Tuesday, December 21, 2010

150 years of PTSD OR South Carolina's selective historical memory

For regular readers, you know that I've *slowly* been doing a series where I answer questions from students at Private U. about being Asian American (it was from a workshop I did back in November--click here for the original post). But I'm interrupting that series for something very topical in time and to my location, namely, the sesquicentennial (150) celebrations that are being planned (and in one instance, that took place) in commemoration of the Civil War.

Very specifically, 150 years ago yesterday, on Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state in the confederacy to secede from the Union, issuing an "Ordinance of Secession" and eventually signing a "Declaration of Secession" and finally issuing a call to other states entitled, "The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States."

As the last call makes clear, South Carolina saw itself as a slaveholding state, saw its neighbors as slaveholding states, and understood the common cause that it had with other states in the Confederacy as slaveholding entities. In other words, the southern Confederacy broke with the union over states' rights...and that right was the right to OWN SLAVES. South Carolina in particular was upset that the North was not going to return fugitive slaves. Throughout the Ordinance and the Declaration and the Address, there are continuous references to rights of slave owners and slave holding states. This was about the economics, society, and culture of the South...all of which was predicated on African American enslavement. Because we're not just talking about abstract slavery--where anyone could be enslaved so that it became an issue of class--we're talking about a system of racial oppression and hierachy, or literal white supremacy.

Yet for many descendants of ex-Confederate soldiers, it's like there's been generational PTSD passed down over the last 150 years that has caused white Southerners to romanticize the past, to justify the loss of life, and to conveniently forget or overlook the historic reality of exactly WHY the Civil War was fought. And in the case of certain white native South Carolinians--it's a selective amnesia about why and how the ordinance of secession came about. Because in Charleston last night, the Sons of Confederate Veterans held a ball last night, a Secession Gala where 300 guests paid $100/ticket to enjoy a 45 minute theatrical re-enactment of secession, and where table sponsors had the honor of having their picture taken with the original declaration. For the organizers and guests who attended the gala, South Carolina's secession should be celebrated as a way to honor the issue of states' rights and the valor of the confederate soldiers who gave their lives for their state, refusing to see any connection to slavery or asserting that the celebration was not a "racial" issue.

Well, this seems patently absurd. Of COURSE it's racial! Who we decided should be enslaved made it racial. And if the demographics of those at the ball and those who protested the ball are any indication, then YES, it IS a racial issue. I mean, I (obviously) didn't attend the gala, so I can't say, for certain, that everyone who attended was white (but The Guardian can) but I have to say that in the hour that I was outside Gaillard Auditorium (and yes, I'm in Charleston as we speak) I didn't see any people of color enter the auditorium--and the organizers, dressed in period costume, all appeared to be white. Whereas those of us joining in the unity rally and protest of the ball were a mixed group of black, white, and in the case of myself and another woman, Asian American protesters.

[Note: There may have been American Indian and Latino and of course mixed race and multiracial folks in attendance at the protest--but at first glance, the crowd appeared to be largely white and black, especially if you didn't notice that I or the other Asian American woman was there, as this Boston Globe reporter clearly didn't since he only noted the "black and white" protesters in attendance]

I wasn't able to march with the protesters since my energy level is still very low post-chemo and surgery (I've heard it can take a year after chemo to feel "normal" again--sigh), but Southern Man and I were there, clapping and yelling and affirming the various speakers--we were a small part of the hundred folk who had gathered--and we got to see for ourselves the audacity of the sons of Confederate veterans and the guests who showed up in period costume--like the woman in The Guardian photo. When we saw her enter the auditorium I whispered to Southern Man,

"Where do you think she got that hoop skirt? Antebellum R Us?"

I wish I had brought my computer cable with me to upload photos from the protest to my laptop to show you some of the signs and some of the ridiculousness--like a band that played there who call themselves "Unreconstructed," the tag line on their trailer reads: "Keeping memories alive"

Ummm....which ones? I'd say that for the African American descendants of enslaved people, the memories of bondage and servitude and oppression are NOT ones they want to keep alive. And for women, particularly poor women? And for queer folks who were in the closet (as any queer people, black or white had to have been in the closet in the antebellum period--hell, throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century)? Or anyone who wasn't wealthy and white who had political power and wanted to keep their economic interests? What kind of memories do you want to keep alive for anyone who wasn't a wealthy white man or woman?

But let me leave the last word with Larry Wilmore, who notes that it's not just politically correct to say that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, it's CORRECT correct!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The South's Secession Commemoration
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

More questions about Asians in America -- who are we?

Another set of questions (and my attempted answers) to the excellent questions posed by Private U. students at a workshop I ran a month ago (click here for the original post and set of questions). Here goes!

*How do Asian Americans solve the "perpetual foreigner" problem?

So I'm going to do the teacherly thing and spin the question around a bit--namely, just who is responsible for solving the stereotype of Asian Americans as "perpetual foreigner"? While I'm sure there are Asian Americans who engage in stereotyping of Asian Americans and/or are invested in ethnic self-hatred as a defensive posture or perhaps simply out of ignorance, in my opinion it's mainly non-Asian Americans (largely white Americans, although other minority races do it too) who believe that Asian Americans aren't "real" Americans and are simply this mass of foreign-born, pidgin-speaking, immigrants.

The truth is, there are many Asians in America who were not born and raised here, and who speak English with an Asian accent. But the belief that ALL Asian Americans or Asians in America are foreign have a lot to do with the investment that mainstream America has in perpetuating this stereotype. Some of it is just pure laziness. Some of it is based on yellow peril stereotypes. Much of it, I suspect, has to do with the idea of America being a place, first and foremost, for white Americans -- that it is white Americans who "founded" this nation and white Americans who "count" as "authentic" American -- whose ancestors worked hard to make this a great country.

Now, I don't think most people consciously think the above (at least non-tea party folks), but the idea that everyone but white Americans are generally "hyphenated" or noted as being American-PLUS (as in African American, Native American, Asian American), is a sign of white privilege and a sign of white supremacist thinking (and I don't mean the KKK or men in white sheets, I mean the ways in which our history and society is formed around promoting the history of white Americans, often at the expense of ignoring or marginalizing or silencing the history of non-white Americans--this contributes to white supremacist thinking--and it's not just white people who engage in this, almost every single person in the U.S. is subject to white supremacist thinking--we just can't help it, it's everywhere and you have to actively work to undue years of an ingrained way of thinking about the world--I suppose I should also say that Gramsci would just say this is all hegemony).

So what can Asian Americans do?

We can resist and remind. We can resist white supremacist thinking and educate people and correct them, in whatever way we're comfortable, with anger, humor, self-denigration, condescension, pragmatism, or any other tactic that gets across that the person making a comment/conjecture/observation that perpetuates the stereotype of Asian Americans as foreign is simply wrong and not true. We can be spokespeople for ourselves--by refusing to answer the question "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" by turning it around and asking others "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" For those of us who identify as Americans, we can simply give this as an answer when people ask us for our nationality. We can ask our questioners why they are asking about our race/ethnicity/culture--why do they want to know? And we can turn it around and ask about their race/ethnicity/culture. By doing all of this, we remind others that we are not the compliant Asian subject that they want us to be. We are loud and proud Asian Americans.

*We're in this racial middle as Asian Americans, what do you see as the future for Asian/Americans in the U.S. (politically & socially)?

Hmmmm...very intriguing question. I guess the first thing I'd say is that while the term "racial middle" does resonate and make sense as a descriptor for Asian Americans, it is also perhaps not where we should aspire to be or that we should work against thinking of race in terms of space or hierarchies. There is a temptation to do this--to see Asian Americans as neither black nor white--to be in the middle of a linear scale of racial privilege (on the one end) and racial abjection (on the other).

But I think in terms of thinking of what the place of Asian Americans is in terms of U.S. politics and society...well, I would hope it means increased visibility--which links back to the above question about being a perpetual foreigner. The more Asian Americans take part in civic society--by running for political office or taking on leadership positions in education, business, the military, entertainment--the more visible we can be in American society and thus be recognized as fully enfranchised American citizens.

However, I also think another way of thinking of this question, because of its emphasis on race, is to think how Asian Americans can work with other groups to end social oppression--because it's not just about ending racial oppression, it's understanding how race intersects with gender/sexuality/ability/region/religion/class/education and so many other factors. So it means Asian Americans not just speaking as/for/about Asian Americans but as allies and leaders for other groups that they are either part of or are allies of.

And in this way I think Asian Americans get to contribute like everyone else in making this country to be a nation that is inclusive of all, or in the words of the pledge of allegiance, pre-1954: "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another stab at answering questions about race & Asian Americans

So I'm continuing to answer some questions from some great students I met while doing a workshop on race at Private U. last week. In my previous blog post, I answered 2 questions and now I'm going to tackle another two.

[Note: I hadn't intended on so much of a lag between posts but I came down with a virus and have literally been in bed the last 5 days--ACK! I'm still in bed but I have a bit more energy right now, although my doc told me that my symptoms would probably last for another week--SIGH]

1) How is having "Asian" become another overachieving racial group, like white, different from "Latino/Hispanic" or "Black? being so?

Hmmmm... I think that there are maybe 2 questions being asked (or implied). One is the assumption that Asian Americans are an "overachieving racial group" who are like "whites" (or Caucasian Americans). The second is that Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans, because of their "overachieving" status are different from "Latino/Hispanic" and "black/African American."

So first a word about terminology for newer readers of this blog. I never capitalized or use quotation marks around racial groups (yeah, I know, I just did above, but it was more in quoting from the question) like white and black Americans. And I pretty much use African American and black interchangeably, like I use white and Caucasian interchangeably. I do capitalize references to geographic spaces, hence Asian American. And I also use interchangeably Native American and Indian American (which is capitalized, I know--in general we capitalize those phrases like we capitalize Latino). I should also note that the question didn't ask about American Indians, a notable omission this time of year; unfortunately Native Americans are often left out of the conversation on race because folks think they aren't statistically relevant or they appear to be invisible. And finally I don't use the term "Hispanic"--which is a government word used to describe people whose ancestry is from South America and the Caribbean of Spanish origin. I use the term "Latino," instead, because I think it recognizes the hybridity of influences (beyond Spain) of people who are of Latin American and South American and Caribbean heritage.

OK now on to the question. I guess I'd want to rephrase it--why are Asian Americans and white Americans PERCEIVED as overachieving, and by distinction, why AREN'T African Americans/Latinos (and I'd add American Indians) PERCEIVED as overachieving (and by implication are often believed to be the opposite--lazy/not hard working, not successful).

Because I think it's about perception. The model minority myth that haunts Asian Americans declares that Asians in America are an overachieving "model" minority. But there are several problems with this myth. First, all stereotypes are damaging, in my opinion, because they are 2-dimensional portraits of people. Second, it's not true--not all Asian Americans are uber-smart/throwing off the Econ curve/science nerds. I, myself, squeaked by with a B- in pre-Calculus (and that was my last math class in high school--I took stats in college). I we WERE this incredible minority, then I pose this simple question: why aren't there more Asian American university and college presidents? If we are so good at school, wouldn't you think that we'd make it to the highest rank in the field of higher education? If we're so good at math and with money, why aren't Asian Americans dominating in the ranks of CEO's of U.S. Fortune 500 conpanies? And if we are so high achieving, why aren't we more visible/public? How many famous Asian Americans can you actually name (and I mean Asian AMERICANS.

Finally, believing that Asian Americans are high achieving, like white Americans, implies that black and Latino Americans are not--that they are NOT the model minority (and I suppose I should note that while we see many white Americans who are high achieving, I suspect that there are also many white Americans who aren't).

I guess what I'm saying is that in our current society when white American heterosexual hegemony predominates, this means that white Americans get to be rendered a fully human and individual whereas other racial minorities somehow have to "represent" or speak on behalf or act on behalf of the entire race.

2) Given that each "Asian American" group is so distinct is it accurate to classify them all into one group? Is that group too heterogeneous?

Short answer: yes. The term "Asian American" isn't a very efficient or even in many cases effective phrase to encompass a group as large as the disparate and diverse ethnicities that comprise the racial label Asian American. However, I use it and I think we need to use it and think about it because of the ways that people of Asian ancestry have been racialized and subject to institutional forces of racism (and oppressed by white supremacy/white privilege) throughout U.S. history.

In other words, racial categories exist because the system or racism needs racial categories to exist. It'd be great if we could get rid of racial categories, but that time won't happen until we can get rid of racism (see my post on this topic on the right sidebar "Getting Rid of Race"). I know folks want to see it as the other way around, but the truth is, the system of racism needs racial categories. So until we can get rid of racial inequities I don't think we get rid of racial categories.

Will the category of Asian American mutate? I think it already is. And I think depending on who you talk to, they either feel affinity with this category or they soundly reject it-and I think that's as it should be--I mean, I may believe and understand racism and racialization as a historic and institutional process that has power at its root, but my parents, who identify strongly with being Chinese (or Chinese American) may not believe that they have anything in common with their Vietnamese or Filipino neighbors. And so they may not feel like they need that label and may reject it.

And honestly, whether someone identifies as Asian American or with any racial category or not, doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that we work towards ending systems of inequity, racism being a big one to tackle--so we need as many folks on board with this project of any and all racial/ethnic categories to work on ending this form of oppression.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Questions about Asian American movements & quotas

So as I noted in yesterday's post, I am going to be taking the time to answer some questions that students at Private U. had written down on index cards--I'm tackling 2 today and will try to get to the rest in three or more blog posts. I am abashed that time did not allow us to have a longer conversation about these questions and other important issues related to race/racism/white privilege, but I'm hoping that some of the students at the workshop as well as anyone else in the blogosphere, will feel emboldened to chime in with their comments/observations/questions. Just one word of caution to any new commenters--please respect the rules on the right hand side of this blog, and please respect my pseudononymous identity on this blog--thanks!

1) Why do colleges have a ceiling/quota on us? Why was the SAT's emphasis on math decreased and English increased?

I'm not sure if this was a question specifically about Private U. or colleges/universities in general. Public vs. private colleges have different criteria and restrictions/guidelines that they must follow in terms of how many students they are allowed to admit in-state vs. out of state, international vs. U.S., legacy admits, need based admits, athletic admits, etc...

Inherent in the question it the assumption that there are more Asian American college applicants than there are spaces--in other words, unlike with "other" minority groups (African American/Latino/American Indian) Asian Americans are being treated like they are "white" and certain restrictions are being put on the number of Asian American students being admitted. The other assumption in the SAT question is that an emphasis on English vs. Math is automatically going to hurt Asian students.

So let me tackle the SAT question first. I don't know if that's true--in other words, I have not read nor heard anyone in Southern U.'s office of admission that there is a change of emphasis in terms of the SAT Verbal vs. Math sections. If there has, in fact, been a national trend to de-emphasize math scores, I'd be suspicious and find it odd since math and science are being so heavily touted as something that every college student should focus on (and that U.S. students, K-college are woefully behind in terms of their student peers around the globe).

I also think the SAT question assumes Asian Americans are going to spank all other racial groups in math but that they will be at a disadvantage in terms of their verbal skills. All I can say to that is I'm a walking refutation of this since in both my SATs and GRE scores, I *squeaked* by a decent # in math but excelled in the verbal section (no surprise there I guess).

In terms of quotas, I will say that trying to keep colleges balanced in terms of diversity is very important--racial and ethnic diversity of course, but also gender/sexuality, class/region/religion. I also think that this is a red herring in terms of the model minority myth--and the U.C. system is a perfect case study for this. Over 10 years ago, the U.C. system abolished affirmative action--and the assumption was that every U.C. campus would be overrun with Asian students. But the reality of what happened was that Asian American admits did not increase in huge #s--in fact, if you broke it down by ethnicity, certain Asian American ethnic groups decreased in terms of admissions--among Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians. So getting rid of racial quotas means that there is a decrease in black and Latino students (which definitely happened in the U.C. case) but no appreciable increase in Asian American freshmen--the reality is, getting rid of affirmative action seems only to benefit white college students.

2) Did pan-Asian political/social movement launch the first articulation of "Asian American" as a race, or did other earlier factors/influence cause it?

Yes. Very specifically, two graduate students, Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka, coined the phrase as a way to reject and replace the term "Oriental": as Ichioka notes, an Asian American “gives a damn about his life, his work, his beliefs, and is willing to do almost anything to help Orientals become Asian Americans” (qtd in Chinese America: The Untold Story of America's Oldest New Community Kwong and Miscevic 267-268).

But it's important to understand that political consciousness did not just suddenly appear in the 1960s--it was galvanized by the political foment of the 1960s, particularly the civil rights struggles of the African American community, but the group soon to be known as "Asian American" were agitating in legal and extralegal ways from the time of the first waves of Asian-ethnic immigration--Chinese men fought racist laws taxing them for their queues, Japanese men fought for the right of naturalization, Filipino men fought for the right to be recognized as American citizens (I could go on and on, but I'd recommend reading a work of Asian American history -- any by Ronald Takaki, Sucheng Chan, or Gary Okihiro are quite exceptional).

Anyway, my main point is that while Asian American as a term, a racial group, became solidified in the 1960s (and as part of the anti-war agitations/civil right fomentations), many other factors were in place to allow for that political agitation to come to fruition (the injustices of the Japanese American internment foremost among them as well).

OK, that's it for today's post--I'll try to blog again with more questions (and answers) tomorrow--but please feel free to leave a comment and start the conversation!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The necessity of common spaces to talk about race

So I just got back tonight from leading a workshop on Asian Americans and the politics of racialization at a college that I'll call Private U. I was invited by one of Private U's Asian American groups, and I was really awed by how many students showed up. What followed in the hour and a half of the workshop was a really wonderful conversation about race and Asian Americans. At least I tried to make it or intended it to be a conversation. Yet I confess that the professor in me tended to be a bit long-winded in my answers and because it was only meant to be an hour-long workshop, I also talked at folks more than I wanted to--because there were key points I really wanted to get to, like the fact that race is a social construct but that just because it's not linked to genes or blood doesn't mean it's not "real"--it's as real as money, and we ALL know how real money is (and what I mean by that is that the dollar bill in your wallet is a piece of paper but we have all agreed to believe that the piece of paper has a value linked to a worldwide monetary system--but at the end of the day, it's a piece of paper--just ask folks who have lived through a revolution and total upheaval of their way of life).

Anyway, what I wanted to do in this blogspace is to share some of the questions that students wrote down on notecards--my idea was that I wanted the students to drive the conversation and that they should write down topics that they wanted to talk about and we would discuss these. But because of time constraints, we only got to address a single question: Is the model minority stereotype ultimately beneficial to Asian Americans?

So regular readers of Mixed Race America, I beg your patience and invite your participation. I'm going to be posting the questions that I got below and in the following few days, I'll be attempting to answer some of these question or more specifically, to create a dialogue and invite conversation around these questions. Hopefully some of Private U's students will chime in--the ones who went to the workshop. But of course I welcome everyone in the blogosphere to weigh in--so long as they follow the guidelines on the right hand side bar.

And for any Private U. students, please note that while you know my full identity, on this blog I'm pseudononymous, so if you can edit your remarks to refer to your college as "Private U" and to not mention my full name and my university affiliation, I'd appreciate that!

OK, here are the questions [and please note, I am not editing them--I am quoting them in full and staying true to the punctuation/phrasing]:

*How are mixed race Asians classified--socially, internally, personally: white/Asian American, black/Asian American, Hispanic/Asian American?

*Did pan-Asian political/social movement launch the first articulation of "Asian American" as a race, or did other earlier factors/influence cause it?

*Why do colleges have a ceiling/quota on us? Why was the SAT's emphasis on math decreased and English increased?

*Given that each "Asian American" group is so distinct is it accurate to classify them all into one group? Is that group too heterogeneous?

*How is having "Asian" become another overachieving racial group, like white, different from "Latino/Hispanic" or "Black? being so?

*We're in this racial middle as Asian Americans, what do you see as the future for Asian/Americans in the U.S. (politically & socially)?

*How do Asian Americans solve the "perpetual foreigner" problem?

*What is the relationship between the established Asian-American community and the wave of post-racialism? How are the young people participating in and rejecting the notion of racial identity?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

T.G.I.F. Joel Burns and the "It Gets Better" project

Well the midterm elections are over, and I suppose I could write about that--but I think I'd rather focus on the positives (or at least not get into a rambling post about the state of politics in this nation and what it may or may not reflect about the state of race/racism in this nation) and so let me turn to a different topic. Because it's Friday, and this blog is overdue for another

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

So let me introduce you to Joel Burns. Many of you probably know about Mr. Burns and the video that went viral on YouTube of his thirteen minute address to the Ft. Worth City Council (where he serves as a member). Burns had been haunted by the rash of suicides by adolescents and young adults that were the result of bullying and/or a lack of support because of their sexual orientation (or in one case, perceived sexual orientation). Inspired by the "It Gets Better Project"--an on-line movement of celebrities and everyday people speaking directly into the camera and telling young people, specifically young queer teens, that life will get better--that suicide is not the answer to their current pain, Joel Burns used his time at the city council meeting to address the rash of suicides and share his own story about bullying and suicide with the people of Ft. Worth and as it turned out, the world:

[Joel Burns speaking to the Ft. Worth City Council]

The aftermath of Burns' speech is told by Burns to different news programs and talk shows, like CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres show:

[Joel Burns being interviewed on CNN]

[Joel Burns on The Ellen DeGeneres Show]

One of the things I was particularly struck by is the anecdote that Burns shared about one of the most poignant and remarkable stories that emerged after his video went viral. And that is the correspondence he has had with a friend of a gay Australian teen who had been contemplating suicide that very week--and after being shown Burns's video by his friend, he realized that there was hope and he didn't go through with his plan.

One person really can make a difference. And for that, Joel Burns, the "It Gets Better Project" and the many queer adolescents and teens who struggle with finding a place for themselves--who daily endure with taunts and threats--they all deserve a T.G.I.F. award.

Because sometimes just surviving is an incredible feat in itself.

[UPDATE: 12:21pm: I just saw this very moving 2-minute spot by Tim Gunn (of Project Runway Fame) where he shares his own story of failed suicide and gives a plug for The Trevor Project--which is this AMAZING website/resource/suicide hotline for GLBTQ people, especially for youth. So here's Tim Gunn's "It Gets Better" video below:]

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The scariest thing about Halloween is the Tea Party

In honor of Halloween I thought I'd share something that scares the hell out of me--the idea that members of the Tea Party will actually win their elections and be serving in Congress! For anyone who wants to know how to combat the rhetoric of the Tea Party, see this very clever (and funny) video below:

I wish they had been more trenchant in their skewering of the racist comments made by the Tea Party animated animal--how can anyone let comments like "lazy black and lazy Mexicans" go without pointing out the inherent racism and bigotry? Perhaps comments like that are too obviously racist. At any rate, my favorite line is when the figure questioning the Tea Partier says:

"Words have meanings attached to them"

Because you hear phrases like "fascist" and "socialist" and "tax and spend" thrown around by some folks and wonder if they really understand what these terms mean.

All of which is a way of saying, please GO OUT AND VOTE ON NOVEMBER 2! THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS REALLY DO MATTER!!!

[Health Update: My bi-lateral mastectomy surgery was textbook, and I'm recuperating/healing/resting at home with the loving care of my Mom and Southern Man. Although I have to say that if I were more mobile, I'd probably go dressed up as a human pink ribbon...wouldn't that be something! Wonder if anyone would get the irony...]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Random observations related and unrelated to this blog

It's past midnight and I'm up blogging because I'm a bit too amped up and anxious to sleep just yet. I'll be having bi-lateral (double) mastectomy surgery in about 12 hours, which means I won't be blogging for a good two weeks as my body will be healing and it just won't be physically comfortable for me to be sitting down with my laptop.

I feel like I've really neglected this blog. Granted, back in May when I first disclosed that I had been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, I did explain that my blogging on this site would take a backseat to my health issues. And as any regular reader of this blog (are there any of you out there anymore???) knows, my blogging has been very irregular. Which is a shame, because there are certainly many bloggable events that have happened--I mean, there's the midterm elections and all the crazy stuff out there (can anyone say "Paladino"???).

And then there's the musings I've been having about issues of intersectionality, which I have blogged about early last month.

So I guess what I thought I'd leave you all with during my two week hiatus from blogging are a series of random observations and thoughts that I'm having right at this moment (warning: not sure how coherent they will be -- remember, the emphasis is on "random"):

*I saw The Social Network this afternoon and found it to be entertaining, although it failed the Bechdel test and made me cringe at the representation of women, particularly Asian American women. Apparently we are smart and hot and love to give blow jobs to geeky Harvard guys in bathroom stalls (preferably geeky Jewish Harvard guys--they are apparently creating an algorithm for why Asian women hook up with Jewish white guys). Also, apparently mixed-race Asian American women are especially "hot" in the film but also especially silent or nearly silent.

*I think Carl Paladino is an asshole. I think Rachel Maddow does too, even though she doesn't use the phrase "asshole."

*The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee is one of the most beautiful, disturbing, haunting, lyrical, and captivating novels that I've read in recent memory. I could not put it down, even though at moments I was horrified by what I was reading. But I was horrified because these things happened--Lee writes about events that occurred during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the Korean war, and lets face it, while he is writing fiction, we KNOW that horrific things have happened during times of war (and during these particular events of the 20th C.). None-the-less, this is a novel that I highly recommend. It is not for the faint of heart. But I'd almost say it's required reading for anyone who cares about great literature and about the state of humanity in the 20th C.

*I wish people would really "think" before they buy all the pink ribbon stuff that is taking over seemingly every piece of merchandising and every major advertisement space in every major women's magazine during the month of October. First of all, just because something has a pink ribbon on it doesn't mean that a substantial percentage (or any percentage at all) will go to a reputable breast cancer charity. Second, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was started in 1985 by Astra Zeneca, a pharmeceutical company that makes tomoxifen, a hormone therapy that many women are put on for breast cancer (I'll be starting my own regimen post-surgery for 5 years). Astra Zeneca is owned by Imperial Chemical -- a company that makes herbicides--ones that have been documented as containing carcinogens that (wait for it...) contribute to cancer (including breast cancer). Third, we are well beyond issues of "awareness"--I mean, I think we all know someone who has breast cancer; after all, 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. And the Komen foundation, and others, have done a great job of turning the pink ribbon into a symbol of education. But what we REALLY need is activism--we need to fight for MORE government regulation of clean air and water. We need to hold corporations accountable for their polluting practices. 41% of Americans will develop cancer in their lifetimes and most of it is linked to the environment. While a cure for breast cancer, hell for ALL cancer would be great, what we need is for people not to get cancer in the first place. Fourth, while in terms of sheer #s, breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer related deaths for women (only lung cancer kills more women), ovarian cancer is often detected at a much later stage and thus the number of survivors is smaller--and while it's great that breast cancer has gotten so much attention (and resources) we shouldn't let the pink ribbon overshadow other cancers and other diseases impacting women's health (like heart disease).

*Finally, I'm a big Glee fan and loved this bit on last week's show:

That's all she wrote!

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's National Coming Out Day (but not for Christopher Columbus)

Sorry for the radio silence from my end. Both due to fatigue from the end of chemo as well as preparation for upcoming surgery (I'll be having a bi-lateral (double) mastectomy surgery in exactly a week from now--which means blog silence for about 2 weeks as I recover) I haven't felt like blogging a lot. I can also blame part of it on chemo brain--what folks who go through chemo describe as a kind of fogginess and inability to concentrate and remember details. I am hopeful that by November I can be back to my regular blogging schedule--or at least contributing to weekly posts if not twice or thrice weekly posts.

There's certainly a lot to blog about--midterm elections, new novels I've been reading like The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee, The Lady Matador's Hotel by Cristina Garcia, and Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong. And then there's the tragedies of the last month--the suicides of queer teens across the nation.

Which brings me to today.

The Human Rights Campaign is sponsoring a National Coming Out Day for today, Monday, October 11.

[Aside: It also happens to be Columbus Day, but as a friend of mine, "A" wrote on her Facebook page, in celebration of Columbus Day you should go into a stranger's house and claim it as your own.]

Whether you are gay or lesbian or straight, please take a moment to acknowledge today as national coming out day. The Human Rights Campaign has a list of activities and resources on their website (click here) to celebrate this day and to help folks who haven't come out to their family, their friends, or co-workers/acquaintances with a guide or other resources to enable them to come out (safely and hopefully with the full acceptance of those who love them).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Round #8 completed -- I'm Done with Chemo!

Yesterday marked my 8th and last round of chemotherapy--an ordeal I dealt with over 16 weeks, beginning June 10. I still have the side effects of the Taxol chemo drug to deal with, and there's still a bi-lateral (double) mastectomy surgery for me to cope with/recover from in a month, but for now I am celebrating the end of my chemo--what I hope to be my first and last chemotherapy treatment ever.

And so I'll just leave you with two things--a plug for my friends Greg Massa and Raquel Krach of Massa Orgnics. I first met Greg and Raquel at UCSB. In fact, I first met Greg when we were both freshmen living in the same dorm. I had the pleasure of visiting his family's rice farm one summer and was taken to a yummy Basque restaurant in the Chico area.

When Greg found out I had breast cancer, he put a carepackage in the mail to me filled with yummy, nourishing, and healing/organic food: brown rice, brown flour, almond butter, and my all-time favorite, ROASTED ALMONDS. The day I received his package was during my first round of chemo when I had just lost my taste buds and everything tasted like cardboard. For someone, like me, who not just loves to eat but who lives to eat, this was one sad state of affairs. So when I opened up Greg's gift, I didn't have much hope that I'd be able to taste anything. But LO AND BEHOLD! When I popped an almond in my mouth I experienced the sweet and nutty and roasted taste of one this almond which makes it HAND'S DOWN THE BEST ALMOND I'VE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE.

And during the next few weeks, whenever I felt nauseous, I would pop almonds in my mouth--Massa almonds I mean--and they had both a calming effect on my stomach and also tasted good. A magic combination for anyone going through chemotherapy. I ordered 2 more pounds to make it through to the end of my chemo and am on my last handful as we speak.

But the other reason for me to plug Greg and Raquel on this blog is that theirs is truly a family that knows what the phrase "Mixed Race America" means:

This photo of the entire Massa-Krach family is taken from their farm's website, and as you can see, they are a beautiful family. What may or may not be evident is that all five children are adopted (and I'll be writing more on adoption and my own thoughts/feelings/experiences with this in posts to come). For me, Greg and Raquel's family is an inspiration--so between their responsible farming techniques, the yummy organic products that they sell, and the emphasis on sustainable living that they embody in all aspects of their lives, I just want to say that while I normally don't plug businesses on this blog, in this case I think you should at least take a look at their website--and if you end up ordering their rice or flour or especially some yummy almonds, you won't regret it!

Finally, let me leave you with a PSA from the National Breast Cancer Coalition, an advocacy group that is highly rated on Charity Navigator, who works not just to educate people about breast cancer but to ensure that research funds are being spent on actual scientific research AND they help lobby congress, especially to address the environmental toxins that contribute to about 80-90% of the cancer diagnoses in the U.S.--most people think it's genetic, but for women with breast cancer, only 10% carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene--and even if you think another 10% is genetic based, that still means that 80% of us developed cancer because we live in a very technological, industrialized nation where the air we breathe and the water we drink and the plastics our food sits in could be contributing to cancerous cells growing in our bodies. I know that sounds scary, but I if you are interested, please read this article about breast cancer's link to the environment.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Responding to hate with charity and friendship

Tomorrow will mark the 9th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the attempted attack on the White House.

[Aside: Although focus is almost always on Ground Zero in New York City, I think it is important to remember the people killed in the Petagon but especially in the various planes that were used in the attacks and the one plane that was successfully deterred from its White House destination, leading to the deaths of all on board.]

By now just about everyone knows the name Pastor Terry Jones and his plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran tomorrow (if you don't know what I'm talking about, click here for a New York Times article), as well as the waffling and last minute bartering he has been doing, linking the burning as a chip to be used to move Cordoba House--the interfaith and Islamic center that is a few blocks from the former site of the twin towers.

[Second Aside: It is REALLY important to note that it is not a mosque that is being built in lower Manhattan--it is a center that will have meeting spaces for youth groups and interfaith groups and yes a prayer room for Muslims to pray--not so unusual for lower Manhattan, especially since there was a Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower--click here for the New York Times article.]

But rather than focus on Jones and the other voices of bigotry and Islamaphobia and hatred, I thought that a more appropriate way to observe the magnitude of our worldwide losses of tomorrow's anniversary is to actually focus on a story of charity and friendship between Christians and Muslims represented by the Heartsong Church and the neighboring Islamic Center in Memphis, TN. Essentially a year ago the pastor of the Heartsong Church, Steve Stone, learned that an Islamic Center would be built right next to the Heartsong Church, so he put up a sign that reads: "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood." And because the center wasn't ready in time for Ramadan observances, the leader of the center, Dr. Bashar Shala asked Pastor Stone if they could use Heartsong Church for Muslim prayer services during the month-long Ramadan observance. A true interfaith friendship--and a model for what more groups (and people) should be striving for.

For more from the Huffington Post, click here, and you can also see an interview on Keith Olberman's show with both Dr. Shala and Pastor Stone:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Being aware of race

Back on May 1, when I first announced that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I had thought that I would share stories about my observations about the intersections of my two new worlds: cancer and race. And I did share one story -- the horrible interaction I had with the lab tech and the comical interaction I had with the radiology fellow (where my poor left breast was flopping in and out of my gown due to my wild gesticulating of my hands, since whenever I get passionate and especially ANGRY I not only raise my voice, I throw up my arms--for the full comic account of this interaction, click here).

And now that I have chemo brain, the few anecdotes I had stored away seem to have melted away with a lot of my short term memory and focus. I can recall being in the 2nd floor waiting room of my oncologist and overhearing a conversation between two workmen who were repairing the lights on the floor. One was a twenty-something Latino man and the other was a forty-something white Southerner. The men spoke to one another in English, and seemed to have an easy going or at least collegial working relationship. An African American nurse, who seemed to know the Latino man, said something to him in Spanish, which I didn't quite catch, but it made the young man smile. His colleague smiled and the young man asked him if he spoke Spanish and the forty-something man said, "Why'd I want to learn something like that for? You won't catch me speaking Hispanic--you should speak English!"

Now, the forty-something man said all of this in a relatively good-natured way, despite the offensive nature of what he was saying. I mention this because tone and facial expression makes a big difference. The forty-something white Southerner seemed to think that he was joshing and joking around with the twenty-something Latino man. And clearly, this young man DID speak English--he also happened to speak Spanish, which seems like a BONUS in this day and age. So the forty-something's vehement declaration that "you won't catch me speaking Hispanic" speaks to his limited and worldview (as well as the inaccuracy of naming "Hispanic" as a language).

As this exchange played out, I stared at the forty-something white Southerner, who noticed me noticing him, and perhaps realizing that making these kinds of jokes on the 2nd floor of the oncology ward of the cancer hospital in front of patients of various ethnic and racial backgrounds was probably not the smartest or most sensitive thing to do, because he quickly turned back to his work and told the young man to finish up with this project and then he left, ostensibly to another work project elsewhere.

I suppose what would or could have made this more uncomfortable would be the presence of a Spanish-speaking family also in the waiting room. And I have seen Latino families, and female and male patients, both on the oncology floor as well as in the chemo waiting room. There is also a Latino receptionist who is one of a dozen people who checks in patients on the ground floor before dispersing us to the various floors--radiology, mammography, chemotherapy, oncology, hematology.

[Note: I should say that the Latino receptionist, who is very nice, is also the only person I've encountered thus far at the cancer center who has run through the "what are you?" scenario with me, guessing at first that I was Japanese and then Korean and then Filipino, before settling on Chinese--to which I finally nodded. She then told me I didn't look Chinese, which I found odd, but I didn't really feel like arguing with her--the days I have to be in the cancer center are days I'm getting chemo so I try to stay as polite as I can to everyone because inside I'm just pissed off and tired and trying NOT to take out my bad mood on the folks that work there]

I mention the Latino patients and staff that I've seen because, quite frankly, they are few and far between. Most of the people I see on the various floors are either white or black. If I had to give it a ratio, I'd say 70% white, 26% black, 2% Latino and 2% Asian (although maybe I'd tweak the white-black ratio--maybe it's 30% black and 66% white...)

But one of the most remarkable things I've found is that in the 9 chemo treatments I've had over 14 weeks, in the 4 months I have been in and out of various doctor's offices, mammography clinics, and cancer floors, I have yet to see another Asian American patient. I've had fellows come into my room who are shadowing/working with my oncologist who are South Asian American. And there is a lovely volunteer, a recent grad from Southern U. who is Asian American and who will be applying to med school this year (he lives close to the hospital). And I have seen Asian faces wearing hospital scrubs or gowns--folks who are clearly associated with the cancer hospital in some way.

[Note: I have to say that because my Mom is a retired RN and because I grew up in the SF Bay Area, my own experience with hospitals, esp. the nursing staff, is that Filipino nurses are prolific (and my mother also worked with Korean and Chinese American colleagues as well). But here in the South I have yet to see a single Asian nurse of any ethnicity, which just feels so odd....]

But I haven't seen any Asian Americans sitting in a chemo chair, waiting in any of the waiting rooms, or even wearing street clothes, like I do. In other words, in the 4 months since my cancer diagnosis, I appear to be the only Asian American cancer patient at Southern U. Cancer hospital.

Logically I know this cannot be the case. There has got to be at least ONE other Asian American patient receiving chemotherpay, right? But if there is, I haven't seen him/her. And there aren't any Asian Americans in the yoga class I go to that is dedicated for cancer patients. And I've never seen any in the Cancer resource center. I haven't even seen any Asian Americans accompanying cancer patients--in fact, there aren't many inter-racial pairings in the chemo ward. Mostly it's couples and families, which means that husbands accompany wives or vice versa, and it's pretty much been black couples and white couples and Latino couples. But I haven't seen any inter-racial couples, or even inter-racial friendships--when it has been two women, it has been two African American women or two white women.

Which makes my own presence in the chemo ward an exercise in mixed race dynamics since I have had a variety of family and friends sit with me through my infusions: my Chinese Jamaican mother, my Chinese immigrant father, my white best friend from CA, my Vietnamese American close friend from Southern U, my Chicano close friend from Seattle, and of course Southern Man. We are a striking couple, I suppose, not just because Southern Man is 6 feet tall and solidly built (he's pretty strong--he can throw me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes--and I'm not petite) but because I don't think most people encounter another inter-racial pairing in the chemo ward, or even in the oncology floor.

Which also may explain why everyone seemed to remember my name immediately. I mean, the cancer center sees so many people daily--there are over 100 chemo bays and my best guess is that they see at least 100 people (or more) everyday. And yet after my first visit, all of the receptionists and nurses and even the person at the parking lot seemed to remember my name. And I always thought it was odd--I mean, I know it's the South and people are friendly, but this is a large Cancer hospital--a major medical center. And the only thing I can think of that makes me different and stand out is that I may, in fact, be the only Asian American cancer patient that they have, AND I'm probably the only one who has such a mixed race entourage of friends and family accompany me to my appointments.

All of which makes me wonder, is having a mixed group of friends or being in an inter-racial relationship really so unique in the 21st century in a Southern college town? Because shouldn't I be the norm rather than the outlier? Or is it just my fate to continue to be the minority--and really, why should my minority status be any different now that I have cancer?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five years later...what have we learned?

Unless you are living off the grid, by now everyone is aware that various news and media outlets have been reflecting on the state of the Gulf region, in general, and New Orleans, in particular, five years after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees.

And if there was ever a topic for a blog called "Mixed Race America," it's thinking about how race impacted the rescue and reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in this region. While there was much discussion five years ago at the images of white hurricane "victims salvaging" items versus images of "black looters" with similar items (and we're talking about groceries and diapers and other necessities being taken), we should not forget to keep scrutinizing the way that racial difference and institutional racism continue to play out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, five years later. For an example of the not-so-subtle, read this New York Times article about African Americans who were terrorized and subject to violence by whites in the aftermath of Katrina.

For an example of subtle racism, this photo journalism piece in the New York Times (see below) made me think about the role of race in this white family when I saw the Confederate flag on the truck and in the living room of the first family.

Spike Lee's latest documentary on life in post-Katrina New Orleans, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise (a follow-up from his first series, When The Levees Broke, has received a lot of positive reviews (see this one from George Alexander on The Huffington Post). For more, see this interview of Lee below:

Finally, a group that has not received wide media coverage during and in the aftermath of Katrina are the SouthEast Asian Americans living in the gulf region. Specifically, prior to Katrina, the voices of the Vietnamese Americans living in East New Orleans, a neighborhood that was literally off the map of New Orleans, found a political voice and learned to exercise their civil rights to contest a toxic waste dump that would have been built five miles from their neighborhood. The struggle of this community to fight for the rights of their community has been documented in the wonderful film A Village Called Versailles by director Leo Chiang, and you can see a brief clip below:

A Village Called Versailles is available through Amazon, either to rent or to purchase, and you can also read more about the making of the film here.

Clearly, the aftermath of Katrina and the breaking of the levees is one that will continue to impact not only those who live in the gulf region, but hopefully all of us, especially as we work to prevent the debacle of the BP Oil disaster from happening again. I suppose I should say that we should be learning the lessons from these disasters, natural and man-made--the jury is still out on whether we really WILL learn these lessons...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. is rolling in his grave

Back in May, Southern Man and I were playing a game with another couple, very close friends of ours. We were playing a game that is hard to describe, but there is a "mad libs" element to it and we had to fill in the blank with this sentence:

________ is the most obnoxious person in the world.

All 4 of us wrote in the same name: Glenn Beck

And as proof positive, the rally that Beck organized today, at the Lincoln Memorial, the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held a rally for black civil rights 47 years ago, should solidify that he IS the most obnoxious person in the world.

If you have been trying to ignore the doings of Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the aggressively conservative religious Republican right, I don't blame you--it's horrifying and frustrating and the feeling I have is of wanting to throw things at my t.v. or radio or computer because I can't BELIEVE the stupidity of what I am watching/hearing/reading. But it is always better to be informed of the doings of those you oppose on ideological/political/ethical/moral grounds.

So here's the New York Times article about the rally that Beck organized. Please note that this rally, ostensibly for all Americans and ostensibly in the spirit of Dr. King is a virtual sea of white people--not a hotbed of diversity. But of course, the Tea Party is NOT a hotbed of diversity. Which begs the question, how can a group of people be so deluded as to think that their attitudes towards race aren't part of their moral/ideological/political imperative? What kind of machinations do these folks have to do NOT to recognize the travesty of having a rally on the 47th anniversary at the site of Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech--that they have ANYTHING in common with the struggle for black enfranchisement and larger civil rights of the 1960s???!!!


For more reactions to the Glenn Beck travesty, see these two New York Times opinions pieces by Charles Blow, "I Had a Nightmare" and Bob Herbert, "America is Better Than This."

Also, a friend's brother has started a website tracking the Tea Party--so if you have the stomach and the will to be informed about what those who I would categorize are NOT the readers or supporters of a blog called "Mixed Race America," I encourage you to check out the link to TeaPartyTracker.org, which is important as Timothy Egan notes, we are quickly becoming a nation of "Know Nothings."

But to return to Beck, I want to address the purported "purpose" of his rally--to bring us closer to God. Now, in the New York Times article, it does not specify which God Beck wants all Americans to get closer to, but we can all probably assume it is a very particular Christian God--and not the one embraced by Unitarians or the United Church of Christ or the Quakers (Christian organizations with very explicit social justice and/or liberal-progressive politics). I'm thinking of this because I've been disturbed at the anti-Muslim rhetoric/sentiment and especially anti-Muslim violence. Earlier this week a NYC cabdriver brutally stabbed by a passenger after learning that the man is Muslim (click here for the Huffington Post article). And the backlash against the mosque that has received a green light near the site of the former twin towers is just downright disturbing.

And I think there is a link--that this overly aggressive demand for Americans to be Christianized and that somehow citizenship and religion (and implicitly race) are all conflated so that to be a "real" American, a "good" American, one must be a Christian and to mirror the values (and the complexion) of the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial of Beck's rally--somehow all of this rhetoric is linked to the demonization of Muslims Americans, specifically, Muslims, more broadly, and anyone non-Christian (and non-white) more generally. And the rhetoric is dangerous. And although Egan, in his New York Times editorial, is right to point out the danger of people believing that Barack Obama is Muslim when he has said, time and again, that he is Christian, the other issue is, if Barack Obama WAS Muslim (as his father and his father's family was and is), what is wrong with that? Why can't we have an American president who is Muslim? What is the incomensurability or incompatability of someone's religion (or even LACK of religion) and someone's citizenship or their patriotism and loyalty to the United States?

[Update: August 31, 2010: Just read this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Stanley Fish and I have to say that I think it is SPOT ON, which is a rarity for me because I'm usually vehemently disagreeing with Fish on other issues. But this one really speaks to the hypocrisy of conservative right-wing rhetoric, especially related to its attacks on Islam and its particular form of hatred spewed at the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Birthday 19th Amendment!

90 years ago today the 19th Amendment--the one that allowed women the right to vote--was formally ratified as part of the constitution. And so today, August 26, is officially EQUALITY DAY.

Now, I must confess that were it not from an email I received from "Women's Voices, Women Vote" I would not have realized the significance of this date--here's the text of their email:

"Ninety years ago, one mother's plea to her son helped pass the 19th Amendment by one vote and gave American women the vote. After thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states had ratified the amendment, the battle came to Nashville, Tennessee. One young legislator, 24 year-old Harry Burns, had previously voted with the anti-suffrage forces. But a telegram from his mother urging him to vote for the amendment and for suffrage made the difference. Burns broke a 48 to 48 tie making Tennessee the 36th and deciding state to ratify. One vote does matter. Your vote matters. Today, even though women turnout at equal or great numbers than men on election day, more than one in four American women is still not registered to vote. If you're one of them, celebrate Equality Day today by visiting Women's Voices. Women's Vote website and registering to vote. If you are already registered, use your voice to talk to five women you know about the importance of voting."

Page Gardner, president of "Women's Voices, Women's Vote" also has a piece on their website that talks about the significance of Equality Day, and the debt we owe to Alice Paul, one of the leading suffragist who literally put her body on the line to fight for the right of women to vote.

There is a lot I take for granted--voting is one of them. So I appreciate WVWV reminding me that this right was won by the struggles and labor and, in some cases, blood of other women.

As for the phrase "Equality Day," well, my own thought is: shouldn't every day be Equality Day? Not just in terms of gender, but really shouldn't we recognize the rights of all need to be central and thus we should really work to make everyday EQUALITY DAY for everyone.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"If Liza Minelli can marry 2 gay men, can't I marry 1?"

Saw this and thought it is a good reminder that we can use humor to protest what is surely the absurd--and one of the most absurd things I can think of is in the 21st century not allowing consenting adults to marry the consenting adult of their choice--in other words, WE NEED TO HAVE GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES BE ABLE TO MARRY NOW!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who, exactly, is a "minority"?

First, for my long time readers/followers, I know I don't need to apologize for nearly a month's blogging silence--as I noted in a June post, because of my cancer diagnosis and chemo treatments, I knew that I wouldn't be blogging on a regular basis. However, I had hoped to be blogging more, because it would be a sign that I was feeling OK. But the truth is, the first round of chemo I was on (a particularly hard drug combo known as "AC") really had me laid out, mostly due to nausea and fatigue, but it also left my brain feeling mushy and my concentration levels hit an all time low--I wasn't able to read fiction most days and resorted to watching movies and t.v. series streamed on Netflix (thank GOODNESS for Netflix!).

This second round of chemo, Taxol, is mercifully easier on my system--no nausea and less brain fog (I finally got to finish a novel I started a month ago, Edgar Sawtelle--and just to let you know, normally it would take me a week to read a 400 page novel while teaching full time--it would take 2 days to read a 400 page novel if I was on vacation). The Taxol hasn't been wonderful--there is some pretty severe joint and muscle pain I've had to weather, and the cumulative effects of the chemo means I'm pretty tired all the time and my brain, while better, is still somewhat foggy. Plus, I'm bald.

I'm sharing these personal details with you because I've been thinking a lot about what it means for me to have cancer and for me to be going through chemo (and I know I've written about some of that already). And I've been thinking a lot about how I've been marked by my cancer diagnosis--how others have reacted to me--and how I think about myself, now.

Because I'm different now. I'm part of a new minority of people (largely women) who have received a breast cancer diagnosis. And in a few months I will be part of a subset minority of women who will no longer have breasts (I'll be having a bi-lateral/double mastectomy sometime in October). And like other parts of my identity, this new category of breast cancer "survivor" (I put this in quotes because lets be honest, it remains to be seen whether I'll be in the 86% of people with stage 2 cancer who "survive" or part of the 14% who don't), is one that I will carry around with me, but unlike my race and gender, it won't always be so visibly marked on my body, unless someone sees me without my hair or, in the future, without my breasts.

When I've written about being a "minority" before (and for the record, I hate that term as it is often used as a synonym for people of color/non-white people) it has largely been in the context of race, since that's often how it is deployed in popular discourse--those who are "minorities" in the U.S. are non-white people. It suggests a statistical status (whites comprise a majority over non-whites) as well as a power status (whites are in positions of power, institutionally, over non-whites). It also suggests that there is a norm--to be a white American is to be "normal" (and we can add the rest of the hegemonic imperative here: straight, male, middle-class, Protestant/Christian). And I've periodically written about the ways in which it is problematic to establish whiteness and maleness as the "norm" in our society.

But now that I'm inhabiting a body that has cancer, I've been thinking about something more basic to my identity, to all of our identities: health. And I admit, I took my health for granted. I also admit that it isn't until I am no longer occupying a healthy body that I've started to think about the new minority group I belong to--those of us who occupy bodies that aren't healthy, that are somehow marred or scarred or impaired or non-normative.

And it strikes me that at some point, we will all become "minorities" in terms of our health--that occupying a body that is or will become non-normative is actually a majority situation not a minority situation. And yet, what we largely see in our culture is an emphasis on the healthy body--a narrative that ignores or overshadows or downplays those of us who occupy bodies that are not healthy.

And when we do get narratives of the non-healthy body, it usually emphasizes a kind of romanticism or stoicism or sentimentality that I really cannot identify with. I guess I'm thinking of movies like Love Story or Dying Young or My Sister's Keeper, where you have these characters who have a fatal illness (and cancer is a very popular potentially fatal and lingering illness to portray in sensational form) help other characters (and hence the audience) learn valuable life lessons through the wisdom that they've gleaned from their illness.

[Aside: Now, this wouldn't be a blog called Mixed Race America if I didn't point out that the above 3 films all feature white protagonists who are stoically dying--and that I honestly cannot recall a character in film or television who is a person of color who has cancer--so if anyone can help me out here, please chime in--and I mean a SIGNIFICANT character of color, not just "patient #2" or a patient of the week on House.]

So maybe this is a sign that I still have chemo brain because I'm not sure, exactly, where I'm going with this post, other than to suggest that I've been recently re-thinking what it means to be a "minority," for me personally but also for our culture more generally. I think it's less about statistics than about power--after all, we need only look to South Africa to realize this. But I also wonder if this can also be a chance for those of us who occupy more "minoritized" identities to reappropriate the word or at least the discussion around being a minority--being non-normative. Because really, how many of us are part of the "norm" nowadays?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why the phrase "half-blood" needs serious interrogation

This morning I woke up and did my daily routine: I went for a walk (1-2 miles -- good for keeping me healthy esp. with the chemo treatments, and just as an f.y.i. aside, the treatments are taking their toll on me, in terms of my level of fatigue--which is high (sigh) and which is one reason I haven't been blogging as regularly as I like), I drank some water, and I open up my laptop to read The New York Times. And the first thing that caught my eye this morning was this blurb from the article, "At Camp, Make-Believe Worlds Spring Off the Page":

"Organized role-playing literary camps, like the weeklong Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, are sprouting up around the nation."
[the emphasis in bold is my doing]

The article describes a trend for summer camps based on literary themes, most notably those centered around fantasy children/young adult works of fiction, like the Harry Potter novels or the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series.

Apparently the premise of the Percy Jackson series (and this I've gleaned from the article and from the trailers to the movie of the same name that came out last summer) is that Percy is a young kid who finds out that his Mom slept with a god and so Percy is a demi-god in the making--a "half-blood" if you will. So this Brooklyn summer camp divides up these kids into different "half-blood" groups--like some are the half-human/half-divine offspring of Apollo or of Ares.

[Note: they probably didn't choose some of the more "problematic" gods, like what would the group look like and what would they DO if they were the offspring of Bacchus or Hades? And apparently all the kids in this particular camp are boys, but it still doesn't make sense why they don't seem to have an Artemis group or a Hera group, although Aphrodite may also be problematic in a different way...]

So I get it. The "half-blood" designation is supposed to refer to the fact that these kids are pretending (like their literary counterpart) to be half human and half god.

But is it just me or does anyone else see A LOT OF PROBLEMS with the use of the phrase "half-blood"?

First of all, these kids are pretending that their Mom shacked up with a god--and that it's perfectly normative for these male gods to have fathered multiple children with various women who have apparently all cuckolded their partners or the "human" fathers of these children. Now, I know: I'm being nit-picky here. And I don't think that any of these kids are really confused or that it's sending a bad message about their particular mothers. But I do think that the idea that you can be a male god and have sex with any number of women, human or divine, is part of what gives license to male privilege and the idea that it's OK for men to have multiple sex partners and to father multiple children without also PARENTING them. Because I mean look at poor Percy--he grows up not knowing who his real Dad is until he's 12. So where was his old man? Off doing the divine thing? And he gets cut slack because he's a god? Who was changing Percy's diaper and teaching him to walk and taking him to school and providing for his basic material and emotional needs? THE SINGLE MOM.

Seems like there's a ripe human contemporary counterpart in the making if we think about male celebrities. I mean, don't we hear stories all the time, esp. in the world of music, about rock stars or even someone like Ravi Shankar, who leave behind bits of their seed in the form of actual children who grow up and, in the case of Norah Jones, becomes a major recording artist following in the footsteps of the father who fathered but didn't parent her.

Anyway, the real reason I find the phrase "half-blood" problematic is that it's an offensive term that has typically been used as a racial slur against mixed-race people and very specifically against mixed American Indian people.

For example, if you google "half blood definition" you will find the following from both Answer.com and The Free Dictionary [which gets their source from the American Heritage Dictionary]:

half blood also half-blood (hfbld, häf-)

a. The relationship existing between persons having only one parent in common.
b. A person existing in such a relationship.

2. Offensive A person of mixed racial descent, especially a person of Native American and white parentage.
[emphasis in bold is mine]

3. A half-blooded domestic animal.

And according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "half-blood" has at its core the idea that there is both a quantifiable ("half") notion of blood AND a qualifiable (as in hierarchical) idea embedded in the phrase "half-blood":

"half-blooded a., born of different races; spec. of superior blood or race by one parent only."
[again, emphasis in bold is mine]

It just makes me cringe to think that these kids are going to these "half-blood" camps and will be referring to themselves as "half-bloods" without understanding the long and painful racial/racist history behind that term AND without understanding how problematic it is to split one's "blood" and the not-so-implicit connotations of blood (and really, wherever you see the word "blood" you should insert the word "race") as purity--of being able to determine which bloodline is better than the other.

Better to be a divine than to be human--sure, that's easy to see. Who wouldn't want to be able to fly or have supernatural powers. But we don't live in a fantasy world--and I just think it's too easy to to take that thinking to the next level--how much better to be white (the normative, the majority, the race that is associated with beauty and power and prowess) than to be "other"--one of those hyphenated, brown-skinned, minority Americans.

And finally, (and forgive me because what follows next is my attempt to be ironic through a self-conscious use of racial slurs--which I KNOW are offensive and hurtful, but I am trying to slam home a point with a blunt tool) but I just can't see any camp or book publisher being OK with titles like: Harry Potter and the Chink Princess or Percy Jackson and His Nigger Friends or Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Lost Kikes.

But on second thought, maybe "half-blood" isn't as offensive a term as these other racial slurs...maybe it'd be more like the equivalent of Harry Potter and the Oriental Princess or Percy Jackson and His Negro Friends, in which case I wouldn't put it past any mainstream publishing house to go with these titles...esp. "Oriental."

Anyway, if your child comes home proclaiming to be a "half-blood," it may just be time to sit him/her down and have a talk about language. I mean, I know language changes, and there's a movement to reclaim phrases. But last time I checked, large groups of Indian American activists were NOT agitating to use the phrase "half-blood" as a term of empowerment in the way that gay and lesbian activists have tried to take back the term "queer."

Monday, July 12, 2010

DOMA I hope you go DOWN!

Recently a landmark ruling in Massachusetts made by Judge Joseph L. Tauro (a federal judge in that state) stated that there was never a rational basis for DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which claims that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. Judge Tauro, in one of the two rulings he presided over, claimed that the definition of marriage under DOMA violates the equal-protection provisions in the constitution for gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry. There are two articles from the weekend New York Times that discuss the ramifications for this ruling, an editorial "Defining Marriage," and a piece that discusses the ramifications for states' rights groups (like those tea party folks and a group called 10th Amendment), "Basis on Ruling for Gay Marriage Stirs Debate."

I know not all queer people care about this issue. In fact, I have friends and acquaintances who firmly believe that their identities as gay and lesbian and queer folk preclude them from entering into an institution that is seen as so rabidly heteronormative (and perhaps with certain class and cultural markers that they are uncomfortable with as well--the whole wedding thing for example).

However, I also have friends who have had commitment ceremonies, who have gotten married in Connecticut and Hawaii and Vermont and California (pre Prop-8). And I know that what they want is to simply have the same rights as every other person in the nation--to marry the person that they love. To join in the institution of marriage, for better or for worse, with all the baggage that comes with marriage that is both heartwarming and challenging. To receive the institutional and legal benefits that comes with marriage (and believe me, now that I have cancer and have been in and out of hospitals signing various waiver forms about whether I should be resuscitated and who will make these decisions and who is allowed to see me in the immediate post-op room, being married comes in handy--before, when we were living together, I had notarized forms designating Southern Man as the person to make these kinds of decisions, but we all know about situations like Terry Schaivo...)

Anyway, thanks to my friend "J" I watched this clip about the legal challenge to Prop 8 and thought I should share it here, because I really dropped the ball in recognizing June as Gay and Lesbian (and Queer) awareness month. I also dropped the ball with Asian Pacific Awareness Month (that was May). Mea Culpa. Although given my own resistance to just naming a single month to concentrate on these issues, I'd like to think that from time to time you'll just see a post discussing these issues (and others, and the intersections of these topics) rather than just containing all my queer themed posts to the month of June.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rehabilitation or Gentrification or just simply surviving?

A few days ago I noticed that one of the pop-up ads on The New York Times from Levi Strauss talked about a town called Braddock, PA who were "answering the call mend what needs mending and build what's there to build." I'm not sure why I decided to follow the link--I usually avoid these ads. But I think it was the invocation of "pioneer" (Braddock is described as a town of pioneers) that had me intrigued. So I found this short piece on the Levi site:

We Are Workers: Episode 1.. The Seeds of Change

Which then got me to googling about Braddock, and I found this CBS piece about the town and its mayor, John Fetterman:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Now, one of the things that struck me from reading the article on the CBS site and watching the above video is the quote from the town council president, Jessee Brown, who admits that he doesn't see eye to eye with Fetterman and believes he is "overstepping his boundaries," caring more for his own self-image than the welfare of the town, with Brown adding the following:

"For some reason he's come to Braddock, which is a predominantly Afro-American community, that he seem to want to be the white savior for this community, and I just feel different."

A heavy charge, to be sure, yet one that seems completely valid. I mean, it was something that struck me and that I wondered about in the Levi ad. That the central figures in the town of Braddock, the talking heads in the documentary piece, are white townspeople, and in a few cases, folks who are not from Braddock but who have come to the town because they see something inspirational in it--in rehabilitating the buildings. They see something worth saving--and the emphasis seems to be on the physical structures--the decaying buildings and abandoned homes. Two figures in particular in the Levi short are young, 20-something, white hipsters, who are clearly there with good intentions--with wanting to help and make a difference. Yet, I was struck by the ways in which black and white townspeople shared equal billing in the ad--actually, the black voices did not seem to share equal billing--the white voices seemed to predominate the Levi spot, so that it wasn't until watching the CBS piece that there was confirmation that Braddock has a sizable black population.

According to the 2000 census (and I got this info from the wikipedia site on Braddock) white townspeople account for 30% and black townspeople account for 66%.

Yet you don't get this demographic feel from the Levi shot. It appears to be either 50/50 or 60/40, with white voices and perspectives and faces predominating over black voices, perspectives, and faces. The CBS shot is a bit more balanced--and it's good that they included Jesse Brown, who may have an axe to grind that is personal rather than political--and who is clearly in the minority in terms of his opinion of Fetterman, because Fetterman won the last mayoral race in a landslide and the people of Braddock, African American and white, seem to like the attention that the town is getting (Levi Strauss is donating $1 million to its revitalization efforts and other investors in the Pittsburgh area are pitching in to get Braddock back on its feet).

So here's what I'm wondering. Given just how depressed Braddock is--this town that has 3x the poverty rate as the national average. And given how much help it needs, is Levi coming in and other investors a sign of gentrification, which in social justice circles often becomes a code word for pushing out brown and poor people and moving in hipster white folks with disposable incomes OR is it really a matter of rehabilitation--of trying to improve the buildings and to get a youth center and a garden and an arts center up and running because you need to feed people body and mind and to give them a sense of purpose OR is it more complicated -- that there is the danger of Fetterman becoming the white savior in this poor black town but there is also the reality that the town is in need of saving and that people are trying to survive as best they can and they need help and thus will take it in whatever form it appears. I'm not quite sure I know the answer to this--certainly John Fetterman and others who have moved to and stayed in Braddock appear to have the towns best interest at heart. And certainly the town is depressed and needs help. And certainly its residents, black and white alike, would like to see the town revitalized. I suppose the question is, what will be the cost and who will pay? Only time will tell.