Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tunnel Vision

It has been embarrassing how long it has been since I last wrote a blog post.  Well over a month.  Almost two.  In between the time I last wrote in this space, I've attended two conferences, gotten a nasty head cold, and--the reason I'm really not writing here--started to write my Tiger Woods chapter in earnest.  These are not excuses or rationales (well not entirely)--they're just a reality of how I've gotten tunnel vision.  Right now, it's all Tiger all the time.

And tunnel vision is what I want to write about right now.

It's easy to get tunnel vision, especially when one (like me) is immersed in a particular project.  I used to be the queen of multitasking, but increasingly (perhaps due to age? I find that after 40 almost everything gets attributed to "Oh, you're just getting older"--good to know that I have my aging body and mind to blame for things that pop up in the future) I find that I get tunnel vision when I embark upon certain projects, especially writing projects.

But I think there are other ways in which we get tunnel vision.  When we become so focused on a certain task, project, person, position that we lose sight of everything but the thing right in front of us.

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is someone who I believe suffers from tunnel vision.

In a statement he made on behalf of the NRA yesterday, Mr. LaPierre blamed violent movies, songs, video games, and the lack of armed guards in schools for the tragic massacre in Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I don't think I need to repeat the circumstances and details that led to the deaths of 28 people (and yes, I include both Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza because their deaths are part of that tragedy).  Last week when news slowly unfolded about the shootings--when the final count was 20 children and 6 adults dead at the elementary school--I, like just about everyone else in the world who heard this news, felt numb and heartsick.

The NRA went silent for a week in the aftermath of the mass shooting: they took down their Facebook Page and went silent on Twitter.  And when they popped back up, they said they wanted to enter into "meaningful" conversation about how to avert this tragedy.

[Aside: It's interesting what going "silent" means in the day and age of rampant social media]

Apparently meaningful means putting an armed guard in every school in the nation and pointing a figure at multiple sources--except for gun owners, gun sellers, and gun manufacturers.  In other words, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA suffer from extreme tunnel vision.  They are so focused on protecting their "right to bear arms" ala Second Amendment that they cannot see anything beyond this single issue, remaining tone deaf (among other sensory deprivations) to what the nation is saying and feeling about gun violence.

Now, I know this doesn't seem like a topic for Mixed Race America.  But there are two things that I thought about when reading about the NRA's response and seeing the lines of people outside gun shops who want to buy up as many assault rifles as they can because they fear that the assault gun weapon ban may just pass in the new year.

1) LaPierre complained that the news media had demonized gun owners and rhetorically asked since when did "gun" become a bad word?  It strikes me that LaPierre's language echoes those of people who act defensively when they have been called out for racist acts.  When people get called out for racist acts or are trying to defend people/institutions/events that have been labeled as "racist," these folks often lament the demonization that they, the purported racists, are feeling.  They turn the tables, so to speak (or try to) by claiming to be the "victim" or the "demonized" object of some kind of irrational witch hunt or vendetta that is simply unfair.  In this way, LaPierre and the NRA are setting themselves up as a maligned entity at the mercy of the big bad news media who are unfairly portraying them.

2) Across the nation people have been stockpiling weapons, lining up to buy as many guns, particularly assault rifles, as they can.  And when the news shows footage of the people purchasing these weapons, they have predominantly been white men.  Sure, you see a few African American faces and a couple of women.  But by and large the people lined up and in the gun shops appear to be white.

[Aside 2: I saw "appear to be" because lets face it, I don't know really how they might identify or what their actual racial makeup is.  But I am fairly convinced that even if they are identifying as people of color they're living with white skin privilege in terms of how they look.]

And if we think about the mass shootings that have happened in the last six months: Aurora, CO, Oak Creek, WI, Portland, OR, and now Newtown, CT, what all the shooters had in common was that they were white men.  And I'm not saying that we should be racially profiling or targeting white men.  But if the shooters had all been African American or Latino or Asian Americans or Indigenous people, I KNOW we'd be hearing about the impact of their culture/ethnicity on their psyche and the ways in which their culture/ethnicity caused their violent outbursts.  In other words, race and ethnicity would be a factor that people would latch onto as a way to explain the violence.

Why aren't we doing this with the white men who have perpetrated these killings?  And do we think that one of those white men who lined up to buy guns around the nation may be a future mass murderer because there's something in white male culture that causes white men to embrace a culture of violence and because there's is something in white culture that allows white men to feel entitled and empowered and to feel it is their right to own guns and to do what they want with their guns?

Truthfully, this is a problem in our society--in U.S. society.  Our obsession with weapons and the second amendment.  Our "right" to bear arms.  And it crosses boundaries of race and class and gender and sexuality (I know of queer people of color who absolutely believe they need to be armed to protect themselves from the racist and homophobic throngs out there).  But I also think that it's striking to see these images of predominantly white men lining up to buy as many assault rifles as they can.

As for what I think, I'm going to leave you with this song that Cheryl Wheeler wrote after the school shootings at a middle school in Jonesboro, Arkansas in March 1998.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review Part 3: Mixed race people save humanity

Here's the last installment of the epic 3 part review on the film version of Cloud Atlas.  I really want to stress that my critiques and observations in these reviews have been based entirely on the movie version and not on the novel by David Mitchell, which is epic and wondrous and luminous and the highest compliment I can pay this novel is that I couldn't put it down--I just wanted to live inside the novel for the time I was reading it.

If you want to read the first part of the review, click here, and you can also read Part 2 on the subject of Yellowface & Orientalism here.

Also, I'm going to be talking about the film in its entirety--so if you want to be able to either see the film or read the novel and not have any spoilers, then stop reading NOW.

OK, if you're still reading you either don't care about spoilers or you're familiar with the plot/structure/general narrative elements of Cloud Atlas.

[Aside 1: I hate to admit this, but even after all these years of blogging, I'm still tech-media challenged when it comes to certain things--for example, I can't figure out how to do that "Read More" function where you hide the majority of a post and readers have to click a link to read further.  Seems so smart, especially to prevent spoilers (sigh)--if there are any readers out there who can help me out in the comment section, I'd be most grateful]

Some people have asked me if I liked Cloud Atlas, and it's hard for me to say whether I enjoyed the film because there was such a richness to it in terms of things I wanted to critique and study.  Of course visually it's gorgeous, and the schmaltzy-sentimental part of me resonates with the theme of transcendent love that moves throughout the ages.  But most of all I was fascinated (and in some cases appalled) by the representation and handling of race and racial difference.

[click here for the website where I got this chart so you can see it in a larger scale]

If you look at the image, above, you will see that among the most "evil" characters are several who appear to be "white."  Certainly the characters that Hugo Weaving plays, with the exception of his Neo-Seoul persona, are all evil white men (and one evil white woman, and actually a green evil devil).

Whereas the characters in the film who triumph over their baser natures--who stand up and do the right thing, who put themselves in harm's way for another person, are often characters who are not white or who have some other minorizited identity (like being gay).

In the vignette that takes place in the 1970s (San Francisco) there is a scene where Luisa Rey (played by Halle Berry) and Napier (Keith David's character) are running away from the assassin Bill Smoke (played by Hugo Weaving).  They run into a sweatshop where they encounter a Latina woman (played in brownface by the Korean actress Doona Bae), who doesn't understand what they want until Rey speaks to her in Spanish (thus alerting audiences to the fact that Berry is playing a Latina woman or a woman with Latin American heritage).  Subsequently when Smoke comes looking for Rey and Napier, he encounters the Latina woman and he calls her a wetback before killing her dog.  So Smoke is both a racist and a dog killer.

[Luisa Rey & Napier about to flee from Smoke]

Smoke meets his demise at the hands of this unnamed Latina woman--who bludgeons him to death with a huge wrench, all the while yelling at him for killing her dog and then telling him that she doesn't like to be called a wetback.

The takeaway from this scene is that being a racist doesn't pay (or killing someone's pet).  And time and again, we see this--that there are people of color who will "save" others who are not of their "tribe" so to speak.  This happens in the mid-19th C. story on board a schooner where Jim Sturgess's character, Adam Ewing, is saved by Autua, a Polynesian slave.  And in the post-Apocalyptic story, Meronym (played by Halle Berry) and Zachry (played by Tom Hanks)--where both save one another (and Zachry's sister).

[Is Meronym making eyes at the one-eyed Zachry?]

The film is framed by an old and scarred Zachry narrating about his life to an unseen audience.  The last scene of the film has Zachry concluding his story around a fire to a group of young children, most of who are mixed race and multiracial, of varying hues and ethnicities.  One of them calls Zachry "grandpa" (or the post-apocalyptic equivalent--I can't quite recall now) and we realize that the light skinned (white?) Zachry and the darker skinned (black?) Meronym have married/mated/consummate their relationship in the Biblical sense, and have produced mixed race children and grandchildren--progeny that are the only remnants of humanity since the film concludes on a planet that is NOT earth.

Which means: mixed race people save humanity.


I mean, the filmmakers really want to go down the path of making mixed race people into the ultimate exception of exceptional narratives--that they are the racially hybrid answer to saving what's left of the earth's population?  That the Time magazine future woman could actually be part of the Cloud Atlas narrative?

I guess what I mean is that when I think about the kinds of narratives that we have about multiracial and mixed race people, particularly in terms of any futuristic accounts, it's that they are the saviors of humanity.  And what I think that fails to account for are the ways in which mixed race and multiracial people get to be people--should be seen for the humanity that they carry in and for themselves and not as the answer or antidote to apocalyptic scenarios or end-of-the-world crises.

But perhaps I'm too cynical and too analytical--would love to hear anyone else weigh in if they've seen the end of the film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Despite what all my friends who follow Nate Silver's blog were saying, I was still nervous last night and couldn't settle down until after 11:00pm when all the major networks called Ohio for Obama.  And even then, I couldn't be sure until after Romney's concession speech.  And by that point, I was all in and had to stay up to hear President Obama address the throng of supporters in Chicago.  If you missed it, well, here it is:

Besides Obama's victory, there were many other things to feel cheered and heartened by if you are a liberal-progressive Democrat--the passage of gay marriage laws in Maine and Minnesota, the defeat of two different Republican candidates who made beyond tone-deaf remarks where rape is concerned, and the election of Tammy Baldwin, the Senate's first openly queer person.  The Atlantic's Ta-Nehesi Coates has an aptly titled essay, "Hippes wander into the lion's den, maul lions" that you should check out.

[UPDATE: 11/8/12:  A commenter, jestingjousts, points out that Minnesota did not pass a gay marriage law; they prevented a law from being passed that would have defined marriage between one man and one woman.  Also, Washington and Maryland passed laws that excluded same-sex couples from marrying--for more go to Freedom to Marry]

Finally, for a comedic take and some good old fashioned MC Hammer dancing, here's Key & Peele:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 6--Election Day--VOTE FOR OBAMA

So it probably goes without saying that a blog called Mixed Race America is going to support President Barack Obama's re-election and wants to URGE anyone who has not yet voted to please GO VOTE FOR PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA.

As a dyed-in-the-wool-blue-to-my-core-Democrat, I am not going to bother rehearsing why I think voting for President Obama is the sane choice.  If you are a dyed-in-the-wool-Republican, I'm probably not going to convince you that he's the right choice.

But if there are any undecided voters out there, especially undecided white votes, then Chris Rock has a special message for YOU:

I'm hoping it's not a nail biter--I'm hoping we go blue again, even if (sadly) my own southern state changes to red (sigh).  LETS GO DEMS!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review Part 2: Yellowface & Orientalism

So here's part 2 of my 3 part review of Cloud Atlas (click here for part 1).  Today's topic: the film's use of yellowface and other Orientalized aspects of Cloud Atlas.

There are many people who have written about the phenomenon of "yellowface," which is the Asian version of "blackface"--having white (although at times there have been black) actors and actresses portraying Asian and Asian American people in Hollywood films. has a particularly astute and thorough accounting by contributor Michelle I.  I recommend reading her piece, "Yellowface: A Story in Pictures," to familiarize yourself with the LONG history of yellowface in Hollywood cinema.  But I think this photo of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's probably says it all:

As I wrote about in yesterday's post, there's a certain narrative logic that the filmmakers had in mind for putting their non-Asian actors in yellowface (including the African American actor Keith David in a role that reminded me of Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix, if they had taped back Fishburne's eyes).  One of the themes of the narrative (film as well as book) is a repetition or eternal recurrence of experiences, of relationships, of people with a comet birthmark who show up across space and time.  To connect these otherwise disparate narratives, the filmmakers chose to have actors and actresses play various roles in all six segments/stories of the film -- so Halle Berry has a throwaway minor role as a woman dressed in a sari (she's supposed to be an Indian woman in London) but in two other stories she has a major role (as a Latina reporter in 1970s SF and in the future as a post-apocalyptic survivor who has access to technology).  One of the stories takes place in 2144 in Neo Seoul, a dystopic "corporocracy"where "pure bloods" are consumers and "fabricants" are the cloned humans who serve them.  So that brings us to the white actors playing Korean or Neo Korean men:

Jim Sturgess playing a Korean commander

Jim Sturgess without the yellowface

Hugo Weaving playing a Korean enforcer

Hugo Weaving as himself

James D'Arcy playing a Korean archivist

James D'Arcy as himself

I'm not sure whether to say that the film's makeup and special effects department did a "bad" job in the yellowface department.  I mean, given their task, this may have been the best they could do, although one would think that if you could turn Eddie Murphy into an old white Jewish man, you could do a better job with Hugo Weaving.  I didn't really find the yellowface all that believable with these actors.  Perhaps because I had been seeing them throughout the film in their non-yellowface roles.  While I understand the impulse to want to use the same actors in all the segments of the film, there are things I wondered about, for example:

1) In the first segment, which takes place aboard a schooner in the mid-19th C., the Polynesian/aboriginal "slaves" are portrayed by African American and Afro-British actors.  It could be that the film decided to transplant African slaves into the South Pacific, but I wondered about why the filmmakers didn't just hire aboriginal/South Pacific/Maori actors to play these roles?

2) While it's true that the racial masquerade isn't just inclined towards yellowface--that there are Asian and black actors who are in whiteface--Halle Berry plays a German Jewish woman, Bae Doona plays a 19th C. lawyer's wife in SF and she plays a Latina sweatshop worker in 1970s SF--no one in the film is in blackface (which I am glad about).  My point is this: while it's understandable according to the logic of the film to put both black and white actors in yellowface for the scenes taking place in Neo Seoul, why wasn't that same logic applied for the scenes depicting Polynesian slaves--that not one white actor or Asian actor was put into blackface I think is a recognition on the filmmakers parts that to do so would have been to have ignited a (pardon my language) shitstorm.  But yellowface they figured they could get away with.

3) Did they have to do this racial masquerade at all?  I understand that they wanted to have the theme of eternal recurrence, but since they made such a big deal about the characters in all 6 vignettes having the same comet birthmark, it seems like they could have emphasized THAT feature in all of the characters that are said to "recur" in the 6 different segments.  And/or isn't it possible that Neo Seoul is a cosmopolitan place where there are white and mixed race people?  They didn't change David Keith's skin color when he played a Korean resistance fighter--they just taped back his eyes and put him in white robes.  Seems like they could have simply had him be a black man in Neo Seoul and/or they could have also just kept Bae Doona as the 19th C. wife in SF with Hugo Weaving as her father.  They do this in theater all the time--you just suspend belief because you know this is artificial so why strain things to make a character "look" like the appropriate "race" according to the narrative when s/he can just play that character?  I know, film is different than theater, but Louis CK has had different women playing his ex-wife, including an African American actress.  Seems like they could have been more imaginative in this department.

4) This last issue isn't a yellowface issue, it's an Asian vs. Asian American issue.  Since the characters in the Neo Seoul segment are all speaking in English (many with a British accent, for some reason), why did the filmmakers cast a Chinese and a Korean actress in roles that they could have cast Asian American actresses in?  I have nothing against either Xun Zhou or Bae Doona, but verisimilitude doesn't seem to be top on the Wachowski's agenda (see my above point about using African American actors to portray Polynesians) and if it was for the Neo Seoul segment, why cast a Chinese actress--why not find two Korean actresses?  There doesn't seem to be a clear logic in the casting decisions of which actors are playing which characters.

So leaving aside the problem of yellowface (and I do think it's a problem--as Anthony Lane says in his New Yorker movie review, the use of yellowface "sure as hell doesn't work here, inching beyond embarassment into insult" and others are also protesting the yellowface as well), the other issue I found disturbing in Cloud Atlas was its depiction of Asian women.  In the novel, female fabricants come in various "models"--there's a Sonmi model and a Yoona model.  They have the same face/body but are designated with different numbers: Sonmi-451 and Yoona 939.  I believe in the novel there are 3 different models who are servers at a restaurant.  But in the film, the actresses are actually played by different women who are made to look like they are cloned.  In other words, rather than using CGI to depict the women in the restaurant looking the same, the film used various Asian female extras, gave them the same haircut, put them in the same skimpy outfits, and then said that they were all the same.  

In other words, the film seems to be counting on audiences not recognizing Asian female distinction and difference--they are expecting audiences to just believe that different Asian female extras actually all "look" the same--look like one another.  And apparently websites describing the film are also confused about the distinctiveness and individuality of various Asian women since they have confused the film's two Asian female actresses with random Asian extras from the film.  For example:

This is the Chinese actress Xun Zhou who plays Yoona-939 (couldn't find a still from the film, but this is taken from the movie's premiere)

IMDB claims that this woman is the actress above, Xun Zhou, but it doesn't look like her.

Another website claims that this is the Korean actress Bae Doona...but as you can see below

...these women don't look alike (this is Bae Doona playing Sonmi-451 in the film)

Asian women do not need to be distinguishable from one another, either in the film or outside the film when talking about the actresses portraying cloned Asian women.  Also, while Halle Berry does have a love scene where you see her naked back in one of the vignettes (the one where she is in whiteface), the Neo Seoul segments show the female fabricants either naked or in very skimpy clothing meant to sexualize them.  This is a HUGE problem in terms of the Orientalization going on in this film because there is a LONG history of Asian women depicted as sexually available and sexually evocative in Hollywood cinema.  And I didn't really see the point of depicting the women naked--perhaps the scantily clad part I get, but the film only seemed to reinforce all of the pre-existing stereotypes that we have about Asian women, especially as they've been rendered in celluloid.

But don't take my word for it, see Elaine Kim's documentary, Slaying the Dragon: Reloaded for a history of the sexualization of Asian women that has taken place in the past and still takes place in the present, with Cloud Atlas as the latest entry in the Orientalizing of Asian women.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cloud Atlas--the Film Review in 3 parts

So I just saw the film Cloud Atlas, which is based on David Mitchell's novel of the same name--a novel that defies easy categorization since Mitchell is Irish, the six settings of the six embedded stories take place across various geographies and millenia (in chronological order, the story starts in the mid-19th century and ends in a post-apocolyptic future time marked by the seasons rather than by a calendar).

[Aside 1: Movie posters are always a good indication of who is most important, character-wise & star-wise in a film.  Case in point: Tom Hanks's head is HUGE compared to everyone else's--Halle Barry comes a close second in terms of prominence, and then you can figure out the prominence of everyone else in descending order]

Cloud Atlas, the novel, has been on my radar for several years.  In fact, a friend of a friend handed me a copy and told me I should read it.  And the book sat on my shelf for years, until finally in a purge I (stupidly) placed it in a library donation box.

[Aside 2: It's not stupid to donate to a library--only stupid that I didn't actually read the novel before doing so, because when I finally DID read it, the novel BLEW ME AWAY]

That brings us to August 2012.  As some of you may (or may not) know, I am a guest contributor to an Asian American magazine, ALIST.  In fact, you can read my latest column about Patsy Mink here (although I'm sure regular readers will recognize it from an older post I did over the summer--I did think with the election coming up on Tuesday, doing a political piece seemed in order).  In August I read this guest post by Matthew Salesses, where he talks about the yellowface going on in the film version of Cloud Atlas.

[Aside 3:  Full disclosure: Matt is a former student of mine, dating back to the first ever class I taught at Southern U--a course on Asian American literature.  Matt is also a very fine writer (which I know from the essays I've read by him).  You can check out his work by going to his website.]

Of course once I realized that there was yellowface in this film, I knew I had to see it.  But I had heard good things about the novel, so I sat down and read all 528 page in 2 days (doing nothing else but--well, eating and sleeping obviously, but you get my drift).  It's a brilliant novel--I couldn't put it down.  And is very thought provoking and well executed, despite the misgivings by this New York Times review.

One might say, based on the complexity of setting, time, character, and form that this would be an impossible novel to film.  But that apparently didn't stop the Wachowski siblings (the folks who brought us The Matrix franchise) and Tom Twyker from deciding that they were going to try.  And some might say that it's an admirable task that these three directors have done, distilling the essence of the novel, particularly the theme of "eternal recurrence" (taken from Frederick Nietzsche).  In trying to whittle down a 500+ novel into a film (one that clocks in at nearly 3 hours) certain choices had to be made--and one of the devices that the filmmakers used to unify the six narratives was to have the main actors portray various characters, major and minor, in all 6 segments, which inevitably meant that actos would be portraying people of different races, and in some cases gender.

The above image of the actor, Hugo Weaving, is an excellent demonstration of the ways in which he crosses gender, race, and in the last case metaphysics to play a female nurse, an unidentified Korean enforcer, and the incarnation of a tribal devil.

There's SO MUCH to say about this film that I've decided I need to divide it up into 3 parts--an introduction (which is this post) and then two parts: cross-racial masquerade, most notably the use of yellowface and whiteface and mixing of races as the salvation of humanity.

So stay tuned--also, I'll be talking about the films in their entirety, so I'll be sure to put "SPOILER ALERT" warnings for those of you who want to watch the film.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How much does mixed race matter?

Recently I've been realizing that there are people whose race I've assumed to be one thing who are, in fact, something else.  People who I thought were mixed-race African American who turn out to be mixed-race white & Burmese.  Case in point: Alex Wagner, host of the show "Now with Alex Wagner" on MSNBC

People who identify as African American who have one white and one black parent.

[Melissa Harris-Perry, another MSNBC staple with her eponymous show "MHP: Melissa Harris-Perry."  Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane University]

People who appear white who identify as a person of color or multiracial.

[Aside 1: The folks in this category are actually not public figures, so I'm not going to name them nor post their photos here]

I mention all of this because I think this is a commonplace thing to happen to many of us, particularly in the U.S.  We believe that racial categories are stable--we fit people into one of the slots on the racial pentagram (white-black-Latino-American Indian-Asian American) or hexagram (add Middle-Eastern/Arab).  Multiracial people defy this kind of easy categorization.

[Aside 2: Although it can and should be argued that there's really nothing easy about racial classification systems and that they've always been flexible and liable to change]

Yet, as the Harris-Perry example above and our own president, Barack Obama, demonstrates, even when someone has parents of two different racial backgrounds, one may identify not as bi- or multi-racial but with the minoritized racial category.  And it's probably not a coincidence that both of these very public mixed-race/black-white figures identify as African American, given the ways in which our country has treated (and continues to treat) people who identify as or are visibly identifiable as black.

The title of this post, "How much does mixed race matter?" has to do with whether or not having knowledge of someone's mixed-race background matters in terms of how this person is regarded.  Now that I know Melissa Harris-Perry has a white mother and a black father, does that change my opinion about her and her show?  Now that I know that Alex Wagner is half-Asian, does that change how I view her commentary on MSNBC?

While my immediate answer is "no"--the truth is, I think that our experiences make a difference in our lives--so someone who was raised with parents of 2 different races may have very different experiences than someone who was raised with parents who shared the same racial.  So while knowing about Wagner and Harris-Perry's backgrounds may not change what I think or how I feel about them, knowing, with more precision/accuracy what their racial background is, is important in understanding that their life experiences may offer differences that have shaped their opinions and personas.

[Aside 3: This post is actually not quite as articulate as I had hoped it would be -- things sometimes sound different in my head than when I type it out.  I suppose I could scrap all this and start fresh, but I figure I'll let this stand, especially because I haven't written about multiracial people for a while and this IS a blog called Mixed Race America and therefore SHOULD actually spend some time thinking and talking about multiracial Americans]

Finally, the last thing I want to leave readers with is a book recommendation.  I've finally gotten around (embarrassing to admit this, but it's true) to reading UC Berkeley law professor Ian Haney Lopez's book White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (originally published in 1996 and re-issued in 2006).  It's a very smart book, particularly in tracing the legal construction of whiteness through what Haney Lopez terms the "prerequisite cases"--cases by people who we would now identify as Asian American and Latino who tried to claim citizenship based on "whiteness" who were denied access to whiteness and hence denied the right to naturalize as U.S. citizens.

Haney Lopez identifies as white and Mexican American.  I can't help but wonder about his personal experiences growing up as mixed-race and how they may have shaped his ideas about racial formation and racism.  His book is a primer on the way that the law has been instrumental in shaping our ideas and even the very physical appearance of our nation.

[Aside 4:  And if you don't have time to read the entire book, you can get a sense of his writing and his trenchant racial analysis by reading this piece about Mitt Romney and whether Romney would, as he has famously claimed, have an easier time being elected president if he were Mexican American]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Celebrate Indigenous People's Day

In 1992 the city of Berkeley decided that the second Monday in October would be celebrated as Indigenous People's day, because in the U.S. we've celebrated this as a holiday for that other guy.

So in honor of indigenous people's day, let me share a map that everyone child in the U.S. should get in their K-12 classes (but most likely don't):

And this poem Cherokee poet, Jimmie Durham, which I found from the website, American Indians in Children's Literature (a great resource for parents and teachers)--I don't want to quote it, in full, since I don't have permission from the poet, but if you click here, you can see it/read it, in full.

Finally, there's this postcard from someecards--and it's funny 'cause it's true:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Racism: it's alive and well

Living as we do in the 21st century, where in the U.S. inter-racial marriages, mixed race people, and our first non-white President are now part of the norm (or at least are part of the norm for many people and for readers of this blog I imagine), it's easy to forget what old-fashioned racism looks like--you know, the kind that's not veiled in euphemistic language or hidden behind coded words.  I'm talking about straight up, in your face, one race is better than another racism.

For anyone who still believes that we've moved into a post-racial society, I have 2 recent examples of good-old-fashioned racism.

Exhibit A: The comment thread

I suppose comment threads are thrumming with good old fashioned racism because you can be anonymous.  This choice piece was submitted by someone who identifies as a parent of a Southern U. student--it's in response to this Letter to the Editor, "Bid day racism is not to be taken lightly," which was in response to a sorority whose theme "Mi Casa Es Su Casa" was celebrated with sisters dressed up in sombreros, fake mustaches, and ponchos.
I was a huge believer in racial equality for most of my life. Unfortunately, I am a scientist at heart, and I value honesty, accuracy, and objective reality more than political correctness. And having read the scientific literature and statistics on the topic, and having eyes and ears of my own enough to see the obvious, I have been forced to concede that... all the evidence very clearly shows that white people are objectively superior in most ways (intelligence, compassion, low crime, achievements, etc.) to everyone except Ashkenazi Jews and North East Asians (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans). And even then, one could make a reasonable case that white people have achieved more than Jews or NE Asians ever achieved without White help. I value intelligence highly though and I have to concede white inferiority in that regard to Jews and NE Asians. comments by anonymous_amren 
I don't think I need to comment too much on why this is racist--the language of eugenics is never where we want to go.  I bolded the part that I thought was the most egregious, but really, most of the comments by "anonymous amren" point to someone who seems like a throwback to life in the 1950s.

Exhibit B: Roger Lotchin's denial of history

Recently UNC Chapel Hill history professor, Roger Lotchin has written an Op-Ed piece to a Wyoming newspaper making many statements about the Japanese American incarceration that are (how to put it) just plain wrong headed.  Among Lotchin's biggest claims are that the phrase "concentration camp" was wrong and those who use it are wrong and that the whole experience was not based on racism but was a justified and justifiable reaction because of (wait for it): PEARL HARBOR--here's my favorite quote from this piece:

"That the Japanese- Americans suffered loss in the camps cannot be denied, specifically loss of property, loss of income, and loss of reputation. For some these losses were grievous. But the reason for that loss was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other American territory in the Pacific."

Racism wasn't a factor in their losses because they deserved to be racially targeted because the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor?  [sound of mouth opening and shutting]

So remember, if you ever start to think that maybe we really ARE living in a post-racial society.  Maybe racism is a thing of the past, just remember these two examples--there are people in the US who still believe that some races are better than others--who are staunchly upholding white supremacy.  I will say that one thing that heartens me is the comment thread of Lotchin's piece--folks do not seem to agree with him.  Which is not surprising.  After all, we are living in a Mixed Race America, even if some people don't want to acknowledge that fact.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Argument against "English Only" in the U.S.

If you haven't been living under a rock, and if you have friends who are Asian American, Korean American, or Korean (or just anyone paying attention to pop culture) then you have undoubtedly seen this video by Korean impresario PSY:

His song "Gangnam Style" is an international sensation--and you know it's really hit the mainstream when you can watch him on NBC's weekday morning program, "The Today Show":

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What is so striking to me about his performance is that he's singing this song in Korean (there is the phrase in English "Hey, sexy lady," but every other lyric is Korean) and he's getting the crowd pumped up and THEY'RE SINGING BACK TO HIM IN KOREAN.  Granted, a lot of the people, especially crowded around the stage, look like they could be, themselves, Korean or Korean American.  But you also see non-Asians in the crowd dancing, and singing.

Which is pretty incredible--I mean, the U.S. is a pretty parochial place when it comes to being accepting or even tolerant of people speaking different languages.  The fact that PSY is singing in Korean and getting folks to sing along with him, in Korean, makes me so happy!  Granted, it's NYC, it's a global pop phenomenon, and that dance move he does (the horse dance) is sweeping flash mobs everywhere.  But still.  I'm a glass half full kind of gal, and I'd like to think that this marks a small turn in our language consciousness towards a more polyglot acceptance that being American does not mean that you only speak English or even predominantly speak English.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jeremy Lin + Hello Kitty = AWESOME!

This video really speaks for itself -- as the post title says, there IS going to be a moment when Jeremy Lin and Hello Kitty meet up--and for that alone, you should watch. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

If Mixed Race America was a political party it would be ...

So as any regular readers of this blog will know, I am a proud Democrat who campaigned for Barack Obama in 2007.  In fact, my 3rd blog post is titled "Obama for President."  Which means that it's going to come as no surprise that I believe that if Mixed Race America were a political party it would be a Democratic party--THE Democratic party.

However, I also know that it's not true that every person of color, every multiracial person, is a Democrat.  Bobby Jindal, Michael Steele, and Marco Rubio would certainly disprove this idea.  Yet I can't help noting the contrast--an obvious contrast that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have certainly milked on their respective shows--between the RNC in Tampa last week and the DNC in Charlotte this week.

This is a crowd shot of the RNC 2012 -- it's a photo I found that was part of this article, "Mia Love and Susana Martinez: RNC 2012 Showcased Diversity On Stage, But Not Among the Crowd." 

There is a very telling quote from the above article:
Drury Hoover, a GOP delegate from Hope, Ark., said she noticed the homogeneity of the convention crowd. "Somehow we need to attract all of the people in the country, not just what is apparently the Caucasians," she said, gesturing toward the crowd. "Because there are seemingly few of any what we would call minorities. Not many of you who are Oriental," she added, referring to a Huffington Post reporter, "not many blacks."
[Aside:  Yes, apparently the GOP delegate from Arkansas believes that people of Asian ancestry in the 21st century should be referred to as "Oriental" -- since I've already ranted about this in a previous blog post, I won't repeat all the ways in which this phrase is tone deaf, except that imagine if she were talking about African Americans at the RNC and instead used the phrase "Negro"--'nuff said]

So even delegates at the convention noticed the overwhelming whiteness, confirmed in part by the fact that African Americans comprised 2% of the convention attendees.

And honestly, it's not just the lack of African Americans in the crowd--it's the lack of real diversity--of other racial groups (I've seen "Arab Americans for Obama" and "Sikhs for Obama" signs), of mixed race Americans, of proud and out queer people. 

So because pictures say a thousand words, I leave you with images from the DNC.  I know it may be tempting to think that I've only selected images that show diversity, but if you've watched any of the DNC coverage, you'll notice that it's impossible to find a shot that is as homogenous as what was on display at the RNC.  And I haven't even selected photos of the prominent speakers that have graced the stage: Gabby Douglas & Gabby Gifford both led the pledge of allegiance (different days--although I joked that maybe you had to be named "Gabby" to get this honor), Tammy Duckworth, Kal Pen, Julian Castro, Craig Robinson, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and Deval Patrick.

Finally, I just have to give a plug for the speech that Deval Patrick gave on the first day of the convention.  I know the media has concentrate on more high profile speakers like Michelle Obama (who was AMAZING) and Bill Clinton (whose charisma is so strong it came pouring out of my television), but in the middle of his speech, Patrick had this to say to the DNC base--and for any Democrat, for any liberal-progressive, for anyone who truly believes that the United States is and should be a mixed race America, they're words worth remembering and living by:
"If we want to win elections in November and keep our country moving forward, if we want to earn the privilege to lead, it's time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe. Quit waiting for pundits or polls or super PACs to tell us who the next president or senator or congressman is going to be. We're Americans.
We shape our own future. Let's start by standing up for President Barack Obama."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Introducing the tumblr "Amy & Shaun" (a mixed-race love story)

A few weeks ago I received a lovely email message from Shaun, the creative talent behind the tumblr "Amy & Shaun."  He sent me a link to his tumblr, along with this description:
The pictures are not making any overt political or social commentary, but I think they send a very strong, positive message about the viability of mixed race couples, a love of oneself, and that love for oneself in the state in which we were made (without the need for processed hair and etc.), and, to some extent, a message about strong women and what they can do in this world.
Here's one of the pictures -- I particularly like it for its cheekiness!

I loved scrolling through the tumblr and seeing all these whimsical images of Amy & Shaun--especially the ones incorporating Shaun's background with Asian art (there are a few that look like he has plopped his characters in the middle of a Chinese painting).

So I decided to ask Shaun if he'd be willing to be "interviewed" by me -- a first for Mixed Race America.  I'll probably have to work on my interview questions, but I really appreciated the chance to chat more with Shaun about the inspiration for his art and his thoughts about inter-racial relationships.  Please do check out the tumblr "Amy & Shaun."

MRA:  What was your inspiration for the tumblr "Amy and Shaun"?  And where do you derive inspiration for your individual art pieces?

A&S:  Originally, these pictures were only ever meant to be a way for me to reach out to my love every morning to let her know just how much I love her, to remind her that her Shaun loves his Amy very very much.  I was going through a difficult time dealing with some personal things a year and a half or so ago, and Amy started sending me a picture each morning to help keep my spirits up.  After she'd sent a hundred of them, I decided that it was my turn to take over.  And I've never stopped.  I've drawn a picture every day for Amy ever since, and I don't have any plans to stop at this point.  Inspiration for each picture can come from all sorts of different places, but mostly from the fun of living my life with Amy.  If we go on a hike together, the next day I might draw a picture of us hiking.  If we see a beautiful sunset together, I might draw that same scene we had shared and draw us in it together.  Some times I'll see certain colors or patterns as I walk through my day, and they'll set off a chain reaction in my mind, imagining a picture around that color or idea.  It's really just daily whimsy, I guess I would have to say.

MRA:  Do you have a favorite art piece?

A&S:  Wow, choosing favorites from among our pictures is really really hard.  I usually really love whatever I've just drawn.  Until the next picture comes along, and then it becomes my favorite.  But I particularly like any of them in which I feel like I've done a particularly good job of making Amy look really really cute.  Because she is!  

Of our more recent pictures, I do love this one of us dancing cheek to cheek on the ballroom dance floor:

MRA:  Any plans to add text or to create narratives/stories that will accompany the pictures?

A&S:  I don't think so.  I really try to have the picture itself tell the whole story, or just convey a certain mood or feeling.  I do often add captions though.  But I probably won't ever do more than that.  I've been thinking about trying a few pictures that include multiple panels, like a comic strip.  That might allow for a bit more of a narrative if I ultimately do decide to try that.  To the extent that the pictures do convey messages about interracial couples or strong women of color, I definitely do not want to be heavy handed about that.  I don't think it's necessary and I don't think it would feel genuine if I tried to consciously do that.
MRA:  When/where/how did you and Amy meet?

A&S:  My life changed forever when Amy became a part of it.  I was sleep walking through a black and white landscape until Amy took my hand.   She came to me as a sweet, quiet song in the dark, gently waking me with a kiss.  And when she did, and my eyes opened, my world had grown so bright I was nearly blinded by it, with all the colors of life's palette flowing all around me.   
MRA:  What has been one of the most surprising things (in either a good or not so good way) that you've encountered in being an inter-racial couple?

A&S:  I'm not sure that much has happened to us that I would characterize as "surprising."  I think we are both highly attuned when it comes to detecting even very subtle forms of racism and sexism.  I am very much an optimist by nature, and I believe that people are capable of great good.  But I'm also a realist, and I see the world for what it is.  Very sadly, our world remains replete with evidence of humans' nearly infinite capacity to hate one another.  We hate the Other:  You part your hair on the right, while we part our hair on the *left*, and that is why we hate you.  That's why I can't say it's surprising when, for example, we're standing near a cash register, Amy in front of me, and we watch one white customer after another being casually asked if they need assistance, while no one says a word to Amy.  In many instances like that, I don't even think that these actions are conscious on the part of the counter folks.  I just think that, in situations like that, the people at the counter simply don't "see" Amy.  When Amy then tells me to stand in front of her, it's zip zip zip, instant service.  The white guy approaches and all bow down before him.  

We're changing and getting better.  But it's happening very very slowly.  And I've seen so much of this sort of thing during my life that none of it is surprising to me.  We don't let it ruin our day.  When we see it, we look over at each other and give each other a knowing nod.  Or make jokes about it.  Life's too short to let it completely ruin your day.  There are times when it can, for sure.  But to the extent that we can, why try not to let it get the better of us.
MRA:  What has been the reaction to your tumblr?

A&S:  So, as I said, the original idea behind these pictures was simply to express my love for my perfect angel, my partner Amy.  So the reaction has actually been quite a surprise to me.  I have a fairly considerable number of followers now, which is in itself surprising, as I'm sufficiently self-aware and self-critical to appreciate that these pictures are not "great works of art."  They're just simply little line drawings.  So the size of the audience that they seem to appeal to is something of a surprise to me, for sure.  And even more surprising is the fact that, at least so far, the vast majority of the tumblr's followers are young, black and African-American women.  When Amy and I began to notice this make-up of the audience of followers, it made us start to think about what else these pictures might represent:  that it's okay to be a part of a loving, interracial couple; that it's something to be celebrated, in fact.  That it's a wonderful and beautiful thing for a white man to be in love with a brilliant and strong woman of color.  When Amy and Shaun fight a dragon, it is Amy who takes the lead, with Shaun following behind her, but showing a great deal more trepidation about the encounter than his brave partner is.  In different scenarios, I might draw either of us in the role of the hapless or silly or scared and nervous one.  I think the important point is that we can both be strong, or weak, or scared, or foolish, or funny, in turn.
MRA:  If you were to give your tumblr a subtitle (something post-colon) what would it be?

A&S:  Amy & Shaun:  A Perfect Love.  I am nothing if not a completely hopeless romantic.
MRA:  What does the phrase "Mixed Race America" mean to you?

To me, that is a very succinct description of the future of this great country of ours.  I believe it was during the most recent census that we learned that white babies now make up a *minority* of all kids being born in America.  The great melting pot is finally starting to mix together our skin colors and religions and ethnicities.  I would guess that in as little as a generation or two, America is going to be getting very close to being a country of mostly yummy, caramel-colored kids.  Let's hear it for hybrid vigor!  

MRA:  If you had to choose between having either flight or invisibility as a super power, which would you choose?

A&S:  No contest:  the ability to fly.  To be able to soar among the clouds and the mountain tops, gazing down at all of the natural beauty on our little blue marble?  That would be incredible.  I used to have dreams about flying as a kid.  As for invisibility, well, I've seen both the Invisible Man and Hollow Man movies, and things always seem to end badly for those "a-pigment" types, so that's another good reason for going with flight.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What is it like to be white?

I think another title for this post could be "What is it like to be in the majority?" but I it's not just any majority I wanted to write about today, the last day of my beach vacation in my home southern state.  No, it's the kind of majority that is racial, and cultural to a certain degree.

The view from our balcony
Southern man and I have been vacationing for the past week at a beach, lets call it "White Sands" since that's pretty much what the beach looks like.  Aside from a few storms when we arrived and one mid-week, it has been glorious each day--highs in the mid to upper 80s, Atlantic ocean that feels like swimming in bath water (particularly since I grew up splashing in the Pacific which is just plain frigid), and stretches of sand to lie out with a good book and to dry off from our swimming (or to jump in the water if we get too warm).

This is the kind of vacation I love--nothing to do but just hang out and read and swim and eat good food (in this part of the state it means Calabash which means fried, which is OK by me--I mean, I'm on vacation). 

So why am I wondering what it's like to be white (especially now that my skin is a toasty almond brown from all that sun)--because that's pretty much the only people who are here at White Sands beach.  Seriously.  We're been here for a week and I will tally up the number of people of color we have seen walking about a mile in either direction of our rented condo:

*Asian Americans:  4 (not including myself) -- 2 appear to be the transracial/transnational adopted children of a white couple

*Latino:  12 -- I should note that 8 of those have consistently been a work crew that is helping to prevent against beach erosion.  If you look at the photo above and see all those sandbags, for the past week a crew of about a dozen people, 8 of whom are Latino, have been building those sandbags outside our window.

*African American:  6

*Native American:  N/A -- I couldn't tell -- I'm sure that there were Native Americans in the various crowds of people we saw, or rather that there are people who identify as such, but I wouldn't have been able to guess by just looking at anyone.

*White:  100-200 -- I'm TERRIBLE at estimating, but I'd say at we saw at least 100 people the beach if not 200 people. 

I'm not even counting the number of people we saw at restaurants and supermarkets--I'd say for the most part that every place we dined in I was the only Asian American person.  One particular lunch place that is renown for their deep fried goodness was the kind of cafe that has the menus printed on chalkboards--not fancy but good.  We walk in and it's like a Western--every head in the cafe swivels to look at me.  Most look back at their food, but one particular gentleman, someone in his mid to late 1960s, white haired, paunchy and beady eyed.  This guy was eyeballing me like I was an alien who landed.  Like I was an unidentifiable creature.  Like I was the Viet Cong come back to haunt him (he had that kind of vet vibe going on, and here at White Sands there are a TON of those MIA/POW black flags around here, which always makes me nervous in a southern setting because I know they're looking at me and having flashbacks to the war).

Anyway, my usual thing to do in this situation is to simply stare back.  Hard.  Usually the other person is embarrassed and looks away.  But not eye-ball man.  He just keeps staring.  And staring.  And staring.  His table is right by the hostess station, and since they were packed, we had to wait a while to get our table.  So he stared long and hard.  And I stared back.  Southern man (who had gone to park the car) walked in and I immediately pointed out the staring guy (usually I'm discreet but in this case I openly gestured to him and said, "This guy will not stop staring at me!"  So Southern Man, being the diplomatic and polite guy that he is (his momma raised him right) looks at the guy and says "Hi, howya doing?" at which point the man grunts and looks down.


I'm glad that the staring is over but peeved that it takes my white southern husband to crack this guy.  I mean, I don't think he was happy to see miscegenation, but Southern Man is a big guy so I also think this guy realized that if I was unhappy then Southern Man would be unhappy and he didn't want to get Southern Man unhappy.  Or maybe it's some weird white man code.  I stare at your woman, you call me on it, I back down.

I will say that as we left to go to our table I noticed the eye-baller eyeballing me again.  I guess he just couldn't help himself.  I thought about flipping him off, but then thought that it wasn't the educational moment that would be helpful.  And that in the scheme of things, being stared at wasn't a big deal.  But it also wasn't comfortable and definitely it enacted my racial paranoia.

Which is why I wonder--what is it like to be white or to pass as white?  To be able to walk into places and not get stared at?  Maybe it's awful because if you're an anti-racist ally who is white you may have people say all sorts of awful things to you assuming you'll be down with their bigoted beliefs.  At least people generally don't say racist things about my group (Asians) and generally not about other groups also. 

But still, sometimes I wonder what it's like to live in white skin and never have to worry about which restaurants you can walk into or whether you are getting looked at because you're not white or whether the service is bad or someone in a store isn't friendly to you because you're not white.  I don't obsess over these things, but they're always in the back of my head--that extra radar of racial awareness.  And sometimes I think it'd be nice for it to be turned down because especially when I'm on vacation, I just want to enjoy the surf and sand and sun and not worry about weird old men eyeballing me when I want to eat my fried clams.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Activism as Parody from the women of Wellesley College

A few months ago I was sent a link to a Youtube video by two Wellesley College students, Nicole and Meliora.  I didn't click on it because (a) I'm never sure if things are a "scam" and some awful virus would infect my computer (b) the email account that is connected to this blog isn't one I check on a regular basis.  So I saw it and then forgot about it.

Thankfully I decided that I should trust Niclole & Meliora (after all, they're women of a seven sister's school and I have a soft spot in my heart for all seven sister schools after having taught at Mount Holyoke College for 3 years).  What I found was a parody based on Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"--a parody of Asian American stereotypes.

[Note: If you have NO IDEA what I'm talking about, just google "Call Me Maybe" and "Youtube" and you will find both the original music video that Jepsen did AND a host of parodies, most famously the US Swim team did one and my favorite is by "Corgi" Rae Jepsen]

Nicole and Meliora sent me a description of what inspired them to make this parody and what they hope to accomplish in terms of Asian American activism.  It's rather long, but let me quote a segment for you:

As we all know, the media is a conduit that allows artists and visionaries to express their opinions to the general public, and in many ways this expression can be very liberating and has become a staple of American society. What is not liberating however is the underrepresentation of minority groups in the media that runs the risk of portraying a race as one collective identity. Especially in communities where there is very little interaction between racial groups, the few representations the media provides can set societal expectations or stereotypes for how a race should be approached.
With the hopes of challenging these stereotypes my fellow classmate Nicole and I embarked on an exciting journey of composing, directing and editing our own music video about breaking down the typical Asian stereotypes projected in the media. Our goal is to see how influential we as two students, with limited political connections and resources, can be in getting our voices heard. We decided the best way to do this would be combining pop culture, activism, and the Internet.
The stereotypes Nicole and I address in this video are all ones that have been projected within the media at some point or another: submissiveness/ politeness; the excessive type A personality that excels in mathematics, chess and the medical field; the martial artist; the uncultured Asian that eats strange foods and speaks in broken English; the nerdy anime lover; the over sexualized Asian that will “love you long time” or engage in such strange fetishes as tentacle porn; the stereotype that all Asians look like; and of course the age old stereotype of bad Asian drivers. We try to address and conquer all of them. However, we are aware our video will be working against years of engrained racism that has targeted both Asian American men and women.
Anyway, please watch Nicole & Meliora's activism as parody in "Just Don't Call Me."  I, for one, applaud their desire to challenge stereotypes and educate us while making us laugh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear Mixed Race America, it's time to stop the MADNESS

An Open Letter to everyone in the United States,

I am heartsick.  The recent violence in Aurora, Colorado and now the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara (Sikh temple).  So much violence.  And not enough outrage.

Oh, I know there are plenty of people who are angry at the shooters.  Angry that this "senseless" violence could happen.  There's lots of hand wringing and, in a case of what I consider to be misplaced fear and anxiety, gun purchases ratcheted up in Colorado immediately following the midnight massacre.

This isn't going to be a post just about gun control, although heaven's knows I believe in it--I believe that we absolutely need more not less gun control--there's no earthly reason why any individual needs semi-automatic weapons and so much ammunition you could kill a theater or temple full of people.  And I wish there was more concentrated outrage that will lead to stricter measures.

But what I want to concentrate on today is hatred.  The madness of hating someone else based on their difference--their racial and religious difference.

Members of the Oak Creek gurudwara listening to an FBI report on the shooting
That's the crux of the Oak Creek shooting.  Wade Page was a known white supremacist.  According to this New York Times article, the Southern Poverty Law Center had been keeping tabs on him due to his "ties to the white supremacist movement and his role as the leader of a white-power band called End Apathy."  While some officials are calling this an incident of domestic terrorism -- there are many who are clamoring to call this what it was: a hate crime. 

Page walked into the Gurdwara and opened fire because he had steeped himself in an ideology of white supremacy that taught him that it was his right to hate people non-white and his right to inflict violence on non-white people.  There has been some speculation that perhaps Page was confused about the Sikh religion--that he had meant to target Muslims and confused Sikhism for Islam.  But as my colleague Amardeep Singh so astutely and powerfully writes about in this New York Times piece:
Whether or not that target was actually the “right one” was beside the point for the Oak Creek shooter. . . . I also don’t think we should fool ourselves that all hostility will be resolved purely by education, nor should we presume that this shooter suffered only from ignorance. As a white supremacist, it seems safe to suppose, what mattered to the shooter was that he hated difference — and saw, in the Sikh gurdwara at Oak Creek, a target for that hatred.

Difference, the targeting of others based on racial difference, is the subject of Matthew Salesses piece in the Asian American Writer's Workshop:  "If you look different, you are treated differently. This is just how our world is. We are not in another, better place, where we each fit in for our individuality. There is a true power to appearances, and there is a true power to the words we attach to those appearances."

[Side note:  Matt is actually a former student of mine from Southern U, and I am so proud that he has become such an eloquent writer]

Another colleague, Viet Ngueyn, makes a very astute connection about various forms of global violence and racialized violence in the United States, writing that his essay will show "the direct line from the core of American culture and history to the Viet Nam War to the Oak Creek massacre and a couple of other massacres many of us have already forgotten about."  And Harsha Walia in Racialicious reminds us, quite forcefully, that the root of the shootings by Page are in racism--not an individual act of racism by a lone white supremacist, but racism in its institutionalized and systemic form:  "The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism."

The image above makes me weep--literally, the first time I saw it, I cried.  I cried because not only Wisconsin is weeping, but America is or should be weeping.  We HAVE to do better.  Better gun control, yes.  But we also need more allies of all races and religions to stand together and to say no more.  We are not going to continue to vilify one another.  We are not going to tolerate this kind of intolerance.  We are going to educate our children and teach them about the history of racism in this country and that they can do better than previous generations.  We are going to decide that we aren't just going to wait for the next generation but do better NOW for ourselves--for others--for our society and our nation.

We live in a Mixed Race America.  What happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin hurts my heart.  It also reminds me that I not only can but must try to make a difference and be an ally to others who are oppressed and to not let the Pages of the world have the last word.  We can and must do more.  We can and must stop this madness.