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.