June 30, 2008

White Cafe


This is just too funny. (Thanks to urB4N for posting.) Evidently there is a cafe in Japan where Japanese women go to get served by white guys. According to the presentation, the owner came up with the concept by walking through Shibuya and asking 200 Japanese women what they wanted. They apparently "all told her the same thing," that they wanted a cafe where the waiters were "male, good looking, would treat them nice, but most importantly, were Western." And so owner's dream was consummated with Butler Cafe that employs only white guys as servers!

By the way, it's interesting to note the dual terminology that CNN uses. On the top bar, it says "lah[reporter's name].white.cafe," but throughout the program, they avoid using the term "white;" they refer to the white guys as "Western." If you look at the servers though, they're all white as snow. That has to be a media relations thing; you can only imagine the outcry if CNN made a story about how Japanese women prefer "white" guys. With "Western," you can blame the pro-white racism on culturism! This lets people say, "It's not because of my race, it's because of my culture! And who doesn't love other cultures! Culture is good, maaaannnn!!!"

Also, it's pretty interesting to see what qualifies as a white "Prince Charming" in Japan:


(Though I'm not a woman...maybe "Prince Charming" really is as hot as he thinks...)

I really don't know what to say. This is something that is taking place in Japan, and as Asian Americans, there isn't much at the present time that we can do. So rather than get bent out of shape over what we can and can't control (though as always, it's fine to vent!!!), I'd just like to dedicate two music videos to some of the people involved.

First, here's one for Mr. White and Sexy above:

"I'm Too Sexy" from Right Said Fred.

Second, here's one to all the non-white men from western countries who have been excluded from the white cafe:

"Where is the Love?" from Black Eyed Peas

June 27, 2008

The Silent Fight Masters

I saw this article in the NYTimes a few days ago. It's about communities, neighbors, and how American society has become more fragmented throughout the years. The author references one of my favorite books of all time, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. If you have time, check out some of the comments on the Times article. If you have more time, pick up a copy of Bowling Alone. I can all but guarantee that this book will deepen your understanding of the communal bonds in society that have become increasingly rare in modern living. As far as the article itself, there are probably a thousand ways to read it and a thousand separate lessons that one can glean from thinking about it, but I'd like to relate it to Asian American activism.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Connie Young Yu, a Chinese American historian. I met her through an introduction from my high school English teacher, and I was told that she was one of the pioneers of Asian American activism. My goal was to talk to her about activism, and though I didn't know much about her, I knew that she was part of Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, and Curtis Choy's crew, and I knew that she was instrumental in creating the Asian American cultural movement in the 60's and 70's.

After making an appointment with Connie, I drove to her house, which was located in a rural area just outside of San Francisco. The rain was pouring down that day, and I remember how wet it was, especially as I had to track through the mud in order to get from my car to her house.

Connie looked like any normal Chinese woman. She was of medium height, spoke English with a relaxed and deliberate cadence, and was concerned with what any other host would be concerned with--whether her guest needed something to drink and eat, where to sit, etcetera. She was very friendly and forthcoming, identifying herself primarily as a historian and not an activist, and talking about her long family history. It was clear that family was very important to her.

As the conversation progressed, she began to talk about her role in Asian American culture during the 60's and 70's. She talked about working with several key historical Asian American figures. What came through in the subsequent discussion itself was Connie's sense of confidence in herself, her place in history as a pioneer of Asian American culture, and her knowledge and experience that came from a life well lived. I was starstruck by this small woman who had achieved so much in her lifetime. The experience and strength was evident in her deep knowledge of the times. Connie had chosen to be at the forefront of a new culture, creating it in her own image. Though she and the other activists never achieved mainstream recognition--and Connie herself would probably acknowledge this--they lived authentically. Not many people have the will and strength to do this. The depth of experience coming from an authentic life was palpable.

It's rare to experience this kind of awe in the presence of another human being. An analogy that 44's black belt member Xian used to describe this sense of awe was the martial arts master. There are some masters who have practiced karate or kung fu for decades. They may be older, they may not be as loud or as forceful as they used to be, and they may now be very quiet and soft-spoken, tempered by years of repetition. But when you come into the presence of such a master, there is no mistaking their depth of knowledge. They know everything that you would want to know, plus they know much that you will never be able to know. Their years of study and mastery create an instant aura of respect the moment you meet them. Meeting people of this level of knowledge and experience, as Malcolm X described his first meeting with Elijah Muhammad, is like being in the presence of the sun. The acolyte defers to the master.

I've felt the same kind of awe when talking to other Asian American activists of that generation. When these people started changing the world, there was no unified entity or conception of Asian American culture. Frank championed traditional Chinese culture, Lawson learned from his experiences in the camp, and Connie reported on Chinatown, and they, along with others, helped Asian American activists to reconceptualize their lives, history, and future. The task at hand required an enormous amount of creativity and initiative. It took tremendous strength and thought to create a culture based on truth, when the alternative of relying on stereotypes was such an easy and ready possibility.

The film "What's Wrong With Frank Chin," which Thymos will bring to Portland in two weeks, demonstrates the depth of experience that this generation of activists had. The film has rare footage of Chinese and Japanese American counter-cultural types living during the 1960's, people dressed like hippies, learning freedom, and exploring their culture as people did during the 1960's. This kind of experience was lived forty years ago and will never ever be lived again. Our leaders of the time are the only ones who know the stories of that time, and they are the only ones who can tell it.

Going back to the original Times article and relating it to activism, creating community with people of different experiences transcends anything that we can do on the internet or even by reading. There are amazing analytical minds on the Fighting 44's, but the internet has been a mixed blessing. While it has succeeded in finding and uniting great minds from everywhere who can collaborate on intellectual questions concerning Asian America, it also fragments people, creating "invisible lines" that distract us from the real life communal experiences that allow us to fully understand life. How can you fully know a person without seeing the daily troubles that that person goes through? How can you understand the full depth of a story without hearing from someone who lived it? Reading and writing are great for intellectual ideas, but it can only go so far without being backed by action. When it comes to truly understanding anything that has to do with other people, the task goes beyond mere words. Think about it--would you go to a doctor who only learned medicine from a book? Would you fight the UFC Champion after learning how to throw a left hook from a book? Social activism and life are no different; they require active participation.

Active participation, I think, was the central idea of the Times article as well as the idea of social capital that Robert Putnam describes in Bowling Alone. It's difficult to break the cycle of fragmentation that is endemic to our modern culture, but to truly understand a person or to understand an action, one needs to become an active participant, and one needs to actively engage other people. This is the main reason Thymos is bringing Frank Chin, Lawson Inada, and Curtis Choy to Portland; we want people to see them, to hear their stories, and to know their accomplishments. We want them here in person. We want people to be able to interact with them, and to have the opportunity to ask questions about what they experienced and what they think about the development of culture.

I'll end with a conclusion that is not really a conclusion but more of a beginning. I think everyone who is interested in changing things needs to get out and touch someone. We've seen this before with many analyses of the racial situation--while discussions can be funny and interesting, and while they are no doubt important and necessary, eventually people want to come to a place where they can exert control over their lives. To do so requires human contact. By creating real community, people will be able to learn from the past rather than guess about the past, and hopefully people can work together to create the future.

Special thanks to the Gold Sponsors who are bringing this once-in-a-lifetime event to Portland and who demonstrate true leadership to businesses around the country. Take it from me, a moderately seasoned activist: activist efforts go nowhere without the support of strong government and business leaders, and we in turn need to support government and business leaders who take a stand for what's right. This is something that has been sorely missing from the dialog about activism.

Thymos's Gold Sponsors for the Frank Chin Event are:

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

Also, see us now on the web at thymos.org and see our complete list of sponsors and program.

June 22, 2008

Chinese Athletes and the Life After

I saw this interesting article yesterday about how athletes in China cope with the sports schools, where they enroll Chinese kids who are very young and teach them nothing but sports. The article was good, and the video was good too--I found that footage of the Chinese athletes in the training room inspiring; it's not often Asian Americans see Asian people training to compete at that level. However, the point of the article was the opposite argument--the gist was that the sports schools' heavy focus on sports can sometimes have a negative effect on other aspects of the athletes' lives.

I know the American media sometimes focuses on less flattering images of other cultures, but this article struck a chord with me. I liked the article because it humanized the athletes' effort. I was particularly touched by the story of the Olympic canoeing champion Yang. The guy is literally among the best in the world, and he's only doing it for the money. It's a sad irony.

June 19, 2008

Lawson Inada at the Thymos Frank Chin Event in Portland, July 11th

Lawson Inada has generously volunteered to serve on the panel of the Thymos Frank Chin Event on July 11th, at Doernbecher Childrens Hospital! Lawson is the Poet Laureate of Oregon--appointed by Governor Ted Kulongoski last year. He is a nationally recognized poet, and he was co-editor with Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, and Jeffrey Paul Chan of Aiiieeeee! the groundbreaking first anthology of Asian American literature. He is one of the featured interviewees in Curtis Choy's "What's Wrong with Frank Chin," and we are fortunate and appreciative of his support and participation in our event. He will be running the panel with Curtis Choy, filmmaker and director of "What's Wrong with Frank Chin."

I had the fortune of seeing Lawson speak last year at one of the governor's events, and I can attest to the fact that he is an absolutely dynamic speaker. Having gone through the Japanese American internment camps during WWII, his poems, essays, and speeches contain a lifetime of experiences.

For those of you who will be attending our two day event, you will have the opportunity to see three legendary pioneers of Asian American literature and activism. And what's best is that it's absolutely free--our generous sponsors (whom I will speak about in a future essay) are covering the bills because they believe, as Thymos does, that there should be no price to pay for recognizing our cultural heroes. This is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event, and if you are in the Portland area and can make it, we will welcome you. For more information, pm me or e-mail me at naruguard-44***at**yahoo.

From http://www.oregonpoetlaureate.com/
Lawson Fusao Inada is an emeritus professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Inada is the author of five books: Legends from Camp, Drawing the Line, In This Great Land of Freedom, Just Into/Nations and Before the War. He is the editor of three important volumes, including the acclaimed Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese-American Internment Experience. On two previous occasions, in 1972 and 1985, Professor Inada won Poetry Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and his work has appeared in The Best American Poetry.

In addition to these individual publications, Inada has written critical introductions to a number of works, such as John Okada's No-No Boy.

He is also a contributing editor for the Northwest Review and was the narrator for PBS specials on "Children of the Camps" and "Conscience and the Constitution." In 2004 he was one of only 185 artists, scholars and scientists chosen from a nationwide pool of 3,200 applicants to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is currently serving as the Steinbeck chair for the National Steinbeck Center, a forum established to promote a community-wide celebration of literature in the tradition of John Steinbeck.

Inada has been recognized by the President of the United States, appearing at the White House in "A Salute to Poetry and American Poets." His poetry volume Legends from Camp (1992), received the American Book Award and was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. He is a winner of the Governor's Arts Award (1997), the Oregon Book Award (for Drawing the Line, 1997), and the Pushcart Prize (1996) for poetry.

In 1997, he was awarded a Creative Arts Grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and his work has been the subject of a documentary titled "What It Means to Be Free: A Video about Poetry and Japanese-American Internment" and an award-winning animated film of "Legends from Camp" made in collaboration with his son, artist Miles Inada.

June 18, 2008

The Fighting 44s on SF Gate

I saw this article by Jeff Yang from Efren at the 8Asians website. (Don't click on Efren's article if you're at work--it may not be work safe.) As you all know, Jeff was the founder of A Magazine a while back, and he still writes often about Asian American issues. I posted one of his articles on this blog before (and coincidentally, I got the article from Efren at 8Asians again).

Jeff's article is about heterosexual interracial relationships among Asian Americans, while Efren's is about homosexual interracial relationships. While I would agree with Efren's opinion that gay Asians have it worse, I still don't think he fully understands the heterosexual position. It's not about who has it worse; it's about recognizing inequality and doing what we can to understand that inequality.

Anyway...our own site is mentioned in Jeff's article, and our own Dialectic the Stealth M.C. is quoted:
As blogger Dialectic wrote on the popular Asian American online forum TheFighting44s (where four out of the top five most popular posts relate to interracial relationships): "If heterosexual white male patriarchy and what it did in the world were not so powerful, I think it would be fair to say that Asian American women and men would be 'out-dating' or 'out-marrying' at similar rates, and that we wouldn't elevate whites, denigrate ourselves, or worry about whether we're sexually and personally worthy of others to nearly the same extent that we do now."

Not only is it good to see the Stealth M.C. quoted in the mainstream news for tens of thousands of (edit: SF Gate has 8.1 million unique visitors a month) people to see, it's also good to know that we're popular, and it's good to know that people are reading stuff on our site. Keep up the good work, everyone, and keep the dialogue going!

June 17, 2008

Obama and Black People in France

france1.jpgI'm blogging a lot about Obama these days. The truth is that whether you like him or not, his candidacy and his status as the first black nominee of the Democratic Party are having repercussions around the world, and he will continue to change the national dialogue not just for African Americans but for all minorities all over the world.

Today, the New York Times printed an article about Obama's influence in France. Evidently black people in France are inspired by his candidacy and are beginning to assert themselves culturally.

It was funny because I read this paragraph:
A new black consciousness is emerging in France, lately hastened by, of all things, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States. An article in Le Monde a few days ago described how Mr. Obama is “stirring up high hopes” among blacks here. Even seeing the word “noir” (“black”) in a French newspaper was an occasion for surprise until recently.

and was thinking that it was purely intellectual and questioning, kind of like the way we privileged, middle class Asian Americans are emerging. Then I read
Meanwhile, this past weekend, 60 cars were burned and some 50 young people scuffled with police and firemen, injuring several of them, in a poor minority suburb of Vitry-le-Fran├žois, in the Marne region of northeast France.


I hate to say it, but France and Europe may need this kind of action. They've never had a civil rights movement, and a lot of racism in Europe just simmers. Take, for example, soccer. There is so much racism in European soccer, and so little of it goes unchallenged. See this video:

I can't imagine this sort of thing continuing unchanged if the "leader of the free world" is black.

June 16, 2008

Obama says Asians are short

Thanks to Jun from 8Asians who posted this.

At around 3:00 into this interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Kimmel asks if he can dunk, and Obama says:
There's pretty good basketball in Hawaii but the only thing is, since obviously there are a lot of folks from Asian ancestry in Hawaii, generally the teams aren't as tall. So I was going down and posting up quite a bit.

Not too long ago, the 44's had a similar discussion on the "short Asian" stereotypes here.

I am disappointed that Obama would say something like this, much as I was disappointed when he responded to 80/20. On the 8A website, I mentioned that maybe it's a Hawaii thing; I've noticed that people from Hawaii have a different way of talking about race as people on the Mainland. One would still think that Obama would've been more sensitive to the mainland issues here. From the video, it looks like he wasn't trying to make a joke, but it's a bit strange that a major party nominee would say this, especially given the people of different colors within his family tree.

Anyway, it won't change my vote, but it does make me think about how far society needs to progress in talking about Asian American race issues.

June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day from Barack Obama

Saw this today.

Obama is taking a super risky strategy, and I'm loving it! This is awesome! Yes, I'm a liberal, but I also have some conservative leanings, and I hate the victim mentality. Of course Obama is not the first African American person to empower his people by creating a message primarily of responsibility: Bill Cosby did it, and Malcolm X did it before him. But Obama, to my knowledge, is the first outward proponent of this "responsibility" philosophy to simultaneously:

a) Have a strong standing with black people
b) Have a strong standing with white people
b) Have the charisma to say what he says while connecting with people

I was surprised that Cosby wasn't able to connect with people, especially after he put his money behind his words by paying for kids' college tuition (which I thought was awesome). Malcolm connected with people, but he got pushed out of the mainstream because of his more incendiary public statements. Obama has a special gift of oratory and connection that allows him to truly connect with people, AND he has a good standing in both communities. He's getting some great opportunities, and he's really using them well. I hope it'll help him win the presidency.

By the way, I'm waiting for more Asian American leaders to tell it like it is. I'm waiting for one of our leaders to stand up on Father's Day and say, "You know what, we gotta end this IR disparity! Together! Once and for all!"

(That's a joke. Kind of.)

From the beginning of the article:

CHICAGO — Addressing a packed congregation at one of the city’s largest black churches, Senator Barack Obama on Sunday invoked his own absent father to deliver a sharp message to black men, saying “we need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception.”

In an address that was striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it, Mr. Obama directly addressed one of the most delicate topics confronting black leaders: how much responsibility absent fathers bear for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans. Mr. Obama noted that “more than half of all black children live in single-parent households,” a number that he said had doubled since his own childhood.

“Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to “just sit in the house watching ‘SportsCenter,’ ” and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

June 14, 2008

Blogging in Different Cultures

kanetsuna.JPGI had read a while back that Japanese had surpassed English as the most common blogging language in the world, and that the typical Japanese style of blogging was different. I was casually aware of most of the facts presented in this web video (click on "featured video, Blogging Japanese Style"), but the interviews with the Technorati board member and the food blogger made the differences more human. Blogging in Japan, as with blogging in the U.S., reflects the culture of the people creating the blogs and articles, and the blog culture represents the way many people in the culture think.

Joichi Ito from Technorati sums it up well:
I think alot of the American image of blog posts is posting to the public. How can I get more traffic to my blog? What do I have to say to the world? Whereas in Japan it's usually to your five or ten friends. A lot of it is writing stuff that you talk about when you meet, and then a lot of it is writing about what you did when you met.

I'll trust Mr. Ito's expertise when evaluating the Japanese market, but in the U.S., I can say from experience that he's spot on. With the exception of our editor Dialectic the Stealth MC, who is using the proceeds from the google ads on this website to upgrade his ride from a Lexus to a Porsche, and publisher Lopan, who is trying to catch up with Jerry Yang, I think most bloggers and commenters on this website are trying to reach a lot of people just to reach people. The questions are typical for an American blog: How do we get more people here? How do we increase our exposure? How can we change the world?

(In all fairness to the Stealth MC and Lopes, we all know it's not just about the Benjamins. World domination also plays a big role in the master plan. Bwahaha...[insert evil laugh like the one in Michael Jackson's Thriller].)

There are a few basic points that the video makes:

1. The Japanese blog a lot in part because they are a middle class society with access to mobile technologies.

2. Most Japanese bloggers write for their small circle of friends rather than for the world.

3. Japanese bloggers tend to stay away from politics and other divisive issues. They tend to say nice things about people. As the program host says, "Americans blog to stand out, while the Japanese blog to fit in."

4. Comments on blog posts are unusual.

That interview with Junko Kanetsuna put things into perspective. While I understand how a person could love food and blog about the different foods she has eaten, it would seem unusual to me that she could blog for three years and not comment on bad food, rude service, or high prices. Hard opinions are what I would expect her readers to look for. If I were blogging on her site, that would be the first topic I'd approach. But then again, that's an American-like view, which is the point of the video.

The lack of comments on Japanese blog posts also seems funny to me. For example, I can't imagine the 44's being interesting without the participation of the commenters. People come to this site for the commentary and criticisms of the blog posts as much as they do for the blog posts themselves. Often the conversations become much more interesting than the original posts themselves, both on the blog and on the forum. It helps us all because we learn from each other. Plus, we inform those who only lurk on this site.

It's a very strange phenomenon because we really do absorb the influence from whatever culture in which we live. Our values, ideas, and goals are influenced in large part by the people around us. There's no one right way of living or thinking, and it's interesting to see how other people around the world think.

What do you all think? (I know not all of our people here are in North America, so I imagine there might be some interesting perspectives.)


PS: On another cultural difference, I thought that dude blogging about his son was creepy. I was especially creeped out when I was watching him take pictures of his kid. Some things are just personal, and it's scary for Americans, I think, to learn about a guy posting pictures of a young child on the internet. It's also disturbing for me to think about how this might affect a child, how it might affect his individuality, and how it might stigmatize him in the future. But this, of course, is also an American view. The word for "privacy" in Japanese is borrowed from English ("puraibashii"), and people usually refer to each other by the family name, perhaps denoting the importance of the family unit over the individual. Stigma in this sense might be a problem in the U.S., but perhaps it's not such a problem in Japan.

Another interesting cultural difference...

June 13, 2008

Tim Russert Dies


This is really sad and unexpected.
His signature trait there was an unrelenting style of questioning that made
some politicians reluctant to appear, yet confident that they could claim extra
credibility if they survived his grilling intact.

June 12, 2008

The 3rd Most Dangerous Job in the AA Blogosphere

In terms of reputation, being a 44's blogger is probably the third most dangerous job in the Asian American blogosphere (behind Reappropriate Jenn and 8Asians Bo, though the latter is almost entirely self-inflicted). Because I'm fairly prolific on the site, I'm bound to present some views that people aren't going to agree with. In many ways, the game is stacked against me. The more I post, the more opportunities I have to piss people off. It's a low odds game, and it doesn't always pack that large of a payoff.

So I have a few follow up words about my last blog post. I don't expect to change any views, but there are just a few things that need to be said.

1. Negativity: There are a few points that I need to make about someone's statement that "most ideological blog entries here have to be about what things aren’t." My last blog post wasn't about "what things aren't" but rather about what things are and what we need to do to fight against a dangerous philosophy and a dangerous demogogue. I'll pull back from the demogogue thing if it makes people more comfortable, but I still think it's a dangerous philosophy.

Still, if I'm reading everyone's complaints correctly, people want a more positive message.

I agree with everyone about positive messages, but I think it's also important to talk about where we are today. I'm reading the "Feminine Mystique" right now. I'm more than halfway done, and I've not yet read a single constructive, prescriptive suggestion from Friedan in the entire first half of the book. So far it's nothing but complaining about how oppressed women are, how Freudian thought oppresses women, and how housework stifles the mind. "Why We Can't Wait" by Martin Luther King started out the same way--it was all about how things are so bad that "We Can't Wait." It's about how white people oppress black people with laws and violence. It's really quite depressing, and the negativity is crazy.

However, most activist literature is similar. Activists start by describing the problem. That's how most solutions are framed. Those books are well read because they tell the truth. In my view, you can't really talk strategy until you know where you're at. So if I'm negative, it's because we're in a negative situation. And we need to recognize the status quo before we can change it. I'm really not all that out-of-the-ordinary in how I describe this.

2. Negativity 2: I think people also need to realize that negative news sells better than positive news. I've looked through my blog posts, and whenever I write about people like Daniel Inouye, Khoi Vinh, Helen Zia, or Ruby Chow (and they're there--just look for them), I never get any comments (props to Lopan for saying something about Vinh). These people are leaders and trailblazers in our community, but no one says anything about them. Natalise has more comments than Senator Dan Inouye, Khoi Vinh, Helen Zia, and Ruby Chow combined! I rarely break double digit posts unless I say something about Hong Kingston or feminism or anything else that gives people a reason to fight.

This is just the way things are, so no need to change; I'm just pointing it out. Other blogs are like this too--dailykos and gawker operate the same way. But please realize too that I'm being positive too. It's just that my positivity usually goes unnoticed, as it does on virtually all the other sites out there.

The only exception, of course, is when I post things either about Obama or Ultimate Fighting. All I can say is "Thank God for Ultimate Fighting." At least there's one place where I can find love for my posts. Thank you kimtae and Rebel for supporting me when I post on this stuff. Dana White for President.

3. Strategy: I think I've mentioned many times before, but strategy can't be done over the internet. This blog is good for news, and it's good for sharing views and intelligence. If we're going to strategize, we do that in person. The internet format just doesn't lend itself well to that kind of activism. Even net warriors like Obama for America meet in person. I hope people are not blaming me for the limits of the internet, and I hope we can take it to the next step when we meet in August.


The last thing I want to remark on is my thesis itself, the idea that Kingstonism must be stopped.

I've fulfilled my promise of shutting up and listening, but still, after three or four days of me not posting, no one has posted anything positive that Kingston has contributed other than just being there and drawing attention to Asian people, a criteria which could be applied to just about any Asian American, including Michelle Malkin, John Yoo, and all the other "disgrasians."

I imagine that Maxine Hong Kingston, were she the main character in "It's a Wonderful Life," would jump off the bridge only to see a world where Asian men and Asian women were represented together in media, where we had a thriving intellectual culture, where we lived with trust and happiness, where Asian American women avoided the suicide problem, and where Asian American people had the confidence to become great athletes, politicians, and whatever else they would want to become. Michael Lohman would be too damn scared of Asian women to pull off any of that disgusting fluid nonsense. I'd probably be arguing FOR Falling For Grace since it would be so rare to see a WM/AF in the movies. Fallout Central would be a TV show because the media would be dying to hire Asian guys.

I'm joking, of course, but if you look at the historical record, it was definitely heading in this direction until the early 70's when "Woman Warrior" came out. Sessue Hayakawa was a leading man pre-Kingston, as was Bruce Lee. Asian American culture began thriving with Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, Connie Young Yu, and others. We were on the road to great intellectual achievements. And then the great hijack took place.

I'll try to make my arguments less personal, but as you can probably tell, I'm very much a big believer that Orientalism is a problem, and I wouldn't have pointed the finger at Kingstonism if I didn't believe it was at the heart of the problem. As you all know, we're raising money for Frank Chin to come to Portland, and I can't tell you how many times Asian Americans have said that they want someone more mainstream. It's not even white people who object; a lot of times it's our "own" people. Certain people have explicitly voiced their preference for something more "mainstream," and "Kingston" and "Tan" have come up. Some might say that it's a function of white America that they're popular, but I think that denies agency to the Asian American people who have helped to re-create and enforce this system of orientalism.

Contrast this to the fanfare that was in the air when Amy Tan visited. It may sound like I'm talking about a harmless trend, but this orientalism affects everyone here in spirit, energy, and money (and I can tell you a thing or two about this). I don't think people can understand the depth of Kingstonian thought until people have been on the ground trying to raise money, talking to people, and seeing how the politics take place. It's ironic that most would consider a book like "Joy Luck Club," where women cut off their flesh for soup, more mainstream than "Banana Boys," a story of Asian people just going through life. As they say, money talks, and it's true. Comparing this years fundraising efforts with last year's Vincent Chin event, it's clear to me that people won't go against the status quo unless some Chinese person literally dies. I just think that's too late. Why should we wait for culture to reach a boiling point before acting against the status quo? I was remarking to William from Fallout Central that had I known the market for Asian American gender representation, maybe I would've opted for something more mainstream. Maybe we could have had a "Falling for Grace" or "Joy Luck Club" fundraiser for our event. Shit, maybe I could just dye my hair blonde and become a rice chaser. We put so much effort into our activism only to have a dangerous philosophy sideswipe our efforts.

So this is my view. If we still disagree, I hope we can do so respectfully.

June 11, 2008

Evolution vs creationism in the letters section

I saw this in the New York Times today.

To the Editor:

Re “The Cons of Creationism” (editorial, June 7):

The debate over science versus creationism is in part fueled by the
notion that everybody’s opinions and beliefs are equally valid. While in a
democratic society we should be respectful of each other’s opinions and beliefs,
this is not how science operates.

The scientific method has well-
defined rules by which we decide whether a solution to a scientific problem is
correct or not. It is not that we believe or have the opinion that a certain
solution is correct — we prove it scientifically one way or another.

Thus there are right and wrong solutions that may seem unfair,
undemocratic and elitist.
But this is how science advances and produces the
marvelous technological developments that surround us. And this is not a belief.
It is a fact.

Ivan K. Schuller
La Jolla, Calif., June 7, 2008
The bolded section is mine. Schuller is right; you advance when you know your facts or have positions that are defensible. The whole idea of every view being equally valid is incorrect when it comes into conflict with fact and logic. It may sound cold, but that's the way things are.

June 8, 2008

Maxine Hong Kingston, Ignorance, and the Battle for Mainstream Recognition (Asian American Feminism Pt. 4)

hong128.jpg"What in G0d's name??? They let ASIAN-MAN-HATER#2 Maxine Hong Kingston write a new introduction to one of the RARE humanizing portrayals of an Asian man as a s*xually-potent being??? WTF and HTF did THAT happen??? Shyt, why not let David Duke write a new intro to the Autobiography of Malcolm X for chrissakes???"

--"Krome" from Modelminority.com

The dialogue above is a classic from the Asian American blogosphere. I've seen it quoted a few times. This may be the first and only time you see a 44's blog post link to mm.com, but I have to commend the commenter Krome for his insightful observation. While I wouldn't condone the language that followed Krome's quote above (which you can see in the link), I think he's 100% right about the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of the book publishers. Considering the fact that Kingston has spent her entire career emasculating Asian men (through the aforementioned essay by our friend Krome), promoting a culture of pseudo-feminist narcissism (It takes a real egomaniac to name her autobiography "The Woman Warrior," especially when she hasn't even fought anyone or achieved anything of value), distorting important Chinese myths (Mulan and Yue Fei are two different characters), making up lies about Chinese culture (contrary to Kingston's words, the Chinese words for "slave" and "woman" are not the same), and turning Asian American literature into a black hole that sucks the life out of our community rather than uplifts the level of intellect and thought of our people, it's incredibly ironic and hypocritical that the publishers hired her to write the introduction to a book that goes against everything she has spent her career destroying. As Krome correctly implies, letting Kingston write a new intro to "The Lover" is like letting David Duke write a new intro to the Autobiography of Malcolm X. She just happens to be the same color as the people she oppresses.

Recognizing the indefensible lies that Kingston perpetuated about us, these days it seems that Kingston has very little support even among hardcore activists. Reappropriate Jenn, for example, who calls herself an Asian American feminist, usually deflects criticisms of Kingston by saying that there are other--therefore implying better--Asian American feminists, though Jenn still somewhat defends Kingston. She, of course, is right on the first part; wrong to defend Kingston though. AsianBGirl, Sargassosea, and Xian say the same, though without defending Kingston. They too are right.

Where some of us diverge, however, is on our ideas on how to best cope with a mainstream that is hostile towards our own recognition as human beings. We agree on facts, but we somewhat disagree on solutions. I say "somewhat" because we're only slightly off. We probably agree on 95%, but the remaining 5% is the thesis of this post. Some feel that we need to simply find and identify the real feminists, while I think we need to find and identify the real feminists while attacking the power base of the fakes. It's a 5% difference, but it's significant.

Xian writes:
I think we need to waste less time and energy complaining about fake activists and spend more time strategically planning our real activism.

AsianBGirl says:
If it is the case that the majority of APIA feminism is filled with the hype of ideas that Kingston/Tan created, then I will definitely a support a change/redifining of APIA feminism. But in my personal experience, it’s been happening. The only difference is that unlike Kingston and Tan, they’re not acknowledged by white people.

I agree with both of them on the facts. I think Xian is correct in saying that we need to spend more time planning real activism, and I think AsianBGirl is correct in stating that the major difference between Kingston/Tan and others is the acknowledgement on the part of white people.

However, while I agree with Xian and AsianBgirl on the facts, I would probably take a slightly different approach when it comes to activism. (And I'm saying this with the temporality of internet discussion in mind--I hope they'll consider the validity of my arguments and current stance). Given the fact that the toxic Kingstonian "feminism" is mainstream and supported by mainstream institutions, I don't think it's enough to simply concentrate on the good while ignoring the bad. We need to stamp it out and take over the mainstream. Working by ourselves is good for the time being, but ultimately it's not enough, and we should always keep the final goal of conquering the mainstream in mind.

Here's where we agree (I don't know if everyone agrees on #2, but I haven't yet heard any substantial counter-arguments):

1. Kingstonism is mainstream which means that it's the form of Asian American Feminism most accepted by white folk.

2. Kingstonism is a terrible form of feminism and doesn't accomplish anything.

3. There are real Asian American feminists out there.

Here's where we disagree. Xian writes:
It’s my firm believe that if you build “it” (an equitable social justice ideology) they will come.

There is no need to actively destroy mainstream ideas. We merely complete our comprehensive, inclusive agenda, and do outreach.

While I agree with Xian that we need to build it, practically I think we have to go after mainstream coverage. Even if we decide to start small, part of our goals should focus on destroying that which poisons us. We should be intent on destroying mainstream ideas and replacing them with our own so that we can harness that institutional support. My reasoning is simple. Given the reach of the mainstream--through broadcast media, mainstream news outlets, influence in the universities, along with the paid ivory tower figureheads who promote Kingstonism--there is no way that a small band of disparate feminists can maximize their efficiency in getting the message out without taking aim at the mainstream and seeking mainstream support. We eventually want the funding, the airwaves, and the media coverage. Even here as we speak and learn, we haven't yet identified any strong Asian American feminists who are creating the intellectual ideas that can liberate Asian American women from Kingstonian orientalism. Why is it so hard to find them? It's because we are fighting against the tide of the mainstream. We shouldn't be fighting against the tide. The tide should be supporting us. If we don't have the goal of changing the tide, we'll always be swimming upstream. As Noam Chomsky said, the media "manufactures consent" with its pervasiveness and repetition. While we need to build up the real feminists, we also need to stop the fakes and liars.

I think it's clear: Real feminists can't live side by side with the Kingstonians because our ideas don't mesh well with one another. We promote truth; Kingstonism promotes lies and distortions. We celebrate ourselves; Kingstonism celebrates the supposed rescuing of Asian culture by Western culture. We promote compassion; Kingstonism promotes narcissism.

Xian is right in that we need to concentrate on the positive. We need to organize people like Catty, himself, AsianBgirl, Sargasso, Jade, and Nightshade so that we can take our intellectual capital and create something big. On the other hand, our end goal should be to capture the mainstream coverage and to change the zeitgeist. And while we're building up our current capital, we should draw the line right now: we're not Kingstonian.

Think about civil rights hero Martin Luther King. When he filled up those jails in Birmingham with people, he wasn't trying to create a spectacle that only black people would see. He wasn't trying to prove to black people that racism existed. They already knew that. He was trying to enter the conscience of every American and to show that society needs change. We can start small, of course, but our goal should be clear from the very beginning; we want to throw off the shackles of the status quo because we're not like them, and we want to force the mainstream to become like us. We're truthful. We're alive. We know right from wrong. There's no reason for anyone who believes in equality to object to what we promote, and there's no reason for them to mistake us for the other side.

June 7, 2008

The Chinatown Bus

Those of you from large metro areas have probably taken buses like these. I remember taking it once for a ridiculously low rate from Chinatown to Boston. I wondered how they could afford such low rates. (Well, not really, I kind of already knew.)

The NY Times had an interesting article on the economics and culture that surround these buses.

I don't have much comment, but I will say that John Liu is awesome. That guy is going to go far.
“This is an example of immigrant entrepreneurship that has far transcended the immigrant community,” said City Councilman John Liu, a leading figure in local Chinese-American politics. “But as with all things in New York, growth has to be recognized and managed; otherwise we’re left with another Wild West situation.”

The Martial Art of Chess, Wu-Tang Style

rza190.jpgSaw this in the NY Times. They've got a funny multimedia video feature on the page. Check it out!

The article says:
RZA, 38, learned the game when he was 11, from a girl who, as he writes in the manual, also took his virginity. Though he and his cousin GZA, another founder of the group, both love chess, they did not play much when they were younger because, GZA said, they were too poor to own a board.

Now they play chess almost every day, and RZA, holder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation belt — a trophy he picked up last fall at a tournament in San Francisco that featured rappers and martial-arts experts — is turning his interest into a business. On Monday he started WuChess (wuchess.com), a Web site where fans can play chess online, chat, see scores of their games and other personal information, and get news about RZA and Wu-Tang. RZA said that the site might one day offer monthly tournaments, with the winner playing him online.

“The way you have to think in chess is good for everyday thinking, really,” he said, “especially for brothers in the urban community who never take that second look, never take that second thought.”

This is absolutely awesome. Chess is a great way to instill discipline, to learn how to respect the mind, and to give people a community activity to get them off the streets. It's a moneymaking venture, but if it works, it'll do wonders for kids. It's funny too that the Times calls it a "martial art" in keeping with the martial themes of the Wu-Tang Clan. It's fitting though; in Russia and around the world, chess is considered a sport.

Maurice Ashley, the first African American chess grandmaster, has said that chess saved him from the streets. Ashley has also used chess as a way to help kids. But even though Maurice Ashley could whoop RZA in chess while blindfolded, RZA's got the star power. Hopefully this will do some great things for the community.

(The natural question, of course, is whether there is a similar activity that is good for Asian American culture. I have my ideas. I'll share them in August!)

Hillary Clinton Ends Campaign

Hillary Clinton ended her campaign for Democratic nominee for President of the United States today. Obama became the nominee on Tuesday after the primary season ended, but now he's really the nominee now that his chief rival has conceded.

If you've been following my own commentary on this election (both on this site and others), you know that I wasn't too crazy about how Clinton ran her campaign with her attack politics, even though I acknowledge that she's an amazing politician who has more fight than a pit bull. Some of her attacks were her own doing, while others came from her husband Bill. There's a good analysis of her campaign at CNN.com.

At the same time, Hillary undoubtedly broke down barriers for women. She proved that women can have a shot at the highest office in the land. You could see this from the excitement that she generated with women all across the country, and her campaign, even though she didn't win, changed the national dialogue. She should be proud of this.

So now that she has endorsed Obama, it's time for the Democrats to unite the party and move on. Let's get Obama into office!

June 5, 2008

Ruby Chow Dies

I saw this on AAM today, and I found an article about it here.

I remember reading about Ruby Chow in several biographies of Bruce Lee, but I didn't realize what a community figure she really was. Check out this:
She was the first Asian American on the King County Council, elected in 1973 and served three terms before retiring in 1985, and the first woman elected president of a local chapter of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, an international organization that advocates for Chinese immigrants.

and this:
The restaurant evolved into a hangout for CEOs, politicians and journalists. Through the restaurant, Mrs. Chow played ambassador, demystifying the Chinese community and making the culture more widely accepted in predominantly white Seattle.

"People either loved her or they didn't," said Mona Locke, who met Mrs. Chow soon after husband Gary announced his candidacy for governor. "But regardless, they respected her because they understood that she was led by her heart, compassion and conviction."

I also think she was right to fight against calling Chinatown the "International District." It's not "international;" it's Chinatown. Let's call it what it is.

We have so many heroes out there whose accomplishments are not celebrated to the extent that they should be. Ruby Chow was a trailblazer.

(Picture of Ruby Chow from the Seattle Times.)

June 3, 2008

First Black Person on a Major Party Ticket

With his victory in Montana tonight, Barack Obama claimed the win as presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. From the NY Times article:
A last-minute rush of Democratic superdelegates, as well as split results from the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota, pushed Mr. Obama over the threshold of 2,118 delegates needed to be nominated at the party’s convention in Denver in August. The victory for Mr. Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother, broke racial barriers and represented a remarkable rise for a man who just four years ago served in the Illinois State Senate.

Hillary Clinton has not yet conceded, but earlier today she said that she might possibly accept the VP spot were Obama to offer it.

Congratulations, Senator Obama, on your win. Congratulations, Senator Clinton, on a hard fought battle.

The Science of Racism


I'm sure most of you remember the controversy with James Watson just half a year ago. If you don't, you can read about it here. In the controversy, James Watson said that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa ... because all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really".

There was an interesting follow-up interview between Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and James Watson on MSN just yesterday. Read an excerpt of the interview here, and read Gates's follow up here. I like the Gates's follow up because he's right: Watson is a racialist but not a racist. Gates writes:
I don't think James Watson is a racist. But I do think that he is a racialist—that is, he believes that certain observable traits or forms of behavior among groups of human beings might, indeed, have a biological basis in the code that scientists, eventually, may be able to ascertain, that the "gene" is some mythically neutral space and what it purportedly "measures" or "determines" is independent of environmental factors, variables and influences.

Gates clarifies:
But I did leave Cold Spring Harbor convinced that Dr. Watson believes that many forms of behavior—such as "Jewish intelligence" (his phrase) and the basketball prowess of black men in the NBA (his example)—could, possibly, be traced to genetic differences among human beings, although no such connection has been made, and will probably never be made on any firm scientific basis, it seems to me.

In his conclusion he says,
As I drove away from Cold Spring Harbor, I realized that my conversation with Dr. Watson only confirmed something I already, with great trepidation, have come to believe: That the last great battle over racism will be fought not over access to a lunch counter, or a hotel room, or to the right to vote, or even the right to occupy the White House; it will be fought in a laboratory, in a test tube, under a microscope, in our genome, on the battleground of our DNA. It is here where we, as a society, will rank and interpret our genetic difference.

Brilliant observations.

I just want to say that this "racialism" probably affects no one more than Asian Americans. In Asian America, we voice this racialism without fear because it's so ingrained in our culture. Witness, for example, the eugenics debate between one of the bloggers at 8Asians and our black belts Makulita and Minbo. I don't demonize Asian Americans for thinking like the 8Asians blogger, but we need to recognize that it's a problem and that, as Gates says, is so far not based on any real science or fact. And we also need to realize that this racialism isn't "just another" perspective; it's a philosophy of life (and we can refer to it as such since so many Asian Americans believe it) that causes real problems in both individuals and the general culture. People literally kill themselves and others over these so far unsubstantiated racial theories. We need to confront it head-on.

As a means of getting these issues on the table, another blogger from 8 Asians generously recommended that we have a discussion about it. Certain other parties, however, did not respond. Dialectic and I are always ready for debate, as are many of the 44's black belts, as are the guys on Fallout Central. If any racialists ever want to debate the issues or discuss them in real time, our doors are always open, and we are ready. These are issues that affect us and our children, and we will not ever back down from voicing the arguments against blind racism or blind racialism that need to be heard.

June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley dies


Bo Diddley died today.

There are a lot of articles on his contributions on the web today, and from the interviews, it seems that there is general agreement that he was instrumental in creating rock and roll. He unfortunately never received much compensation for his contributions.

From a cultural standpoint, most of us are pretty aware of the racial politics that took place during the 1960's over music. Elvis was talented, no doubt, but his color (or lack thereof) definitely helped him with the music producers in his quest to become "the King." In the Times article above, check out the multimedia section where Diddley discusses race.

Since the discussion of traditional Asian vs. modern Asian often comes up, the 44's might find this section of an article about his famous beat interesting.
Performers as diverse as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen have been inspired by the syncopated Bo Diddley beat — bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp — which has been traced to myriad sources, including the drumbeats of the Yoruba and Kongo cultures. At the Beatles' first American news conference in 1964, a reporter asked John Lennon, "What are you most looking forward to seeing here in America, John?" He replied, "Bo Diddley."

Definitely check out the multimedia section of the first article above. It's interesting and historical stuff.

June 1, 2008

Asian Feminist Jurisprudence

feminism04.gifA few days ago, Sunny Woan, whom I know personally, sent me an article (download it here) that she wrote for the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice Law. In the article, Sunny describes how "white sexual imperialism" affects "Asian feminist jurisprudence." I agree on all the facts presented in the article, and while I don't know if I'd embrace the thesis as it is (I'll explain in an upcoming "Feature" blog post), it's definitely a step in the right direction.

What sets this article apart from other "Asian feminist" works by Asian American women is that it doesn't practice the same "Pin the Tail on the Asian Male" Kingstonian propaganda that normally characterizes so-called Asian American feminism. This is one of few instances I've seen in a mainstream publication where an Asian American female takes the white male patriarchy to task for colonialism and violence. Most so-called Asian American "feminists" gloss over real instances of racial mistreatment by colonialist attitudes in favor of attacking the much easier target of Asian men, and it was refreshing (though I was admittedly somewhat uncomfortable with the discussion of rape, violence, and prostitution) to see real perpetrators questioned.

I will be writing a more comprehensive treatment on Asian American feminism in the next week or two. In the meantime, what do you think of this article? (Even though Sunny is a friend, feel free to share your real views about what she writes. Of course, the same rule applies to anything I write.)

(Image from http://evatt.org.au/news/53.html)