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Posts Tagged ‘asian american’

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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A recent conversation with Nikki reminded me of these bits from Margaret Cho’s standup. Apologies in advance for the explicit language.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Roles for Asian Actors (Margaret Cho)“, posted with vodpod
Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Part 2“, posted with vodpod

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Since Nikki’s already opened the can on TV chatter with her lovely post on Glee, I thought I’d highlight one of my personal faves, Big Bang Theory.  The show is built around a ragtag crew of physicists (read: geeks) and their blond aspiring-actress-waitress neighbor.  I recently caught up on a few DVR’ed episodes this season and one of them was so great I felt the need to share.  In the clip below, we see Sheldon (nerd-in-chief) driving neighbor Penny to the ER after helping her dress herself after dislocating her shoulder during a slip in the shower:

[Note: If the video link wasn’t working for you, the joke is Penny had a tattoo on her behind that she thought read “courage” but Sheldon told her it says “soup”]

Now I’ll reveal my own prejudices here because I did actually go to college and remember quite well the flocks of co-eds hitting the tattoo parlors on Spring Break and returning to class with scabby red images on the requisite ankle, shoulder, or lower back.  I always thought that the whole “I got SO drunk and they dared me to get a tattoo” bit was a little tired, so it strikes me as downright hilarious when I read stories like this one a couple years back from FoxNews:

the fad-following hipsters of a decade and a half ago have graduated to jobs and families, they are going to tattoo-removal specialists in droves, trying to erase an embarrassing reminder of the mistake they made one drunken night so many years ago: They were permanently inked with an Asian-language word that didn’t say quite what they thought it did.

“It seems to be a current in the tattoo studios … where it gets passed on and passed on, and the translations get more obscure until you’re not even putting on your skin what you thought you were,” said James Morel, CEO of Dr. TATTOFF in Beverly Hills, Calif., which is seeing a flood of people asking for their Asian tattoos to be removed because of mistranslations.

Much of this goes back to the idea of co-opting another group’s culture without any appreciation for the original context, and in that sense, I think these folks are getting their just desserts, or soup, if you will.  But a lot of it can be attributed to Western fantasies and stereotypes about Asian mysticism and exoticism tangled up in a search for deeper spiritual understanding. The naive mentality of the remorsefully tatted is described this way in the article:

The touchy-feely, quasi-spiritual trend of getting Asian-language tattoos became popular in the 1990s. For many youngsters, or for people who wanted to feel young, a tat with the characters for “peace” and “truth” seemed just the thing.

The whole thing reminds me of the kabbalah bracelets sported in the past by celebrity-types.  At BeliefNet Arthur Goldwag writes:

Celebrities are often spiritually needy. Fame and its trappings may be ultimately unsatisfying, and immersing themselves in the study of an esoteric discipline can fill a sense of spiritual emptiness. The popularized Kabbalah, with its red string bracelets to ward off envy and malice, can be especially attractive to people in the public eye.

I completely understand spiritual neediness.  I think all of us have that.  There’s nothing wrong with seeking truth with a capital T.  But if there’s going to be seeking, at least have a modicum of respect for the religion you’re trying on for size.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have the discipline to study up a little before you, quite literally, put your butt on the line.

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In my earlier Kung Fu Publishing post I reported on the appropriation and exploitation of Asian culture in the marketing of the book Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, published by the Christian publishing house Zondervan. I also posted the apologies of the authors. Now Zondervan has repented.

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins.  It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ.  This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject.  We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God.  We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth.  And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite.  Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message.  We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side.  This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion.   We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.

Warmly,

Moe

Found at Professor Soong-Chan Rah’s blog. Prof. Rah writes:

It reflects a genunine repentant spirit and a deep willingness to hear and to act.  I am moved by Zondervan’s willingness to act in this decisive and dramatic manner.  Many thanks to the authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite and to Moe Girkins, Zondervan’s CEO and the team at Zondervan that have spoken in a decisive manner with a high level of integrity.

“We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently…. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.” This exhibits true Christian contrition and repentance: Instead of wallowing in guilt, they are turning from wrongdoing, striving to put things right, and starting fresh. Good work! :)

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About a year ago, my husband and I were out with a white acquaintance and somewhere in our extensive conversation about real estate, the man made a racial joke.  There was that inevitable uncomfortable moment where neither my husband nor I were laughing, so the man quickly covered his tracks by saying, “well, I can say that because my wife is black.”

derailment (n): a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

We’ve all either done this or heard this in discussions about race.  An errant comment is dismissed by a disclaimer: “I’m not a racist.  I have black/Asian/Latino friends/coworkers/or in this guy’s case, a spouse.”  Because we know or have affection for a person of color, somehow that makes it okay to make a racial slur. [This is the point where I would express a certain amount of ?!@#$%$^$??]

What struck me about the situation at the top of this post was that the man’s black wife was not present for our conversation.  I often wonder if our “black friends” were around, would we say the same things?  Perhaps.  But often, we have better judgment when we are among a more diverse group.  Even if we say such things in that context, do we ever really consider how that makes our “friends” feel?

Occasionally, I’ve seen conversations among a diverse group of colleagues or friends go like this:  a white person utters a regrettable remark and then asks the representative person of color if the comment offended him/her.  “You know I’m joking, right?” or “No offense, k?”  At which point the person of color is faced with these choices: 1) call even more attention to himself/herself by rebuking their colleague, 2) laugh and ignore it like it wasn’t a big deal, but it really might be a big deal or 3) laugh because they, too decide to embrace the stereotype in order to be accepted in the group.  In any of these options, the imposed-upon person is being asked to pardon the offender without any condemnation of the act itself.  Is this something we really want to do to “friends”?  Create awkward situations where they cannot voice the hurt we’ve caused them? Or worse, compel them to accept and adopt our prejudices in order to fit in?

The whole idea makes me question the nature of our friendships with people of color.  At least two of my grandmothers regularly referred to all black people as “colored” but had befriended their black neighbors or nurses.  At least one of them still used the n-word from time to time.  In their minds, these women were “exceptions” to the “rules” they had accepted about black folks.  Even while my white grandmothers accepted these women into their lives and homes, the invisible social dynamics of our country, reinforced by the language and behavior of my grandmas, kept them from ever really knowing and loving one another as friends.  They were still unflinchingly attached to a system of prejudice that made egalitarian friendship impossible.  With this attitude, were my grandmas truly acting as friends to their black “friends”?

In a more contemporary example, I’ve heard younger relations make racial slurs against black folks, Native American folks, and Latino folks all with the disclaimer that they have friends of those races.  Again, those “friends” are never around when those things are said because all of us know that those hurtful words would never be spoken in their presence.  If it would hurt our friends to say these things in front of them, do we not think it would be as injurious if not more so to say these things when they aren’t around and evoke their names and friendships in defense of our bad behavior?

In my experience, when I become friends with a person different from me, I become more defensive of them or their cause, whatever that might be.  Having friends of color makes me more sensitive to the things that threaten and injure them, not less. Having Republican friends makes me more likely to stop one of my liberal friends from ranting about the collective idiocy of conservatives.  Having a cousin with intellectual and physical disabilities makes me more likely to call someone out for making offensive comments about “short buses”, etc.  I would think that if we really care about our friends of color, we’d be quick to correct false stereotypes.

If we were really a friend to those folks, we’d certainly not be perpetuating prejudice and using our friendships to prop up our wrongful behavior.  To those who say, “I’m not racist [despite the racist comment I just made], I have black friends,” I have to ask, which part then is the lie?  The comment you just made, or the affection you claim you have for your friends?  Let us not betray our friends of color by participating in conversations, ideas or ideologies that tear them down.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.   -James 3:10-12

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