Thursday, February 26, 2009

Republican affirmative action

I know I gave one type of perspective about the reaction to Bobby Jindal's speech in the blogosphere, but for a deeper analysis of not just Jindal's speech but the idea of Republican affirmative action, please head over to What Tami Said for her post, "Republicans give important positions to unqualified women and minorities or How Bobby Jindal became the GOP's "Great Brown Hope."" Here's a little teaser from Tami:
I always thought Republicans were being disingenuous in their arguments against affirmative action. I was sure that conservatives knew encouraging diversity and making a place for under-represented people does not equal handing goodies to the unqualified. They don't really think that; they are merely pandering to a base that needs a minority boogie man to blame for their personal failures and those of their party. But after watching Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's strange and tepid response to the President's speech last night, it hit me--that's exactly what they think. That's why when Republicans do diversity it just doesn't work.

Please go and check out Tami's post. As usual, she says what I am thinking about, but oh so well and oh so eloquently.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


[Tiger Woods in Arizona before the Accenture Match Play tournament begins]

Looks promising, but not there yet

I watched President Obama's economic address to Congress/the Nation and Governor Bobby Jindal's rebuttal on behalf of the GOP. And I just want to talk about the picture--the appearance--of what it was like watching the proceedings. And I have to say, the picture looks a lot different than it did 20, 16, 12, 8, and even 4 years ago.

I'm not just talking about the high profile image of two men of color representing the two major political parties in the U.S. on national television. I'm also talking about the image of Nancy Pelosi standing alongside Joe Biden right behind Barack Obama. And I'm talking about the members of Obama's cabinet who entered the chamber with him--you can see a picture of them by clicking here (although you should note that Katherine Sebelius, Kansas governor, and Gary Locke, former governor of Washington state, are being considered, respectively, for the positions of Health and Human Services and Commerce--and neither of them are white men, something that definitely shakes up the status quo, especially in thinking about what the cabinet would have looked like in the early 1980s or 1970s).

So this all looks really promising. More women (definitely something LONG overdue) in positions of power and influence. More people of color. Slowly, the government is starting to "look" like the people it is supposed to represent.

Yet in probing through the comment threads of lefty-liberal blogs like The Huffington Post, it is disturbing to read racially disparaging and racially charged comments about Bobby Jindal's rebuttal to Obama's speech.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not a fan of Governor Jindal. In terms of his politics and policies, I regard him as I do many in the GOP--not someone whose values I share. And certainly his speech, panned by pundits of both parties, left much to be desired and could easily be thrashed on its merits (or demerits) alone.

Yet I have been disturbed by some comments I've come across in the blogosphere. Particularly the comment thread to this blog post by Glen Thrush that details Jindal's reference to his friend (and noted race baiting lawman) Sheriff Lee. These comments mock Jindal's ethnicity and race. In fact the very first one suggests that Jindal give up his current position as governor to return to the "quickie mart" and there are many comments that reference "Slumdog Millionaire" and equate Jindal to a "wannabe redneck."

Really? We're going THERE??? We're going to thrash Jindal by stereotyping him and devolving into racist caricatures? Seriously people! I mean, I have no idea who these commenters are, but I bet that they are both people who lean left and right, who vote Democrat as well as Republican. And all I can think is, we're really not there yet. I mean, I didn't need to read those comments to think that, but SERIOUSLY, Jindal's speech left much to be desired if you are a left leaning Democrat. Trash his words as much as you like, but to somehow disparage his ethnicity and race? That isn't helping anyone. As one commenter on that same comment thread noted, disturbed by the racist tone of some of the comments, "If you are a Democrat you are supposed to be above that. If you are a Republican, this is your own guy." And if you are a person with critical thinking capacities, you should realize that it's just plain WRONG to mock someone's ethnicity/race. Kids learn this in the first grade. Maybe we need to all go back to school and learn some manners.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Honor of Black History Month: African American Words

Words have power. Just even saying or announcing that this month, February, is the designated African American history month has the power to transform and transcend this bleak and short little month into one where the nation once again remembers the legacy and history of African American contributions (by coercion and by choice) to the United States.

I've written, before, about my conflicted feelings in recognizing or designating a single month (or week or day or time period) to a particular group. It smacks of tokenism; it is too brief a period (and really, esp. February--we picked the shortest month of the year to honor African Americans officially? C'mon!); it suggests that, somehow, we are off the hook from thinking about the history and experiences of various groups when it's NOT their month.

Yet, on the flip side, it is a chance for education to happen. It is a chance to take a time out and to recognize African Americans and their role in our society and culture.

So. While I'd like to think and hope that I do recognize the many contributions of African Americans during other days of the year, I do feel, as the blogger of MIXED RACE AMERICA and as an educator, that I should take a moment and acknowledge the power of African American culture, especially in an arena that I know best: words.

Here is a brief list of African American wordsmiths and their works whom I love and adore. Some of them will be familiar to you. Others may be less well known. And I'm not just talking about the printed page, as you'll note below a number of musicians are on my list:

*Anything by Toni Morrison but especially The Bluest Eye and Paradise

*Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt

*Danzy Senna's Caucasia

*The poetry of Langston Hughes

*Stevie Wonder -- esp. my all-time favorite "Isn't She Lovely"

*Ralph Ellison's masterpiece Invisible Man

*The oratory of Martin Luther King Jr.

*Ella Fitzgerald -- esp. "Something's Gotta Give"

*Zora Neale Hurston and my favorite Their Eyes Were Watching God (all time favorite first line: "Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board" -- beautiful!)

*Malcom X and Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X

*Michelle Cliff's poetry, particularly her collection If I Could Write This in Fire

*Michael Harper's "Dear John, Dear Coltrane"

*Marvin Gaye -- esp. "Got to Give It Up" (I just gotta groove when I hear this song--I must be quite a sight listening to this on my ipod and strutting through campus)

*The slam poet artist Saul Williams and his piece "Coded Language" (see for yourself):

Finally, I invite all of you to submit your own favorite African American artists in the comment thread and to take a moment in honor of African American history month and read/listen/experience an African American writer/poet/musician today.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Equality is equality is equality

Last night I heard esteemed feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon (she is almost single-handedly responsible for making sexual harassment in the workplace an issue of sex discrimination--a civil rights issue) discuss a new topic that she is working on, namely the connection between heterosexism (the dominance and privilege of straight, heterosexual people in our society) and sexism (the dominance and privilege of men in our society). I can't summarize or re-create the brilliant but dizzying talk that MacKinnon gave, that literally had me on the edge of my seat at times, because the implications, for us as a society, is truly astounding--simultaneously radical yet simple and obvious: we are all equal. Or rather, we SHOULD all be equal, regardless of what we look like, what sex organs we were born with, or who we choose to love.

And then a friend sent me this link to the Courage Campaign, a progressive organization which is gathering signatures to combat a law suit that Ken Starr (yep, THAT Ken Starr) has brought in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 that would nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place in California over the last year.

Please take a minute and watch this video below--from the minute the first photo appeared, I had tears streaming down my face. The video below presents a picture of mixed-race America and presents a picture of people who simply want to live their lives--they want to be free to love the person they have chosen to love.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

If those of us living in the U.S. believe in the tenets of FREEDOM and INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS, then shouldn't we ALL be signing this petition and advocating on behalf of all Americans to be FREE to choose the INDIVIDUAL that they have the RIGHT to marry?

Please consider signing the Courage Campaign's petition. And please consider talking to your friends and colleagues and families about this issue. Because equality is equality is equality. This isn't a gay issue or a marriage issue. This is a civil rights, a HUMAN rights issue.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Talking about race with your friends

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of inter-racial friendships and cross-racial conversations among acquaintances, colleagues in the work place, close friends, in-laws, friends of friends, and random strangers.

My musings have been prompted by the really excellent conversation that Tami and I had during her podcast, The Best of What Tami Said this past Sunday (for anyone who missed it, you can hear it archived -- click here to get to Tami's page and if you haven't checked out her blog What Tami Said, make it one of your morning blog reads because it's definitely food for thought with your oatmeal and OJ.

One of the things we discussed was the challenges we have each faced in our friendships specifically with non-people of color. How do we deal with an awkward remark or something we perceive to be racially insensitive or even racist? Do we have a responsibility as the "person of color" to educate our friend about why his/her comment was insensitive or caused us anger or more likely pain?

My own answer to the question of responsibility was that the idea that we have a responsibility to teach our friends was a burden too heavy to bear in a friendship. I think the only responsibility we should have in any friendship is to love and care for our friend to the best of our ability. But to teach and educate our friend? I think that we often end up doing these things during the course of any friendship--and I don't mean about race or among cross-racial friendships. I mean you are doing something stupid and your best friend tells you that you are doing something stupid. That's part of what your real friends do--they know you and love you and can tell you when you are behaving in an unattractive manner and help get you back on course.

But is it their responsibility? And is it my responsibility as a person of color, particularly one who is an educator, especially an educator who teaches and researches on subjects of race and anti-racism--must I always be the "teacher" to my friends when I think they have said something racially insensitive or stereotypical?

Tami made an excellent point during our conversation that when we find ourselves in the role or mode of "teaching" it becomes exhausting--it becomes a chore or work. And no one wants to feel like their friendship is work. And yet, although I said no, we don't have a responsibility and although I think Tami also agreed, we both acknowledged that we find ourselves struggling with this issue and over things you let go and give your friend the benefit of the doubt over and things you talk about and say to your friend, "that hit me the wrong way, can I tell you why I found that to be hard for me to hear you say that."

[Aside: In the above scenario, I don't use the words "racism" or "racist" or even "racially insensitive" -- I think that whether or not you use these words when talking about a friend who has made an off-color remark or observation depends entirely on the context of the conversation and who you are speaking to. But even among our closest friends, I think that the "R" word, as I've come to think of it, puts people immediately on the defensive, and I think you can always address the issue and let your friend know that it wasn't cool and it was hurtful, from a racial pov, without invoking the dreaded "R" word. Although I also want to be clear and say that it doesn't mean that it wasn't racially inflected or racist or that we aren't all mired in a system of racism that we're influenced by in subtle and not so subtle ways--and I mean both white people and people of color alike.]

Although much of our discussion focused on the challenges of cross-racial friendships between people of color and non-people of color, we also touched on the challenges of inter-racial friendships among people of color--and I spoke very specifically about my own self-consciousness about this issue in my friendships with African Americans, because I am very aware living in "the South" and working on issues of race about the ways in which Asian Americans have been used as a wedge group in issues like education and employment to discredit the racism experienced by African Americans. So I know sometimes there is a bit of distrust that I initially encounter in talking about racial issues with African American colleagues and acquaintances.

And beyond all of these various permutations of cross-racial friendships, the truth is, there is just a lot of difficulty talking openly and honestly about race among any of your friends, whether they are of the same race or ethnicity or of a minority or majority culture.

So here's a question for you, dear reader: how do you approach talking about race with your friends, cross-racially or not. If a friend said something you thought was racially insensitive or hit you the wrong way, do you say something? And does it make a difference if the person saying it is a person or color or white? And does it make a difference if the person saying the comment is making a stereotype about your own ethnic/racial group or someone else's?

Friday, February 13, 2009

People! Can we talk about race without everyone freaking out?

OK, so the title of this post is fairly provocative, but it has to do with some of the chatter I've been reading on various blogs related to the Miley Cyrus-slant-eye-photo issue.

For those of you out of the loop, about a week ago a photo appeared of Miley Cyrus and her friends making slant-eyed gestures (click here for my original post on this issue).

Racialicious has an interesting comment thread on all of this (click here).

OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) has a blog & comment thread that is, unfortunately, indicative of the challenges of talking about race in America. In particular, the level of vitriol and anger and bitterness on various threads (click here) and (here) seems particularly troubling. Because it seems as if having anyone talk about racism (or about gestures that are racist or that are racially insensitive) is enough to send other folks telling THEM that they are being OVERSENSITIVE and that they should GET OVER IT.

[Aside: What, exactly, am I supposed to get over? Racism? Happy to oblige! Once racism ends I'll gladly give up this blog and my research on race and call it a day--I'll start writing that article on Jane Austen and gender I started back in grad school (are you going to tell me I have to get over gender?). But in the event that racism--the stickiness and subtle notions of racial privilege and discrimination--don't end overnight, I think my day job is secure, so forgive me if I can't get over "it."]

So what should we do about all this chatter?

Well, my assumption is that if you found your way to a site called "Mixed Race America," you have an interest in issues of race and are open to talking about issues of race and racism.

And if you want to talk about it LIVE and in REAL TIME, I've got an opportunity for you!

I've been invited by a blogger I like and respect A LOT (and feel is a kindred spirit), Tami of What Tami Said (and I should mention she also moderates Anti-Racist Parent) to share some thoughts about inter-racial friendships--the challenges of having friends of various races--of mixed-race friendships you could say. Please tune in to the podcast The Best of What Tami Said this Sunday (February 15) at 4:00pm -- and you can call in and participate in the discussion by calling (646) 716-4672 (click here for Tami's post about the podcast and click here for her post about her friend "Mona"--which is part of the prompt for discussing the challenges of inter-racial friendships).

Tami is an amazing writer, and I've been fortune to develop my own "inter-racial" friendship with her in the blogosphere. We hope you'll tune in and call in with your thoughts on inter-racial friendships this Sunday at 4:00pm!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I just flipped to CNN

...when they showed footage of President Barack Obama.

And I realized that ...


I'm still in awe that it happened...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Got 10 minutes? Watch "The New Boy"

In today's New York Time's movie section they are promoting the short films (animated and live action) that are nominated for this year's Academy Awards. And the still that they used is of Steph Green's The New Boy.

The still looked so familiar...and then I remembered. Somehow, through some google searching I was doing about race, I came across Liberty Mutual's "The Responsibility Project"--a multimedia endeavor designed to stimulate thought about responsibility, in our society and daily lives. There is a section on this site devoted to short films--and Steph Green's The New Boy was one of the ones I watched that stuck with me.

I think when we often think about "race," especially on this blog called "Mixed Race America," we think of it in U.S. terms (and I admit, I generally talk about race in U.S. terms because it's the geographic location and cultural/social site I know best). The New Boy reminds us that conversations about race, and difficult situations that occur between and among mixed-race people, happen around the globe, including Ireland.

If you have ten minutes, watch Steph Green's academy award nominated short film The New Boy (click here). Because it deals with issues of race and immigration and exile and trying to fit in--the pain and poignancy of the schoolyard. And because it's just a great short film, and I'll be rooting for her and for the film this Academy season.

[By the way, the other films on the site are quite good too--so if you have an hour to while away, check out some of the other movies--especially Be Good--it proves that owning a dog can be life changing]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Children's rhymes and toys may be more racist than you think

Growing up, I had a 45 rpm record of "The Tale of Little Black Sambo." [For those of you who have no idea what a 45 rpm record is, click here] My memory is fuzzy, because I would have listened to this record when I was 5 or 6 years old, but I remember that there was a British narrator, that the cover of the LP featured a dark-skinned Indian looking child and a cartoonish looking tiger, and that besides the narrative, there was some kind of song that was sung about "little black Sambo."

Fast forward to yesterday. In one of my classes we were reading an early 20th C. novel wherein one character refers to an African American man as "Sambo." The scene is racially charged, yet most of my students, all of whom are first years in this particular course, were not familiar with the fact that "Sambo" is a racist label used in a pejorative fashion to refer to African Americans nor were they familiar with the tale of "Little Black Sambo."

To which, when I discovered that they weren't picking up on the racially charged nature of the scene, I cried "Thank Goodness!"

Because thank goodness certain things are finally fading away. Like racist storybooks and racist epithets. Of course, once I had raised this issue, I had to explain the racist meaning of "Sambo" (so they could understand and interpret the scene more fully) and then they wanted me to tell them the tale of Little Black Sambo--which honestly, I couldn't quite recollect for them. I was initially hesitant--because why introduce students to racist stories if they've grown out of fashion--but I thought that they should know the derivation of the racial slur (click here for those of you who need a refresher yourself), and explained that it was a story I had grown up listening to--and more horrifically, "Sambos" was a chain restaurant I remember seeing, where the interior was decorated with scenes from the story, all of which we would find terribly offensive (and of course the chain no longer exists). But I reinforced how GREAT it was that this story was out of fashion and reminded them that this was a racist slur that they should not be using themselves (not that my students would ever do this in a million years--I have a great deal of respect for all of my students in this regard).

This made me think about the nostalgia that some people have for items that we now regard and understand to be offensive to certain groups of people (the vogue for those white shirts that people call "wife beaters," or the racist rag dolls, golliwogs, which most recently were sold in royal gift shops).

It also made me think about the times when we don't recognize certain things as racist, offensive, or stereotypical because we don't know the origins or referents, which are oftentimes regional or specific to a particular time period. Case in point: it wasn't until my first year of graduate school that I had any inkling that the children's rhyming phrase "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe" had a racist past. During a Henry James seminar (of all things) this issue came up, with my professor, an older scholar who had grown up on the Kentucky-Ohio border, expressing incredulity at my not knowing that this rhyme was racist; that the version of "tiger" I had innocently grown up repeating as a child was not the word that he had grown up hearing in the mid-20th century (I think it should be evident what the racist slur is, but for those of you who are not sure, click here to see the racist version of this rhyme).

Of course, this rhyme exists the world over, and its racist version apparently appears only in the U.S. in the late 19th century--but was repeated as late as the 1970s.

I know that oftentimes people have a nostalgia for childhood things. And it is awful to think that, in the case of a children's counting rhyme, that someone in the past can ruin it for all of us. But truthfully, once I learned about this version of the rhyme, I've never been able to bring myself to use it, even with the more acceptable "Tiger" version, because especially here in the South, there are plenty of people who hearing this would be reminded of another version.

[Let me clarify something though--it's not as if I am in any position to be using a counting rhyme on a regular basis. In fact, I don't know that outside of my elementary school playground I have ever had occasion to invoke "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" or any other such counting rhyme, but then again, perhaps I should think of incorporating this into my teaching...]

Anyway, I have no grand conclusions to draw out of what I've just written above. Maybe just one: sometimes it's hard to figure out just what things in our past have offensive/racist/sexist origins or were simply converted to these uses. So here's a question: once we realize that there is a racist version out there, is it our responsibility not to repeat this rhyme, even if the version we know is seemingly innocent?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

PSA: Asians don't find slant eye/ching-chong funny

Mixed Race America would like to make a Public Service Announcement to the blogosophere. Many of you, if not all of you, have Asian and Asian American friends, colleagues, neighbors, and perhaps even family members. You've seen us at your son's music recitals. We shop at your grocery stores. We pump your gas, examine your x-rays, teach your children, and cut your hair. You've come to our home for a bbq. You've sat next to us at a concert. You've played golf/basketball/tennis/football/soccer with us/our kids/our brothers/our sisters.

So we just want to be clear about something:

Pulling your eyes into a slant or saying "Ching-Chong Chinaman" is NEVER funny. And while we're at it, that Monty Python song that you like so much? You know, the one that goes, "I like Chinese. They only come down to your knees"--yeah, that one. We know how you think that song is HILARIOUS, and you tell us that the Pythons are COMPLIMENTING Chinese people. But you know what? To us it sounds like MAKING FUN of Chinese people--and whether we are Japanese or Thai or Korean or Indian or Vietnamese or even CHINESE, we don't think it's funny.

Yes, we have a healthy sense of humor. There are A LOT of things we think are funny. We love other Python skits and songs (who doesn't laugh at the line "It's only a flesh wound.") We know how to take a joke and how to tell a joke.

But here's what we don't find funny:

*Miley Cyrus and her friends doing the slant-eyed in a photograph

*Amy Sedaris signing her books with "Ching-Chong" and adding a picture of a racist buck-toothed, slanted eyed face

[Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

So please, people of the Blogsphere. If you want to continue to be invited over to your neighbor's annual Fourth of July cookout. If you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of your daughter's best friend's parents. If you don't want to make an ass of yourself in front of your "Asian American" friend. Then by all means DO NOT EVER SAY CHING CHONG OR MAKE THE SLANT EYE OR IN ANY WAY THINK IT'S FUNNY TO TELL RACIST ASIAN JOKES (and I'd add really any racist jokes--your Asian friends won't find Mexican jokes funny either) TO YOUR ASIAN/ASIAN AMERICAN FRIENDS.