Saturday, December 29, 2007

Race and Politics -- The Finale

So just a few more notes about race and politics--namely a few articles to check out (click on each to be re-directed):

*New York Times article about Barak Obama, specifically about his bi-raciality and its effects on his political career and presidential campaigning.

*Article about a poll showing younger Asian Americans leaning towards the Democratic party.

*Blog post on "What Tami Said" about Michelle Obama.

and finallly

*Another post on "What Tami Said" about mean people (OK, maybe this one isn't so specifically about race and politics but it's got a good message about reminding us all to be nicer in the blogosphere, and quite frankly, especially when we talk about controversial, hot button issues, I think remembering civility and the lessons from kindergarten (play nice with others, don't hit, treat others as you want to be treated yourself) are really important.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Race and Politics -- Part III

I'm going to steal this idea from Rachel's Tavern, where she posted a serious question for everyone:

Who are you planning to support in the upcoming Presidential primary/election?

And I don't necessarily mean who do you plan to vote for (there were some slightly snarky comments that pointed out that her question was meant only for those eligible to vote in the upcoming elections), I really mean regardless of whether you are eligible or plan to vote (although let me put in a plug for the civic process and say if you are eligible, please REGISTER TO VOTE--PLEASE VOTE IN THE PRIMARIES AND THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION--SERIOUSLY, IT'S THE ONE TIME I DO GET VERY NATIONALISTIC/PATRIOTIC AND BELIEVE THAT IT'S INCUMBENT ON ANYONE WHO CAN VOTE TO VOTE. ONE ONLY HAS TO LOOK AT THE 2000 GORE/BUSH ELECTION TO UNDERSTAND THAT TRULY EVERY VOTE COUNTS.)

Where was I?

Oh yes, I am curious what you think about the upcoming Presidential race (even if you only clicked on accidentally, for example, if you typed in "I love Asian women" hoping to find something salacious and instead found my post about anti-Orientalism and castigating people for sexualizing Asian women--no joke, that post gets a lot of hits and I'm not sure it's by people who are Project Runway fan).

There were some at Rachel's Tavern (click here for her original question) who really felt that it didn't matter who was President, at least they seemed to insinuate this by their lumping of the 3 Democratic frontrunners together (and the largely dismissive nature of the entire Republican pool) and by a few folks saying they were supporting Green Party candidates (although, again, we see what happened in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and while I like the Green Party I really don't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2000 happen in 2008 because I (and I'm sure millions if not billions of people around the world) want an end to the madness).

Actually, I am very curious for people who are living in the U.S. and who are unable to vote (like my many academic colleagues who are from China, Canada, Britain, Jamaica, among other places) or for those of you few readers outside the U.S. who have a much different take on U.S. politics--how much do you care, in France, in Brazil, in Malaysia who the next President of the United States is?

And because this is a blog about Mixed Race America--for those of you who care about this topic, how important is the next president for a mixed-race America? Clearly Obama embodies the essence of a mixed race America in his biography, but that's not the reason I'm supporting him. (I did talk about why I finally threw my support behind him after doing some research and you can read about it in some May blog posts if anyone is curious enough to dig them up).

I had the father of one of my friends castigate a group of us (we were all women) for not supporting Hillary Clinton and chiding us that we were voting against our own self-interest by not supporting a woman to be the next president. He said that if we were really feminists we would vote for her. This kind of argument drives me crazy! It's like saying I have to be friends with the only other Asian American person in my classroom or that I must support all Chinese Americans running for public office because of our shared ethnicity. So just because Obama is black doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to be the best anti-racist president (interestingly enough there was a study done about the racial diversity of the staffs of the top 3 candidates in each party and Hillary Clinton had, by far, the most diverse staff--in fact, she was the only one who had less than 50% white staffers and she had the most representation among all racial groups, including a perceptible Native American staff presence).

OK, I meant to make this brief but again got carried away. So really, what I'm curious about is: who would you like to see in the White House in 2009 and why and if you want to share your thoughts about how the candidates line up under issues of race/anti-racism, I'd love to hear your perspectives as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Race and Politics -- Part II

For those of you just tuning in, I started to talk about race and politics in yesterday's post ("Race and Politics -- Part I"), and I left off with those provocative questions--especially whether, as Southern Dem believes, all Republicans are racist.

So how did we get on this topic? The upcoming caucus & primary of course. And most especially, who is more electable: Clinton or Obama. Part of me hates to even bring this up because it starts to feel like the game of ranking oppression--what is worse in this country right now, sexism or racism? But it does seem like it's the question that is out there, even if people aren't always phrasing it in such bald terms.

Southern Dem believes that Obama is not electable because of so many racist Republicans. He says we haven't seen the really bad racist stuff come out, yet, but that he's sure Karl Rove and Co. are already planning a nasty and underground negative and racist campaign against Obama playing off of everyone's fears of black men and combining it, in Obama's case, with his name (which conveniently rhymes with Osama) and his background (he lived in Indonesia for a time and did attend a Muslim school). Southern Dem did not seem overly worried about the rampant sexism in the Republican party--and perhaps more disturbing, the sheer vitriol directed at Hillary Clinton for just being Hillary Clinton. Southern Dem just really believes that as nasty as things may get for Clinton, it will be a game of dirty politics that will bring up stuff about Bill Clinton and his infidelity. And that while people may publicly acknowledge their hatred for Hillary based on gender, the simmering hatred of racism that people feel for Obama has gone undetected because it's underground and it will only take the sleeping giant of the racist Republican National Committee to awaken the masses of racist Republicans against Obama. In other words, we may not like Hillary Clinton, but she's still a white woman and still has a chance to be the President of the United States. But this country just isn't ready for an African American head of state.

And all I kept thinking about was the answer I gave to one gentleman who asked me this question when I was passing out "Obama for America" literature back in June (yes, that's right, I went campaigning for Obama, and I even blogged about it in "Walk for Barak," June 12, 2007). I was asked whether the country was ready to elect a black president. And I said that I had to believe that we were. That I have to believe in and envision the country I want rather than the country I suspect I have. That I didn't want to be naive about race, but that the country I want to live in and support is a country that will elect an African American for President of the United States. And if I can help make that happen, I will.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Race and Politics -- Part I

Lately I've been reading some blogs and having interesting conversations about race and politics. So I thought I'd start a series of posts about this topic, although I'm not sure I'll make it beyond two (although who knows, maybe this will be rich enough to carry me through the Iowa Caucus).

At any rate, my prompt for this post is about racist Republicans, or rather this highly provocative question:

Are all Republicans racist?

Let me explain. Christmas Eve was spent with friends and amongst folks who were both non-academics and white Southeners who had ties to Southern politics, especially the yellow dog Democrats in the South. One of these gentlemen, a person who had been a teenager during the Civil Rights movement, who was born and raised in an ex-confederacy state, and who had worked for various Democratic campaigns, and who, I should note, is a white Southern man, made this emphatic statement:

All Republicans are racist.

I actually laughed when he said that, because I mean, it's what liberal-progressive Democrats like to say but truthfully, we don't really believe that every-single last voting member of the Republican party is we? Sometimes I find non-people of color (my ultra-pc way of saying "white" folk) making very bold and somewhat over-the-top statements to show how progressive they are about race. But this wasn't the case. I can't quite explain why--but I didn't get the feeling the person was pandering to me or talking to me in that way of trying to make me feel more comfortable by saying the thing that I might agree with.

This person, lets call him Southern Dem, had a lot of experience with campaigns and seeing the way various Republicans have used racism to their advantage in campaigns--and he has heard a lot of racist stuff--and he truly believes that white Republicans are racist and listen to racist dogma. And in fact he contends that it was Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign that swept through the South and converted the racist Democrats into Republicans, which is why the South has changed from blue to red in the last few decades.

Now, as much as I'm a bleeding heart leftist-liberal-wanna-be-radical-queer-friendly-feminist-of-color, I actually don't believe all Republicans are racist. And I'm not just going to point to the obvious Republicans of Color to show how this might be problematic. I just don't think we can make sweeping generalizations like that. It's like saying that all Democrats are non-racist, and that's just NOT true.

But I also believe that Southern Dem's point, that he had heard and seen A LOT OF RACIST STUFF that white Southeners have said and continue to say (among other things, he told me that he knew some guys who wanted to go to the U.S.-Mexico border and sit on a telephone pole and shoot at anyone trying to cross the border into the U.S. because they believed there was no value to Mexican life and all immigrants were illegal and needed to be summarily deported), is an important one to think about. Because I tend not to have really racist stuff said to me by other people. It's probably a combination of my obvious non-whiteness/people-of-colorness or more particularly because people know I do research on issues of race and racism and work on Asian American literature. And most of it probably has to do with the fact that I am surrounded by like-minded people, at Southern U., in my small college town, in my profession and my personal life.

But Southern Dem, who works in the world of commerce and business, who has been around Southern politics, who is a white Southern man who has a strong Southern accent, I'm sure he hears a lot of things that would have my jaw dropped in a permanent state if I were invisibly standing next to him. So his experiences have taught him that in the South, if you're a Republican you are racist.

I'll explain how we got on this subject in tomrrow's post, but I'll just end by asking the following to anyone who is game:

1) First of all, how do you define how someone is racist? What does it mean to be racist?

2) Can it be possible for the entire Republican party to be racist?

3) If #2 isn't possible, does it seem as if one party is more open to an anti-racist praxis than the other party--and why is this the case?

4) Is it possible to be a racist Democrat and still vote for Obama?

Feel free to answer just one of the above or all, depending on how nimble your fingers are feeling!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Day before the Night before Christmas

I am agnostic about Christmas. In case you want a formal definition of "agnostic" here's what the on-line Free Dictionary has to say:


a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
2. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.

1. Relating to or being an agnostic.
2. Doubtful or noncommittal.

I suppose the reason I am agnostic about Christmas is that I profess to be an agnostic (there, I'm using both noun and adjectival versions of the word!). I was baptized Catholic, and was raised with that as the prevailing religious culture on both sides of my family (even though, it should be acknowledged that both sets of grandparents were raised Buddhist and it's questionable about whether their conversions, in Jamaica and the U.S. respectively, were "authentic"--but that's the topic of another post).

I am also a CCD dropout--choosing Scooby Doo cartoons on Sunday morning for Catholic Sunday School, and therefore I haven't gone through confirmation. Which is the reason I never take the host on the few occasions (usually weddings) I find myself in a Catholic service. A friend of mine pointed out how silly this is--because it's not like God will strike me down for putting that wafer in my mouth, especially in light of my ambivalence over His/Her existence. But that's the thing about being agnostic and being raised culturally Catholic--I have doubt of God's existence and ambivalence about organized religion but I also have respect to believe that the minute I put that host in my mouth who KNOWS what will happen, and why tempt fate (or God).

My lack of belief actually bothers me--because I feel like I waffle. Hence my comment on the agnostic Christmas. I've got the tree. I've got the stockings hung by the fireplace. I listen to Christmas music. But I've bought into this consumerized version of Christmas--a secular Christmas where Santa replaces Jesus, because I don't have a creche and I prefer shows like "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" to "The Greatest Story Ever Told." In which case, I feel a bit blasphemous--I mean, this is supposed to be one of the holiest days of the year if you are Christian, if you believe in Christ's birth in the form of Jesus. And instead of treating it like a holy day I, and millions of Americans, buy gaudy wrapping paper and worry about the "right" gifts to buy.

OK, this is all now bordering on too much "journaling" and not enough about the point I'm trying to make, which is, maybe it's all OK. Maybe part of my agonizing every year about my agnosticism and my secular celebration of Christmas means I'm struggling to understand the consumerism-religion matrix here in the U.S. and that in many ways, even, ironically, regardless of religion, this is a time of year when we, as Americans, as people, try to make nice with one another--to acknowledge that whether you believe in this day as the day of Jesus's birth or whether it's the day that Santa brings toys to good girls and boys or whether it's a break from the day to day routine--a holiday from the rigors of our everyday lives--that on this day (or set of days since especially this year it feels like a 4-day holiday for those of us not in the retail world) this is when we can recognize our mixed-statuses, our mixed-beliefs, and our internally mixed-up feelings about Christmas and just acknowledge our shared humanity.

A total cliche to rely on the humanity bit, I know. But like the other cliches, peace on earth, goodwill towards wo(men), this is the one time of year it seems appropriate to remember that at the end of the day, regardless of our beliefs, regardless of our political affiliations, where we grew up, and most especially the color of our skin, we really are all human.

So for those of you who celebrate in whatever way you do, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How do I know I'm Asian American?

I seem to be fond of obvious questions: What is Asian American Literature? How do I know I'm Asian American? But the truth is, I think if you start to really probe beneath the surface, you can see that the answers are not quite so obvious and the questions were meant to be provocative rather than simplistic.

The inspiration for today's post came from the discussion thread two days ago that followed my post about humor (particularly ethnic humor). Click here for the link. The comments started to dialogue about difference, particularly race, class, and gender differences (and we can throw in a host of others, like nationality and sexuality but you get my gist). Is there ever a time in a child's life when s/he is an innocent being, either without an awareness of difference or without judgment surrounding difference?

And more specifically, when do kids start to recognize racial difference, to see themselves as raced little people and to have values associated with those observations?

Any social psychologists in the blogosphere?

I don't know if I can recall the first time I was aware of my racial difference. One childhood incident does come to mind of being with my immigrant Chinese father in a park (I'm coding him this way so you get a feel for what he looks and sounds like) and I'm probably four or five and we're flying a kite, and this blond haired boy comes out of nowhere and leaps around us. He does this once, and when he does it a second time my father calls after him and says "I know what you're trying to do, stay away from our kite!" and that's when I see the pocketknife in the kid's hand. He seemed so big, that kid, like he was a teenager. But maybe he was only 13. And what I remember distinctly was that my Dad was both angry and ashamed. I could, of course, be wrong--and maybe I'm ascribing to my father my own emotions--that I became embarrassed and ashamed that we had been targeted by this kid. And somehow, in hindsight, I think it had to do with the fact that the kid was white and we were Asian.

I fully recognize that I could be reading backwards into this--except that this anecdote is one I only told for the first time a year ago--because it was a memory I had held so closely with feelings of shame and embarrassment that I had never wanted to discuss it with anyone before. And I always felt it had to do with my father's Chinese-ness, so perhaps there was something I overheard, something my memory is blocking about the kid replying to my father. Something my father said under his breath.

At any rate, is this how I knew I was Asian American or Chinese American or at least not white? I'm not sure. But I do think that my recognition of racial difference began around the time I was 5, coinciding with going to kindergarten and public school and playing with other kids in my mixed-race neighborhood (hey, this was California after all, and while not a racial dream state in the 1970s, I still lived in a racially mixed neighborhood).

So I guess I'm asking you, dear readers: when did YOU recognize your racial difference from others and start to think about race? How do you know what race you are even today?

[coda: I want to be really clear and say that I am not using "race" as a substitute for saying "people of color"--we ALL have a "race" and in as much as we choose to agree (consciously or not) in the construction of this very real fabrication (see the post Getting rid of race (December 14) if you are confused by my mumbo-jumbo language), having a racial identity is something that all of us have, even if those of us of a darker hue may think about it more often].

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A sense of humor

Two muffins are baking in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, "Boy, it sure is hot in here." The second muffin looks at the first muffin and yells, "OH MY GOD! A TALKING MUFFIN!!!"

(Is anyone laughing but me? Can you visualize the 2 muffins baking in the oven and the look of horror on the second muffin's face? Still nothing?)

I open this post with the above joke to give you an example of the kind of humor I find funny: dumb kid jokes. The kind that is both inoccuous and (for most adults) not funny. Or at least not side-splitting, laughing so hard I cry funny. I don't know why I find dumb kid jokes so hilarious--and it's not all kid jokes--it's what I would call the IRONIC dumb kid jokes (if there is such a genre) and I place the muffin joke at the top of that list (do I have to break down why it's ironic that the second muffin is horrified that the first muffin has talked to him?)

Anyway, for most of the other adults reading this blog, humor is probably something that runs the gamut of visual slapstick to subtle irony--with stand up comedians probably falling somewhere in-between. And on the Racialiacious blog I found this news piece from The Boston Globe about a documentary called Crossing the Line which looks at 18 different multi-racial comedians (click here for the article link).

So this started me thinking about ethnic humor and racial jokes and Comedians of color (like Dave Chappelle and Margaret Cho) and what happens when their humor is misconstrued and/or taken out of context and/or when people don't find their brand of racial humor funny. I have seen Cho do live performances and I have seen her DVD's and find her to be pretty funny for the most part (although I think her best work was on her first DVD, I'm the One That I Want). But I have to admit that I get uncomfortable with people imitating Margaret Cho imitating her Korean accented Korean American mother. One acquaintance, a gay, white man, felt entitled to own Cho because she was a fag hag exemplar and thus as one of his "people" he felt he could own Cho.

But his imitations of her imitating her mother made me uncomfortable--and I think claiming one "marginalized" or "minoritized" status as a way to claim affiliation or, even more problematically ownership, of a different marginalized identity is, well, wrong. I don't get to make gay jokes or black jokes or Latino jokes with impunity just because I'm Asian American. Heck, I don't even think I get to make Asian American jokes just because I am Asian American.

I'm guessing this is all part of what Crossing the Line deals with--that very line of racial humor and when you can laugh at things and when laughing feels oppressive. When are you laughing with someone and when are you laughing at someone? And the thing is, race is such an absurd entity in our midst (as one astute commenter pointed out in the Scrubs post), that I do think we have to be able to see, and laugh, at the absurdity. I just wonder what the limits and costs of that laughter are...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gee, you don't look "Asian"...

I was doing a "google" search under "mixed race" and found this entry at the blog Gene Expression "Mixed Race but Homogenous Appearance" (click here for the link).

The blog entry discusses the racial appearance of mixed-race people, and uses celebrities, like Tiger Woods and Jason Kidd, as examples of how racial features can predominate (or not) in certain people. There is even a segment that discusses the genetic breakdown of parents of different racial backgrounds and their subsequent mixed-race child who may tend to favor one parent's phenotype over the other.

One of the observations that the blog entry makes is that how we "see" a person's racial makeup is most often determined by our own preconceived notions of race. Two boldface comments by the author sum up the trickiness of mixed-race identification, either by oneself or by others:

"[P]erceptions of race are as much a matter of psychology and culture as they are of genetics."


"Cultural priors matter, and in the United States we give great weight to black ancestry as determinative of one's race."

The other interesting points about the Gene Expression blog entry is the discussion that follows. I could actually write a whole blog post about the comments because there is a particularly disturbing "joking" comment that one commenter makes towards a self-identified female hapa (half-Asian, half white) woman in which he claims that given her ethnic background she must be "Hot" and can he get a photograph of her? He follows up by saying he's "joking" but, really?! It just seems to undercut the seriousness of the race and genetic discussion that precedes and follows the comment. And I'm tired of people telling me I have no sense of humor when I don't find the combination of sexual orientalization "funny"--HA HA! ENOUGH ALREADY! MEN WHO FETISHIZE ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN ARE NOT FUNNY--THEY ARE DANGEROUS, ESP. THE GUY AT PRINCETON 4 YEARS AGO WHO STALKED ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN, SECRETLY CUT OFF SNIPPETS OF THEIR HAIR AND THEN FILLED MITTENS WITH THEIR HAIR FOR HIS PRIVATE PLEASURE. HE WAS CAUGHT CUTTING THE HAIR OFF OF A WOMAN ON A BUS AND THEY FOUND THE MITTENS AND IT'S SO GROSS AND DISTURBING I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN EXCEPT TO PLEASE ASK EVERYONE TO CEASE AND DESIST WITH THE "Asian Women are so hot" COMMENTS!!!

OK, I digress once again. Sorry--Orientalizizing, esp. of Asian American women, especially mixed-race Asian American women drives me bonkers.

Given the last few posts I've written about getting rid of the category of race in favor of an anti-racist praxis, as well as the absence of certain athletes of color, I thought this entry about how one "looks"--esp. how "Asian" Tiger's features are, would be a good discussion point for a blog on mixed-race America.

And I really do think Tiger is an interesting example of mixed-race America because of his transnational, multicultural, and American affiliations with golf, with the war in Viet Nam, with an African American history of exclusion, with an Asian American history of political agitation, and with the weight of the world wanting him to be all things to all people.

Does it matter that Tiger is black, Asian, both, or neither--that he is "cablinasian"? Does it matter that he married a blonde Swedish woman instead of a woman of color? Does it matter that he didn't marry an American woman? Is Tiger, by virtue of where he stands in the world of golf and money, beyond race because he is rich and he is not exactly taking on social justice issues with respect to race (and gender and sexuality--he is, apparently, notorious for his off-color/homophobic jokes).

Because what is Tiger? And should we care? I suppose that's really the key point. Should we care how Tiger either self-identifies or how others identify him, according to race? Many people mocked him for the "Cablinasian" category he created on the Oprah Winfrey show, and yet, there is something to be lauded about his trying to create an alternative space where he is not simply lumped into categories according to conventional wisdom or the status quo.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The color of sports

I just caught the tail end of a schmaltzy Kevin Costner baseball film, For Love of the Game. I've never seen it before, and while I mainly caught the climactic moment at film's end (is it giving it away to say that he wins both game and girl at the end of the film? I said it was a Kevin Costner baseball movie, right? So this shouldn't come as a surprise) the glance at both dugouts, the field, and the staduim reveals something I've thought about major league baseball for a while: it's largely a white sport.

While I don't actually follow baseball myself, for some reason I really like baseball films--there's something about the narrative arc that coheres around baseball that makes for a good story (and is someone somewhere teaching a film course or American studies course on the baseball films of Kevin Costner, because that's definitely an arc, where you start with the young and cocky Costner in Bull Durham, you have middle-aged Costner in Field of Dreams, cocky but a family man, you have older Costner in For Love of the Game who is cocky but recognizing that he's a 50-something actor playing a 40 year old Major League pitcher, and then you have The Upside of Anger where he is a washed-up former baseball player--but of course still cocky to the end).

Where was I?

Yes, baseball films--they seem to portray mainly white protagonists with white love interests (Mr. Baseball that AWFUL film with Tom Selleck in Japan not-withstanding) and with largely white fans.

Yet baseball has also seen a rise of players from Japan and Latin American countries and Latino players. But still not a huge influx of Asian AMERICAN ball players, and certainly less African American players than in other sports, like basketball or even football.

So why? Why does baseball seem to be a largely white sport? Is it? Is this my own preconception based on Hollywood movies or is this a reality? And either way, why are there so few Asian American ball players--if Japan manages to send over some pretty incredible players, how come we haven't seen a rise of Asian American ball players? And why do certain sports seem to attract people of different "races" more (and less) predominantly than others? Basketball seems to have a higher concentration of black players, hockey looks like a white sport, golf is certainly still a white sport (or a game for those who don't believe having a caddy and chasing a small ball qualifies as a sport) despite Tiger Woods dominance (and Vijay Singh and KJ Choi's presence--which is a good reminder to us that Woods has been in the PGA for over a decade and yet not one other major golfer of color from the U.S. has come up in the ranks).

Perhaps a different way to ask the question is, why, with the exception of basketball (and maybe football), do all other spectator sports (baseball, soccer, NASCAR, hockey, golf) see to be dominated by white players and white fans?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Living the Anti-Racist Praxis

I ended today's post ("Getting rid of race"--12/14) with the thought that an anti-racist praxis should be about cross-racial coalitions--about people advocating on behalf of one another despite of, or because of, our differences.

And then I found this item on the Angry Asian Man blog about Hassan Askari, a Bangladeshi college student who aided a group of Jewish people being attacked on the Q Train because they responded to another group's "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Hannukah":

"Hassan Askari, a Bangladeshi college student who stepped up and came to the aid of the two attacked couples, receiving two black eyes in the process: JEWS' SUBWAY HERO A MUSLIM. Unfortunately, Hassan didn't get a chance to bust out his martial arts skillz: Q train hero has brown belt in karate. Still, he gets big points for being a good samaritan. Props, Hassan."

For more on this story click here for The Daily News piece and here for The New York Post article.

I think we all need to remember that it IS possible to live an anti-racist praxis--that people like Hassan Askari exist and that what he did was both remarkable and simple: he helped someone who needed help.

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Getting rid of race

I am a true academic geek (wait, isn't that just being repetitive? Aren't all academics GEEKS, otherwise how did we end up studying a narrow subject for so long and so intensely) because I had my final meeting of the Paul Gilroy reading group on Tuesday, and I was scrambling to finish the book, Postcolonial Melancholia, before the meeting not because I feared letting down my group members (it's the end of semester and most people were only able to get through the intro and to skim one of the chapters) but because I couldn't put it down. That's right--this dense piece of cultural criticism had me up late and up early because I thought it was a page turner.

And why? Because I was intrigued by Gilroy's central idea--the one that animates his entire work and, I would argue, that informs his other works as well:

Lets get rid of the category of race altogether and focus on anti-racism.

If you are saying, "Huh?" then let me try to break it down. It's sort've like a chicken or egg thing--which came first, race or racism? Gilroy says

"If the historical anomaly represented by archaic racial division does, contrary to expectations, remain legally or morally open, if it is still somewhere 'on hold' and therefore a muted part of the history of our present, the discomforting events to which these discussions refer are most likely to be recovered or remembered in the name of the same racial, ethnic, and national absolutes and particularities that I intend to call into question. 'Race' would then become an eternal caue of racism rather than what it is for me--its complex, unstable product" [emphasis mine] (14).

It's not race that causes racism--it's race that is a byproduct, an after-effect, of racism. We (especially Americans) are immersed, obsessed, disgusted by, proud of, distraught over race because we are living with the legacy of racism--because racism, the colonial, imperial, institutional forms of racism have undergirded the systems of power and philosophy that comprise our lives.

Although Gilroy's audience is mainly other academics (or any non-academics willing to slog through the jargon), and although he does not give concrete, practical examples about HOW we are to eliminate the category of race and to, instead, insist on a category of anti-racism, his work provokes thought and debate on this subject, and highlights what is for many counter-intuitive: race, while having a material effect, is nonethless a total fabrication--a social construct invented to dehumanize one group of people for the benefit of another group.

And it makes me giddy to think what we could do if we could shift the conversation from race to racism--or more specifically, if we could start to recognize the ways in which an anti-racist paradigm and philosophy would really benefit us ALL because we are ALL impacted/invested in a racist ideology that has constrained us into believing in race--into believing that we need to chop people up into categories and to hang values and judgments on people based on race.

Now, let me be clear, I recognize that we have lived with race for a long time and we will have this category around for quite a while. And I'm not about to stop teaching Asian American literature in favor of "American" literature or to stop talking about race and America and mixed-race America just because I agree with Gilroy's call to shift our focus.

But I do think that trying to have conversations about the history of race and about what an anti-racist praxis would look like is really key because racism is the key--it's the ideology that permeates so much of our lives and that is so pernicious that we take it for granted and we choose not to see the ways in which it has infected the ways we live our lives, and I'm not just talking about obvious stereotypes, I'm talking about the things you never think twice about like the mere fact that the land I own was cultivated as a result of the transatlantic slave trade and taken as a result of American Indian displacement. Sure, some people think of this all the time, but the majority of us never truly realize that these two signal events as the cornerstone of America's founding is also the reason (free and cheap labor and land that was taken) we were able to become a rich country and a powerful first-world nation and that there were other people--those whose skin tones and practices literally looked different from Europeans and were rendered inhuman by European thought that allowed this to happen. And we are living with the aftermath of this history. And if you think that this is something that happened in the past and doesn't impact our current lives, then you need to look at Jena 6 and the noose incidents and even the last post I wrote (which is nothing compared to these other two events) to understand that people still judge and discriminate based on race.

So what do we do? What does an anti-racist praxis look like? Well, to start with, it is about cross-ethnic/racial coalitions as well as paying attention to class/sexuality/gender intersections. It's like I wrote in a previous post--we need white allies to talk about racism and preach anti-racism, and to have straight folks stand up for queer rights and to have those of us in the middle-class advocate for working class and poverty stricken people--and not just to do this as a "cause" but to work WITH people who comprise these communities.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Typical encounter

SCENE: Contemporary art gallery in downtown Southern city

PLAYERS: white female artist, mid to late 60s, Asian American female professor, late 30s

Artist: (upon learning that Asian American female is affiliated with Southern University) "Oh, what are you studying at Southern U?"

Professor: "Well, actually I teach there."

Artist: "OH! In that case as someone interested in education let me teach you something about silver jewelry"

[long exposition about merits of 99.9% silver jewelry vs. sterling silver ensues, as well as insistence on holding various pieces that artist has made and the artist talking about Mitsubishi having a patent on the alloy for the 99.9% silver jewelry]

Artist: "Let me find the piece with the Japanese face. Are you Japanese?"

Professor: (taking internal deep breath and big sigh) "No"

Artist: "Oh, are you Chinese?"

Professor: "I'm Chinese American"

Artist: "Oh, that's OK. I have Chinese friends too. They're nice."


Why does this always happen? Can't I go into an art gallery without being confronted with this weird Orientalism? And why didn't I have the chutzpah to say back to this woman, "Oh great! I have white friends, and they're nice too. Don't you love white people? Their traditions are so rich, and I love the way a fork feels in my hand. Such a lovely people!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's in a Name?

When I first started this blog, I had the sense that I wanted to be private. Which is a bit paradoxical because an open blog is one of the least private documents on the internet. But what I mean, is that I wanted not to give a lot of personal information about myself--identifying factors that could lead someone to my faculty webpage.

And if you look at the entry under "The only one (or two)" (Sunday, December 9), you will see that I have tried not to give too many tell tale signs about which Southern state I live in, and I have certainly never tried to name people, unless they were very public figures (but again, telling you the name of the governor or even the state senator would be a dead giveaway as to which state I live in).

Yet this also strikes me in some ways as disingenuous. I know that it's for practical purposes, and even for safety reasons (an August USA Today article talked about female bloggers experiencing higher rates of harassment than male bloggers). But still, it sometimes feels silly to hide behind a moniker like "Southern University" or to hedge about the places I've visited or the town I live in.

But anonymity in the blogosphere can be a dangerous thing. Even pseudonyms--because you do not have to give your real name (and many people, also for privacy issues do not) are a form on anonymity on the web. Which means that we can take on these names, these personaes, or the umbrella one of "anonymous" and we can troll around the blogosphere, leaving comments and being free to say whatever we like however we like, with only our own conscience to guide us about propriety or prudence.

Names, certainly ethnic names, have often led to discrimination and prejudice--as many studies have indicated, when you send in a resume with the name "James" vs. "Jamal" it makes a difference, even if the credentials of both resumes are identical. And surnames often become dead give-aways of your ethnic identity--certainly in the early half of the 20th Century, "Jewish" surnames were one measure of keeping out Jewish students from the hallowed halls of certain ivy league schools. And today, you don't have to show up for an interview for someone to know you are of Asian ancestry if your last name is Wong, Nakamura, or Singh. And thus, how are you to know if what didn't get you that job interview was that your credentials weren't strong or that your name was Jamal Singh and not James Smith?

I'm not exactly sure the connection I'm trying to make about ethnic names, about anonymity, and about privacy on the blogosphere. But I think they are connected...this idea about hiding, passing, covering through pseudonyms or through anonymity--it seems like a potential way to get around or away from discrimination, and yet it also feels like a mask that allows you to say and do things you wouldn't say or do using your own, real name.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Scrubs Peanut Christmas

Since I've been writing some pretty lengthy posts, I thought I'd just include a link to a spoof that the cast of Scrubs did on the Peanut Christmas special. [WARNING: If you have overly sentimental attachment to the original and cannot bear to hear the voice of Zach Brach come out of Charlie Brown's animated mouth, do not watch this.]

I've been watching the syndicated repeats of Scrubs, and I have to say I like the show--and for a mainstream tv sitcom, it's interestingly and surprisingly edgy about certain topics. For example, today one of the characters, Jordan, a woman depicted as bitchy and nasty, admits to having had an abortion at the age of 19 and not regretting it. When's the last time that happened?! She suffered no ill consequences on the show--she wasn't hit by a bus or condemned by others for her decision; she wasn't embarrassed; she did seem a tad bit wistful, but she was clear that she didn't regret the decision. The show also features an inter-racial couple, Carla and Turk (Puerto Rican and black) and at times has talked very candidly about race. Overall, it's not a bad sitcom in terms of how it handles diverse matters. Except can anyone believe that there'd be a hospital sitcom without any significant Asian American characters? A hospital??? And one set in Los Angeles??? PLEASE! No Filipino nurses or doctors? No South Asian med students? No Chinese/Korean/Japanese American patients? A true Hollywood fantasy.

[ADDENDUM--DEC. 12: I saw an episode of Scrubs today--the one where the schtick is that the episode is sung like they are all in a musical. In one of these musical interludes, when Turk makes some comment about Carla being Puerto Rican, she corrects him and says that she's Dominican. What follows is this song where Carla calls Turk on his ethnic myopia and his lumping of all Latino ethnicities into one another (including calling their baby a "blaxican"). All in all, while it wasn't advocating for a complete break down of racial hierarchies and ethnic stereotypes, it was still one of the more frank discussions of race and ethnicity (and all done while carrying a tune) than you normally see coming from a network sitcom.]

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The only one (or two)

Yesterday I attended a state political luncheon that was a good four-hours away from my liberal college town. Why I got invited, why I drove four hours there, stayed four hours, and drove four hours back is too long to get into. Suffice it to say, I found myself, at 1pm, with a plate of local food--fried flounder, grilled swordfish, clear clam chowder, cheese biscuits, pork ribs, pork loin, black-eyed peas, coleslaw, and yellowcake for dessert (I was told to try everything, so I did--have to say the black eye peas and flounder were FANTASTIC!) sitting at a long banquet table with about 300+ people, who were either sitting or standing, Christmas music blaring out of speakers, and we were all inside a huge boat warehouse (the boats were stacked 3 deep) enjoying all this free food, courtesy of our host (who was also running for re-election on the democratic ticket), State Senator X.

At some point the proceedings began and State Senator X, invited all elected officials to join him on the stage, as well as the various presidents and chancellors of the state university system. So I saw two of my bosses--the president of Southern State's University system as well as the chancellor of Southern U where I teach. And there was the governor, the lieutenant governor, various state senators from the West to the East, and more local officials--city controllers, commissioners, aldermen (or alderpeople?). The stage held the power base of my state, and as we rose for the Star Spangled Banner (sung by a local high school junior who one day hopes to attend med school at Southern U) I scanned the stage and crowd and realized:

I am the only Asian American person in this entire crowd.

Actually, it turned out not to be true. I'm not sure at what point she came in, but there was another Asian American woman I saw as my party exited the building. So we were the only two Asian American people at this event (and I did get to walk around/mingle, and meet/greet some of the politicos on the stage and power brokers in the warehouse, including our host, State Senator X, who is a very charismatic fellow).

I also noted that while there were a few women on stage (and by few, I'd say about half a dozen) largely the state power base is comprised of white men--probably straight white men (or at least not out-gay men) since there was an off-color innuendo that was made about one man being able to vote on both sides of the aisle and therefore someone who "goes both ways" (UGH). But in a Southern State with a fairly large African American population and a burgeoning Latino population, there was not a single non-white person on that stage. And even among the 300+ in the warehouse, I'd say I saw about half a dozen Latino people (or who I'd identify as Latino), and about 2 dozen African American (perhaps 3 dozen--but seriously, it did not seem like there were a lot of black people walking around). And as I noted earlier, I was the only Asian American person I saw for the majority of the event.

I should add a caveat that there may have well been a few people from a local American Indian tribe in the crowd, since the state representative from that region was there and may, himself, have been American Indian.

Perhaps because of the party I was with or perhaps because of the way I was continually introduced (as an English Professor at Southern U) I didn't get weird looks and my racial paranoia didn't kick in. But I also didn't feel comfortable. And perhaps, more than anything else, I couldn't help thinking about representation. That our government, in large part, is based on a principle of elected officials who represent their constituents. And I thought about my Asian body in the midst of this largely white sea of people and the way that I could be seen as a representative of the "Asian" race--and that as I was introduced as an English professor, the way I represented Southern U. and liberal arts in general.

And I think it's sad--that I was the only one (or two) -- that I may or may not have had to represent on behalf of Asian Americans. And I think it's really sad that the power base of my state does not reflect the racial demographics of my state, especially given its antebellum, post-bellum, and 20th C. record on Civil Rights with respect to African Americans. I did ask if there were black state senators and I was emphatically told that there were "a lot" (although no one would give me a figure and we all know how people-of-color are perceived to be over-represented) but that they didn't come today, probably because of the holidays (which makes no sense because were they saying that black politicians take a longer holiday? Or perhaps that the black state politicians were largely Jewish and celebrating hanukkah?

I don't think I'd have the stomach for politics, but I do think that there needs to be a more diverse stage for power--because this is partly how we make change happen--that the power base, whether at the university, the city, the state or the national level begins to actually represent the diverse interests of all its constituents--and start to look like the demographics of its constituents as well. I know this begs the question of whether one has to "look" like someone to represent their interests. I guess all I can say is, I don't think it can hurt. And I certainly think that making room on that stage for more women, for out queer people, and for people of color, can only make this Southern State a truly progressive place.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Resource Plug: Mixed Heritage Center

Since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" and since I am interested in issues pertaining to mixed-race people (in addition to my general interests in all things related to race, ethnicity, and culture in the U.S. and elsewhere), I thought it'd be appropriate to put in a special plug for the launch of a new website and fantastic resource:

THE MIXED HERITAGE CENTER ( -- (click on link for access)

A collaboration between the Association of Mixed Ethnic Americans and the MAVIN foundation (which is one of my "Links to Look at" in the right hand bar) the purpose of the MHC (as stated on their website)

"is a clearinghouse of information relevant to the lives of people who are multiracial, multiethnic, transracially adopted or otherwise affected by the intersection of race and culture. It is an organic resource that will grow and change with contributions from visitors, student groups, and community based organizations who care about mixed heritage issues. Please feel welcome to share your own knowledge, experiences, and concerns either through participation in the discussion forums, by recommending the addition of a resource, or by submitting your own work to"

Check it out--it really is a fantastic website and a great resource for multiethnic, multiracial, mixed-race issues. And it's organic--as in, they want people to help add to the collective knowledge base.

Congratulations MHC!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The BOGO light and "the Dark Continent"

After I wrote the post about the XO Laptop ("Making a Difference--PartII--November 16), a friend sent me an email describing a company that is making solar-powered flashlights, The BOGO light (click here to go to the company website). BOGO (or Buy One Give One) works on a similar principle--you buy one of their flashlights and they will send a flashlight to an organization of your choosing based on the sub-categories listed, which are: Education, Health, U.S. Military, Environmental, Faith-Based, Non-Profit Developing World.

Apparently the idea behind the lights was the CEO/Founder Mark Bent's work in "Africa" (particularly Ethiopia I believe) over the last twenty years. He really felt a compulsion to try to work on the energy needs of many African nations and came up with this idea of a cheap, safe, and renewable energy source--one that would be good for the environment.

So after doing a quick google search for BOGO light (because I wanted to see what kind of reviews it was getting--did it really work) I found this link to a Fox-News Houston affiliate and their interview with Mark Bent:

If you watch the newscast, you will undoubtedly note the way that the newscasters refer to "Africa" as some monolithic, primitive, pre-modern "Dark Continent" (in fact they pun off that very phrase--something to the effect that someone is trying to "light up the dark continent!!! UGH!!!). Bent, himself, seems more measured/informed about the various needs of various African nations.

So here are my pet peeves and knee-jerk prejudices after watching the news clip and looking at the various charities listed on the BOGO website:

1) Referring to "Africa" as a monolithic, primitive, pre-modern mass of underdeveloped people rather than recognizing the individual, modern, nation-states that comprise the continent of Africa. It's really a larger pet peeve of mine (and one that I sadly perpetuate in my own speech) whenever we refer to "Africa" and "Africans" rather than speaking of distinct countries and their needs in that geographic region--because the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as vast a place as that is, differ greatly by location, culture, language, history, whether they were a post-colonial power, whether they are on the coast or in-land. It's like continuously referring to the "U.S." and assuming that the history, culture, climate, demographics, and resources of Alaska are the same as Alabama because both are part of the U.S. and both are in North America (wait, people DO make this assumption all the time...). The way we tend to confuse the continent for a country speaks to the general ignorance that Americans (and I include myself here) have about the rest of the world, in general, and the continent of Africa, in particular. And it speaks (I fear) to a type of internalized (or not so internalized if you read the You Tube comments where I got this video link) racism that people in the U.S. have towards darker skinned people from the continent of Africa.

2) The plug that Fox News put in for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean when does Fox-News NOT put in a plug for the military??? And emphasizing that Bent is an ex-Marine which is why the military is listed as one of the charitable donations. And regardless of how any of us feels about our Middle-East Invasion and Occupation (ah, language--isn't it interesting the phrasing I've used), it's sad, sad, sad, that U.S. troops even need donations for something as basic as flashlights (let alone body armor).

3) Under "faith based" charities all appear to be of the Christian faith and many seem to be in the evangelical tradition. So why not just say "Christian based organizations?" Seems like it's more honest--but perhaps Bent didn't want to offend or was trying to employ "political correctness"? But it irks me that "faith" becomes synonymous with Christianity because there are many different types of "faith" (as in spiritual/religious) practices beyond Christian ones--and especially since Bent's impetus in creating the lights was to help various African nations, it seems as if linking up with a Muslim based organization, may go a long way to improving U.S.-African relations (there, see, I did it! Referred to "Africa" as a country when it's a continent!). Mali, Chad, Sudan, and Somalia are all African countries with a large concentration of Muslims and, with respect to Somalia, trying to improve U.S. relations there seems like a worthy endeavor.

4) Fox News. Fox News just irks me.

I'm done with my curmudgeonly old man bit, so I'll just end by saying, even after my list of prejudices and pet peeves, I think it is a great idea. It is environmentally sound. It is a cheap and safe renewable energy source. It will help people in developing nations have an affordable light source. And at $25 it's a small way that you can make a difference. And if you celebrate Christmas, it's just in time for the season of giving. So go BOGO.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hollywood's Whitewash

There was a comment posted on the "White Spokesperson" post from a few days back that has led me to think about the ways that Hollywood is particularly guilty of taking on a "white spokesperson" role for people of color.

What do I mean? Let me illustrate using three films (and I'm sure others can think of even more!)

Come See the Paradise is a film about the Japanese American internment, but the Hollywood Studio that produced and distributed it was clear that there needed to be a white male hero in the lead; that a film about Japanese Americans during WWII could not be about the infringement of their constitutional rights based on racial discrimination (isn't that a dramatic story??!!) but needed to be an inter-racial romance, with a historical backdrop of discrimination.

Amistad is another film in which white male figures take the leading roles in a historical drama about non-white people--this time it's the transatlantic slave trade. The director Stephen Spielberg, or "Mr. Happy Ending," has made a film about slavery that ends on a positive note--the Amistad slaves get to return to Africa. (For more on Spielberg's record of happy endings to otherwise tragic and traumatic events see the endings to Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List to see what I mean.) Don't get me wrong--it's not that I don't think there should be a happy ending to slavery, but the truth is, the Amistad case was exceptional; the reality of slavery and a film about slavery would actually not end quite so happily and we should not feel quite so good, as an audience, about the historical record of the transatlantic slave trade. And this film may blur that reality by ending on such a happy note--when the reality for the majority of African slaves and African Americans in bondage during the antebellum period was one of brutal indenture.

Last but not least, there's my all-time favorite, The Last Samurai. Although, ostensibly, the film's title is supposed to refer to the actual "last samurai" in the film (played by the wonderful Ken Watanabe) the movie poster and the film's narrative concentration make Tom Cruise's character "the last samurai." This film really takes the cake in terms of Hollywood whitewashing--Cruise goes from being a boozed-up, washed-out Civil War veteran to the heroic central figure, out-Japanese-ing and out-Samurai-ing the actual Japanese and Samurais he comes into contact with.

And really--why can't we have stories of slavery, of internment, of other historic events featuring non-white people in which there is not a white lead who steals the central role as savior, as hero, as rescuer? Why, Hollywood, why???!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Promoting more Asian American Artists

The New York Times has two articles prominently displaying two different Asian American artists involved in theater. Paul Chan, a video artist and political activist, recently staged performances of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in two different location in New Orleans--with a cast that came from a Harlem production of Godot that had made Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levees the central setting/theme of Beckett's work.

David Henry Hwang, most famously known for his play M. Butterfly, has a new production opening at The Public Theater called Yellowface, which blends fact and fiction in describing the central character D.H.H., a playwright who protests Jonathan Pryce's "yellowface" casting/performance as "The Engineer" in Miss Saigon and who struggles with the realization that, years after his Saigon protest, he has cast a white man as a lead in one of his Asian American plays because he believed the man was mixed-race.

For more on the Godot/Chan piece click here.

For more on the Yellowface/Hwang piece, click here.

It's an interesting coincidence that two Asian American artists are featured in the headlined sections of The New York Times and that both pieces discuss the intersections of race, politics, and art.

In particular, there is a quote in the Hwang piece that basically sums up the questions I've been struggling with lately regarding race and how to talk about race in my upcoming book project:

"[H]ow do you talk about the nuances of race, both the desire to get past race and the awareness that racism exists. How do you balance these two?"

How do you indeed...does anyone know?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Music Plug: Goh Nakamura

I found this link on Angry Asian Man's blog, and I checked out Nakamura's website (click here) and have to say that I think the guy is really talented. Of course it doesn't hurt that this video in particular, "Embarcadero Blues," has scenes of San Francisco, so for any of you home sick Bay Area Californian's, check out the song--and for everyone else, check it out to help support a good indie musician.

Plus, it has always puzzled me why there aren't more visible Asian American musicians. I mean, sure, everyone mentions James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins or the guy in Black Eyed Peas. But can you name a prominent Asian American solo artist (and yes, I mean Asian American, so Rain doesn't count, as talented as he is). I suppose Jin, the Chinese American rapper from Queens, would be the closest we've got to a mainstream Asian American musician. So really, how much of a model minority can we be if we aren't sending anyone to the Grammys???!!!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The White Spokesperson

When I was in grad school I once told a white friend from Alabama (also a fellow grad student) that there were days when I felt tired just walking into the English Department at our New England University because I knew I'd be the only person of color I'd see the whole day (at the time we were in grad school there was one black Caribbean professor who taught Creative writing and one half-Japanese, half-Jewish professor who taught Literature--there were five students of color, all of whom were either Asian or Asian American, not all of whom were still in coursework and so may have been off-campus someplace finishing their dissertations). I was trying to express to my friend the loneliness and psychic drain of being one of less than eight people of color amidst a department and grad student population numbering over sixty to eighty (give or take the vagaries of MA and MFA acceptances each year).

My Alabama friend grew quite defensive, demanding to know if I had experienced bad treatment due to race, if I had ever been a victim of racist remarks, and, quite frankly, disputing how I could feel in any way, shape, or form uncomfortable, especially since I wasn't black, but Asian and an Asian American woman at that, which means that I was not only not reviled but revered in terms of being from a valued minority group.

You can imagine my anger and frustration and deep level of hurt. This was a close friend--someone I had had numerous conversations with about race--someone who expressed, or seemed to express, a real understanding of race and racial politics, especially black-white relations, especially in the South. We argued, at length, but it was only when another friend, a white male friend, rephrased my words and explained to the Alabama friend my feelings of alienation due to race, that the Alabama friend got it.

And that made me even angrier--that it took my white male friend to reinterpret for my white Alabama friend what I was saying--that only through having a white spokesperson was I understood.

I have been thinking about this lately as I've been immersed in reading books about racial passing--especially because this is something that Black Like Me (by John Howard Griffin) does. Griffin, a white man wanting to understand real race relations between blacks and whites in the South in the late 1950s, took a drug that turned his skin dark, tanned himself, and also added vegetable dye to his skin, and traveled throughout the deep South, passing as a black man. The book charts his growing evolution from being a participant-observer to understanding his own racism as a white liberal. And although the book/Griffin does act in this "spokesman" role, in the epilogue, Griffin is also aware of the role he is playing for other whites about a black experience:

"[I]t was my embarrassing task to sit in on meetings of whites and blacks, to serve one ridiculous but necessary function. I knew, and every black man there knew, that I, as a man now white again, could say the things that neeed saying but would be rejected if black men said them" (190-91).

Unfortunately, this still goes on today--sexism is taken more seriously when men talk about it; racism more seriously when whites discuss it; homophobia when straight people take on queer issues. And don't get me wrong--I think we all need allies--we need to stand up for one another as well as ourselves, or perhaps to see that gaybashing is a form of discrimination that hurts all people and sexism hurts men as much as women, and racism impacts all of us. But it'd also be nice not to need white spokespeople to interpret the very painful experiences of racism that people of color experience.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I love Asian women and so can you!

OK, so yes, this is the academic caveat: I don't watch a lot of tv, but what I do watch is BRAVO and I am addicted to two of their reality shows: Top Chef and Project Runway. This is Season 4 of Project Runway and as we speak I am watching Ginny Barber, wife of Tiki Barber (a former NFL player and Today show host) talking to designers. [NOTE: Don't worry--no spoilers ahead!]

Why I'm noting Ginny Barber is the way she was introduced--it was through the voice of one of the designers, Christian, who, after Tim Gunn said that there was a special guest, described this "beautiful Asian woman (maybe he didn't say beautiful--it might have been stunning or something similar) come through the door. I love Asian women."

I love Asian women . . . what the hell???!!!

I mean, does this guy REALLY love all Asian women? [SECOND NOTE: Christian is the youngest member (21) and is openly gay (almost all of the male designers are openly gay--with the exception of the seemingly sole macho hetero who wants to REMIND viewers of how he's NOT gay. You just want to say, "Relax, dude, we get it--and by the way, the more you keep telling us you're straight the more we're just going to think that you are protesting a *little* bit too much) and I mention this because he wasn't trying to hit on her or talk about her in an overtly sexual way--but of course it still comes across as objectifying her--although perhaps it's the Margaret Cho syndrome, I dunno].

Anyway, it really bugs me--when people say things like they love Asian women. Am I being oversensitive? Of course! But I mean, the whole mass stereotyping (even if relatively positive/benign) is problematic and very specifically saying that you love Asian women (even if you're a white gay guy) is really just reinforcing all of those horrifically patronizing, "Orientalizing," and sexualizing beliefs about Asian women.

One last thing--Tiki Barber (African American) and Ginny Barber (Asian American) make a very visible mixed-race couple. So kudos to BRAVO for highlighting them.

Update, Nov. 29 (Friday): I saw a re-run of this episode last night, and I wanted to clarify the comment that Christian made. When Ginny Barber walked into the room he said "And then this fabulous Asian woman walked in. She looked gorgeous with her dark skin and hair. I love Asian people; they're fierce." Funny how I extrapolated the "I love Asian women" comment--which just goes to show what someone's hypersensitivity will do. It is still problematic, however, to love Asian people because we're "fierce" but it does temper the orientalized tone by saying "people" and qualifying it with "fierce" (rather than just leaving the comment about the woman's great skin and hair). Of course perhaps what I'm really reacting to is that Christian is to Project Runway what Marcel was to Top Chef season 2: young, cocky, and annoying. And one more comment--the other very public but absent inter-racial couple on Project Runway is, of course, Heidi Klum and Seal. So PR really is a show that is promoting inter-racial love.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bruce Lee Lives!

On November 27, 1940, Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, CA. His parents, Hong Kong denizens and entertainers, were performing in the U.S. when Bruce was born. They all returned shortly to Hong Kong, where he was raised, until his late teens, when he was sent to Seattle to live with some relatives because of the "gang" activity he had become involved with in Hong Kong. The rest is, essentially, history. He studied at the University of Washington, where he met his wife, Linda, and began teaching his unique style of martial arts, jeet kune do. He relocated to Oakland, CA to open a martial arts school and then moved to Los Angeles to begin his Hollywood career. But racism and stereotypes kept him out of the series he co-created, Kung-Fu (which infamously starred David Carradine in yellowface) so he moved back to Hong Kong and began his international film career and became a martial arts action movie star, until his early tragic death on July 20, 1973.

Bruce Lee is the enduring icon of Asian American subjectivity. He is a transnational citizen. He is an embodiment of Asian American masculinity. He is a figure of justice in his films (he's always fighting for the underdog) and a figure of fighting for racial equity and equality in his life.

Happy Birthday Bruce--you would have been 67 this year. May you rest in peace--may your legacy and legend live on.

Bruce Lee's gravesite in Seattle

Monday, November 26, 2007

Teaching Tolerance

I have a certain fondness for films with teachers. You know the kind--the ones where the teacher is truly inspirational and reaches out and makes a difference. I'm thinking of films like Stand and Deliver or Lean On Me. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher myself, and I secretly harbor a wish to make that kind of impact on my students (but truly--can I make that much of an impact teaching at a research university? Then again, we shouldn't belittle any kind of teaching--and the problem with Hollywood is that they overly romanticize the teacher (oftentimes white and middle-class/privileged) who comes into a poor public school and transforms the unruly and poverty stricken children into model citizens and straight "A" students).

Anyway, in the last two weeks I happened to catch 3 different films about teachers on Cable TV (two were shown on the Ted Turner's TCM station).

Mr. Holland's Opus, the first of the trio, features a beleaguered public school music teacher (who really wanted to be a great American musician/composer and only took to teaching as a way to pay the bills but of course discovers that he loves doing it and his students love him) over the course of his career, which starts in the early 60s and moves us into the mid-90s.

Then there was Mona Lisa Smile, set in Wellesley College (an all women's college--and still around to this day--and it's Hilary Rodham Clinton's alma mater) of the mid-1950s and starring Julia Roberts as a California transplanted Art History professor trying to get her students not to accept the limitations of their gender. She is revered and reviled by both teachers and students because she pushes at boundaries and won't accept the limitations placed on her or her teaching.

But perhaps the greatest of all the films that I saw recently was To Sir With Love, starring the magnificent Sidney Poitier. I cry every time the end comes--seeing Poitier react to his students' kindness (I don't want to give away the end in case anyone hasn't seen this fantastic film).

To Sir With Love is set in a working-class West End London neighborhood of the mid-1960s. Poitier is a West Indian transplant teaching at this school because racism prevents him from the engineering job that should rightfully be his--and he's just biding time until he can get a "real" job. You can guess what happens in the meantime.

Although I feel sheepish putting To Sir With Love in the same category as the other two films I mentioned above (because the other two films are problematic in certain ways--but what can you expect from mainstream Hollywood media?), all three, besides fitting into the whole "inspiring teacher" genre, are also films with the message of teaching tolerance. In Mr. Holland's Opus, it is the title character who has to learn to adapt and accept his deaf son, as well as the intolerant administration who must learn to adapt to and accept more contemporary forms of music (like jazz and rock and roll) as part of a music curriculum. In Mona Lisa Smile, there is a small sub-plot about a lesbian nurse who is ousted by the administration, not for being lesbian (although it's clear that being queer didn't help her to stay) but for distributing birth control to undergraduates (in violation of MA law of the 1950s), and of course there are the various plots featuring Wellesley women and their quest to find their own identity--whether it is within or without the bonds of marriage.

But of course the film that really teaches tolerance is To Sir With Love. It's overly idealistic, it defuses racial issues in the 1960s by putting Poitier in London, and the racism is really on the mild side, so it's not perfect. But it is so well done--and it feels real--or maybe it's just that Poitier's acting is really so marvelous. Anyway, it strikes me that this film really holds up well--which is sad, of course, because it means that there is still a fair amount of racism and intolerance of difference--and fear about racial others and mixed-race people (again, I don't want to spoil the film by saying too much, but Sidney Poitier's class is not monoracial; there is a mixed-race white-black character and an Asian girl in the class). But it's also so great to see a film in which a teacher, who is a person of color, is teaching tolerance and really changing his students' attitudes--and they are largely all white.

What I wish is that we had a film featuring an African American teaching at an elite boarding school to a largely white, privileged class. What would tolerance look like then? How much difference could a teacher of color--someone with a real social justice bent, make to a group of really privileged students? I wonder when Hollywood will make that film.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Segregated Sunday

I had lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant with my boyfriend (who is a white Southerner). We were the only interracial couple in the restaurant (not unusual for the South) but what WAS unusual was that my boyfriend was the only non-Asian person (and almost every table was full) for the first half-hour we were there (eventually a white family of four came in). When I realized the different racial dynamics at work, it dawned on me that not only is this a rare occurrence in the South for anyone Asian American, outside of restaurants (seeing a majority of Latinos in a Mexican restaurant or African Americans in a Caribbean restaurant would not seem unusual), is there any place where the patrons would be mostly non-white?

According to my boyfriend, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week--at least in the South--because apparently white Southerners go to white churches and black Southerners go to black churches and with the burgeoning immigrant population, there are also special Sunday services held in Spanish at Catholic churches for the largely Mexican-Spanish speaking population and Vietnamese for the Vietnamese immigrant population (there is a local Baptist church that holds services in English, Spanish & Vietnamese).

Apparently segregation also follows you into death because funeral homes also cater to specific communities--black people go to black funeral homes and white people go to white funeral homes.

I can't quite believe that this is true--and yet, this is the South and as I am constantly reminded by people, I live in an academic liberal bubble and life outside my college town is very different. Perhaps, but I can't help wondering, especially as rates of inter-marriage and mixed-race children increase, what does the half-white, half-black person do? Or the trilingual English-Spanish-Vietnamese person of mixed Mexican-Vietnamese ancestry? I suppose you have your pick of any of the three services, and yet, it seems like the ongoing difficulty of where you fit in is ever-present. And if the rates of inter-racial couples and mixed-race people increase in the South, will there eventually be an option--beyond black, white, Spanish, Vietnamese, English? A mixed-race America church--wonder what it would look like, sound like, feel like...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


If "Mixed Race America" were a real country (and not simply a blog or an abstraction, although one can argue that the concept of a mixed-race America is a reality) then today, the 4th Thursday in November, THANKSGIVING, would definitely be its national holiday--because the history of Thanksgiving is so mixed. It is a secular holiday, although it has some religious connotations and roots (traditionally a harvest festival, giving thanks was seen as something you did for God and not just for the earth or for one another). It is a relatively commercially benign day--it's just about food and not about buying stuff, although all those "day-after-Thanksgiving" sales makes this seem like yet another consumerist (in more ways than one) holiday. And although American Indian groups see this holiday (and the really awful stereotypes surrounding Native American groups that get depicted and, more importantly, the reality of the horrific mistreatment that various tribes have suffered in this land--their land) as a day of mourning, it is a day where all people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds gather with those they love to appreciate one another and (if religious) whatever faith they give thanks for. And of course it's about the food.

Gurinder Chadha's film What's Cooking? demonstrates the promise of a mixed-race America and the various ethnic American celebrations around this holiday, as well as the tensions and secrets that families keep (among others, a pregnant lesbian Jewish couple, an inter-racial Vietnamese-Mexican American pair, a black American family dealing with varied political affiliations and a recent affair).

So "Happy Thanksgiving" -- it's not a perfect holiday, but then again, we do not live in a perfect country. And that's OK--because humans aren't perfect. But perhaps, at least for one day, we can try to appreciate our lives--to be thankful and to give back to others. Thanks & Giving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm Asian, You're Asian -- Let's Be Best Friends

Imagine this scenario: You are Asian American and in a social situation/gathering in which Asian Americans are definitely in the minority. At this social gathering you spot someone with an Asian face. Do you immediately go over to him/her? Do you make eye contact? Do you give the head nod? Do you ignore him/her and just mingle with other people?

I had this question put to me a few years ago by an Asian American friend who didn't understand why I was so fixated on issues of race. She, in this scenario, would not feel any special reason to go over to the fellow Asian person. I, on the other hand, would have definitely made an effort to find my fellow ethnic/racial counterpart, if not immediately than at some point during the gathering.

Now, having said that, I fully realize that just because we share a racial (and possibly ethnic) identity doesn't mean we'll be best friends. That we'll even like one another or have things in common to talk about or share common experiences.

So why make an effort to talk to the Asian American person? Because it's lonely to be the only one. Because we may, in fact, have common experiences as Asian Americans. Because as irrational as it may seem to be drawn towards someone based on race, it is a category one uses to make distinctions in a crowd--to organize the world.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Talking about race in the Blogosphere

About a week ago The Boston Globe ran an article about bloggers of color called "Blog is Beautiful: Bloggers of Color Challenge Mainstream Views On-Line." (Thanks to CN Le & Angry Asian Man for the heads up on the article).

There has been some discussion on various blogs (like Racialicious) about how to have real conversations about race--debating about where these spaces are (because they don't seem to be happening in mainstream media). I guess one of the questions I wonder about is: will it make a difference? I want to believe that it will--that blogging about issues of race will lead to larger social justice in the world. But like all things that are proactive or preventative, it's just hard to know what the real effects will be.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Missing Leadership

Last night I saw the film Bobby (2006), produced and directed by Emilio Estevez. It received mixed reviews by critics when it first came out, but I really liked it. I think one of the things I appreciated about it was the sense of anticipation--excitement--that RFK's candidacy held for people. People had a sense of hope--they needed that hope and that excitement: they needed leadership. One of the main themes throughout the film was how divided the U.S. had become, over the war in Viet Nam, over racism--Ceasar Chavez's strikes for the United Farm Workers, MLK Jr's assassination and the struggle for equal rights for African Americans (and all Americans), and just the sense of conflict and despair that seemed omnipresent--but which Bobby seemed to dispel, at least this is what the film and archival footage would have us believe.

A sense of hope and optimism--a belief that the country can do better and will do better under the leadership of a new president. The film reminds me that we are missing leadership in so many ways.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Making a Difference--Part II

I have never written 2 blog entries in one day--but there's a first for everything. In the last paragraph of the blog post below I encouraged everyone to try to do something that will make the world a better place, even just as small as writing an email message to someone.

Now, I wanted to share something really cool that I found through one of David Pogue's technology videos on The New York Times website:

The $100 Laptop

Actually, it currently costs about $200 (and I'm not certain how much of that is subsidized) but they are hoping that as production increases and word about the laptop spreads, that it will be get down to $100--and this is an important figure for affordability because these laptops are designed for children in developing nations. It's not meant for a U.S. or Western market. The creators of this laptop are trying to address the widening information and educational gap between the first and third worlds and this is part of the solution.

I won't be able to do this justice, so I recommend going to the David Pogue article (where you can see one of his videos on the laptop--which gives a great demonstration of how it works) -- click here.

And please visit the "One Laptop Per Child" website. Because this is where you can make a difference. From now until November 26 (that's next week Monday I believe) you can buy one of these laptops. Or more importantly, you can donate $400, which means that you get a laptop but you also donate money to have a laptop shipped to a child who needs one. $200 of that $400 is tax deductible. And this is the only time (as far as the website states) that these laptops will be available for purchase in the U.S. And honestly, as much as I love the altruism and the spirit of the "One Laptop Per Child" movement--the laptop itself just seems SO COOL and so I'm curious to see what it does. Also, T-Mobile is donating a years wifi in their "hot spot" zones to anyone who donates in this 2 week window (the laptops were available starting Nov. 12).

OK, so to recap. $400 means that you help to support a really innovative and important philanthropic project to help children in developing nations become better educated as global citizens or simply to have the same access to education that children in the U.S. take for granted (and I know there are huge problems in public education, but seriously, if you start to look at conditions in certain regions of India and Burma and Burundi then you start to realize how privileged we are in the U.S.). You also get to have a pretty innovative computer--albeit one that won't rival Macintosh or Dell for quantity and quality, but for what it was designed to do--it is absolutely amazing. Click here to see for yourself: ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD.