Nov 29, 2007

How to Bury a Racist (Dinosaur?)

If you're like me, you probably thought that the grand funeral procession by the NAACP this summer to finally bury the "N Word" (and perhaps any shred of relevance that the organization had left), didn't do much to remove the word and its impact on race consciousness in the U.S.

Well, not too long after, those pesky diggers, the paleontologists, had more new about the remains of a previously unknown species of dinosaur that had been unearthed about 5 years earlier, and inadvertently also dug up centuries of shame and hatred, all in one fell swoop. What am I talking about? Well - check it out yourself: people, we give you the grand re-introduction of the Nigersaurus, so named because of where it was found.


I'll be damned if this doesn't feel like a pre-packaged Chris Rock bit naughtily tucked away in the science news. Are scientists really that clueless? Even without beating up on the scientists, it's interesting how the racists seem to take every opportunity they can to share their views through the internet. There has definitely been an upswing in the blatant racist acts on campuses and communities throughout the U.S., and it's hard not to think that the isolated crazies are feeling more and more emboldened by the actions and statements of elected officials, the white supremacy groups, and even the nutty religious institutions that are buying up air time and spewing out invectives.

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Nov 28, 2007

Supporting Sikh Civil Rights Groups: The New Faith-Based Giving?

Between the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), UNITED SIKHS, and I'm sure other, local groups who are planning to hire lawyers too, I think the Sikh community may have more staffed groups that claim to represent their civil rights than any other American community of similar size.   I don't begrudge the community that it needs this support, especially given what's gone down since Sept. 11, but the one-up-manship of the groups is bordering on ridiculous when you get emails from them all in succession, proclaiming that they are the "first", the "largest" or the most important and urging us all to pay attention.  Let's look at mission statements first:

1) SALDEF. Founded in 1996, SALDEF is the largest and oldest Sikh American civil rights and educational organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the civil rights of Sikh Americans through legal aid, advocacy and educational outreach. SALDEF's mission is to create a fostering environment in the United States for future generations of Sikh Americans.

2) The Sikh Coalition. The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. The Coalition serves as a resource on Sikhs and Sikh concerns for governments, organizations and individuals.

3) United Sikhs. UNITED SIKHS is an international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organization, aimed at empowering those in need, especially disadvantaged and minority communities across the world.

Then, some choice statements that they've made about themselves in recent press releases, which almost speak for themselves:

1) "With a full-time staff of five, the Sikh Coalition is now the most staffed Sikh organization in the history of the United States." Sikh Coalition press release, November 20, 2007.

2) "The Sikh Coalition is the only Sikh organization that employs attorneys full-time. The Coalition currently has three attorneys on staff." [website]

3)"The Sikh Coalition is the first Sikh organization to qualify for and receive an Americorps VISTA volunteer from the federal government." [website]

4) "The Sikh Coalition successfully encouraged the first Sikhs to successfully run for political office in New York City on a non-partisan basis." (hmmm -- this is kind of a risky statement to put out there) [website]

Wow - can't actually find equivalent proclamations from the other groups on their websites, though I know I've seen stuff. As a passing thought, I wonder how much of this is a gendered thing - given that all of the groups are led and predominantly directed by men, unlike most other South Asian groups. Then again, there's similar tension between other groups, so I may just be reaching.

Anyway, beyond the way that there seems to be at least a little shoving going on between these groups, it's interesting to see how many resources are going into this work. More than most ethnic or racial minority-based organizations, there seems to be support from the community for civil rights advocacy for Sikhs. A lot of the funding for these groups comes from donors - which is pretty impressive. But I know I would get confused to see that there are a bunch of groups claiming the same kind of work.

I often speak about how our communities actually have a deep history of philanthropic giving (unlike what the mainstream conventional wisdom about tight-fisted Asians may say), but it's usually within the family or to faith-based organizations. Are all of these groups still enjoying donations from the community because -- at least in this community -- civil rights groups are the new temples/faith-based institutions for specific groups who feel beleaguered by hate/bias/misunderstanding? It's hard to tell from the outside - because I can't think if there any other examples of faith-based identities that give in this way, save for Jewish communities with the ADL and other civil rights orgs that recognized the need for Jewish communities to defend themselves.

While the Indian/Jewish analogies have been getting a lot of play in the media (and this is problematic for a lot of reasons - from the model immigrant stories in the U.S. to the meta narrative about the nuclear power leanings of India and the BJP's desire to create an axis against Islamic States between the U.S., Israel, and India (they want the military aid and to finally be recognized as a world power -- i.e. take us seriously, damn it) -- it's interesting to look at the civil rights/community institutions model of the first successful Jewish communities in the U.S. and whether any of our communities here are modeling that now.

I think an argument can be made that Sikhs are sorta there or getting there. And it's really interesting to see that some of the mission statements claim an interest to represent/help many different groups, beyond just Sikhs. Again, I don't think it's necessarily bad to have "competition" between non-profits, in the interest that the best model eventually wins out, but it can be duplicative, confusing, and unproductive if there is a bigger strategy in mind for any of these groups.

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How I Learned that Working for ICE/USCIS is Noble.

I have a classmate in my immigration class who works for ICE/USCIS (the new and "improved" pieces that make up what was once the INS after the massive administrative re-org that created the Department of Homeland Security). The person added useful insight and tips to supplement our very cool professor's practical information about procedural and strategic considerations for various visa classes.

Anyway, for the very last class, the professor finally gave her the ground to talk about what she did and I guess let us know of opportunities at USCIS/ICE. It was some of the most annoying 10 minutes I've spent in school this year. She started with her major disclaimer that she was a fierce advocate for refugee and other populations after graduate school, but she was looking for a job and ended up getting into the President's Management Internship program and eventually worked as an Asylum officer. While I had and still have friends who are asylum officers and tell me that it's important to have good people on the inside, this woman's myopia about how much of an uphill battle it would be to actually impact change was still quite surprising. She spoke in terms of "we" when talking about the Feds needing more lawyers, and seemed to fully take on the standard line that it's more important to be on the inside and that there are really fierce advocates behind the Federal curtain that go beyond the people advocating on the outside with other groups.

The best part was when she was talking about getting something with the DOJ and not acknowledging what a meltdown it's going through right now. It's amazing how people can be so co-opted by the message that by working for the Federal government, you are doing good for society without questioning what the Feds are actually doing. It's standard bureau-speak, but how do you convince someone who doesn't want to hear you?

And there are people like this all over the place - people of color, bright minds who actually have the right intentions in their hearts, but are either looking for "job security", some kind of respect from family who don't get what advocacy is, or maybe just something bigger (and better organized) than the typical nonprofit. I can't question people going into these things as much as I can question how they lose that critical edge - the ability to step back and say, "wait - is this what I think it is?"

It's not so much that they have to dissent every moment while they are working, because they won't be in that job for very long at that rate, but do you really have to become a cheerleader?

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Nov 27, 2007

I've been listening to a lot of Danzig lately. And trying to get through a lot of work, as usual. I'm ready to get through school and out to the other side. Too many fools out there, spewing out their opinion and getting in the way of good people trying to do good work. This site remains relatively quiet as I try to figure out if I'm one of those fools. But damn, Glenn Danzig knows how to make the pain feel good.

I'm w(e)ary of the world and the spirals we fall into. I entered school after a long period of stagnation, went through a gradual reconstruction, and now feel myself slipping down the other side of the hill. It's even possible, at times, to imagine just focusing on our own lives and letting the world take care of itself (dismissing any notion that insignificant individuals have any place in dreaming that change can happen).

Perhaps it's the advent of winter, though I miss the snow again and may need it to cover, hide, and dismiss this year like another exhausted memory. Whatever it is, I'm tired of politics, race or otherwise. And I'm tired of television, pop culture, and the whole act of commenting. If only we could all have more silence.

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