Jan 30, 2008

A (New?) Different Asian Male Stereotype

People have been writing and talking about the asexual, effeminate, emotionless Asian male stereotype in the United States for a long, long time. People are still writing and talking about it. There's another type that pops up here and there, especially when something awful like Virginia Tech happens, that suggests the boiling over of a repressed, frustrated, unpredictable Asian male (the ticking time bomb of the quiet kid in the corner who draws/writes/thinks violent things for himself, and for good measure, mutters a lot too). Though people may connect the two (repressed sexually, or overcompensating), they are different.

But that "angry asian male" (not speaking of one in particular, hat tip) exists in another space. That's domestic violence. As you likely know, it runs pretty deep in our communities, both here and abroad. While some part of it, I'm sure, is that we're in a patriarchal society and the way that man mis/treat and abuse women is not checked enough by social norms, there is still too much violence happening in South/Asian communities for us not to look at this more directly and closely. And while I know this isn't something new - I just wanted to ask the question, why are Asian men taking out anger, in whatever way and from whatever root cause, on our Asian sisters?

On the broader subject of domestic violence, what does it mean for a community or communities (specifically desi groups in the U.S.) to have so many domestic violence organizations around the nation? Does it mean both that it is a serious issue, and it's one that's easy to rally around and create organizations that focus upon the issue than things like workers' groups? Why aren't these issues becoming less prevalent in our communities - I don't think it's because the steady stream of immigration brings more "traditional" men with fucked up values/performances of gender through violence against their partners. Without empirical data, I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers also come from native born or long-time U.S. residents who are South Asian as well.

So what is it about our men? Why are these issues still prevalent? And how do we move away from the angry (violent) Asian men in relationships? Do we need more affirmative, critical, and safe spaces for Asian men to work through these and other issues? Do any still exist?

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Jan 28, 2008

A Matter of Faith: Non-Christians and Asian America

After writing that piece yesterday on a faith-divide that is causing political dissonance in the states of Asian America, serendipity put me in a used bookstore today where I came upon this book:

New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life,
by Bruce B. Lawrence.

Lawrence focuses a lot of his discussion on Iranian Americans and their particular orientation to both faith and racial/ethnic groups in the United States, but he actually talks about the "new faiths" in the United States, and the uneasy way in which American communities as a whole, and Asian American spaces in particular, are dealing with the rising tide of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zororastrians, and other peoples within the coalition. Fascinating stuff, and I'm glad to see I'm not crazy. I was really interested and picked up the book because he talks about South Asians for a while in the book, which was unexpected when I first reading through it.

It's interesting how the issue of faith identity is dealt with in progressive/left spaces. I haven't had a lot of experience, but while I can understand if someone dismisses faith because organized religion is just another system of oppression, that perspective ultimately disregards that faith (and discrimination/exclusion based on it) is a real phenomena in coalition communities. So the left ideologues who don't want to think about faith are doing what color-blindness advocates do with race: assume that if we don't talk about it, there's no real-world impact on people's lives.

But alternatively, you have people who harbor their own biases, whether knowingly or not, against particular faith communities. American popular culture has turned Islam into the communism of the 50s (call it a green scare if you want). I wouldn't be surprised if mainstream Asian Americans who don't have exposure to Muslims (or other faith "minorities" within Asian America) are working off of a lot of assumptions and misinformation in their orientation to these communities.

It doesn't help that evangelical Christianity has caught on like wildfire in several Asian ethnic communities, and some churches have adopted the American angle of "building community" by highlighting and reviling something different. Hinduism has been targeted in some churches, but it's not really seen as a threat in the same way as the master American narrative has made out Islam. Islamophobia may be another way to make yourself seem like a real American - kind of like wrapping your community up in American flags the way Chinatown and other NY immigrant neighborhoods did immediately after Sept. 11th.

As an aside, that toss-off comment above, "Green Scare", is kind of apropos, actually, with the new unholy trinity that keeps the reactionary right (and those like them) up at night: environmentalism/conservation, Islam, and the Redistribution of Wealth.

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Jan 26, 2008

Asian Americans and Palestine

Does Asian America care about what's happening in Palestine? Sometimes I wonder if folks even see how connected it is to this nation we strive to imagine (or thrive by collecting a paycheck on). More on that in a minute. But seeing the thousands of people streaming across the border from the besieged Gaza territories into Egypt really shook me - I wasn't paying attention to the sealing of the border and embargo that Israel had placed on the territory over the past weeks. People needed food and goods to survive: they were buying what they needed from across the border, not stealing.

I live in relative comfort, and am afforded the luxury to complain on these pages. But real people are struggling with real crisis, and sometimes it gets me how people are so selective about what they care about. A touchstone moment for me was a conversation I had with an activist and lawyer friend years ago who I respect for his commitment to civil political rights of Asian/immigrant communities here, in NYC. We were having some kind of conversation about recent events and I mentioned some things I'd heard about overseas in an Asian nation that doesn't get much play in the media (or didn't at that time). He said, both with some level of chagrin, but mainly with a "don't have the time" response that he really has no idea of what's happening around the world - he's too focused on the fight in front of him.

This isn't uncommon, but the moment is frozen in my memory because the date was Sept. 10, 2001, and the nation I was talking about was Afghanistan. It wasn't that I knew something was up - it was actually a conversation about the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan earlier that year - but even at that time, his relatively sharp rebuke about not knowing/caring about world affairs struck me. Of course, it was only days later that the Taliban became a known and familiar group on the American landscape, but only after something happened here.

Of course, Americans of all kinds just tuning out of world dynamics isn't a new observation, and bringing it up here isn't a revelation. But I feel like folks should wake up and think about the interconnections, especially if they profess some kind of community kinship across the fragile coalition of Asian America and/or they say that they believe in justice. One of the biggest gaps in Asian American spaces and dynamics, aside from the very familiar "East/South/Southeast/Pacific Islander" tensions, is around questions of solidarity, especially related to the faith-based concerns for Asian Muslims and other non-Christians. I haven't read/seen much on this, and I don't have empirical data, but I want to put some things out there that I hope to get back to at some point.

I've mentioned before (I think, and if not, it's a pending post that I will definitely get to soon), that while the narrative of Asian American (and broader) cultural studies sometimes suggests that traditions and sharing around food are one of the ways that different communities build solidarity, there's often a gap for people who observe dietary restrictions. So where the whole "we all eat with chopsticks" or "rice is central" themes are nice, it makes it hard to break bread with APA compatriots when the bread has lard and there's pork or meat in every other dish.

Not understanding how a simple issue like poor menu planning can immediately alienate and make folks less open to collaboration when it excludes consideration of vegetarian and halal diets is a fundamental failing of a lot of pan-Asian American efforts. You want to think that the community and political stuff should take precedence, but I've heard time and again that when something so simple is completely not considered, people lose faith that there's any point in trying for the bigger issues. I've seen this change gradually in cities on the East Coast, perhaps because South Asians and others are still more active in pan-Asian spaces, but it's pretty terrible on the West coast and other places. If I'm going to end up at a "community" dinner where I can't order something, I might as well be part of the NRA.

The bigger picture here, though, is that there are feelings of solidarity and empathy that a lot of people within "Asian America" feel for people suffering under systems of oppression around the world, aside from their so-called homelands. I can't think of a situation more relevant to more people I know than Palestine. The extreme injustices perpetrated as part of the Israeli oppression and occupation, and the world community's acceptance of state actions that are wholly unacceptable in almost any other part of the world, angers many people. No one is condoning outright acts of violence by either side, but state actors have to be held in check by the world community. And beyond an observation of world politics, this really affects the local.

The human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli government are well-documented and hard to contest. And many see the struggle of the Palestinian people (not the military or insurgency leaders - just the ordinary people) as emblematic of how the rights of certain people -- Arabs, Muslims, whomever else -- are disposable on the global stage. And that's one of the reasons that a lot of people who are not personally tied to Palestine feel so strongly about the plight of the Palestinian people: that so many people who claim to care about rights don't care about Palestinians means that there are some rights that the world community just doesn't care about. And for the last sixty years in Palestine, that's Arabs and/or Muslims. In Kashmir, that's Muslims and Hindus. In tribal lands around the world, that's indigenous peoples. In China, that's Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians. In Burma, it's ethnic minorities and freedom fighters. In Sudan, it's the African Muslims and Christians. And the list is ever long.

Though the conditions aren't as bad in the United States for many of us, seeing that people aren't incensed (or often, are clueless) about the direct ramifications and echoes of these world phenomena upon our states of Asian America reminds people of how a lot of AA leaders played a game of "not our problem' for state actions against Muslims and South Asians in the wake of 9/11.

On that tip, there are some Asian American leaders out there who either don't see why the Israel/Palestine question is relevant, or have actually bought into the idea that the Israeli state is justified in anything/everything that it does. I understand that it is scary for many mainstreamers to voice an open anti-Zionist position because the fringe have convinced the world that speaking out against anything to do with Zionism is anti-Jewish (is speaking out against "Manifest Destiny" in the U.S. anti-European/white, or anti-oppression?). I guess the intersections of faith and politics are hard to navigate, but the perpetrator and originator of the most egregious violence is a state actor preserving power by stoking flames of intolerance and hatred between people with so much in common. Our understanding of Theo-Political fascist states should not be shaped by Dubya's rants. Just look at Modi's Gujarat.

So I'm very unhappy with the way that a lot of people, especially those in positions where they purport to represent Asian America, don't ask critical questions and come up with a reasoned orientation to the situation. By being so out of touch, they continue to show us how they will not be able to hold together an effective, progressive Asian American coalition that recognizes and stands against oppression, regardless of whether it directly (or at least, obviously) affects their interests. It's time to hold them accountable.

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Jan 18, 2008

Is It Worth It?

Sometimes, it's hard not to lose hope in processes and in people - it's hard not to feel that it's impossible to find some kind of truth in this system that's twirling around us (or spinning with malevolent intent, depending on your particular point of view at the time).

It's also hard not to feel like people have become so shut off from whatever impact their actions and (in)actions have upon the world. Learning about injustice is only one step, but putting some of the things we've learned into practice, well that's not so easy. I suppose even taking small steps like becoming a vegetarian is not an easy thing, but people who aren't born into that system take the steps to make that happen. It's just that I can do whatever I want to reduce my energy consumption, carbon footprint, and waste, but the next person is going to do double and wipe out my effort.

In a bit of a leap from there, I guess that while anarchists and rigid marxists are often labeled as nihilistic (and maybe that's true for anyone who questions the status quo), I think that capitalism and mass consumption is far more nihilistic. In focusing only inward, in thinking only about how something will affect yourself, you've taken the rest of the world out of the picture - it's as if it doesn't exist, or it doesn't matter that it does. That's scary stuff. Billions of individuals, all acting under the false premise that they are alone, or that the physical ramifications of their choices, decisions, and actions don't really make a difference of any kind, freeing them up to do whatever they want.

It's funny - on one hand, the universal conceit of humans is that we believe that we are the pinnacle of what natural processes (or intelligent design if that's your cup of tea) have created and therefore, the earth and everything on it is ours for the taking/breaking/making. Because we think, and we rationalize our place in this world, we are above the "beasts." On the other hand, though we are more conscious of the impact of our actions upon the world, when it's convenient, the majority wants to believe that the best and most efficient system is the "free market" system -- the economic and social equivalent of an empirical natural formula: let things take care of themselves without regulation, and there will be an equilibrium in which we can all exist. Feels like of like sticking your head in the sand after you create the desert. Knawimean?

It's not like I'm immune from this or that I'm speaking from up on high. But people get so entrenched in their thinking and are better at rationalizing why they should continue to live their lives as they do than use this miracle of thought and reason to make something of their small place on the planet. But if this were to become a lament of the futility and idleness of human beings, well, this would be a very long, sad rant. And this whole frustrating thing makes me sad enough. People wake up!

I may have to watch an inspirational video or something to get me out of it.

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Jan 15, 2008

Iron Maiden on NPR?!

Woah. What a trip this is. A story in Global Hit, which is a daily part of "The World." Basically a piece about a fan in Bolivia who has been hoping to bring Maiden to his home country. Pretty freakin' awesome that they had this on NPR of all places.

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Jan 9, 2008

New Year: Presidential Race/Gender/Religion Questions

New year, new vows? Forget that - no justice, no peace. "There's war on the streets, there's war in the middle east." (can't remember where that line is from, but feels like I can't even place the decade because of the damn perpetual interventionist military-industrial complex of a government that we pay our taxes to).

On that tip, and this initial tangent, why is it that the American people don't give a shit about learning about the rest of the world and the world's history (broadly) while our "leaders" can't wait to dig their greedy hands and pour the blood of our young soldiers into yet another land abroad? Is the miseducation of the masses a way for the powerful to keep American people insensitive to the plight of the world's people? Damn right it is - and the profits for mass media, quasi-military/quasi-development multi-billion $$ behemoths like Haliburton, and everyone else with a fist up in the Treasury depend on it. " We don't want the damn immigrants here, and bomb their lands as much as you want to keep us safe."

Anyway, that's not my point right here. Election season is at full blast, I guess. The talking heads at the podium give way every night to the multitudes of talking heads from the corporate media, and the message of who we should elect, why we should elect them, and what the basis of that decision should be has been compromised fully at this early point. The battle royale between Hillary and Barrack are less about gender and/or race and more about dynasty, "electability," and "safety" to the so-called undecided masses. While I'm pissed as hell that Kucinich has been edged out of the debates altogether, I'm also pissed that even Edwards is getting the short shrift from the media.

I'll get into the whole race/gender/supporting the white men running for office thing soon enough, I'm sure. But at this moment, I'm kind of over the analyses that I've seen. Some of the discussions that I have been having with folks are also around why it is that white voters seem to be embracing Obama's campaign, and whether that will last. The common thought is "America isn't ready to elect a Black President" - which is a very polarizing statement in its own right. But then there's the question of someone being "palatable" or "safe" in a way that has been repeatedly contrasted with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's previous campaigns for the presidency.

I guess I'm annoyed at all of this on a lot of levels, but I want to think about it a little more. With race and gender thrown kind of in our faces, the question of faith/religion is getting lost in the mix. There's a viral campaign going on, just under the mainstream, about Obama being secretly Muslim and a part of a plot to take over the nation by radical fundamentalists. Whatever his personal faith, this thing is going to get really ugly really fast. If it ends up that he was raised Muslim, the know-nothings everywhere will have a field-day, and while the influential radical Zionists will want blood, even the majority of cultural Jews who are currently supporting him may have new reservations. And let's not forget the average "I don't know a Muslim but they're all going to hell" American. Fear (mongering) is a dangerous thing.

Forget that - even if the international conspiracy theories don't do him in - do you really think that we're going to get through this campaign and this attempt to pin a faith on the man without discussions of the Nation of Islam, Minister Farakhan, and the rest of it? Of course, no one wants to mention Muhammad Ali in this mix instead of the most incendiary folks from the large American black muslim community. So I'm putting out there that if the "Obama is Muslim" thing grows larger, we're going to see multiple threads that he'll have to deal with that will focus on the "unsafe" elements of black nationalism (via black muslims), and the "foreignness" of the man with the funny name that people like Andy Rooney can't deal with.

But this is far from over, and I'm far from finished with my anger about all of this. Let's hope I can write more regularly this year. Thanks for coming back.

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Jan 6, 2008

M.I.A. down with M.E.T.A.L.?

In my ongoing quest to understand the metal/hard rock influence in M.I.A.'s music, I fell onto her "officially" released version of the Paper Planes video. Aside for the sound being intact from the recording (the censorship issues that she faced came, ironically, from gunshot sound effects rather than actual words), she sported a Metallica/Ride the Lightning shirt in one of the scenes that comes up a few times. What that's all about, I have no idea.

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