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Posts Tagged ‘asian american’

I’ve been really shocked by the virtually instantaneous racist responses to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (e.g., Angry Asian Man’s depressing roundup of some of these). A number of people, including several public figures, have either made jokes about the disaster or suggested it’s some sort of karmic or divine retribution for Pearl Harbor. In addition to being horrifically callous, these responses inexplicably don’t seem to consider the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Tokyo (which killed more people than both nuclear attacks combined), or the continued American military presence in Japan to be sufficient “payback” for an attack now nearly seventy years past. Further, they reflect lingering stereotypes of Asians as a “yellow menace” and perpetual foreigners – so foreign that for some, even a disaster on this scale doesn’t warrant any real sympathy for the Japanese people.

Somewhat more subtle but also racist and wildly inappropriate are speculations about why there has supposedly been no looting in the wake of the tsunami. Not only does this claim appear to be false (follow up here), it also echoes racist tropes about the model minority, the passive or emotionally cold Asian, and Asians as completely identical and homogenous. Some assertions about the lack of looting are very blatantly motivated by racial prejudice, as evidenced by the many people using the cover of online anonymity to hold up the racial homogeneity of Japan and the absence of large numbers of black people as the reason for low crime in the aftermath of the earthquake. Beyond being prejudiced, this false claim harms people by erasing the realities of crime in Japan. More importantly, it erases the voices and experiences of Japanese survivors further victimized by people who use the chaos created by natural disasters as an opportunity to rob, defraud, or assault people with impunity – for example, it erases the experiences of numerous women who were raped or sexually assaulted in the weeks following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Also making the rounds is a video by a white UCLA student who complains about ‘hordes of Asians” at “our school,” mocks Asian and Asian American students for talking on cell phones in the library (complete with Charlie Chan-style “Asian” accent and fake “Chinese,” and claims that Asian students are ignorant of proper “American manners.” You know, because people of Asian descent can’t possibly be American like white people are, and UCLA rightfully belongs to white people. You can watch the video here, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t.

I loved Beau Sia’s response to the video because, rather than personally attacking the student, he explores the anxieties, fears, and ignorance that inform her rant, turning it into a teaching moment instead of just a reactive one (credit Angry Asian Man for that last insight).

after watching “asians in the library,” and many subsequent postings in response, i wrote this. rather than attack alexandra wallace for her thoughts, i decided to write a persona piece in her voice, as a means to address some of the greater issues revealed in her rant. in the end, this poem isn’t really about her and what she said, but more the thoughts and beliefs people hold, without considering the entire history that may have led them to think and believe in the manner that they do. my hope is that we can all use this moment to recognize that we all need to improve our ability to understand and share this world with each other. this is just a small contribution to furthering that conversation. thank you for listening.

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The latest disturbing development in the conservative attack on the 14th amendment: last week Tennessee state legislator and Republican Curry Todd argued against birthright citizenship on the grounds that it would cause immigrants to “go out there like rats and multiply.”

Todd . . .  made the comments at a legislative committee meeting earlier this week after being told that federal law requires the state to extend prenatal care to women regardless of their citizenship status because all children born in the U.S. are citizens.

Rep. Todd is standing by his comments and refuses to apologize for them, but says he used the “wrong terminology” and should have said “anchor babies” instead – a term not quite as fully dehumanizing as “rats,” but dehumanizing nonetheless.  Try again, buddy.

Scary part #1: An elected state official feels perfectly comfortable spouting such hateful, nativist, racist rhetoric in public.  And he’s totally unrepentant.
Scary part #2: His comments represent the views of a large minority (at least, I hope it’s a minority!) of Americans.
Scary part #3: Like most xenophobic, anti-immigration Americans, Todd seems entirely ignorant that he’s reproducing dangerous tropes and stereotypes about immigrants that have a long, LONG history in this country:  The assumption that immigrants, and particularly non-white and/or non-Protestant Christian immigrants are hyperfecund (like animals) and threaten to overrun white Protestant America with their numerous offspring (again, like animals); the implication that immigrants are like vermin, or diseased; the insistence that immigrants pose an imminent threat to the metaphorical or actual health and safety of the country.

These are all very old ideas, and they’re ideas that have serious and potentially very dangerous consequences.  It’s a short step from paranoia about “multiplying” immigrant populations to manipulating or coercing sterilizations or the use of birth control (see, for example, the marketing of Norplant as a method of birth control in communities of color, and the higher rates of tubal ligation in black and Hispanic populations).  It’s a short step from nebulous fears about public health or national security to forced quarantines, unlawful detention, persecution, and even extermination (it’s not a coincidence that the metaphor of Jews as vermin or pests was commonplace for years before the Holocaust started).  Closer to home we can point to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWI and other numerous examples of how nativist rhetoric poses a concrete danger to immigrant populations:

Restrictionists have sought to link certain countries of origin (especially Asian and Latin American countries) to disease outbreaks and crime. They have claimed nonwhite immigrants are a menace to public health. Throughout the course of the bracero program (1942–1964), Mexican workers were periodically sprayed and washed for body lice and other vermin. There was widespread fear that Mexicans carried contagious diseases like tuberculosis. In April and May 1980 more than 125,000 Cubans were boat-lifted to the United States; the boat refugees included six hundred former asylum inmates and twelve hundred former prison inmates or people suspected of serious crimes in Cuba who had been released by Fidel Castro. These boat refugees came to be known as the Marielitos, and they were promptly typecast as a criminal and deviant population that threatened the United States with diseases and illicit behavior. A New York Times headline read, “Retarded People and Criminals” (Ojito). By 1987 thirty-eight hundred Mariel refugees were serving sentences for crimes committed in the United States, and another thirty-eight hundred were subject to indefinite detention after completing sentences or for suspicion of crimes. In January 2005 the U.S. Supreme ruled that this detention was unlawful and that the U.S. government could no longer detain Cuban refugees who had served their time or were simply deemed to have suspicious backgrounds. In another example of this type of racist construct, Haitian immigrants (boat refugees) were detained at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in the 1990s, presumably because they constituted an HIV/AIDS menace.
This is serious, scary stuff, and it’s a sign of how dangerous the current climate is for all immigrants and Americans assumed to be immigrants, especially (but not limited to) Hispanics and Muslims.

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Washington, D.C.

Inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago and using U.S. Census data from 2000, Eric Fischer created city maps on which each dot represents 25 people. The dots are color-coded by race/ethnicity: Red means white, blue means black, orange represents Hispanics, and green means Asian. Read an article about it here or visit Fischer’s Flickr to see 102 different city maps.

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A couple weeks ago, African American boxer Floyd Mayweather posted a video rant full of ignorant, racist stereotypes against Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino boxer.  Mayweather posted a fake apology (“I don’t have a racist bone in my body”) in response to criticism of these comments, along with another video intended to show his, ahem, “acceptance” of Asian people which is, unsurprisingly, full of even more racist nonsense (Racialicious).

Mayweather’s comments have been largely overlooked by mainstream news outlets, and the response even from anti-racist organizations has been tepid.  Last week an Asian American friend of mine shared a column by ESPN’s Floyd Granderson, who is African American, questioning why there has been so little outcry over this, and specifically calling out the NAACP, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson for what he calls their “muted response,” suggesting that they are judging Mayweather ‘by the color of his skin” rather than by the content of his comments.

The truth is Mayweather’s being given a pass because he’s black . . . . he is being treated differently because he’s black.

Period.

And if he were being treated honestly, black man or not, we would be hearing denunciations from Jackson, Sharpton and the NAACP . . . I’m not playing devil’s advocate; I’m advocating for equality — but in the true sense of the word. Whites don’t hold the patent on being racially insensitive, just as blacks are not the only group of people to be discriminated against in this country . . . .

If we truly believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” then it is only fair that the boxing world punish Mayweather. I understand he’s the industry’s cash cow. But this kind of hypocrisy only fertilizes racial tension while simultaneously lining the pockets of people who make their living manipulating that tension [I’m not clear on who Granderson is talking about here. Does he mean Jackson and Sharpton?  If so, FAIL.].

My reaction to Granderson’s argument was that it’s hugely problematic in a number of ways, not least because it’s an argument from total silence.  And I found it unfortunate that Granderson chose Mayweather’s blackness as the angle for his article rather than the reality that anti-Asian bigotry is still widely accepted as “humor” in our society.  It’s seriously problematic to argue that black leaders or the NAACP are required to comment on the situation just because Mayweather is black.

I left a comment to this effect on my friend’s post sharing this article; this started a discussion about the article and the degree to which the NAACP, etc., are obligated to comment on a situation like this.  In my opinion, the way Granderson made his argument was racist, and actually detrimental to anti-racist work.  My friend, on the other hand, saw the article as holding anti-racist activists accountable to do a better job, and thought Granderson was identifying a potential blind spot in the NAACP, Jackson, and Sharpton.

I emailed Nikki to get her thoughts on the situation and ask if my reaction to the article was off-base.  We ended up having a really productive discussion about anti-Asian racism and what it means for anti-racist activists to be good allies to Asian-Americans.  Parts of our conversation are posted below the jump, edited and cleaned up to make it easier to follow dialogue. (more…)

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There is an ostensibly positive stereotype of Asian Americans so ubiquitous that I do not question whether American (and many other) readers have heard or seen some version of it:

Asians are intelligent, studious and hardworking, family-oriented, polite and law-abiding and, through the diligent practice of these virtues in the face of challenges and obstacles, successful. They’ve pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and attained the American Dream.

Major media outlets, sociologists, and politicians have lauded Asian Americans as a “model minority” or “superminority,” a “trophy population” that has moved “from pariahs to paragons” to become “exemplars of hope.” Television shows and movies feature Asian nerds; even portrayals of Asian criminals tend to be unusually intelligent and disciplined.

Who wouldn’t want to be considered intelligent, hardworking, and successful? Isn’t this stereotype complimentary? So what’s the problem? In reality, this “model minority” myth misrepresents the truth, and it’s harmful to both Asians and non-Asians.

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on one of the many ways this racial stereotype misrepresents the truth: income. Those who tout Asian Americans’ “success” often cite, for example, comparable average household incomes of Asian and non-Hispanic white Americans. Frank Wu has pointed out that upon further examination, however, the appearance of parity falls apart. Asian Americans live, on average, in larger households than white Americans, so household income is often shared among more people in an Asian household than a white one. There’s a difference between $45K shared among 3 people and the same amount shared among 4 or 5 people. An Asian American household is also more likely than a white one to include more people capable of and actually contributing to household income—a higher percentage of Asian American women work, a higher percentage of Asian households include non-nuclear family members over the age of 15. The life of a family that earns $45K by pooling the incomes of 3 people is not really comparable to a family that receives the same amount through a single breadwinner. Asian Americans are also more likely than whites to be self-employed, which usually means working longer hours with fewer benefits and greater risk of setbacks like bankruptcy. $45K eked from the family shop is not like $45K with benefits from the corporate job. Asian Americans are also more urbanized than any other racial group, geographically concentrated in states with higher-than-average costs of living. The Smiths’ $45K goes much further in Smallville than the Kims’ $45K does in Metropolis. Wu further points out that “the figures for Asian Americans are rendered unreliable by the careless inclusion of [upper-management] Asians who reside in the United States [for a few years] but who are not Asian American at all.” The income of a Japanese executive living in the United States is counted in the Asian American average even though the transnational executive is not representative of Asian Americans.

Despite the stereotype, Asian Americans have not attained economic parity with white Americans. Asian Americans are still more likely to live in poverty than whites. Some ethnic groups, like Cambodians and Hmong, have poverty rates 3 or 4 times higher. Racial inequalities persist.

And this apparently “positive” stereotype has negative uses and consequences. For a white person who wants to defend the status quo, this popular and widely-believed stereotype is a handy weapon. In conversations about racism, he throws out “Asians have overcome racism through hard work” and the stereotype allows him to achieve, among any who buy into it, three goals at once: he denies that Asians are still harmed by racism, he suggests that any person of color who has not attained similar success just isn’t working hard enough, and he absolves white people like himself of responsibility to work for racial justice. In a stroke, he’s shifted all the work necessary to overcome racism to those who suffer white racism.

A committed white supremacist might deliberately play on this stereotype not to praise Asians but to use them as a tool to denigrate other people of color, promoting his racist agenda and attempting to sow disunity among the marginalized. This has been done in the past, as Wu documents.

But a white person who believes this stereotype need not be mean-spirited to harm people. I recently read a study showing that non-Hispanic white people who believe Asians are smarter than other minorities (70%) and harder working than other minorities (more than 40%) are also more likely to believe that Asian Americans experience no racial discrimination in the job market. Believing that Asians don’t face such discrimination, whites are unlikely to make any effort to remedy it. This is a problem, of course, because Asian Americans do experience job discrimination. They are underrepresented in management, for example, and when they do receive management positions they are paid less than whites in comparable positions. This is not due to their own preference. Research has shown that Asian Americans do not differ from whites in desiring career advancement and management positions. And as I was writing this, Tim Wise called attention to the fact that when Asian Americans lose their jobs, they have a harder time finding work than whites, so their unemployment lasts longer. Yes, Asian Americans experience racial discrimination, and “positive” stereotypes are part of the problem.

We need become more conscious of the racial stereotypes and prejudices we harbor and take the time to examine them more carefully. It’s not just the obviously negative ones that help perpetuate racism and injustice.

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