George Rivera

As a kid I once wondered how blind people experienced race. So did Osagie K. Obasogie. Apparently they “see” it much as sighted people do:

Indeed, Obasogie argues, it is that continual filing away of information, and not any visually obvious reality, that trains us to see race and attach meaning to it. “We are all socialized to see race. But it’s only by talking to blind people that we really get a true understanding of how strong that socialization practice is,” Obasogie said. “What this study highlights is how the things that we think are obvious are often things that society works very hard to teach us.”

More here. Journal article here (pdf format).

Take a good look

Installation by Gardar Eide Einarsson

Visibility. It’s often mentioned as one of the issues faced by Asian Americans.  Because we’re so often left out of discussions about race.

But visibility is an issue for marginalized groups in general.  Because of the white lens.  We see ourselves, sometimes, as they see us through their racist imagination.  And we see ourselves, sometimes, through the lens we have internalized.  We see ourselves through the media, which promotes Amy Chua as our representative.

But we think critically, and we try to unpack the racist garbage that has been stuffed into our heads.  And we reject the Shelby Steeles and the Michelle M@lkins.  We know that despite the brown faces, they are not our sisters and brothers.

It’s easier with the overt supporters of white supremac!st thought.  Identification is easy.  Five minutes of Chua and you’re handed a bag of shit so big you can’t easily deny the stench.

So I initially felt pleased to receive a Chinadaily article link about the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick (although I have some trouble with that hashtag, which I may or may not elaborate upon later) with the byline of Kelly Chung Dawson.   But then I read the darn thing.  And then the follow-up.

Because the articles are just plain irresponsible journalism.  (I should note Dawson probably isn’t a journalist.)

Continue reading

“How a generation of orphans fared …”

Andy Hall for the Observer

Good intentions are not enough.

Because race is critical to well-being.  Because love isn’t enough.  Because playing down the importance of race and ethnicity in adoption is misguided.  Because children shouldn’t suffer disconnection and isolation.  Because transracial adoption should be the last resort.

None of these ideas are particularly new or novel.  Joyce Ladner covered some of the issues in a book published in 1978.  And that was a long time ago.  But apparently it’s still news.  This despite the fact that so many people think we’ve moved past that.  We’re in a post-racial society now.

Now transracial adoptive parents pat themselves on the back for their great parenting, noting that they have made so many changes since the bad old days when people just didn’t know any better.  Noting how full that half-glass is, and not insisting on the full glass for their children, but instead telling them how happy they should be that there’s anything in the glass at all.

Summary of the study here.

Ten thousand somethings

The concept:  To install 100 Jesus heads in public venues.

For some years now, the artist  has used the emerging Jesus head as a symbol of our search for peace and self-realization.

Because of the popularity of Western thought, communion, prayer and other Western practices in mainstream culture, the Jesus image has evolved into a universal icon for peace, its cosmic dimension making it an archetypal symbol that crosses religious lines and reinforces its universality. Balancing between its secular face, popularized on T shirts, seen in garden shops, used by rock bands and trendy restaurants and its spiritual dimension the Jesus image, captures a growing societal longing for peace in an increasingly  fragmented world. Thus it is not surprising to see this iconic image appearing in numerous Eastern public art venues.

Yeah, it probably wouldn’t happen.  Because undoubtedly the image of decapitated Jesus heads scattered around the city would raise some opposition.

But decapitated heads of Buddha?  It’s a real thing in the real world.

At first I was a little intrigued by the project.  But the whole Eastern-Western exoticization really bugged me.  Also, every time I heard somebody say “Buddha head” it gave me a little start.  That’s a derogatory term* and I noticed I have a visceral reaction to it.  Especially coming from a non-Asian or a non-Buddhist.

I also find it disturbing that the eyes are downcast and the head is cut off at the nose, has no mouth and doesn’t appear to have ears.  If I were an art therapist, I’d speculate at length about the meaning:  passivity?  powerlessness?  being voiceless?  No arms, no legs, no body … just that “Buddha head.”  For a piece that is supposed to stimulate dialogue, it appears mute and motionless.  It doesn’t appear to be an “emerging” Buddha.  I read this piece of “art” less as a statement of the artist than as a statement about how Buddhists and Buddhism are viewed in the United States.

*explanation of this would take too long.  So I’ll leave it to somebody else.

It feels like cultural appropriation as well.  Yeah, the image of Buddha is used on t-shirts and is treated like kitsch in gardens and home decor.  The head’s desirability leads to a great deal of looting from temples.  Travel in Asia and the headless Buddha is a common sight.   So treating the image of Buddha’s head as a knickknack or even as an art installation (such as the Ten Thousand Somethings project) recalls continued theft of our cultural heritage.

Ultimately, I think what bothers me is the imputation of “Eastern” exoticization that supercedes and overwrites the true meaning in the majority culture.  It’s about somebody creating ten thousand something elses.  Or something.

Edited to add:  Somebody smarter is already on it:  Article 1  Article 2

They serve vanilla


So a customer wanted to know if Wilcoxson’s delicious ice cream contained pork gelatin.  Of course the president of the company, Matt Schaeffer, was delighted to hear he had a loyal fan and rushed to provide an answer:

“We don’t deliver outside Montana, certainly not Pakistan”

Source.  Here’s the screen capture:

So much going on in that brief nine-word response.

First, it’s factually incorrect.  Wilcoxson’s does deliver outside Montana.  Specifically, it delivers to Sheridan, WY, which the first poster lists on his/her facebook profile.

Second, it’s fairly curt, even disregarding the content.  If somebody claims to “love” your ice cream, it would be good to acknowledge that.

Third, Schaeffer assumed the poster lives in Pakistan.  Which means he maybe assumes all Muslims live in Pakistan.  I suppose that isn’t too bad of a guess, since there are a lot of Muslims there.  He should have guessed Indonesia first, though.  Of course, there are millions of Muslims here, too.  And there’s this little thing called air travel.  Wonder if Schaeffer’s heard of it. I mean I’ve even been near Montana.  Not that I’d brag about it or anything.

Finally, it’s just plain dismissive.  Why wouldn’t you simply answer the question?

In any event, Matt Schaeffer’s pants are apparently on fire.  Because he claims he was overwhelmed with work and just reacted to the facebook user’s icon which read “Pakistan.”  If three brown people can spell out “Pakistan,” that is.

For those who ask “Why does it have to be racist?  Why can’t it just be stupid?” I say “Well, why can’t it be both?”

Photo by seelensturm/flicker

The unbearable whiteness of being

Image composite from Angry Asian Buddhist

The Angry Asian Buddhist* often writes about the invisibility of Asian Americans and the dominance of white people in U.S. Buddhist media.  AAB has looked at the writers published in the various Buddhist rags, created a photo composite of the Buddhist Geeks conference and now has also created one for the Under 35 project (partially pictured above).

Here’s the part I find interesting about the Under 35 post:

If we look at when Asian Buddhist authors submitted their work, we see a huge spike at the end of last year, when the Under 35 Project first went online. But during the nearly six months since Shambhala SunSpace began promoting this project by mostly reposting pieces by white authors, only one Asian author has submitted her work. She wasn’t included in the weekly Under 35 post.

Got that? It’s as if the Shambhala Sun posted a sign.

Henry Sugimoto

The message was pretty clear.

*I note that the AAB is undoubtedly an optimist too, always wishing that maybe, just maybe, somebody will surprise us.  

The diversity project

Go ahead, laugh at me if you want to.  Because this summer I watched almost every episode of The Gl** Project.   Even though I have opined at length about the show’s craptastic craptasticness.   Even though I said from day one that the winner was going to be one of the two white guys.  Not that country-singing one, but the one who actually won and that other one with the brown curly hair.

But it was presented like a Diversity Meritocracy.  Gather ’em all up.  Get a blind black guy, a woman in a wheelchair, a transgender male, a Muslim woman, a Korean American guy, a hapa ? Asian/white ? woman, a plus-size woman, etc.  Round it out with a couple of straight- and cis-appearing conventionally attractive white people.  Then tell everybody that it’s ultimately up to them.  May the best man win.  (And as a side rant, thrown in for free, I wonder how that particular gendered terminology subtly works on the psyche of women.)


Except that a lot of times it isn’t really up to them.  (Shit, why do I even bother to qualify with “a lot of times”?)

I’ve gone on interviews that looked like the diversity project, and I know other readers of color probably have too. We noticed that we were the onlies, and we tried to suppress that little voice that kept telling us that we were just somebody’s idea of show and tell and good intentions.  Because it is impossible to function in a racist society without engaging in active denial sometimes.

One interviewer, trying to “reassure” me:   Last year we had so many others in here, it looked like the third world!

Another interviewer, another location:  We really value diversity here.

Me (looking at all-white environment):  Where?

Once I went to one of those dreaded group interview things and to my great surprise I ran into The Other Asian.  You know how sometimes you run into TOA in an all-white setting and TOA pretends not to see you?  That’s what went down.  She was busy proving how well she could integrate with the majority.  I was busy sending fuck you death rays her way.  No, not really.  And since most of the majority was busy ignoring us, she was really working it.  Which meant very studiously avoiding me at all costs.

In most of those circumstances, you know it’s pretty much already a foregone conclusion that you’re not going to be favored.  But the absolutely most depressing thing is when somebody who is as dumb as a rock is selected instead of you.  Because even that meritocracy stuff doesn’t necessarily matter.  Or there’s that certain je ne sais quoi.  But we do actually know what, don’t we?

Anyway, back to my original rant.

So I had a pretty good idea that the woman in a wheelchair wasn’t going to win.  After all, they already have a guy in a wheelchair.  Not an actual person with a disability, mind you.  Because that would be all inconvenient and what.  But an able-bodied guy playing at disability.

Generally, the rules of the diversity project state quite clearly that you must only have One of Each.  They got rid of that black guy, even though he never did say or do anything anyway.  Yeah, I do know they have two Asians.  But you need a couple of Asians sometimes so you can prove diversity because we (well, not me) are such good model minorities and good sports.  We (again, not me) tend not to make white people squirm around as much.

People of the Muslim faith, on the other hand, do make white non-Muslim people squirm around a lot.  The squirming agency proves it.

But for the most part, just have one of any Other.  Like having a black friend.  Don’t have multiple black friends, and don’t live in a black neighborhood or anything.  One is good enough for credibility.

But wouldn’t it be totally radical if (getting back to employment for a second now) a company that talks about trying to increase diversity hired multiple Others?

Not going to happen on this show, though.  Although nobody ever bets me.  Mostly because none of my friends are as dumb as rocks.

I was actually shocked that two Others made it to the finale.  Although this is sometimes a good strategy to show your open-mindedness.  Similarly, don’t ever eliminate the black guy right away.  It looks bad, even if he is a terrible candidate.

Also, if you’re going to pick a white guy, make sure everybody knows he knows what it’s like for us people of color, too!  Because he’s the “whitest half-Cuban ever.”  Yeah.

But I kept watching.  Because for some reason I still keep hoping beyond hope.  Even though I curse myself and tell myself how stupid I am afterwards and then have to go take a long hot bath and use lots of soap.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to soap up the crevices in the grey matter enough.

Finally the boss man says that there is only one person who could fill the slot.  And you know who that person is.  But it makes you wonder why it took so long.

In the end, the diversity project is simply a show.  We watch it and it looks good sometimes and we root for our people and we thank well-meaning white people because we know they tried, they really tried.  But we just weren’t good enough.

What color were the rest?

So you probably saw the video making the rounds yesterday.  It was of six teens beating up on an Asian high school student.  Somebody taped the assault and posted it to Youtube.  As a result, seven teenagers have been charged.

This morning I woke to hear the radio news announcer reporting on this case.  He said, “At least three of the teens are Asian themselves.”

Good to know.

Story here.  (Don’t watch the video.)  Although the Sun-Times notes “Most of the offenders visible in the video appeared to be white.”