT 2000--the exact quote can be found in the blog post "Who is John McCain"]

But seriously, back to the VP question--who would you like to see. Senator Clinton? Governor Richardson? Senator Feinstein? Senator Biden? Or my personal favorite: Senator Jim Webb of Virginia--you know, the guy who beat George Allen. George Allen is "Mr. Macaca"--the politician who made that awful gaffe. Webb is a Viet Nam veteran (like McCain), has a son in Iraq, and is so conservative a Democrat that he was a Republican once upon a time. He's also married to a Vietnamese American woman (second marriage) and although more to the right than my own politics are comfortable with, may give Obama the best shot at the White House as his VP.

Seriously, please leave a comment, answer any of these questions or invent your own--would love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday list


*Kung Fu Panda. Because do we need MORE reinforcement of Asian stereotypes, especially those that perpetuate the connection of Asians with Panda bears and martial arts, and DAMN IT, this one has BOTH. Maybe I wouldn't be so annoyed if there were more Asian Americans on-screen just being, well, Asian American. Pumping gas at your local Shell station. Ringing up your groceries. Standing in line with you at the bus station. Asian American lead actors and actresses starring in dramas and comedies and sitcoms doing BORING things that ALL people do--not preparing sushi in the latest V8 commercial, not offering pithy phrases that sound like they came out of fortune cookies, not being silent or nearly silent side-kicks to the inevitable white male (sometimes female) lead.

*People who don't recycle. C'mon folks! We only have one planet! Reduce, reuse, recycle--a good mantra!

*Writer's block. I've been stuck with my book project and it's SO FRUSTRATING and I wish the writing demons would leave me alone--the ones that tell me I don't have an original thought in my head or that my writing is at the level of a senior thesis (this was an ACTUAL comment I got back from an anonymous reader report when I submitted something a while back to a journal that will remain unnamed. Suffice it to say, it did not seem like constructive feedback and was a bit like name-calling in the academic world, and while I've never dared to believe that my sentences were graceful and eloquent pieces of rhetoric, this comment seems to be mocking both myself and the wonderful senior theses that I have read. So "phlbephhhhh!!!!" to you Mr./Ms. anonymous reader! And STOP MESSING WITH MY HEAD!)


*The thought of Barack Obama as our next President of the United States. YES WE CAN!

*Pictures of my grandparents and my best friends from college (the Gherkins--long story why we chose this silly nickname) that hang in my home office. I think it's important to have pictures of people you know love you unconditionally (or in the case of my now deceased grandparents, had loved me unconditionally). Good way to fight the inner demons.

*Today's New York Times Weddings and Celebrations page. I know you have to know someone or be someone to get placed here, but if you look on-line at who is featured (photo wise or profile wise) it does make me think we've come a long way baby from the kinds of couples that were featured 10, 20, 30 years ago. The mere fact that they now recognize same-sex unions is a cultural shift of monumental proportions. Because, at the end of the day, it's the small acts that count too--that start to send a message that it's really just commonplace to see two men or two women get married, as common place, one would hope, as seeing two people of two different "races" get married.


*The fact that I still eat pork. Pork is BAD business--quite literally. Factory farming of pork is bad for the environment and bad labor practice. And eating pork is bad for your health (or can be). But I LOVE LOVE LOVE sausage and bacon and ribs--I make a mean rack of baby back ribs. And pork loin. And ham--I have a smoked ham recipe TO DIE FOR. I try to ease my guilt by buying locally produced/raised pork, but the truth is, I don't adhere to this 100% and I KNOW that the salad I ate the other day that had bacon bits on it probably didn't come from a place that is local.

*My consumerism. I buy. I spend. I succumb to marketing and the false belief that I NEED certain things. Even books. I justify it as being a professional expense, but I could check the book out from the library. Do I really need to own my own copy? Yes, I am keeping certain writers in business--and I suppose books aren't really as awful a consumer product choice as some other things. Like clothes or gadgets or handbags. But seriously, I need to take my mantra of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to heart.

*Righteousness. On the one hand, I think there's a lot to be righteous about. Racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental issues, animal abuse, partner abuse, elderly abuse, poverty, mean people, etc. On the other hand, who made me the fairness police? What right do I have to stand on my soapbox and start to rail against the world? My friends joke that it's impossible for me to have a conversation with them that at some point doesn't evoke race. It's true. And there are times when really, no one wants to talk about race...when I don't want to talk about race. Or inequality. Or privilege. We just want to hang out at the pool and eat loco pops and play mah jong. Is that so bad?


*For everyone to have a lazy Sunday and for me to read the books I said I would read (I have daily goals and Sunday's goal is always to do a bit of reading) and to also relax and enjoy myself. After all, it is Sunday.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A PSA: Consider joining the bone marrow registry

This morning I was doing my usual blog crawl when I came across this piece from Angry Asian Man (click on this link).

Basically, racial/ethnic minorities are very underrepresented in the national bone marrow registry. So the Asian American Donor Program is trying to do something about this. If you go to this link (click here), you can order a home-kit, FOR FREE (normally they are around $30-60 I think), if you are a member of an ethnic/racial minority (all or in part--that's the language of their site).

Regardless of your background, please consider joining the bone marrow registry. It's really a simple process--you swab your cheek, seal it up, and mail it back. There are several bone marrow transplant drives that will be occurring in urban areas (and you can always check your local hospital, especially if you live near a teaching hospital) but really, please do consider doing it.

I have 2 friends who have had bone marrow transplants, and one is currently undergoing this process. They are all white Americans, but finding a match was none-the-less nail-biting. The odds get worse when you are a member of an ethnic/racial minority. For example, only 3% of Asian Americans are part of the registry. And although ethnic similarity is not a lock-in for matching tissue/blood (a close friend, who is of Korean ancestry received a liver transplant from a Euro-American), apparently it helps.

A lot of people talk about wanting to make a difference--taking this small step means you are.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Democratic Nominee--Barack Obama

It has been said before but I'll repeat it here: history has been made. Barack Hussein Obama (and yes, I'm invoking the middle-name deliberately to make a point) is the Democratic nominee for the 2008 Presidential election.

[pause for sustained applause and whooping and whistles]

I received a very enthusiastic email message from a friend who is out of the state right now who just can't believe that we are seeing this happen. And I've had similar conversations on the phone and in person with friends and family members who are over the moon about this state of affairs. And we are a mixed bunch, my friends and family. And I think that's important to note, because so much has been made of race by those outside of Obama's camp and supporters--about him being a "black" candidate who has a "Muslim" middle-name and family ties to Islam.

But imagine what this says, to the nation, to the world, but more importantly to the kids at your local elementary school: the Democratic nominee for the first time is not a white man. And in Obama's case his mixed-parentage, and very mixed-upbringing, is also something to take note--that he comes from a complex heritage and claims family across the globe of all different ethnicities.

There are a lot of pundits, talking heads, and reporters who are writing about what this means for the Democratic party, for the nation, for the world. One article I found interesting was in today's New York Times, "Many Blacks Find Joy in Unexpected Breakthrough." I think it's true that African Americans probably do feel a sense of pride and perhaps even surprise that a majority of white Americans (and Americans of color across the spectrum) are behind Barack Obama--that he garners so much cross-ethnic, cross-racial support. But the truth is, I think for any of us interested in anti-racist practices, Barack Obama's nomination is one that inspires a sense of hope--a renewed faith that WE can make a DIFFERENCE in the nation.

And I went back and looked through all of the posts I had written about Obama (there are several--you can type in his name in the search box and see), but I want to link to one I wrote nearly a year ago. It was written on June 12, "Walk for Barack", right after I had participated in the Saturday, June 9 "Walk for Change" that Obama's campaign orchestrated. This is when my support for Obama became concrete--because you don't knock on doors in 90 degree humid weather in the South if you don't feel a sense of passion and commitment.

Here is an excerpt from what I wrote then--the context is that I was relating a conversation that I had had with an older African American man who expressed skepticism that Obama was electable because he questioned whether this country was ready for a black president:

I don't know if the average American voter wants to elect a black president. But what I told this gentleman and what I believe, and what got me out on a 92 degree afternoon, knocking on people's doors, volunteering for the first time in my life to canvass for a cause or a person--what I believe in my heart of hearts is that I want to and need to believe that we, as a nation, are ready to move ahead in terms of racial politics. That we want to learn from the past and we want to learn from each other. And while I know that racism will not be erased so easily by a few ethnic studies classes or multicultural fairs, I also know that I am supporting Obama because I have to have faith. I have to believe and to envision the country I want rather than the country I suspect I have. I have to actually practice what I preach rather than bemoaning the state of race and politics that we currently live in.

All I have to say now, a year later, is YES WE CAN!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The bus incident

[Warning--long post follows]

On Friday, May 23, I got on the #21 Hayes bus leaving downtown SF to head to Golden Gate Park so that I could show "Southern Man" the DeYoung Museum, which is one of my favorite museums in the Bay Area.

[view of the DeYoung's observation tower and part of the museum]

[view from the observation tower of the DeYoung looking at the Steinhart Aquarium, my favorite aquarium and set to re-open Fall 2008 after major renovations]

For anyone familiar with riding the MUNI bus lines in SF, or just anyone familiar with urban public transportation, some bus lines get very crowded, and the #21 on Friday afternoon was VERY CROWDED as it moved down Market Street, especially through Union Square (a touristy-shopping district) and the Tenderloin (a working class and crime ridden neighborhood, not necessarily dangerous, especially during the day, but there are a lot of panhandlers/homeless folks in this area and this is where the cops like to patrol for drug deals and prostitution).

Southern Man, and I, were sitting towards the back of the bus--with me at the window and him on the aisle. After about 10 minutes we were at standing-room-only capacity, and the bus was a representative of the various neighborhoods it was going to and from, which means it was filled with a pretty diverse representation of San Francisco--people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, ages, and classes (well, maybe if you were super affluent you weren't on the bus, but lots of upper-middle class people ride MUNI because parking can be awful downtown).

After about 15 minutes, a young couple snuck onto the bus through the back doors. This is pretty common on crowded routes, so I didn't think much of it. The girl was about 15 and the guy was about 19 or 20--maybe even younger like 17 or 18. They seemed pretty jittery--quite frankly, my immediate thought was that they were high, maybe on pills, maybe on crystal meth (which is running rampant in SF right now), maybe coke or crack. But I'm *pretty* sure they were on something given what followed.

They were talking very loudly and boisterously, as teenagers sometimes do, not terribly mindful of their surroundings or perhaps hyper-mindful and wanting to put on a show. After they were on for about 5 minutes, a seat opened up next to a very thin and small elderly woman in her 70s, who was seated on the aisle. At this point, let me say that the woman was Asian, and this is relevant because it's unclear how much she understood from the verbal barrage that came from the teenage girl, who wanted the woman to move over to the vacant window seat so that the girl could sit down in the aisle and continue talking with her boyfriend.

This is where things get bizarre & violent.

The elderly woman didn't move or even really register that the girl was asking her a question (actually, more like making a demand given the girl's tone and demeanor). The girl, frustrated by the woman's lack of response, got more and more agitated and became verbally abusive and LOUD, which culminated in her calling the woman a bitch and then she picked up the woman's grocery bag, threw it in the corner of the vacant seat and physically and violently shoved the woman into the vacant seat, plopping down in the free seat she had created all the while continually verbally abusing the woman.

The elderly woman then did something that surprised me, and perhaps all of us who were sitting in the back witnessing this performance. She elbowed the girl as hard as she could. Which the girl DID NOT LIKE and what ensued was a strange elbowing match between the girl and the elderly woman, with the woman never uttering a peep and the girl getting increasingly agitated and verbally abusive, her boyfriend goading her on and laughing--both of them taunting the woman.

Things were getting increasingly tense on the bus, as everyone seemed to be holding their breath to see what was going to happen next. Some people were staring (I was one of them); others were deliberately looking away; and one guy with a skateboard in the back was talking loudly on his cell phone to a friend about the incredible scene he was witnessing and how he was about to record it all on his cell phone.

The elderly woman, at some point, had stopped shoving and was simply absorbing the girl's abuse. Again, it's unclear how much she understood, although I suspect she understood more than she let on, since it's often easier to follow language than to speak it. She certainly could understand tone and body language, and it was unmistakable that when the girl stood up and told her that she was going to throw down with her RIGHT NOW ON THE BUS and FUCK HER SHIT UP that something was going to happen.

At which point, I intervened.

From my seat I told the girl to leave the elderly woman alone. I have to be honest and say that adrenaline combined with the events that follow make my memory fuzzy, but I know that I said something because I couldn't get out of my head the video of the woman on the MARTA harassing the elderly lady. I couldn't bear the thought that no one was saying anything to this teenage couple. And I couldn't live with myself if the girl actually carried out her threat, which seemed distinctly possible given how violently she had shoved the elderly woman into the vacant seat--which breaks all social codes of space and the rules of kindergarten (keep your hands to yourself).

What followed was a heated exchange first between me and the girl and then me and her boyfriend, who quickly leapt to his girlfriend's defense. I'm pretty sure that both of them threatened me, although interestingly enough, I never felt threatened--as in, I never felt scared or that they would actually hit me. I'm not sure why--again, maybe it was just adrenaline. Or maybe I thought they were teenagers who were high and that once a stranger intervened they'd back down. As the boyfriend got in my face, telling me to fuck off and telling me that he was going to fuck me up, the guy with the skateboard and cell phone informed him that he was recording the entire incident and was going to use it as evidence or post it on YouTube. Again, I'm fuzzy on details. The boyfriend quickly shifted his attention from me to the twenty-something cell phone skater, and the two of them were shouting at each other pretty forcefully.

At which point, a 40-something African American man came up behind the teenager and told him to beat the white boy.

You see, I've tried to avoid racial signifiers up to this point, but I have to fill you in , perhaps, to partially explain what happened. The young couple on the bus were black teenagers. The cell phone documenting skater was white, and as I said earlier, the elderly woman was Asian--probably Vietnamese or Cambodian if I had to guess. The rest of the bus inhabitants really were a mix of every race and ethnic group (and age and size). There was a young boy and his mother in the very back seat, and a few young teenage girls.

I don't know if it really was the verbal trigger that set the boyfriend off, but the next thing I knew, he was attacking the skater. What ensued was the most violent fight I've been witness to. Which isn't saying much--lets face it, I'm an academic. I grew up in a working-class, middle-class neighborhood, but aside from some childhood playground brawls, I really haven't seen any real fights. Not like this. Not this violent or bloody. Not in the tight quarters of a crowded MUNI bus in the middle of the afternoon, when bodies are falling on top of bodies and people are screaming and the voice of the 40-something guy is egging on the young boyfriend and others are trying to get out of the way and pull them apart, and block/shield the skater because he is getting the crap beaten out of him by the boyfriend.

I don't know at what point the bus stopped or at what point the back doors opened. I'm sure that mine was one of the voices that was screaming at them to stop and for someone to get help. All I know is that once the back doors opened, the 40-something guy grabbed the skater's cell phone and ran off the bus. The girlfriend grabbed her boyfriend and told him that they had to go, and they ran off the bus, quickly followed by the skater, who was trying to retrieve his cell phone.

The rest of us sat in stunned silence on the bus. Southern Man was literally gray and looked like he was going to throw up. The little boy (who looked to be about 3 or 4) was crying and his mother, and some other bus riders, were trying to comfort him. Other people were crying and looked pretty stunned. Then I got off the bus when I saw that there were two police cruisers, because I realized that I'd probably have to make a statement, seeing as I was somewhat involved in the incident. I also tried to talk to the elderly Asian woman, but she didn't say a word, just nodded her head when we asked if she was OK--she had this weird smile on her face, like it was plastered on. I think she was probably in shock from everything that transpired.

What followed is that I gave my card with my cell phone to both the skater (who came back to the bus empty handed and asked us if we knew the guy who took the cell phone or if maybe his cell phone had been dropped and was still on the bus) and I gave my card to one of the police officers, who followed up with me later that afternoon and took a statement from both me and Southern Man.

We then all got on another #21 Hayes bus--this one even more packed than the one we had left since it now had the occupants of two buses. I sat wedged between two women on the first bus, one, a college student who couldn't stop crying from the shock--she had been in the back and had been knocked around quite a bit, the other in the front who wanted to rehash the story again and again--both seemed to be coping strategies. Southern Man didn't say a word, and later, when we had time to talk and process, he told me that he had been listening to the teens' conversation and that they had talked about being in a gang and killing people the previous weekend--and predicted who they would try to kill the upcoming weekend, and he saw a bulge in the back of the girl's jeans that he said could have been a gun.

This is partly why he got paralyzed--and this is why he was so silent for a few days. Because you have to understand, my boyfriend is a BIG GUY. And he's trained in karate. And he was shocked that he didn't do anything--that he froze. That the things he had trained for in karate--to help defend those who can't defend themselves--that when he was faced with a moment of violence he didn't do anything.

And I kept telling him (and keep telling him) that it's normal for him to be paralyzed--how can any of us know what we will do in a situation like this? And especially given the racial turn of events--along with the violent turn of events--his participation in any way in trying to either verbally or physically intervene would undoubtedly have escalated things, as the 40-something guy seemed spoiling for a fight--as did the two teens. He has, since we've returned home, spoken to his sensei, who offered him good counsel in terms of similar situations he has been in--times when his sensei did act and made things worse, times when his sensei did nothing, times when his sensei was able to play the hero. And what Southern Man realized, which is what I wish I had realized, is that we should have tried to intervene before the girl got violent with the elderly woman. That at the moment when the girl started verbally harassing the woman, Southern Man wishes he had stood up and offered her his seat--to give both her and her boyfriend our seats and to have us make way for them, to calm down the tension on the bus.

All of this, of course, is easy to think about in hindsight. But what I can't help wondering is, did I make things worse? In watching the MARTA incident on Rachel's Tavern, I can see and hear passengers talking about how inappropriate the girls' actions are, telling her to chill out and relax, and then finally confronting her, perhaps not in the best fashion. And the minute that people did, directly, confront her, she got even more hysterical and out of control. And that's essentially what happened when I called out the girl on the bus. The minute she was confronted, she got even more agitated, verbally abusive, and violent--and so did her boyfriend. Like I said, I'm pretty sure they were in an altered state--not that they were mentally ill like the MARTA woman, but that they were high on something and spoiling for a fight because they were so hopped up. And the minute they were confronted, they got abusive--and violent in the case of the boyfriend.

Would it have mattered if I was an African American woman? Would it have been worse if I had been white? Would it have mattered if the people on the bus were all the same race as the young couple? In the MARTA video, it appears as if all the passengers in the car are African American. If all the passengers on MUNI had been African American, would the incident still have escalated to violence? Why did the 40-something guy turn it into a racial incident? This is especially troubling to me since up to this point, including all the nasty verbal harassment coming from the young couple, no one had mentioned race. I'm not saying that any of our actions weren't racially inflected, but it does seem amazing, in hindsight, that in all her abuse leveled at the Asian woman, not once did the teenage girl ever use a racial slur. And not once did either teenager use a racial slur when confronting me--I'm sure of that. I know I was called a bitch and a cunt and a few other choice words, but they never made it racial. It was only the 40-something guy who told the teenage kid to beat the white boy.

Do I wish I hadn't said something? No. I really couldn't not say something--it just became impossible to think that no one was going to call out this girl's bad behavior to this woman. Would I have acted differently if I had paid attention to their conversation or thought that they were packing heat? Impossible to know. Does this make me think twice about saying something in public? Yes. How can I help but second guess what I did and didn't do? What Southern Man did and didn't do? What everyone on the bus, including the 40-something guy and the skater, did and didn't do?

I don't hold any of us accountable--the young couple really are the ones who have to be held accountable for their violence, verbal and physical. But I am all too aware of the social reality and demographics of the Tenderloin (assuming that this is the neighborhood they live in, which I'm assuming based on where they got on the bus), and the social reality of being a young black man, and the reality of drug addiction. I'm not excusing them, but the level of violence in which they may live may have enabled them.

And that's what I really kept thinking about as I was riding the bus to Golden Gate Park. That here I am, an upper-middle class overly educated Asian American woman, riding this bus to go to the DeYoung museum, and feeling slightly traumatized by these events but realizing that this is all just a story for me. This is something I get to blog about--to write about--not to live out on a daily basis. I don't live with violence or the threat of violence on a daily basis. I never have. I don't have any idea what it's like to live in a neighborhood that isn't safe, where cops patrol, where drug deals go on, where people carry concealed weapons with or without permits. I don't live with violence in my daily life--that's a privilege I have. I get to speak out on a crowded bus because I've had the luxury of owning a laptop and reading blogs in my spare time and thinking too much about incidents that get recorded on YouTube. I am, essentially, clueless about how much of the world lives--because I think more people live with the threat of violence or the trauma of violence than I realize. Whether it's the Tenderloin in SF, the Gaza strip, or Iraq, imagine what it's like to live in a place where you can be confronted by violence in the place you call home.

I'm not sure how to end this post, so I'll just say that this incident, this bus incident, is going to stay with me for a while. How could it not?

[June 4, 2008 -- I've re-read this post, and I want to take back or amend something I wrote. I said that the only people accountable for the couple's actions were the couple. But the truth is, we are all accountable. I don't just mean that in a "we are the world/small world/one world way" but in the sense that we aren't just individuals--we are people who live in a community--local and global--in various concentric circles. We have to hold ourselves accountable for wanting and trying to make a better society in which these teenagers don't make these bad choices and where the 40-something guy doesn't default to making things worse by invoking race, and where my initial move to intervene happens earlier and happens in a calmer way where I try to defuse the situation through respect and humility--which isn't the same as being passive or humble but acknowledges the context of the situation I, and others, am in and takes into account the greater good of the bus and the elderly woman. Anyway, still processing all of this as you can see.]