Friday, April 01, 2005

Color on Color Verbal Brutalities

I wrote this short piece in response to this article by Kil Ja Kim concerning Shaq's slurs against Yao Ming and Chinese Americans in general and the subsequent response from the Asian American community.

I do strongly agree with Kim--the stereotyping of African Americans displayed by some members of the Asian American community in responses to the Shaq incident is utterly unacceptable.

However, the stereotyping that the article writer shows toward the Asian American community is also utterly unacceptable. There are plenty of Asian Americans fight hard to address stereotypes of African Americans. The idea that she shouldn't fight racism against Asian Americans because some Asian Americans don't fight racism against African Americans is just the type of internalization of institutional racism that she claims to be so opposed to. When the "Ghettopoly" fiasco occurred, there was plenty of negative backlash from some in the African American community against the Asian American community in general, not just the game's author--"Chinkopoly" anyone? But that didn't stop a lot of us from signing petition after petition and writing articles condemning the game. Of course, I'll make the same point I made in the article I wrote then--the game was bad, but the strong reaction and demolishing of the game creator's business had a lot more to do with the fact that he was non-white and a single person than it did with the content of the game. The floodgates opened and he was crushed by the flood of white guilt eager to eradicate racism in one tiny manifestation while ignoring the more powerful of its myraid forms. Abercrombie and Fitch assaults people of color from every community and they still grow more properous by the day.

The section she quotes from Tang's work:
“I think for too long there has been a double standard in American media when it comes to blacks and the racist comments they make. If an Asian or white or any other group would have made similarly racially insensitive comments about blacks, the black community (i.e., Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the NAACP, by the way it should be NAABP because really they only represent the blacks and not all people of color like their acronyms [sic] suggest ‘National Association of Advancement for Colored People’) would be in an uproar. Why isn’t Jesse Jackson or the ‘honorable’ Al Sharpton up in arms when blacks make racist comments? Just pure hypocrisy, that’s why!”
is poor work and wrong and does stereotype in the way she claims, but that's a call for POC of color to self-educate, not to in-fight.

She's right that it is untrue that there is a "double-standard" that favors racist speech by African Americans against Asian Americans. The problem is that people are making a miscomparison. This society is framed by white racism, not black racism. So compare black racism against Asian Americans to white racism against Asian Americans--Look at Hot 97--when colored people attack Asian Americans they get torched, when white people do so (like McNally, Parcells or ten dozen other white public figures) what happens? They continue to advance.

She is also right that minority groups are wrong to fight each other and slur each other to win crumbs thrown from the white table of prosperity. But it's not like Asian Americans are the only ones doing this. Just last year in Chicago, African American and Latina/o American groups stepped aside while public contract codes were re-written to exclude Asian Americans from affirmative action. Why? Because they were worried they might lose "theirs". This is a built-in social mechanism of white institutional racism that people in every ethnic group are often complicit in perpetuating. It must be attacked and destroyed, but once again, not through further in-fighting, but internal education and collaboration. As Immortal Tech says, "
As different as we have been taught to look at each other by colonial society, we are in the same struggle and until we realize that, we'll be fighting for scraps from the table of a system that has kept us subservient instead of being self-determined." He's talking about Latina/o Americans specifically, but the principle applies across ethnic lines. His prescription for the problem is quite similar to the one prescribe by an anonymous Chinese immigrant as he sat in his cell on Angel Island:
Immortal Technique:
"In other words, I don't want to escape the plantation--I want to come back, free all my people, hang the mother-fucker that kept me there and burn the house to the goddamn ground."

Anonymous poet (translated from Chinese):
Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,
I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.

(You can find this at

This is my biggest problem with Kim's column, she narrowly defines the Asian American response and then associates the entire community with it. She chooses to ignore the concrete positive ways that we have fought for our ourselves and everyone else this society oppresses. She refuses to acknowledge the immense work and courage Tang put into his crusade to bring the Shaq issue to light and the ways that Griego Erwin has worked ceaselessly to battle racism with her wide-circulation column: (an example follows in the link)

To illustrate this further, Griego's original column on the O'Neal situation can be found here, and this is hardly a racist hatchet job.

I see no problem in being constructively critical of our ethnic empowerment movement--I would hope--fuck it--beg, that Kim and anyone else do so. But read Kim's concluding passage--she does not provide or encourage a better response, she is resigned to wait for it. She does not suggest an alternative to signing the petition, she simply says, "I don't condone O'Neal, but I'm going to sit her and not condone it." And then she implies that there is no non-racist response to O'Neal from the Asian American community and doesn't expect one in the future.

I'm sure you can convince yourself that there is no sun if you hide indoors. If she really doesn't like the racist injustice that occurs in our society, instead of turning her nose up at individual responses that she disapproves of, why not fight it constructively in a way that sets a shining example rather than cynically tearing down other people of color's courageous (and flawed) attempts to address the issue? (Note: I realize that she does do this heroically in some of her other articles/poetry. Please check them out.)

Ms. Kim does do great work outside of this article. Even within this article, she shows great insight into the problems that hold back the African and Asian American communities from cooperating with each other. I can't understand why she chooses in the article to contribute to the problem, but I'll reserve judgement on her. I hope she will do the same for the Asian American community as a whole, at least to the point that she does not use a single instance of racial stereotyping of African Americans as an excuse to reject the battle that Asian Americans are fighting against racism.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

White people, shut the fuck up about O.J.

Usually when someone passes away, I try to maintain a polite level of discourse around their death; hence the diplomatic title.

With the passing of Johnnie Cochran, the nation loses a formidable crusader for equal rights and equal "protection" under the law. This is man who devoted his life to fighting racial profiling and police abuse and brutality. While the media covered his big-name cases defending black celebrities, Cochran spent more of his time and energy winning cases for working-class African Americans who had been vicitims of law enforcement.

The fact that he will be forever remembered as "The O.J. guy" speaks volumes about the lack of perspective in both the general white community and the media that serves it. For me this took an absurb quality when I found that O.J. was brought up in my Social Studies Methods education class by my affluent suburban, primarily white classmates whenever racial issues were discussed. In one brilliant classroom presentation of Lisa Delphit's book "Other people's children", the presenting group actually closed with a mock book burning and a doll caricature of Cochran burned in effigy.

How bizarre is it for a community to view the murder of one white woman somewhere to be far greater of an atrocity than daily and often fatal brutalization of entire groups of people on the basis of their ethnicity by the very mechanism in society designed to exact "justice"? The holocaust? Shit, that's nothing! There was this rich black guy once who killed some white woman and the court system didn't allow the police to set him up! It was the worst thing ever!

I was appalled that these future Social Studies teachers would have such loud, unresearched opinions on the case and the "stupidity of the jurors" and basically miss the entire point of the defense's case--that the LAPD was not justified in using unconstitutional methods to hunt down a black man even if he may have been guilty. The jury understood this, many folks of color understood this but also understood the corollary--Johnnie Cochran could not be everywhere and could not prevent police attacking people of color in the vast majority of cases.

Today that is the grim reality we face--police forces, judges and prosecutors who are just as bigoted in their application of the law as they were last week, but with no Johnnie Cochran to stand between us and them...

...and a white nation of millions gleeful at this prospect.

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