April 30, 2008

Frank Chin and Curtis Choy fundraising


Thymos is proud to announce that Frank Chin and Curtis Choy and Lawson Inada will be coming to Portland on July 11th and 12th. We are hosting this event in conjunction with the Korean American Citizens League, the Oregon Commission on Asian Affairs, and OHSU's Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. We will screen Curtis's film What's Wrong with Frank Chin at 5:30 on July 11th at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital in the Vey Conference Center. Following the screening, Curtis Choy will hold a question and answer session about his work and independent Asian American film, and Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada will be present to tell us stories about Asian American activism during the 1960's.

The following morning at 10:30am, Frank Chin will tell traditional Chinese stories to children. After the children's session, he will talk to adults about traditional myths and the future of Asian American literature.

If you are anywhere close to Portland, do not miss this event. All three men are pioneers in the fields of Asian American literature and film, and they promise to share insights that will change your life. All writers, essayists, and civil rights leaders should try to attend. The experience of these three giants in Asian American culture will help all activists set a course for change.

In the spirit of getting the message out, the event will be free to the public, but we are trying to raise money to pay for the transportation, lodging, and other costs associated with bringing our very special guests to Portland. The time is now. Please use the PayPal button on the left hand side of my page to donate. No donation is too small.

Our Gold Sponsors for this event so far are:

Thymos (host)
Crowell-Ing, LLP
OHSU’s Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs
Oregon Commission on Asian Affairs
Diverse Empowered Employees of Portland (DEEP)
John and Janet Jay/Studio J
Korean American Citizens League

(Edited 6.16.08 to add OHSU's Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs to our sponsor list.)
(Edited 6.20.2008)

April 29, 2008

Free Sex for Rice Chasers: A Review of Min Jin Lee's "Free Food for Millionaires"

minjinlee_bw.jpgI always speak honestly, so I took a little artistic liberty with the title of my post in order to make it more relevant to the discussion that follows.

Fallout Central interviews Min Jin Lee, author of "Free Food for Millionaires." You can find the interview here. The 44's has commented on this book in the past on our message board, and I shared a word or two in one of my other blog posts, but I don't think I've yet shared all my views on the book itself.

Let me start with the positives.

The Fallout Central guys did an absolutely fantastic job on the interview. It was by far the best interview that I've heard/read with Ms. Lee or any other Asian American author, and they asked some questions that were straightforward and quite unlike the normal Asian American pc whitewashing that most Asian American groups practice. John, Albert, and William asked relatively hard questions that others have been too scared or ignorant to ask, and it was refreshing to see an Asian American author interview that was more than just a commercial or promotion.

Second, I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I thought that Free Asian Sex for White Guys...I mean, Free Food for Millionaires...was very well written in terms of language and storytelling. Sentences, vocab, timing, rhythm: it was all there. It's hard to write a good book in terms of storytelling, let alone a book that spans 600 pages. In fact, Lee kept me hooked until the end, even after the Kingstonian "reveal" came out (although in Min Jin's defense, I should've known this beforehand after reading the recommendation on the book cover by that shameless David Henry Hwang). The language was great--even the gratuitious sex scenes between the main character white worshipping Casey Han and her irresistable YT male fuck-buddy Hugh were well written. Lee, in my opinion, is a better storyteller than Amy Tan, and even though I disagreed with the not-too-subtle racial message, it was good to read the first novel of a new talented Asian American storyteller.

Some spoilers to follow, but I don't think this will ruin your enjoyment of the book.

Most 44's don't come here to see us beating the same Tan/Kingstonian drum as the mainstream; you come here to see real commentary, so I'll give you exactly that; you guys and gals know where else to go if you want people to say what everyone wants to hear. In this spirit, I believe in unity and supporting our fellow Asian American writers and artists, but when an author writes a novel that perpetuates the same old, same old neo-colonialist stereotypes and hawk it as a work of Asian American empowerment, someone has to say something. That's the crux of the argument that I've made throughout this whole "Falling For Grace" thing: I don't care that these works elevate white men. I don't care that IR is celebrated as the wave of the future. Just don't call it "empowerment" and then get offended when people question it. I'm absolutely serious about this too. I watched the Last Samurai. I watched Miss Saigon. I saw Natalise's China Doll. I even watched David Henry Hwang's Golden Gate. I'm perfectly fine with those films and works; I just think it's crazy to claim that they have any empowerment potential for Asian Americans.

I don't believe that Min Jin Lee is being malicious with her treatment of Asian men or Asian women, yet there is a clear reliance on ideas and techniques that don't help her story.

1. Stupidity: The main character is helplessly stupid. One of my Thymos members has my copy of the book right now, and he has said that he has been having trouble finishing it because of the protagonist's stupidity. While Min Jin Lee hooked me in with her language, I can see his point. If there's something stupid to be done (i.e. walking in on her white boyfriend who is engaged in a threesome, taking the same foolio back, flirting with all the guys on her professional team and eventually sleeping with one of them, etc.), she does it.

2. Poor male character development: All the male characters, Asian and white, are poorly developed. The white guys are typical fratboys who can't keep the ladies away with a stick, and the Korean guys are so unrealistic that it almost seems like farce. While it may seem to be empowering for white guys to see themselves portrayed radiating irresistable studliness that we haven't seen since Joy Luck Club, at a certain point it gets ridiculous, even for white male readers looking for an ego boost. White Cassanova's are just as cool as any other, but after a while, it gets boring if they've got nothing else. Even the Greek Gods had real faults.

The Korean men are simply not believable. I don't know where she got them; they don't seem to be based in any kind of real people. In the interview Min Jin says that Ted Kim is her "favorite character." Is she kidding? Ted Kim is a cardboard caricature who lacks any kind of depth whatsoever. He cheats with the office slut (whom Min euphemistically refers to in her interview as the "prettiest white woman"), and he lacks any ability to empathize or see beyond his own needs. Is it strange that the racial aspects of what he does never occur to him throughout the story? Is it strange that it never occurs to anyone else? The only good thing he does is divorce his beautiful Korean wife so that she can find love and eternal happiness in the arms of a white guy. (again, these is Min Jin's universe, not mine.)

Unu is even worse. What a loser! I wanted to reach into the book and slap him silly. He radiates loser in everything he does, and his gambling addiction is about as believable as my Christian fundamentalist religious addiction.

I won't even get into Charles Hong, the stereotypical Korean rapist. Every Kingstonian story needs an Asian male rapist, and my, does Casey show that evil Asian guy who is boss! The woman warrior puts the evil Asian man in his place once again!

3. Jumping: Something that all the reviewers say is that Min Jin Lee is good at jumping into different characters to reveal different viewpoints. While they are correct that she makes the transitions well, ALL the characters have the same personality, just different situations. (see #1) In other words, Unu's doorman is exactly the same character as Unu who is the same character as White Stud Hugh; one just happens to be a doorman with a wife, while the other happens to be a ghost with a hard-to-believe gambling addiction, while the other happens to be a white guy whom the Asian damsel can't resist. They have the exact same personality but happen to be in different situations.

Serious spoilers in the next two paragraphs:
In the FOC interview, Min Jin also sells the book as a representation of empowerment since the Asian woman ends up with an Asian guy. Min Jin is obviously aware of this issue, and I admit, I was hoping to see that sort of thing when I started the book, especially since Min Jin is the only Asian American female author married to an Asian guy (I think Lois Ann Yamanaka used to be, but who can keep track these days.). In the end, it doesn't deliver. Unu is a loser, and I really could find no reason why any woman would be attracted to him. Not only does he have the personality of a cold fish, but he's also a social loser, and he sucks in bed (this was clear from the obvious implied comparisons with White Boy Hugh). You can have one of the three problems and the relationship may work, but three of three? The only reason that a woman like Casey would like a guy like Unu is that he is stupid enough to take her back after she and White Boy Hugh shag each other silly, and tolerance of infidelity isn't exactly a quality that lends itself well to empowering relationships. The only good relationship is between Ella and her White Savior. The moral of the story is the same as JLC and Woman Warrior: thank goodness for White Guys.

Moreover, I was less than impressed with Min Jin's treatment of racism. I'm not going to come down on her too hard because I realize that portraying racism is extremely difficult, but Min Jin portrays it almost as an afterthought. These characters are Wall Street types--come on, you should be able to at least hear some serious racial differentiation and stratification just by spending half an hour with these guys! Not just verbal differentiation, but real differences. Instead, the only real instance of racism seems to be the White Cassanova watching White-on-Asian porn, which really isn't racist at all if you think about it--the only (and I say this seriously) difference between David Henry Hwang's Golden Gate and Asian porn is the degree to which all the playahs get nekkid.

In the FOC interview, Ms. Lee compares her situation to Spike Lee, whom she commends for being "brave," but let's be honest--when it comes to their works as a means of minority empowerment, the only commonality between Min Jin and Spike are their last names. Although Free Sex for Rice Chasers isn't nearly as racist as the Joy Luck Club or the Woman Warrior, it pushes rather than challenges stereotypes. During the interview, Min Jin also says that Asian Americans tear each other down. I hope I don't fall into that category, but I have to call it the way I see it.

Great writing ability, but not exactly a message that changes things up. Jaehwan gives it a C plus.

April 28, 2008

Show me the money!


The Washington Post has a good article on athletics and capitalism in China. In the article, writer Maureen Fan discusses how money is beginning to influence sports in China, and how capitalism is spawning a culture of individualism. I think this is a great thing. Not only will China be more likely to retain good talent, but money will also lead to innovation and motivation in sports. Sports pushes the level of human achievement for everyone who watches and participates, and it's a noble goal that both societies and capitalism should embrace.

The article also brings up an interesting point about the capitalist aspects of sports and popularity:

Not all athletes can do as well as Xu. As in the United States, salaries correspond to the popularity of a sport. Badminton and table tennis players, for example, attract more sponsors than do wrestlers, who can't fill stands with spectators. Sponsors didn't chase after China's tennis team until two female stars brought home gold medals from the Athens Olympics in 2004 and became instant national heroes.

This illustrates how money and popularity is of critical importance to the success of any international sports program. There is a reason why the U.S. does well in sports like basketball and the Koreans do well in archery; it has less to do with natural talent and more to do with what the culture values and what people and governments are willing to support. People do well when other people pay them to do well. One might be impressed with the Russian performance in chess, for example, until one realizes that Russian kids take chess as a subject in school, and that the government pays for the competitors' training and living expenses while they prepare for international competition. If chess players in America had that, our chess players would be doing just as well.

The article also mentions a possible downside associated with commercialism:

Liu, the hurdler, has perhaps been the greatest beneficiary of the new approach. He has enjoyed the adoration of Chinese fans since setting a world record at the Athens Games. Now he's sponsored by Nike, Coca-Cola, Visa and a slew of Chinese brands, including a real estate company and a cigarette-maker.

Sponsorships have become such a focus for Liu and other top Olympic contenders that sports authorities in China have started to worry that the athletes will be distracted from their training. Late last year, authorities instructed elite competitors to cut back on their commercial activities.

But I tend to take the positive view of this situation. While it may be possible to go overboard with money and its related activities, most likely the Chinese, like people in other industrialized countries, will adjust. Tiger Woods, for example, has been endorsing everything under the sun from cars to LASIK eye surgery, and his performance hasn't suffered at all.

It will be interesting to see what this new Chinese focus on sports capitalism brings. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the positives far surpass the negatives. More money and individualism will bring better performance. And that's good for everyone.

(Photo of Guo Jingjing from Reuters.)

April 27, 2008

Green Gridlock


This also happened to us last year at the Intel recycling day. What I don't understand is why it happens. When I finally got out of my car and walked my computer over, some guy just took it, and that was it.

April 26, 2008

Cellar Door Cafe Hosts Frank Chin Fundraiser


I forgot to announce it on the 44's board, but we are bringing Frank Chin to Portland on July 11th and 12th, 2008. Mark your calendars. We're currently in the process of finalizing details. More to follow.

Last night, Cellar Door Coffee hosted a fundraiser for Thymos, our Portland-based Asian American activist group. Jeremy Adams, the owner of Cellar Door, graciously allowed us to use his space for our fundraiser, and his brother Aaron and girlfriend Dinae cooked the vegan organic food on the menu. Special thanks to Bao-Loc Nguyen who arranged this entire event. Putting this together was an absolutely phenomenal feat of management, and Bao deserves special props. Thanks to his girlfriend Betty and cousin Huan for volunteering as servers. All of the above donated their services free of charge. There were 37 people in attendance. The food and company was absolutely awesome. Thanks to everyone for the awesome night, and thank you to those who could not attend but sent money anyway.

Also, if you're ever in Portland, check out Cellar Door Coffee. Jeremy makes an awesome chai, and the atmosphere is excellent. Also check out Aaron at the Red and Black.

Elite Korean Schools

minjok.JPG

I always knew that the Koreans were serious about education, and reading about Korean schools that aim to land their pupils in Ivy League schools didn't surprise me. Nor was I surprised to learn that the students who attend these schools have an intense daily regimen focused on schoolwork. It's an interesting read, and it lends support to the idea that the U.S. needs to focus more on education in order to remain competitive.

I liked the article. However, I did have a question. The article says,
As bright as she is, she was just one great student among many, said Eric Cho, Daewon’s college counselor. Sitting at his computer terminal at the school, perched on a craggy eastern hilltop overlooking the Seoul skyline, Mr. Cho scrolled through the class of 2008’s academic records.

Their average combined SAT score was 2203 out of 2400. By comparison, the average combined score at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire boarding school, is 2085. Sixty-seven Daewon graduates had perfect 800 math scores.

Kim Hyun-kyung, 17, scored perfect 800s on the SAT verbal and math tests, and 790 in writing.

Is the SAT verbal section in English or Korean for these kids? I thought that the SAT was an English-language test, and it's scary to think that these Korean kids are beating the Exeter kids in written English!

Anyway, I e-mailed the author of the article. Hopefully he'll tell us that these students take a Korean version. Otherwise we're in some serious trouble.

April 25, 2008

Heroes


No, not that dopey NBC miniseries that got our hopes up with an awesome first season and then let us all down with its ridiculous storylines and annoying characters. I'm talking about real life heroes, specifically heroes for the Chinese people in China. Check out this WSJ article from 44 RebelAzn who posted it here.

I think it's great that the Chinese are finally getting their own heroes. I also think it's excellent that these heroes are playing sports, the one area of human activity where racism is virtually non-existent. Sports are the great equalizer. These days it's more or less free of bias, and anyone who proves his or her worth on the court or track has pushed the level of human achievement. It's something that makes a hero worthy.

April 24, 2008

Costco and Sam's Club Limiting Bulk Rice Purchases

artthairiceafpgi.jpgI just saw this today.

Costco is limiting bulk purchases of 50 lb. bags of rice, while Sam's Club is limiting purchases of 20 lb. bags. As all the 44's would probably guess, the reason behind the rationing is the soaring energy and commodity prices in the global market.

It's obviously going to put the pinch on American consumers as energy prices continue to soar with no end in sight. Adding the problems with the unseasonal weather, it looks like food will continue to go up. The world's poor are suffering most of all, and if this continues, people at the bottom rung of America's middle class will begin to enter the ranks of the poor.

I don't know what the solution is. My gut feeling is that the solution has something to do with better technology and fuel sources to help India and China with their rapid growth, but we should have been investing in these technologies five years ago when Dubya first accused us of being addicted to oil. Hopefully our new president, whoever it is, will prioritize education and research, and hopefully he or she won't be afraid of offering incentives for people and businesses to begin using these new technologies.

More Clintonian posturing

Clinton says she leads in popular vote

Translation: "I'm ahead, but only if you count the votes that don't count!"

April 23, 2008

Weak Obama Commercials

Obama's commercials are starting to play in Oregon. I have to say...they are REALLY weak. Most of the commercials only show footage of him giving speeches. Who wants to see that? I can see that on TV without having Mr. Obama spend my hard earned contributions on those pricey 30 second prime time clips.

I'm not sure who designed his commercial strategy, but if those Pennsylvania commercials were anything like the ones showing in Oregon, I'm not surprised he lost. If he's going to pay for commercials, he should take the time to speak directly to the American people. Clear the crowds, empty the room, and just talk face to face with us. Show yourself personally, and show what you plan to do for America. We'll vote for you because you're you (and not Hillary) and you know what America needs, not because you know how to give good speeches and rally a crowd.

I'm saying this in part because I'm an Obama supporter. Obama's commercials should reinforce his strong convictions. They should make people think about if he's a better candidate and why he's a better candidate. But so far it's just footage of a talented orator playing the crowd.

There's also a financial moral to this story. When you pay for something, make sure you get your money's worth. Obama is paying money to be in people's living rooms at night, so he should take that opportunity. It would be so much more effective if he were to film a 30 second spot of himself alone in his home saying, "My name is Barack Obama, this is what I'm going to do for you, this is how I'm going to do it, and I'd like your vote." We were impressed with the crowds at the beginning, but now it's time for him to show us, the American public, who he really is.

Obama in 30 seconds



Check out this video. It was created by my friend Ellen.

April 22, 2008

Just go away


Okay, Shillary, your own hometown paper is calling you out.

It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.
The main reason, of course, is that terrible ad her campaign ran:

On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad — torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook — evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the narrator intoned.
How low will Hillary stoop to become president? I'd like to say that I would vote Democratic either way, but at this point I just don't know.

Ballroom Dancing


My friend W (aka Jackson) was dancing on "Good Day New York" with his wife Liz. They just got married last year. You can find the clip here:

http://ballroomclips.magnify.net/item/4LG7RR6PLJ95GN7N

I was remarking to W that it's rare to see an Asian man and Asian woman dancing together on American TV. I was telling him that I was surprised they didn't hire a white guy to play his role. Not only is W rocking the business world in New York City, but he's also representin'.

Anyway, props to W and Liz.

April 19, 2008

Asians doing "Stuff White People Like"

18green01-190.jpgI don't know about the rest of you, but when I think of environmentalism, Woodstock, the beat generation, the hippies, the yippies, or whatever non-racialized fringe movements in the past 250 years, I think about white people. All the flower children, "make love not war," or Save the Whales types seem to have white faces in my mind. One of the funny things about the Stuff White People Like blog is that white people have the reputation for doing things outside of race. It's exactly what one would expect given the fact that white people have the privilege of not thinking about race, but a lot of these fringe movements are good causes. Especially environmentalism. We really do need to start speaking up because even though some white people are promoting the cause of environmentalism, others aren't.

So it's with great pleasure that we can now announce that racial minorities are now getting into environmentalism and raising awareness for what was originally a white person's movement. See the NY Times article about the Green Apple concerts going on this weekend. See the picture of Todd Park Mohr above. An excerpt from the Times article:
PETER SHAPIRO knows what people think when they hear the phrase “Earth Day concert.” Maybe Jackson Browne. Maybe Bonnie Raitt.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The predominantly white singer-songwriters who came to fame in the 1970s were among the first voices in popular culture to speak out on behalf of environmental concerns.

But now Mr. Shapiro and the other organizers of this weekend’s national Green Apple Festival, billed as the country’s biggest Earth Day celebration, want to expand the audience. In trying to draw as many as 500,000 people to its main events — free concerts on Sunday afternoon in eight cities — the festival is reaching out to younger people and to demographic groups that have not traditionally been associated with the environmental movement.

One thing that I did notice about the article is that according to the article, the festival is "reaching out" rather than the minorities "stepping up." But let's not dampen the mood--it's good news that minorities are getting into environmentalism.

April 18, 2008

Soaring Commodity Prices

18food2ms600.jpg

(Photo from NY Times)

We're in the midst of a global crisis when it comes to food and commodities. I've seen many articles about this epidemic in the past few weeks, but the New York Times article today really brings out the problems with the soaring food and gas prices that is causing starvation around the world. The mention of mud patties on page 2 is especially heartbreaking:
In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

Articles like this really elucidate the fact that most of us are privileged. Most of our lives would be very different if we had to think about getting food all the time.

The crisis is not just about the world's poor either, though they most certainly are having the biggest problems. I also saw this article in the Oregonian yesterday, which profiles some of the less fortunate people in my state. Many of these people have cut off their internet and cell phone usage. It's unfortunate because internet and cell phones are a requirement for advancement in the digital age. Those who can't advance will continue to fall farther behind. I have a feeling that the sagging economy will continue to weigh down on people, both in the U.S. and abroad, for a very long time.

April 17, 2008

Ultimate Fighting Displacing Boxing

sherk_franca200.jpg

A friend sent me this article on NPR today. It's an interesting take on the Ultimate Fighting phenomenon. Frank Deford, the author of the article, describes boxing as a barbaric sport, and he says that the decline of boxing is taking place because the UFC is more violent. According to Deford, violence is something that is highly desired in our video game culture, and so we naturally gravitate towards Mixed Martial Arts rather than the more controlled and non-violent sport of boxing.

Deford is slightly wrong on one count--the top stars do make millions but only through endorsements rather than from the fight league itself--but the overall thesis is correct. We do like seeing violence, and we do like the fact that the UFC matches are quick. I think it has something to do with the fact that we live in the Youtube generation. I used to love boxing, and I think boxers are phenomenal athletes, but gosh, these days I can't sit through six rounds, let alone ten. But this situation has always been the case; people are always going for bigger, badder, faster, more violent, and now we have a new sport that fulfills this need. Why did people love Tyson? It was because he finished his work really quickly. Why do people love Sumo? Because it starts and ends quickly. In the Youtube generation where quickness is even more valued than before, we now have the UFC.

I think Deford is overreacting. Sure, a new sport which values the fast and efficient is now in vogue. But basketball, baseball, football, and all the other sports with longer durations will always be around. We just now have different sports that cater to different moods.

The Aung Sung Suu Kyi Narrative


I saw several versions of the video above floating around the web. It's a video of Tibet protesters and counter-protesters at Duke University. The centerpiece of the debate is a woman from China named Grace Wang, who according to the NY Times, "tried to get the two sides to talk" and acted as a "would-be referee."

Now I don't know all that much about Tibet, but I know a whole lot about bias, and there is clearly quite a bit of it going on in America's treatment of Tibet these days. Check out the video above, for example. Notice how the videographer seems to zoom in on the faces of only two types of protester--protesters who are white guys and protesters named Grace Wang. We only get to see the backs of the heads of the pro-China people. They all have black hair. We only get to hear the voices of the pro-Tibetan independence people. We don't get to hear the other side.

Again, I don't know much about Tibet, but even in the NY Times article, the bias is evident. Notice how they clearly try to portray Ms. Wang as a neutral party ("would be referee"), and yet they report about how she writes "Free Tibet" in Chinese on the back of a (presumably white) guy named Adam Weiss. That sure doesn't sound neutral to me. (Haha...although it would probably make a great Kingstonian manipulated story of a White Warrior Yue Fei going into battle with the Asian woman writing words of love on his back. Wow, just in time for the new Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie. Someone call David Henry Hwang and Bai Ling!) In the video, she also doesn't appear to be trying to create peace and negotiations; she just seems to be shouting at the pro-China protesters.

If it's true that people are harassing her, of course that is wrong. However, the news media can't expect sympathy when its reporting is so biased.

The problem with this story is that conveniently falls into the Aung Sung Suu Kyi narrative. Miss Wang is only 20, and one would not expect her to yet possess the political skills necessary to create change or to get people to talk about issues, nor would one expect her to have sufficient knowledge of the Tibet situation. But because she's a young, skinny Asian woman--and her skinniness is significant as noted in the Times article--she takes the role of the suffering Asian damsel in distress who needs to stand up against the masses of her faceless countrymen with whom she must do battle. She becomes the heroine because she's a commodity--a young Asian woman whom the media celebrates not because of her ideas--since they don't report her ideas--but because she's a young, skinny Asian woman who is standing apart from the rest of her orientalized countrymen and countrywomen.

My heart goes out to all these people involved with Tibet. It's undoubtedly a difficult situation. However, it makes things a lot more difficult when the media decides to color stories according to the old orientalist paradigm.

April 15, 2008

Kung Fu Election



From the Fighting 44's:

The presidential election according to Mortal Kombat. Play Hillary, and check out her special move! At Atomfilms.

Blogging about Blogging

From everything I've heard, the NYCAASC Conference was a huge success. Angry was there, Reappropriate Jenn was there, Disgrasian was there, and Fallout Central was there. None of our 44's bloggers are in the NYC area, so we didn't represent, but we did have one of our black belt members in the audience who gave me a rundown on the news and views. At the conference, the organizers did a comparison of all Asian American blogs on the internet. Apparently, in terms of traffic, we're neck and neck with Modelminority.com, a blog/message board which has been around a lot longer than we have, and we're ahead of a lot of the others. So congrats to the owners of the site, congrats to our awesome admins, and congrats to all the long time members who make this the best Asian American internet community on the web. Keep up the good work everyone, and let's continue to enlighten the world with our opinions and thoughts.

I had the opportunity to listen to Fallout Central's most recent podcast. As usual, the FOC guys did an excellent job. Those guys are growing like mad, scheduling all kinds of meetings all across the country, and expanding as only they know how to do. I'm very impressed with what they've done so far, especially with that Wellesley event where they packed the house. Reappropriate Jenn, who is a regular on their show, also did a bang-up job. Though we fight all the time, we appreciate the fact that she's out there lending her voice to her cause.

Sometime during the most recent FOC podcast, someone said that their blog was to highlight racial slights or insults. Everyone agreed that that is what Asian American blogs do. I agree that it's necessary to point out racial slights or insults. I agree that somebody needs to do it. However, I personally see my blogging activities as a chance to inspire and enlighten and connect. For me, blogging is kind of like judo. You need to be proactive, and you need to dictate the terms of the fight. I've never been comfortable with a purely defensive stance when it comes to improving our society--pure defense usually emboldens negativity, and negativity often prevents us from seeing our possibilities in life.

So I think it's important to put a spotlight on stuff like Chinks Steaks and other stupid comments in the media. However, it's also important to stay focused on improving what is positive. Don't get me wrong--I also highlight the negative stuff sometimes. But I also try to maintain a balance between good and bad, and if you see me ignoring something in the news that all the other Asian American bloggers are addressing, it may be that I'm just creating space while working on something positive. I realize that I'm just one voice in the very large Asian American blogosphere, and if I'm not covering it, most likely our colleagues at FOC or reappropriate are.

Anyway, I've set up an e-mail account specifically for my blogging activities. If you have any issues that you'd like to bring to my attention, please let me know by e-mailing me at naruguard-44@yahoo.com, or please pm me. I'll try to respond to everyone. You can also bring up stuff in our awesome forum, which I check every day.

Thymos / Portland Meetup

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Statue of Portlandia at SW 5th Ave., downtown Portland

If there are any wild and crazy future Asian American activists close to Portland, Oregon, we'd love to meet you. Our local Asian American group Thymos has regular meetings, and we'd be thrilled to meet other readers of the Fighting 44's. Most members are in their late twenties to early forties, and there's room for everyone. We've been around for three years, and our organization is just slightly younger than the Fighting 44's (We started in Sept. 04, while the 44's started in May 04). We're a private group that doesn't even have a website, and there is a screening process for those who don't come by referral. If you are interested, e-mail me at naruguard-44@yahoo.com, and we'll get the screening process started. We have our next event in early May.

Also, if you're a college activist at OSU, U of O, PSU, or any of the other colleges in our area, please contact me. We've got some big events planned in the next few months (which I WILL announce on the 44's as soon as we have our details finalized), and we'd love for the young people of Portland to join us. We've got a few recent college grads in our membership, and they've been tearing up the Portland scene with their activism. Get in touch with us!

April 14, 2008

Alberto Gonzales looking for work


It looks like Alberto Gonzales is looking for work, and he has no takers. Normally I'd feel bad for the guy, but in this case, the former attorney general's disregard for the law and disrespect towards the office gives me a bit of schadenfreude. In any case, according to the article, his speaking engagements are providing roughly the same salary as the $191k he received as attorney general, so don't be too quick to extend your sympathies.

April 13, 2008

Michael Eric Dyson on Book TV

dyson.jpgPeople interested in hip hop and its role in African American culture may want to check out Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip Hop by Michael Eric Dyson. Book TV had a special three hour interview with Dyson recently, and I was fortunate to catch snippets of it yesterday morning. You can see the entire interview here.

I've read Dyson's book "I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.," and while I was not too impressed with his King book--the "true" story seemed to conflict with virtually everything else I had read about King--Dyson had a pretty amazing interview with Book TV. In the interview, Dyson talks about Bill Cosby's relationship with black America, he talks about sexism in the African American community, and he talks about how he feels hip hop brings stories of urban black America to the masses. In the course of the interview, he talks about an ongoing philosophical disagreement with fellow author John McWhorter over Cosby and the role of hip hop, and he addresses ongoing issues within the black community.

I was amazed not only at Dyson's mastery of the subject of hip hop, which he demonstrates in the interview by rapping whole stanzas of Tupac by memory, but I was also amazed at the number of books on Mr. Dyson's lengthy resume. He has 16 books with some very interesting titles. Check this out:

http://www.michaelericdyson.com/april41968/books.php

Some of his titles:

Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur

Why I Love Black Women

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster

Check him out, and if you have any ideas after reading him, please feel free to share your thoughts here.

April 11, 2008

"Bitter" condescension

obama.jpgPolitics is amazing. A single word spoken in the wrong context or a single word poorly chosen can damage all the good will that a politician has sought to build. In recent years, using the word "niggardly" has put one politician in the hot spot, and politicians continue to hammer one another over word usage. Some might say that the media's and politicians' fixation on words is excessive, but I would disagree. Politicians fight with words. They push their agendas with words. They debate with words, and they write laws composed of words. Words are the sharpest weapons in their arsenal, and it therefore behooves them to choose words carefully.

In the latest word battle, both Clinton and McCain are attacking Obama over his usage of the word "bitter" in a speech to Pennsylvanians. According to the Washington Post,
"Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives," Obama told the group. "You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Hillary the Pit Bull responded:
"It's being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who face hard times are bitter," Clinton said during a campaign event in Philadelphia. "Well that's not my experience. As I travel around Pennsylvania. I meet people who are resilient, optimist positive who are rolling up their sleeves."

McCain, who is all but guaranteed the Republican nomination and who is taking the opportunity to take shots at the Democrats, joined in with Hillary:
McCain's campaign also criticized the comment Friday. "It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking," said Steve Schmidt, a senior advisor to McCain. "It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."

While I'm an Obama supporter, I agree with both Clinton and McCain in that Obama chose the wrong word to use. As an Asian American male, we hear the word "bitter" used against us all the time, and rather than reflecting a simply damaged attitude, as Obama probably intended, the word reflects a kind of defeatism that both Clinton and McCain correctly identified. When a Person A describes Person B as bitter, there is undoubtedly a connotation of elitism, condescension, and general disdain. The word "angry" denotes a visceral reaction to a situation gone wrong or unsettling, but "bitter" denotes a loss of control, the kind of feeling that only losers feel. It is similar to the word "jealousy" in that there is a value judgment contained within it.

My point is that words make a big difference. While Clinton is just playing desperation politics and McCain is just having fun in Romney's absence, they are correct to attack Obama's choice of words. The lesson for Asian Americans is this: Don't let anyone call you "bitter" unless you really are.

April 9, 2008

Proselytizing, Asian American style

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I saw this article about Asian American Christians a few days ago on AAM, and I wanted to collect my thoughts before posting. I myself am an atheist according to Richard Dawkins's definition, which means that I believe God is extremely unlikely to exist. I see no reason to believe that he exists, and since the doubt an agnostic would feel is negligible to me, I am therefore an atheist. At the same time, I have friends of different religions (including a Christian friend on the 44's), and so I try not to judge people based on their beliefs. Belief is a personal choice. Still, some of this fundamentalist Asian American evangelical Christian stuff is scary, and since I feel it hinders our efforts to create a stronger Asian American community, I thought I'd comment on the article.

As a college student years back, I had the exact same experiences with Asian American evangelical groups. They gather in large groups, and they try to coerce their "friends" into converting to their religion. There are good Christians and bad Christians, of course, but evangelicals try to force a logically indefensible religion on people through all kinds of control and manipulation (which is mentioned in the article.). It's wrong. All of the leaders treat the existence of the Christian God as a given fact, and they expect others to do the same without proof or reason. These Christian groups will often use bribery, threats, manipulation, and ostracism to get other Asian Americans to bow down to their god, whose existence they know they cannot confirm. It often broke my heart to see strong young people broken down by fear and submitting themselves to these cult-like groups.

Keep in mind that I'm not trying to insult anyone. I'm not trying to degrade the practice of religion. I'm just noting some extreme behavioral problems with fundamentalist evangelical Christian groups, as well as some of the problems that I see with the whole obedience lesson that these evangelicals preach. I think this hurts Asian Americans, and I think it's something we need to bring out in the open.

From the article:
Then one day in the dining commons, Chiu met a Bible study leader who invited him to Acts2Fellowship's student welcome night, during which a variety of skits were performed. In the "mask skit," a character goes to college and tries to fit in by wearing different masks, but can't find any meaningful relationships. The scene struck a chord with Chiu. "That's how I lived my life through middle and high school," he said, "trying to act cool."

This is exactly how it usually works. For many of these evangelicals, selling Christianity is like selling Amway. "Hey, neighbor, I've got this great product that you should try. Come by Johnson Auditorium on Friday night, and bring your friends!"

People should be free to say whatever they want regarding their religion, but at a certain point, it becomes obnoxious. How do you excuse someone who pretends to be your friend in order to get you to subscribe to his belief system? I once even heard of a girl feigning interest in a guy just to get him to church. Having been approached by numerous Christian Asian American students when I was younger, I remember the modus operandi of the college evangelical very clearly. In fact, I could teach the method:

1. Be nice and outgoing: Meet lots of people, and invite them to your church. Act cool. You can even mention that there are tons of attractive women there.

2. Be somewhat distant during the early meetings. During church, preface everything by "I believe" or "we believe." This way it doesn't look like you're forcing your beliefs on people.

3. Invite them into the fold, and drop the H-bomb: "You're going to HELL if you don't believe what I do!!! Thou art a sinner!!!"

Those Christian skits in college were mad crazy. I remember seeing a bunch of skits that did the normal preaching--no women, no drugs, no alcohol, no thinking licentious thoughts. There was never anything positive about the message. It was always "Thou shalt not ___," rather than "Why not try ____." It was always about restricting the individual, rather than encouraging the individual. The whole symbolism of the Christian campus skits were scary too. It was as if they were trying to teach Asian Americans fear and guilt.

Even in this article, most of the people seem to join because they are desperate for answers. They are somehow at the end of their rope, and they have nowhere else to turn. So they turn to evangelical religion, which demands total obedience and no exercise of skill or leadership. It kills your individuality.
In particular, Chiu said he found it hard to believe he was very sinful. Like many Asian students, he said, he was mostly concerned about making good grades and obeying his parents. "I never did anything bad, like kill anyone or do drugs," he said. But he did start considering how he saw himself — particularly, how proud he was. And he admits that he tended to look down on others who weren't as good as him academically or athletically.

I never really understood this religious focus on not feeling proud. Top athletes and top politicians are proud of their abilities. How is this sinful? More importantly, how can a person excel if he doesn't believe that he is good at a certain task? It seems to me that this is a false conceit. In order to think of yourself as conceited, you have to admit that you think you're better than other people at something, and if you think that, chances are pretty good that you are.
Today, Chiu says he's not as crazy about grades as he once was. And while he used to want a girlfriend to fill his loneliness, now he says he's focused on his male friendships.

Something about that just doesn't seem right.
"I began to see that my future is secure because God has a plan for me," he said.

Big Brother is watching you.

When the pastor began his lecture, the students dug in their backpacks bringing out notebooks and Bibles. He reminded them of the key verse of the year: Philippians 3:8. "Did anyone memorize it yet?" he asked.


A few raised their hands. He called out the first name of a male student sitting toward the back, joking about his engineering major. The student stood and recited the passage from memory: "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ."

"It's impossible to earn our way to heaven," the pastor told the students, as they jotted down notes. "The only way to heaven is through the cross of Jesus Christ."

Interspersed throughout his explanation of the passage, the pastor kept things lively by relating things to students' cultural experiences. He likened the Apostle Paul to the "guy in the Korean newspaper" who "your mom points out, who goes to Harbard," he said, laying on a thick Korean-mom accent. Later, he compared God's power to that of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, when the white-haired wizard releases King Theoden from the spell of the evil wizard Saruman. "God releases you and you can be healed," he said.

Then he got serious again. "What is life all about?" he asked. "The one thing that's certain about everyone's life here is that we're all going to die. We're all sinners, and we're all going to die and face our God one day." He acknowledged that this might sound harsh to some. "I'm not trying to be a morbid prophet, I'm not trying to scare you," he continued, adding, "Shouldn't we try to find a way to salvation?"

This is classic fundamentalist bullshit. This pastor is pulling the scare card right out of his hat, and he's talking about a "salvation" that has never been proven. I'll say it loud and clear: this pastor is lying through his smarmy teeth. Fear is the number one enforcement tool for the proselytizer. Everything else is meaningless. Read the article and see what all the converts are saying, "Now that I've turned towards Jesus I'm not going to HELL." This pastor can go about his business in scaring people into dropping coins in the collection tray, but make no mistake--he is trying to scare people.
"I think Asian Americans are looking for more than just what they're doing in their life," Huang said. "They're looking for more than just what their parents brought with them from China or other Asian communities. That looking for more has translated into looking for God. I think a lot of Asian Americans, their moms and dads found suburbia and privilege. And a lot of Asian Americans who grew up in privilege realize it's not enough. We have a nice house, two cars, food in the refrigerator, but there's still something missing. When we go to UC Berkeley, we want to know what's out there. We want to experience more."

I agree with Huang's idea that Asian Americans are looking for more in life. It just strikes me as utterly ironic that people turn to religion.

There is just so much more out there. What about studying history so that you can make positive changes in society? What about studying literature or art so that you can see what is beautiful in life? What about studying music? Putting yourself in a place where your leaders attempt to scare you with the unproven idea that you're a dirty sinner who will go to Hell without their guidance just doesn't seem to me to be the best way to assuage your desire for more in life, and it worries me because I think a lot of young Asian Americans are turning to the wrong leaders. What they want is control over their own lives, and instead, they are turning to people who are promising control over an afterlife which probably doesn't exist.

We're at a point in history where we need people to create change. We need people to contribute their intellectual capital to the betterment of society. We don't need people to submit to a group mentality and to cave into fear. Now some of you may say that Martin and Malcolm were both religious and that they did their civil rights work within the framework of their religion. I'd respond by pointing out that this brand of Christianity is clearly different. Martin never forced his beliefs on others through fear and guilt, and Malcolm proved his openness to other religions by quoting from the Bible. There was never any kind of "Thou art a sinner" type of theme in anything they did. Fundamentalist Christianity is a bad thing for Asian Americans. It is an opiate, a red herring, that keeps us from where we really need to focus. We need strong people to fight for equality, people who will rise to challenges. We don't need this:

connecting_with_god_background.jpg

Again, I'm not trying to dog anyone's religion, so feel free to disagree with me.

(photos from gracepointonline.com)

April 8, 2008

Secrets

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This blog post falls under the Asian American writers support category, though I don't know if it could be its own category since I don't blog about it nearly enough. When we talk about Kingstonism and other forms of orientalism that box us into stereotypes, it seems clear to me that interesting stories are out there. We just have to look for them.

I was looking at the DailyKos today. "Kos," the owner of the site, linked the Time Magazine First Annual Blog index, where the editorial staff of Time describes and rates top blogs. Most of the blog choices for the first annual rating were what one would expect--the Daily Kos, the Huntington Post, and Gawker were all referenced and linked. Most of the other blogs were also pretty standard--Treehugger for environmentalists, Engadget for people who love gadgets, etc. Stuffwhitepeoplelike wasn't there yet, but I'm guessing it's just a matter of time.

However, one of the blogs listed stood out from all the rest. The blog is called PostSecret. The idea is simple: the blogger, Frank Warren, encourages people around the world to write their secrets on a handmade postcard and to send it to him anonymously. The only rules are that the secret must be truthful, and that the secret must have never been spoken before. He then scans and posts the postcards on his blog, which is updated every Sunday. Warren describes it as an "art project," and it is. Some of the "secrets" are hackneyed and obvious, but many of the postcards seem to ask more questions than the statement would imply.

Like this one for example:

badparenting.jpg

[written inside card]
SINCE MY SON WAS STILLBORN AT FULL TERM I HAVE SOMETIMES THOUGHT OF KIDNAPPING A BABY THERE ARE LOTS OF CARELESS UNDESERVING BAD PARENTS I WOULE BE A GOOD MOTHER I CANT HAVE ANOTHER BABY

What every happened to this woman? Where is she now? What is she doing? What is she thinking? What will she be doing in 20 years?

The art project is an awesome idea. There are so many stories that we don't hear, but they are out there. It's just a matter of engaging people.

April 6, 2008

Declining Civil Rights organizations

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I saw this article in the Washington Post. It's about the decline of civil rights organizations since the 1960's.

Even though the NAACP and CORE have done great things, I'm of the mindset that it might not be a bad thing if these organizations were to fold and allow new ones to take their place. They haven't done anything wrong, but new blood is a good thing, and if there is an older culture in place within an organization, it's sometimes hard to get new blood.

Roger Wilkins says it best:

The drop in stature may have been inevitable, said Roger Wilkins, an assistant attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson who advised the groups. "Black people didn't have opportunities in the '30s and '40s and '50s," he said. "They couldn't be mayors, so they became presidents of black colleges or leaders of civil rights organizations. But at the end of the '60s, all kinds of pathways opened up, and civil rights organizations had to compete for leadership."

Roger Wilkins is right. Things are different now. The nature of the fight is different, and the fights themselves are different. Minorities these days deal with subtle racism more than overt racism. Even MLK himself realized the upcoming change of tides when, towards the end of his life, he started speaking relatively more against the subtle racism of the north vs. the overt racism of the south.

The author of the article then continues:

With advances in education, employment and buying power, some have argued, civil rights organizations have become passe. But group leaders bristle at the notion.

A report released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank, said that black America remains troubled. Despite marginal advances in education and jobs, the income gap between black and white Americans has grown so large since King's death that it would take more than 500 years for black people to catch up under the current pace of change, the report said. The divide between black and white wealth is so wide that achieving parity would take more than 600 years.

The issue with civil rights organizations isn't that they don't care. It isn't that they don't want to fight for equality. The issue is that they are fighting a different kind of battle--one against subtle racism and self-hatred rather than an overtly racist legal system. The culture of these organizations, which was developed during the 30's, 40's, and 50's, has never developed the tools necessary to fight their modern enemy. They are fighting to stay relevant mostly because they have become irrelevant through changes in society.

While it is possible for these groups to change course, it is going to take a lot of work. How can you explain Jim Crowe to a minority culture which didn't grow up with Jim Crowe? To remain relevant, these civil rights organizations will require not just a simple change in tactics but an entire change in strategy and philosophy. Seeing how so many large organizations struggle with this kind of change, I wonder whether it might be easier to dissolve the old and start anew.

April 4, 2008

Funny NY Times Front Page


The "Breaking News" on top says "Clintons Disclose Tax Information Showing $109 Million In Income Since 2000." The bottom headline says, "In Memphis, Clinton Targets Poverty."

Progress and Structure




Race has been a main topic surrounding Barack Obama's campaign, and many people are talking about what his campaign could mean for minorities in this country. Just a few weeks ago, he gave his soon-to-be famous speech which brought race to the forefront of the public discussion. David Brooks writes yet another great article in today's Times, where he talks about the Reverend Martin Luther King and how both King's and Obama's positive messages of hope and stability are very different from the "angry and reckless late 60-style" of activism.


In this article, he mentions some frightening statistics similar to the ones 44's chocolatebutterfly shared with us just a few days ago. Brooks writes:

Progress has been slow. Nearly a third of American high school students don’t
graduate (half in the cities). Seventy percent of African-American kids are born
out of wedlock. Poverty rates in Memphis have scarcely dropped.
It's truly frightening stuff.

Now for those who share the 44's or Thymos (Jaehwan's local group) philosophy, the key stroke of brilliance in this article by Brooks is here:

The key tension in King’s life was over how to push relentlessly for change but
within an existing moral structure. But by the late-60s many felt the social
structure needed to be torn down. The assassin’s bullet set off a conflagration.
Brooks continues further down:

Martin Luther King Jr. at least left behind a model of how to repair the social
fabric. He was scholarly, formal, assertive and meticulously self-controlled in
public. If Barack Obama’s presidential campaign represents anything, it is the
triumph of King’s early-60s style of activism over the angry and reckless
late-60s style. King was in crisis when he was gunned down. But his inspiration
is outlasting his critics.
Brooks is spot on. Structure is key for any healthy society, and without structure, there is nothing but an anarchy in which the strongest members of a society increase their lead over others. Without structure and solid planning, African American culture is doomed to repeat the same patterns of dropping out, having kids out of wedlock, and living in poverty. What is true of some areas of African American culture is also true for Asian Americans, albeit in a slightly different way. The dominant mode of Asian American activism attacks and tears down everything that comes in its way. It's like a rabid pit-bull which kills anything and everyone within its sight, even those who seek to help it. It takes aim at every kind of structure it sees, seeking to assert its voice and power by deconstructing and destroying knowledge of history and the logical discourse that Asian Americans need to raise our communities to a higher level of understanding and empowerment. It criticizes without building.

If we continue along this path, we will always be unhappy. We will continue to hinder our writers and artists, and we will continue the Kingstonian zeitgeist where we all live with suspicion and fear. We will continue complaining about media stereotypes, rather than creating positive media images. We will only reach our potential as a community when we embrace knowledge, history, and the need for some structure within the community.
(Picture from WriteSpirit.)

April 2, 2008

Pitching for Asian American Activism

ts-brooks-190.jpgDavid Brooks is my favorite columnist in the NY Times. Yes, I know he's conservative. Yes, I know his opinions often seem overly rigid and tend to ignore outliers and exceptions. But when he's on fire, he's on fire. He's probably the one columnist in the NY Times whose articles will almost always improve your life in one way or another, even if his commentary is not as biting and funny as Maureen Dowd's.

His article yesterday was no exception. Brooks takes a book about pitching baseballs and uses the lessons to improve life in general. Not only was it a great article to help people deal with their lives, it is a great article to help Asian American activists.

Just a few gems:

Dorfman offers to liberate people from what you might call the tyranny of the scattered mind. He offers to take pitchers, who may be thinking about a thousand and one things up on the mound, and give them mental discipline.

Scattered mind? Isn't that the problem with the deconstructionist legacy that we've all inherited? If we focused on one problem at a time, we'd be much more effective.

Just as a bike is better balanced when it is going forward, a pitcher’s mind is better balanced when it is unceasingly aggressive. If a pitcher doesn’t actually feel this way when he enters a game, Dorfman asks him to pretend.

In other words, let's focus on being proactive.

The pitcher’s personality isn’t at the center. His talent isn’t at the center. The task is at the center.

That's right. Activism isn't about personalities or about "how will I make money by selling yet another movie with orientalist themes." It's about what Asian Americans need to do to create a culture based on social justice and equality.

Not long ago, Americans saw the rise of a therapeutic culture that placed great emphasis on self-discovery, self-awareness and self-expression. But somehow the tide seems to have turned from the worship of self, and today’s message is: transcend yourself in your job — or get shelled.

Transcend your job because it's not about a search for identity. It's about changing society and attitudes.

Check out the article here.

April 1, 2008

Rheinlander: Activism and Identity/Asian American Feminism Pt. II

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These are my thoughts on identity activism. It's also part II of my essay on Asian American feminism and part III of the recent 44's dialogue on the same topic (check out Xian's excellent post here).

I e-mailed 44's Maogirl last week and asked her for her opinion on my opinion of Asian American feminism. She e-mailed me back and wrote the following (re-posted with her permission, emphasis is mine):

one of the reasons i think asian american feminism is a failure (and as far as i'm concerned, it hasn't accomplished anything of value, hence it's a failure) because it's founded on the search for identity, which i think is self-defeating.

let me try to explain: let's postulate that a large number of asian americans searching for (racial) identity are doing so in a post-structuralist sense...where the idea of identity is not based on WHO they are, but who they are NOT. asian american identity seems to be founded on an identity of absence. they are asian american because they are not white. it's about who they are in relation to dominant white culture, they're the hegelian "other."

Maogirl then went on to explain that many Asian Americans define themselves by white people, i.e. your an "FOB" because you're too different from white people, or you're "whitewashed" because you're too similar. Frank Chin once also said that the search for identity was, in his words, "bullshit." I kind of understood this before, but Maogirl helped put it in words. Activism based on a search for identity is a waste of time.

Whenever I tell people that I am involved with Asian American activism on a local level and that we run an intellectual group, they're always say things like, "Oh, you're trying to find your roots" or "Oh, you're trying to find out how to best assimilate." It doesn't matter if I'm talking to an Asian person or a white person; they always say the same thing. One Asian guy actually said to one of our board members: "Oh, so you're kind of like an Asian American therapy group." Right, because we Asian Americans all need therapy. Notice how society always seems to point the finger at the Asian person, as if to say, "You're pathological, and you're working to solve your own problem." When we first started Thymos (our group), I simply ran along with this approach because we didn't have any set agenda, and I wanted to see where the conversation would lead us. Now I say, "We talk about issues, we educate one another, and we talk about things we need to do to move forward. Join us and see what it's about."

That's the problem with making identity the centerpiece of activism; it accuses the searcher. It describes the searcher as different, and it defines the searcher in relation to the rest of society. Therefore, in the mind of the identity-activist, the rest of society is normal, while the activist and his entire community has the problem. Because it focuses so heavily on the identity-activist, the identity-activist's mind isn't focused on changing society to fit the identity-activist, the identity-activist's mind is focused on changing the identity-activist's culture to fit society. If society was the sick party to begin with, the healthy activist becomes sick and the sick society remains sick. Someone fighting with the traditional Kingstonian approach to Asian American issues will eventually get tired and burn out, because the more he or she tries to fight with the Kingstonian mindset or techniques, the more he or she channels that anger internally. It is ultimately futile.

Hell, we already all have identities. We're family-people, we have careers, we're involved in activism. I'm a father and a reader/writer. What other identity do we need? Real activism must focus on education and results, not just a search for identity.

Going back to that Asian American feminist question, maogirl continues:

now, i think this is problematic particularly for asian american feminists. if you're going to fight for identity politics, you need to have a fucking identity in the first place, not this limbo that a lot of asian americans seem to occupy. do asian american feminists latch on to feminism because being a chick is the only identity they can really be confident in? i don't know. but as with their racial identity, these chicks need white people for their feminism, to help them define themselves.


This is exactly right. Look at the work of Amy Tan or Maxine Kingston. Tan's book is about Asian women assimilating into white culture through learning English, attracting white men, and being part of the grand ol' orientalist story of the heathen Chinee learning the ways of the white man. Kingston's Woman Warrior is about learning from the West and implicating and emasculating the Asian man based on Western standards (and Kingstonian lies). In the Kingstonian world, white is normal. Asian is pathological. The entire foundation of Kingstonism AND Asian American feminism has been to raise whiteness on a pedestal. Hence you see the racial dichotomy in feminist films like "Falling For Grace" and "Red Doors," where attracting a white man is seen as an important step to take in life, something that all liberated Asian women do. Meanwhile, the Asian heroine goes far out of her way to leave Chinatown and all of those Chinamen in Chinatown in order to find her true identity as an Asian American woman. Most of these movies don't even have an Asian male suitor for the white man to compete with. The Asian man is so degraded by these "Asian American feminist" works that the he doesn't even possess an individuality; he's just one more Asian male body in the whole Mongol horde.

This is why I say that Asian American feminism is racism, or that it has historically perpetuated racism. What else has it done, other than reinforce the same orientalist values that we've known and experienced for years?

Now--and this is to acknowledge the excellent points made by Xian and Cattygurl over the past week--it may be possible for Asian American feminism to re-invent itself. I personally do not like the Asian American feminist label, since carriers of that banner have been responsible for much anti-Asian racism in this country (i.e. the racialized stereotypes perpetuated by "Falling for Grace"), but if Asian American women decide that they need a more feminist approach to solving problems, I'm all for it. But in doing so, they will have to differentiate their movement from the prior Asian American feminist movement of the past. This isn't my rule; this is a rule of leadership. You can't take a movement with a broken reputation and expect to get anywhere with it. If you had the best battleship in the entire navy and called it the S.S. Benedict Arnold, no one would want to be a part of it. And if people joined it, they'd fail at anything they attempted. Such is the power of reputation and culture.

To put this into context, a few days ago, I went to a birthday party for the mother of a friend. The birthday party was held at a restaurant on the east side of Portland called Rheinlander. It is housed in a beautiful German style building (see picture above), and they serve great German food. What is of particular interest in this case, though, is that the restaurant takes German culture beyond the food. The waiters and waitresses all sing in German, and they have an accordian player who walks around the restaurant and plays German music. The entire staff carries German pride with them, and they know their traditional music and style (I don't know if they're actually German, but they look like they are!).

Now how does this relate to Asian American feminism? It's simple: Germany rebounded from its reputation as an instigator of genocide and racism. They left WWII with perhaps the worst reputation in modern history--not only did they democratically elect a mass murderer and an anti-Semite, but they entire German population watched him murder 6 million Jews as he undertook a massive campaign to take over all of Europe and eventually the world. Today, Germany is once again a leader in Europe. Racism is under control, and while people won't forget the crimes that the German government committed almost seventy years ago, people also can see beyond that reputation.

How did Germany do this? They took responsibility for it. They apologized profusely to the people whose lives they damaged, and they cooperated with the world in order to make amends. They banned Hitler's Mein Kampf. To this day, you cannot legally possess a copy of that book in Germany because it's against the law. There is no ambiguity about it.

Now Kingston's attacks on Asian men are obviously not nearly as serious as war crimes, but any future Asian American feminism must take history into account. If there will exist a movement that calls itself "Asian American feminism," I believe that it must disown the previous thirty-five years of negative activism created by the Kingstonians. Leaders cannot allow that ambiguity to hang over the heads of the people they seek to lead. What Kingston did was either misguided or wrong--because clearly the Chinese word for "slave" and "woman" isn't the same, and clearly footbinding wasn't nearly as pervasive as she portrayed it. The end result was a form of feminism that did nothing to help Asian Americans, whether they be men or women. As maogirl says of Asian American feminism, "it hasn't accomplished anything of value."

I myself am open to a new Asian American feminism, if that is what Asian American women feel is necessary to bring about equality. There is no doubt that sexism still exists, and if a feminist movement is necessary to get people to recognize sexism, I'm all for it. Let's fight inequality on all fronts. As Xian wrote in his feminism post, we basically want to change the world. So let's do it by setting the right foundation, one which brings us together and focuses on truth and gets away from the mistakes and mischaracterizations of the past. We've got the intellectual capital, the physical capital, and everything else we need to change the world as it needs to be changed.