Thursday, January 31, 2008

How do I feel about "hapa"?

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

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

[12/23/12 Update: The link to the original hyphen essay no longer works, but you can find an updated version of the essay on the Mixed Heritage Center's site (click here)]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone else want to weigh in?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


"Me No Speak" China Travel Language Companion:
"Planning travel in China? Our menus, illustrated lexicons, and point-to-phrases will help you eat, sleep, & get around... without bumbling your way through a hard-to-speak language."

Need I say more?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The many faces of "Orientalism"

Before I start writing about "Orientalism" and "Orientalizing" it seems like I should give a definition for people who haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this. Basically, it's a form of exoticization and objectification of all things Asian (this includes "West Asian" aka: Middle-East).

I could give a longer academic example, but I think everyday instances drive the point home better. Madonna's "Indian" phase is an example of Orientalism (I think it was during her "Ray of Light" album when she performed at the Grammys in a sari or something like that--am I remembering this wrong?). Or objects that depict Asian people or that use Asian people into this object way--I've seen lamps that either feature Asian people (usually in classical Chinese or Japanese clothing, and by classical I mean, ancient Chinese or ancient Japanese clothing) at its base. Or Buddha, depictions of which are on t-shirts and soap and action figures. All of these are examples of Orientalism. Orientalism, in large part, is about appropriation and the adoption of an "Asian" style/dress/fashion as a type of fetish object or as decoration--as rendering "Asian" into the "Orient" into an "object" rather than a SUBJECT (a person, a human).

So I'm starting here because two posts found on "Land of the Not-So-Calm" bring to mind different versions of Orientalism and the question of appropriation and (quite literally) adoption.

The first is the most recent post about a This American Life piece heard this past weekend about dolls sold at FAO Schwartz and the narrator's disturbing experience of the only dolls left for "adoption" (these high end dolls are not sold they are adopted by little girls who have to be "interviewed" before they can purchase a doll and the doll comes with a birth certificate!). Anyway, after a flurry of sales, the only dolls left for adoption are the non-white dolls. You can imagine the rest. Anyway, for very insightful analysis of this story and the issues surrounding transracial adoption, please go to the post (click here), where you can also find a link to the full story on This American Life.

One of the things to note about the piece and the commentary on the blog is that the first of the non-white babies to go were the Asian babies. That's right--if you can't have a white baby, the one that most white families were willing to go to were Asian babies. Then the Latino babies went next. And thus, the store faced incubator upon incubator of black babies. So much to say about little time. But I'd love to hear your take on this, especially if you get a chance to read the blog link and to hear the entire piece. It does strike me, the first part of it--the way in which the Asian babies were the ones to go first of the non-white babies, that this could be seen as a form of Orientalizing--that an Asian baby becomes yet another accessory, like having a feng shui crystal in your home or putting chop sticks in your hair. I think it also says a lot about the model minority myth and the racial hiearchy at work in this country, but since this post is on Orientalism, I'm going to stick with this theme for now.

The second type of Orientalism that I want to talk about is a more benign form--which is the kind that happens with food. As in, Chinese Chicken Salad. Again, "Land of the Not-So-Calm" has written a post called "Asian Salad vs. Salad in Asia" in which she discusses ordering the Chinese chicken salad at The Cheesecake Factory. In the comment section that follows, I had written in and described this as a form of "benign Orientalizing" to which Sang-Shil rightly asked whether there is such a thing.

So I am asking you, my dear blog readers: Is there such a thing as benign Orientalism, and if so, do we find it in food? Like mandarin oranges. I love them--I eat them in my yogurt and granola. But what the hell is a mandarin orange? And I've also ordered Asian slaw and Chinese chicken salad in places like The Cheesecake factory--am I participating in my own objectification? What about Teriyaki burgers? If they came decked out in a little kimono I'd be horrified, but if it's just teriyaki sauce, is that just a descriptor or is it Orientalizing? Or what about those places like Kanki and Benihana with the grills and the chopping of the food--having never been to Japan (aside from a layover at Narita airport) I have no idea whether this is an American's idea of a Japanese steak house or whether perhaps this is the kind of kitchen theater that happens in Japanese cuisine (I'm inclined to think the former).

So there are two forms of Orientalism up for discussion, one which may (or may not) be benign and one not so benign. And if you want to throw out your own examples or to ask our panel of readers whether wearing a yukata in the privacy of your own home is a form of Orientalism (and is this different than wearing a sari for your wedding when you aren't SouthAsian?) then feel free to leave a comment, because I'd love to hear your own stories of encounters with "Orientalism."

Monday, January 28, 2008

And now a word from Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison

[excerpted from a letter sent to Barack Obama, released by the Obama campaign today, which acknowledges Toni Morrison's endorsement of Barack Obama, her first ever of a presidential candidate]
"In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom."

To read the full letter, please click on this link to The New York Observer.

For anyone who doesn't know who Toni Morrison is, in addition to holding a Nobel Prize in Literature, a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critic Circle's award, and countless honorary degrees and awards, she is one of the most lyrical voices in American letters. I loaned a copy of Beloved to a friend attending law school in Boston, and he cried on the "T" when he came to the scene of Paul D and the men moving through the mud. I teach The Bluest Eye on a regular basis, and each time find something new to marvel at.

I don't know how much Ms. Morrison's endorsement will do for the Obama campaign (and I do think that people need to make up their own minds about who to vote for, regardless of who is endorsing a candidate) but I also must say that it gratifies me to see Ms. Morrison's endorsement of Obama, and perhaps very superficially and selfishly, the letter she wrote was another example of her lyricism, so it was simply a pleasure to read it, to hear her poetic voice describe why she supports Obama, who may just be our first African American president.

[Addendum: 1/29/08: For an insightful analysis of the misappropriation of Toni Morrison's words in being the one to call Bill Clinton our first "black" president, check out this latest from "What Tami Said." I actually remember reading that essay in The New Yorker years back, and it's sad to see how Ms. Morrison's words and intent are being distorted by everyone, but of course, not surprising.]

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Meet Maya Soetoro-Ng (aka: Obama's Sister)

In light of last night's Democratic primary victory in South Carolina by Senator Barack Obama, I thought I'd post a link to a New York Times interview with Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng (click here).

Things are really heating up for both parties as they approach Super Tuesday. Honestly, I can't remember things being so tight or so exciting going into any national election. I hope things don't also get too ugly.

I also think it's interesting that Barack Obama, while self-identifying as a black man, is also self-revealing about his mixed-race/transnational/transracial background. And it makes me wonder...because the truth is, most people are "mixed"--if you don't just buy into the purity of the American racial pentagram (white-black-Asian-Latino-Native American) and if you especially realize that most white and black Americans who are 4th and 5th generation and above have some inter-mixture in their families, then really, there are probably all sorts of tangled family lines in Clinton, Edwards, McCain, Romney and Huckabee's family trees (should I also mention Rudy, although does anyone think he's really in it anymore?).

Wouldn't it be great if, as a way to get beyond the ugliness of the "racialized/racist" atmosphere of these primaries we could get all candidates in both parties to talk frankly and candidly about the mixed race nature of their own family trees....Who wouldn't love to hear those tales told...but yes, that'd happen as quickly as our sitting administration admitting that "Woops" we made a mistake--never should have sorry...we messed up. Our bad.

[June 24, 2008--Addition: For those of you wanting more information on Maya Soetoro-Ng, you can see this post from March 15, 2008, which includes a video that Soetoro-Ng made for her brother's campaign and a New York Times article about their mother Stanly-Ann Dunham]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why do I teach and why does it matter?

Late last night, before turning in, I discovered that I had been "tagged" by Tenured Radical and The Constructivist to respond to the following meme that originated on Free Exchange on Campus, which was in turn inspired by Dr. Crazy's early January post "Why Teach Literature."

(Is everyone following so far? Many of the names I mentioned are links to the blogs and a definition of a meme for anyone who doesn't know what it is -- I had to google it for a precise definition).

I have to admit that when I found out that I was tagged not once but twice, and after reading the very impressive, inspiring, and articulate answers to this question, I felt (and still feel) a bit daunted. But I'm a teacher--let me rise to the challenge--so here goes:

WHY I TEACH _________________ & WHY IT MATTERS

I think the first thing I want to start with is


I teach because I have to: it is my calling. Like any job or career, there is a material benefit to this particular profession, and I enjoy the fruits of my labor in terms of a paycheck. But I teach because I can't imagine operating in the world in any other way. It's not just a job--it's not just a career--it's not just a paycheck. I happen to teach literature. Well not "happen" -- that's a choice and there's a reason. But if I think about alternative career choices, they all somehow end back in the classroom: teaching law, teaching cooking, teaching quilting. I feel I was meant to teach because I feel that through teaching I make a difference in the world. Yes, a grandiose claim, as is the claim that teaching is a calling for me rather than a profession (and I say I'm agnostic). But it's true. There you have it. The inner-cynic has gone to bed. I want to make a difference, a positive difference, in the lives of my students and my colleagues. I teach because I want to make my own life better and richer. There's a feeling in the classroom when you make a connection with students, it's magical--especially when they make a connection with something you've just said and they go further. I guest lectured today in a graduate seminar (on issues of cultural diversity in education) and it was so much fun! I love hearing the stories that students have to tell, and I love telling stories of my own (I don't mean personal stories, I mean that I have a pedagogical style that emphasizes narrative and discussion), and I especially love seeing how our stories meet-up, and how we produce knowledge together. Being a teacher is part performer, part critic, part analyst, and a few other things (at least for me). I don't really understand how I came to this understanding, that I was meant to teach, but I feel it in my gut. I am a teacher.


I am breaking this up into 2 parts because why I teach literature is a bit different from why I teach on issues of race, diversity, and anti-oppression. I teach literature because I love stories. I have a passion for narrative, and I believe that stories matter. I've actually already written about this in the post "Why Stories Matter" so I won't repeat myself here. Part of it seems completely self-indulgent--who wouldn't love to teach contemporary fiction to students? My job is easy--contemporary fiction is "fun" to read. And sure I do the usual close reading/critical thinking/research writing skills, but we also talk about larger themes--looking at the connections, for example, between F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and the American dream and how that gets rearticulated over sixty years later in Chang-rae Lee's Aloft, where Long Island still continues to hold mythic sway on the American literary imagination (subdivisions and all). The skills for interpreting literature are skills for interpreting life. And perhaps even more importantly, stories let us imagine worlds beyond our own, not just to escape in (although there is pleasure in that) but to find hope and solace -- stories make us realize that we are not alone, that there are others, whether its the author creating the narrative or the characters populating that work, who just might feel the way we feel and think the way we think and live the way we live. Or perhaps these characters feel, think, and live differently from us, and that, too, gives us hope and solace for reimagining our own lives.

Why I teach on issues of race, diversity, and anti-oppression is perhaps what David Horowitz and crew are afraid of: that I have an agenda--that I am trying to "convert" my students--that I'm one of those politically correct, lefty-liberal, atheistic, vegetarian, tree-hugging, feminist, hippie, socialist, queer friendly type of professors who will oppress my students with my "revisionist" history of the world.

Well...maybe...although I eat my steak rare and am probably too consumer oriented to be considered a hippie. I have hugged a tree, a sequoia, but couldn't quite get my arms around it. All joking aside, let me clarify. I am not out to convert anyone. But I do believe in a basic principle: I want to work to end oppression. I believe that oppression is bad. And more specifically, I believe racism is bad. And when I teach a course on race in American culture or race in American literature, I am clear with my students that we will look at race, all races--white as well as "minority" (or my preferred term, people of color)--and we will think about the way "race" is discussed in these works of literature (or film or photographs or other forms of mass culture) and the effects of race on people's lives. And when I talk about racism I talk about white privilege. And I do this because I think there is a value to our society in ending oppression. And I have yet to find a student who didn't think racism was bad and who didn't want to end racism (the definition of racism and how to end it, that's a different story that I'll save for another day). I don't always do a good job--for example, I call myself queer friendly, but I don't know if my everyday practices are as in tune with ending gender and sexual oppression as they are with ending racial oppression. And certainly I hold my class and educational privilege quite casually and know that I take it for granted many a time. But I'm trying. And one of the ways I try is in the classroom with the courses I teach that address issues of race/racism (and other intertwined categories, because how can you talk about ending racism without ending sexism?).


Because I want to make the world a better place. Yep, we're back there. It sounds corny. It IS corny. But it's also true. I hesitated writing about this because it sounds so idealistic and a bit utopian, but I'm a glass-half full kinda gal. And the truth is, we have a lot of work to do. The world can be a dark and despairing place. But I have to have faith. I have to believe in the world I want rather than the one I have. And if I'm a teacher then I have a responsibility to do something about making the world I want.

So now I'm going to tag the following blogs/bloggers: CN Le Asian American Sociologist, Gilesbot 9000, Lesboprof, Prone to Laughter, and Sara Speaking. You can find their blogs to the right under the heading "Blogs I Like" and you can click on their names for a sample of their blogs. I look forward to hearing from them formally (since my charge is to tag 5 "teachers" for this meme) but I'd also love to hear from any regular commenters or lurkers who teach--Why do you teach _______ & why does it matter, to you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Magazine Plug: Hyphen's Hybrid Issue

For those of you tuning in who wonder, "This blog is called Mixed Race America and while it talks a lot about race, I don't see a lot of focus on mixed-race people" fear not--here's my plug, at least for a magazine issue that covers mixed-race Asian Americans.

If you haven't checked out Hyphen Magazine, please go to their website (click here). Hyphen is an Asian American magazine based out of San Francisco and their latest issue, #13, is called the "Hybrid" issue and features a spectacular image of mixed-race/Hapa professor-artist-author Kip Fulbeck on the cover.

Kip Fulbeck is definitely someone to check out. I already put in a plug for his book, Part Asian*100% Hapa in an earlier post (click here). He also has a memoir, Paper Bullets that talks about his life growing up Chinese-Irish American in Southern California and his activist-artist work at UC San Diego. And he's got some really interesting films--you can find out more about him on his website, Seaweed Productions.

The Hyphen "Hybrid" issue looks like it has some interesting articles about mixed-race issues for Asian Americans, and you can also check out this essay by San Francisco State professor Wing-mei Dariotis and why she can no longer use the term "hapa" to describe herself or other mixed-race Asian Americans (click here).

I'm subscribing to Hyphen today--I hope some of you will too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In need of blogging advice

I'm not exactly sure where to begin. I fear that what I am about to post is more of the "journaling" variety, but I also think that it's related to the issues of this blog, namely issues of race and especially how to talk about race and even more specifically, how to talk about race when the conversation starts to get uncomfortable, especially because you are no longer "preaching to the choir."

Let me begin by reiterating why I started this blog. I am working on a book project and wanted to make myself accountable in terms of writing a little something every week on the topic of race in America, especially under the phrase "mixed race" and my loose interpretation of that phrase. I was hoping to have interesting conversations with people about race and willing (or so I believed) to engage with people about race even if they didn't agree with me--that I didn't just want to "preach to the choir."

Now I'm going to start splitting some hairs. I want conversation but not fighting. I say I want dialogue, but I'm not sure I want debate. I want people to feel safe in this space, but I also admit that talking about race isn't always comfortable.

But what do I really want?

Recently, a series of exchanges on the post asking people to define race ("What exactly, IS "race" (or is it just race)? -- January 18, 2008) led to some exchanges that left people (including me) feeling uncomfortable and on the defensive. In fact, one person wrote a very thoughtful blog post about it (and has given me permission to link to it here), which further challenged me to think about how I'm moderating comments and the kinds of discussions I want to be having and the exhaustion factor in all of this.

And then, just now, I rejected my first comment. I don't want to go into the particularities for privacy reasons, but it feels weird to have invoked my "rules" (which you can see on the right sidebar) as a reason for not publishing the comment, but ultimately I felt like the "spirit" of the comment was not respectful nor did it suggest a desire for conversation but rather seemed, to me, dismissive and looking for a fight.

And I don't want to fight. I'm not trying to make an argument, unless you think it's making an argument to say that I want an end to racism, and I want to find a way to engage in anti-racist teaching and practices.

I've already written about the myriad ways that I am privileged, so I feel a bit sheepish saying that I'm exhausted, but today I am. Because I don't want to reveal personal information, I won't say what is currently adding to my exhaustion, but truly, even just trying to work through the intricacies of blogging etiquette, and the additional layer of blogging etiquette with race (or other controversial topics like politics/gender/sexuality/class) makes me feel really tired and unprepared to do the work I need to be doing (ie: writing a book so I get tenure and can keep working on anti-racist issues and teaching).

So here's my call, especially to anyone who blogs: what is the right etiquette about commenting and moderating comments--and is there a "right" etiquette or is there just trying to go with your gut? Where is the line between wanting to have a conversation and not wanting to engage in a fight where there's just back and forth arguing and potentially unhelpful and hurtful comments on both sides? Where do you draw the line in terms of wanting to have meaningful dialogues with people who may not share my own views of race and yet wanting to be on the same page with everyone I'm talking to.

Do I just want to preach to the choir?

This is what I'm really asking myself, and I don't have an answer. The teacher in me says no, that's ridiculous--if I were in the classroom this wouldn't be given a second thought. But this isn't my day job, this is a side project for the real project of writing a book. And I don't have tenure and thus feel a bit more vulnerable, whether that is real or imagined, it's in my head so it may as well be real.

I have so much respect for a blogger like Tenured Radical who can take on all sorts of comments and handle it with aplomb and intelligence and articulateness. But I'm not Tenured Radical, I'm ... well, untenured-liberal-trying-to-be-progressive-wanting-to-try-out-ideas.

Anyway, any advice would be appreciated from the wisdom of the blogosphere.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Honoring Dr. King

James Taylor's song "Shed a Little Light" is in honor of Dr. King. This video uses Taylor's song to highlight MLK Jr's legacy and to shed light on the incidents in Jena, LA (there is a description of Jena and how you can help at the end of the video).

I've been thinking about how I want to personally honor Dr. King's legacy today, the official MLK Jr. Holiday, and have decided that I will be writing a letter today (or perhaps several letters) to various government officials protesting the use of torture (specifically water boarding) of prisoners. Will it make a difference? The inner cynic says no. Is it enough? No on that score too--it's easy to write a letter from the comfort of my home office on my laptop computer. But it's a small start and perhaps a year from now I will have escalated my own small acts of resistance and be doing something more active. But before you can run you have to put on your running shoes, so I figure this is my first step.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

If only we could take it back...Part II

I'm returning to the Tiger-Tilghman issue, which I originally blogged about on Friday, January 11, 2008 "If only we could take it back" and you can click on the link to that post for a re-cap.

What I want to direct your attention to now is an ESPN continuation of the story vis a vis a Golfweek Magazine cover featuring a noose. The ESPN link (click here) covers the story about Tilghman's remark, Tiger's lack of reaction, Golfweek's decision to highlight the story using a controversial image, and the firing of the editor and vice president, Dave Seanor.

What I want to draw your attention to are a few quotes from Seanor:

Quote 1: "Most people who are objecting to it [the magazine cover]-- within the golf industry -- are saying this episode was just about over," Seanor said. "I think it's indicative of how, when you bring race and golf into the same sentence, everyone recoils."

Quote 2: "I wish we could have come up with something that made the same statement but didn't create as much negative reaction," he said. "But as this has unfolded, I'm glad there's dialogue. Let's talk about this, and the lack of diversity in golf."

Quote 3: "Look at the executive suites at the PGA Tour, or the USGA, or the PGA of America. There are very, very few people of color there," he said. "This is a situation in golf where there needs to be more dialogue. And when you get more dialogue, people don't want to hear it, and they brush it under the rug. This is a source of a lot of pushback."

The first thing I'll say is that I believe someone should have been fired for the noose cover. It was in horrible taste and premeditated and inflammatory rather than provacative. But I also agree with these quotes from Seanor--golf has not been quick to examine its history of racism (and sexism and homophobia). In fact, most everyone just wants to sweep all of this under the rug. And while I've already ruminated on the Tilghman quote, what I wish it did was to expose the sensitivity of race and the history of racism within the sport of golf--and the continued sexism of places like Augusta, which does not allow women members.

And if you do click on the ESPN link, please take a look at the video footage. There is a very interesting discussion about Tiger's silence and the role he should be playing in all of this. I think I'll save my own comments for another post, but what I will close with is to say that as much as I or others may want Tiger to comment on this incident, what I really wish is that Phil Mickelson or Nick Faldo or Jack Nicklaus would come out and say something--that someone other than Tiger, the person of color, would take a stand against racism and call for us to look deeper into the problems of the sport. In other words, rather than just calling on African Americans to decry racist incidents or a history of discrimination against African Americans, why not have white allies (or allies of any color) take up the charge and take a stand. This would be another example of anti-racist praxis--of going outside of your "identity" politics and to protest because racism is something we should all protest because it affects us all (yes, I know I'm sounding like a broken record about this, but this blog is called "Mixed Race America.")

I love golf. But it has problems. And rather than gloss over those problems and defend it absolutely, I want to shine some light on the past so that the future will not be as dark.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What, exactly, IS "race" (or is it just race)?

If we're going to define racism, it strikes me that the next step is to define race, especially if, ultimately, what we want to do is to come up with strategies for an anti-racist praxis.

My own definition of race was influenced while I was in college by Michael Omi & Howard Winat's Racial Formation in the United States (it's going into a 3rd, post 9/11 edition). [I'm withholding my own definition entirely, this time, to hear what others have to say, although if you've read Omi & Winant you can figure out how I define race pretty easily].

So once again, I throw out this question to the blogosphere: How do you define race? Does it differ depending on context/audience? And especially for those of you in the classroom who talk about, teach about, issues of race/diversity/ethnicity/culture, how do you define race for your/with your students? What are their points of resistance/acceptance? And what strategies have you found that work best to talk about race (and racism and anti-racism)?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I feel privileged

There are moments when I am amazed, really absolutely amazed, at my life. I was at a meeting recently where we had to go around the room and talk about our "professional autobiographies"--how did we get to be where we're at, academically speaking. And like many people, I never thought I'd be a university professor. My parents, themselves, never went to college. The stakes of getting into a PhD program, finishing, and landing a tenure track job are just SO HIGH that I really am in awe of how I ended up at Southern U. And the fact that I feel passionate about what I do--about the novels I teach and research and the topic of race in America, just adds a cherry to the top of my sundae.

So all in all, I feel privileged.

I was reminded of this feeling last night when sitting around a dinner table with some pretty high caliber folk. Because I want to remain pseudonymous and because such things are confidential, I will only say that at one point, as we're having this lively dinner conversation about how to make the Humanities matter and how to make what we do in the ivory tower more accessible to spheres outside--and the question of knowledge production versus dissemination (are they the same? what counts as good knowledge?) I really just felt privileged, both in the sense of being honored to be part of this conversation but also privileged in having access to being invited to such a dinner, to having my voice heard and my opinions considered.

And it's really about access. And about who feels like they get to take part in the conversation. And language. Who has the language to be part of this conversation. We were, for the most part, a bunch of liberal academics with strong social justice agendas, either in our personal politics or professional lives (or both). I actually disclosed that I "blogged" and that I'm doing this, in part, to try to have conversations with people about race whom I wouldn't normally have conversations--both because I can't possibly be flying to Canada and Oregon and California and all the other places where people who comment live. But also because, in my day to day life, my friends and my co-workers are mostly like me--PhD holders, liberal-progressive, and immersed in life in a university.

So this blog was partly a way for me to practice what I preach--to try to really talk to people about race where it's not just preaching to the choir. And to really have conversations with people about race where we can agree to disagree and try out ideas and be uncomfortable but also to be respectful and to create knowledge, together.

I've often wondered who is reading this blog--especially since I added the nifty map of the world which shows you where readers are coming from (although I know very well that google searches probably account for 80% or more of the traffic, which means it's people accidently clicking on). So if you've never left a comment, here's your chance, just to say why you are reading this blog or even if you just came across it by happenstance. But really, what I want to acknowledge is the kind of privilege I have--to be able to think about race in America, to research mixed-race issues, and to have the time to blog about such things. Because I've had some great conversations with people and have really appreciated all the comments I've gotten, I think especially when they've pricked me, because as a wise person once said, getting people angry and upset doesn't mean there isn't knowledge going on, it means that you've pushed someone's buttons to the point where you are making them think.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Stories Matter

I love stories. It's the reason I love what I do--I immerse myself in narrative. And I believe stories matter. A great deal. And I don't just mean fictional narrative (although there's nothing better than curling up with a big fat novel on a rainy day in a comfy armchair with a warm mug of tea), I mean stories that we tell each other. Stories can be instructive, they can warn us, but they can also give us hope and inspiration.

I was listening to an NPR program about a lawyer who did some pro bono work for the family of the Virginia Tech shooter. As you can imagine, this family was in shock and grief and pain, and they wanted to figure out a way to reach out to the world and apologize for the actions of their son. And this attorney helped them convey this message--of the deepest sorrow and mourning--of darkness neverending--that they were so sorry for what their son had done and would be grieving until the end of their days. And the attorney said that his office received thousands of messages from around the world--messages of kindness and empathy, reaching out to the family in their grief, and the attorney's voice as he was talking about it, started to choke up and he said that he was overwhelmed at the kindness--that he didn't realize how kind people could be.

I sat in my car mesmerized by his story. Because in the face of such devastating tragedy and horror, there was also this story. A story about a family in grief and people responding with kindness instead of anger and retribution.

And I know that life isn't that simple (as the inner cynic is quick to remind me), but I also know that stories matter. The stories we share with one another, the ones we read, the ones we watch--they matter tremendously.

So on that note, I'm going to leave you with a paragraph from a novel I enjoy quite a bit, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. It's probably my favorite paragraph in the English language--it is a paragraph that I love so much, I wish I had the genius to write such a sentiment, because it feels so true.

"It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you life in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic."
--Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (218-219)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Defining Racism

If anyone has been following the comments in my last post, "If only we could take it back..." (January 11, 2008) then you will see that I have been asked the question:

"How do you define racism?"

Which is an important question to ask, given the topic and given a blog called "Mixed Race America."

And I have actually answered this in various forms in previous posts:

"Can I be racist?" (August 28, 2007)
"Individual Bigotry vs. Institutional Racism" (November 11, 2007)

And I've also acknowledged the difficulty of talking about race--why it's hard and why it can be so emotionally exhausting:

"Talking about race" (July 9, 2007)

And about my idealized vision of getting rid of the analytic category of race and replacing it with an anti-racist praxis and philosophy:

"Getting rid of race" (December 14, 2007) and "Living the Anti-racist Praxis" (December 14, 2007).

I don't expect anyone to go back and re-read all of these posts, unless you really do want to know what I think about all of this and how I define racism. I included these posts to show that I have blogged about it before but what I really want to know is, how do YOU define racism. I didn't get a lot of responses when I blogged about these issues in the past, so perhaps if I withhold my own definition, people will be more willing to give your opinion in the comment section--and of course if you then want to read what my definition is, you can and we can have a dialogue about it.

Or perhaps if it would help to know my own thumbnail belief, the cocktail party definition I would give is that racism is about an institutional system that upholds a racial hierarchy; in the U.S. this has meant those of European descent having access and privileges unavailable to non-European Americans.

I also think if we are going to talk about racism, we should also talk about white privilege--and one person who really talks about this in a very clear way is Peggy Macintosh, whose essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" is available by clicking on the title of the essay.

So another heavy topic--and here I was planning to tell you about some films I've recently seen featuring Paris as a little lighter blogging. C'est la vie!

Friday, January 11, 2008

If only we could take it back...

People make dumb comments a lot. We all do it--things we say and the minute it comes out of our mouths we realize that we sound like an ass or can be misconstrued to sound like an ass. Or we say things in the heat of the moment or in our younger, wilder, more ignorant days. Or, in some cases, we are coldly calculating and we mean to sound like an ass to be manipulative.

I start in this more humanist, universal way to remind myself that when I get righteous about the dumb things that people say, particularly about the racist (or racially coded and therefore implicated in a racial and racist hierarchy) things that people say, that I, too, have said things that have offended and hurt and shamed others.

But then again, I'm not a public figure (or I suppose as a professor, even an anonymous professor of Southern U I'm semi-public).

Recently there was a really IDIOTIC thing that got said about Tiger Woods by Kelly Tilghman (Golf Network anchor). Tilghman was bantering with another ex-pro golfer, Nick Faldo, at a golf tournament about Tiger Woods' dominance on the PGA tour and what younger golfers would need to do to beat Tiger (who has been for all intents and purposes, unbeatable, indominatable, untouchable). Faldo said that the young golfers would have to gang up on Tiger, and Tilghman made a remark that I'm sure she (and the rest of us) is regretting ever crossed her lips:

"Yeah, lynch him in a back alley"

Yes, a white female former pro-golfer, born and raised in South Carolina, who attended Duke University on a golf scholarship, and who has been on friendly terms with Tiger for a dozen years, made a stupid racist remark. On the face of it, some are saying it isn't racist because there wasn't malicious intent. In other words, Tilghman clearly wasn't suggesting that anyone should seriously try to string Woods up from a tree. Others are trying to claim that the word "lynch" doesn't really carry a particular racial connotation--that one can lynch people of any race.

But I mean, c'mon...really? A young woman born and raised in the South, whose parents owned a golf course in South Carolina, who attended Duke University in Durham, NC, she wouldn't be aware of how charged that word is, and she wouldn't be aware that making that comment about Woods, whom almost everyone sees as an African American golfer (the exceptions being those who try to recognize Tiger's bi-raciality or "cablinasian-ness" and the even fewer people who claim him as a member of the Asian American tribe), would be seen as violent and racist and just NOT FUNNY (some people are saying that because she was laughing when she made the remark it proves she didn't mean any harm). So making the suggestion, even in jest, even about a friend, that he should be "lynched," of course seems like a racist remark, because the whole act of lynching is steeped in racism. And even if we regard it as a thing of the "past," it's still not funny. And really, it's not a thing of the past. Lets look at some contemporaneous examples of lynching, and here it does cross racial lines because in 1982 there was a Chinese American girl in Chapel Hill, NC who was strung up to a tree and in 1998 Matthew Shepard, a gay white man, was tied to fence posts and left for dead and also in 1998 James Byrd, an African American man, was dragged behind a pick-up truck to his death (yes, technically both Shepard and Byrd were not tied to a tree, but I think their deaths--a result of extreme hatred due to their minoritized status (gay in one instance, black in another) are in the same vein as lynching.

So does that make Tilghman a racist and are her remarks just as damaging as Don Imus'? I bring up Imus because Al Sharpton used him as an example, claiming that Tilghman's remarks were just as bad as Imus and that like Imus she should be fired.

I don't know if Tilghman is more or less of a racist than Imus or more or less of a racist than anyone else. But I don't think that Tilghman's comments are the same as Imus'. Imus made racist and sexist comments about a group of college women. Tilghman made a racist remark about a multimillionaire golf champion. And Tilghman had a much smaller audience--the world of people who pay attention to golf is much smaller than Imus's audience. And Tilghman is a young woman, and I believe this is her first gaff, whereas Imus had been known for making regularly racist and offensive remarks.

I am contextualizing all of this, not because I'm trying to give Tilghman a "pass" or to say her remark was OK--it wasn't. And the Golf Channel has suspended her for two weeks as a result. She has apologized to her audience and apologized to Tiger Woods in person. And Tigers' "people" (his agent) has said that he holds no ill feelings towards Tilghman and has put the matter past him. And I don't think that just because Tiger is not upset that means other people shouldn't be upset. But I think I'm making all of these qualifications for this simple reason:

I wasn't even going to blog about this--mostly because I felt like other blogs had taken care of this issue (most notably Angry Asian Man). It wasn't until a reader of this blog emailed me and told me to check it out that I started to dig into the story. And when I read that people thought Tilghman should be fired for the same reason Imus was fired, I just felt like it wasn't the same--it didn't feel the same to me.

None of us wants to rank oppression--or rather, I don't. I don't want to say that one racist incident was worse than another or that one group experiences racism in a worse way than another. On the other hand, I have to say that in my experience, I do not have racist things said to me in, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the same way as my African American peers. I simply don't know what it's like to experience racism as an African American person. And I will go out on a limb and say that the instances of "Orientalizing" that I do experience (people asking me where I'm from or what language I speak) is minor in comparison to incidents that my African American friends have shared with me (for instance, to the best of my knowledge I've never been pulled over for driving for any random reason, I don't have people follow me in a department store, people don't assume I got into college through affirmative action, etc...).

But I don't know...I had this whole response typed out and then started talking to my white Southern boyfriend about all of this and he is OUTRAGED that Tilghman said this (and believes that with her background, she must have a fair degree of racism since he believes many white Southerners have internalized a fair amount of racism against black Americans and I guess he should know) and according to him "there's an undercurrent of racism in the South" that people just know about--and that especially someone like Tilghman should know better and should NEVER joke about lynching because it's extremely pointed, extremely racist, and should never be joked about, ever.

So I guess now I'm curious, should Tilghman be fired for what she said and is it as bad as/worse than Don Imus's remarks? Because I guess I'm contextualizing--looking at Tilghman's career versus Imus's career, and to me, there's no excuse for Imus and no real desire on his part to learn and be truly sorry and to educate himself. Whereas with Tilghman, well maybe there's hope. Maybe she will realize how wrong and how potentially damaging her remarks are. But am I also justifying her comments because I think it was a "first offense," because she's friendly with Tiger, because golf seems like such a smaller sphere, because I don't know what it's like to experience racism as an African American and didn't grow up in the South? How blind am I being to my own internalized racism and prejudices (which I hate to admit, and part of me was thinking of even deleting this whole post, because it's hard to admit your own blind spots, but I figure I should lay it all out here because if I can't be honest with myself about my internalized stuff, who can I be honest with? And I should let my blog readers call me on my bs as well).

I suppose I'll just end by asking anyone out there in the blogosphere to chime in with your thoughts and opinions, and perhaps the greater question: why does this all matter? I think it does, and I have my own opinions on this, but I'd like to know what anyone else has to say (and I may pick up this thread when I start to talk about "benign Orientalism," so be on the lookout.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do we have to choose between racism and sexism?

The spin post-New Hampshire primaries has been interesting, to say the least, as well as the hype leading up to them. Of particular note is Gloria Steinem's editorial in The New York Times, "Women Are Never Frontrunners" (January 8, 2008) where she actually makes a claim for sexism being more oppressive than racism (or perhaps to put it in a different way, where she seems to be arguing for gender being the greater liability than race in achieving equity in the U.S.).

I was thinking of either writing to The New York Times or writing a blog post in response to Steinam's op-ed, but then I saw that Tami at "What Tami Said" has already said everything I would have said (and said it better). In her post, "Dear Steinem: Ain't I a Woman too?" (January 9, 2008) Tami lays out all the problems with Steinem's (il)logic in continuing to rank oppression, most especially, the notion that African American men became eligible to vote 50 years ahead of women. Here's Tami:

"Steinem separates the race issue from the gender issue as if there are not some of us affected by society's views of both. Ain't I a woman, too?

[Steinem]:'That's why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).'

I assume that at 18, Gloria Steinem cast her first presidential vote in the 1952 election. Certainly society did not prevent her from doing so. My paternal grandfather was a 53-year-old black man living in Mississippi that year. He was not afforded that freedom. Do we really want to go here? Apparently not."

Read the entire post--it's smart and totally on point. And it reminds us all that ranking oppression or separating sexism from racism is truly a losing proposition for us all. Choosing between Obama and Clinton is not choosing to support sexism over racism. Both are historic candidates. But they are also, fundamentally, politicians and presidential candidates who have platforms and who want to serve in public office and have a sense of civic responsibility. I know the inner-cynic in me reads all of this very differently, but as an Obama supporter and a die-hard Democrat, let me take the higher road and say that all of these candidates, and I'm going to be extra magnanimus and include the Republicans (*take deep inner breath*), want to be President of the United States because they feel they want to make the United States a better place. We may feel like one candidate has a better plan and better vision than the other, but (and now I'm going to focus on the 3 Democratic front-runners) at the end of the day, what we want (as Democrats--so I'm speaking to my fellow-travelers now) is to have a viable Democratic candidate we can support. We don't want to start telling people that if they vote for Edwards they hate black people and women. Or that supporting Obama is against our best interests as women or to be a Clinton champion means supporting racism.

What we want is a win in November 2008 and an end to racism & sexism because they are oppressive systems that actually work well together and you really can't end one without the other.

But listen, don't take my word for it. Read Tami's post--because she really says it best.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reverse Racism!

I love this quote from David Roediger (UIUC History Professor):

"We should transform 'reverse racism' from a curse to an injunction (Reverse racism!)."
--in Towards the Abolition of Whiteness (1974)

This quote introduces Chapter 7, "Reverse Racism! Affirmative Action, the Family, and the Dream That Is America" in Robert Chang's Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law, and the Nation State. (Click here for information from NYU Press).

Chang is a critical race theorist and legal scholar at Loyola Law School (in Los Angeles--a lot of alliteration, I know), and his book is really smart for anyone who wants to read more about how Asian Americans fit into critical race theory (which is basically legal theory with a racial orientation/focus). And his chapter on affirmative action is so important because Asian Americans have been set up as this example, this "model minority" for why we don't need affirmative action, and Chang lays out very succinctly and importantly what affirmative action is and who benefits the most from affirmative action (taking into consideration the number of legacies at ivy league colleges and athletes who get into college on special admission policies).

Another scholar in support of affirmative action in particular and diversity in general is Scott E. Page at University of Michigan. There's a great New York Times piece about his work and, most interestingly, the scientific/mathematical model he helped to develop that shows how diversity benefits society, which is the basic premise for his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton University Press). You can read the article by clicking on this sentence.

For anyone who finds themselves in an argument about affirmative action or why diversity should matter, check out these two scholars. And remember, Reverse Racism!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Returning to Jamaica

Back in October, I wrote about my Uncle Frank (October 22, 2007) and the significant impact he had on my life, particularly as a mentor/role-model for me of an anti-racist activist. I also wrote about going back to California to attend his memorial service and being surrounded by my large extended family, who are part of the Chinese Jamaican diaspora (November 3, 2007).

And today I just booked my plane ticket to go to Jamaica to take part in a final farewell to my Uncle Frank: the scattering of his ashes in his hometown of Kingston. It will be my first trip to Jamaica as an adult, although my mother reminds me that I've been twice as a toddler (and that there are photos of me splashing about in Dunns River Falls--but of course I was 2 and have no memory of this whatsoever, although there is evidence in the form of photos). It will be a family reunion, of sorts, since several cousins and aunts/uncles will also be coming to help fulfill my Uncle's last request.

I do wonder about it--this last request of his--to be taken back to the place of his birth and his upbringing. He lived more of his life outside of Jamaica than inside it and, to the best of my knowledge, never seriously contemplated settling there after obtaining his degrees in North America (and certainly not after he started a family). I wonder about the tug of Jamaica on my Uncle--that he identified so intensely as Jamaican that he wanted his remains to be there instead of in the home he had known for almost 2/3 of his adult life.

My Uncle's allegiance and identification with Jamaica makes me think about my own conception of regional and national affiliation. I have already ruminated on this in the post "Proud to be an American" (sorry for so many cross-link listings!) but it does seem like this is the question I keep returning to: where is my national/regional/cultural allegiance and how strong is it?

For my Uncle, he would have told you that being Jamaican was in his blood (and he wouldn't have cared if you quoted anti-essentialist rhetoric at him). His license plate on his car read "rahtid," he cheered for the Jamaican soccer (excuse me, football) team every chance he got, the Jamaican flag and variations of it (the Jamaican colors of black, green and yellow) adorned his home, Reggae music (and I don't mean Bob Marley--no disrespect intended, but my family tends to scoff at Marley and think he's popular with non-Jamaican folk mainly) would blast from his car, and the foods he most craved were those of his childhood: stew peas, ackee with saltfish, and ox-tail.

My Uncle was proud to be Jamaican. And he never qualified it. He didn't say he was proud to be a Chinese Jamaican or a naturalized American-Jamaican-of-Chinese descent. For him, plain and simple, he was Jamaican.

I wonder what I will feel when I set foot there. Will I feel like I, too, am Jamaican, or at least part of a larger Chinese Jamaican diaspora? Guess I'll have to wait and see what happens next month.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Tolerance Fatigue"

A tip of the hat to Rachel's Tavern for putting a link to Jay at Illdoctrine and this video blog ("vlog") on Obama's Iowa win and something that Jay calls "tolerance fatigue."

Won't say more since Jay really says it best. I just hope that this doesn't happen, but it is a phenomenon that I think we have seen before.

One last thing: I love the last gesture that Jay makes at the sort've sums up the ambivalence that I (and I think others) have about the hope and promise of "America."

Friday, January 4, 2008

"This Defining Moment in History"

Barack Obama has won the Iowa Caaucuses by 38% (about 8% over Edwards and 9% over Clinton). In his own words, he has said:

“They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.”

I continually tell my students that the Civil Rights Movement did not happen that long ago--that only 50 years ago, the nation was in a state of racial disharmony; segregation and Jim Crow were only starting to be challenged.

Who would have thought that in 50 years we'd be seeing a truly viable candidate who identifies as both African American and mixed-race. Who has transnational and transracial ties. Who has invigorated voters across the spectrum, especially independent voters like this journalist (click on link).

I think we have to wait and see what will happen in New Hampshire and South Carolina and, of course, the Democratic National Convention and the election in November 2008. But no matter what else, Obama is right--winning Iowa was a defining moment in history in terms of race in America.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Proud to be an American

This morning on NPR they interviewed three people along Highway 10, the very most eastern and southern portions of it, asking them about the upcoming presidential race and which candidates had issues that spoke to them. And then they were asked whether they believed they were leaving their children with a country that was better than when they had inherited it from their parents. One man from Jacksonville, FL said that although these times seemed pessimistic, he was proud to be an American and therefore believed that he would leave his children with the state of the nation better than when he had inherited it from his parents.

And I was struck both by his naive sense of optimism and his patriotism. Because I don't know what he meant when he said he was proud to be an American.

So here I am, asking one of those obvious questions: What does it mean to say you are proud to be an American?

I am asking this literally--in other words, I'd be interested in hearing various opinions on this. And for those of you who do not feel or may have never felt national pride, why?

Also, for any readers of this blog not from the U.S. (or for those of you who don't identify as U.S. citizens), what does national pride mean to you?

I must confess that I am not someone who readily or easily takes on group identities. I've never really been a joiner or a fan. The sports I played in high school and which I continue to play are largely individual ones: tennis, badminton, golf, running. Aside from rooting for my High School football and basketball teams, I've never really cheered for a sports team or followed a particular sport (aside from golf, and again, it's individual players I watch and I don't know outside of Tiger whether I truly root for anyone). I'm spending a lot of time on sports because I think that there is a link between patriotism and sports fandom. Each seems predicated on wearing colors and symbols of your team--and supporting that team in good times and bad. There are songs and uniforms and anthems and a "home" base. Is my lack of sports fandom related to my lack of patriotism?

I really am not a patriotic person--or at least not in the same sense as the Jacksonville man. I don't tell people that I'm proud to be an American (at least not without irony); the history of the U.S. is too fraught for me in many ways. For every national achievement there is a darker underbelly. Western expansion and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad? Yes, it opened up the continent and literally and symbolically united East and West coasts of the U.S. It also displaced several American Indian tribes and the Chinese men, whose labor was necessary for the Western portion to be built, were summarily abandoned in Utah, not even able to gain passage on the trains whose tracks they had laid (since the trains were not open for Chinese to ride in). And of course, if you look at that photo at Promontory Point Utah, the silver spike ceremony, you will see Irish laborers and Railroad barons but no Chinese men.

And yet, I also believe that the fact that I (and many others) can point to the many flaws and fallacies of the U.S. is, perhaps, the moment when I do feel the strongest connection to a national identity. I do know that the time I felt the most pride in calling myself an American came during an Asian American studies class that I took in college. The professor, a visiting scholar from UCLA who self-identified as hapa, in his case, half Japanese and half African American, on the first day of class read a conference paper he had written about the Japanese American internment. And as I listened to him I started to get so angry about the suspension of constitutional rights and the racism that Japanese Americans had faced during World War II. And when he was finished he turned to us and said that he was proud to be an American. Because he could read a paper to us criticizing a major governmental policy. Because as a hapa man he could teach us this history at a major U.S. university. Because in the U.S. we have the freedom to speak truth to power, to criticize our government when they are failing us, and to vote our conscious (even though the cynical part of me wonders what good it often does if we keep repeating our mistakes or the votes don't get counted).

It is a moment I'll always remember, and on my less cynical days, I do like to think that this freedom--to voice dissent--makes me proud to be an American.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Questions I wished got asked to Presidential candidates...

It's a day before the Iowa Caucuses. And there's been a lot of attention to race and gender, particularly around two of the leading Democratic candidates.

So here's a series of questions I wish would get asked at some point in the run-up to November 2008:

"Mr. Edwards/Biden/Romney/Giuliani/McCain/Huckabee/Paul (fill in the blank), could you please tell us what it's like to run as a white American male candidate? Do you think you are "white" and "male" enough to get the white American vote? Will non white-American male voters be able to relate to your whiteness and maleness? Do you think your white maleness may be a hindrance in foreign policy issues with respect to world leaders who are not white and/or male? And finally, how did your white male privilege influence the kind of politician you have become and the kind of presidency you will have?"

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year Appreciations and Predictions

Happy 2008 everyone. I was trying to think of something inspirational or uplifting or profound to share for 2008. But the truth is, I mostly just feel pretty thankful for the past year and happy for being in a good place entering into 2008. So I thought I'd start the new year with a list of 10 appreciations and some hopeful (if fantastical) predictions.

Things I am thankful for:

1) That there are people who actually read this blog (I mean really, I figured it'd only be a handful of people I know but that there are actually people I have never met who tune in from time to time and leave comments, that's more than I ever expected when I started writing this).

2) Good writing. Seriously, I've read some pretty fantastic contemporary literature this past year--some titles that come to mind are FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES, STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER, and HANDBOOK TO LUCK.

3) Fellow travelers. This includes the people who read this blog, but I guess what I really mean is that I appreciate the conversations I've had with people about race and U.S. culture and American politics and ethnicity and culture and Asian American literature. I'm lucky to have colleagues/friends who are interested in similar topics and who also feel a sense of passion for these issues.

4) Good health--for myself but also for the people in my life I care about. I think in a very real way, my Uncle's death this past year really brought to light that what does count at the end of the day is your health.

5) Mentors and role models. I mean literal ones but also the writers and teachers and scholars I admire. Especially the ones who manage to be scholar-activists. Because as grandiose as it sounds, I also want to make a difference in the world.

OK, on to Predictions, which may just be fantasies, but you know, you have to have something positive to think about, right?

6) A Democratic win! (I'd like it to be Obama, but truly, ANY Democratic win in Nov. 2008 would make me deliriously happy).

7) People will stop equating an attention to race with racism. This is something I've noticed in a couple of the snarky (nasty) blog comments I've read--that anytime someone draws attention to racial issues or racial differences the "snark" will snarl and say that those comments/opinions that focus on race mean that the person is "racist" because they are paying attention to race. WRONG! It truly would be a fantastic day when we could all get on the same page with a working definition of racism--that it's systemic/institutional more than just individual. But more importantly, paying attention to an aspect (race) of the problem (racism) doesn't make someone racist--it makes that someone a person who is attempting to be anti-racist (at least that's my idealistic spin).

8) More attention to climate change issues! Please, we really do only have one planet--it's like the health thing. We really do need to take care of our health and the health of the planet first! Remember: reuse, reduce, recycle.

9) Tiger wins grand slam in golf this year! (Yes, I'm a, somewhat abashed, Tiger Woods fan. It's like eating meat, sometimes I feel guilty about it and wish I could be a vegetarian. But then I eat a great ribeye and just feel happy).

10) Teachers are treated with the same respect and paycheck as doctors/lawyers/financial traders/computer techs. Wouldn't that be a great day? For teachers to actually be compensated for their worth? And I don't mean university/college professors (although they are teachers and deserve respect) I mean the K-12 teachers who are there in the trenches. If you haven't written a thank you letter to that one teacher who made a difference in your life--who said the encouraging thing or who took some extra time with you, even if it was in the 2nd grade, think about doing that today or tomorrow. I know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Mrs. Hansen (2nd & 3rd grade teacher), Ms. Bennett (Sophomore English teacher) and Ms. Kindle (9th, 11th, and 12th grade English). They gave me, and so many others, so much. So I'm glad that I end with both an appreciation and a prediction, because here's to the teachers of the world, wherever you are, getting the recognition you richly and rightly deserve.

Happy New Year and here's hoping for these predictions to come true in 2008!