Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday links to look at

So I know I've been flakey about posting, but the good news is that after spending the last week staying up until 1am working on my half-manuscript, it is off in the mail to certain publishers and, well, lets just keep our fingers crossed shall we? So I've been decompressing over the last few days, which means being a couch potato (did you know that Monday nights they run 4 Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes back-to-back?) and also watching many movies, some good (the latest form Pixar, Up) and some that speak to the schmaltzy-over-sentimental-bad-film-indulgent part of me (I'm a bit embarrassed to mention this, but I've seen My Sister's Keeper and The Proposal in the last few days. I chalk it up to my brain needing a break).

Anyway, I do promise to be back up and blogging with some posts of content soon, but in the meantime, let me leave you with some links to look at that are provocative, interesting, and above all speak to the topic of this blog, a mixed-race America:

*Tenured Radical has a thoughtful post about the legacy of Michael Jackson (click here), much of it resonated with me, although I do wonder about the observation that Jackson's "whiteness" was more a function of transgender than transracial's provocative but I'm not sure I entirely agree, although the pictures of Jackson in the last ten years does make him look increasingly like a white TR has a point.

*Anti-Racist Parent has a very interesting post about children and their questions about race (which can be awkward/embarrassing) and parents' reactions to those questions (click here), which the guest blogger, Jackie Morgan McDougall, handles in a remarkably candid fashion (it's a lengthy post--you need to read all the way to the end to see what I mean by her candor. I also respect her for taking responsibility for what she wrote and how she reacted and not just crawling into a fetal position when her post got so much (negative) attention.

*Angry Asian Man has a post about Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and a Rolling Stone article about him and his efforts to save the planet (click here). You go Dr. Chu!

*Finally, on a rather sad/depressing note, this article in The New York Times about the recent Supreme Court decision's ruling on race and employment/promotion practices--a decision guaranteed to *LITERALLY* change the face of the U.S. workplace (and not for the better, in my opinion).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

R.I.P. Farrah Fawcett & Michael Jackson

On Thursday, June 25, two pop culture icons of my youth passed away. Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. This article on MSNBC's website, "Jackson and Fawcett deaths: Bad Day for Gen X" describes the cultural import of these two figures for people in their late 30s, like me, who grew up watching Charlie's Angels on t.v. and listening to Michael Jackson, first on the radio and eventually his music-movie videos on MTV.

This is the picture of Fawcett that everyone refers to when they talk about her as a pin-up girl/sex symbol. It's pretty tame by today's standards, but back in the day it was really quite provocative:

As for Michael Jackson, what can I say? I was loved "Off the Wall" and appreciated "Thriller." But I don't know that I would call myself a fan. Yet in watching VH1 replay his music videos I realized how much I had grown up with Jackson's music playing in the background--that if there is a soundtrack to my life, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s, his music would be threading its way throughout different moments of my adolescence--watching him perform the moonwalk dance live on TV, the premier of the "Thriller" music video directed by John Landis, the Captain EO ride at Disneyland (and for all of you who missed that, it was a unique experience!), hearing all the bizarre rumors emerge about the Never Land Ranch--which was half-an-hour away from Santa Barbara, so our local media was first on the scene to cover all the strange reports coming out of there--and since I didn't leave Santa Barbara until 1995, there was A LOT to cover. In fact, when I would drive home from college to the Bay Area, I took a short cut through the Ojai Valley, and I could see the top of Jackson's ferris wheel from the road around Los Olivos (that's for all you SoCal/ex-UCSB folks!).

So in honor of the King of Pop, let me leave you with a few of my favorite videos from the best of the Jackson music era:

"She's out of my life"

[A soft-rock staple, this music video shows how young he was when he made "Off the Wall"--it also shows how handsome he was before all that plastic surgery and skin stuff]

"Billie Jean" -- performed live at Motown 25

[This is the moment Jackson really stepped out of the shadow of the Jackson 5 and established himself as a music icon]

"Smooth Criminal" -- performed by Alien Ant Farm

[If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then this cover by Alien Ant Farm really pays homage to the enormous influence of Jackson's career. The quality isn't that great--the best version--one with the kid wearing a mask while moonwalking on the sidewalk--has been disabled by Universal, but you can google it and see a better res version on YouTube]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another entry from the land of bizarre advertisements

Scottish Koreans...a contradiction...REALLY?!

[Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

I shudder to think what they would make of my Chinese Jamaican family. Or the resulting advertisement. I mean, you can all see it, right? People with Asian faces with dreadlocked hair speaking in Jamaican patois. UGH. Lets hope the ad people at Starburst are not reading this blog (really, what are the chances, right?). Moreover, isn't this commercial really questioning the ability to embrace two different ethnic cultures? So does that mean that all people of color, or maybe most particularly Asian Americans, are contradictions because we are BOTH Chinese AND American? And what do you do with the multiracial person who is black and Cuban and Vietnamese and American? That would just blow the minds of the Starburst execs.

By the way, if you are all wondering why I'm not responding to comments (although I am posting them, really) and why I'm slow to write new posts, I have a deadline to some editors and I've been working until about 1-2am every night. When I told my father this, he tsk-tsked and was very sympathetic. But the truth is, I'm the one that set the deadline, and I am actually enjoying the work. It makes me a true academic geek I guess. But I also think that I feel lucky/blessed that I genuinely love what I do. It does mean that blogging is taking a back seat for now. But don't worry, I'll be back!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blogosphere: Please help me decipher this line

From an article by John Lahr on British comedian Steve Coogan from the Nov. 5, 2007 issue of The New Yorker:

"Coogan's humor often trades on the almost Oriental complexity of the British class system" [emphasis inserted by me]

WTF??? "Oriental" complexity? I have NO IDEA what that means. And what does it have to do with the British class system? Seriously, I'm stumped on this one. It all sounds vaguely racist, but more to the point, it just sounds like a bunch of nonsense, meaning I can make NO SENSE out of this sentence.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The Lathe of Heaven

One thing about traveling: I end up doing a lot of reading, especially when I fly because immersing myself in a book is the one thing that will distract me from the discomfort of flying.

[Note: I would say fear of flying, except it's not quite fear, it's that I find flying to be really unpleasant. I don't like the smell of the plane (you know, that gasoline/mettalic/antiseptic smell) or the sounds (the take-off/landing/low mechanical hum), or the cramped quarters.]

And one of the books that took up much of my concentration on my flight to New York City was Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.

Le Guin is known as a science-fiction/fantasy writer. I first became acquainted with her work when I read A Wizard of Earthsea as a child (great story). There was a time when I devoured as much science fiction and fantasy as I could--great works like Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicle of Prydain series, and Pier's Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon. Somewhere in the midst of these works I came across Le Guin. So it was nice to be re-introduced to her years later with her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven.

I'm not sure where to begin in terms of the plot. The book itself is slim--around 184 pages. There are only three main characters, George Orr, an ordinary and non-descript man--the kind of person others easily dismiss, his doctor (a dream specialist) Dr. William Haber, a large man with a large ego/presence, and Heather LeLache, a lawyer with an iron will. The novel's premise, the action that propels the work, is that George Orr can change the world with this dreams. Discovering this strange ability when he was a teen, Orr comes to Dr. Haber because he does NOT want to dream--he does not want to be responsible with changing the world.

And the world that Orr describes is an alternate earth that has been ravaged by ecological destruction and global violence. It is quite similar to our own world, except that the numbers of people who are experiencing poverty and hunger and the trauma of war is exponentially increased in the world that Le Guin has created. Which is one reason to read this book. It was written in 1971 and is eerily prescient in its description of the current environmental problems that plague us. In fact, I'd argue that the novel provides a glimpse of the future that we may, indeed, inhabit if global climate change continues unabated: overpopulation, lack of clear water and air, the fight for food and shelter, and the global devastation and warfare that will follow.

Although initially dismissive of Orr's claim, Dr. Haber soon realizes that what George says is true: he can change the world with his dreams. What follows is a pretty dysfunctional/unethical doctor-patient relationship in which Haber, in the guise and with the intent of helping humanity, uses hypnosis to make suggestions to George of what to dream and hence how to change the world.

Enter Heather LeLache, a lawyer that George Orr hires to try to stop Dr. Haber from controlling him and hence changing the world. And here's where the novel gets really interesting from the p.o.v. of this blog. Although it is not initially clear (Le Guin doesn't describe people by races, she describes their bodies) what we learn at the end of the chapter in which Heather is introduced is that she is bi-racial--her white father met and married her black mother during the Civil Rights era, where they were both ardent activists. And George, a white man with blond wispy hair, falls in love with Heather.

That's all I'll say. There's much more. There are aliens. There are George's dreams. And there is an interesting solution to race in which everyone becomes grey.

At any rate, telling you all of the above will not give anything away. Because there is so much to this small novel. There is so much philosophy and science and questions of ethics and environmental and ecological issues. Really, if you are in need of a good quick read, I'd recommend finding this novel at your local bookstore or library. You won't be disappointed, and hopefully you will find yourself drawn into the questions that the novel raises about how we can make our world better, because while we can't be like George Orr and dream our way into a better future, we certainly can work towards it in our waking lives.

Monday, June 15, 2009

In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all get along?"

There's been a lot of things to blog about in the last 2-3 weeks I've been out of regular blogging-mode. And a lot of it I wish hadn't happened or didn't exist, because it's heartbreaking. The murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-choice zealot. The murder of security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns by an anti-semitic/racist zealot at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. The right-wing attacks on Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor (and the bizarre portrait of her on the cover of The National Review with the title "The Wise Latina" combining racist caricatures of Asians with Latinas. Nice.).

[Aside: Judge Sotomayor is being stuck with the double-whammy of racism and sexism--there are plenty of folks who have weighed in on the right-wing attacks on her, but you should check out Nina Tottenberg's piece on NPR about the criticism that Sotomayor "dominates" her courts and is "mean". WTF???? Are you kidding me? So she's a woman who speaks her mind and doesn't back down. If anyone read the recent New Yorker article on Justice John Roberts knows, he goes on the offensive quite a bit from the bench (and the article scared the hell out of me because he has consistently voted against issues of social justice in terms of racial equality by claiming that an acknowledgement of race is, in itself, racist--AGHHHH!!!!!)]

So let me leave you with this New York Times Op-Ed piece by Frank Rich, "The Obama Hater's Silent Enablers." And I know a lot of people have mocked Rodney King's infamous words uttered in the aftermath of his trial (and during the first hours of mayhem in Los Angeles) but really, can't we all get along? C'mon people--at minimum, can we just NOT shoot one another?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"All I Want" -- Jason Tam

It's a bit too long and convoluted to explain how I ended up listening to this YouTube clip of Jason Tam (mixed-race actor/singer) but what I will say is that as someone who appreciates irony and witty songs, I appreciated this:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back but beaten

Well, I'm back. Not that any of you in the blogosphere necessarily noticed my absence since I had pre-posted (is that the word?) a lot of older posts (MRM Classics I called them) and because I had written up a bunch of posts while I was in NYC. But truth be told, I have been traveling non-stop since May 27--NYC, Seattle, Victoria, BC. Which means my body is feeling the effects of non-stop travel. And here's how it has taken its toll:

*I am severely jet lagged right now.

I really don't travel well. I never was one of those folks in college who backpacked throughout various continents (you know those folks who made their way by bus from Baja California to Argentina via Central America? That was NOT me. Or those other folks who did 20 countries in a summer through Europe? Not me). I don't travel well. I suffer from severe motion sickness. How severe? I had to take medication while traveling on the high speed ferry from Seattle to Victoria, BC--even though the water was like glass on the way out. And when friends of ours took us to see the new downtown Seattle library (which has a funky spiral design) I got dizzy just walking down from one stack to another. I got in yesterday and went straight to a series of meetings at Southern U. and this morning my body decided to say ENOUGH, and I am so tired I feel like every cell in my being is composed of lead.

*I am having an allergic reaction to antibiotics.

I currently have little red dots up and down my body. They haven't hit the palms of my hands or soles of my feet...yet. But they will. I am a sensitive soul--I have STRONG reactions to drugs of all kinds, and I have had this kind of drug reaction in the past to anti-biotics (and while I was traveling in Greece--you do NOT want to go to a Greek hospital on a small island in summer--that's another long story). Anyway, I am taking anti-biotics because . . .

*I need to have root canal surgery (which will be performed this afternoon).

During my trip to NYC, I discovered a molar had become EXTRA SENSITIVE and luckily my dentist managed to squeeze me in during the 24 hour window I was home between trips. During which time, her x-rays confirmed an infection of my tooth, which was spreading to my jaw and causing me EXTREME PAIN. And if any of you has had tooth pain or jaw pain, you KNOW how bad it is--so bad that I woke up in the middle of the night because I could feel my tooth throbbing (YUCK). I was given pain meds and anti-biotics. Thankfully I'm no longer in pain, but of course I'm now covered in little red bumps (not very attractive).

I know I'm over-sharing with all of you--but I also want to explain why I'm going to take a few days to get on my feet, blogging wise. I could, of course, have abbreviated all of the above. Which makes me wonder: have I turned into one of those bloggers who over-shares and uses my blog as a journal? Did I really need to go into detail about my various bodily ailments right now? Am I looking for sympathy, empathy, understanding, commiseration? Or am I just so painfully honest and thorough I figure I should tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Some things for me to explore while I'm recuperating. If any one has any thoughts on over-sharing in the blogosphere I'm all ears (or eyes). I know this isn't really on the topic of this blog--I promise you, I have things to say/write about race and America and mixed-race America given my various travels. But they'll probably have to wait until next week when I'm a bit more lucid. Until then, let me recommend that you check out the folks in my blogroll and/or you can read some previous posts of mine that are also listed on the sidebar.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A quote I love from Louise Erdrich

[MRM Classic - from June 28, 2007]

"Why we are here"

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tatsed as many as you could."
Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How to deal with sticky questions

[MRM Classic - from Tuesday, October 14, 2008]

"Why do you want to know where I'm from?"

Recently I was asked to give a talk about race and diversity, specifically to talk about my own experiences as a woman of color in higher education. So I drew upon some of the themes that I've discussed previously in this blog--about the definition of race as we know it (in terms of the "racial pentagram"), the difference between "institutional racism" versus "individual discrimination," about my own identification as an Asian American woman, and about the question that every Asian American person I know has been asked at least once (and usually many times), namely: "Where are you from?" with the implication, oftentimes, that a person isn't looking for your current home address; rather, what the questioner wants to know is what your ethnic ancestry is.

The talk was really fun--and the question and answer period, which I used more as a general discussion, was the best part, because it was an opportunity for people to talk to one another, albeit through me. In other words, I didn't want to just stand up as the "race expert" because I think everyone has their own experiences, and hence expertise, when it comes to race. And really, after one person has been talking for 40 minutes, the last thing anyone wants is to keep hearing the same voice answer questions.

However, one very good question was posed to me directly. In response to an anecdote I had told about the Staples guy (click here) who insisted I had to be from Hawaii because I looked Hawaiian and who kept wanting to know where I was from, a person in the audience asked this question:

"Is there any kind of question that you would prefer to be asked with respect to your background/ethnicity? Was there a way that the man who insisted you were Hawaiian could have asked his question without offending you?"

I thought about it for a moment and then did the teacherly thing that I sometimes do, which is to flip it around and look at it from a different perspective. Because the thing is, there's nothing wrong in asking someone where they are from or, if it is the ethnic ancestry you are interested in, there's nothing wrong in directly asking someone, "What is your ethnic ancestry?" I've done it recently with a student in my class who appears to be South Asian but had indicated through different references that he might have Indian heritage, and so during office hours I asked him directly what his ethnic heritage was because it was in relationship to a conversation we were having about people taking off their shoes before entering one's home--and it was a point of common cultural practice between Indian households and Chinese households (and I dare say a number of other cultures do this as well, like Korean and Kenyan).

So what I said to the questioner was that it wasn't so much how it was asked or what was asked but it is the motivation behind the question that I'm interested in. For example, a nurse who was inserting a needle in my arm during a blood drive once asked what my nationality was. I am not sure if it was the tone of her voice or the fact that she was about to stick a needle into my arm, but I didn't get defensive or reactionary (for example, I didn't scream I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MY ETHNIC HERITAGE THEN JUST ASK) instead I simply said "I identify as a Chinese American." She got very excited and started to tell me about her Chinese American granddaughter--and at first I wasn't sure if her son had married a Chinese/Chinese American woman or had adopted a girl from China, but it soon came out that it was the latter and that her Chinese American grandchild was always asking her grandmother (who worked for the Red Cross) if she met any Chinese people in the largely homogenous (read white) area of Western MA where we were having this conversation.

In other words, for the white American Red Cross nurse, her motivation in asking me my nationality was very personal and rooted in finding resources for her granddaughter in discovering her ethnic heritage. For the Staples guy? It seems as if his motivation was simply to tell me I should get to know my culture better and to show off HIS expert knowledge about China and Chinese society. And quite frankly, I have all the patience in the world for the nurse and none whatsoever for the "China expert." Because the nurse seems to desire a true interaction and a conversation whereas the China expert seems to want to talk at me rather than with me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Back when he was just Senator Obama . . .

[MRM Classic - from June 12, 2008 -- I love that there was so much speculation about Obama's "racial" identity and what to call him. Wonder if that will pop up again at some point during his presidency...]

"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?

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Mixed Race America reading list

[MRM Classic - from Tuesday, July 22, 2008]

"Reading about race"

Since yesterday's post was devoted to fun summer reading and fiction, I thought I'd focus today's post on some more meaty material--books about race and anti-racism.

I confess that this post is really inspired by the one at Anti-Racist Parent "If I Was in Charge of Revising MEPA: Some Books for White People Adopting Black Children." Lots of folks ended up writing in their own recommendations in the comment section.

So here are my own "Must Reads" for anyone interested in good books that cover issues of race and racism and anti-racist work. Some of them are theoretically dense, others are really a collection of excerpts from longer works. But all are really good at tackling issues of race.

*Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. Michael Omi & Howard Winant. Second edition. New York & London: Routledge (1994).
--I was assigned the first edition of this work as a freshman at UCSB taking my very first Asian American studies class. It is required reading in any class I teach on race. There is supposed to be a third "Millennium" edition coming out, but the second, like the first, is solid work--especially Chapter 4 on "Racial Formation."

*"Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?": A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Revised edition. New York: Basic Books (2003).
--A great book for anyone who has ever asked this question or been asked this question (or its variation) for why kids cluster along ethnic/racial lines (with the questioner sometimes implying that there is something wrong with this). Beverly Tatum is the current president at Spelman College and is an amazing scholar and speaker. And this book is foundational reading on child development and race in America. In many ways, it complements Omi & Winant by literally fleshing out the theory that they propose by looking at the actual adolescents and young adults going through the process of racial formation.

*White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism. Paula S. Rothenberg, editor. Second edition. New York: Worth Publishers (2005).
--This is a great collection of essays on white privilege. And any discussion of race and racism should also be a discussion of white privilege. The list of contributors reads like a "Who's Who" of race reading and writing: bell hoooks, George Lipsitz, Tim Wise, and many others. One of my favorite essays is by Peggy McIntosh "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (it's in Part III). In fact, the collection is dedicated to her as one "who led the way."

*We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Tommie Shelby. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (2005).
--This is probably the most dense reading in this recommended list, but it's also very thorough in its discussion of the history of black racial identity--its political and philosophical roots linked with the history of the U.S. and the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. One of the things Shelby is trying to do is to talk about black identity as a social identity and viable group identity that isn't always commensurate with Black Nationalism. Shelby is careful not to dismiss Black Nationalism, but in the world of postmodernist philosophy and race, the dismantling of any ethnic-national groups is part of the status quo--Shelby is trying to show how group racial identities are still important while also acknowledging the fictive qualities of race and the problematics of relying solely on a Black National identity and political agenda.

*Honky. Dalton Conley. New York: Random House (2000).
--During the fall semester a few years back, I literally had a student in my "Mixed Race America" class chase me across campus and hand me this book. He had heard Conley speak at his high school and had been so impressed and thought that the issues we were discussing in class--ones about racial identity, cross-racial identifications, allies across color lines, class, race, gender, sexuality, and most importantly racism and white privilege, were all encompassed in Conley's autobiography. He was right. I finished the book in a weekend and was sorry that I had discovered it too late to put on my syllabus. Dalton Conley is a social psychologist at NYU, and his autobiography is informed by his social psychologist's eye. But it is also a raw, engaging, entertaining, thoughtful, and thoroughly honest look at race and white privilege through the eyes of a man who grew up the only white kid in a black-Latino housing project in NYC.

*Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law, and the Nation-State. Robert Chang. New York: New York University Press (1999).
--I'd be remiss not to include a work by a legal scholar who works in critical race studies, especially one as good as Chang. At a slim 180 pages (and that includes the footnotes and index) this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to be able to argue for affirmative action, especially because as Chang knows all too well, Asian Americans have been used as that wedge group to argue AGAINST those policies (and I've written about Chang and this issue before). The book, however, isn't only about affirmative action--it's also about the history of Asian Americans in U.S. jurisprudence and the primacy of placing Asian Americans into any discussion of race in the U.S.

Anyway, these are my recommendations for key books on race, racism, white privilege, and anti-racist practices. Feel free to leave your own in the comment section.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I missed my Blog-o-versary, so here it is a month later

[the original post I wrote 2 years and 1 month ago on Friday, May 4, 2007]

"Random thoughts about race"

Why blog about race? Why the need or compulsion to write about race in a public internet forum? I'm not sure--perhaps this is a continuation of my experiment with the now defunct "Race to Survive" blog (a blog I began this past fall to talk about race in popular culture because the reality show Survivor had divided people into tribes by race). Perhaps I want to talk about race in popular culture and general American culture (like the upcoming presidential race). Or perhaps I want to blog in public because I'm embarking on a 15 month project of finishing my book manuscript on passing. At any rate, whether it's a conversation with random or known people in cyberspace or simply a way for me to get my thoughts on paper in a public way, I'm going to use this space to jot down my miscellaneous musings about race. And I invite you to join in the conversation.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Contested terms

[MRM Classic -- from January 31, 2008 -- I especially like the comment thread from this post because the responses are all so thoughtful and nuanced and provocative. And because I don't think that there are easy answers to these kinds of questions. I suppose one could say that we should just stop using the word "hapa" but for MANY people, this is a word of empowerment and agency, so it's difficult to give up. I still haven't completely decided how I feel, but out of respect to indigenous Hawaiians I have tried to stop using it in my writing or to qualify it with a very long footnote/explanation]

"How do I feel about "hapa"?"

Someone emailed me a few days ago, in response to the post I wrote about Hyphen Magazine, particularly about the link to the essay by Wei-Ming Dariotis, San Francisco State English professor and specialist in mixed-race Asian American, "hapa" studies, and asked me what I thought of the article.

In the essay, Professor Dariotis explains, very elegantly and powerfully, what the word "hapa" meant to her during her path from graduate school to professordom. And she also charts, clearly and concisely, why she can no longer embrace the term--because it is clouded with colonial implications for the mixed-race Asian Americans who use it, given the particular historic circumstances of Hawaiian colonization (both literal and cultural) and the various forms of appropriation by whites but particularly by Asian-ethnic settlers (like Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Korean Americans, who make up a racial majority in Hawaii--unlike the continental U.S., Asian Americans are the majority race (over 65%) in Hawaii and are also the power base there), of indigenous Hawaiian culture.

So what do I think about giving up the word "hapa" to describe mixed-race Asian Americans?

The truth is, I don't have a strong opinion. I can really see both sides. I respect Professor Dariotis and her rationale, but the truth is, I also know a lot of people who really identify, strongly, with the term and see it as a form of empowerment and do not see its colonial history or oppressive implications. And as someone who teaches English, I am aware of the flexibility of language--the way it mutates, and the way that it becomes appropriated by various groups, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Language, like people, is fluid--no one truly owns it. We take words out of the context of their original meanings, their original language, and we make them fit into our own linguistic system.

I am sensitive to the situation of indigenous Hawaiians--the ways in which they have been stripped of so much--land, government, culture--so that now taking this piece of their "language" seems like it could be another form of oppressive force.

But what I would also counter with is this: is there not another way to look at this? That instead of seeing the use of the term "hapa" by non Hawaiians as a form of oppression, it is, instead, a sign of respect and homage? If we go in with good intentions (these are never enough, but they can help), if we take this word "hapa" -- not "hapa-haole" (which has a definite historic connotation and context), but "hapa" or "half"--if a group of people who are, themselves, marginalized from mainstream American, English, discourse, finds this word, "hapa," finds that it speaks to them, gives them an identity, gives them a label of their choosing, gives them a home, so to speak, then is it really appropriation? Or can there be good forms of appropriation?

Sort've like the question: are there any benign forms of Orientalism?

I would respect an indigenous Hawaiian person telling me they are offended by my use of the word "hapa" to describe mixed-race Asian Americans. But I would also respect a mixed-race Asian American person who chooses to use "hapa" as an identity marker they take pride in.

Does anyone else want to weigh in?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Struggling to feel American & Jhumpa Lahiri

[MRM Classic -- from Wednesday, November 26, 2008--if you want to read the original comments, click here, I get attacked for saying something about Abu Gharaib]

"Struggling to feel American"

I've just finished teaching Jhumpa Lahiri's first published work--her collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies. I've been teaching this work consistently over the last five years, and I must say that each time I teach this collection I see something different, largely because I'm blessed to have wonderfully bright students who bring different insights and observations into their interpretations of the stories.

And just yesterday morning, Lahiri was interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition about "struggling to feel American," describing her parents' disconnection from feeling "American" and Lahiri's own ambivalence with connecting to a sense of American identity.

Although I can understand a bit of what she means, to be honest, I haven't ever really felt that way. And I've been thinking about why that is. Why I actually DO feel very American and why my definition of "American" has always allowed me to feel connected to this phrase and this amorphous ideal while rejecting the standard symbols of what it means to identify as American.

I've never felt patriotic, not really. Nor have I ever really felt "pride" in being American. Not that I've necessarily felt undue shame (although the words "Abu Ghraib" make me feel distinctly embarrassed, saddened, and horrified), it's more like I feel ambivalent. Because on the one hand, America does seem to offer up a lot of promise and hope--it inspires one to "dream" as in to reach the "American" dream. On the other hand, at an early age I immersed myself in learning about the history of race in the U.S., which means I understood the darker underbelly of America and realized that unexamined proclamations of nationalism weren't something I would ever be comfortable with.

And yet.

I've never not identified as American. I have gone through the different iterations of Chinese/Jamaican/Asian but always appended "American" to the end of those. I don't know that I've ever identified as an un-hyphenated American--somehow I've never been comfortable not qualifying my national affiliations. And somehow I always felt like even if others didn't always see the American in me, it was my absolute right to claim America for myself.

So I'm just curious about everyone else out there--do you now or have you ever struggled to feel "American" and/or have you simply taken this for granted--and for the non-Americans in the blogosphere, what is your impression of "Americans" (and I'd love some push-back from our North American neighbors to the north and south as well as our South American counterparts on this issue).

[Side Note: For anyone looking for a good read, I do recommend Lahiri's latest collection Unaccustomed Earth--especially the last three stories that comprise a short story cycle/novella. Of course, of all her works, Interpreter of Maladies remains my favorite; I just find her stories heart wrenching and in some cases even heart breaking. Plus, she's a master prose stylist, and it's just all a good read. Head out to your local library or independent bookstore and pick up a copy--you won't be disappointed.]

Monday, June 1, 2009

From the vault: MRM classics & APA Heritage Month Book Winners

I've just returned from a trip to NYC and am turning around and heading out of town to yet ANOTHER conference (this one in Victoria, BC!). So while I'm gone, I will be checking email sporadically (as of this moment I still haven't decided whether I'm bringing my laptop--I probably will, but I'm curious to go a WHOLE WEEK without my laptop), which means that I probably won't be approving comments or writing posts until June 9.

But never fear! I'm re-posting some Mixed Race America "classics" (I say that tongue-in-cheek) from June 2-8, posts that I think had an interesting comment thread or would be fun to look back on since I've now been blogging FOR OVER TWO YEARS!!!

ALSO! I wanted to announce the winners of the APA Heritage Month Book Giveaway.

[drumroll please.....]


Congratulations! I'll be submitting names/handles & email addresses to the Hachette Book Group, so for you prize-winners, if you didn't submit your email address to me already, could you please email me with your email address (you can find my email contact by clicking on "View My Complete Profile"). If I don't hear from all five winners by the time I return from the West Coast, I'll select replacement winners and send them on to the Hachette group.

And thanks for everyone who left a comment during the month of May. I hope that for some of you who were first-time readers to this blog, that you'll consider coming back and leaving more comments. My favorite thing about blogging is the conversations I have on this blog and the relationships I've developed with other bloggers by following them to their own blogs.

OK, I've got to go finish packing and cleaning and preparing for our dog sitter. Enjoy the MRM Classic posts this week!