Feb 27, 2007

Rosie O'Donnell Update.

UPDATE: 2.23.07
Rosie actually apologized, through her blog, because of Beau Sia's outstanding video, which I posted here. Don't underestimate the power of positive cultural production to move minds and hearts, no matter how hard it can seem. I think this is another reason why the demise of the Asian American focused MTV stations is a real shame - the production quality on Beau's video was quite good, the distribution was awesome, and he was able to use the medium to make the points very well. I just wish that the stations were maintained for the long-term. Anyway - thought it's nice to actually take note of rosie's turnaround.

    Original Post: 12/15/06

See Rosie's "apology" here.

Your ignorance knows no bounds. And your cop out apology was less sincere than Michael Richards' ridiculous "I don't know what came over me."

And for your information "ching chong ching chong" is not making fun of an accent - it's making fun of a language and a people. Throwing in your little Irish comment as an analogy doesn't work either because:

1) I'm assuming, and maybe I'm wrong, but you have some Irish ancestry. Does that mean only people from within the group can say certain things? I don't want to get into it, but is it really that hard to understand? Also...

2) Asian people don't make fun of themselves by saying "ching chong ching chong." You would have gotten laughs (because comedians apparently are "always getting in trouble") if you mixed your "L's" and "R's." It's still offensive, but at least it fits into your broad and vanilla kind of offense, and just boring caricature. When you take it to a different level, you're an idiot, and you're bringing up a lot of shit for a lot of people.

Oh yeah, and the audience shouldn't be your gauge, nor should the two Asian women you point to in the audience. That's just stupid and lame. It's like pointing at the Log Cabin Republicans and saying "see? queer people hate the movement for equal rights." If you're really going to test the water, talk to the kids who were taunted endlessly, felt like outsiders at home and at school, and ended up being quiet and not getting the class participation or other little things that count in school because they were ashamed and embarassed when other kids mocked them.

You should have the grace to understand that you offended people. You care so much for some causes, but don't seem to have the empathy in you to understand that this isn't the fringe talking - and while sure, people can be too sensitive, you're just the schoolyard bully saying "if I think it's funny, it's funny, and you should lighten up." Your experience, and knowledge, is not the universal experience. Can't you understand that?


I just can't understand why someone so damn rich and already comfortable has to get a cheap shot in to get a quick laugh. Why don't you read a book, like The Coming Man, an amazing inquiry into the way that images and words, like some of what you did, led to the scapegoating, exclusion, and violence against Chinese Americans in the 1800s and beyond. Why don't you speak with a scholar who has studied these issues? Or even the school kids who still live with this stuff?

Do you think that Lisa Ling would have been patting you on the back for your great impression of her people? Well, actually, I don't really know that answer to that, but hey, if even Michelle Malkin, my favorite hyper conservative, is getting in on the racist angle, you know it's got to be pretty bad.

Give it a rest, Rosie. You've lost any and all respect I had for you. Your professed ideals regarding equality and civil rights mean nothing if you're just going to relegate someone else to other status.

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Feb 26, 2007

Oscar Report.

12:15 AM, Monday morning. Academy Awards finally over. A bit of a bore, with some significant upsets along the way.

Al Gore stayed on message tonight. Which means there was no announcement, though they definitely teased us with the possibility.


So I guess I can't start off this week with an "I told you so!" gloat.

I'll find something else.

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Feb 25, 2007

Be Careful What You Fall For: The Battle for Public Interest

Hyper-Conservatives have gotten really good at co opting good names for things, in the hope that they can reel in the uninitiated, making them think that they are in a supportive, positive space, before they slam the door and pull out the hoods. Okay, so Ku Klux Klan sounds spooky without even thinking about what they actually did. But these guys are definitely getting smarter.

Take for example, the Institute for Justice. I stumbled upon this when doing some research about eminent domain. An organization called the Castle Coalition was featuring a new piece about the impact of eminent domain on African Americans. I said right on, let me read this. Then I thought, hell, this is interesting as a group that publishes so much on this topic, so I dug further and found that it was a program of the Institute for Justice.

So then I started reading, and realized that IJ supports school choice. Well, that sounds good. But "school choice" is the code for school vouchers. And someone not doing education work, such as myself, could have easily fallen right into that trap. Then you realize that despite the glossy look that speaks of civil liberties and constitutional rights, the place is anti-government regulation to the point of saying clearly that it is against the "welfare-state." But the clincher was when I read this:

IJ sues the government when it stands in the way of people trying to earn an honest living, when it takes away individuals' property, when bureaucrats (not parents) control the education of children, when government stifles speech, and when public institutions classify individuals based on race.
Woah. Great. So in the midst of talking so much about equal protection, these guys are anti-affirmative action, and who knows what else. And avid supporters of First Amendment rights can also take the shade of hate-speech protectors, campaign finance reform opponents, and who knows what else. I definitely almost fell for it. Who knows if their legal interns understand that they are on a different side of "individual rights" than some of the more traditional civil rights/liberties groups. But I could also see very interesting/uneasy alliances between these guys and others, depending on the issue.

But this is definitely a weird trend - the Freedom-Based Public Interest Legal Movement (FBPILM). Basically, right-wing groups have been taking on the guise of public interest with a very different agenda than the standard legal aid/civil rights perspective. I don't know how I feel about this - part of me, from my obvious political leanings, thinks that this is crazy. But part of me feels like we have to delve more deeply into what is actually in the public's interest. I mean, if folks really believe that small government (i.e. decreasing or eliminating the so-called welfare state) is in everyone's best interest, then I guess this is the means by which they are pursuing that goal.

But ultimately, I guess the question is whether the different camps view "public" as meaning individuals, or our shared community as a whole. If there are principles that we believe in that extend somewhere beyond individual rights, or if we can accept that sometimes to ensure that everyone has some basic level of rights we all have to give something up, well, then maybe we can talk. But if it's all about the individual in front of them, and not the invisible many who are on the other side of the equation - if we view it as a zero-sum game with no hope of expanding the pie for everyone, well, then their perspective protects the rights not to lose to someone else (like a militia in Montana, I guess).

Anyway, for more on the FBPILM, check out Timothy Foden's interesting article, The Battle for Public Interest Law: Exploring the Orwellian Nature of the Freedom-Based Public Interest Law Movement, 4 Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal 210 (2004-05). Or you can visit the Institute for Justice, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ - clever, huh?), or one of the many other groups out there.

It's a scary field, once you start clicking around. It's not always easy to sort out which groups are aligned with your interests, and which are opposed. So beware before you click, or worse, write a check.

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Feb 24, 2007

Why I Hate Press Release Reactions.

Cross-posted at Racialicious.

There is a storm brewing in Asian America this weekend over an idiotic posting by columnist Kenneth Eng at AsianWeek called "Why I Hate Black People" (can't find the article anymore on Asian Week, so I'll post later if I can find it). While I think that the underlying uproar is justified, the tired reasoning that found itself into the immediate press release issued by the Asian American Justice Center is a troubling retread of apologetic liberalism that doesn't strike at the core of why Eng's piece, and Asian Week's publication, are deeply problematic.

First of all, Kenneth Eng is not a leader in the Asian American community, and he's just some bullshit opinion writer who wrote some bullshit that got through some clueless editor at Asian Week. It was a dumb decision all the way around, but one that they'll likely regret far more on their own than through some kind of public stone throwing contest. Also, because he's not a leader, his words strike a shallow blow to the uneasy alliance we like to imagine exists between the larger communities. In other words, he's one guy who, albeit he did it through a media source, is voicing his own stupid opinion. It's not even a mainstream paper. Hell - because they don't RSS their articles, I don't even read Asian Week. Who else does? (and let's not mention that I find their perpetual use of "yellow" as shorthand for "Asian American" incredibly offensive on its own merits).

Second, I'm really tired of hearing our so-called leaders come out of the gate tripping over one another in an attempt to apologize faster than the next one about how fucked up some marginal person from the community is. In this instance, the reaction seems pretty out there. The story broke yesterday, as far as I can tell, and with the number of people that they have quoted in this press release, I imagine that there were quite a few late calls made back and forth from Washington to California (where many of the 6 quoted commentators are based).

Interestingly, there are no Filipino, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander or South Asian folks on this release. What does that mean? Does that meant that our communities don't have much to say about this issue? Does it mean that Asian Week is clearly not catering to these communities? Does it mean that this mainstream Asian American group has finally transcended the tokenism of which many other Asian American groups have been accused by these communities - and they just go to the best folks to comment on the issue, regardless of their ancestry? Or does it mean that they still have to look deep into their own motivations to determine what gives and why the quotes turned out as they did.

Third, I just can't understand why civil rights leaders in our community retread "we know how much of a debt we owe to African Americans" without any further analysis. I think that this article and its publication should be opened up as a way to discuss the misunderstandings, misgivings, miscommunication, and missed opportunities between our different communities. I think that this is a reminder that what happens in the elite halls and meeting rooms of civil rights organizations and the Capitol Hill feel-good lobby is not what is happening in the real America, where class, race, and the state's deliberate pitting of groups against one another have been mixed together in the infernal cauldron of urban America, and people are not seeing eye to eye about oppression, power, and where we go from here. This is happening across the board, and unless we find ways to create a broader analysis - ways that don't just repeat the "we owe you a lot" analysis that new immigrants and privileged second/third generation Asian Americans generally don't understand/believe, we're not going to get anywhere.

I thought that Vijay Prashad's exploration of historic exchanges and respect between Asian and African nations and peoples was quite interesting in Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting. I think that modern America is replete with its own examples of interesting intersections that don't suck, but people remember L.A. in 1992. People remember the boycotts of Korean grocers in Brooklyn. People remember the countless episodes of personal racism that they have witnessed, experienced, and maybe even contributed to. Young folks who are more socially conscious need ways to broach issues of pervasive racism that exist within our communities without the throw-away, catch-all aphorisms that don't move the debate anywhere.

Beyond that, if we continue to simply say "we owe," we're disallowing the potential for true partnership as equals who bring important things to the table. We're supporting some kind of free-rider argument that Asian Americans aren't doing our share for civil rights, and perhaps even that if immigration opened up solely because of the civil rights fight (which I tend to disagree with, and am surprised that the Justice Center would put out there when the economic realities and unforeseen consequences of dropping the differential national quotas in the 60s are well documented), African American positions on immigration reform should have special weight on what the nation does. The positions are mixed, of course, but some black "pundits" aren't afraid to say "close the borders" based on a strict economic analysis concerning competition for the lowest rung of jobs in the nation. Instead of saying "let's work together on raising the bar for all workers" we're going back and forth on who should get these crappy jobs, and the big bosses couldn't be happier.

If we really care to show that we believe in the strength and importance of the African American community, we should be advancing political and social agendas that embrace zero compromise on education reform that really focuses on ensuring that the education gap for African American and other children disappears - so that the United States doesn't justify immigration on an economic basis, because that's what causes the tension between immigrants and native communities more than anything else. Why can't the nurse shortage or high-tech job market have been addressed by African American graduates? Why can't we focus on making sure that the education system guarantees a good education for everyone, instead of just the rich? Won't that make a much bigger impact than empty recognition of the past?

If we really care, we would work on prison and criminal justice reform. It is a real problem that the incarcerated population is so impossibly proportioned: it should not be the case, and the incarceration of African American men for minor offenses creates gaps between that community and others that are only multiplied over the generations. Why aren't we working tirelessly to change these policies, which are far far more problematic and devastating than some misdirected fool in a paper? Why aren't we putting our collective will behind issues of this kind of weight if we care so much?

And on the flip side, why is it that immigration is not a civil or human rights issue for the majority of the African American civil rights community? Why don't they really touch the issue, really relegating it to the Latino and Asian communities? And why don't we say how much we owe Latino communities for their fight against national origin and language discrimination in this country? I just don't feel like this analysis is adequate - or even analysis, really.

Not to mention that the statements themselves seem fairly hollow. And you don't think that other people see that? Why do we, as a people, have to apologize for an outspoken idiot? If we're going to do that, why can't we admit that it's a viewpoint that exists that we pledge to work against? Why do we have to play the "it's not me, it's him" game when that's not truly representative of our community? Is this the new model minority that we're playing out, always apologizing, never pushing the envelope toward justice?

Anyway, finally, and this is a small point, I'm underwhelmed by the lack of sophistication in the press release by the AAJC. Generally quite media savvy, it boggles the mind that the Justice Center would actually send out a press release on something this small - basically giving Asian Week free publicity, not to mention TinyURL.com. But it's the TinyURL thing is what prompted this comment, because the posted link that made its way around list servs was through a TinyURL shortcut - which found itself into the AAJC release. They should have just had their tech person create a permanent page with the offensive site through their own site which would have been effective in a number of ways:

1) They could control the content, in case, as it has since done, Asian Week pulled the actual page that you're pointing to.

2) They could track the number of times folks click the link, giving a more solid sense of how many people learned of the story through their release. Without these numbers, their media advocacy really doesn't mean much.

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Feb 20, 2007

Postage Stamps and Identity.

So I was chillin' on the US Postal Service website (don't ask), and I decided to see what stamps were on their way this year. I've often said that the fine art of letter-writing is dying out, and with my desire to try to keep it going, I've been fascinated by stamps. Whenever I have to head out to the post office, I end up asking what stamps they have in stock, and usually end up getting some. I hate the U.S. flag stamp because it seems dull and uninteresting, but it's the only stamp that comes in a roll of 100, so I end up getting a mix everytime.

The Jim Henson stamps were a trip. I don't think that I saved any of these.

But I have a sheet of the Malcolm X stamps from when they were released - I distinctly remember Chuck D's lyrics going through my head "most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps." He said he had to change that tune with the issuance of the iconic Malcolm stamp (though an argument has been made that images of Malcolm and Che that have been emblazoned on everything from shirts to beer mugs kind of defeat the core of their message and feed right into the ever churning engine of capitalism. Rolling in their graves, I tell you.

Anyway - so this year, amidst the ubiquitous "Love" and Disney designs, they're actually releasing a stamp to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Mendez v. Westminster, a case in which a group of Latino parents challenged segregation on the basis of national origin. I am so impressed by the Postal Service - the civil rights commemorative stamps were amazing, and this one just seems like a great one to capture a piece of American history that isn't quite as known as Brown v. The Board of Education or other iconic cases in American legal history.

I think it's interesting how people see the inclusion of cultural and other icons on postage stamps as a part of the formula of "making it" in the United States. I know that the push for Diwali stamps (probably a response to the beautiful Eid stamp that the Postal Service has issued for a number of years) is representative of that (and I guess it's definitely cooler than the suspension of alternate side of the street parking).

But still, this quest to be recognized seems to be the theme for the mainstream members of any community that identifies itself as different in the United States. I've been thinking more about the concept of identity and re/pro/claiming such a thing because of a seminar that I'm taking which looks at the lenses of identity in the United States and the way that the law and the legal system have enforced and also turned notions of identity on its head over the centuries. But one of the central questions in class discussion has been whether the identities that we hold on to so dearly are truly important or useful.

One of the articles I just finished reading (The Subject of True Feeling, by Lauren Berlant) posits that a person's identification with a group as a reaction/claiming of collective pain will only go so far, and that the victimization and focus on pain/reparations inherent in organizing a politicized identity in such a fashion can seldom be transcended. I think that the author is questioning the casting of self as victim, and finding solace, comfort, and even community in similarly affected people, effectively centering upon pain as the primary stimulus for self-activation/politicization.

Some of this is relevant here - are we truly caught in an endless cycle of oppressors and the oppressed, in which the relatively calm eras reveal a push for equality and reparations for past wrongs, which forge the most lasting identities of that particular time? And are our assertions of self, and of community, merely reactive, perpetuating an understanding of ourselves that only revolves around that victimization? And is this why, while some white, mainstream folks feel surrounded and beleaguered by the "multicultural throngs" seeking a piece of their pie,
most don't really feel the need to confront issues of identity as often or as intensely as visible and other minorities. Though I guess the White Studies programs and white-only scholarships may call even that premise into question.

Anyway - back to the stamps. Why is it that communities make so much of these little "gimmes" - specifically related to recognition and inclusion in the constructed images of America? It's like some people are trying to photoshop themselves into the iconic snapshot of the "American dream/myth" that's rammed down our throats every day. But ultimately, is the goal of claiming and asserting our identity just so that the majority, or those in power, finally see us? Is that enough? Will we ever even the score?

Or is battling the giant for "separate" actually better than chasing the windmills of "equality"? So yeah, stamps are not just stamps, but still, this thing got out of hand and only touched a few surfaces, so let's see if we can revisit soon.

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Feb 14, 2007

Desi PACs: "Photographs And Checks"

Announcements from Presidential hopefuls have been titillating the media this month, and giving some hope to those who are sick of the comedy of errors that is our government. I thought I'd take a moment to review what has happened in the past, especially with South Asians and political fundraising/attempted king-making.

South Asians PACs have been around, with the first generation often focusing on nuclear treaties and H1-B workers (or India-Pakistan relations with the United States). There are quite a few of them, and they range from mildly annoying to downright nasty. The uncle generation has combined their preference for photo ops with their power of the purse to throw money at politicians who are happy to come out for a dinner or lunch, take a few pictures with the proud immigrants and walk away unmoved by the naive and generally unsophisticated (or unsavory) political suggestions that the PAC puts gently on the table next to the big checks. These folks have the money, but haven't usually used it strategically.

Fast forward to the second generation of desi Americans who have grown up here, and have spread out into political and policy positions. They're creating their own political fundraising organizations, PACs, and think tanks (at least in name). Everytime I turn around, there's a new PAC or think tank. And you'd think that these folks would be more nuanced about their approach towards the politicians. But it's more of the same, often with more flash but still some kind of deer-staring-at-the-headlights fixation with cameras and celebrity.

Perhaps they are vying for post-election jobs, notoriety, and sometimes the very photo ops that their parents were looking for before them, the name of the community is often raised without much substance. And where "civil rights" have become a safe bet to put softly on the table beside the big check, issues of pervasive poverty in segments of our community, or driving a harder line about moving the debate from "illegals" to fair treatment of immigrants regardless of status are not discussed. If we could just get the money and the consciousness about inequity together in the same room, we'd get somewhere.

But the problem is, to really have a true analysis about class and inequity, we can't think about just South Asians. These issues are not race specific - they affect our community also, as they affect many others. But in organizing by race group (or political coalition, if you will), are these folks basically making the discussion around broader inequity impossible?

If each group buys the time of the politician and lists 2-3 issues that it has identified as important to itself (such as the self-serving "more of XYZ group in your administration" ("...and here's my resume!"), are they all giving the politician an out to say "the issue of poverty/hate crimes/anti-immigrant sentiment is important, but your group is still a small percentage of the total population... and I have to work on issues that affect more people"? Rather than just ignoring the communities in need, are these PACs actually hurting the most vulnerable folks?


Anyway, so last election cycle, we had "SAKI" - South Asians for Kerry/Edwards (still not sure of where the "i" came from). They raised something like $2M, had a few gala events, made a splash, and the candidates didn't win. Not winning isn't the issue, to me. It's that the establishment, the DNC, wasn't pushed to think more critically about the way that it engages South Asian and other immigrant communities. So the conversation didn't move anywhere, and we're in the same position now as we were 4 years ago with the DNC and the parties as a whole. Pretty short-sighted, enit?

For more about desi PACs, here are a few articles (1, 2), but as usual, they don't seem to be very critical.

Now, we'll likely have groups rallying behind their favorite candidates again. My prediction is that we'll have a lot of good people give their money to X or Y candidate and trust that the people pulling the effort together will have their general interests, and "the community's interests" (whatever that could possibly mean) in mind. Without commenting on that until I see more, let's have some fun with acronyms:

South Asians for Clinton II (SACT). I like the sound of "sacked." I don't know why. I just like it.

South Asians for Barrack Obama (SAFBO). Well, they would be smart not to add his first name to the acronym, because the connotation is too uncomfortably close for everyone involved.

South Asians for Bill Richardson (SABR). Sabre? While I like it, there was once a group called South Asians Against Police Brutality that used a similar acronym, so I don't know.

South Asians for John Edwards (SAJE). Sage! Pretty cool.

South Asians for Arnold Schwarzenegger (SAAS). Sounds like a statistical software package. Heck, with some of his plans for Cali, including a move closer to universal health care and a strong push to cut greenhouse emissions, not to mention the effort he'd make to change the Constitutional native-born requirement for the Presidency, I might even write him a check. He'd move the conversation further than any of the other major candidates.

My favorite, of course, is South Asians for Al Gore (SAAG). I mean, come on. Tell me that's not too perfect? I can see the logo now, as well as the endless green buffets, long talks about how global warming could affect spinach farmers everywhere, and even some crazy crossover with the Screen Actors' Guild (isn't he a member now?).

Seriously though, if you think that Gore is not a viable candidate, read this article in Rolling Stone about their thoughts on the issue. I found it compelling, though unlikely.


Well, again, political season is upon us. And all I can say is that I hope someone real comes along to keep it fun. Like Randy of the Redwoods.

Of whom I can't find a single picture or link through Google. What a shame. I remember you, Randy. I think I would have voted for you, if I was of age at the time.

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Feb 12, 2007

The Police Tour Confirmed.

Well, you read it here first. In what seems to be a very poorly coordinated PR plan for the much rumored Police reunion tour, I got an email in my inbox at 4:45 AM today from Best Buy pushing a special "Reward-Zone Only" promotion for pre-sale of tickets in NYC and Boston. The only thing is, the Police were planning to announce at 2 PM today.

Kinda stole their thunder. Oh well. When you're out of the game for more than 20 years, you're a little rusty.

Okay - so tickets are likely going to be very expensive, and almost impossible to get, but I have to say - seeing the Police would be a highlight for the summer.

What I loved from last night's Grammy's (and there were not a lot of highlights) was reading the liveblog on Stereogum where they skewered almost everyone. My favorite line:

Random Grammy Fun Fact: Andy Summers was born on 12/31/42, making him 11 months older than Keith Richards. He also wrote the Weekend At Bernie's soundtrack. A full life, that.

Reminds me of when a friend and I used to add these lyrics to "Born in the '50s"... "we were born, in the 50s (except for Annnndy)."

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Feb 11, 2007

Let's Give it Up for Slayer

That toad-like Dixie Chick is more annoying than James Blunt. The Grammy's were interesting this year - I tend to skip them, but I had to see the Police come back together was worth it.

I just wish they gave the Metal award on the air (the way that they used to). Slayer won this year for a song of their latest album. To be honest, I am shocked that the industry actually chose Slayer. While I'm annoyed that they weren't given the award on live TV, I have to give props to the voters for sifting through the garbage and going for the jungular. It's fascinating, because I think the decided who to put out on the stage purely by the number of albums they thought they could sell with the awards, and they probably couldn't fathom putting a band up there whose album is:

1) A pretty brutal thematic album that equates Christianity with war and condemns both of them,
2) Entitled "Christ Illusion",
3) Adorned with an image that is shocking, even to the non-believer.

I have to note that one of the guys from Mastodon (up in the category as well), when asked if he would be voting for his band by Rolling Stone said: No way! I'm voting for Slayer - I idolize those guys (paraphrasing here, of course). I'm impressed.

So let's give it up to the band - Kerry King is insane and a possible SS-apologist, but Tom Araya is awesome, and he's even a person of color (Peruvian).

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Feb 10, 2007

Revisiting Maiden.

Nothing much to post this morning, because I'm trying to take it easy and not get agitated over too much over the weekend. But I spent 2-3 hours of worktime yesterday researching and writing, with most of the Maiden catalog blaring in my ears. I forgot how much I love their stuff. I've even been able to give the Blaze albums (or what little I have from them) another chance. I have to say - the power in his voice, which doesn't resort to aural acrobatics like Bruce, is quite appropriate for the darker material. Virus, Futureal, Lord of the Flies... these songs don't need to soar. They need power. But Bruce's voice seems more seasoned in A Matter of Life and Death, which makes me wonder what the future work will sound like.

As I've said before, you know you love an album, or a band, when your favorite song keeps changing.

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Feb 9, 2007

Watada, Resistor.

I know that I've been posting up a bunch of YouTube videos today, but this one is awesome. It's a 2-part short film that documents the moment when Iraq War resister, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, calls 3 Japanese American men who were involved in similar controversies during WWII: two were no-no boys (refusing to serve because they didn't believe that they should have to serve the nation when the nation had interned their people) and one was a WWII veteran. The film has a few significant highlights for me, but you should check it out for yourself. I think that Lt. Watada is incredibly articulate about why he is resisting, and I think that hearing the old-timers speak of then and now is really something else.

*** The old-timers talk about how the Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL), which had a very controversial stance on the no-no boys during WWII (claiming that they should be tried for sedition, rather than just draft resistance), is not necessarily changing their tune this time around either. Watada mentions that they have been supportive of him, but haven't come out against the war (nor has the ACLU). I think it's quite courageous for him to be critical of his supporters in this way, and makes me feel that he is doing this out of true conviction, and not as a stunt.

*** Watada speaks very eloquently about the duty to speak up against this illegal war. I think that we can all get something out of what he's saying here - and it's just remarkable that he's so poised about it, given his age. It's not easy to take such a fierce stand.

See it for yourself:

Part I:

Part II:

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Beau Sia on Rosie O'Donnell.

This is so great (thanks Mike). Definitely a more poignant rebuttal to Rosie than what I posted earlier.

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Jin is Back.

Check out this video by Asian American hip-hop artist Jin. I thought that Jin's efforts out of the gate were ehhh, but this song/concept makes me smile.

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Feb 8, 2007

Which Caucus Should I Go To: Affirmative Identity, Passing, and Challenging Brownness

All my friends are Indians,
All my friends are brown and red.
-Soundgarden - "Spoonman"

Most of my friends are people of color. It's just the way things work out, I guess. At this point, law school has been good because at least I'm meeting cool white people women. But I have my most interesting conversations about race and identity with people who are double- or triple-marginalized. While questions of being "of color" + "woman", or "of color" + "queer" have come up in the literature and the movements of the past 40 years, there are very interesting issues that are still not addressed in many progressive spaces. More and more of the people I speak with are not as gung-ho about one identity or another, especially when the identity is race-based.

I don't have the same sense of ambivalence about categories, though I'm not particularly thrilled to be lumped into the 1.2 billion Indians from India either. For some of us, trying to stand out or cut away from the sameness of belonging to a group is important - I identify as who I am affirmatively, to stop the immediate sizing up, classification, and generalization that you get as "one of the same." As part of an outsider group in the United States, I feel more conscious of this insider/outsider dynamic, and much resent being relegated to that outsider status unless I conform to a particular vision of what "American" means. On the other end, I'm striving to be the outsider in my specific community, unhappy to be lumped with everyone else, and still hanging on to some ideal of American individualism (I guess). The dynamic is one that I create for myself - I could just go with the flow like most of drones.

However, that's not true for everyone. And as folks resist being boxed into one group or another, there's a natural instinct to want to belong, or at least to be able to choose where you belong. In the midst of all of this, for desis, and I guess most other groups, where do folks with diasporic roots fit in? For desis specifically, while the North America/UK/South Asia connections seem more and more fluid in this transnational age, large multi-generational populations in places like the Caribbean, Africa, Fiji, etc are not really part of the mix. Is the perceived cultural divide the issue? Is there a casual exclusion? Is this primarily a throwback to a pre-Technological Age, when the links between the diaspora and the sending lands were much more difficult to maintain?

One of my closest friends, C, and I talk about this question of belonging, of fitting in, as multiple-migrants and members of our particular micro-generation. As an Indo-Caribean she often feels on the margins, and while I'm sure she feels comfortable with that most of the time - it's still difficult to not have a bunch of people in the same space as you. And as someone whose ancestry is probably 100% of Indian origin, she doesn't have to confront issues of racial identification, though diasporic communities really push and pull at American constructs of race in a way far more sophisticated than most Americans know how to deal with. For example, 9 out of ten times, people probably peg her as "Indian," but that's only a race grouping, which deletes or ignores a rich cultural history of more than a hundred years of migration and survival in the Western Hemisphere.

C also resented being asked these questions by strangers - the "where are you from" question is an annoyance for me, but represents so much more for her because it feels like her place is questioned in different circles and spaces. Culture, nationality, ethnicity, and race are not synonymous, and American citizenship does nothing to address or reconcile any of these things. It doesn't help that most Americans are clueless about the patterns of migration, or even the whereabouts of many of the countries we mention. Trinidad and Bangladesh may as well be neighbors in the myopic world-view of typical Americans. That includes people of color, by the way. The education system doesn't do much to counter prevalent ignorance about the world around us.


Then I think about another close friend of mine, B, who has one parent from the subcontinent, and another parent from a different part of the non-Western world, and her experiences illuminate another part of this conundrum. For her, racial category and grouping sometimes seem to be imputed upon her by the person she's speaking with, which doesn't work well, given how clueless most people are about identity and respect. In the past, I think I imagined that I knew what it was like to be questioned in this way, but then I saw it in progress and realized that I'd only considered the tip of the iceberg.

We were at a reception together, speaking with someone who worked at an Asian American organization. So this woman says that she's been invited to join a working group that my friend B was a part of, because they need an "Asian" face. B immediately responded "I'm Asian." As an aside, I'm usually annoyed when East/Southeast Asians talk about "Asians" and forget that the political identity includes some South Asians still (though the number continues to dwindle, in my estimation). But get this - the woman actually contested her personal affirmation of group identity. I couldn't believe it - how clueless do you have to be? I tend to stay away from telling people what group they belong to, but if someone says "I am" - well, that should indicate to you what group the person identifies as belonging to.

So why do folks who are bi- or multi-racial, have to choose one group or another? And why do we take it upon ourselves to question people about where they are and how they align themselves? And it's just funny, because we seem to do that more than the white folk question the straggler folks of color who tag along and mimic their Abercrombie ways. I think white folk just assume that everyone wants to join their tribe, and if they don't make sport of you, let it slide. Why don't we just let it slide - if you're hanging with a group, and you're not a creepy -phile of some kind, why do we have to get all into questioning it all the time?

But thinking back, I don't think that this is rare at all, and I think that it is particularly difficult for people who don't fit the "phenotype" of the group that is excluding them. It's just interesting - because people write and talk about passing - especially in the context of being "white" or close enough to white to not be questioned as a member of a so-called minority group. But we don't talk about "passing" in the context of groups of color. And we've created little in-groups all over the place that exclude people who don't "fit" or can't pass with questions. If this is the way that we create community, then who needs it?

To be honest, some of these thoughts are prompted by a recent reading of White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race this week for a class. While I didn't follow all of his arguments, Lopez raised a few very interesting points about the conceptualization and investment in "White identity" for White Americans. It seems that while all the rest of us keep trying to become white, White folk don't really think about it much, or see it as a defining feature. Until they do, and actively deconstruct that identity of Whiteness (a positional construction related to "not being non-White" even in the early court rulings when it was a lot easier (though they kept changing their mind) to identify who wasn't white than who was), we're not going to see a truly equitable society.

By this argument, is there a concept of "Brownness" that we should be exposing, exploring, and expunging from progressive and radical thinkings about community? Are we sticking ourselves into boxes which, though of our own naming, are still arbitrary boxes? Insider and outsider, belonging and not belonging... are we, in effect, writing another master narrative that marginalizes folks who don't fit the lowest common denominator of classification (or commonalities that we can rally around as a function of building an identity on something less than radical politics)?

I mean, I don't know how to bhangra: does that make me less passionate about being brown, and asserting a positive desi identity in the states? We don't speak Hindi/Urdu - does that make us less committed or genuine? And if I can identify the edges past which my marginalization begins, what about folks simply do not fit into the pre-packaged identity boxes? Are they to be double-marginalized - from the mainstream "whiteness/blackness" discussion, as well as this gradual coalescence of some concept of "brownness"?

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Feb 6, 2007

Dubai is Crazy.

Check out this fascinating slideshow about what's going on in Dubai. The architectural race to build the "biggest" and garner the most superlatives will likely make this oasis of capitalism the focus of much ire from around the world. I wouldn't be surprised if it became a major tourist destination (come on now, Dubailand is calling you!) and a major target for hostile action.

Regardless, it's something else to watch it develop, and I definitely think that folks should keep their eyes on this. I mean, come on - building replicas of the seven wonders of the world that are larger than the originals? That's brilliant.

For an earlier slideshow from the New Yorker, accompanied by audio, click here.

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