Aug 19, 2007

She Tends a Child Who Looks Like Her Employer

Picking up on a theme from last week...

They say that society is now equitable and that people of color have access to everything because overt racism is dead. But we live in a nation where generations of white kids see women of color as their caretakers, their companions, and ultimately, direct reports to their parents. Perhaps the key difference from slavery is that instead of just black slaves who primarily spoke english, the caretakers come from all over the world and speak many native languages.

You'd hope that this could open the minds of the children when they grow up, or even in their increasingly diverse school environments, to be more likely to embrace the polycultural spaces of urban america, but who knows. Lessons in power seem to come very early for kids - it seems like it takes a lot of work to deprogram them from assigning roles and value to their parents. I can't imagine that it's different for their caretakers, and I doubt many parents are saying "don't think of her status as below yours."

Modern day, yuppie aristocracy. Without many of the paternalistic tendencies of past generations, where hand-in-hand with slaves/servants not having the right to self-determination or freedom, some of their "masters" felt some responsibility for their well-being, in a weird, twisted way. I don't know if that's true now - labor has become even more disposable with the willing and desperate thousands needing to take jobs that take them away from their own kids, to tend to the privileged. Inequality can be measured in the benefits "professional" white women get from using the labor of women of color to facilitate their career advancement.

Clearly it's not just women, but if there is a sisterhood argument to be made over race, it still has to overcome the formidable barrier of class.

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Kill Your Television

I visited with the one friend who has always been like an older brother to me tonight. I think I've outgrown much of his advice, though I think he still likes to give it, and I don't protest too much. And we've traveled quite a few miles together.

But it's always a bit weird to meet up with friends whose lives aren't really moving that much from where they were a while ago. This friend is different from others that I have who really seem stuck - his life has changed a great deal - but the conversations still seem sort of the same.

I don't know - it's just weird for me to communicate with folks who don't really seem as interested in what's happening in my life, though he does ask about some elements of it. Is it because they're afraid to open up weird moments in the conversation (like something coming up about politics or that sort of things like it did with the uncles and aunties)? Whatever it is, it makes me have to drop in stuff about my own life all guerilla and shit, which is just not the democracy-in-dialogue I'm hoping for.

So the other thing I'm realizing is how much some people in my generation watch TV. We don't have cable - not because we're fundamentally opposed to it or anything, but because shelling out the dough isn't fun right now, and we've gone without for many years at this point so we're not going through withdrawal. But when so much of a conversation with a friend you haven't seen for a while is derived from quotes, plot summaries, and assorted punchlines from tv shows, it makes you wonder. Television has truly replaced religion as the opiate, and I don't know how to react when this is what has replaced real conversation. I missed the show, because I wanted to, so stop giving me the play-by-play! But I did interject with a smashing Boondocks reference.

Funny thing is, both this friend and another dear friend who seems somewhat desensitized to the world, gave me DVD sets of television programs as a gift recently. I'm actually touched to received gifts and at least the first one was so on the money that it's scary, but I'm surprised that they're thinking DVDs instead of music. Then again, with all the time I spend in front of my computer, maybe I have that glazed over look that is mistaken to be from the TV.

ironic thing is, I gave him a mix today with Forbidden's Hyponotized By the Rhythm. I wonder if the irony will strike him the same way. Excerpts below:

Channels changing, nothing changing
Re-deranging, warping reality
Turn it off, it will turn you on
It's the drug of our time
Living Dying
So on goes the picture denying

We watch hypnotized
Addicted to lies
What we see is electric disguise
I am hypnotized
Addicted to lies
What we see is electric disguise
We're all hypnotized

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Aug 18, 2007

Ego and Those Difficult Conversations.

There's something about a certain kind of gathering of uncles and aunties in which I can't keep my mouth shut anymore. Regardless of the deep and lasting friendships they've had with my parents, regardless of how they have been the support when I've been far or further away, I just can't help myself from almost visceral reactions when they say things I find offensive - which in these circles have ended up being anti-Muslim nowadays, vs. anti-black in the past. I think with their kids growing up and going through public high schools in their small urban areas (vs. the artificial (and white) suburbia of comfortable houses that many of my cousins occupy in New Jersey), the parents have at least had to curb the biases they learned through their white colleagues and American mainstream culture because many of their kids reject some/all of them.1 But they haven't been able to do that with the biases they brought with them from (and are perpetuated by contact still in) India.

So this atmosphere prompts me to launch into a diatribe of my own, vaguely throwing in a number of related but not logically necessary issues I feel like bringing up, with an audience of fairly patient older folks (for a time). Sparing y'all the details, I think it falls somewhere between a rant and a rail, with bits and pieces of what could become a cohesive manifesto, but if I have to be objective, my argument technique sometimes resembles that of a desperate person in a sinking ship trying everything he can to reduce the water in the ship, throw items overboard that he believes may make the difference, and wholly, haphazardly, being unable to take coherent, clear, unemotional steps (i.e. make points). Somehow, I was able to bring in factoids (and emotional stretches of the truth) about everything from Mountbatten's hasty departure and creation of Partition, to philanthropy in well-off Indian communities that doesn't address issues in our community at all, the Ghadar Party, the American genocide of native peoples, the many secret wars in central/south america, the massacre of sikhs in India, the use of "American" to describe only white people, the way that we're expendable to white people until they decide to hate us, questioning loyalties to nation-states, the tired use of the "forced conversions when Muslims came to India hundreds of years ago" as justification for widespread animosity/hatred towards all Muslims now (this is going to be another post on a possible short logic argument I just worked out).... the list goes on and on. What the hell was I thinking.

The combination of ego and some knowledge is a really dangerous thing, and I can see how easy it is to walk into the trap of being a self-righteous, belligerent liberal (or conservative) who just figuratively bludgeons people into submission (or, really just not caring or wanting to engage again). I think that rather than truly value the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to share knowledge or what you've seen with someone (in a more collaborative, integrative way), in these situations, it just becomes a contest to see how many zingers or "points" I can make. But that's useless in the big picture, and if I can't master the desire to shock over substance and dialogue, my ambition to be a constructive contributor and collaborator rather than just another close-minded egoist, is doomed. I sometimes get into these situations with my own friends, but it's usually with a very particular group, and for whatever reason, something triggered the deluge tonight. Discipline, beyond just thinking about these things, is a critically important tool.

Really, the whole point of having this kind of dialogue is so that you actually can get somewhere. When you bring in everything else, it just confuses things too much to get something useful out of the dialogue. If every conversation we have is just to further convince ourselves that we're right and the world is filled with dumbasses who don't get it or care, starting with the person we're talking to, well, that's pointless. But the conversation has to more of an exchange. It's just so hard to do without losing your cool.

[1] As a tangent, these kids are different from the kids growing up in enclave-like suburbia (like Long Island, where 2nd Gen Gujarati Americans grow up with only Indian friends, in their own little slice of 'burbladesh that takes the worst of both their parents' communalism and mainstream Long Island's neuroses about so many things). The different slices of 2nd Gen Desi America are far too complicated for me to deal with right now, but I know that the generations are incredibly different, even if they are only 5 - 7 years apart.

Regardless, I think a lot has to be said about how close these ties become between Indian immigrant adults who are bound by their shared experiences here. For my mom and some of her friends, you'd think they knew each other from childhood. For adults to create such strong friendships long after they'd gone through the typical places where we make our friends (neighborhood friends while growing up, school friends, etc) is remarkable. While I've met some people over the past years who have become quite close - you just naturally don't get that attached to new people, that quickly. And especially after marriage and kids - the ability of these families to come together and to forge such close friendships is really remarkable. I mean, I feel closer to these uncles and aunties than some of my own relatives. I guess that may be why I just feel free to shoot off my opinions?

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Aug 15, 2007

The Subversive Game Show: Drew Carey's Power of 10

Okay - so I was just flipping the channels to pass some time while I ate dinner tonight, and I saw this game show that Drew Carey is now hosting called Power of 10. I thought it was the same stupid show that you always see - harmless questions that an idiot could answer. But then I watched, and not only was it more interesting questions about where the American public surveyed stood on questions like "Should a girl be able to try out for the high school football team" (which Carey introduced with a brief factoid about Title XI). Anyway, so the woman was from Alabama, and one of the questions was "How Many Americans think the United States is the Best Country in the World." In what really seemed to me to be light jabbing about the South, but then turned into his bold assertion about how things with the war and everything else made people unhappy about the country was pure genius.

He made a number of comments when one of the participants said he was from New Orleans, Carey launched into a few wise snaps about FEMA, the government owing people, and at one point, saying he hoped the contestant would walk away a winner because he wanted anyone from New Orleans to walk away with dough. "Heck even if you can get what the government owes you, that would be a good thing." Few of the audience laughed, but the contestant got it and so did I.

The first question to the contestant was about immigrants - Carey started with "you're from New Orleans, and you know that there are a lot of immigrants there, rebuilding. This question is about what percentage of Americans polled think that an immigrant has to speak fluent English before they can become a citizen." In his little comments to the contestant, Carey said there were a lot of people in the US who were sick of immigrants "even though they are helping to rebuild New Orleans." It was pretty clear where Carey sat on this issue, and he even kind of made the contestant uncomfortable because he was just speaking the truth. I loved it. His awkwardness reminded me of myself in many social settings when I'm not surrounded by people open for a little healthy debate.

As long as the ratings remain high, I think he's going to have this innovative way of educating the American public about things like civil rights and making political commentary in a way that goes right past the hallowed (and cleanly separated) halls of the bloggiemart. With all the talk about how much influence blogs will have on elections and all things political, people only tune into blogs that echo their own beliefs or interests. Network TV is still a far more powerful tool. And by focusing on things a little less erudite than the Jeopardy topics, Carey's show may be making a deft play at something that only some animated shows have been able to get away with: bold political commentary in the middle of "entertainment" drivel. I'm impressed.

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Aug 10, 2007

APIA Blog Network

I was asleep for a while, but I've awoken again.  Sorry for the snoozing.  And also really sorry that I didn't put up way earlier that the good peeps at the APIA Blog Network have listed and are rolling my posts into their fine aggregation of APIA bloggers around the net.  I guess this should be a good way for me to remember why I started this thing to begin with, and to keep my love and struggles with community first and at the forefront.

So just a shout to those guys to keep it up.  And as always, thanks to y'all for reading.

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Brighter than a Thousand Suns

Listening to Maiden's "Brighter than a Thousand Suns," a gripping song about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yesterday was the 62nd anniversary of a wholly gratuitous, unnecessary, and damning act of genocide by the American government against the people of Nagasaki and Japan. While Hiroshima is the "bomb" that more people speak of, and its dropping has been damned since the news of its horror spread, it is the dropping of the second bomb, three days later, that provides the most telling evidence that this was no mere military tactic that they would have initiated against any enemy.

There was enough time for the military to report back what the devastation and impact on more than 100,000 civilians who were killed instantaneously on August 6th in Hiroshima, to give Truman and the powers in the military to think about what the impact of a second bomb would be on the people of Japan and on the world itself. Also, it was not enough time for the people of Japan to raise their voices above the din of Japan's dying war machine to the world community, to notify and show what had happened in Hiroshima. At a time before instant communication, no one really knew what was happening out there, the horror of it all, beyond the madmen pulling the strings for the American and Japanese military.

And there is a lot of literature that claims that Japan was weakened and close to surrender at the time of the dropping of the bombs. I'm not going to get into the argument, but clearly, the point can and should be made that if the U.S. was trying to "make a point" to the Russians at the time, was it really necessary to drop a second bomb? Wasn't it overkill? Were the estimated 40,000 - 70,000 civilians killed in Nagasaki collateral damage that the U.S. was willing to take on, for the sake of putting an exclamation point at the end of Hiroshima?

And of course, I can't even fathom the decision to begin with. The way that the American government has been able to perpetrate this kind of wholesale genocide unchecked by the world community... to the point where people don't think about the human cost of these bombs, in both lives and innocence. To the point where the American people, a scant 30 years later, were able to openly, viciously, "Japan bash" because the nation's economy was on the rise and car imports were threatening the Detroit metal machines. Don't you think the bombs were enough bashing for more than a generation?

Combine utter ignorance and no sense of history, and you get the traditional American bravado about how the world should always love us. No clue about what horror people had at the atrocities, once they were able to digest what had happened. It took three days to effectively kill more than 200,000 people. When you put that scale to just a year, the U.S. numbers could outpace anything that Hitler's SS could have done in its prime.

Anyway, to read more about how the decision was made to drop the bombs from original documents, check out this link.

And think peace.

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Aug 9, 2007

What's in a Label?

I've been stuck in my own headspace for a while - haven't craned my neck outside of my cave long enough to take a look and see what else is going on, or has been going on.  I think while I want to get away from just focusing on the humdrum of ordinary life, I also don't want to go too negative on groups in the community (unless they're being stupid). After all, there's plenty of work to do, people are generally well-meaning, and the thing about blogging is, it's easy to write something scathing without doing adequate "real reporting." In other words, really interviewing people, getting more sides to the story than my own casual view (askance?) in their general direction, yadda yadda.

That doesn't mean I don't have opinions, or that they aren't valid, but it's also true that it just takes a few forwards and suddenly one person's opinion (with the added benefit of relative anonymity) becomes an unnecessary fire that a group has to put out. What's the point in all of this? Is it really the role of opinion vigilantes to take up the bandwidth with their marginal viewpoints and take away from people who are actually doing the work? Ultimately: not important enough. I recognize that I'd much rather be doing work than criticizing others. So... with all of that (a little bit of a reflection on where I may be going with my own orientation to community - school has taken me out of the mix long enough to remind me how much I want to be back in it - and that I don't want to cut down, I want to build up, as I think I've been repeating ad naseum lately).

Anyway - I've been thinking about what it means to be "progressive" in the Asian American community. Do I really want to use the word "progressive" to define my politics? What does that mean? Is it beyond "liberal," which in itself is getting pushed to the margins of where American political life (or at least what's on display) wants to be?

Want to mark a Democrat? Call them a liberal and laugh as they try madly to dash off the label like it was a mad hornet. But "liberal" doesn't seem appropriate for me. What's the next step from there? Is it "progressive"? Is there something beyond these terms that isn't quite at "radical" - not because I don't want to be there, but because I think it may be presumptive to put it out there that I consider myself closer to radical than "liberal"? Or is "radical" where I am, and "revolutionary" is where I'm headed? Who knows. But in this land of pre-pre-election chatter, I wonder what the political landscape of left-o-center Asian America looks like, at least on the net.

Let's take a look...

South Asians for (insert candidate here). Still working/worked by the system. Middle of the aisle all the way. Not that it's particularly wrong. It's just not my thing. I mean, let's not all be tools now. But I covered this already.

APAs for Progress. This group seems like it's got some good ideas - I really like the 25th anniversary of Vincent Chin idea. But they're also playing the whole "participation = voting/election power" thing. I don't really agree with that as the angle - focusing on legal constructs of citizenship cuts out more than 60% of our community which is non-citizen. Following that up with "we should naturalize them all!" is also not helpful, given that a lot of people have their own reasons for not naturalizing, and really, should our rights flow from legal status with the nation-state, or status as individuals or members of groups within the nation? Citizenship can be taken from you just as easily as it's given, but your personhood is yours. So, I have issues with this focus. And isn't this just some other side of the 80-20 coin? I mean, you say progressive, I say liberal, the other guy says "whoever will listen to us" - what's the difference?

I'm not going to go into the other groups right now, because I'm shooting for shorter pieces that people can actually read. But this question of what constitutes "radical", "progressive", "liberal", and "revolutionary" was around for me for a while. I'm come to just toss the labels, as many people claim to do, because they aren't that helpful, especially when so many people have different thoughts about what they mean anyway. But I get sick to tears of people buying into electoral politics as the saving grace for our communities and the work that should be prioritized. It seems like such a top-down, privileged way of looking at what's important and what people care about.

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Aug 7, 2007

Racial Incongruity, Women and Children

Okay, so I've noticed the following assumptions I have about women, children, and "racial incongruity":

1) Woman of color with white child. Domestic worker/nanny situation. Major class difference between the woman and her charge.

2) White woman and child of color. Adoption situation. Doesn't matter what the white woman looks like, or where we are, but I've become programmed to think that she's the kid's adoptive mother.

3) Latina woman with Asian children. This is a newer phenomenon, but I honestly think I assume that the kids are adopted by a white third party, and then they've "contracted out" for the care of the kid.

Here's where some of these things come from. First, it's damn hard to adopt a white baby, so I just don't assume that's what's happening when I see the first situation. It's also, clearly, the way that the work of women of color has been commodicized to this extreme level that we just assume that the woman must be taking care of the kids.

For the second and third situations, it seems like I just assume that people of color abuse hire other people of color for this specific role. Co-ethnics, usually, from back home. We have a way of being the most cruel to people who theorists think we can relate to the most easily. Yeah right. The key reason why organizing on the basis of race/ethnicity alone seems much more difficult than based on system/oppression that the people are facing.

But it's interesting, because even with the Latina taking care of Asian kids, I just assume that the desi couple with money will hire a desi nanny, because they can get the "bonus" of language training, cultural competency, and hell, let's just make her cook for us too. Perhaps adding to the leisure of their own parents (not that I advocate for grandparents to have to take on the role of caretaker because that definitely can be a form of elder abuse). It's kind of crazy, the way that people think it's totally cool to add so much to the load for

But what I started with on this post is just the assumptions that filter the different things I see, especially in affluent neighborhoods. Part of me gets annoyed at my jumps to conclusions, and another part is just like, yo, that's fucked up.

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Aug 4, 2007

Indo-American Leadership...

Had an interesting dialogue about the role of lawyers, even progressive/radical ones, in creating true social change over at Pass the Roti on the Left Hand Side.  It's nice to be in a space where we can have a civil dialogue about different points of view, instead of backing away when the other people scream "how dare you counter us!", banning you from the fray altogether...


But for the title of this post... have you taken a look at this thing, the "Indian American Leadership Initiative"?  Seems like a perfectly predictable group, hardly masking its connection and connection to the Democratic Party.  Their "democratic dialogue" looks like a hoot of a good time.  A bunch of men, self-promoting like crazy, and blending in with all the other PACs.  

And then, there's the "DNC Indo-American Leadership Council."  And of course, from the past, though they are still keeping the site fairly updated, the Indian American Center for Political Awareness. which funny enough, used to be the India Abroad Center, and now is run by News-Times India.   Oh, and there's USINPAC and I'm sure a few others that I've forgotten.

I can't help but feel incredibly confused by all these groups.  What the hell do any of them do, anyway?  I thought I was generally annoyed by too many local/social service groups, but this is much worse.  Sorta the neverending funnel of dollars that go into Dem coffers.  Will we/they ever learn?

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