Thursday, July 31, 2008

The politics of racial satire

I know I'm about two weeks behind on talking about the now infamous New Yorker cover of the Obamas--the one that was meant to be satirical.

[This is the cover in question]

There have been A LOT of talking heads, bloggers, and journalists who have weighed in on this issue already--The Huffington Post (this is actually a Q&A with New Yorker editor, David Remnick, but it contains a link to Rachel Sklar's own take (and several comments) about the cover, Racialicious (who talks about its link to hipster racism and the long comment threads are, as always, very interesting reading), and The New York Times, which gives an account of political satire in the general public sphere related to the upcoming presidential elections.

And really, after all these people have said so much, what exactly do I have to add to all this?

Simply this: racial satire is difficult and is best avoided by any but the most practiced and skilled of humorists.

According to the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary, satire is defined as:

1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

One of the most famous satirists, Jonathan Swift, was reviled after he wrote "A Modest Proposal" in which many readers did not understand that he was not seriously proposing cannibalism as a remedy to poverty in Ireland. The essay is now a model for exactly what the definition of satire suggests--it uses irony and trenchant wit to expose the ridiculousness and vice of the impoverished situation of many in Ireland living under British colonial rule.

Now racial satire is a more distinct entity than satire--it's not simply political satire as The New York Times article wants to suggest; racial satire hinges on a distinct understanding on the parts of the person creating the satire and her/his audience. It requires, in other words, an understanding of racism and in the U.S. what those conditions have been like for various groups--what those stereotypes are--so that the send-up, the sarcasm, the satire will be successful.

And racial satire seems best practiced when the person who is doing the satire is sending up the racial group that s/he identifies with. Hence Margaret Cho's routine when she talks about being Korean and Asian American can be seen as satirical because she is mocking both mainstream culture (largely white) as well as her fellow Korean and Asian Americans. And it's easier for us to take her racial satire because she is speaking from an in-group position.

Similarly, in "The Racial Draft" skit, Dave Chappelle introduces his skit by talking about his Asian American wife and the difficulties of multiracial identification. His personal admission lets us know that he is speaking from a place of experience--and if he has children, they will be part of the "confusion" that he is trying to satirize.

Yet even with Cho and Chappelle, there can be moments of discomfort--times when I laugh and I wonder what, exactly, am I laughing at...and moments of discomfort wondering if the other people around me (I've been to several of Cho's live shows) really "get" the joke.

Racial satire, and really, racial humor in general, are so tricky that a comedian as skilled as Dave Chappelle has cancelled his show, in part, because he was disturbed by some white people not getting the satire--not understanding that what he was trying to do was to expose the absurdity of race and racism in a humorous vein and not simply to mock African Americans and others.

[BTW, this is what I've largely heard reported about Chappelle--but does anyone have a link to an interview he has done that specifically talks about the reasons he ended his show?]

The New Yorker cover failed, in my opinion, largely because a magazine like The New Yorker isn't skilled in handling racial satire and not only didn't show an appropriate sensitivity but also failed to make that satire clear--as one commenter noted in the Racialicious thread, if this image had appeared in the heads of an anxious, white conservative voter, or even an "average white American" and then another thought bubble appeared with an "average African American" or even the Obamas' themselves picturing the scene very differently, THEN, maybe, we could see the satire better.

But even had they done this, The New Yorker is indelibly marked as an elitist magazine, one associated with the New York upper-East side intelligensia, largely marked as white (albeit liberal). If this same image had appeared on the cover of Ebony or Jet or Hyphen or Colorlines, I think there would have been a different reaction--some people may have still talked about the inappropriateness of the cover, but the context would have changed a lot--the readership of these magazines would be assumed to have more access to the stereotypes and to understanding the racism inherent in what was trying to be satirized. And the staffs and editorial boards (and editors-in-chief) of these magazines would be assumed to be either people or color or white allies who understand the fraught dynamics of race and racism and the trickiness of racial satire.

Because at the end of the day, some things aren't funny. And while I know The New Yorker was trying to talk about the politics of fear and anxiety that lead some people to view the Obamas through the lens of the cover, the unfortunate reality is that like in Swift's 18th C. Ireland, many people didn't get the joke and just assumed that the cover was a reflection of reality rather than a mirror held up to the racist fantasies of some people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Racial satire: The Racial Draft

Since I really AM planning to write about racial satire later in the week, I thought I'd provide an example of racial satire from someone who has now retired from the limelight, Dave Chappelle. This is one of the most famous skits that he did from his now defunct show.

There are actually things about this skit that I do wonder about--like "Jews" being depicted as a "racial" category, and the slide between "Asian" and "Chinese" that happens. And there's once again an absence of indigenous people. But as an example of racial satire, I think this one is a pretty prime example (with some pretty funny bits).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The educator hat

I, as regular readers of this blog know, am a golfer. And I found myself recently playing with 2 good friends and a 4th person who joined our group on the back 9 (he was a solo player and asked if he could join us rather than playing through).

This fourth add-on, "D," was in his late 60s, white, very physically fit (he qualified for the Boston Marathon recently) and was a nice enough guy--decent golfer. And according to golf etiquette, you make chit-chat as you play, so he talked with my friends "S" and "T" about what he does, about restaurants, his children and grand-children, and then he, in turn, asked us about our line of work (we're all professors) and when he got to me, I told him I was working on a book, and that led to him asking what about, and I said, "racial ambiguity" and then I braced myself.

Because the truth is, I didn't want to talk to him about my book. At least not on the golf course and not at that moment. Because I knew that I might have to make a choice--it's one that many of you may have had to face in certain situations--the moment when a stranger you are chatting with on an airplane, at a grocery store, in the subway makes a comment that you find offensive/invasive/inappropriate/distasteful/crass/ignorant/racist/sexist/bigoted/homophobic/out-of-line and you have to decide: is this a teachable moment and do I want to be that teacher.

I managed to steer the conversation to safe waters with "D" by talking about my last chapter, which is on Tiger Woods, and then focusing on Tiger's recent injury and his amazing win at Torrey Pines.

Why did I avoid talking to "D" about issues of race? Wouldn't this potentially be a prime moment for me to educate him? To talk about issues of diversity? To address any misperceptions (if he had any) about mixed-race Asian Americans or about race in general?

The truth is, I didn't have my educator's hat on, and I didn't want to put my educator's hat on. And it's something I struggle with when I find myself in public and debating: should I say something or should I let things go? And it's something I struggle with because my radar is tuned very high with respect to issues of race/gender/sexuality (I'd add class, but the truth is, that's a weak spot with me--I'm too comfortable in my middle-class privilege sometimes). Sometimes I just want to play golf with my friends. Because golf etiquette dictates that when someone asks if he can play with you (when he's a solo guy--and I'm using that gendered pronoun deliberately because I've never had a solo woman ask to play--I've probably seen a total of 3 women playing solo in my four-plus years of playing regular golf) that you say yes, there wasn't much I could do. And really, it's a good rule in golf. It teaches you to meet other people and to be civil, and that's the other golf etiquette rule--to try to be civil--you've got 9 holes to play together--thats about 2 hours on the course together. I didn't want to get weird and angry and righteous. I don't even know if "D" would have said anything to make me feel that way, I just know from previous experiences with people that talking about race and racial ambiguity with me often gives total strangers license to say things that I find offensive or at least mildly irritating and then I have to debate about putting my educator's hat on. And sometimes I don't want to educate. I just want to play golf.

Or make 5 photocopies. I was recently reminded of this because a post I wrote a year ago, "Do I need to travel to China," has recently been crossposted on Anti-Racist Parent, and there's a very interesting and lively discussion going on there based on the interaction I had with one older white male gentleman who thought I was "Hawaiian."

I am a teacher--it is in my blood--it is a calling. But it's exhausting to feel like you are always "on"--to have to make that choice right in the moment of whether you are going to put on your educator's hat.


I am feeling like this is a whiney way to end this post. I'm not trying to complain--certainly not about the fact that I avoided talking about race openly with a stranger on a golf course. That just sounds stupid. What I am saying is that I wish people would sometimes stop and think about what they are asking and to whom. Because I don't want to tell you where I'm from or have you tell me (as one woman did recently) that a black coach calling a kid "whitey" is the same as a white coach calling a kid "n****" and I don't want to explain to you that I'm not from Hawaii, even if you think I *look* Hawaiian. I just want to go about my life and play golf and buy groceries and make my photocopies like everyone else.

But if you really want to know what I think about race and racism and ways to have conversations about race, then by all means, find your way to this blog or enroll in one of my classes at Southern U. Then you will have my undivided attention and my educator's hat will be firmly in place. But on the golf course? I just want to worry about whether I should be using my nine iron or my pitching wedge to make it to the green.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Margaret in the morning

This is an excerpt from Margaret Cho's stand-up routine I'm the One That I Want (the best of the DVDs in my opinion).

[Racial humor is a hard medium but I think Cho has nailed a lot of the stereotypes and blunders that Asian Americans encounter with some pretty funny zingers "Thank you Mr. Eddy's father"--a dated reference to the tv series The Courtship of Eddy's Father]

I'll be talking more about racial satire this week so I thought I'd prime the pump with this tidbit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

T.G.I.F.: Free college, Berea college

A few days ago The New York Times did a story on Berea College in Kentucky, a college founded in 1855 that does not charge tuition. That's right--if you get accepted into Berea and matriculate, you don't pay a dime in tuition (and they are ranked #75 among small liberal arts colleges according to U.S. News and World Report--which we should all take with a grain of salt, these rankings, but figured I'd include them for what they are worth).

This is a description of Berea from their college website:
Berea College is distinctive among institutions of higher learning. Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, Berea charges no tuition and admits only academically promising students, primarily from Appalachia, who have limited economic resources. Berea’s cost of educating a student exceeds $23,000 per year.

[View of sunset from Berea college athletic fields]

According to their "About the College" site, 1 in 3 students at Berea are also members of an ethnic minority. So here we have a college that is free, that was the first interracial and coeducational college to open its doors in the South (and this during a time well before the likes of Brown vs. Board of Education and well before places in the South like Vanderbilt and Sewanee were opening its doors to African Americans and women), and whose mission is to educate promising students who wouldn't normally be able to afford the exorbitant tuition and cost of living at places like Harvard, Swarthmore, and Stanford.

That, is truly a Great Impossible Feat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hating the racism not the racist

Jay Smooth at Ill Doctrine breaks down how to have a conversation with someone who makes a racist statement (tip of the hat to Racialicious--btw, you should read their comment thread because Jay Smooth chimes in with his two-cents as comment #25)

It's good advice, because he's right--calling people "racist" (even if you KNOW they are) shuts down the conversation pretty quickly. I don't mean that you shouldn't call people on their stuff. But if you really want someone to hear you and make change, then calling them names (even if it's accurate) won't accomplish much in the way of making them see your point. Plus, the further truth is, it's obvious. And I don't mean that it's obvious that the person is racist because s/he made a racist statement, I mean that we have been living in a nation imbued with white supremacy* and white privilege, so OF COURSE almost all of us are racist to various degrees and have internalized these beliefs--people of color and non-people of color alike. So saying the obvious doesn't push the conversation to the point where you get people to STOP saying racist stuff.

[*Note about "white supremacy": I know some people will read this and assume I mean white people in white sheets burning crosses. That's not what I mean. Sure the KKK and other "white pride" groups are part of a white supremacist ideology, but they are easy targets to take down and even to understand--in other words, their brand of hatred is so over-the-top (and violent) that it's easy to condemn and to brand as "white supremacy." The harder kind to understand--the one that I'm talking about, is the subtle (and not so subtle at times) ways in which the foundation of this country has been a racial hierarchy that reinforces the message that the more white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant you are, the better--that those who are most "white" hold the most power and are most attractive, most intelligent, most capable, most American. Everyone else has to try to get as "white" as they can if they want access to the goods, if you will. Hence, "darker" Euro-Americans like Italians and Irish, ones originally marginalized and vilified ("wop" is an acronym for "without papers"--undocumented people--illegal aliens), eventually achieved "whiteness," in some cases because they were contrasted with a worse, less white, unassimilable group (in the 1ate 19th C. the debate was whether Irish or Chinese were the worse pestilence in terms of immigrants. Irish lost--they got to be "white"--Chinese were relegated to "yellow peril"). For more, read David Roediger's The Wages of Whiteness.]

Now, having said that, just calling people on their stuff doesn't mean that they thank you or that they even apologize. Most of the time when you tell someone in whatever way, polite or rude, that what they just said was offensive because of [fill in the blank] and that you have construed their comment as "racist"--that person will (a) get defensive (b) call YOU a racist for turning every conversation into one about race (c) re-direct the conversation (d) tell you that s/he is not racist and s/he has LOTS of friends who are black/Asian/Latino/American Indian.

And THAT kind of reaction can drive you to want to (a) throw heavy and sharp objects at this person (b) sputter incoherently until your eyeballs roll back in their sockets (d) call them all sorts of names (including screaming YOU ARE A [pick your expletive of choice] RACIST! (d) all of the above

I was once at a cocktail party and had grown so passionate and righteous that I literally cornered a guy (the type I like to call WIWL: Well Intentioned White Liberal) and pointed my index finger at him, jabbing the air to punctuate my points, particularly the one in which I said "What are YOU doing to end racism in this country!"

WIWL did not hear me. I didn't call him a racist directly, but everything else about our interaction clearly indicated that if I was in a forced-choice exercise (racist/anti-racist) that I would have slotted him in the big "R." The glass-half-full part of me would like to think that I managed to get into his head, somewhere and somehow. And that maybe, just maybe, this will get him to re-think some of his positions--or at the very least to realize that he is going to get called out on racist bullshit like saying "I don't understand why black people have separate churches and can't go to a regular church like everyone else." AGHHH!!!!!! But more likely what I did was shut down the conversation because all he heard was "this woman is calling me a racist."

So what should we do? It's hard to hate the racism and not the racist, but it IS important to do that if we want to engage in effective anti-racist practices (and cornering someone and pointing your finger at them is NOT effective--it is hard for me to practice what I preach, I admit. I'm trying though...I really am). But if anyone else has any practical strategies for dealing with these scenarios, I'm sure everyone is all ears (or eyes rather).

[BTW: If anyone is confused about how I am using terms like "racism" and "anti-racist practice" you can look to one of the sidebars that breaks down key selections of previous posts on issues of race (as well as mixed-race and Asian American issues) or you can go to this previous post "Defining Racism."]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mixed race reading (and viewing)

In a continuation of the reading recommendations I've been making this week for race/anti-racism & fun summer fiction, let me now make a plug for some key selections of mixed-race reading.

*Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural. Claudine Chiawei O'Hearn, editor. New York: Pantheon (1998)
--Good collection of first-person essays by a range of people who identify as mixed heritage and multiracial or written by parents in interracial relationships discussing their thoughts about their children's identities and how being in a mixed family impacts them (Gish Jen's essay, in particular, addresses this issue). One of my favorites in this collection is Danzy Senna's "The Multatto Millennium"--it's very tongue-in-cheek.

*Mixing It Up: Multiracial Subjects. SanSan Kwan and Kenneth Spiers, editors. Austin: University of Texas Press (2004).
--This is more "academic" in nature--largely because it is written by academics, but it offers a broad range of essays that ruminate on various mixed race issues, like Naomi Zack's essay on multiraciality and the 2000 census and issues of mixed race in popular culture.

*Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption. Randall Kennedy. New York: Pantheon Books (2003).
--I know I've mentioned this book before, but it's really a very solid book, through and well researched, and really gets at the legal and social issues surrounding interracial relationships of various sorts, not just marriage or partnerships but also familial ones. Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law and his legal training shows in the court cases he analyzes, but court cases are important when looking at issues of "miscegenation" or the better contemporary term, interracial relationships.

On the fiction side of things, let me introduce you to some mixed-race authors whose protagonists or plot-lines also pivot on issues of multiraciality--I won't give you a blow by blow because I could go on and on about these works, but you can google them to find plot synopses, and I GUARANTEE--these books are both very enjoyable/pleasure reading as well as reflecting some mixed-race experiences:

*Caucasia -- Danzy Senna

*My Year of Meats -- Ruth Ozeki

*The Painted Drum -- Louise Erdrich

*Edinburgh -- Alexander Chee

*Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience -- Chandra Prasad, editor

For some on-line reading, check out this post from Racialicious, "Not Quite White: When Racial Ambiguity Meets Whiteness," especially the comments (there are almost 100 at the time of this posting). The comments section on Racialicious are almost better than the posts themselves--in this case, you get to hear, directly, from people who live their lives with racial ambiguity.

Finally, check out this animated short by mixed-Japanese-Canadian Jeff Chiba Stearns (tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man). Stearns calls this genre "hapanimation" in honor of his mixed-race heritage. Check out his website Meditating Bunny--he's clearly a VERY talented guy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reading about race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Plug: The Yiddish Policeman's Union & Summer Reading

Recently I just finished reading Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union.

[For The New York Times book review, click here]

The basic plot of the book takes place in an indistinct present (it's not clear what year it is, but we know it's sometime in the 1980s or 19990s). Chabon has set up an alternative universe in which Sitka, Alaska is home to a settlement of Jewish people post-Holocaust/World War II--basically, the premise is that instead of going to Israel, much of the Jewish diaspora ended up in Alaska thanks to Harold Ickes. The protagonist and anti-hero is Meyer Landsman, a Sitka cop and titular member of the Yiddish Policeman's union (at some point in the novel he does actually whip out a union card). There is a murder. There are conspiracies. And interestingly enough, there are Filipinos in this landscape (and one of them makes the best Chinese donuts in the whole territory), which from my Asian American lit crit pov, made this also an interesting ethnic nugget in an already interesting story.

I really liked this book, and I like Chabon's style overall (I've read Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys although I haven't read the magnum opus, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). I don't want to say too much because unlike last week's movie reviews, I really don't want to give away any spoilers--I think that if you are looking for an engaging book and some good summertime reading, this is one I'd definitely recommend.

Which brings me to the second part of this post (and this requires some feedback from you, dear readers). What would YOU recommend for some summer reading fun? I'm sort've in-between novels right now. I have two Ian McEwan novels on my "to read" shelf--Atonement and Chesil Beach, but I can't seem to get into them right now (perhaps it's also because I saw the film version of Atonement so its less enticing for me to read a story that I sort've know, although I'm sure the novel will give me a different world than the film). I already read my two big Asian American fun summer reading, the latest works by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth and Susan Choi, Person of Interest--both of which I recommend, although some of the short stories in Lahiri's collection are stronger than others and both The Foreign Student and American Woman I liked better than Choi's latest novel.

But I'm always looking for good book recommendations--especially anything in the fiction category of either novels or short story collections. So PLEASE--if you are reading this and you just finished the latest novel by Author X and loved her/his novel Y, then share with me and the readers of this blog. I'm sure we'd all be grateful for good literary recommendations.

Friday, July 18, 2008

T.G.I.F.: Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

It's Friday, July 18, 2008, and 90 years ago Nelson Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa. And there are so many things that are T.G.I.F. (The Great Impossible Feat) about the fact that Mandela is celebrating his 90th birthday today.

[I love this photo of Mandela--don't you wish you were able to laugh like that WITH him--that would be incredible!]

Nelson Mandela devoted his life to issues of social justice and civil rights for people in South Africa and people around the world. He was imprisoned in Robben's Island for 18 years (he was sent there in 1964) and after 1982 he was transferred to a Pollsmoor prison until 1990. So he was incarcerated for over 26 years--all for wanting something so basic: the equal and fair treatment of black South Africans--the end of Apartheid, a system of oppression, racism, and violence. And this was not 26 years of easy living--he experienced torturous circumstances--physical as well as mental and emotional. And he refused to compromise his political convictions to secure an early release. He lived by his principles.

[This was Mandela's cell at Robben's Island]

Nelson Mandela's life and work became known to the world during his imprisonment, largely through his wife Winnie Mandela, as well as the scores of freedom fighters in South Africa and around the world working to end apartheid. When he was released he became president of the ANC, but more importantly, he worked to heal the wounds that apartheid had left--he became a symbol to his people and to the world of courage, of fortitude, and of forgiveness.

To learn more about Mandela, you can read his profile on the Nobel Prize website (he won the Peace Prize in 1993), listen to this piece on NPR, read about the significance of his life and work in this Root article, and watch a BBC slideshow about his life, while listening to an interview with him.

For any one of us to turn 90 would be an incredible feat. For a man whose life has been so great--a man who has worked so long and so hard for the cause of equality and peace, to turn 90 is truly a Great Incredible Feat.

Happy Birthday Madiba (what he is affectionately called by those in South Africa)--may you celebrate this day with those you love--there are many around the world who wish you all the best and all the blessings that you richly deserve.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Repeating history with a difference (and a vengeance)

[Waring: this is a LONG but IMPORTANT post about a current court ruling that EVERYONE should know about. Feel free to skim the first part of this post, but PLEASE make sure you read the last part]

I know it's a cliche to say that history repeats, but sometimes cliches have grains of truth that are hard to ignore. And while I find it hard to believe that we won't learn lessons from certain historical events by NOT repeating them, I do think that we do repeat patterns, we just do them with a slight difference, and in the case of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with a particular vengeance.

As some of you regular readers know, I'm working on a book chapter about the Japanese American Internment/Incarceration. For people whose knowledge of this particularly shameful period may be a bit scanty, in a nutshell FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the military to designate portions of the nation as military zones and allowed the military to target people they believed were threats to national security--pretty much carte blanche. There is NOTHING in the language of Executive Order 9066 that claims a particular region of the U.S. (or the world for that matter because we went into South America to detain people we thought were a threat and we brought these people to the West Coast) and there was nothing in the language that designated ethnicity or race. Of course, as MANY academics and other researchers have uncovered, there was really one and one and only group of people that the U.S. had any intention of detaining, evacuating, and incarcerating: people of Japanese ancestry.

Yes, German, Italian, and Japanese nationals (largely men) were all rounded up and put in detention centers. But no other ethnic group was rounded up en masse: men, women, children, citizens and non-citizens, young, old, infirm, pregnant, and mixed-race people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast of the U.S. (or in parts of Alaska and South America) were targeted and put into concentration camps, many for the duration of World War II.

[By the way, if you are curious about my use of terminology, like "concentration camp" and "incarceration" you can read this post from a few months back. And a great site for a more thorough look at the Japanese American Incarceration is Densho.]

OK, fast forward a few decades. There is an active reparations and redress movement underway--Japanese Americans and other allies band together to demand an apology from the U.S. government, to acknowledge the unconstitutionality of Executive Order 9066, and to receive monetary retribution for the pain and suffering and humiliation of this HUGELY SIGNIFICANT event that was a trampling of the constitutional rights of ALL PEOPLE LIVING IN THE U.S. DURING WORLD WAR II. Because while the government decided to only target people of Japanese ancestry, the truth is, the military could have decided that Italian and German Americans were also a threat and detained and incarcerated them as well.

HR442 passes; Ronald Reagan signs it and issues an official apology; Japanese Americans still alive receive reparation payments, but perhaps even more importantly, there is an official apology--an acknowledgment that what the U.S. government did was WRONG, and there is money set aside to educate the public about this shameful part of U.S. history.

Now, you may ask, what does this history lesson from the past have to do with me NOW?

This is taken from The New York Times yesterday:

"President Bush has the legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians captured in the United States, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled on Tuesday in a fractured 5-to-4 decision."

That's right. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the President of the United States has the right to detain, indefinitely, any civilian captured in the U.S. and to hold that person without producing any proof of WHY this person should be held, other than the desire to do so. NYU Law Professor, Jonathan L. Hafetz called the ruling "deeply disturbing" and observes that

“'This decision means the president can pick up any person in the country — citizen or legal resident — and lock them up for years without the most basic safeguard in the Constitution, the right to a criminal trial.'”

[To read the article in full, click here. To hear about it reported in NPR yesterday morning, click here]

Are you worried? You should be. And I'm not saying that you should be worried because someone is going to knock on your door any minute now and drag you from your home. You should be worried that the government is doing this AT ALL to ANYONE.

We are living in uncertain times, but this DOES NOT mean we give up our ideals. And it doesn't mean we forget history. We did this. We rounded up people and we put them in concentration camps and held them for an unspecified period of time. And we did this, not because they posed a real military threat but because there was public approval for doing so. Because it was reassuring to many in the U.S. at the time that the government was doing something that showed it was serious about securing borders and keeping Americans safe.

In his book Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment During World War II, scholar Tetsuden Kashima writes about two architects behind the Japanese American Internment/Incarceration: Edward Ennis, director of the Alien Enemy Control Unit and Attorney General Francis Biddle:

"In the 1985 interview, Ennis talked about his personal views on the internment episode and maintained that Attorney General Biddle had also taken this perspective. Ennis claimed that both he and Biddle were reluctant to pursue the internment policy but justified their actions on the basis of what he felt was prevailing public sentiment. He asserted that some measures had to be taken against the Japanese and Germans in America. The rationale for the arrests and internment is a significant part of his statement--not such earlier claims as the individual's alleged dangerousness or the prevention of espionage and sabotage, but rather public relations" (53).

Journalist Jane Mayer has recently written a book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, in which she notes that about 1/3 to 1/2 of the detainees at Guananamo are NOT terrorists--they are men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or men who simply were of the right ethnicity and nationality and religion for the U.S. to target, to arrest without cause, and to bring to Guantanamo.

[To hear Mayer's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, click here]

And it's not just men. And not just men from Arab and Muslim nations in the Middle East who were being targeted. Women and children were also rounded up in days following 9/11--American citizens of Arab and Muslim descent. One such tragic family tale is recounted in performer and filmmaker Cynthia Fujikawa's extremely moving documentary short, Day of Remembrance.

And here's where we come full circle. Cynthia Fujikawa's father, Jerry Fujikawa, was incarcerated in Manazanar until his induction into the 442nd regiment. Years later, in an effort to uncover a family secret and to discover aspects of her father's life that remained clouded to her, Fujikawa developed her one-woman performance piece, Old Man River, which was eventually filmed and made its way through the film festival circuit. But what she did following 9/11 was to link the events of WWII and the Japanese American Internment/Incarceration with the abuse of civil rights against Muslim and Arab Americans, and she came up with a very moving documentary, Day of Remembrance, which you can see in full (it's 8 minutes long) by clicking here (you'll need to actually double click on the image of candles on the right to get the film playing).

The Enemy Combatant Ruling is something you should know about. And it's something we should all educate ourselves about and to take action on. To let others know. To write our legislators. To say, this is not OK. I do not want to live in fear. I believe in civil rights for all. And I will stand up for everyone's civil rights because their rights are intimately connected to mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ask "Mixed Race America" -- #2

Here's the second question submitted to the semi-regular feature "Ask Mixed Race America" (which I'm going to abbreviate to "Ask MRA" since I'm feeling lazy).

[Note: I have been doing very light editing of these queries--mostly in terms of mis-spellings and/or adding certain punctuation for clarity of reading. But by and large, I copy and paste directly from my email message to this blog. If people would like me to edit their messages for clarity or brevity or NOT edit them, at all, please indicate in your letters and I will follow your wishes.]

Dear MRA,

I have many people who are from Mexico and other Spanish countries who consider themselves brown as a race. I have someone else telling me no there is no brown race they are considered white as a race and then Mexican or Cuban but the race is white. Please advise which is correct. Thank-you.


So dear readers, can you please advise "L"?

As I stated in my first installment of Ask MRA, I'd like YOU, the members of the blogosphere to weigh in on "L"'s question--to give this question the consideration of the collective rather than the one.

And if anyone out there has a question they'd like to ask MRA, please email

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Music Plug: Pink Martini

Think back to a time when you were down and out. Was there a movie, novel, or perhaps a song that got you through the bad times? For me, it was Pink Martini. Very specifically, these songs got me through the long dark tunnel and into the light:

*"Que Sera, Sera"
*"Hang On Little Tomato"

I am a late adopter to all things technology, so while it's not going to come as news to 99% of you blog readers, I was recently introduced to Pandora and am currently listening to the "Pink Martini" radio station, and I have to tell you, I am SOOOO digging it!

And thus, my plug.

Because really, if you have ever had the pleasure of experiencing Pink Martini LIVE (which I have twice!) then you know, they are MIXED in many, many senses of the word. And their presence on stage is reminiscent of the best of a mixed race America--because they sing songs in a variety of languages, styles, instrumentations, and they just make you want to dance! (ok, maybe that's just me, but seriously, when I'm in my car driving and "Hey Eugene" comes on, I can't help but tap my toes and sing along).

This is a description from their official website of the beginnings of their group:

The Portland, Oregon-based ‘little orchestra’ was founded in 1994 by [Thomas] Lauderdale, a Harvard graduate and classically trained pianist, to play political fundraisers for progressive causes such as civil rights, the environment, affordable housing and public broadcasting. In the years following Pink Martini grew from four musicians to its current twelve, and has gone on to perform its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Canada and the United States.

If you go to Pandora (and type in Pink Martini of course) and like what you hear, then consider supporting the band by buying one of their albums. Better yet, if you are lucky enough to find that they are playing in a concert hall near you, go see them live. They're really worth it. And it just might help you get through the funk of the dark days if you find yourself under a cloud.

[Just for the record, I know that I have urged people to spend their money or donate their money to certain causes, but I'm not trying to hawk anything on this site--and certainly you could find ways to obtain this music without supporting these artists. But for local bands like this one, I really do believe, personally, in supporting artists. Like writers--I try to actually buy books rather than use the library, in part because with contemporary writers I like, I want to send a small message in our consumer driven world that I appreciate their art/work. I wish there was another way to get this message across...I suppose just showing my appreciation on this blog is one format. Anyway, all I want to say is that I'm not getting a kick back from Pink Martini, wouldn't take one if i did (notice there are no ads on this blog), but do want to share a band I really love with all of you this Tuesday afternoon]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday Morning Movie Review: Hancock & Hellboy

I have written in here before about how I am a bit challenged by home improvement projects and feel helpless/clueless about them.

[aside: re-porcelaining the tub turned out great! Seriously, the tub looks brand new. However, in reading through the cautionary material (only after I had started mind you) I became really freaked out about how toxic this material is, so I can't quite recommend anyone going out and doing it yourself.]

I am similarly challenged by issues of technology. Two weeks ago I was on the phone with my cable/internet provider and it was a comedy of errors because the tech person kept asking me to turn off my router and I, instead, kept unplugging my modem. Yes, I recognize that, in hindsight, I should have known the difference, but I kept referring to my "wifi hub" (I have one of those old Apple spaceships) and he kept saying "router" and hell, I just had no idea.

Why am I rambling about my inept tech dealings? Because I spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to enable the "Read More" function on Blogger and eventually just threw up my hands and decided that I would write this movie review anyway because I've been wanting to talk about the film Hancock ever since I saw it on July 4 and I just saw Hellboy II this weekend, but didn't want to announce any spoilers for those of you who haven't seen either film yet.

[second aside: If anyone who uses Blogger DOES know how to do this and thinks they can explain it to me in an email message, I'd love to hear from you. According to Blogger, I have to go in and change my template and then add all this code. But I couldn't even figure out where to insert the code and didn't really want to muck around in the template, you know?]

So if you haven't seen both films, please click here and it will deposit you to the post I just wrote on Sunday about being a 1930s housewife.

I'm going to start with Hancock and move on to Hellboy II--although the spoiler alert is more for Hancock than Hellboy II, but you have now been warned three times so STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE DETAILS OF THE FILM HANCOCK.

OK, if you are reading this I assume you have (a) seen Hancock (b) don't plan to see Hancock and therefore don't care whether or not I talk about the film in detail.

The basic premise is that Hancock (played by Will Smith) is this asshole superhero. Pardon the language, but that epithet gets applied to him by everyone from small children to the PR guy he rescues who is trying to help him rehabilitate his image. Hancock is a superhero who ends up causing more damage than his rescuing seems to warrant. Yes, he saves lives. But he causes harm as he goes--he may not kill anyone, but he hurts people along the way and causes millions of dollars in damage. The PR guy, Ray, (played by Jason Bateman) takes Hancock on as a client/project and eventually is able to change his image with Los Angeles and America, but of course, there's a twist that happens along the way.

And the twist comes in the form of Ray's wife, Mary (played by Charlize Theron).

If you don't know what either Will Smith or Charlize Theron look like, you should do a google search now, because this is the thing that intrigued me once the big twist got worked out in the film: Hancock and Mary are the last of their kind--they are ancient creatures--gods, angels, or as Mary tells him now that they are in the 21st century, they are regarded as superheroes. It seems as if Mary and Hancock have a history--as brother and sister, as husband and wife (which, by the way, is completely in keeping with ancient mythology of many cultures--brothers and sisters could also be husband and wife and populate the earth).

Hancock doesn't remember any of this. Back in 1931 in Miami, Hancock woke up alone and without any knowledge of who he was and with no family or friends to claim him. Mary fills in the gaps during a hospital scene in which she traces the various scars on Hancock's body and explains that their relationship is the reason Hancock keeps getting hurt. At first, Mary lists various ancient grudges and battles, proving that she and Hancock have literally been there and done that throughout all of recorded time. And then she moves into the modern period and here's where it gets interesting. According to Mary, they are living somewhere in the U.S., perhaps somewhere South, and in the 1850s they are burned out of their home, with Hancock rescuing Mary from an angry mob who are after them. And the last escapade that they had together--walking home after seeing the film Frankenstein in Miami, has another angry mob chasing them in a dark alley and beating Hancock to a pulp. Mary leaves him alone and without any memories for both their sakes--because they can't seem to make it work. They've been together for centuries and they keep fighting and others want them apart.

Now, what I'm about to say is going to sound stupid because I know I went to see this action-fantasy film, but this is where I just couldn't believe the film anymore.

Because if you are an ancient being, one with superhero powers that will eventually fade away if you are spending time with the one you were destined to be paired with (that's the other hitch/twist--all these ancient beings were born in pairs--fated to want to be near their doppleganger. But when they do live their lives together, they turn mortal and die just like humans. Only by keeping apart can they keep their superpowers and immortality), and if you "look" the way Hancock and Mary do, why are you living as an interracial couple in the U.S. at a time in America's history when there is SO MUCH racial violence???!!!

And yes, it's the interracial angle that I've been wanting to talk with someone about. Because I can't quite figure out how I really feel about it. The entire film is almost premised on it. The film NEEDS to create a reason why Mary and Hancock can't be together and why forces seem to keep them apart. Mary and Hancock can't be together for a host of other worldly reasons, but the very *real* reasons that have caused both of them harm and violence in the last century and a half are human based racism and violence. Hancock loses his memory because he is attacked by an angry mob, and it is never voiced WHY they are attacked, but as movie goers, we recognize that seeing Charlize Theron hand in hand with Will Smith in the 1930s (and hell, for some people even in 2008) is reason enough to start chasing them down a dark alley and to beat Smith to death (or almost death--he is a celestial alien after all). If Hancock and Mary were of the same race, the filmmakers would have to spend more time explaining why they were always the target of so much violence. But using an interracial couple, specifically a black man and a white woman, gives audiences an easy shorthand. Oh, we say, yes, of course this couple CAN'T BE TOGETHER and of course others have a problem SEEING THEM AS A COUPLE.

And, of course, the racism of the past doesn't ever get articulated as such--it's just this misfortune that happened to Hancock and Mary. But I mean, as I said above: c'mon! You guys could live ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD--why would you choose the U.S. in the 19th century to exist as an interracial couple???!!! And the filmmakers--what, if anything, are you trying to say about interracial couples, particularly ones with the gendered/racial make-up of Hancock & Mary? That at the end of the day, it's just not sustainable, but they have a love that dare not speak its name or ever die???

Of course all of the past racism gets forgotten about and as I said above, it doesn't even have to be spoken because the visual image of white Theron and black Smith is enough for us to get why they are the targets of violence. And since the film is set in 21st century multiracial Los Angeles then we are supposed to understand that the racism that Hancock and Mary experienced is in the past and that nothing so socially taboo bars their relationship now (the opening chase scene features Vietnamese gangsters who correct Hancock when he says "Konichiwa" to them by reminding him that they aren't Japanese, to which Hancock makes the racist/stereotypical joke that they all look the same. OUCH! Not a great way for me to start a film--with a common racist stereotype. UGH). Except, of course, for the fact that Mary is married to the saintly good-guy, Ray, and that they have a son, Aaron (adopted in Mary's case--she rescues Ray and Aaron right after Ray's wife has died in childbirth).

Anyway, did I like the film? Hard to say. I was entertained, but I was also troubled/intrigued by its handling of race, especially interracial relationships. The film is designed so that we are intrigued by the sexual tension by Mary & Hancock but we also want to root for Mary & Ray because Ray is such a good guy. And I think we just haven't gotten to a place where we can accept an interracial couple that looks like Will Smith and Charlize Theron. I mean, in Hitch, Will gets the girl and the girl is Latina actress Eva Mendes. But black-brown interracial love has never been taboo in the way that black-white love has--especially when the African American partner is male and the Caucasian partner is female. Am I saying that the filmmakers did this deliberately? No, but I think there is a lot that is unexamined about race and racism in this film that the movie unwittingly both perpetuates and disrupts in odd ways--and I'd hazard to guess that perhaps part of the negative reviews that Hancock keeps getting has to do with how improbable people find the twist--not that Hancock and Mary are an ancient couple but that they are any kind of couple at all.

I've gone on and on about Hancock so all I'm going to say about Hellboy II is that I enjoyed it.

OK, maybe I'll say a bit more. I think it's interesting that within the span of two weeks we have fantasy-action films about superheroes who are not stereotypically heroic or who "look" like our idea of what a superhero should be. In Hellboy's case, he's red and demonic and read as demonic. He's also in an "interspecies" relationship with Liz, a seemingly "normal" female who is able to turn into a flaming ball of fire when she gets pissed off. One of the dramatic lines within the film is Liz's unexpected pregnancy and her silence in telling Hellboy about their impending bundle of joy until a crucial point in the film (OK, I don't really want to spoil everything, so I'll be vague about that point). Of course the film doesn't voice this, but audiences are left wondering: what will the child be? (isn't that always the lament of these films about interracial love???)

Both Hancock and Hellboy II do leave me wondering about the way Hollywood is playing off the idea of opposites and unlikely pairings. It used to be the screwball comedy and the sexual tension between Hepburn and Tracy or Grant and Hepburn or just in the 1980s the Moonlighting pair of Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd. Now it seems as if the sexual tension comes not only from the difference in personalities but the racial (or in Hellboy's case, species) difference of the romantic pairs. Is this Hollywood's version of the final taboo frontier of romance? Heterosexual romance I should amend. Who knows, but I think it'll be interesting to see that as people of color enter Hollywood in growing numbers and with growing power (although limited--I mean, how many black actresses or any actresses for that matter can open a film in the way that Will Smith or Brad Pitt can?), will we see more and more interracial pairings? And what will they look like? Only time will tell. But I hope in the future they work out the details a bit better than in Hancock. I mean, I want a believable action-fantasy film--I can suspend belief, but only so much.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bad 30's Housewife! Bad!

In my Sunday morning on-line news/blog reading, I came across this quiz on Tenured Radical's site:

The 1930's Marital Scale

You have to choose whether you will take the test as a "husband" or a "wife"--I decided to go true to gender and see what would have happened if I had found myself married in the 1930s. Here is my result:


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

Yay!!!! The last thing a feminist in the year 2008 wants to learn is that she would make a superior 1930s housewife!

P.S. I just decided to re-take the test as a "husband" and the result is:


As a 1930s husband, I am
Very Superior

Take the test!

Hmmmm...makes you wonder...

Friday, July 11, 2008

T.G.I.F.: The Great, Impossible Feat award

It's Friday--the end of a work week, the beginning of the week's end. And I thought I'd start yet another sporadic on-going series: T.G.I.F.: The Great, Impossible Feat award.

[T.G.I.F.--look how happy I am--this is, of course, not what I *really* look like, although aside from the fact that this figure has no nose, it's not a bad cartoon replica of what I might have looked like as a kid. By the way, I have to thank my British cousin "J" for sending an email message with this image]

The first recipient of Mixed Race America's T.G.I.F. award is the Church of the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

I first learned about the Church of the Holy Apostles while reading Ian Frazier's New Yorker article, "Hungry Minds: Tales from a Chelsea Soup Kitchen." I was immediately drawn in to the world of HASK (Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen), the guests who find their way to the daily weekday lunch that the volunteers of HASK serve, and the history of the Holy Apostles Church.

Here is a description I found by the NYC chapter of AGO (American Guild of Organists) of the church:
The prominent octagonal spire of the Church of the Holy Apostles is a welcoming landmark among the industrial buildings and red brick towers in the far western blocks of Chelsea. Reputedly a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church has continued its embrace of the unwelcome by starting a soup kitchen in 1982, now the largest in New York City, which serves up to 1000 meals each weekday to the homeless and downtrodden. In 1973, the socially-active and diverse congregation helped establish Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a gay and lesbian synagogue which still uses Holy Apostles for its Friday evening service. In 1977, the first woman priest in the New York diocese was ordained at Holy Apostles. The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop of the Episcopal Church, celebrated and preached on Gay Pride Sunday 2005.

The Holy Apostles Church is a space that is truly diverse and literally practices what it preaches (and perhaps, in its case, preaches what it practices). So my hat is off to HASK and the Church of the Holy Apostles. And for anyone who wants to really do good work with that incentive check that the government just gave out, you may want to consider going to the HASK website and giving a little bit to an organization that gives so much to so many people. Or just take a moment and look in your kitchen and see if you have something to drop off to your local food pantry.

It is truly a Great, Impossible Feat to provide 1,000 people a midday meal five days of the week and to have done so for over two decades and to have done so with nothing more than the good works and iron will of dedicated volunteers and church leaders.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

American default modes: white men

From page 72 in psychologist Maria Root's book, Love's Revolution: Interracial Marriage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001:

"The philosopher Lewis Gordon provides an analysis of the structural power enacted through race and gender that links the dialogue between them. Gordon points out that from a white point of view, the assumed race of the human race is white. To be non-white is to be racialized in an anti-black world. To be raceless is to be 'pushed up toward whiteness. Gordon also notes that for centuries the Western tradition has configured the gender of the human race as male. So although power may be defined as genderless and raceless, the default values for power are male and white.

Gordon contends that a hierarchy of sexual desirability naturally follows from this view of gender and race. Given the traditional Western view of power as white and male, white women can be constructed as black by their gender. This might help to explain why pairings of white women with black men are more common than pairings of black women with white men, a phenomenon that flies in the face of early exchange theories. White women and black men are not so distant from each other in social location."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New Feature: Ask "Mixed Race America"

About a week ago, my friend "T" was talking to me on the phone and asked if I knew of a resource on the internet where you could ask a question about race. She had been to various blogs (including this one) but felt a bit shy just asking a question out of the blue. So I decided, with "T's" permission, to start a feature that I'm calling

"Ask Mixed Race America"

Here's the catch, though: I'd like YOU, dear readers, to be the respondents, not me.

Lets face it: I'm no expert. I mean, I may have some expertise in my academic field (in particular since I'm immersed in all texts related to the Japanese American Internment/Incarceration I could probably whip out some facts and figures for you and/or breakdown some analyses for you that you may not have known or ever thought about) but in terms of talking about race in America, about mixed-race issues in America? I'm about as expert as the next person (OK, maybe I'm being a *bit* on the humble side--because I do teach courses on race and American culture, so I have done a fair amount of thinking and teaching and listening about this subject).

At any rate, "T" can always get my opinion, but what she can't get is YOURS, so here is her question:

"I did a blog search on single moms, and came across a few sites authored by various women, and the ones I find most inspiring are written by African American moms. I find myself making judgments about African American single moms. They are strong. They're resilient. They are proud and focused on themselves and what's important and don't let the fathers of their children get them down as much as others do. I know these are my judgments,and they're not based on a thorough search or reading of single parenting blogs,but for whatever reason, I find what they have to say more inspiring than non-African American moms. There's a part of me that recognizes that there are more single parents of African American decent than other races, and that feels like they approach it more from a perspective of empowerment and strength than from a victim's
perspective. I feel whiny, in comparison. I read other blogs that feel whiny, too.

So is this racism or judgment? And I believe it's harmful to have these judgments. Is it? Because I know there are African American moms that are victimy and who struggle outwardly and inwardly, and they don't have it all figured out. They probably don't want me coming along saying, "Oh, your ethnic group has this single parenting thing down, don't you?" I am sure to offend someone with beliefs like that. But if I am looking for examples of strength in single parenting, I find it within that community more easily than in others."

I don't want to give away too much about "T's" personal circumstances, but for clarification, "T" has two young children and identifies as mixed-race (specifically Filipino, Japanese, and white).

If you would like to share your opinion with "T," feel free to leave it in the comment box--but as with all comments on this blog, please try to be respectful while also speaking your truth. Resources are always helpful/appreciated. And if you, yourself, have a question you'd like to see posted for the readers of "Mixed Race America" feel free to write to me at

[P.S. Today is "T's" birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY!]

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday's History Lesson: 1983 report on the findings of the aftermath of the Japanese American Internment

The following excerpt is taken from page 111 in the book Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress by Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S Megan Berthold. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999:

"The commission [Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, abbreviated to CWRIC] released its unanimous findings in February 1983 in a 467-page report entitled Personal Justice Denied. The major finding of this report concerned the nature of the incarceration:
The promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity. . . The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.

The CWRIC documented the extensive economic and intangible losses Japanese Americans suffered. The commission estimated that the total losses of income and property incurred by Japanese Americans came to between $810 million and $2 billion in 1983 dollars. The commission also recognized the 'physical illnesses and injuries,' 'psychological pain,' and 'unjustified stigma' resulting from the camp experience."

[Update--July 9, 2008: For further information on the Japanese American Internment/Incarceration, see my post from April 11 (which will give you a link to the DENSHO site)]

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday's Mixed-race Musings

I realized that when I wrote about the beginning of a mixed-race America, namely that you get here through inter-racial relationships, I didn't really talk about the politics of interracial dating/marriage/procreation.

So I thought I'd return to this topic since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" and because I suspect that a few readers are interested in these topics.

What I wrote about on July 1 was the hostility that certain gendered/raced pairs encounter by members of a majority culture and members of their own ethnic communities. There's a lot to be said about the politics of interracial dating.

First thing I'll say is that it's complicated. To try to have an in-depth and honest conversation about interracial dating requires an ability to get beyond cliches of "Love sees no color" as well as charges of selling out the race or desiring white privilege through interracial relationships (that's for those people who are a member of a racial minority dating a member of the current racial majority).

Second, I think it's rare for people to make decisions of an intimate nature on pure politics. In other words, I know that people have preferences and are motivated by political factors. But the truth is, finding someone you truly connect with is difficult. We place A LOT of demands on our life partner. And I don't just mean people who have lists--like only dating people of a certain height, income, educational level, size, car, who like dogs, who are vegetarian, etc...etc.... We expect our life partners to be our soul mates, our best friends, our financial partners, our cheerleaders, our coaches, a parent to our children, a representative and literal union of our families, and a general public face to our personal commitment. That is asking A LOT. And we haven't even gotten to any lists or deal breakers or preferences. Which is why I think it's good to be as open minded as possible about your life partner.

For instance, I had a friend in college, a white Jewish man of the Jewish conservative persuasion who was very identified with Jewish culture and who only dated Jewish women (preferably women who were also conservative, although he was open to dating reform minded women as long as they were willing to keep kosher.)

"S" and I used to talk about interracial or in his case cross-religious dating--and while he wasn't against it for others, he didn't see it in his future--the cross-religious dating/marriage. His faith and his culture were very important parts of his life, and he wanted to have a life partner that reflected his religious and cultural beliefs.

Fast forward seven years. I ran into "S" randomly in an ice cream parlor in Boston during a time when I was no longer living there and when he was visiting friends. It turns out that "S" had gotten married and was living in Chicago. His wife? She is an African American woman and a Christian. They have an interracial, interfaith marriage and will raise the children with both faiths/cultures. Although I know that this is problematic for some, I have to admit that I was happy that "S" had found a woman he loved and that he was willing to revise some of his convictions based on that love.

Are we influenced by the dominant culture? Absolutely. Do we internalize racist beliefs? Yes. Should we work against these ingrained tendencies of wanting white privilege? Well, if you want to live and practice an anti-racist lifestyle, then sure. Can you help who you fall in love with? No and yes. You probably can't help who you are attracted to and who you fall in love with, but for some, the social pressure and stigma may be too great--or your personal politics and convictions may not allow you to take envision certain life partners.

There are interracial pairs that are more accepted than others in U.S. society. In general, white men dating women of color of almost any background (but certainly I'd rank Asian women at the top of that acceptable list) are going to find less censure than white women dating men of any race (and I'd put possibly black or Asian men at the top of the taboo list). And people of color dating one another across racial lines does not seem to engender as much scrutiny by larger society, but may find quite a bit of disapproval from within their ethnic communities. A lot of this has to do with media images, power, privilege, a history of women being used as pawns in a game of ownership and control of resources, overseas wars, and some other things too long to get into in this single post. And I haven't even gotten to queer unions and same-sex couples who cross various color and religious lines.

What I want to leave you with is a single and unremarkable observation: consenting adults should be free to love and partner with whomever they choose. We can question the motivations and the history and the ingrained assumptions and beliefs behind interracial unions in general. But telling people that they are sell-outs or bananas or Uncle Toms or coconuts (why is fruit always used for these racially denigrating descriptions?) just doesn't seem productive and doesn't get to the real issues about how people meet and decide to couple.

Finally, let me leave you with the voices of two people who speak from first-hand experience and first-person perspectives about interracial unions and mixed-race matters.

CVT, a regular commenter on this blog, decided that he wanted a forum for his own musings on race and other things, so he started Chop-tensils. And in an odd coincidence, we both ended up blogging about interracial relationships on July 1. Please head over to Chop-tensils--it's worth a read for CVT's insights and observations, and I know he'd love a lively discussion, especially on the interracial dating stuff he just posted.

For a fictional look at living in a mixed-race world, let me introduce you to Jason Sublette, a mixed-race fiction writer living in "the South." Jason has an excellent short story published in an on-line journal, Green Hills Literary Lantern called "Laws of Motion." Check it out--I suspect that Jason's voice will be one we will continue to hear about (and in larger forums) in years to come.