Monday, December 22, 2008

Flying Home

I'm flying home to CA today. I am a nervous flyer--I've been more nervous as I've gotten older, and being a newly avid watcher of Lost doesn't really help.

Of course, I'm flying Continental Airlines. And as irrational as it is, I'm reassured. Because there can't possibly be two major accidents with the same carrier in a week, can there? (I think statistically speaking there is no basis in this belief, but I'm sticking to it).

Anyway, I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be doing while on vacation with my family, so I just want to say


Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm LOST (sigh)

I have a confession to make. I'm an addict and so is Southern Man.

And what we're addicted to is the ABC series, Lost.

[I think this photo may be from Season 2, but I can't be certain]

It all started with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I discovered, months ago, that they were playing re-runs of the show on the SciFi network. So Monday nights Southern Man, and I, got into the habit of having that be our "TV" night.

[Aside: I'm a typical academic in some ways, which means that most evenings I'm actually reading/writing/returning email rather than watching tv, except if it's Bravo's Top Chef, my reality tv addiction]

Anyway, one week we turned on the tv and it's wasn't Star Trek: TNG, it was the pilot for the show Lost. I actually got up and went to my office to work, but Southern Man continued to watch it, and soon he was hooked. And then, when I came out of my office, I started to watch, intermittently, as I returned email. And then I became hooked.

Then we discovered something REALLY dangerous: ABC has made full episodes of Seasons 1-4 available FOR FREE.

We're on Season 3, episode 15. I won't say anything more because if you are an addict, then you probably know exactly where we're at in the series/mythology. And if you aren't an addict, you probably think, as I did, that this is some dumb show with these strange plot twists and you just think it's a waste of time.

But for the race researcher in me, I have to also admit that some of what pulls me in is the racial dynamics undergirding the show. Because I can't turn off that part of my brain.

I'll save more of my racial observations about the show for later, but one of the things I've been mulling over is the choice to make many of the non-white characters be from different countries. There is a Korean couple, an Iraqi, and a Nigerian. There are also an African American father-son duo, an African American-white inter-racial couple, and a Latino/Mexican American man. And I think in Season 4 they introduce an Asian American man (played by actor Ken Leung). The actors who play the Korean couple are, I believe, Asian Americans who are fluent in Korean but who speak accentless English. So I guess I wonder what this does to have the visibly Asian looking characters be Korean rather than Korean American.

From a plot/narrative point-of-view, I think this makes sense. And the truth is, there are plenty of other nationalities represented--Australians, Brits, Americans, a French woman, and we also meet a Russian and a Scotsman. However, my own bone to pick with Hollywood/mainstream media is in the almost default position that Asian Americans actors get slotted into as being Asian rather than Asian American.

But bone picking aside, boy is it a good series!

Friday, December 19, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about self-censoring as I've emerged from my haze of grading (got the last batch of papers and grades turned in on Sunday) and writing (finished one article deadline ahead of time -- WOO HOO -- and am trying to meet my second article deadline of late January--keep your fingers crossed for me!). Recently I've had a series of experiences at Southern U. that has left me disenchanted. Which is a stark contrast to the more rosy-colored perspective I wrote over a year ago in August 2007 in my "Allies" post.

[I recently re-read the post when I received a new comment by a very thoughtful commenter]

However, unlike positive anecdotes, which I think are wonderful to share, negative anecdotes, particularly ones that are racially sensitive--particularly ones involving people in positions of power--are problematic to share.

And here's where I remember my own position at Southern U.: I am untenured.

I realize that for those of you reading this who are not in academia and/or who may not be familiar with the hierarchical system of universities, let me briefly explain. I am fortunate, very fortunate, in the sense that I have a job at Southern U. that is a tenure-track position--this means that within the academic university faculty system, this is the brass ring for most folks in graduate school, especially in Humanities programs (like English, my home department).

But as privileged and fortunate as I am (and I DO recognize my academic class privilege as an assistant professor at a research university), I am also at the bottom of the academic tenure-track food chain as a junior faculty member: as someone who does not have tenure (because tenure generally is the golden ticket--it's a permanent status in a college setting, which means I have a job for life).

There are several hurdles to jump in the race towards tenure--and one of them is politics. I am overly aware of who I am in my department and at Southern U: I am a non-white woman, a racial minority who is often not recognized as a racial minority (because Asian Americans are generally not recognized as racial minorities here and in many places in the South in my experience), a person who works on issues of race and who teaches classes on ethnic literature and issues of race.

So there are these stories that I would love to share in this space--on a blog dedicated to issues of race in America. Not because I want to bash anyone or be dismissive, but because I think they are illustrative and instructive about the ways in which race, especially "Asian American" as a recognizable race, is continually misunderstood.

But recently I heard an anecdote about someone who was on a search committee at Elite U. and one candidate they were considering had a blog--a personal blog that dealt with issues of race related to the candidate's research in a non-academic way. The position that Candidate "X" was applying to was not, necessarily, one that dealt with topics of race and apparently some of the committee members at Elite U. didn't like Candidate "X's" scholarship--so they were going through Candidate "X"'s blog to find material that they could use to blackball this person. There was, apparently, a rigorous debate about whether one could use material on a blog in a job search, but the consensus was that if it was in the public domain it was fair game--and certainly blogs are public domain.

Of course when I read about this, I was reminded of my own tenuous position as an untenured person at Southern U.--because tenure is in many ways a mysterious process--that even though I have received good counsel from several sources and from many senior scholars, both here and nationally, the truth is, you just don't know and there are no guarantees, because anyone in academia knows the horror stories of Asst. Professor "Y" who had a book out, glowing teaching evaluations, positive accolades from her professional peers, and the respect of colleagues nationally, yet Asst. Professor "Y" didn't get tenure.

I know this is a long and rambling and overly academic post after a long blog silence, but part of my silence has to do with feeling like the things I really want to write about here are things I shouldn't write about because I should be cautious about what I disclose in this space.

And that makes me think about all the ways in which we self-censor, not just in blogs but in our everyday lives--the thing you WANT to say--the moment you are itching to speak truth to power, but that voice in the back of your head, the one that is the voice of survival, says "Wait a this the smart thing to do right now?"

So I'm playing it safe and being smart. But self-censorship doesn't feel good and makes me feel sad. Because some of these stories are just TOO APT for discussion in this space.


Guess I'll have to wait two years and see what the tenure gods have in mind for me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don't you DARE touch my Obama sign!

My heart is still racing over a late morning confrontation I JUST had with a woman trying to steal my Barack Obama lawn sign.

I've been up early grading the last batch of student papers and, luckily, decided to work at my dining room table. My dog, "B" was outside sunning himself (and watching the world go past our corner house) when all of a sudden I heard him barking up a storm--and for you dog owners, you know when your dog's bark has a different timbre and tenor to it--this one said "INTRUDER ALERT! A STRANGER IS APPROACHING THE HOUSE!" (he has a different bark for a dog walking by--it's part territorial and part, "Hey, maybe we could get together fora date at the dog park").

I looked up from my computer and saw A WOMAN STEALING MY OBAMA LAWN SIGN FROM MY FRONT YARD!!! (the unfenced portion).

[This is not a picture of my yard or sign, but it is a close approximation of where I had the sign placed in front of a large oak tree]

I jumped up and ran out of the house and screamed "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???!!!"

The woman, upon seeing me rush out of my home and scream at her, slipped on a pile of leaves that we had just raked up yesterday. To her credit, she turned around and calmly talked to me instead of running away (which was good for me, because I'm in house slippers, and the thought of sprinting after her to retrieve the lawn sign wasn't something I really wanted to do).

According to this woman, she was working for Obama's campaign and had been instructed to go around the various neighborhoods of my Southern college town collecting lawn signs. I pointed out that she simply could have knocked on my door and asked me to remove it rather than coming onto my property and TAKING IT without asking, which is technically STEALING. She promptly apologized, quite sincerely, and then walked to the corner where a man was waiting for her.

So my question is this: REALLY??? Have Obama lawn signs become such a commodity that people are now resorting to STEALING THEM in BROAD DAYLIGHT??? Should I feel the way that disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich did about Obama's vacant senate seat--that my lawn sign is *golden* and that I should expect to reap the benefits of selling it off to the highest bidder? Is this all a sign of serious Obama-mania???

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blog Silence

I just realized that the last post I had written was on Sunday, Dec. 7--and if any of you are curious as to why I've been so remiss in posting, it is this: my students' papers have arrived.

Which means, blog silence for the next few days.

If you are new to MRA, or even if you have been checking in over the last few days/weeks/months, let me recommend the links to the left for some reading pleasure--especially the links to my fellow bloggers.

See you after I emerge underneath this mountain of paper!

Friday, December 5, 2008

T.G.I.F.: Fred Korematsu

In two days it will be December 7--the day that FDR said would always live in infamy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind us all that while Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into WWII was a historic moment and a time when many Americans came together in national unity, it was also a time of racial hysteria that led to the unconstitutional incarceration of an entire race of people based on an irrational and unfounded fear that their enemy-alien race would lead to treason and disloyalty.

I am, of course, referring to the Japanese American Internment, a topic that I've blogged about in the past here and here.

The Japanese American internment was and is a matter of national shame. However, the redress and reparations movement that emerged in the decades that followed is a lesson in the greatness of America. One man crucial to that movement was Fred Korematsu.

[This is Fred back in the early '40s]

Fred Korematsu was one of four U.S. citizens who fought the U.S. government and had his case argued in front of the Supreme Court. He is one of three men whose cases were denied and thus he, along with Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi, were approached, decades later, to have their cases taken up again--to try to correct the wrong that had been done when their cases were first argued in front of the Supreme Court.

A fantastic documentary, Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story, documents Fred Korematsu's story. Here's an excerpt from the film's website:
Born in Oakland, California in 1919, Fred Korematsu is the son of Japanese immigrants. Until December 7, 1941, Korematsu had been living the life of a typical American man: he worked as welder in the San Francisco shipyards, owned a convertible and was very much in love with his girlfriend. However, as he was enjoying a picnic with his girlfriend on the eve of December 7, news of the Pearl Harbor attack started pouring out of his radio. Although he didn't know it at the time, Korematsu's life would never be the same again.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of all Japanese Americans. The Korematsu family was taken to Tanforan, a former racetrack south of San Francisco for processing. Korematsu decided to stay behind because he did not want to be separated from his Italian-American girlfriend.

Korematsu refused to relinquish his freedom and tried to remain unnoticed, to no avail. On May 30,1942, Korematsu was arrested and sent to join Tanforan. Later, all the detainees were transferred to the Topaz internment camp in Utah.

Persuaded by Ernest Besig, then Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, Korematsu filed a case on June 12, 1942. The premise of the lawsuit was that Korematsu's constitutional rights had been violated and he had suffered racial discrimination. However, the court ruled against Korematsu and he was sentenced to 5 years probation. Determined to pursue his cause, Korematsu filed an appeal with Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, later, to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in December 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, stating that Korematsu "was not excluded from the military area because of hostility to him or his race."

Years later, a legal team headed by Peter Irons and staffed by largely young and idealistic Asian American attorneys, uncovered evidence that
"clearly showed the government concealed evidence in the 1944 case that racism — not military necessity — motivated the internment order. More than 39 years after the fact, a federal judge reversed Fred Korematsu's conviction, acknowledging the "great wrong" done to him."

A quote from Fred Korematsu sums up a simple but powerful sentiment that we would all be wise to heed:

"If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don't be afraid to speak up." - Fred Korematsu

Fred passed away on March 31, 2005 at the age of 86. He will always be remembered for his courage to speak truth to power during a time of enormous social and global pressure to stay silent and not to question authority. His life truly is a lesson in the Great Impossible Feat.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Link Love Thursday

My head feels like it is made of cotton. My nose is clogged shut, except when I let out a mammouth sneeze and need the use of several tissues. I am a mess. I have a head cold.

And I have an article deadline and am determined not to let my head cold deter me.

But try as I might, I couldn't muster anything new/interesting/original to share with you, my dear readers, so let me steal, I mean borrow, I mean link you to some blogs/blog posts that may, perhaps, be of interest:

*What Tami Said has a post about Obama-mania in the form of consumer items you can purchase (get your dog an Obama sweater this holiday season) and a lovely coffee table book.

*Chop-Tensils has a great post about a children's game called "Guess Who?"--I've never played it (thank goodness!) but it did remind me of all those times playing CLUE when my young playmates all said I should be "Miss Scarlett" because in the 1970s the CLUE box had a picture of these various players and "Miss Scarlett" was the dragonlady temptress in a cheong-sam lying on a divan looking sexy and dangerous at the same time (like all good Asian women do--I may be wearing a mini-skirt but WATCH OUT! I can kill you with my deadly ninja-moves).

*Finally, from Poplicks a video I'm embedding below on "Prop 8: THE MUSICAL!" -- with a host of familiar faces (including Jack Black as Jesus):

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Monday, December 1, 2008

Didn't your mother tell you it's not polite to stare?

I'm sitting in a deli killing time before my next meeting. Basically, I came here because I needed a place where I could do some writing--where I could plug in my laptop computer because the charge on my battery holds for only about half an hour.

And what I noticed in this deli, which I've never patroned before, is that

A) People have been staring at me. Not quite outright--I catch them glancing my way, and when I stare back they quickly avert their eyes. But then I catch them looking at me again.

B) I am the only non-white person in this deli--there are about half a dozen customers and three people behind the counter.

Which leaves me wondering if

a) I have something on my forehead--like a "Please stare at me!" sign? I took a shower this morning and washed and brushed my hair, so I don't think I look like a monster...

b) I look like someone famous. But how many famous Asian/Asian American women could I possibly look like? And no, I don't look ANYTHING like Lucy Liu or Lisa Ling or Michelle Yeoh. And would these even be household names?

c) People have never seen an Asian American person live and in the flesh

d) All these deli patrons and deli employees are secretly aliens from another dimension who are wondering if I've caught onto their scheme to replace all the fat free foods in the world with transfatty, cholesterol clogging replicas.

Any thoughts?