Monday, December 21, 2009

R.I.P.: Jennifer Jones, actress

Have any of you ever seen the 1955 film Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing? It stars the late William Holden as a war correspondent covering the Korean War. He also happens to be married but estranged from his wife, who is in the U.S. It also stars the now late Jennifer Jones, who plays a "Eurasian" doctor, Han Suyin. I put "Eurasian" in quotation marks because no one uses that term anymore, although it was quite popular (and more politic) back in the days. Now, we'd just say she is mixed-race--the daughter of a Chinese/Cantonese man and a British-white woman. The film is actually based on the memoir of Dr. Han Suyin--I'm sure that the romance between her and William Holden's character is really played up for dramatic purposes, but I've never read the memoir.

[A still from the film showing Jennifer Jones]

I begin with the film because Ms. Jones is my namesake. My mother LOVED (or maybe it should be the present tense LOVES) this film. And while "Jennifer" was the most popular name the year I was born (most folks either blame it on the film version of Camelot--Jennifer is a derivation from Guenivere or on the film Love Story--the tragic protagonist is named "Jenny"). And last week, on December 17, 2009 Jennifer Jones died of natural causes in her Malibu home at the age of 90.

I've always thought it was funny that I am named after a white actress who famously played the role of a mixed-race Asian woman. That a woman acting in yellowface essentially propelled my name into the world and that I ended up being someone who critiques yellowface and writes about issues of mixed race.

Anyway, rest in peace Jennifer Jones. I feel an odd sense of kinship and connection to you. And I must admit, I also have a certain fondness for this film...even though I wish they could have found someone who was actually Chinese or mixed-race Asian to play the lead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Racism + Environment = Environmental racism?

This story just out of the AP: as the globe warms and waters rise, there are going to be thousands if not millions of people displaced from the coast. And as this story demonstrates, a history of racism and discrimination makes trying to sort out the environmental impacts and to provide aid more difficult since aid continues to look like discrimination.

This is a lengthy piece, but I think it's worth reading to demonstrate the complexities of racism, historic and unremitting racism against a group of people whose links to the land extend back millenia--and whose mixed-race lineage also reminds us that purity really is a myth.


"La. Indian village holds out against plea to move"
From Associated Press
December 14, 2009 3:02 AM EST

ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES, La. (AP) — A day in the life of Edison Dardar starts with a caterwaul of a shout. A yawlp. His chest puffs up: "Yay-hoooo!" Morning cries down the road greet him. "Wa-hoooo!" .... "Yaaaah!" .... "Aaaahh-eee." The Indian fisherman smiles. His cousins and nephews are doing well.

Soon enough, roosters and dogs join the morning chorus, and the island is awake.

"It keeps your chest clear," the 60-year-old barrel-chested fisherman rationalizes. "Over in Bourg, if I did that, they'd probably put me in jail."

Bourg is a tidy Cajun bayou town a few miles north of Dardar's hurricane-smashed Indian village in the marsh where holdout families are being urged to move to by a tribal chief, scientists and public officials.

Why? Because life on this spit of soggy land 6 miles from the Gulf of the Mexico may soon be impossible for the interrelated families with French, Choctaw, Houma, Biloxi and Chitimacha bloodlines that go back 170 years when a Frenchman came here with his Choctaw wife and named the island after his father, Jean Charles.

The road to the island is caving in. Hurricanes are flooding homes more often. The Gulf gets closer every year. Isle de Jean Charles is at risk of disappearing under the Gulf of Mexico.

But to Edison Dardar and his kin, the name Bourg sounds like a prison.

"What am I going to do there? Wake up and look at the road?" Edison Dardar shrugs. "No, not me. I'm not moving. This island is more beautiful than ever. This island is a gold mine for me."

He casts for shrimp at sunset behind his house. Sips coffee at Oxcelia's, his sister's place up the road, in the mornings. Checks in on Leodilla, his blind, 90-year-old mother who's old enough to remember the huts made of mud and grass, or bousillage. His wife, Elizabeth, is content watching old Westerns like "Bonanza" and feeding her chicks. A son still lives at a home they raised on 12-foot stilts after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 flooded the island. It wobbles like Jell-o when someone walks from one room to the next.

With a bad limp from 40 years of backbreaking work dredging for oysters, Edison Dardar hobbles over to a handmade plywood sign on the road through the village. He stands next to it proudly.

It reads: "Island is not for sale. If you don't like the island stay off. Don't give up fight for you rights. It's worth saving. Edison Dardar Jr."

"My son wrote it," Dardar, who cannot read and write himself, says with a grin.


From New Orleans, it's a long road to this alligator- and mosquito-infested marsh island. The road goes past the city's outskirts, postwar suburbs and po' boy sandwich shops; it sails across Cajun farmlands of sugar cane fields, moss-draped oaks and roadside watermelon vendors. You must drive beyond the inland fishing towns connected by clunky drawbridges and bayous bobbing with shrimp trawlers and hyacinth.

Push on, and the canopy thins out, the road crosses a levee and enters the wide open expanse of marsh tidelands that run for miles out to the Gulf of Mexico.

An end-of-the-world nausea sets in on the narrow road that rolls across open water toward Isle de Jean Charles. A crooked yellow sign warns: "Water On Road." When high tides and a stiff southern wind combine, the road is slick with water. Half the road caved in after last year's hurricane season.

A gut check hits as the road wends through the island. Half the houses are empty shells, blown apart by hurricanes. Most of the others are raised high on pilings — not for the view, but to keep sofas, beds and Grandma's photos out of the Gulf's regular inundations. The church is gone, the store is gone, most of the children too.

The islanders are living the doomsday scenario that many researchers say awaits Miami, Houston, Savannah, New York: A rising sea at the doorstep.

The village sits outside the main levee systems of south Louisiana, and in the middle of some of the fastest eroding wetlands in the world. For the past 80 years, oil drilling, logging and the Army Corps of Engineers' levee building on the Mississippi River have doomed the island. The knockout is the combination of sea level rise and intense hurricanes.

"In the 1980s, I asked someone to take me to look at Fala, an important Indian settlement, and he took me out there in a boat and said, 'Look down,'" recalled Jack Campisi, an anthropologist who's worked to get south Louisiana's American Indians recognized by the federal government. So far, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has shot down their petitions. "What's at stake is a viable ethnic identity. It's easier to do if you have a federal relationship."

Many tribes moved into the swamps to escape enslavement or forced banishment after Congress passed the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Today, there are about 20,000 American Indians on the coast. Until the 1950s, most Indians lived in isolation with limited interaction with whites. Old timers recall barefoot children scampering into the woods to hide when the first cars rattled onto the island in the 1950s.

Before the coast was overrun by the oil boom and shipyards, the Indians lived off the land, growing small gardens and raising livestock. Fish, oysters, crawfish and crabs were staples. For medicine, they relied on plants. There was "bon blanc" tea made from a leafy plant. Medicinal teas were gotten from boiling "citronelle," ''venera," a Houma word for sage, and the bark of the "bois connu" tree.

"We had no running water. We washed our clothes in the bayou," recalled Hilda Naquin, a 95-year-old Houma woman who grew up between mud walls covered in newspapers and under a thatched palmetto roof. "We didn't have much to eat. My grandpa used to plant a garden. Thank God for that. Our oven was made outside with the dirt and mud."

This isolation was imposed, as stories of discrimination attest. Indian children were barred from schools until the 1960s and called "sabines," a derogatory term.

"My daddy couldn't go get a haircut up the bayou. He couldn't get a hamburger in the town of Golden Meadow," said Laura Billiot, Hilda Naquin's daughter. "The prejudices are still there today; not as bad, but they're still there."


Albert Naquin, one of two tribal chiefs recognized by the islanders, stands on the sinking road surveying his old village. The sound of water laps at the road and fills the silences between his words.

"They had a small lake over yonder, just north of here. Wonder Lake. Now it's all open water," Naquin says.

He resembles a defeated general surveying a battlefield. The contours of the past — smoke rising from thatched-roof homes, barefoot children splashing in crawfish ponds, fishermen poking through the marshes in pirogues — shimmer on the flat marsh horizon in front of him. But these are only memories now. For him, it's time to move inland and reconstitute the tribe behind the safety of levees.

"We didn't have any money. We lived off the land. We had our own cows, we had our pigs, we had chickens, and they were fishermen, and they also raised the garden. So, during the Depression, we didn't even feel that at all," Naquin says.

The idea of moving to Bourg was Albert Naquin's idea. He's talking with state and federal officials about a $12 million plan to buy a tract of land for 60 homes, in return for not fixing the road.

But his intentions are regarded with skepticism and open hostility by the families that remain on the island. Naquin's family moved off the island after a hurricane destroyed their home in the 1970s.

"Sometimes I feel like Moses," he says. "But Moses had something to go by. I don't have anything. I mean, I'm just an old Indian guy from down here."

He shakes his head. "I'm taking a beating."

Isle de Jean Charles is not the first Indian village to face relocation because of erosion and sea level rise. These factors are combining to force the relocation of seaside villages like Newtok, Shishmaref, Unalakleet and Kivalina in Alaska.

"This is not something that is happening just in Louisiana and it is not something that is theoretical," said Robert Young, the director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. "If we don't at least talk about relocation, nature will make those decisions for us, and they won't necessarily be the ones we want to make."

Since Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have set about drawing lines across south Louisiana to determine what can and cannot be saved from sea level rise and delta erosion.

"They drew this broad red line, and said the entire area below the red line would be at risk," said Michael Dardar, a diesel mechanic, tribal historian and a leader with the United Houma Nation. "Every major Houma community is below that red line. Lower Dulac, Pointe Aux Chenes, Isle de Jean Charles. Our whole way of life is in danger."

This bleak future has been the topic of a recent series of community meetings, called "How Safe, How Soon?"

And at each meeting, Brenda Dardar, the principal chief of the Houmas, has gone in with the same message:

"We need to make sure that we can adapt, whether it's elevating our homes, building smart or moving to a different location. Our history's important, our culture's important and preserving our communities is important."


Isle de Jean Charles may be on the wrong side of the line being drawn across the map of south Louisiana. But defiance here seems immovable. The Dardars, Naquins, Billiots and Verdins aren't going easily.

"I wouldn't move. No way. I don't care if this place floods time and again. Nobody but me is living on this land," says T.J. Dardar, a fisherman and one of Edison's cousins, squatting outside his dilapidated wooden house. It's missing siding, needs a coat of paint; piles of beer cans, burnt trash and assorted junk lie around it. A heap of asphalt shingles, with a couple of television boxes thrown in, slumps into the canal across the road.

Notwithstanding the flooding, dangerous road and declining sense of community, it's not hard to see why people want to stay.

"You can do anything you want on this island — catch your crabs, your shrimp, dry your shrimp," Edison Dardar says. "I see nothing changed, me," he says on a walk through his village. So what, he says, if there is now water where he once saw grass? "We were killing duck (when there was land). Now we're killing shrimp. If you're hungry, you make a living."

Back home, his tangy shrimp are drying on a tarp behind his house. Chickens squawk. He mashes a piece of shrimp between his teeth. "They still need to dry some more."

Time slows down here. The plop of a fish brings a great silence of the marsh. Dardar rests for a moment and the symphony of frogs, bugs and birds comes back.

"Make some good gumbo, jambalaya. Talk about good, partner."

"Leave? For what?" he says.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Phildelphia cream cheese wants to spread a little inter-racial love

Last night while channel surfing through cable tv (Oh, how I miss my Sunday Mad Men nights) I saw a commercial from Philadelphia cream cheese in which an African American woman--in her mid-20s, hip, young and fashionable, and attractive is making spaghetti with marinara sauce, stirring in a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese.

[Health note: I really can't believe they are advocating that we do this--stir in a whole tub of cream cheese into red sauce? I've never been a fan of stirring in cream cheese to make things thicker--like in mashed potatoes. I know there are some who swear by it, but I don't like it when I can feel my arteries clogging up with all that fat/cholesterol]

We also see a white man (also mid-20s, young, hip, attractive) enter the frame, who is helping her with the meal--setting the table and adding things to the pot. The music playing is one that you typically hear with these kinds of ads, soft-rock-jazzy-peppy. The couple are affectionate with each other and are framed close together, sharing in the fun of cooking this meal, sitting down to eat it, and then afterwards, dancing in each others' arms and sharing a close-up kiss before the commercial ends. The commercial is not long--I mean, it's the typical length of a commercial (15-20 seconds), but it's probably the first time I've seen an inter-racial black-white couple acting ... like a couple. Sometimes you see groups of "friends" who could also be "couples" and they are a mixed-race group, but it's not quite clear if they are romantically linked or even sometimes who is with whom (after all, even though there are 2 women and 2 men, the men could be with one another and the women could be paired as well--although who am I kidding--this is mainstream advertising--they do not want us to assume queer coupling, but I think it's interesting to consider this possibility!).

Anyway, I was struck by this commercial--because I can't recall seeing another young, attractive, affectionate, hip 20-something black-female, white-male inter-racial couple in a commercial for something as mundane as cream cheese. In fact, it made me think about the dearth of inter-racial couples who really SEEM like couples--who act like couples. All those ads for KY jelly or for Visa or for the hundreds of other mundane products and stores seem to show Asian couples/families and Latino couples/families (rare but we're starting to see them), black couples/families (a bit more visible), and white couples/families (yep, they are all over the place and hence "the norm"). If we're heading into the second decade of the 21st century, shouldn't being a mixed-race couple and especially a mixed-race family be a bit more visible and commonplace than in just this one Philadelphia cream cheese ad?

And shouldn't this couple be eating healthier??!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Re:Finding moments of beauty in unexpected places

Yesterday evening, right before 5pm, I was driving home after spending a lovely afternoon having tea and catching up with an old friend. As I pulled into a major intersection, before heading the the highway, I looked up in the sky to see this HUMONGOUS flock of birds--I'm not a birder so I don't know what kind they were, but I'd guess some kind of lark or starling or swallow--a small bird who has been known to swarm. Because really, that's what they were doing--hundreds upon hundreds of these birds were flying together, flowing and undulating in odd patterns, but all the while hovering above the sky of the intersection--seemingly to land on a large tree in a corner lot. The light was blessedly long--not something I normally say or feel when waiting at an intersection, but I was enraptured by the image of these birds dancing in the sky, circling and circling against the setting sun.

It was beautiful. A random and unexpected moment of pure pleasure. I offer this to you because it reminded me that we don't often take the time to contemplate pure beauty when it's in front of us. And that this kind of pure beauty can happen in the most unexpected of places--like an intersection in the middle of traffic. It is a good reminder that we should be open to these moments that can take our breath away and make us smile with childish delight.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can we let Tiger be Tiger? Should we?

I've debated about whether to blog about Tiger Woods and the recent mishap that he had with his car hitting the tree and fire hydrant at 2am, the reporting in various tabloids and magazines about women claiming to have had affairs (or denying affairs) with him, and the statement on his website apologizing for "trangressions" he has made and his statement that like the rest of us, he is human and has flaws and would appreciate some privacy in this matter.

I have written in the past about Tiger--about how he is not solely responsible for whether or not there are more black golfers on the PGA and in a post titled "Let Tiger be Tiger."

But can we let Tiger be Tiger? In other words, should we, the larger public, respect his need for privacy--ignore the hype in the tabloids, switch the channel on CNN, ESPN, every major news outlet when they carry something about his alleged affairs or his car accident or anything else related to Tiger outside of his golf swing?

How much scrutiny, how much judgment should we be leveling at Tiger in the court of public opinion? How much of this matters to the readers of a blog called "Mixed Race America," beyond the fact that its author is a golfer, a Tiger Woods fan, and sees him as the subject for one of her book chapters?

I can't really speak on anyone else's behalf but my own, so let me see if I can sort this out here. There is a part of me, the anti-racist educator and activist part of me, who has long wanted Tiger to be SO MUCH MORE than he seems to be--who has wanted Tiger to be a spokesman for social justice and racial equality. That every time he accepts an endorsement from a major corporate sponsor like Gatorade or Nike or Buick, that he insists on a little PSA talking about anti-racism or anti-sexism or anti-homophobia--and the ways that golf can turn its image around as an elitist country club sport and be inclusive for everyone, including working-class kids.

It's a pipe dream, I know--a true fantasy. And in some ways, unfair to expect the golfer of color to be the one who is going to speak truth to power when we all know we need allies of all races to step up to the plate.

But none-the-less, I like many others, want Tiger to be something more than he is--a flawed human being. And in many ways, because of how ubiquitous he is in mass and popular culture--all those t.v. ads that show him as a super-human being, and all those golf tournaments in which he defied the laws of physics and the averages--winning more championships than anyone else currently playing (and perhaps, projected into the future--more than any other golfer in our lifetime)--he seems to be a super human being. Plus he seems to also care about certain causes--namely education. Setting up learning centers for kids who are largely working class and racial minorities to help them get up to speed in math and science and all those Tiger Woods golf clinics helping working class kids, especially girls and racial minorities, see golf as a path for excellence in their larger lives. He seems to care about kids--to be a rolemodel for kids.

So how do we reconcile the news that he has clay feet--that the evidence for him cheating on his wife and family appears damning--that he is not the super human being that he is portrayed to be?

Perhaps what Tiger offers is an object lesson, as a recent New York Times article titled "Woods as Inadvertent Educator: Choices Matter" indicates. I think what we can learn from Tiger Woods is that he is human and has made mistakes--not just the allegations of infidelity, not just the accident with his Escalade--but there are countless flaws and failings that he must have, that we do not see, or that we do see but overlook because we want Tiger to be this perfect super-human role model.

But maybe the best rolemodels are the ones who admit they are human--who admit their mistakes, apologize, and then go on and learn from them. Because that's what it means to really succeed. Not that you never fail, but that in your lowest moment, how do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apologize to any you have harmed, make genuine amends, and then move forward? How do you recover from an "F" on an exam? From your parents' divorce? From racist comments made by fellow students...from a teacher...from yourself--racist comments YOU have made towards others? How do we admit our mistakes and failings and grow from them?

Yes, I'm disappointed to find out that Tiger may have cheated on his wife--multiple times. It suggests a moral frailty and vanity and arrogance that doesn't sit well with me. On the other hand, I have my own frailities, vanities, and arrogances. I do want Tiger to be better than what he seems to be, if only because I want him to be that super-human rolemodel, as unfair as it is--but like everyone else in the world, I need to remember that my desire for him to be this symbol ignores the reality of who he is--and what I'll be waiting and watching for is how he handles himself in the next few months and years. We all deserve a level of compassion--Tiger may not be able to ask for less scrutiny as a public figure, and we can condemn him for his moral failings, but I think that as a figure who seems to genuinely want to make a difference in children's lives, we should also allow him a measure of compassion.

And I'm not going to stop hoping that one day he will step up as that Mixed Race American spokesperson who champions issues of social justice. Yes, I can dream.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Give it up for Alexander Hamilton

Finally, that small intersection of spoken word fans and Colonial American history buffs can come together and give it up for Lin-Manuel Miranda and his appreciation for Alexander Hamilton:

[tip of the hat to Tenured Radical]

Friday, November 27, 2009

T.G.I.F.: I pledge to speak truth to power--Will Philips

On Monday October 5, 2009 10-year old Will Phillips, a resident of Washington County, Arkansas and a student in the West Fork School district remained seated during the daily pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag as a protest as a queer ally because he recognizes that the LGBTQ community is not treated as equal to those who are straight--that basic rights, like the right to marry--is denied to them, and as Will said in an interview with The Arkansas Times:

“I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.”

For more on this story, see this CNN piece below:

And here's The Daily Show's reporting of Will Phillips, and Jon Stewart's enlisting of pro-wrestler Mick Foley as muscle to protect any would-be hasslers of young Phillips:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gaywatch - Peter Vadala & William Phillips
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

It's not often that we take a stand, speak truth to justice, especially a stand that is not popular with the majority of our peers and with the authority figures in our lives. The fact that Will Phillips is doing this at the young age of 10, and that he seems to be such a focused, principled, and articulate young man is definitely deserving of The Great Impossible Feat Award. I hope he inspires others to also think carefully about what they believe in and to work for social justice and equal rights for all. Will Phillips says that he wants to make a difference and that being 10 shouldn't stop him from taking stands. Wise words for us all to live by.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Random Thanksgiving Day thoughts

[For more cohesive thoughts about Thanksgiving, see some former posts of mine here and here]

8:00am Turn on the television in preparation for my annual tradition of watching the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade.

[note: I think this may be the most consistent ritual that I can recall doing that extends from my childhood into my adulthood. At some point I always turn on the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade. I don't necessarily watch it all the way through or watch it without flipping to other channels. And I certainly think that some of the commentary (make that most of the commentary) is inane. But this is my thing--this is what I do--I watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on Thanksgiving morning, and I can't remember a time when I didn't do this]

You'd think that after all this time I'd know exactly what time it begins, but I'm told by Maria Shriver (the first lady of California) that it starts at 9am--so I switch to Bravo where they're re-running a West Wing Thanksgiving episode (the one where President Bartlett calls the Butterball hotline)

9:00am Switch over to NBC and the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. They have a woman who is 77 who has worked continuously at Macy's. Southern Man finds it incredibly sad that she has continued to work t Macy's--I tell him she probably can't afford not to. It's not really the most festive thought but it's probably realistic.

9:40am As much as I love the Macy's parade I'm not a huge fan of this thing they do in front of the store where they have different songs from various Broadway musicals performed. In both the "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Billy Elliot" numbers I notice that among the dozen young girls (almost all who look to be white) there is a single African American girl/dancer. Seriously? It's the 21st century. It's NYC. You could only find (more accurately you decided to only cast) a single non-white, African American young girl in your musical? Like there isn't a HUGE Asian population in Britain or the U.S. for that matter--and who the hell cares if it isn't "accurate" to the time period ("Bye Bye Birdie" is set in the late 1950s)--I thought that was the whole beauty of *quote-unquote* colorblind casting? Yes, even on Thanksgiving I don't turn off the critical eye.

*10:05am Parade has finally hit the Macy's store--the marching band who is at the head of the parade is composed of high school band members from every state and Washington DC. In addition to the musicians, there are the usual flag wavers (not sure what they're real name is--color guard?) and cheer-leader type dancers who are in pants but also in what looks like sleeveless tops--and all I can think is IT'S FREEZING--WHY DON'T THEY PUT THESE GIRLS IN COMFORTABLE/WARM CLOTHES! I mean seriously--doesn't anyone think about comfort nowadays?

*10:15 The Chinese American girl's club of Delaware is making their debut at the parade--there are all these young Asian American (assumably Chinese American) girls wearing Chinese looking costumes--girls in lion dancing outfits and these flowy dresses with colorful streamers dancing to Chinese themed classical music (you know what I'm talking about--that kind of bamboo flute/3-stringed music). I know they are supposed to be doing a "Cultural" dance but sometimes I just wish that Chinese American girls could actually be ... Chinese American and not just Chinese. I know, I know, I'm quibbling.

*10:35 Alan Cummings is singing a Sinatra standard "That's Life" and he seems to be on something--of course he's singing on a float with larger than life sized M&M candies--so perhaps the only way he could make it through the parade was stoned?

*10:40 There's all these kids jumping rope and they've apparently been doing it for 2.8 miles and it's apparently the world's largest jump roping brigade made up of kids from every state. I must have missed the whole jump rope craze when I was younger. Didn't know it was cool enough to get you on t.v. (or maybe not cool enough depending on how you feel about jumping rope)

*11:01 Ziggy Marley is on a pirate ship holding a young girl (his daughter?) and behind him is a pirate balloon. I'm actually quite fond of pirates--of course perhaps I mean the cartoon/caricatured ones not one's from real life/historic past.

*11:19 I don't know why but I find lines of people dancing in formation to be hypnotic--cheerleaders, Radio City Rockettes, dance troupes--it doesn't matter. Right now there are these high school girls dancing in these kind of "futuristic" 80s clothing. Maybe I should have been a cheerleader in high school...or maybe not.

*11:22 I've flipped to BRAVO where they are showing a repeat of a Top Chef episode of Season 1 vs. Season 2 finalists. I never did like Marcel in Season 2. I still don't like him. Flipped back to the parade--there's a guy from the Broadway revival of Finigan's Rainbow singing on top of a Big Apple float--and right behind him is the Dora the Explorer balloon. By the way, is it just me or is anyone else freaked out by Boots--that monkey side kick that hangs out with Dora? I recently watched an episode while baby sitting my friend's 2-year old and the whole time I'm watching the show I'm thinking, "That monkey is going to turn on Dora and pull out a knife!"

*11:30 Carly Simon is singing on a Care Bear float--maybe I should be taking a hit of whatever Alan Cummings was on. Really, they gave Carly Simon the Care Bear float?! I've always been freaked out by Care Bears too--is anyone else picking up on a theme?

*11:52 The Pillsbury dough boy is making his debut--about time--I mean, it's perfect, he's iconic and he's a corporate representative. And I think he's cute, especially when he does that belly-button thing (ha! I bet you thought I was going to say I was freaked out by him--I'm so unpredictable).

*11:56 Heeeeeeeeeee's Heeeeeeeeere! Yep, it's Santa Claus (although the guy just missed his lip synching with the broadcast so his words didn't match up to his lips, oh well). Guess I'll be tuning in a year from now. And for everyone who happens to celebrate this particular holiday...


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Passing as Chinese

Today Southern Man and I ate at a new Chinese restaurant we recently discovered. It is now our new favorite Chinese restaurant in the area (this is no small feat because remember, I am in THE SOUTH--and yes, I'm being snobby, but I grew up going to Oakland Chinatown every Sunday and my mother is a mean cook in her own right, so my standards for Chinese food are quite high).

Anyway, we wanted to order pea shoots (which are on the menu) only to be told by our waitress that they aren't available (seasonal--which I should have known, but I thought just *maybe* they had a source on pea shoots in the fall). In trying to find a substitute green, I asked her about the "Chinese greens" on the menu, and our waitress immediately began talking to us (or to me, rather) in Mandarin, peppering her conversation with a few English words directed at Southern Man.

If it's not already clear, I do not speak Mandarin. Or Cantonese. Or any other Asian language. I took three years of college-level Spanish, but even then, I'm not sure I could order in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant either (although if we had been in a Mexican restaurant, I'd probably been able to understand more of what was being said than I was at this Chinese restaurant).

Here's the thing though: you can get a lot through tone, intonation, and context. Case in point: one of the words she used was "green beans," which signaled to us that while they did not have many Chinese greens, they did have green beans. So just at the point when I was going to tell her "I'm sorry--I don't speak Chinese," Southern Man nodded his head and said, "OK, I understand--we'll have the green beans." At which point she smiled at us and put our order in.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this brief moment of passing as Chinese--I mean passing as a fluent Mandarin speaker. Like someone who could read Chinese characters. All of which came to a crashing reality check when Southern Man asked her about a menu that was posted by the cash register--a menu written in Chinese. When he asked her about it (it looked like a special banquet menu) she turned to me with a puzzled look on her face, as if to say: "How come he's asking me? Can't you read?" at which point I fessed up and said, "Actually, I don't speak Chinese--sorry!"

Our waitress was very nice--she apologized to us for speaking in Chinese--to which we, of course, apologized for not speaking/understanding Chinese, and then she translated the menu for us (sounded really yummy!) and asked me where I was from. When I said California, she did something that most people don't do. She said, "Oh, OK" and again apologized for speaking to me in Chinese.

Southern Man noted that unlike everyone else we've encountered, she didn't probe further--didn't ask about where my parents were from, didn't ask what my nationality, race, ethnicity was. Didn't make me feel bad for not being fluent in Chinese. She just smiled, said, "OK" and then told us to have a nice day.

This place is DEFINITELY my new favorite Chinese restaurant!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Education--a right and a responsibility

Let me first say that I am entirely biased. I am a university professor. I have spent A LOT of time in classrooms, as a student and now as a teacher. I obviously believe in education, formal education, as a good and as a goal that everyone should strive for.

Let me also say that I know of many successful people who did not attend college or university--people in my own family who, for a variety of reasons, some chosen and some not, never attended a four-year institution of higher learning. So I'm certainly not saying that I believe everyone must attend college and that a university diploma is the sign of success or intelligence.

But I do believe that higher education should be made available for all people--it should be a possibility that people can feel they can strive for and achieve, whether intellectually or financially.

And it is this last part that has me worried. Especially at my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Barbara. Because like all other UC campuses, its students are now subject to a 32% tuition increase--in real money it means students next year will be paying over $10,000 a year for a public school education. It is one of the largest tuition increases the UC regents have ever made in a single year. Students next year will pay 3x in tuition what students paid a decade ago and 6x what I and my fellow students were paying in the early 1990s.

I grew up in a pretty middle-class family--my parents were typical immigrants in the sense of their frugality and their belief that they should work hard for the betterment of the next generation. While I had dreams of going to a private school, I knew that the reality of our financial situation meant that a UC or Cal State education would be my only real option. And I was really fine with that because I knew that California had one of the best public school systems in the nation, if not the world. And I knew that I could work summers and during breaks to save money for my tuition or at least for incidentals (like food and rent) that my parents may not be able to afford. So I graduated from college debt free, which allowed me to think about pursuing PhD work because I didn't have the pressure of getting a high paying job straight out of school to pay off my debts and then the worry about incurring more debts in grad school (for the record, I am still paying off my grad student loans).

I mention all of this because I worry especially about kids who resemble my own profile--kids of immigrant parents whose one good option--a UC school--seems to be slipping past them. Or kids who will feel an additional pressure to go into majors that will hopefully provide a pipeline into high paying/lucrative jobs, but these may not be career options or even educational options they want to pursue--they may want to be English majors or Art History majors but are being pressured to go into science and math and technology driven majors in the hopes of securing a high paying job to pay back the many loans they have incurred. Or really bright students may decide that studying abroad or thinking about a PhD just isn't in their future. Or worst of all, there will be kids who simply won't be able to go to college because they just can't afford it.

Which means that the diversity--in terms of race but most especially in terms of class will become diminished in the UC system. It means that the gap between those who have and those who have not will grow. It means that we are saying education--a college education--is reserved for an elite who can afford it.

I don't have any cheerful words to end this post with. I wish I did. I only know that we have to do something--that this education is both a right and a responsibility--that everyone has the right to pursue a higher ed degree and that we have a responsibility to make that happen for all students. How to make this happen? I don't know. But we owe it to ourselves and our future to figure this out, NOW.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama haters are white (and other observations that you may have been able to guess yourselves)

This just in from The Guardian/UK: "Hate Obama? You may not be racist but you will be white." The author, Michael Tomasky, does a fairly thoughtful job of explaining why discussions of racism haven't been more prevalent in the anti-Obama rhetoric that coheres around President Barack Obama. Although truthfully, I don't think he goes far enough in uttering the magic phrase "white privilege" or more forcefully "white supremacy" when it comes to thinking about how a 98% white crowd could be implicated in structural racism without ever uttering the dreaded "N" word (at least not publicly for television/Fox News consumption).

Which, of course isn't to say that everyone who hates Obama really is white (I think the title of the article is meant to be both a touch hyperbolic and tongue-in-cheek) but I do think that what Tomasky is trying to get at in his piece is the mob mentality as well as the abysmal track record of the Republican party on civil rights (or at least understanding a true history and theory behind civil rights and structural racism).

Tomorrow maybe I'll tackle other things that seem self-evident, like the pervasive sexism that underlies so much of our society which causes us all to forget that our government (let alone the private sector of our nation) in no way reflects the actual gender demographics of our country.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Speaking as an "Other"

I'm teaching Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deveare Smith this week. Last night I re-watched the film with my class and was once again struck by how Smith so completely embodies the various interview subjects of her piece. Her work is a type of documentary theater known as "verbatim" theater. Actors recite the precise dialogue of real interview subjects, including all of the stutters and stammers and "ums" and "uhs." Smith uses minimal props--transforming herself within a 10 minute time span from an African American attorney to an African American church-going woman, to a Korean American store owner by either putting on or taking off earrings, jackets, a watch.

One of the writing exercises I did was to have my students describe a time when they felt like an "other," which I thought was relevant since this is essentially at the heart of what Smith is trying to convey through her embodiment of these various people and personas and in the exact recitation of their speech mannerisms, accents, intonations, and tone. She wants us to see, not her, but the people she has interviewed. To see all these "other" people not as "Others" but as individuals with their own stories--one's we may relate to intimately or feel revulsion towards or sympathy. Or in the best cases, empathy--empathy with someone who seems to be such an "other" on the surface but whose words move us to see who they are--to at least get a small glimpse of who they are.

Yet I was also distinctly uncomfortable watching Smith portray these people. Because some of her portraits almost verged on parody and stereotype--an accusation she has weathered from her various performances like Fires in the Mirror (actually, the review I'd linked to does not lambast Smith but others have in the past). How could audiences, especially ones unfamiliar with different ethnic and racial communities and the ANGER and RAGE associated with being a person of color in the U.S. (and in the case of Twilight: Los Angeles, the specific condition of black rage) understand the depth of emotion conveyed--what lies behind black anger instead of just being witness to the anger itself?

I think what audiences should keep in mind while watching Smith is that she is trying to really honor these people in all their flawed humanity and not to interpret them but to really convey them as they are. And, of course, she has no control over what audiences will take away from her performances.

Perhaps, in thinking about how I will talk about Smith and her performance in my class, I should rely on the tools of my trade. Because what Smith is doing in Twilight: Los Angeles is acting out the simile rather than performing metaphor. She is acting "as if" she were these various people--sharing with us their stories, rather than becoming or being these people--she can never be any of these people. But she can try to speak "as an other" if you will. And in doing so, to try to convey part of the pain and suffering and sorrow but also the sense of redemption and hope and justice that all emerged in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial.

Finally, if you have 25 minutes to watch this clip, you can actually see Anna Deveare Smith enacting verbatim theater and explaining why she performs barefoot!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Growing Up on Sesame Street

If you have been following the changing Google characters this past week you know that something has been coming. Big Bird. Elmo. The Cookie Monster. Oscar the Grouch. Bert and Ernie. And then this morning, the entire cast of Sesame Street. Because 40 years ago today, the Children's Television Workshop aired the very first episode of Sesame Street. And people of my generation, a little bit older and a little bit younger, grew up on Sesame Street. Actually, that's inaccurate; almost everyone younger has grown up on Sesame Street. If you are over 45 you probably missed the phenomenon of watching it in the mornings (and am I incorrect in thinking it may have come on in the afternoons when I was a kid), counting along with the Count, watching Oscar the Grouch be crabby and the Cookie monster be ravenous. And, of course, all those people who thought that Big Bird was delusional for making up this imaginary elephant, Mr. Snuffulpugus (and when was it, exactly, that the producers decided that everyone could actually SEE him? There was a certain magic to knowing that the adults were wrong--that Big Bird was NOT inventing him--that he was real. It was reassuring, to me, because I also had conversations with people no one else could see as a child, and I was sure they were real and that adults just lacked the imagination to see).

Anyway, Happy 40th Birthday Sesame Street! I was also going to write about how this was a really breakthrough show on PBS and in the world of Children's TV programming because of its urban center (NYC), because of its diverse cast of character (Luis, Maria (I think they eventually marry on the show), Gordon, Mr. Hooper), because of the way it embraces difference and change. But I think I'll just let you all see for yourself with this clip celebrating the 40th season, especially since none other than First Lady Michelle Obama starred in the season premiere this morning:

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's in the air or is it kismet?

Just a brief post to highlight a New York Times article this morning that discusses the findings of a study on Korean-American (and I use the hyphen self-consciously to indicate international adoptions from Korea into the United States) transnational/transracial adoptions. Click here for the link.

It's odd to find this article because in my Asian American women's writing class, my students have been doing presentations. On Friday one group presented on the subject of transracial/transnational adoptions, focusing largely on Vietnamese adoptions into the U.S., especially the historic phenomenon of "Operation Babylift" (they also showed a clip from a documentary of that same name that almost had me in tears--which I fought off because it seemed unseemly to cry in my class or perhaps I just don't want them to know what I softie I am inside). Today's presentation is on Korean American women, but one of the excerpts that they had us read was from Jane Jeong Trenka's Fugitive Visions--and for those not in the know, Trenka is a dominant voice in describing and detailing her own and others' transnational/transracial adoptee experiences.

And on a personal note, I had been having some conversations with friends about transracial adoption. So it just seems like there is something in the air or maybe a sense of kismet that has aligned to bring this issue to my attention.

Is someone, somewhere trying to tell me something?

Friday, November 6, 2009

I don't want to represent

Yesterday I guest lectured for a colleague on a book I'm very familiar with, Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the book is hard to categorize--part memoir, part fable, part coming-of-age novel, definitely part fiction. It's hard, at times, to figure out how much Kingston is describing about her life as a Chinese American girl growing up in Stockton, CA in the 1950s and how much is embellishment. The students were very interested, concerned and confused even, in their inability to distinguish the "real" from the "fake" of her storytelling. When I pressed them to explain why it was so important to know the difference, one student said that knowing the difference between the "real" and the "fake" would help her understand what is authentically Chinese American culture since this book is a representative of Chinese American life and only by knowing the difference between the facts of her life and the fiction she creates would the student be able to determine what is authentic about being Chinese American.

Which is a lot to ask of a single book or a single author. It's a lot to ask of anyone--that they be an authentic representation of an entire culture. I pointed this out to the class--that it's a tall order and one we usually only make of "ethnic" American writers or artists. That their works get to stand in for an entire culture or ethnicity. We KNOW what it's like to be black because Langston Hughes' poems tell us about his black experiences. We UNDERSTAND what it means to be Chicano because we watch Stand and Deliver and watch Edward James Olmos portray the real math teacher, Jaime Escalanate. We COMPREHEND the complex history of American Indians when we read the novels of Louise Erdrich.

But the truth is, these works, whether based on one's real life experiences or a fictionalized version of the lives of various "others" in America can't really stand in for the millions of stories of a group/culture/ethnicity. And it's a LOT of pressure to ask people/authors/filmmakers/artists to "represent" their culture.

Of course, we do this all the time. In fact, some of the biggest pressure comes from within an ethnic community--we hold ethnic artists responsible for portraying their ethnic community with respect and accuracy. Of course, it should go without saying that "ethnic" is meant to suggest the "non-white"--the minority in America. In other words, white American playwright David Mamet isn't asked to "represent" white American respectfully but black American playwright Suzanne Lori-Parks may get push back on the black bodies which populate her plays.

I am especially struck by the idea that a single individual can represent an entire group after hearing the tragic news about the Fort Hood Army Major, Nidal Malik Hassan, who went on a shooting rampage, killing thirteen soldiers and civilians and wounding thirty others. It's horrific and tragic. And immediately American Muslim groups (because Hassan was Muslim) have been decrying his actions and pleading with average Americans to understand that his actions are not a reflection of the values of Islam but an isolated and individual act of violence.

And I am sad that there may be those in our country that look at Hassan's violence and believe that he represents all American Muslims. He does not represent the face of American Muslims or Palestinian Americans. Yet there will be people pointing at him and taking him to be the face of Muslim America. Which is another sad and tragic aspect to this already sad and tragic story.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Something fun on the fourth workday

In honor of Thursday being the fourth workday of the weekday, I bring you something to make you smile--at least it made me smile:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cruelty and Empathy

There are these public service announcements on cable television that I hate--because they prey on my conscience and tug at my heart. Most of you have probably seen these--they feature dogs and cats who have been abused or abandoned. They look up into the camera with scarred faces and look out from cages in which they sit waiting for release--through either adoption or euthenasia. A celebrity's voice implores people to give voice to the voiceless and to adopt or give money or speak out against animal cruelty. There's usually background music that swells and adds to the pathos of the animals' suffering.

And it hurts my heart to look at these images because the thought of being cruel to a dog or cat is unfathomable to me. And because I've adopted shelter dogs for the last few years--my current dog "B" was found wandering on the side of a highway -- they believe he was abandoned by owners after discovering he had heartworm because the shelter said that he looked cared for (he was not malnourished or mangy) but he did test positive for heartworm, and apparently some owners will abandon their dogs to the elements rather than treat them or seek other owners for them. So when I look at "B" and try to imagine what he had to go through wandering around in the woods, let alone what he may have faced in his home environment, it hurts my heart.

Yet I am also reminded of the fact that suffering and cruelty towards humans has gone on and happens every minute of every day somewhere around the world. And perhaps if I saw pictures of abused children and abandoned orphans my heart would be tugged in the same way. But I'm not sure. I don't want to sound like a monster, but I think I have become numb to that kind of pain or willfully choose to ignore the kind of suffering that I KNOW must happen every minute of every day. I don't even have to go very far to imagine this--in our own neighborhoods there are more than likely abused children and malnourished people.

I suppose I bring all of this up because I recall reading in The New York Times a story about a man who threw a puppy off his apartment building's roof. The pupppy sustained major injuries but survived and folks wrote into the comment section OUTRAGED (as well they should) and calling for this guy to be thrown off the roof of a building and really decrying animal cruelty. And someone commented on the fact that while this is awful--what happened to the puppy--all these people were feeling outraged on behalf of a dog when there were kids facing similar types of abuse and neglect, some dying as a result, in the various boroughs of New York City and why aren't we getting outraged by that?

I don't have an answer. But I think it has something to do with the nature of empathy--that for dog owners/cat owners or animal people, the idea of animal cruelty and the empathy they have with animals--who are voiceless and without agency--runs deep. And yet, I think children are placed in very similar situations--of being vulnerable, voiceless, and without agency.

A bit off the topic of what I normally write I suppose, but I have been thinking about my own sense of empathy and wondering why tears can appear in my eyes when I see these images of animal abuse but I don't feel this same pain knowing that there are children undergoing similar horrors at this very moment.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What's in a name?

I was catching up on my blog reading (which I've let lapse in the midst of all the craziness that is called my professional life) and was astounded by a tidibit of info on What Tami Said regarding Americans' opinions on the subject of women taking their husbands' last names when they marry. Apparently 70% of those polled believe that women should give up their last name in favor of their husband's, while 50% of those polled believes it should be legally MANDATED--which means if these 50% had their say, then any woman choosing to marry a man would be forced to take his last name.

The study was done through the University of Indiana at their Center for Survey Research. Which means, I have no idea who they polled and where these people live in the nation and what their political or religious affiliation is. The article only states that 815 people were polled. And according to one Indiana researcher, only 5-10% of women keep the name they were born with.

Now, there are several thoughts I have about this. My first is that I know several women who have kept their last name--many but not all of them are academics. So I wonder if, in certain populations or professions, the tendency of women keeping their names is stronger than in others. Second, although the article gestures towards talking about lesbian couples in the last paragraph, it does beg the question about how we are to treat same-sex couples, be they male or female. I suppose if this is all a gender question, then we would not care about men changing their names upon marrying another man--yet same-sex couples really throw a wrench into all of this, it would seem. Because part of the internal logic of name-changing has to do with subordinating oneself, linguistically at least, for your partner. In same-sex couples, how would that subordination be determined?

Clearly, the gendered implications in these statistics are clear. What is far less clear and unspoken within the article is the implication for inter-racial couples. I know two couples in which the wives, both white American women, took the surnames of their husbands, both Asian American men with discernible Asian surnames. Both women said that their choice was born out of a desire to support their husband's racial and ethnic heritage, and in one case in particular, to shake-up people's preconceived notions of what a "Mrs. Wong" [not the real name] looks like.

Similarly, I have Asian American female friends who have insisted on keeping their last names as a point of ethnic and cultural pride. Especially when these women have married white men, they feel it is important for their heritage not to be whitewashed out by being called "Mrs. Smith." And for friends of mine in inter-racial relationships in which their respective ethnic ancestries and racial identities is very strong, the challenge has become how to preserve the sense of ethnic ancestry within each name and yet find a compromise when choosing a name for thier children, particularly when hyphenation proves unwieldly/cumbersome/a tongue twister. I know one couple in particular who both have hyphenated names (a commonality with people with Latin American backgrounds) who want to maintain gender equity in their marriage and with their children, but find it difficult to come up with a compromise that maintains ethnic integrity while combining concision and precision in their names.

I'm not vociferously advocating for women changing their names to their husband's if he happens to be "ethnic" (whatever that means) or that women must always keep their names as a sign of feminist solidarity and identity. I think one's name is quite personal, especially in the rare instance where you get to make a choice--since none of us chooses the names we are born with. Even if we choose different names for ourselves once we are out of the infant stage, whether legally or as a nickname, the chance to actually re-name yourself through a union with another is a powerful act. And I think that there are complicated reasons to either change or not change.


I also think that there should be real equity and that a very progressive movement may be to consider either gender (or in the case of same-sex couples, either partner) electing to change his/her name or to create a new name for the sake of this union. This strikes me as being a small and simple yet radical idea--that we no longer take it for granted that women will change their names to reflect their husbands' families but rather that each couple will decide whether they want to make name changes and in which direction to have that change flow. Perhaps, in the case above with the two white women who married Asian American men, such a choice could reflect the status of being racial allies in the fight against white supremacy and hegemony, even if it appears,on the face of it, to be a blow against women's autonomy.

After all, what's in a name is actually quite important and would certainly go a long way to shift notions of family and community, perhaps in a progressive and positive way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life catches up to you then WHAM!

Since it has been a full week since I've written a post or sent you a link or uploaded a video, the title of this post seems pretty self-explanatory. Although should I give you a full accounting of why I've been slammed? I think it'd be pretty boring because truthfully it's all about grading, which means I'm doing my day job and my students are happy (well, maybe *happy* isn't the right word since they just got midterm and papers back this week). I gave all my classes a speech about the educational goals that I have for them, meaning I don't care about the grade they get, I care about what they learn. Which means when they ask me what I'm "looking" for (which some invariably do because the kids at Southern U really care about doing well since many are high achieving, academically competitive egg-head types), I tell them I'm not looking for a single RIGHT answer or in them giving me the answer I want. I'm looking to see how they are engaging with the question or topic and what they've learned.

I also give them A LOT of feedback--and I don't pull punches. I'm fairly direct, although I try to phrase my feedback in ways that are constructive and shows students how they can improve their papers. Yet I'm all too aware that receiving feedback on your writing is hard.

Case in point: I just received the final round of editorial comments on an article I have coming out in a journal. In this round it was the journal editors (and not the people who solicited the articles for a special issue) who responded to my piece and they were CRITICAL. I'm sure all of it is valid--in skimming the comments I felt slightly embarrassed by a few points that I should have caught on the multiple drafts I've written. But there were other comments that made me pause and wonder about whether I was receiving these comments because the editors were not familiar with issues related to Asian American literature and/or race and cultural studies. In other words, this is not an ethnic studies journal--it's a mainstream, for lack of a better word, literature journal that has a special issue out on issues of race. Hence the special issue editor. It made me realize that it's easy to convey your ideas when you are talking to someone else familiar with your terminology and existing ideas, but much harder when the person is looking at your work from a completely different perspective.

And there are two things that came to me in this experience. First, that it is humbling to read criticism--and hard. I am going to have to go back through this article with a fine-toothed comb, and it will be better for it, but I know that it will be painful, in terms of my ego and pride, to read through these and feel like I didn't get it "right" the first time. And now I have to remind myself of my own advice to my students--that it's about the process and not just about the final product--although in my case I got the ideal outcome I wanted, acceptance into the journal. Still, the feedback is hard. And I will share this with my students because I want them to understand that I really DO understand.

The second realization is the difficulty of trying to convey ideas about race to people who aren't thinking about this 24/7 (am I thinking about this 24/7? Maybe 16/6--after all, I have to sleep and I should have one day off). My guess is that most folks reading this blog come here because they have an interest in issues of race and share a common attitude and value system about race. But I, supposedly, want to have conversations with those who disagree with me--who will challenge me and, in turn, be challenged by me.

I say supposedly because I have often been frustrated by push-back, not so much on this blog but on others I frequent where there's that one person who doesn't seem to be on the same page as the other commenters and I think "WHY DOESN'T THIS PERSON GET IT!" And assuming that this is someone who comes in good-faith, I have to remind myself that this person is at this site because s/he has things to offer and wants to engage and simply comes from a different perspective than everyone else, and isn't that good that s/he is pushing us to clarify our terms and points?

Anyway, this is long and rambling and aside from the apology at the top I mainly wanted to just get something out in the world because I feel like I'm neglecting this space (and will more likely continue to do so as I have a new batch of writing assignments coming in today). But don't worry, I will be back--hopefully sooner than I think (maybe even tomorrow!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Back: "This Week in Blackness"

During the summer in the midst of the outrage of the Valley Club not allowing the kids (who were predominantly black and Latino) from using their pool, I discovered a site, This Week in Blackness, and spent the next week going through the archives, watching the videos and laughing while nodding my head and saying RIGHT ON!

And after taking a few months off from their schedule, they are back!

If you aren't familiar with Elon and this site, you should know that they are VERY PARTISAN (as am I--diehard Democrat to the core) but they also tell it like it is to a variety of folk.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the latest installment of This Week in Blackness:

Friday, October 16, 2009

My 500th post

I wish I could say that I saw this coming--that I had planned something extraordinarly insightful to share with you on this, my 500th post. But the truth is, I was planning to upload a YouTube video of something that a few of you may have already seen--a video talking about the rapid rise and spread of mass media and communication technology, especially as it has created the current global information network as we now know it (and, I think, consciously or unconsciously tapping into our fears about China and India becoming dominant global powers, in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of mass brain power).

So when I went to log-in and saw that I had written 499 posts and this was going to be my 500th, I thought that it was a milestone worth noting.

[pause for deep thoughts to percolate and spill over to convey the profound wisdom I want to share at this moment]

OK, I got nothing.

Well, almost nothing.

I must admit that I am considered a late adapter, technologically speaking. I have never been on the front lines of any new technology trend.

[Aside: Heck, we may as well dispense with the "technology" part--I think the only thing I can claim as being ahead of the populist curve was my discovery via a college roommate and cousin in Toronto of the first Bare Naked Ladies album, so when they hit BIG TIME in the U.S. in the mid-1990s, I could claim that I'd been listening to them for YEARS (OK, maybe just 3) before everyone else.]

I was late to Facebook, and to this day I do not really check it regularly or do anything with it aside from add and ignore friend requests (my philosophy is that if I weren't ever really friends with you in high school why are we pretending to be friends now?). I don't have a MySpace page; I've never purchased anything on eBay; and I neither twitter nor send text messages (although I do receive them, reluctantly--at one point I had the text message functioning turned off, but I must admit that there are times when I can see text messaging coming in handy, so I had it turned back on, but again, mostly to be on the receiving rather than sending end).

I wouldn't say I'm a luddite or a techno-phobe. I think in some ways I'm an old-fashioned gal who prefers to read with a book in her hand outdoors, although I admit that sometimes I'm plugged into my iPod while doing this and listening to podcasts I've downloaded from various websites. And I have a few stations on Pandora that I'm fond of listening to as I work on my laptop computer.

And of course blogging--I thought it was a silly, egotistical exercise in narcissism when I first heard about it back in the day (which would have been about 6-7 years ago). And I couldn't understand the attraction and could never imagine I'd ever be reading blogs let alone BLOGGING--I mean really, what kind of verb is "to blog"! RIDICULOUS.

Of course, I have since eaten my words. 500 times over. But I think what attracts me to blogging is, in some senses, still old-fashioned. Which is the writing. I like the writing--the communication of ideas. What this blog and the blogs I read facilitates are conversations with folks I would not have access to in my normal everyday life. And for me, especially, because I am invested in investigating issues of race and racism and in working on being an anti-racist educator, this medium has been ideal for putting my thoughts out there and hearing others in return.

So thank you, dear reader. Whether you are coming to this site for the first time or were there in the early days of my single and double digit posts, I appreciate knowing that I'm not just writing into a void but am writing to engage in smart conversations with a variety of people who both disagree and agree or push back against the things I'm saying.

And finally, here's that YouTube video I talked about at the top of this post:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Acoustic Wednesday

So school is sort've kicking my butt right now with work, which means, of course, as a responsible professor/teacher the blogging takes a back seat. But of course, it takes non time to embed a youtube video--and so here's an acoustic duo to get through the humpday:

"Good Life" -- Paul Dateh and Ken Belcher

[tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

Friday, October 9, 2009

A partisan post about peace potential (perhaps?)

Scorecard for Nobel Peace Prize for U.S. Presidents:

Republican Party: 1 (Teddy Roosevelt)
Democrat Party: 3* (Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter,** Barack Obama)

*and 4 if we're counting former vice-president Al Gore

**Carter received his in 2002 well after his term of office in the White House; the other presidents received theirs as sitting presidents.

I know there is a lot of talk about why President Obama was granted this prestigious prize so early in his presidency when he has not yet accomplished any major peace effort. The pundits are weighing in and saying it's as much a slap to the former Bush administration as it is to the work that Obama has been laying down even before he took office--a shift in tone and policy. Yet what is also true, which Elie Wiesel on NPR noted this morning, is the symbolic value of a mixed-race (that's my addition) African American man achieving this highest office and what it says for the potential for us to achieve peace in a variety of ways--racially, perhaps, as well as along the lines of ending global antagonisms.

So regardless of what political fallout or benefits may happen following this award, it is pretty remarkable that Obama has received this prize--and really, I do think it's nice to take an optimistic approach--to reward Obama on the promise of peace that we certainly hope his administration will achieve.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Can I have that combination to go?

*This post is filed under "bizarre things people say to you when you date inter-racially"

Last week, since I am still low energy and recovering post-surgery, Southern Man picked me up from campus in the late afternoon. We were driving through the heart of Southern University with the windows down because the weather is still warm where we live (it was 80 degrees on this afternoon in particular).

Now, the thing you have to know is that I was EXHAUSTED. The truth is, I probably went back to teaching about a week too soon. And when I'm tired the synapses just don't fire that rapidly--although what happened next may have left me flummoxed even if I had been bright eyed and bushy tailed in the a.m.

At a stop sign, there was a man, who was probably in his early to mid 40s, who seemed to be of Mediterranean ethnicity, but also could have been Latino or could have been Middle-Eastern/Arab descent. In other words, he was a brownish-swarthy looking man. He looks into our car and waves at us, so I assume that my partner knows him. So we wave back and the man, who is walking in the same direction as our slow-moving vehicle (remember, we are crawling through the main part of campus at the end of the day), says to us:

"Hey, you make a great combination!"

Now, the thing you also need to know is that Southern Man is in the coffee business. And he had just told me about a new line of syrups that they were trying out -- ones that are organic and vegan. So I thought that this guy was a regular customer at one of the stores and had tried out a new flavored latte with one of these new syrups.

So we both nod and smile at the guy (and I should also note here that this man spoke with an accent that was not-American, but I couldn't quite place it) and the guy gives us the thumbs up with BOTH HANDS and continues to talk at us through the open window:

"No, really--you make a great combination!"

So now I'm thinking, "Wow, this guy must really like his coffee" and Southern Man is smiling and nodding at him and saying, "Thanks Man" and then the guys says:

"I'm Moroccan and French--I should know--really, you make a very attractive combination!"

And right then (because we were at a red light) the light turns green and at the same time the little light bulb in my brain goes off and I realize:

OMG! He's talking about US, not coffee! He's saying that WE make a good inter-racial combination!

When I turned to Southern Man to let him in on what was really going on with this guy's remark (and my previous confusion) he started laughing and said,

"Well of COURSE that's what he was talking about! I thought YOU were the one savvy about race--you really thought he was talking about coffee???!"


Again, I blame it on the fatigue. But I also think that when you are driving through campus to go home at the end of the day and an unknown Moroccan-French man is trying to pay you a bizarre compliment as an inter-racial couple by saying you make a "good combination" I don't know that it's necessarily crystal clear that he's talking about race.

Or maybe it is and I'm just slow on the uptake.

At any rate, I'm not sure what to do with the whole "good combination" comment--I mean, I do understand that he was trying to be friendly/complimentary, but I wanted to go back to him and ask:

"Are there bad inter-racial combinations? If I were an Asian American man and my partner was white, would that still be a good combination? How did you even know we were in a romantic relationship--we could have just been two friends hanging out? And isn't it unsettling to talk about inter-racial partnerships like we would talk about food?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don't Stop JOURNEY

Ok, so I am a child of the 80s and Journey's Escape album was one of my favorites back in the day (don't you remember slow dancing to "Open Arms"?). So of course when Journey decided to take on a new front man in the form of Filipino crooner Arnel Pineda, how could I resist posting this clip from a recent airing of Oprah?

[tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Supporting Dan Choi & The Moth podcasts

So there are two things that I want to promote today because I'm a fan of both for different reasons. The first: Moth podcasts. If you don't know what they are (if you aren't a regular This American Life listerner) let me explain. There is a venue in NYC called "The Moth" where average folks (and some not-so-average-more-well-known-celebrity-type people) get up on stage and tell unscripted stories about their lives--little life vignettes if you will.

I started to subscribe to The Moth podcast about a month ago--and my most recent download featured another promotion I want to make: Dan Choi.

If the name rings a bell, it may because you remember seeing a former post here and here. To recap, Dan Choi, a former lieutenant in the Army, a West Point Grad, and a gay man, has been dishonorably discharged for being in violation of "Don't ask, don't tell" (he's proud and out) and has been fighting this policy and fighting to be reinstated in the military. He helped to found an organization called Knights Out, which is an organization of West Point alumni, faculty, and staff who support the queer military community.

And as I mentioned above, he was featured on The Moth talking about his experiences being in Iraq, serving, in the military, and falling in love for the first time with someone he tells his colleagues is named "Martha" but whose real name is "Matthew."

Two great things that go great together: The Moth and Dan Choi. If you've got 15 minutes, head over to The Moth website (it's also on the Knights Out website) and take a listen for yourself.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday links to get you thinking

Thought I'd start out this Monday with two links, one sent by a friend (thanks "D"!) and another sent by my aunt, "S"--hopefully these will provide some food for thought to kick off the work week:

*"White Privilege: Can you see it?"--this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking post about white privilege, with some links to articles and essays on the subject. I haven't read the discussion that follows, but I'm sure it's interesting.

*"Law Bans use of 'Oriental' on state documents" -- It's ABOUT TIME that we stopped, officially (and hopefully unofficially) stop using this word. I know that there are folks, esp. of a different era, who continue to use "Oriental" as synonymous with "Asian" or "Asian American" but I think law professor Frank Wu says it best:

“‘Oriental’ is like the word ‘negro.’ It conjures up an era.”

'Nough said.

Hope everyone is well--I'm off my heavy-duty pain meds so my brain should be starting to function and I should be starting to write posts again, so be on the lookout--can't guarantee I'll be writing anything too illuminating, but then again, that's never something I can guarantee--only something I can hope to occasionally stumble upon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the mend but still taking a break

Hello--for all of you who sent me well wishes when I announced that I'd be taking a brief break from blogging due to recuperating from my surgery, THANK YOU. I just wanted to send a quick note to let all of you know that the surgery went well, and today was the first day I felt lucid and energetic enough to check my email--so I thought I should send a note to let all of you know that I'm recovering just fine and hope that by the end of the week I'll be back to 75% (I think 100% may be another 2-3 weeks away, but I figure slow and steady is the key).

Thanks for all your support--and don't worry, this isn't the last you'll hear from me, since we all know I have MANY thoughts about race in America!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blogging Break

Hello dear readers, especially to those of you who follow this blog and/or know me in my full name incarnation outside of the pseudononymous first name "Jennifer" (which once upon a time was the most popular name in the U.S. because of a certain film that came out in the 1970s).

At any rate, I have struggled at various times on this blog with how much personal information I should reveal, since my intention is that this blog has a definite focus--issues of mixed race in the U.S. (but also around the world--I'm not as good with the global aspects of race but I'm working on it).

Anyway, I have decided that I need to get a bit personal because I need a break from blogging. I'm having some health issues and will be having surgery this Monday for these issues--and I'm confident that the surgery (which is routine) will be successful, but it does mean that I'm not going to be doing much blogging in the days leading up and certainly in the weeks following from this surgery.

Now. If you are someone who actually KNOWS me and who is perhaps even RELATED to me, you may be getting this information for the first time and feel alarmed. Really, don't be. Feel free to drop me a line, and I'll be happy to explain.

For those of you who only know me through my blog, I hope you aren't alarmed either--I really am OK, and perhaps I am placing too much faith in medicine but I truly believe that this surgery will be a good thing for me AND that I will soon be my old self (which you may not know what that's like but in the last week two different people described me as someone who brings "fire" and I was tickled pink at that description of me!)

So please don't give up on reading my blog--but do know that I may not be back here for a good 3 weeks. In the meantime, you can peruse older posts or better yet, let me direct you to any number of wonderful blogs on the sidebar to the right -- and their blogs have similarly wonderful blog links so really you can get lost just blog surfing!

OK, I think that's enough personal disclosure. The last thing I will say is that I know tomorrow is 9/11. I had intended to write a review of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, which is about a man and his family coping with life post-9/11 but is also and perhaps mostly about being an immigrant in the U.S., specifically NYC. But I'm too tired, mentally and physically, to do more than just say that I do recommend it although I also don't know that at the end of the day it's "all that"--perhaps when I'm feeling more coherent I'll come back and let you know what I really think about this novel. Until then, if you are looking for a good read, one that is timely given tomorrow's anniversary, I do recommend it.

See you all in a few weeks!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Two VERY Angry Asian American Women

Thought I'd give everyone a jolt for your weekend with this piece by Yellow Rage, two Asian American female spoken word artists speaking their truth LOUDLY and ANGRILY:

[Note: In my professorial mode I restrain myself from expressing myself like Yellow Rage but I have to say that at various times in my life I have felt THAT FURIOUS--so I can relate to everything that they're saying, as most Asian American women who have been subjected to a particular racist sexual exoticization knows all too well]

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If only it were this simple to fight racism...

A light-hearted yet earnest vision of fighting racism from our friends to the North:

I do love the take-home message at the end--it's never too late to fight racism and in real life it requires the work of ALL of us to combat it. But it's nice to imagine an "Anti-Racism Girl!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Humpday links

Thought I'd gather some links for the mid-week transition:

*Microsoft-gate (no pun intended). People have already commented on the white washing of the Polish Microsoft site here and here, but I credit "C" for sending me the link to this article last week.

*Tenured Radical's thought provoking and provocative thoughts on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi

*What Tami Said's response to a New York Times article on black women and hair

*Anti-Racist Parent on transracial and transnational adoption

And now for something on the lighter side for those of you who grew up with School House Rock:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Earth Wind & Fire brings "September"

It's the first day of September and what better way to usher in this month than with a little Earth Wind & Fire

[This song just makes me want to dance and groove--when it pops up on my iPod and I'm walking on campus, you will notice me bobbing and strutting along--I'm sure I make quite a sight!]