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.


Y. Carrington said...

It's getting around now, Rage. I found out about the story from The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, who got it from Angry Asian Man. I signed the petition that AAJC started too.

For me it's more about an analysis of Kenneth Eng's internalized white supremacy rather than about taking AsianWeek to task. Sure, they were wrong as hell to post Eng's horseshit about people of color (this man has insulted APIAS too, by the way) again and again, but at the end of the day they're a small POC publication. For me to attack them as I would a TimeWarner or Viacom wouldn't be right.

If we are using liberal apologia as a form of ersatz activism, then the African American leadership community has a lot to apologize to Black folk for as well---for having a status quo approach that does nothing to change power relations, for not taking Black folks like Bill Cosby to task when they attack the Black community, for endorsing classist, patriarchal notions of "uplift" as a solution to our community's problems, and for failing to tackle white male supremacy as a system of power.

Better yet, don't apologize to us at all, do something about it!

Rage said...

Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comments, y. I agree about taking the focus off of Eng, but I still hold AsianWeek at least partially responsible for being his pulpit. And even if it's a small media outlet, it still has a responsibility to be critical and think about what role it plays in the community - beyond selling papers.

However, my post was focused on the immediate reaction from the so-called leaders in my community. I mean, there was no analysis of the roots of the mistrust and animosity that Eng suggested.

There was nothing that suggested that we should forge a new path of community that seeks commonalities beyond national origin and race. So yeah, I was frustrated with the so-called leaders, and you definitely hit the nail on the head.

Like your site, by the way. Anyplace that remembers Smoke Signals, which for all Sherman Alexie's criticism of it, is still a favorite film of mine.

Kai said...

Very nice post, Rage. I really appreciate the manner in which you've expanded the discussion to channel the energy of our anger about this incident toward a broader anti-racist agenda. You're on the money about that.

I'm a friend of Y. Carrington's and pretty much agree with everything she said. (Bloggers like us have focused quite extensively on building bridges between our various communities, but "our leaders" are behind the curve on this matter.) Like you, however, I also want the editors at AsianWeek to really, really feel the burn from this incident so that they wake the hell up; the publication of this unbelievable filth is totally inexcusable. And I sure wouldn't mind if Asshat Eng never publishes another word in his life.

And yeah Smoke Signals totally rocked..."How do we forgive our fathers?" still gives me chills.


Carmen Van Kerckhove said...

Hi Rage, this is such a great post!

Sorry to do this so publicly, but I can't find an email address for you.

Do you think I could cross-post this on Racialicious, my blog about the intersection of race and pop culture? I would add a byline that reads:

"by guest contributor rage, originally published at down on the brown side"

And it would of course link back to your blog.

You will have a permanent, royalty free, non-transferable traditional copyright to all posts you publish on Racialicious.

Please let me know if that would be ok. Thanks so much!

Rage said...

Kai - thanks for reading and your positivity. I'm definitely glad to know that there are others who share in the frustration about the response. I mean, we can't move the conversation if we don't think more critically about how we're speaking, enit?

This isn't the last of it, I'm sure, but it makes for interesting dialogue for the rest of us. If they'd only catch up. Have you checked out The Business of Fancydancing, which Alexie wrote and directed, using a production team of only women? It's pretty interesting - not as polished as Smoke Signals, but pretty deep on its own.

Rage said...

Carmen, thanks so much for reading. I'm finally putting up my email, but I'll leave this post up here so folks know that it's been cross-posted.

Readers, check out Racialicious!