Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bullying Part II -- Chicago edition

I've been having an interesting discussion on the comment thread of a post I wrote about bullying with a commenter known as Artificer. Artificer's original post to me was about his feeling that Asians in America are targeted by racism more than other minorities (a point to which I disagreed) and he included a very disturbing video that shows an Asian teenager (who is Chinese) in Chicago being brutally beaten by 7 different people (almost all of whom wear ski masks). I'm including it below--but if the embedding doesn't work, you can see the video here. Also, please be aware that this is VERY DISTURBING to watch.

If you've made it through this video, one thing you should look at is the "more information" portion -- because it describes the possible offenders (besides Raymond Palomino, one of the only attackers not to be wearing a ski mask and therefore the one who is most easily identified). The suspects, at least according to this random YouTube uploader, appear to be Asian American--specifically they appear to have Chinese surnames and American first names.

So I decided to find out more about who these attackers were, beyond Raymond Palomino, who was turned in by his father, a county sheriff, when relatives alerted the father to the youtube video. You can read more about that story here.

One of the things I came across was this very odd vlog by a young Asian American teen who seems to know the attackers and claims to have the "real story" behind the attacks--it's a rather rambling and inarticulate explanation and justification (of sorts) for the attack--she seems both sorry for what happened and yet trying to defend her friends for their actions, stating that their attack on the Chinese teen was retaliation for a beating by (her language) "20 FOBs" of 2 of the guys (which include Palomino).

It's not exactly clear what the race of the attackers are (other than Palomino, who appears white, but then again, he could be mixed race), but the lack of any discussion related to the civil rights violation of the Chinese American teen who was attacked or that this is a racially motivated attack leads me to believe that several of the teen abusers (all of whom are between 15-16--Palomino is the only 17 year old) are also Chinese American/Asian American, a fact that also seems to be confirmed by this post on Angry Asian Man, in which he writes that
Authorities have deduced that the attack wasn't racially motivated. I could tell you it breaks my heart to learn that some of the attackers were actually Asian kids too. Because it does. But it's certainly no surprise. It's a violent reminder of the inter-generational conflicts that have long existed within our own communities, between Asian American kids and more recent immigrants -- the so-called FOBs.

Angry Asian Man goes on to say that
It sounds crazy, but can I be so bold to suggest that even though both the perpetrators and the victim are Asian, you could still make the case that the attack was still indeed racially motivated?

And I agree with him. As I told Southern Man this morning when I was trying to explain to him why I was watching all these YouTube videos, while on the surface this might not seem to be a racially motivated attack, there is definitely racism involved--but it's a complicated kind of racism.

First of all, in the mainstream footage of the video, the audio is muted, so you can't hear one of the most disturbing things that is happening during the beating: that the Chinese American kid who is being kicked in the head and stomach and face is simultaneously having racial slurs being lobbed at him. But what he's being called, consistently and constantly in this video is: Nigger.

[Note: I apologize for the use of this offensive slur, but I think it's important to use it and contextualize it because it is being used as a weapon of racial hatred--but not in the way we would normally assume].

All throughout the video his attackers call him a "nigger." When I originally watched this video, I assumed (based on seeing Palomino) that this Chinese American teen was racially targeted for his Asian ethnic difference from the white teenagers who were then using a word of ultimate racial othering--nigger--to reinforce the racial difference and racial superiority that they felt over him. In fact it seemed to make perfect sense. As a linguistic weapon of hatred, the slur "nigger" only has one other corollary, and that's "fag" (truthfully I was surprised that they didn't go there). I'm not trying to say these two terms of hate are equal, but they have a similar weight in the way that people wield these words: as weapons.

In thinking about what it means for a Chinese American teenager to refer to another Chinese American teenager as a "nigger," I have to wonder at how this kid ingested this term. He uses his fists and his words to bludgeon the Chinese American kid--who appears to also be a first-generation immigrant who speaks with a Chinese accented English. And as the comments by the young woman above attests, he is regarded by his Asian American peers not as one of them--a fellow Asian American--but as a FOB (fresh-off-the-boat, a derogatory term for Asian immigrants)--and the way she says this sounds like she's using FOB to be a term of racial othering, racial hatred. After all, they're just FOBs. They aren't fully human.

And that's the thing about racism. Racism perpetuates the false belief that some people get to be real humans and others are sub-human. So within the ill-logic of racism, it makes perfect sense that young Chinese American teens, who appear to speak without a Chinese or Asian accented English, target a Chinese immigrant American teen who does speak a Chinese accented English and attack him for his racial difference--his otherness--his FOB-ness, his nigger-ness. Because they don't want to be associated with all that they deem to be foreign, bad, and other.

Perhaps, as the young female teen says, this is a simple matter of revenge and retaliation. Some of the Chinese immigrant teens (perhaps he, himself) beat up some of the Chinese American youth (and Palomino too). But regardless of whether it was a matter of revenge or retaliation, it's definitely wrong and it's definitely embedded within a system of racism in our country that continues to think that it's OK to dehumanize others based on some racialized differences.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The year of the black water dragon -- the 4709th Lunar New Year is here!

Today is the first day of the 4709th lunar new year, the year of the dragon. Or more precisely, the year of the male water dragon. Every astrological sign is assigned a metal, which has a corresponding color associated with it. For more on what this year may bring to you, click here to read up on Chinese astrology.

Chinese new year is a 15 day celebration, beginning with family and a dinner that is supposed to be meatless (although how different folks interpret meatless varies widely--sometimes it's all vegan and sometimes it just means no red meat). Southern man and I will be dining at a local Chinese restaurant and sticking to veggies and seafood (fish is good luck--although perhaps not for the fish).

Dragons are a very powerful symbol--they are the only animals in Chinese astrology that are mythical/non realist--and inherently they signify all things celestial. So here's hoping that this year brings strength and good fortune to all of us.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fear of a black president? Solution: the whitest man in America, Mitt Romney

Today in The New York Times, Lee Siegel wrote an opinion piece about why Mitt Romney is the Republican front runner. In a nutshell, it's because he's white.

[This was the photo they used in the New York Times]

But Romney isn't just any kind of white. He's a white American in a way that makes folks who yearn for the good-old-days of a better, simpler, gentler, whiter way of life think that it's possible, just possible, to roll back the clock to an era when women stayed at home, families prayed at the dinner table, and the era of "rights" (civil and human) were not part of our lingua franca. To quote Siegel:

"The simple, impolitely stated fact is that Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.

Of course, I’m not talking about a strict count of melanin density. I’m referring to the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways he telegraphs to a certain type of voter that he is the cultural alternative to America’s first black president. It is a whiteness grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America.

In this way, Mr. Romney’s Mormonism may end up being a critical advantage. Evangelicals might wring their hands over the prospect of a Mormon president, but there is no stronger bastion of pre-civil-rights-America whiteness than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

I know I haven't really chimed in on the racial politics of the 2012 campaign--mostly because I haven't been blogging at all, but really the kind of ridiculously racist comments that get made, and the appalling homophobic, anti-family, anti-choice, anti-human rights, anti-women comments that are made by various candidates leaves me yelling at my computer screen, television screen, car radio. I think for many of these candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, being black and being poor are the same thing. And being black and being poor means being stupid and lazy. Which is just about what people believe about President Obama.

And in the state of Kansas the House Speaker Mike O'Neal (R) sent around two email messages that demonstrates not just what an ass he is, but that should have him on a short list with the secret service. In the first email he referred to First Lady Michelle Obama as "Mrs. YoMama" and in the second email, he essentially called for the death of President Obama--wishing for his assassination, as the "Think Progress" blog notes:

"[T]he Lawrence Journal-World was sent another email that O’Neal had forwarded to House Republicans that referred to President Obama and a Bible verse that says “Let his days be few” and calls for his children to be without a father and his wife to be widowed.

Nick Sementelli at Faith in Public Life notes that Psalm 109, which is a prayer for the death of a leader, became a popular conservative meme after Obama’s election. The “tongue-in-cheek” prayer for the president was seen on bumper stickers. The relevant part of the psalm reads:

Let his days be few; and let another take his office

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.

May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.

O’Neal forwarded the prayer with his own message: “At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!”"

As I said to a friend of mine, there should be a special place in hell (if you believe in hell) for this guy. And hopefully the Secret Service are keeping tabs on him because there's NO WAY you could say something like this--to make a veiled or not-so-veiled death wish on the President and not find yourself escorted off the plane and into an interrogation room with Homeland Security.

The 2012 Presidential election. I guess I should get geared up for some crazy racist comments (sigh).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm Back! (really, I am...or I intend to be)

Readers of Mixed Race America, I apologize, once again, for falling off the radar. Of course, I'm hoping you are still out there. And if not, then it will be up to me to keep writing and to gain back readers. I sometimes think that blogging is like exercising--you know you should do it, but finding the time to sit down and blog or making excuses that you need a big chunk of time or something interesting to say...that's what usually prevents me from exercising (although interestingly enough, I have been exercising--perhaps I can only do one and not the other? Blog but not exercise, exercise but not blog?)

Anyway, it's a new year (albeit 10 days in) and a new set of goals and hopes--such as blogging at least once a week (if not more). I feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities for commentary--I may go back and try to re-trace them over the next few weeks.

What I will say is that I do still have things to say about race in America and about issues of mixed race/multiraciality.

This is going to be a short post--it's the first week of classes at Southern U. and I've got to make sure I've got everything ready for my first day this afternoon. I'm teaching two back-to-back classes, one on Asian American Women's Writing and a brand new class called The Place of Asian American Literature in the U.S. South. That's right--I'm teaching a class about Asian Americans in the South! I figured since I'm living it I should be teaching it. When I tell people what I'm teaching this semester, they always get a quizzical look in their eyes when I mention the Asian American South class and the number one question they have is: is there enough material? To which I say "just barely"--but increasingly there are writers of Asian descent writing about the South. And of course if we include non-Asian descent writers, like Robert Olen Butler, who write about Asian American characters in U.S. Southern locations, then there are a few more to consider.

But in case anyone is wondering, here are the list of primary narratives that I'm including:

*Wooden Fish Songs -- Ruthann Lum McCunn
*The Foreign Student -- Susan Choi
*My Own Country -- Abraham Verghese
*Bitter in the Mouth -- Monique Truong

McCunn is a mixed-race Asian-white author and I'm also including an essay by Paisley Rekdal, a poet and essayist who is Chinese-Scandinavian. And no class on the South can stop from talking about inter-raciality (otherwise known as miscegenation back in the bad old days) since so much of Southern fears of racial mixing fueled the upholding of de jure and de facto segregation in the years leading up to the modern civil rights movement (and lets face it, policing of inter-racial coupling still goes on since it was only a few years ago that a principal in Alabama prevented an inter-racial high school couple from attending prom together).

The last thing I'm going to leave you with is a plug for a colleague of mine, Orin Starn, whose book, The Passion of Tiger Woods, is just out. I haven't read it yet, but I did hear an excellent interview with Starn on a local NPR station. And check out this article, in which Starn talks about race and Tiger Woods, which is what his book is about.