136 posts categorized "race stuff"

April 15, 2008

More On Race And Dolls

It's amazing how the racial politics we've driven somewhat underground seems to collect around certain fetish objects. In this case it's dolls.

A little while ago I embedded a wonderful short video by Kiri Davis called "A Girl Like Me," about black women's body image. The video included archival images of the Brown vs. Board of Education doll study, in which black children were offered black and white baby dolls and asked which they preferred--most preferred the white ones. Then the filmmaker conducted her own repeat of the study with today's schoolchildren, to very similar, and heartbreaking, effect.

Well, if you ever wondered about the other side of the equation, which dolls white children--or their parents--prefer, wonder no more.

This American Life recently did a story by a mixed-race Latina about her time working at FAO Schwartz. Her job was to pretend to be a hospital nurse taking care of lifelike baby dolls which went for $120 and were "adopted" out of a fake maternity ward on the store's top floor. Due to an unexpected publicity boost on a reality TV show, the store was depleted of its stock of white baby dolls right before the holiday season, and our reporter got to see firsthand what happens when upper and upper-middle class white families are only able to adopt babies of kolah for their little girls.

It's profoundly depressing, though not at all surprising if you've been paying attention to race relations at all.

You can listen to or download it here. Skip to Act Three "Babies Buying Babies."

What jumps out at me here is how incredibly unselfconscious--or maybe just unself-aware--many privileged and educated white people are about their own racial prejudices when you put them into situations that aren't typical "racial" situations. That is to say, if nobody is using the "n" word or outright refusing to hire or befriend or sell a house to somebody because of their race, then blatant racism can happen without anyone seeming to care.

The narrator, who passes as white, points out that her customers attempted to collude with her, or at least assumed that she would understand their racial concerns in rejecting the black baby dolls. This suggests that they were aware that a person of color would find their actions objectionable, but assumed that their concerns would be shared by a white person.

What that says to me, and this may be blatantly obvious, is that many white people think that an action is only racist when it is publicly defined as such by a person of color ... or else that racism is a sort of perceptual filter that only people of color use, and as long as they don't catch you at some "racist" action, it's not really racist. Or perhaps the attitude is that these small actions are racist, but in a really small, unimportant way. Just like stealing a candy bar from a 7-11 is theft, but who really cares? Only boring sticklers with poles up their asses.

Minor shoplifting is to be avoided not because it's wrong (is it really wrong to boost a candy bar from an evil corporation?) but because you might get caught and suffer the consequences. After all, how many of us "experimented" with petty theft as children or teenagers? And didn't we do it with friends, to be cool? But would it have been cool if we'd been caught, and publicly humiliated ... like, say, Winona Ryder?

This seems to suggest that many white people aren't so much afraid of being racist as they are afraid of being considered racist. Just like with petty theft, they don't see the broader implications (minimum wage workers can be held accountable for shoplifting on their shifts, and the cost of shoplifting--which can be enormous--is passed down to the consumer and not absorbed by the corporation), don't understand how their private actions can indirectly hurt people they've never met, and don't believe racism exists anymore in any case.

I think that's the crux of the matter: the disbelief that racism exists. And that disbelief is in itself racist, because to disbelieve that racism exists even while you reject black baby dolls for your white child, is to believe that black baby dolls are inherently less worthy. It's not racism, it's fact that blacks are worth less. But this belief lies so far beneath the decisionmaking process that it's invisible, especially when you're putting all your energy into not seeing it.

March 30, 2008

"Clinton has gone too far"

I've just about given up on the left-side Clinton/Obama debate being anything approximating rational.

Obama has impressed me recently with his whorish ability to please opposing types of Democrats simultaneously, and I'm hopeful that this could translate into effective executive skills, although with Obama we just won't know until we know.

But I've almost stopped caring in any case because Obama-supporting online wannapunds have utterly failed to notice how brilliantly whorish--rather than brilliant--his race speech was, and continue to accuse the Clinton camp of the same kind of whorishness, broadly accusing them of racism while refusing to use the word.

Lately people have been saying that "Clinton has gone too far."  Interestingly enough, everybody who expresses this sentiment uses the exact same words. Also interestingly, many of the "gone too far" purporters have identified wildly different incidents as the straw that broke the camel's back. (Some otherwise smart commentatoresses have actually taken issue with Hillary questioning Obama's experience and credentials, as if a presidential candidate's experience and credentials are somehow not fair game. Seriously?)

And many of them have simply not bothered to identify where and how, exactly, Hillary went too far. So where, actually, did Hillary go too far? Or was it Bill who went too far? Is there a difference in people's minds? (And, btw, do I still need to explain why it's a problem to take issue with Bill and blame it on Hillary?)

And most importantly, do you really think they arrived at this opinion independently?

I'm remembering a time I try hard to remind people of (but no one seems to remember it) about 20-12 months ago, when the word on every Dem-voter's lips was "I like Hillary but she's not electable." It was such a pervasive sentence, and was said over and over again by different people in exactly the same word order and tone, that it was impossible not to conclude that the whole thing was a stealth campaign.

Of course, it became so pervasive that the press had to pick up on it, and the moment it broke the surface, Clinton's campaign dispatched it, ruthlessly and effectively. I tend to think the Clinton campaign did a stealth campaign of their own to make the story break cover so they could squash it. No one says that Clinton is "not electable" now. They just say she's "gone too far." How curious.

What I'm also hearing, particularly from black online wannapunds, is that, while before they would have voted for Clinton if she got the nomination, now they won't. WTF? So you, lefty liberation atheologist, with a hard-on for social justice, will vote for fucking John McCain because clueless Clinton hath offended thee? Or, almost worse, avoid the polling place entirely?

Seriously?

That's the point, isn't it? If those of you undecideds out there don't choose Obama, the rest of us Dem-voters will take our ball and go home, and you can just sit there with your President McCain for eight years, kicking yourself for not choosing the Unity Candidate with the Sexy Voice. After all, if you don't choose Unity, then the lack of Unity is your fault.

It's blackmail, of course, but who am I to object to political blackmail? If it's effective, that is.

It's frustrating because I'd like rational debate, but this is an election, and elections are not about rational debate and probably shouldn't be. Because, as I've said before, we should be electing not the person with the best program, but rather the most effective political whore whose program approximates the one we want. So the person who best manipulates the election is clearly the best whore. That may well turn out to be Obama.

Two more points, no three:

Firstly, on the rational debate about the issues tip--which everyone says they want, but nobody really wants--Clinton constantly surprised everyone by how great she was on debates about the isshooz. Every time, in fact. Her only missteps were when she was confronted (read: blamed) for Bill Clinton's policies, when she was confronted with her pro-Iraq-War-whore vote, and when the debate veered away from the issues into the gender/race/electability thing. So here we are in the loooong post-important-primaries wasteland, where the isshooz have pretty much been exhausted and there is nothing new to say. So what are we focusing on? The candidates' identity issues ... where Clinton doesn't do well and Obama, because of his whorishness, does.

Second point: remember folks (why do you keep forgetting?) Obama is only 46. He's a top-end Gen Xer, or else in the crack between generations. Culturally, he belongs more to the later generation. As the brief debate over his supposed drug use suggested, rather than having to assert his non-inhaliness like a Baby Boomer candidate I could mention, he in fact may have exaggerated his drug use in a savvy ploy to speak to his natural constituency. He grew up after the heaviest part of the civil rights movement and during the heaviest part of the feminist movement. His understanding of race and gender politics, purely from a generational standpoint, would have to be different from Clinton's; given his family and personal history, his understanding of both is necessarily more sophisticated.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not. But it's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to appeal to older voters who do not have the same sensibility as you.

By the same token, Clinton is firmly a Baby Boomer and second wave feminist. Her language and understanding of race and gender are Baby-Boom-Generation-determined. Does that mean she's behind the times? Well, she's no more behind the times than most of the rest of her generational cohort. (I won't break that down. I'm not satisfied with her language or concept of these issues, but then I'm a third wave feminist and a Gen Xer.) Does this means she's off-putting to Obama's GenX supporters? Yes. Does this mean that the awkward language and concepts she uses will lead her to support the wrong policies? Well ... not necessarily.

Does it mean that she may not prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Maybe. And does Obama's greater sophistication on these issues mean that he will prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Hmmm ... I somehow doubt it, especially in the light of his race speech which said, pretty clearly, "It's understandable that blacks are so angry, but their anger isn't right. And by the way, whites' anger about affirmative action is just as legitimate so we should all just get along."

And finally, keep in  mind that we're all getting bored with this and want to move on to the main event. This is why we're starting to unravel and shoot ourselves in our collective feets by saying stupid things like "I'd rather vote for McCain than Clinton because she's gone too far!"  It's like a playground where the nerd who doesn't know how to stand around and be cool gets hopelessly ragged on. Or maybe, the adult who doesn't know what "hella" means gets hopelessly ragged on. Earnest Hillary, who is no better than she should be anyway, can't hang out and be cool with the cool kids and Obama can. So, in our after school before dinner boredom, we're beating up on Hillary.

I still don't know who would be the better president, but I'm starting to suspect that all of this adds up to Obama being the better candidate.

March 20, 2008

In Which I Consider Supporting Obama

First, here's the whole speech, in five parts, hi-def:

I'm starting to change my mind about Obama. No, it's not because his baritone turns me on, or his sincerity, intelligence, charisma, and social consciousness get my panties all ... *sigh* ... YOU know. It's because he's a first class pander. Check it out:

"In no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Argh. We all know it's just speechifying, but does he have to be so crass? Or maybe he's so used to playing the exotic for white American oafs, he really doesn't know how mundane his story is compared to the tragedy, mendacity, and exotic parallelism of other stories.

But seriously, that's just a throwaway line all whores politicians have to ... well, throw away. Where he really went onto the reservation was when he sold out his ... er ... "former" pastor, a guy he seems to have unloaded just before all this shit hit the fan. (I wonder why.)

Oh sure, sure, he made a lot of proud noises about how he could no more abandon his poor, old pastor--who was more like family than an advisor, mind you, although he was part of Obama's campaign as recently as late last year--than he could abandon his loving, white grandma, whom he also sold out in this speech. But really, saying that what your pastor (and, until recently, advisor) says in his speeches is just wrong wrong wrong wrong is ... well let's just say it rhymes with "shmelling shmout."

Doubt it? Dude, this is what he said about Wright's comments:

A profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but problems that confront us all.

Do you think he knows what "endemic" means? 'Cuz the PC consensus is that racism is endemic in America. To suggest it isn't is kinda turning back the clock. Oh yeah, and ignoring the deep-rootedness that makes it so persistent. And the whole "elevates what is wrong" bit? Barack, baby, you're denouncing him for seeing the glass as half empty? We get it, you're an optimist. Gah.

Now, the rest of us aren't privy to what Wright says in private about Israel, but his public statements? Duuude, you seem to be putting words in his mouth. Even the freakin' Anti-defamation League has no issue with him. See below. And then to add that whorish politically savvy throwaway line about radical Islam? I'll just leave the wad of cash on the bedside table, mmm?

I think these are all the Wright quotes Obama and pundits are responding to:

Seriously? Except for the AIDS genocide accusation, what part of what he said here isn't true? I mean, weren't YOU expecting Bush et al to plant WMDs? I was. I didn't count on the fact that most of America either wouldn't care that he was lying or wouldn't be literate enough to read about how he lieded. And this is all aside from the fact that that might simply have been a bitter joke.

But the best sellout is the money shot. After eloquently (seriously, my panties again) explaining the bitterness of old time activists like Wright, he actually went forth and paralleled the frustration of African Americans with the current dissatisfaction of middle-class white Americans who went and voted themselves into "two wars ... a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change":

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Then repeat the platform and end on a note of hope in the next generation. (Young white girl and old black man. She joined the Obama campaign because her mother needed health care and she needed food. The ol' black man, of course, joined the Obama campaign for her. Magical. Like "Song of the South." You can almost see them tap dancing together at the DNC.)

Wow, recent white political doopidity = 400+ years of oppression? I love America!

And Barack's gonna let all the white liberals get away with it. He just said so.

So, all sarcasm aside, I'm beginning to believe that Barack is whorish enough to make a go of this politician thing. He's savvy enough to please his entire natural constituency. That was a tightrope walk of a speech and he sold the fuck out of it. And yeah, he'd sell his own grandmother for office ... in public.

I'm starting to love this guy for president. Maybe he'll be my slimeball. Too bad we're not gonna have a chance to see if the other slimeballs will let him play their reindeer games first.

March 02, 2008

SNL's Fauxbama Blackface Thing

Hyphen, as usual, is where I picked up on the public controversy about a non-black multiracial actor playing Obama on Saturday Night Live. (Video above is the second sketch featuring "Fauxbama" Fred Armisen; Hyphen has the first one.)

I saw the previous clip on the SNL site (can't find it now but it's embedded in the Hyphen post above), led there by a discussion about media bias towards Obama, and noticed immediately that the actor playing Obama was wearing dark makeup for the role. My first reaction was, "Oh, boyyyyy ..."

But then, as the sketch played out, I stopped being concerned about it. Why? Why would I be concerned about it in the first place, and why would I stop being concerned after watching the sketch?

It has to do with the nature of "blackface" (or any dramatic portrayal of people of color by white actors). This requires one of my beloved, bullet-pointed breakdowns. Blackface is problematic for reasons historical, intentional, and representational:

  • Historical: blackface was used in minstrel shows and later in blackface sketches in more mainstream vaudeville to humorously denigrate African Americans. Blackface performances found their humor in depicting the worst stereotypes of African Americans. Blackface became most popular during Reconstruction, when the "threat" of black equality was most strongly juxtaposed with a formerly slave culture, and arose out of that racist fear. But these representations have found expression in every era of American entertainment since long before the Revolutionary War.

The length and persistence of this form of racial denigration means that any performance by a non-black of a black character or figure automatically draws on this history, intentionally or unintentionally, and is to be considered carefully if not fully avoided.

  • Intentional: As mentioned above, the main purpose of blackface is to denigrate blacks using humorous depictions of stereotypes.

The other big problem with blackface, after the outright racial denigration that is its purpose, is that it is the incongruity of the makeup on a white actor that creates the humor. Blackface assumes that the racial phenotype it lampoons (dark skin, big lips, kinky hair) is unattractive and ridiculous, and draws its humor from the overposition of exaggerated or imaginary "black" features on white features. It's clown makeup, with the strong implication that blacks are clowns.

  • Representational: a contemporary issue with blackface is the issue of who gets to play black roles in media. There are few enough roles specifically written for African American characters, and few enough casting directors willing to go for nontraditional casting in ethnic-non-specific roles. On top of this, many of the roles written specifically for African American characters are stereotyped and in themselves denigrating.

So having a plum role for an African American character parceled out to a non-black actor is extremely problematic, when there are so many qualified black actors out there looking for work.

Additionally, the very idea that a white actor gets to occupy a plum black role raises the question of who gets to write, embody, and ultimately determine the form and representation of blacks in the public sphere. Casting a white actor is a pretty clear answer in favor of keeping the right of representation with whites.

So, how does the SNL sketch play with these considerations?

Firstly, the sketch does not have racial denigration as its purpose, and there is no unintentional or side-effect racial denigration (in my opinion) happening here. The purpose of the sketch is to lampoon the media's apparent infatuation with Barack Obama; the actor playing Obama needs to exaggerate Obama's personal tics for humorous effect (as SNL does with every politician it mocks) and to portray a stereotype of Obama's public image.  There is complicated racial coding involved in Obama's public image, but this sketch is fairly straightforward, and does not grapple with them, nor (in my opinion) trip over them.

Secondly, the makeup Armisen uses to portray Obama is fairly subtle and clearly used to let the audience know what figure he's depicting, and not to portray Obama's racial characteristics as unattractive or ridiculous

So far so good. On the minus side, however, is the simple fact of the history of blackface and the way that blackface representation is going to play--no matter what its intentions. Putting a nonblack actor in blackface is so easy to avoid, that producers simply cannot avoid the question, "why didn't you just get a black actor to do it?" SNL doesn't have a slick answer for this.

The real answer, of course, is that currently, SNL has only one black male actor, and he looks nothing like Obama and, more importantly, has an acting style that doesn't match Obama's affect well. But that's not an excuse. SNL currently has six white male actors, two white female actors, and two multiracial actors, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (the latter of whom is the only actor on the cast whose racial background matches Obama's and who apparently will not return to SNL after the strike.)

Why so many white men? Why so few black men and women? Among other things, it limits (obviously) SNL's ability to successfully represent public figures, and this tokenism is a perennial problem at SNL, which has six different faces to match to white male public figures, but must force black characters into the oeuvre of a single actor. This gets to the heart of the representation issue. Lorne Michaels has tried to play that old chestnut: we cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. And Armisen does do a credible acting job. But that old record won't play. If you have only one black actor, he's certainly not going to be the best actor for every black role. Some other black actor would be.

But all of this is, again, avoiding the fact that Obama is multiracial. Just because America views Obama as black, doesn't mean he entirely is. And he's toned down his self-representation as biracial because he found it didn't play with either white or black. That doesn't mean he isn't still biracial. So who gets to depict a man who is half white? If they had cast Kenan Thompson as Obama, would he have had to do it in whiteface and would that have been alright?

Add to all of this that Fred Armisen, who actually played Obama, is an extremely multiracial man, part white, part Asian (Japanese) and part Latino (Venezuelan). And it seems I do need to remind people that Latinos are pretty multiracial--and African-mixed--as well, and that Venezuela especially, as a nation on the Caribbean coast, has a strong Afro-Caribbean history and population. That doesn't tell us anything about Armisen himself, but it does tell us a great deal about our own simple-minded, reductivist racial viewpoint.

So the representation piece of this little controversy? I'd say SNL needs to check itself, but so do the sketch's racially simplistic critics. And I'd say that SNL does still need to go ahead with its mockery of the current presidential candidates using the tools at hand, and learn from this controversy that maybe it would be a more interesting show with a less monochromatic cast.

February 26, 2008

Voting The Minority

Two interesting opinions up at Salon today.

Edward McClellan says in  "The Dude Vote" that a lot of men aren't copping to the fact that they won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman:

A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that, among men, McCain beats Clinton by 9 points. Against Obama, he only ties. There are also plenty of guys who voted for Barack Obama in the primaries but will switch to John McCain if the lady gets the nomination -- even though they'll have to leap over a huge political divide to get there.

... I never said to myself, "I want a man for president." I said to myself, "I want a leader who can unite the country." Like a lot of guys who are about to furtively nod their heads, I think of leadership as a masculine quality, so Obama and McCain seemed like the strongest candidates. I was also leery of Clinton's association with the culture wars -- I don't want to go through that again -- but she was a polarizing first lady because she was given power over healthcare before the nation was ready to see a woman in that role. (In 1994, I walked into a religious bookstore and saw an anti-Clinton biography titled "Big Sister Is Watching You.") Ultimately, it was impossible to separate my reservations about Clinton from the fact that she's a woman.

I also told myself I wasn't dismissing Clinton because I disliked her. I was dismissing her because other people disliked her. That's a popular objection, apparently. According to a CBS-New York Times poll, 81 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman president; only 56 percent think other people would. But it's also a convenient dodge. If I voted against Clinton because "too many people hate her," wouldn't I just be validating the haters? They are, after all, largely responsible for making her "divisive."

Gary Kamiya takes a nearly opposite position in "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black," saying that a lot of whites won't cop to the fact that they're voting for Obama because he's black.

This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he's black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements -- his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama's ethnic heritage implies that you're unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.

... Some critics who directly acknowledge the racial nature of Obama's appeal have argued that the wave of white support for Obama bespeaks not a genuine desire to bridge the racial divide but a bad-faith attempt to escape into some post-racial never-never land.

... Obama's charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he's black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.

Some observations:

  • It's easy to accuse white men of racism or sexism, when white men are rarely motivated so purely by an ism in such a situation. It's less easy to accuse poc of sexism or liberal women of racism, even when there's a healthy dose of those operating.
  • Regarding sexism vs. black/white racism in this election, I'm seeing that the sexism operating in this election is the view that men and women are two different types of technology with completely different capabilities, whereas the racism in this election is more the view that black (men) and white (men) are the same technology but at different states of the art. Men and women would be, respectively, cars and iPhones whereas white men and black men would be, respectively, Porsches and Yugos.

Hillary is an iPhone with wheels. Obama is a pimped out Yugo. The paradigm shift required to take each of these two candidates seriously is completely different.

  • This may be obvious, but people who are sexist, aren't always racist, and people who are racist, aren't always sexist. I'm sure there are plenty of Clinton supporters who truly believe that she's the best candidate, and that many women could be, and also aren't sure that a black man can get the job done under any circumstances.

And it wouldn't surprise me to find that there were voters, men and women, who believe in Obama for a plethora of reasons, but can't quite get their heads around a woman president.

  • The people who have most to lose from a more equitable distribution of power among women and racial minorities don't always put their racism or sexism first. We could safely assume that a lot of racist, sexist Republicans would vote for Elizabeth Dole, or Condoleeza Rice, or Colin Powell, before they'd vote for John Edwards. Likewise, a lot of racist, sexist Democrats, faced with a confusing choice, aren't necessarily subconsciously comparing their prejudices, but rather going with an emotional reaction to charisma, or to familiarity and nostalgia.
  • Obama's popularity among young liberals isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by sexism. Sure, there's been plenty of feminist punditry about how Gen X/Y women have sold out feminism for Obama's charisma because they're not really proper feminists. But I've seen little speculation about whether we might be looking at a generation that, lacking the strong, widespread female fiscal and political leadership second wave feminists were expecting right about now, some of the young 'uns might simply have no model of female leadership to place Hillary into. I.e. they might straight up not believe a woman can be a good president, but, lacking prefeminist language and knowing vaguely that such sentiments are not okay, might lack a language to talk about this.
  • And Hillary's popularity among older women isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by racism. It's cast entirely positively, as in: second wave feminist generation women are voting their feminism. It's never: older white women won't vote for a black president.
  • The recent nonsense about racist Latino or Asian American voters is cast entirely from a mainstream, basically white American perspective. This perspective assumes that Latino and Asian voters see themselves in a racially essentialist way--see themselves as a member of a racial group and articulate themselves as people of color--and view the American political landscape as one in which people of color have common cause.

So let's say this again, people: the majority of Latino and Asian Americans are immigrants. Most of these immigrants are coming from a position of being a racial or ethnic majority in their countries of origin, even if they are of lower class. Most of them have a majority identity in their past. Most of them are struggling toward a position of self-determination and some sort of tolerable integration into their new society, not towards the marginalization of being people of color. Yes, some might vote racism or sexism, but most will have more pressing needs. And which candidate they see meeting these needs will be at least somewhat unpredictable to a native-born American.

February 09, 2008

Somebody Kill Me Now

I'm back in the family womb for the weekend for a family ... occasion ... and we're sitting at dinner tonight. My relative is talking about the movie Juno, which I found entertaining but empty when I watched it, and came to loathe while thinking about shortly thereafter. (Some hints as to why here.)

So my relative is describing the movie and gets to the character of Juno herself and describes her as a wiseass and "politically incorrect." What? I dug in about that. What was "politically incorrect" about the character? Both her politics and her indie cred are flawless. He couldn't say or give me examples, just repeated that she's a wiseacre and makes funny comments.

Argh!

I've been picking up on this for a while now but I can't avoid the conclusion anymore. "Politically incorrect" is now a synonym for "smartass" or "irreverent!" Just kill me now!

It wouldn't be so bad if "politically incorrect" would just wholesale replace the word "irreverent," since the latter appears to be hard for some people to pronounce and those same people get so much joy out of declaring themselves the former.

But that's not what's happening here. What's happening is that people are still aware of the term's current denotation--referring to language and ideas that are, from the liberal point of view, politically regressive and potentially discriminatory--but have added strong connotations. Those are, of course, "irreverent," "smartass," and, wandering a little further afield, "cool." "Politically incorrect" is now spoken or written with an almost universal sense of delicious, naughty approval.

Or put another way, social justice activists never use the term at all.

So let's go back to the drawing board, shall we, children? Let's start with Frank Chin:

Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".

Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah.

Yep, that's right, folks, "civil language." That's what people are referring to when they say "political correctness." I'll spell it out, though: if you replace "politically incorrect" with "speaking without civility," it becomes a lot less cool.

  • "Juno was a wonderful character because she was such a wiseass ... she really spoke without civility!"
  • "That Bill O'Reilly He's great! He speaks so uncivilly all the time!"
  • "You're just mad because I spoke to you rudely. But your stupid civility is fascist!"
  • "Don't you just find rude speech refreshing sometimes? I mean, I get so tired of being polite to strangers all the time!"

Yeah, I'm overplaying the point. Because, as we all know, political correctness isn't just about polite language. It's about giving over the power of naming to the people being named; the power of description to the ones being described. And that's a lot more profound than just being polite. What it means is that your public speech, to a certain extent, is buffeted by somebody else's winds of change--without your input or say so--and you're still responsible for keeping up with it. Why, that's ... that's ... undemocratic!

The term "politically incorrect" is the ultimate expression of privilege. I think everyone would find it obnoxious if a stranger, on being introduced to "John," insisted on calling him "Telly." But when a whole group of people prefer to be called "disabled" rather than "handicapped," this is somehow an imposition on the non-disabled speaker.

Considering oneself a victim of fascist political incorrectness because you can't call women "girls" or champion sportswomen "nappy-headed hos" or refer to spoken Chinese as "ching chong ching chong" or call South Asian journalists "Macaca" is nothing but the tantrum of someone whose speech has never been limited by those of lesser socioeconomic status before.

Boo-fuckin'-hoo to you. Grow the fuck up and start treating people with minimum respect. All your childish tantrums aside, it's not gonna stop, so get used to it.

February 05, 2008

What I'm Reading in February

Okay, first of all, what I have read from the Carl Brandon List:

  • 47 by Walter Mosley
  • Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • and parts of So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan

I can highly recommend all of them, especially the Butler book, which is my favorite of hers, and So Long Been Dreaming, which gives you a great spread of POC spec fic.

What I'm not going to tackle at this time:

  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

'Cause apparently, it's a mouthful, double entendre intended. I'm saving it for much later.

So this month I will try to get through the rest of the list, in this order, if I can get these books in this order, i.e. in order of authors I haven't read yet first:

  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

I seriously do not expect to get through this list in one, short month. I'll be happy if I make it to the Minister Faust.

Who's reading with me?

February 04, 2008

Carl Brandon's Black History Month List

Hey all,

As many of you know, I'm on the steering committee of The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing representation of people of color in the speculative genres. We've polled our members and come up with a recommended reading list of speculative fiction books by black authors for Black History Month.

The idea is for you to read these books this month, forward this list around to your friends, take this list into your local bookstores and ask them to display these books this month, post the list on your blogs and websites, etc. I hope you'll all strongly consider at least picking up one of these books and falling into it. It's a wonderful list, and your February will be improved!

So, without further ado:

THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

  • So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:

• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color:
47 by Walter Mosley

• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group:
Stormwitch
by Susan Vaught

(cross-posted at Other magazine blog.)

January 27, 2008

Avoiding Sensitive Conversations

There are times that I know I am not as good a person as I could be, but I don't really care. I know that I could exert myself more in this direction or that, but I don't care enough to.

But there are also times when I genuinely wish that I was a better person--more concerned about others and less about protecting myself. That happens around conversations about race with clueless white people. I have a lot of friends of color who really draw my admiration for their boundless patience and kindness for this type of conversation. I have none of that patience and kindness.

What I do, and a lot of others do this too, is as soon as someone says something awkward or insensitive, I either bowl them over with a rapid-fire critique of what they said, or I clamp my mouth shut and look away. In the latter case, I'll refuse to pick up the conversational ball, and just leave them hanging with the stupid thing they said, knowing that they did something wrong, but not knowing what.

Later on I'll have to recognize that I missed the opportunity to educate someone ... or at the least, to loosen someone's ignorance. And all arguments that it's not my job to educate people about race sound somewhat tinny. It's exhausting, having to teach people things that it's their own responsibility to learn by themselves, but I'm there, and I'm spending the time with them anyway. So what's my problem?

(For those of you who genuinely don't know what my problem is, this is the nutshell: all poc have to deal with having their ideas and viewpoints invalidated to their face. A good example of this is when people ask me what my ethnicity is, I tell them, and then they dispute what I have told them about myself. Another example is when, say, a black blogger posts about his/her *personal* experience as a black person in a white-dominated world, and a bunch of white trolls tell them that they're  whining or simply dispute their understanding of their own *personal* experience. A major component of racial privilege is that the privileged are always right, and the Others are always wrong, even when the Others are talking about themselves. So getting into a discussion of race with ignorant white people is basically an exercise in asking to be invalidated and patronized about something you know more about than the person invalidating and patronizing you.

Another issue would be, of course, having to batter down someone's defensiveness about their own lack of racism just to have a conversation that you've had fifty thousand times already. You're pushed into a discussion that is tedious and fraught for you, and then you have to fight just to have the conversation in the first place, and just to get basic respect for your viewpoint. No, thanks.
)

I just had such an experience, from the other side, recently when trying to talk about class issues. I work for an organization that serves low-income people. Our clients have to fall below a certain income level to be eligible for our program. Yet all of our office staff positions--which pay well and carry excellent benefits--require a college degree and a high level of skillsets. So we're by definition a bunch of middle/upper middle class people serving a bunch of lower middle/working class people.

Our org culture emphasizes customer service, so our staff tends to get along very well with our clients. But there are inevitably a number of interactions which reveal class differences. Some of the projects that I am responsible for themselves raise interesting questions about class viewpoints and ways of proceeding with various tasks. But we're too busy at work--and probably too wary of engaging in such fraught discussions--to get into more theoretical conversations about class differences. We proceed at a very pragmatic level.

This weekend I met a woman at a party whom I had met before. She wanted to participate in my org's program but didn't qualify, so she had ended up going to another org. We were talking about various interesting things we'd noticed about the people involved in these programs and the programs themselves. I embarked on a thinking-out-loud moment about something I'd been thinking about but had never had the opportunity to talk about with someone who understood the background of this kind of work.

I wanted to say something about the strangeness of middle/upper-middle class workers serving low-income workers and helping them to become financially self-sufficient when the "higher" class workers, employees of a large organization, weren't financially self-sufficient themselves, but did earn more based on their high skill level. This was going to lead to some thinking-out-loud about how a higher socio-economic bracket meant access to a higher-paying state of dependency, and how popular programs promoting self-sufficiency for the poor were popular with many people precisely because they meant that we didn't have to deal with the question of how to give greater access to "dependent" but high-paying jobs to the poor.

I got about halfway through the first thought when the woman froze me out. She did the same thing to me that I do to clueless white people who say something stupid or offensive: clamped her mouth shut, looked away, and jumped into someone else's conversation while I was still talking. I don't know what it was that offended her: if I used the wrong word, or if she mistook where my comment was heading ... or if she didn't mistake where my comment was heading but just didn't want to go there.

And I'm not sure it really matters which it was. I'm pretty sure that this isn't the usual thing that people talk about when they talk about class differences (if they ever do), so what she thought she was protecting herself against was probably not what I was getting at. But if she did know where I was going with it, it may not be such a bad thing that she didn't get into it. Someone who is working her way through a difficult and time-consuming program to increase her own skills and self-sufficiency, doesn't need to waste any energy considering that the people who are helping her might be avoiding difficult discussions about access.

And if I used a offensive word or phrasing, I obviously don't know I did it.

Clearly I wasn't going to get the interesting discussion about class and access out of this woman that I was hoping for in any case. But what bothers me is that I don't know where I can go to get this discussion. I can't talk about these things at work, I'll be much more wary of talking about them with people I don't know well who are involved in these projects, and my friends who are up for such discussions aren't involved in this nonprofit field, so they can only talk about theoretical things. Yet I spend half my working day on this type of work. I don't have access to discussions about class differences.

Discussion is an essential resource; discussion with people who know what they're talking about is an even more important resource. As much as I and other poc resent being treated as a public accommodation in discussions of race, we are sitting on knowledge and experience that are an important--nay, essential--resource for truly informed and intelligent discussions of race. If someone is spouting ignorance, it's because they have not yet availed themselves of their access to such resources (you know, like libraries and the internet.) I wish I could be more of a resource to the people who actually need it. Maybe that would have a higher impact in changing the world the way I profess to want to change it.

And I'm not just saying this because I got smacked down this weekend. This certainly wasn't the first time it's happened to me and won't be the last. But these moments are a reminder of something I feel--perhaps less strongly--when I'm on the other side of the equation and just. can't. take. another. stupid. discussion. about how cool and funny political incorrectness is.

Ya know?

January 21, 2008

MLK Day Meme

via Chrome Kitten.

Hope you had a good one.

January 15, 2008

Reading Update

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Still catching up on YA. I'd heard a lot about The Chocolate War when I was a kid but never read it because the jacket copy made it sound so boring: a kid defies a secret society by refusing to sell chocolates? Yawn.

But then I read a question on Yahoo Answers about whether or not there was any existentialist YA fiction and a buncha people mentioned The Chocolate War, which I found really interesting. And it was ... the book I mean.

Actually, I don't want to write about it right now. I have too many other things to write about. But a recommended read to anyone who hasn't.

Passing by Nella Larsen

I think my friend Tisa may have mention this to me first during her visit to SF in late Fall. We were talking about biracial and passing texts. In any case, I looked up the book at some point, and then acquired it used at another point. Okay, the provenance of the book is boring.

Anyway, it's about a light-skinned black woman, Irene, in the twenties who can pass for white. She's married to a black doctor--a handsome man who can't pass--and lives in New York black society. While visiting her family in Chicago she stops off in a (white) tea room to refresh herself--a privilege you understand she allows herself frequently--when she runs into an old neighborhood friend from childhood, Clare, another woman her age who can pass.

It is revealed in their conversation that Clare disappeared from the neighborhood after her janitor father died, and everyone assumed she had become a prostitute or a kept woman. Instead, it turns out that she's gone over to the white side and married a man who doesn't know she's black. Clare takes Irene back to her hotel, when Irene meets Clare's extremely racist white husband. Clare's husband insults Irene unknowingly, when he makes derogatory racial remarks to Irene, who has internalized a strong black identity (it is suggested, although never stated, that Irene does so to anchor herself to her community, given her ability--and propensity--to pass.)

Two years pass and the two women meet again in Clare's world of New York. And the shit proceeds to hit the fan when the logical extension of the choices and behavior of each play out.

This book was amazing, fascinating, smart, beautifully written, and ultimately disappointing. When I say "beautifully written," by the way, I, as usual, don't mean the kind of cheap lyricism held up by contemp creative writing workshops. Larsen is earnestly literal about making her meaning clear--in the way of her contemporary D.H. Lawrence--by often describing moment-by-moment what a character's internal reactions are.

But you discover that she leaves just as much out, and deliberately, revealing more about a character's feelings than that xtr herself would reveal, but keeping the xtr's deepest, most shameful secrets, except in gesture and deed.

Larsen's ability to dramatize racial ambiguity is the best I've ever seen--and not the less astounding for being a project few have tried with any ambition.

But the novel's climax and end come far too quickly and are too melodramatic for my taste. It felt wrong to end with such a scene, and it also felt abrupt to end without revealing any denouement. But still, a strongly recommended read.

January 14, 2008

The "Missing Black Woman Formation"

Not to be down on Scott Westerfeld, whom I consider a friend on the skiffy side of the blanket, but his recent blog post about the "Missing Black Woman Formation" (hereafter referred to as MBWF) needs some complications added to it.

The MBWF concept is explained by one of the characters of Scott's YA novel So Yesterday thus:

“You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”

Scott then goes on to point out that we're living through a MBWF right now, posting a picture of our current Democratic presidential front runners (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, natch). He underlines this by posting a photo of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus from The Matrix.

Okay, but not really.

There are a number of problems with this, starting with how complaining about a missing black woman only works for commercials (which is mostly what the So Yesterday characters were talking about.) Commercials are 30-120-second gestures in the direction of a brand. You have time to say one simple thing, so that's what you say.

The black man inserted into a white couple says, "Our brand is diverse!" whatever that means. The missing black woman, if she were to appear, would say, "We're selling to blacks and whites equally!" which is not what most commercials want to say. Most want to say, "Hey, liberal white guilt dollars! Flow this way!"

When you get into broader pop culture, and especially when you get into the bizarre mix of current mainstream reality, branding, idealism, fearmongering, and passion play that is the contemporary presidential race, the MBWF has nothing interesting or true to say to the matter anymore.

Gloria Steinem proved this in the NYT op-ed that Scott (and everybody else) linked to. By Shakespeare's sistering Obama (dang, can't we get some new feminist tricks?) Steinem sought to prove that women have it worse than blacks, but only managed to give every reader a case of  SIWWTABIDKW (something is wrong with that argument but I don't know what), which is usually accompanied by a terminal case of the squirmies.

What was wrong with that argument, by the way, is that you can't compare apples and oranges (or sexism and racism), and you can't predict society's behavior towards the intersection of the two except by, as Steinem did, assuming that each must be overcome separately before the intersection will become penetrable (Frex: we needed an Albright, and a Powell, before we could have a Rice.)

So, a listing of problems with MBWF as applied by Scott:

Flip through a magazine and check out the ads. In any group of three or more models, one invariably will be black. (If there are six or more models, one will be Asian and one Hispanic.) Same on TV. In any commercial for beer or snack food, one of the guys on the sofa is always black. This probably misrepresents the incidence of interracial hanging out, but it isn't just tokenism. It's a harmony fantasy, buried deep in the collective conscience.

I.e. the MBWF, a white fantasy scenario, is leaving out a much more complicated, and truly diverse, group of people because that would complicate and diversify the white audience's social scene, rather than placating them for having a mostly white peer group. So it's a bit more complicated than just a missing black woman. If we're going to look at negative space, let's really look at it.

  • I'll take the last one second: Keanu Reeves isn't white. He specifically was chosen to play Neo in The  Matrix because he is obviously multiracial. Many people don't know that Keanu is multiracial--not because he doesn't look multiracial, but because he's been offered to us as white since the mid-eighties and most people have never thought to question that. In the mid-eighties, it was because the mainstream consciousness had no concept of multiraciality, especially not Asian multiraciality. But those same people who were incapable of noticing Keanu's halfiness in the mid-eighties have become, in the interim, so sensitized to it that they would notice it in an instant now if they were to encounter a second Keanu. But Keanu himself, name and all, is grandfathered in as a white dude.

It is for both these reasons--the obvious multiraciality and his acceptance by mainstream audiences--that Keanu was cast in the racially radical Matrix. Suitably millenial, the first Matrix suggested that a lot of race mixing had gone on among surviving humans after the apocalypse with its casting of actors of a variety of races and mixtures (including Marcus Chong, Tommy Chong's adopted son, whose ancestry isn't public, but is almost certainly multiracial.) This was deliberate.

Morpheus as the odd black man out in a MBWF is questionable, but his status as a magical negro? not so much. I said the first Matrix was radical, not perfect. (By the way, I distinguish between the first Matrix and subsequent Matrices because the Wachowskis got lazy in the race element, as well as everything else, and let a bunch of black actors stand in for diversity thereafter, i.e. losing grip on the multiracial aspect of the whole thing.)

  • Finally, with regard to our beloved Donkeys, can I just remind everyone that Obama is a biracial child of an immigrant. Far from being a quibble, this is absolutely essential to understanding how Obama has gotten as far as he has, and how he might even have a real chance at the presidency.

As I said, in our new millenium, our mainstream culture has become sensitized to multiraciality, so that we begin to recognize it when it appears in the public forum. But we're not so sophisticated as all that. We recognize it, but we still gawk at it. It's still unusual, exotic ... and not yet re-problematized, as all new, exotic things are.

Obama's clear and apparent multiraciality (one that left him with darkish skin and European features, which earn him the adjective "handsome" even though he's nothing of the sort) put him beyond our immediate racial hierarchy into a biracial status that is still fluid in the public consciousness. If he were just black, he wouldn't be here, but because we don't exactly know what he is, he might still be electable. So there, Gloria Steinem, my lass.

Furthermore, Obama is not the child of an African American descendant of slaves and a white American; i.e. he's not that difficult and problematic product of centuries of slavery and sexual stereotyping. Rather, he's the child of a white American and a black immigrant. A what? Exactly. We don't know what to do about it, because it's an exotic and new story: the black immigrant. But, dudes, immigrant. Undocumented labor issues aside, the American identity is an immigrant identity, and the American story is the triumphal story of immigration and assimilation.

In this context it's much easier to see why Obama, the child of a black man and a white woman, doesn't trip more people's black man/white woman wires. The white woman in this case is the agent of assimilation to an honorable immigrant. As copious recent immigration from the Caribbean and East Africa shows, it's a toss up whether such an immigrant will come down as black or as immigrant in their interlocutor's estimation, when the shit really hits. Clearly this question is decided by what is most beneficial to the interlocutor. If the black immigrant in question is threatening them, then they're black. If, however the interlocutor needs an ally and the black immigrant shows willing, then they're an immigrant.

White America needs an inspiring leader--an ally--to take us away from all this horrible Bush stuff, so Obama falls off on the immigrant side in our popular subconscious, even if the public debate has been hijacked by the word "black." I'll bet a lot of people have already forgotten the recent debate over whether or not Obama is really black or black enough. That fight had to be fought out to get detractors out of the way so that we could talk about Obama as a black candidate without digressions. What no one has noticed is that we're processing him simultaneously at both levels: as a surface black, and a crypto-immigrant.

By accepting Obama as our symbolic representative, even if only for a few months, we are essentially underlining and celebrating our existing core American values: immigration, assimilation, triumph, and pot-won't-melt-in-my-mouth virtue.

And via Racialicious, here's a little sumpin' sumpin' to make you think hard about the intersection between race and gender: a nice, long, fascinating article about transgender people of color.

December 21, 2007

Top Ten Novels

Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.

But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.

Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.

  1. The Dark is Rising: I wrote about it recently so I don't have to repeat, but this is a peculiar and beautiful little jewel of a book: not logical, nor perfectly structured--as YA and fantasy and YA fantasy must usually be--but intuitive and grand and cold and mysterious and ritually layered and smart and adult and complex all at once. I never found an age-specific book to match it because there is none, and it didn't so much confirm my childhood reading as point away from it, into the possibilities beyond.
  2. Pride & Prejudice: is so popular right now it hardly needs more elegy (or more accurately, rhapsody) added to its account. But beyond the "romance", which I started finding suspect at a fairly young age, P&P remains a favorite because it is so damned perfectly structured. I've read it twenty times (no exaggeration) and the structure never fails to usher me through the same emotional experience. You can become so accustomed to something that you sicken of it; you can build a tolerance to drugs; but a perfect narrative arc somehow never fails to raise your blood pressure at the right moment, even when you know what's coming better than you know the feeling of your own birthday.
  3. Jane Eyre: people pass over the weirdness of JE, I think because it's weird and that makes people uncomfortable. But weird is what happens when you take the sketchiness of a fairy tale and inhabit it with complex characters. I don't mean what Gregory Maguire does. Wicked and ilk is just a more complex formula. I mean, when you play out fairy dust in the real world, to its logical conclusion. When wives go mad and husbands are half-wild and damagingly entitled, and a half-benevolent, half-malicious universe intervenes to allow women of spirit to both escape, and be enslaved, in equal measure. JE is an anomaly among Victorian novels not because every single aspect of it wasn't a rampant trend of its era, but because Bronte committed absolutely to every device, and every line, took all of it absolutely seriously, rather than allowing herself genre and ironic distance like all the mens did. The result is Emily Dickenson weird, like focusing on flies' buzzing, or how to paint a billow, or the expression on a dog's face at twilight, when the universe shrugs to startle the master's horse.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: hardly needs commentary either. Again, this was an issue of structure for me, a lesson in how Pride & Prejudice five-act fiction wasn't the only way to go about it. My first spiral structure, and induction into the pleasures of varying velocity. I didn't see it until the end, but the final sentence of Solitude tells you all you need to know about the book ... but only if you've already read the book. So it was also my first experience with that successful paradox of show vs. tell. And the book, also paradoxically, while falling me in love with lush lyricism (just like everyone else), was actually what put me on the road towards a more stripped down prose ... because once Garcia-Marquez has rained petals from the sky to mourn the death of a patriarch, what more can I or anyone do? Plus, an experience of pure, extended beauty. Truly. I was in a daze for a week. One of my few moments with the ecstasy of writing, felt while reading.
  5. The Dispossessed: Rather a dry experience, compared with all of the preceding, but a book that set me intellectually on fire because it was the first political novel I ever read. I mean, sure, I had to read Upton Sinclair and Orwell and Steinbeck and Uncle Tom in high school, but when the politics of the book is over--and come to think of it, all of those were books about political situations that had been largely resolved, although they left a mean residue--so is the book's impact. The Dispossessed was something of a complicated utopian novel, the first one I ever read after all the dystopias I read in high school (1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I'd never experienced a political world that I so wanted to inhabit, nor felt the representation of a political reality better than the one I already inhabited. I'm no revolutionary, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the book created an activist of me. But what I have been able to do since then is at least partly enabled by the awakening of my political imagination ... something very different from political consciousness and much more essential to the workings of true democracy.
  6. The Joy Luck Club/The Woman Warrior: I'd be the first to scream if someone else glommed these two together, but I have to put them together because in my mind, they are the good and bad sides of the same coin, and the one didn't take effect on me until the other one had been thoroughly assimilated (used advisedly). I read Woman Warrior in high school, after picking it out of a used books bin in--where else?--SF Chinatown as a tween. It kinda fascinated me and kinda turned me off, partly because I was looking for some reading experience I could finally identify with, and, although I recognized the universal Chinese mother, Kingston--like any good writer--took care to make her mom an individual rather than a universal, and a Chinatown girlhood isn't the same as a hapa midwestern suburban girlhood. The other turnoff was her careful and fabulist deconstruction of novel, memoir, and superhero/hero's journey narrative. I was not at an age to appreciate that.

    Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.

  7. Howard's End: Modernism wouldn't have made much sense to anyone without Forster to bridge the gap and I'm no exception. And just as everyone takes what they want from Modernism and leaves the rest, I went forward in my reading only to eventually go a step or two backwards to Forster. He introduced me to the deconstruction of the third and fourth dimensions ... but gently. Howard's End, with its timeless mansions and perpetually updating railways, is the novel of space/time compression fighting it out with imperialist expansion. I didn't experience any of that my last two years of college, but I did feel the way Forster messed with the reader's experience of time, so that important moments pass in a sentence, and untangling their implications is the quotidian work of the rest of the novel. With a little hindsight I can see that Howard's End--all of Forster, really, since I gobbled his entire oeuvre in a year--slammed the door on the following classics: Jane Austen and her manners insulated from the source of their wealth (see Tisa Bryant on Mansfield Park), and Charlotte Bronte and her Indies-plantation-owning-African-mission-going romantic males. Forster's literary heir is really Orwell.
  8. Middlemarch: Speaking of steps backward, my big discovery during my grand tour of Europe after college was Eliot. I went and read more and more and more Victorian-era novels: all of the Brontes that I had missed, all of Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tostoi, maybe a little Georges Sand ... and of course, all all all of Eliot. And--not to diss the intellect of all of the preceding, especially Forster, but Eliot's oeuvre--Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and especially Middlemarch--were my first encounter with fiction written by an intellectual writer and critic with a broad understanding of her time and a clear and expressive (rather than emotional and expressionistic) prose style. It's hard to rhapsodize about effectively, but emotional intelligence, breadth of vision, passion for people, and the ability to inhabit every stage of perspective, is my definition of genius thanks to George Eliot. She influences me more than I ever know when I'm in the midst of writing, and if I had to choose only one writer to emulate, Eliot would be the one.
  9. Cosmicomics: Not a novel, of course, but close enough to make a difference. Beautiful, weird and whimsical, funny, and with a simultaneously light and heavy touch ... everything I have written since I started reading Cosmicomics has been an attempt--in its way--to reproduce the effect of that book. It's that (to me) horrifying construction, a book of linked short stories, that remakes the novel, and indeed the short story for me. Not because of any structural or space/time funkiness--once you get past the sci-fi-y surface, these stories are very traditional--but because the ideas are so lovely Calvino just sort of ... doubled them back on each other, for the fuck of it. My most purely loved book on this list.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius please don't try to tell me this isn't a novel. And no, I'm not interested anymore in that discussion about the memoir/novel or the novelistic memoir, or the true novel or the fictional autobiography. Suffice it to say the lines have been blurred, who cares by whom? It's all the--by now--GenX clichés Eggers wielded with excellence (yes, excellence) that make this book for me. Maybe I'm slow but it blew my little mind in 1999 and made a permanent dent. Eggers remains the only writer of my generation who has successfully blown my mind. (Lethem has also blown my mind, but not with a single book. Not that that's less valuable than the single-book-mind-blow, but that doesn't play as well on top ten lists.) Eggers is a negative influence. All due respect, but I have to fight hard not to write like him. He set up some rhythms and phrasing tricks that are so. damn. easy. to imitate.
  11. Parable of the Sower: My introduction to Octavia Butler. I've written about her here and here and don't feel like getting into it again. She found me a way to write science fiction, something I had always wanted to write but couldn't find a way to do while incorporating all my Asian American issues. 'Nuff said.
  12. Mumbo Jumbo: And finally, the book that answered my lingering questions about how I want to--and can--write what it is I have to write. Or put another way: what do I actually have to write. Reed gave me the structure of a process for using the code-switchy language of my actual life and not the prettified standard language Asian Americans are supposed to learn to get a dialogue with the power butlers. Reed teaches that surface and depth can be completely connected, so your linguistic polyrhythms can show and tell about what mainstream American wants to dismiss as schizophrenia simultaneously. Complex and challenging, but not white noise; a wall of word noise textured with different weights of meaning. A language that cites its sources moment by moment. Aleluja!

December 12, 2007

Multi Facial

Somebody finally posted it:


This is why I love Vin Diesel.

November 30, 2007

Diabetes Videos: Good, Bad, Ugly

Okay, to finish up National Diabetes Awareness Month, here are two videos from YouTube:

This first one, which you don't need to watch more than a few seconds of to get the idea, reveals that only white kids get diabetes, and tries to make you feel sorry for the precious souls. The beeyotch who made it doesn't seem to get that "no one deserves this" isn't really an argument, and that diabetes research should be funded not just because cute, fluffy, white kids get it.

This second one is from a cool series called Cooking Up A Story:

Stories about real people and their special connections to food and sustainable living.

No on-air talent, no scripted programming, and no studio environments, just authentic stories filmed in native surroundings.

And, it features a hapa kid with diabetes! Yay hapa diabetics! He's cute, too, although no particularly fine point is put on that. Rather than trying to make you feel sorry for the poor cutie, the video just shows you the rollercoaster of blood sugar values that is a typical diabetic kid's day.

Note here: this is a not-so-good example of what life is like on the pump. The kid's BGs (blood glucose values) are really terrible and he can't seem to stay on top of them. This might just be a bad day for him. Or it might just be that he's a kid; kid's don't always handle diabetes that well. It's complicated and relentless.

Come to think of it, that right there is a much better argument for donation funds to diabetes research. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is the typical place to do it, although their slogan about "saving childhoods" makes me gag. My childhood was technically more complicated than everyone else's, but it was still a childhood.

November 19, 2007

Jennifer Beals at GLAAD awards

Jennifer Beals is way too awesome.

Harmless

This is so wrong in so many ways, but at the same time, it just feels harmless, you know? It made me laugh.

You know how some things---films, tv, books---just have this negative power that drives you to comment on how horrible it is in your blog ... and some things just don't have that power at all? Usually, the power-free things are just sad. But this one isn't even sad! It's happy! And silly! And wrong!

I dunno, maybe I'm becoming post-race.

Oh, well, no not quite:


  1. The black dude is wearing a pendant chain

  2. The Indian dude has a headfeather and arrow

  3. The Arab dude has a beard and a turban

  4. The white dude has a beret and a baguette, I guess 'cause being white isn't hint enough

  5. The Asian dude appears to be the only woman

  6. It's a biracial isle with five distinct monoraces.

  7. Contrary to my expectations, the Asian dudette didn't fuck each of the guys and produce biracial offspring of every intermediate hue. This was my biggest disappointment. That would have made this filim.

But who am I to argh with a racial cornucopia of joy?

October 26, 2007

10 Mistakes

Update: I forgot to include my small beef with #5 so I inserted it below.

I'm glad Heather Wood at the Huffington Post wrote about the ten mistakes white people make when talking about race (via RAAW), but, sadly, she got some of it a leetle bit wrong.

2. Using Culture-Specific Slang to Relate to Other Races

K-Fed, you ain't. And you just shouldn't try to be--ever.

Hunh? Does she not know that K-Fed is white?

3. Assuming Biracial People Identify More with One Side Than the Other

The majority race in America today isn't white, black, or even Latino. It's biracial. And this will only increase with each successive generation. We're a society that loves to check off boxes, but the greater challenge is to stop seeing people as shades and start knowing them for who they are.

Hunh? Lady, biracials/multiracials barely even make up 2% of the US population. Are you confusing this stat with the one where multi-ethnic whites make up the majority of whites nowadays? That is to say: most whites are no longer just Polish, or just English anymore. Most of them are Norwegian/Italian, or Swedish/French, or ... whatever, combos don't interest me.

Also, the problem isn't people assuming biracials identify more with one side than the other. What she's talking about here is actually people assuming black/white biracials identify as black ... unless, of course, they can pass. The actual mistake is assuming anything about multiracials at all. Many multiracials do identify more with one side. Others don't. You can't tell by looking at 'em.

5. Using Outdated Terms When Describing Different Races

Oriental, Colored, and Indian went out of style a long time ago; in fact, they're considered offensive. So, too, is lumping every Spanish-speaking person into a general category like "Mexican" or any Arab-looking person as "Persian" (it's a specific country, people). Feeling the need to identify is a nervous reaction we have when faced with issues of race. Black, white, Asian and Latino/a are generally accepted, but when in doubt, how about you just call someone by their actual name. Who says we have to classify ourselves all the time anyway?

Um ... actually, "Persians," or Iranians, aren't Arab at all. They're a completely different ethnicity/race/whateveryouwannacallit. And no one refers to any Arab-looking person as "Persian." They don't even refer to them as "Iranian." They refer to them as "Arab." Or else something worse.

6. Believing Stereotypes

Yes, black Americans dominate most sports, more Asians are accepted into MIT than any other race, and Latinos have been known to tear up a dance floor. Though some race-specific stereotypes seem like positive assumptions, imagine yourself on the other end, with high expectations placed on your shoulders simply because of a scrutinized minority. White people don't have the pressure to be the best in math or sports; they just have to be good enough. Everyone else should get the same slack.

Yikes! what an argument! Lower your expectations of POC because that's more fair? No, sweetie, the real problem with "positive" stereotypes is that they bolster a system of thought in which people think you can tell something about someone by their race. Not by their culture, by their race. "Positive" stereotypes are stereotypes with a smile. All people smile, even racists. And the person who smiles at you and expects you to play basketball well, or do math, or be hot in bed, is always also the person who thought you got into college because of affirmative action, or who will, when the chips are down, finally pull out a "negative" stereotype.

All stereotypes are racist!

But kudos to her for getting this out there. It's by thinking things through that you actually understand things, and it's by putting it out there---and maybe getting some discussion---that your ideas are improved upon.

October 23, 2007

Over Sea, Under Stone

N17680I just read Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book of the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, and I looked on the copyright pages for the pub dates. Turns out, OSUS was first published in 1965, and the other four books in 1973, '74, '75, and '77.

So it seems that what I suspected might be true: the first book was written, possibly as part of a series or possibly as a standalone, and then Cooper was stuck for a long time until she came up with Will and the concept for the other four books, and was able to write them all together.

This makes sense: the momentum, the urgency, of the books doesn't really appear until the second book. Also, the language that indicates that the books are part of a series and that there are further battles to win doesn't appear until the second book. She doesn't find her feet, or her continuity, until The Dark is Rising.

I read online that Cooper wrote OSUS in response to a contest for a children's adventure story, and that's exactly what it is: slightly more naturalistic Famous Five crapola. In fact, the book is a direct rip-off of the Famous Five formula, three siblings go to a town by the sea on vacation and have mystery adventures with buried treasure and pirates' caves and such. With a dog; Cooper even jacked the dog. The only character she didn't steal was the tomboy George, a cryptofemme genderqueer who might have been cool in Cooper's hands if Cooper had allowed herself to follow the possibilities. But she didn't.

That's why OSUS sucked. Yes, it sucked. You can see some of the later, wonderful Cooper in there, but in a really trying way. Her precise descriptions of ritual pageantry, that made The Dark is Rising so Greenawayesque, shows up here as endless, pointless getting people across the room and out the door, so to speak. The kids actually have to go through a corridor, then through another one, then up some stairs, back to their room, move a wardrobe, go up a ladder, through an attic, and then throw away an apple core and decide to pick it up in a strange little cubby hole in the corner of the attic before they finally find the damn treasure map. I would've just sent them straight to the attic and put the map under a loose plank. ... No, I just wouldn't have written the book at all.

The plot (SPOILAGE AHEAD) hinges on a treasure map the children find on a rainy day in th' Cap'n's house (yawn), which turns out to be less of a map than a step, by step diagram, like that children's party game where you hide progressive clues around the house, each clue leading to the next. Despite dire warnings of a definitive battle between good and evil from their great-uncle Merlin, the process still feels like a party game, and Merlin treats it like one, letting the kids put themselves into real physical danger.

The only The Dark is Risingesque elements are a very brief carnival scene, which isn't given nearly the Cooper treatment that I would have liked, and a distinctly lonely and cold mood about the ancient sites that prefigures the rest of the series. But there's also not nearly enough of this.

Also, ephelba asked a couple of posts ago about my take on a couple of scenes in the book. The first is when the children are exploring the house on the rainy day and find the map. Before they find the map, they're pretending to be explorers in the jungle, and there's some by-play among them about how they're being followed by "rude natives." The second one is when the bad guy kidnaps the youngest brother at the carnival, he's dressed like an Arab.

I think these are two different issues. The first is the origins of the children's adventure story in imperialist expansion, and the second is racial drag.

Without dismissing the children's-adventure-story-as-imperialist-training-camp issue, I'm not going to really address it here. Except to say that the sun has set on the fictional British empire, and the appearance of children pretending to explore a jungle served by rude native porters and fearful of cannibals is--in 1965--pretty much Kipling's death rattle. It's sad, clichéd, and boring, but it's at this point a formulaic jerk of the knee. Meaningless.

I say this because the whole book is so rote and clichéd. She was working out some shit, clearly, and I'll need to see the rest of the series again with an adult eye. But, to give the whole series a political read, she starts out with rote imperialist adventure, and moves, in the succeeding four books, more and more and more into Brit Isles interiority, mirroring the postwar withdrawal of the UK back into itself, and the turning of its political attention towards its domestic ills.

The racial drag of someone dressing as an Arab is not a past problem, though. It's a present one. Not that anyone dresses up as Arabs anymore. I think Abscam put an end to that. But you see people costumed as "geishas" all the time.

Alright, I'll be serious. There's not much commentary in the bad guy dressing up as an Arab except: 1) it's the bad guy and his Arab costume is dwelt upon strangely, making the connection stick. Bad guy = Arab. and 2) it makes racial drag sound okay as a holiday costume choice.

Racial Drag Is Not Okay As A Costume Choice, Kids!

I think both of these are relatively toothless, but, of course, these are not the sort of clichés we want to put into children's heads, and leaving this particular book out of The Dark is Rising sequence you read to your kiddies aloud won't actually hurt anything. I didn't read the first one until long after I'd read the other four, and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything. Honestly, though, I really think it's more of a poor read than a politically bad read.

I'm worried now, though, b/c, as I remember it, the second and fourth books were the best ones, and the first, third, and fifth books include the Famous Three. I'm off to read Greenwitch now and maybe it's gonna suck again, too, although Will is in it.

October 13, 2007

In Other News: Race Activists Now Have Superpowers

I got into it with Angry Black Woman guest blogger Nora a couple of months ago in comments on a post she wrote where I accused her of avoiding the racist issues that exist between African and Asian Americans. I won't get into that whole thing right now, but I write this to offer a caveat: there might be some little bit of unresolved tension motivating me, and you might want to keep your salt shaker handy.

(I intend to write a series of long posts about the tension between Asians and blacks eventually, but it seemed at best graceless, not mention divisive, to post those during the Jena 6 controversy, especially when there has been near-silence from the Asian American community--and me--about it.)

*****

So today I read Nora's post from Friday in which she wonders if racism has suddenly surged:

Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it.

Then she gives us a history lesson:

It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.

That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism.

The illogic between these two statements is boggling. First she says that we're talking about racism, nationally, all the time these days, then she says that we're not allowed to talk about racism. Why all this?:

of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.

I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual.

Oh, I see. It's not because racist incidents are all over the news right now, it's because Nora's POC "race-dar" is going off. Because her "Spidey Senses" are tingling---those senses that only blacks have in full, but Indians and Latinos in part, Arabs and Asians a little bit, and white people not at all---she "knows" that there's more racism goin' on right now.

With this level of historical understanding, with this level of racial discourse, coming from someone who is promoted to us as a thought leader, is it any wonder that the racial discourse Nora engages in goes nowhere?

*****

First of all: Nora's understanding of the history of racial struggle in the United States (as presented here) is laughably simplistic. Since the mid-nineteenth century--and even before--there have been successive waves of liberation ideology, followed by the enlightenment of a few whites, the uplift of a few blacks, and then a serious backlash.

Anyone who has ever read the Emancipation Amendments to the US Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th), could have no doubt that full citizenship rights for African Americans was on the national table as early as 1865. This period, between 1865-1870 (the passage of the three amendments) and 1877 (the Hayes administration's withdrawal of troops from the South), saw unprecendented freedom in both northern and southern states for blacks, with the election of the country's first black politicians, and even interracial marriages.

The US wasn't ready, and our current stereotypical understanding of what "racism" is---Jim Crow laws, KKK, lynchings, voter restrictions, etc.---arose during the backlash that followed in the next quarter century (until the turn of the century.) A campaign of racial terrorism against blacks--not just in the south but in northern states as well--put a lid on black liberation for nearly thirty years.

Not coincidentally, this period also saw the passing of racist laws excluding the immigration, and restricting the citizenship, ownership, and labor opportunities of Asians, particularly in the west. During the latter half of the century, Mexican Americans in western states were lynched at rate of 473 per 100,000 of the population; gender was no protection. And Native Americans were, in this period, also finally defeated in the Indian Wars, restricted to reservations, and saw their children stolen and placed in Indian Boarding Schools, thus largely destroying their traditional cultures.

Of course that eased up again and in the first decade of the 20th century, a group of African American intellectuals, among them W.E.B. DuBois, started the Niagara Movement, which culminated in the foundation of the NAACP in 1909. The following thirty years saw a slow, steady (with many setbacks) development of black institutions in both the south and the north, as the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities spurred the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, creating a second, larger generation of black intellectuals who not only articulated the race problem, but set the terms for a debate that still rages along the same lines today.

The 1920s and 30s also saw Asian and Mexican Americans joining the labor movement and gaining for themselves a measure of respect and power through that association. Native Americans won American citizenship. This period also saw many POC leaders first making the connection among the struggles of their various "races." Although no broad-based POC coalitions happened as a result, in the labor movement meaningful alliances were formed, for example in California between Mexican and Filipino field workers.

It's tempting to dismiss this period as a dark one, since the picture for most African Americans, not to mention other races, was one of poverty, limitation, and the constant potential for racial targeting. But racial issues hit the national discourse periodically, and the slow, upward creep of national racial consciousness never ceased between the turn of the century and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement was a breaking point, a climax in a tension that had been rising pretty much steadily until WWII, and then had been rising much more quickly throughout the fifties. Naturally, as after Reconstruction, this period of rapid acquistion of civil rights was followed by a serious backlash. Only this backlash was different, and much less successful. For one thing, much of the Movement had radicalized, and focused its energy on building up black instituations within the black communities.

For another, a lot of white liberal energy, as well as white conservative energy, was drawn off of Civil Rights into the antiwar movement. And, just as in WWII when black soldiers gained respect for their entire community, during Vietnam, white and black soldiers serving together did a great deal to change working class attitudes toward the black community.

Also, black civil rights inspired Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to form their own pan-ethnic, racial liberation movements. The seventies, far from a conservative backlash, saw the success of the antiwar movement, and the establishment of national Asian American, Latino, and American Indian institutions, which solidified that national understanding of these groups as racial blocs, creating the basis for political power bases. A number of institutional battles for entitlements began during this decade that were ultimately won here or in the eighties: fights for affirmative action in the granting of government contracts, hiring practices, college acceptance, busing, nutrition and health entitlements for children, etc.

The eighties was when idiots like Ronald Reagan declared racism over, but that doesn't mean that racial discourse fell off the table: far from it. National identity-based institutions continued fighting for--and winning--entitlements based on race and ethnicity. This was the decade of "identity politics" and the "culture wars," which revolved not merely around whether or not Congress gets to decide what art is, but whether or not our national culture--both high and low--included the "subcultures" of women, queers, people of color, and immigrants. White artists like to say that we lost the culture wars, but POC and women resoundingly won the culture wars, as evidenced by the periodic grumblings of white men that there are too many unworthy women and blacks (and black queer women!) on reading lists, in magazine articles, in our fiction, nonfiction, national discourse, etc. etc.

The nineties was when Generation X, the first generation raised since the Civil Rights Movement, came of age and seized control of the national dialogue. This is part of the reason why racial discourse was driven, to a certain extent, underground. White GenXers both did and didn't believe Reagan when he said racism was over. They wanted to believe, but knew better than to trust politicians and media. Also, all the institutional entitlements won in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although constantly embattled, had been so bound up with class, rather than race, entitlements, that--as Nora points out--the Clinton Administration was able to make racial entitlements a question of socialism vs. democracy.

(By the way, today, Bushies have taken advantage of this to shame race activists. It's really hard to argue that blacks, for example, should get more entitlements, when poor whites are losing theirs, too. And yet racial institutions are so used to calling the white man the devil--and I'm talking about all the racial institutions--that they're really hard pressed to form pan-racial coalitions of impoverished and working class. This is particularly hard when conservative working class whites insist on believing that the entitlements they're losing are "socialist.")

The nineties, however, particularly the late nineties, saw a coming of age of GenX POC, who have leveraged new media and the culture/media discussion of the eighties to create a media-savvy, national voice for themselves and each of their groups. Much of the discussion of the nineties was around representation in the media. Anyone who says that discussion of race went entirely underground just. wasn't. paying. attention.

The early "aughts" or "00s" of the 21st Century gave us two things: another racist war, and Katrina. Katrina brought race back into the national consciousness, and also consolidated a new way of leveraging opinions, funds, and action: the internet. And let's not forget moveon.org's move from the internet into face to face activism during the 2006 election, which resulted in a Democratic win. We talked a lot without doing much about race in the nineties because we didn't know how to close the gap between virtual and real communities. But we've learned how to do that recently.

Which brings us to today, black bloggers like ABW and Nora, and the thousands of others who made Jena a household word of shame, and to my second point.

*****

Secondly: it's loooong been a question whether the rape and child molestation rates have really risen over the few decades that they've been collected, or whether recent acquisitions of civil rights for women and children have allowed these crimes to be reported at levels more closely approximating their actual occurrence. This same question dogs every societal malaise and malady that becomes a trend: scientists are currently wondering if we're really having an autism epidemic, or if we've become so sensitized to autism spectrum conditions that people who never would have been diagnosed before are now being diagnosed.

Did it ever occur to Nora to wonder if racist incidents are all over the news right now not because suddenly racism is happening everywhere (it boggles my mind that Nora seems to think that this shit hasn't been happening quietly everywhere all along), but because suddenly race is on the national agenda again for a variety of reasons?

But you have to know history to understand--or even to see--these reasons:


  1. The 21st century is seeing an unprecedented "wiring" of American POC to the internet, and an unprecendented ability to leverage new communications to organize.

  2. The POC rehearsal of the nineties, in which internet-savvy POC practiced outrage by quibbling endlessly with media race portrayals has resulted in broad-based, loose national coalitions of opinion-creating POCs who can activate quickly.

  3. The current antiwar movement, the mobilization of funds and volunteers for Katrina through a blog-led racial outrage machine, and the realization, through moveon.org's successful 2006 election campaign, that online mobilization actually works, has finally culminated in racial groups actually using the internet to mobilize

  4. It's time, historically, for race to come back to the table, as it always does, sooner or later.

Far from it being a bad thing that Nora's supersenses are tingling, it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing.

Black voices of our and the next (Gen Y? Echo Boomers? Millennials?) generations are being unleashed on questions of socio-economic equity, and not just on media portrayals. This is why everyone is suddenly so angry and suddenly news of racist incidents is hitting us from everywhere. We have a new generation of POC discovering that racism isn't over. And they're, understandably, pissed. But that's when things get better, Nora, not worse, when people who should get angry, do, and start organizing mass demonstrations.

This is good for everybody, and especially for racial bloggers like Nora, who will suddenly become information portals for mobilized POC, exhilarated by their last---and looking for their next---battle. This is good for the bloggers who are prepared to look at both class and race, to sacrifice their egos and cherished points of view for the sake of a vitally important developing dialogue. Maybe not so good for bloggers who aren't capable of difficult change.

It's up to the bloggers themselves to make sure that they keep their audience ... if they can.

October 03, 2007

readin' update

Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane

Wonderful, again, like the first. And, again, like the first, a little bit of a disconnect between the hokey-jokiness of meeting whale wizards, and finding out dolphins' real, and very silly, names ... and the very serious and dark turn the book takes around the middle.

Beautifully written and heartfelt. But this tonal disconnect is starting to worry me. Don't know if it's just a personal limitation or if it's a problem with the book. I'll definitely keep reading, though. This stuff is too good not to.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Still digesting. But a few initial observations:

  1. after this, no one gets to use a "The ______, _______ Life of _______" title anymore. Oscar Wao finished that mini-trend, and anybody else will be overkill. I mean it. Francis MacComber will crawl out of his short, happy grave and eat your brains if you try it.

  2. Diaz also brings the geeked out, pop-cultured, genx hipster, muscle-voice to a point. Everybody's been trying it (including me) and it's taken care of now. Enough.

  3. I've been rebelling against the American Immigrant Story Structure for so long now, that everything stinks of it. I can't tell if this is regressive, or if this actually moves it forward. I don't think it moves the immigrant story out of its mid-century straightjacket, but, like I said, I'm still digesting.

  4. If you imitate the voice and outlook of a terminal macho asshole so well that your readers can't tell the difference between authorial and narrator's voice, then aren't you the terminal macho asshole? Just because you namecheck Los Bros and Luba, to get all meta and distance yourself from the fact that your one strong, alive female character is racked like a bowling alley, haven't you still showcased the breasts before the person?

I haven't decided on all this yet, and I finished the book a week ago. That's a good thing.

September 24, 2007

Jena 6

This was aimed at A-list political bloggers, not anywun like li'l ol' me, but the point is well-taken. I haven't blogged about the Jena 6 because I've been extremely poopy on blogging lately and haven't blogged much about anything.

But that's a cheap excuse. So here are some links. If you haven't already, go inform yourself about a ridiculously racist case against some black teens that looks like it's in the midst of blowing up in da man's face.

August 24, 2007

One African American Reading List

In the course of this ongoing discussion of race and literature, David Anthony Durham gave a commenter on his blog a recommended reading list -- but only in the comments. I hope he doesn't mind my reposting it here--mainly because I want to save a record of it for my own use.

Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin (First novel by a famous black literary novelist, about coming of age, identity, religion, race.)

The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (The only novel by a sci-fi novelist here – a tale of a near future with a world in increasing chaos, brutal and grim, but also poignantly hopeful as well. If you haven't read her please do. I think she was terrific, and I'm disappointed I'll never get the chance to meet her.)

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (Classic with a capitol C. His notion of invisibleness of African Americans became a central theme and metaphor regarding race in America.)

Angel of Harlem, by Kuwana Haulsey (A young, contemporary author. This is basically a biopic novel about the first black female physician in New York. That was a rather amazing accomplishment considering that the medical community didn’t think blacks – much less a female as well – were anatomically capable of higher thinking.)

Hunting in Harlem, by Mat Johnson (Another young author, decidedly urban, with a bit of the “thriller” to it.)

The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, by Reginald McKnight (Interesting short stories with quite a bit of range.)

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. (Toni can be tough to get into, but she's worth the effort. I think Beloved is one of the best novels written - ever. I mention this one, though, cause it's darn good to, and bit more accessible.)

Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (This is a crime novel and can be enjoyed as such. I also think it’s shot right through with insightful – and sometimes confrontational – thoughts on wearing dark skin in the US.)

I’d be being coy if I didn’t mention my own books, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness. I’m very proud of them, and believe they’re accessible and plot-driven at the same time as they're meant to hit some deeper themes.

I can second the Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, and, of course, Ralph Ellison picks. And I have to admit that Song of Solomon really didn't do anything for me. Everything else is going on my wishlist.

August 10, 2007

A Word Lesson On "Miscegenation"

Regarding this brouhaha:

First of all, some terms, since I've found that most people are really, really sloppy about them:

  1. Monoracial refers to individuals or groups that are considered to have only one race. This refers both to the person's self-acknowledged identity, and the identity assigned to them by society.
    My father is monoracial: white.

  2. Interracial means a relationship between two people who identify monoracially and whose races are different. It doesn't just mean sexual or romantic relationships, either. commerce between two racial groups would be interracial as well. There are also interracial friendships, mentorships, etc. The term suggests bilateralness. It does not refer to individuals of more than one ancestry!
    My white father and Chinese mother have an interracial relationship.

  3. Biracial, when referring to a person means that that person is of mixed descent, the mix being two races. Although this term could be used in a number of ways, it is commonly only used to refer to individuals of two racial ancestries.
    I am therefore biracial.

  4. Multiracial has many current uses. When referring to a person, it means that the person is of mixed descent, the mix being two or more races. A biracial person is also multiracial. There is also a slight political preference towards using "multiracial" because "biracial" excludes people of more than two ancestries.

    When referring to a group, it means either that the group is composed of multiracial individuals, or that the group is composed of monoracial individuals of two or more races. Which meaning will only be clear in context. "Multiracial" is often used to refer to groups which contain only two races. Usually, "multiracial" is used to refer to group situations and "interracial" is used to refer to one-on-one situations, but this isn't always the case.
    I am also multiracial. I have many individual friends who are multiracial: Chinese and white, Korean and Mexican, Japanese and black. My group of friends is very multiracial, including Mexicans, Indians, Filipinos, whites, blacks, Japanese, Iranians, etc.

  5. While I'm on the subject: Multicultural does not mean "multiracial". "Multicultural" literally means of more than one culture and can be used that way, but is commonly used to refer to a society or group composed of people of more than one race/ethnicity/culture. Its connotation is of balanced diversity within a group.
    I live in a society that strives to be multicultural.

  6. Mixed Race when referring to an individual means the same thing as "multiracial", a person of more than one racial descent. "Mixed race" can also be used to refer to groups of more than one monoracial identity, groups of multiracial individuals, bi- and multi-racial relations of all sorts. It's most commonly used, however, to refer to multiracial individuals.
    I am mixed race.

  7. Miscegenation is a noun, unlike all of the words above, which are adjectives, adjective phrases or adjective complements. It is a noun that refers to an action: the action of mixing races, either through interracial marriage or through interracial sexual relationships. The literal meaning of the term, which was coined fairly recently is "mixing origins", which can refer to childless relationships, but the strong connotation is that miscegenation is the production of mixed race children. After all, the dilution of monoracial purity only comes through producing multiracial children, and this is the result that causes the hysteria in antimiscegenation laws.

    The term originated in a hoax pamphlet intended to create anti-miscegenation hysteria (it succeeded) and has been used in an exclusively negative manner. To use it to refer to purely recreative interracial sex is to use the term falsely, unless of course, the kink is for unsafe interracial sex that leads to pregnancy.
    Many people would think my family is an example of miscegenation.


My point is this: the term "miscegenation" serves a very specific purpose. It has not been turned into an adjective or verb, or even an adverb. It has remained a noun for nearly 150 years. It describes a process, an action with consequences, not a simple fact or state of being.

Aside from any questions of offensiveness, using "miscegenation" to refer to interracial sex fetishes is simply incorrect.

There are interracial relationships, there is interracial sex, and then there are people who get off on the perceived taboo of crossing races for sex. What you call that is "Interracial Sex Fetish", not "Miscegenation".

Get it right.

August 07, 2007

International Blog Against Racism Week 07

Yay!

Oyceter over at LJ is again hosting International Blog Against Racism Week.

Da rulez:


  1. Announce the week in your blog.

  2. Switch your default icon to either an official IBAR week icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAR week icon, you may modify one of yours yourself or ask someone to do so. Here's a round up of IBARW icons.

  3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn't yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc. (Linking back here is highly appreciated!)

You KNOW ima participate. Howzabout you?

Here's Oyce's links roundup so far.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine blog.)

August 05, 2007

How Do Editors Reach Out to Writers of Color?

Damn.

I wasn't gonna get drawn into this debate, because Tempy and Tobias were already doing such a good job and saying what I wanted to say, but then I went and read the comments in Tobias's post and now I'm annoyed.

People were--well, one person was--calling out ABW for placing the lion's share of blame on the editors' shoulders for needing to go and reach out to writers of color if they really wanted to diversify the stories in their rags. This someone asked when they were supposed to have the time to do all this outreach.

Are you fucking kidding me?

First of all, arguing that editors don't have time to do their jobs doesn't really excuse anything. It's an editor's job not merely to present the best writing that's sent to her, not merely to make a real, good faith effort to find the best writing that's out there, but to actually encourage writers to produce more and differently--to shape the kind of writing that gets made in the first place. Anyone who doesn't know this isn't really a professional in the field.

And the best editors of the most respected magazines do exactly that. They don't sit on their asses and wait for the transom to emit. They run around like madpeople to conferences and workshops and readings, they collect zines and spend time on the internet and ask their trusted writer/editor friends for recommendations. They talk to agents. They do rain dances, naked.

They also turn to writers and agents and proactively ask them if they have a story on X, or a story written like Y. They do this knowing that word will go around that Editor Z wants X and Y! And tons of hungry writers will step up.

So it's funny that X and Y are so rarely "stuff by writers of color" and "stuff about people of color." All an editor has to do is ask.

2) Given that editors have to do this and also that their time is limited, why don't we poc make things easier for them? I mean, let's start a list of places an editor should go to outreach to those ever-elusive good poc writers. I'll start and maybe members of other communities can pick this up. I'd be happy to host a mini-carnival on this topic, or simply to collect the responses and post them all together at some later date. Please feel free to add resources in the comments, especially if you have a blog that you know poc writers read.

These tips should include:


  1. list servs, forums, bulletin boards, etc. where poc writers are likely to be found

  2. blogs poc writers are likely to read

  3. print and online magazines and newspapers poc are likely to read

  4. real world organizations poc writers are likely to hang out in

  5. poc writers conferences, conferences, festivals (esp. literary festivals)

  6. reading series where poc are likely to participate

  7. undergraduate writing classes at poc-heavy campuses and poc student orgs (yes, they really should be thinking ahead. Someone will be much more likely to START writing if they know they'll be welcome there when they've FINISHED writing something.)

What follows here is a list of all the poc real world and online spaces I can think of to use to outreach to writers of color. NOTE: this goes for literary writing AND for SF/F:

General POC


  1. The Carl Brandon Society (poc speculative fiction writers) discussion list-serv and blog

  2. VONA Voices poc writers workshop, and their email.

  3. Mosaic, an African American and Latino literary magazine, whose lit editor is Sheree Renee Thomas


Asian American
  1. Kearny Street Workshop (Bay Area Asian American arts) opportunities list-serv

  2. Kearny Street Workshop's links page to other Asian American arts and literary orgs.

  3. Asian American Writers Workshop

  4. Hyphen Magazine (national Asian American magazine) blog

  5. Angry Asian Man blog

  6. dis*Orient Journalzine

  7. This listing of South Asian American (Indian subcontinent) journals also includes general As Am markets, some of which might be defunct.

  8. DesiPundit blog, Indian diaspora.

  9. Tiffinbox blog, Indian diaspora.

  10. Resources on South Asian lit.


Chicano/Latino
  1. Galeria de la Raza (Bay Area Latino multidisciplinary arts organization.)

  2. PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art

  3. La Bloga, a Chicano/Latino literary blog

  4. Other Latino literary resources


African/Caribbean American
  1. African American bookstores in the USA.

  2. Black magazines and journals with open submissions.

  3. Publishers with a particular interest in Af/Af Am writers.


Arab American
  1. Links list of Arab writers writing in English.

  2. Mizna, Arab American Journal

  3. Al-Rawi, association of Arab American writers.

  4. Resources and links to Arab American writers.

  5. Angry Arab blog


Native American/American Indian
  1. Native American writers directory

  2. Native Blog, native American/American Indian blog.

  3. Native American/American Indian literary resources.


Academic

  1. Here's a links directory of all the accredited Asian American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have As Am-specific creative writing courses.

  2. Here's a links directory of African American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have Af Am-specific creative writing courses.

  3. Here's an incomplete links directory of Latin American/Caribbean studies departments and institution in the USA. Some weeding will need to be done.

  4. The University of Michigan's Arab American Studies Center. A bulletin board, newspage, and resources page are all under construction, but you can email them your call for submissions here.

  5. List of Native American Studies programs

August 04, 2007

arg arg arg

Scalzi claims colorblindness. Arg.

Kameron Hurley reams him as he deserves. Argess.

This has been addressed a million times in poc blogs and I don't need to address it again. If you need to hear it though, read the following:

Nisi Shawl "Transracial Writing for the Sincere"

Nisi Shawl "Appropriate Cultural Appropriation"

Angry Black Woman on "How Prejudice and Bias Works"

What I want to add to the debate is a small piece of truth that gets glossed over. In response to the complaint of white writers about writing about people of color: "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't," I want to say: absolutely.

It's absolutely true. You're damned either way. If you don't do it, you're a racist. Yes, you are. Race and racism exist in this society, and if you ignore them, you're expressing a racial privilege that you don't, morally, have any right to. That's a subtle form of racism.

If you do do it and get it "wrong", you'll get reamed, and rightfully so. It's presumptuous of you to think that you have the right to represent a culture you don't belong to if you can't be bothered to properly examine and accurately portray that culture.

Further, if you do it and get it "right", or rather, don't get it wrong, you'll still get reamed by members of that culture you've represented who rightfully resent a white writer's success representing their culture. After all, every American ethnic minority has its writers: good and bad. The good writers are mostly ignored. Inevitably, some white writer will come along and do a bang-up job portraying that culture and will get--in one book, in one section of a book--more attention than the poc writer got over the course of three or five or ten books.

You're a white writer trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it's wrong. And that's so unfair to you, isn't it?

Welcome to a tiny taste of what it's like to be a person of color.

Oh, and quit complaining.

July 26, 2007

Carl Brandon Society Awards Nominations Close Soon!

I've been sadly remiss in announcing this:

The Carl Brandon Society is accepting nominations for its Kindred and Parallax awards until July 31. You have four days, people! Get on it!

The Carl Brandon Parallax Award is given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color. Nominees must provide a brief statement self-identifying as a person of color; creators unwilling to do so will not be considered for this award. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.

The Carl Brandon Kindred Award is given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.

Here's a link to the awards page.

May 16, 2007

Reading Update

Just finished Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, which I picked up in a used bookstore.

It was entertaining, but I'll forget it immediately.

I have to say, I hate the genre of funny-funny-until-it-get-serious-and-meaningful historical fiction. God, I hope that's not what I'm writing with Chinaman. The anachronisms of pov were driving me crazy. They were neither enlightening, nor amusing.

Sigh. I just hate it when I finish a book and feel like I've wasted my time. The book was published in 1990, so it was still dealing with the first big skirmish of identity politics (remind me ... did we win or lose?) As such, the 1830's-era freedman protagonist is busier being Johnson's Mary Sue in a blatantly polarized identity world than he is doing the much more interesting job of negotiating freedom in a slave society.

Every interesting opportunity was missed. I realize that that's not what the author chose to focus on, but my God, choosing to base an identity politics ("tragi")comedy on a slaver is about as misguided as the warm-family-tragicomedy-in-Nazi-death-camp peesashit "Life is Beautiful" was.

Plus, the love interest woman who's fat at the beginning? She slims down in the background from agonizing over whether or not to marry the black slave trader who's wooing her, so that she can appear beautiful in the finale with the protag. I realize it's all in "good" fun, but, UGH!

May 02, 2007

Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Munff

It's a mouff-ful so we just call it "API Heritage Munff" which makes us sound extra "in" as in "in the know".

It's May, by the way, although some people I can mention, who work in an API nonprofit I could mention, seem to think it's April.

That's shameful.

Anyway, down Yay Area Way artsy things tend to center around SomArts Cultural Center (look it up yourdamnself, I just got home from work) where APICC (the "CC" stands for "cultural center") holds it annual munff-long festival. The kickoff's Thursday night, i.e. tomorrow, and I will be there, with silk on.

Sigh. I feel like some sort of effort is in order, a la Angry Black Woman's Black History Month thang, but I'm sodamntired right now. I even walked to lunch yesterday in the middle of a huge downtown Oakland MayDay immigration reform rally and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why they were having such a rally on that day. I might need to post about this latah.

I was about to make all sorts of rash promises, but I'm going to go take a walk instead which, if it doesn't wake me up, will be followed by a nap that just might segue into tomorrow's breakfast.

April 17, 2007

Oh God

... the shooter was Asian, and a foreign national. I really don't wanna see the fallout from this one.

****update*****

Even worse: He's a 1.5. Here we go ...

****update 2*****

"1.5" is between first and second generation. Among European Americans, there's the immigrant generation, and then "first generation" means the first generation to be born in the U.S. Among Asians and Latinos, it's counted differently. First generation is the immigrants. Second generation is the first generation born in the States.

So 1.5's are kids born abroad, but raised mostly or partly in the U.S. I.e., not foreigners, but not born in the U.S.A., either.

This guy is gonna get the "foreigner" treatment for sure, even though he's culturally American--at least to great extent.

****update 3*****

Rebecca at Hyphen magazine rounds up the Asian American freak-out.

April 15, 2007

Bill Cosby Breaks It Down

Apropos of the previous post on Kiri Davis' "A Girl Like Me," here's a snippet from a Bill Cosby hosted show from the 70's. Compare and contrast.

Why Don Imus' Comment Matters

If you want your heart broken, watch as 17-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis renacts the Brown vs. Board of Education study from the Fifties in which black children were asked to pick between a white baby doll and a black baby doll. Back then, most picked the white doll. Now, guess which one most picked today?

And Don Imus is on the record, nationally, for calling black women role models "nappy-headed ho's."

Any questions?

April 11, 2007

Comments On Don Imus Debacle

  1. I take back what I've been saying about "at least blacks are no longer treated with as open contempt in the media as Asians are" blah blah. I guess it was said more in wishfulness than in truth.
  2. After an hour on Google News, I still haven't found a white commenter who thinks anything other than blacks are overreacting. They're all male. I haven't found any random white women commenting. Is every white male on the internet a privileged cracker? Is every white woman on the internet a fucking ostrich?
  3. Oh My God. Why did it take me half an hour on Google to find out about the "Jigaboo" comment? Why did that not merit attention?
  4. The white (male) commentary ranges from "You're all reverse racists this is free speech fuck you lynching Don Imus Free speech fuck you!" to (sadly, wryly) "Yeah, he shouldn'ta said it, but it's teh blacks overreacting that gives his comments meaning" (no shit. somebody actually made that argument.)
  5. Not a single white male in my search has been found to have the imagination to wonder what the Rutger's women's basketball team members feel about all this ... like maybe are they feeling hurt or insulted. It's all about Don Imus and what he does and doesn't deserve. Can it be that this all comes down to a lack of empathy? Talk about identity politics! Look who's identifying now!
  6. It took me all of five minutes to find commentary by "a black man" who thinks teh blacks are overreacting. I don't know which is worse: the possibility that the writer isn't really black, or the possibility that s/he is.
  7. I've found every possible breakdown of Imus' comments, saying that this element was offensive and the other wasn't. There was one that said that "ho" was offensive, but "nappy-headed" wasn't. There was one that said that "nappy-headed" was the offending remark. There was one that said that if the comment had been made about, say, that nappy-headed ho Foxy Brown, instead of those fine, upstanding Rutgers wimmin, then no one would have said anything because, let's be honest, she is a nappy-headed ho. There was one that said that the use of "Jigaboo", which the commenter apparently only knew from Do The Right Thing, made the whole radio exchange a grand allusion to Spike Lee, and not a racist insult at all. All of these comments tried to do away with the offensiveness of the whole by placing it "into context" as if there was any context in which two white men talking about a largely black women's basketball team's looks using the terms "nappy-headed ho's" and "Jigaboos vs. Wannabes" might not be offensive.
  8. Let me break it down for you again:
    • "nappy-headed": no, whites don't get to use it. It's insulting: it's too familiar, it's too racist. And no, you don't get to be arbiter of what teh blacks get to say to each other. Buleeve me, if you bothered to read anything that black people write, you'd already know there's a long-standing and lively discussion of this issue. Your input is not needed.
    • "ho's": no, you don't get to say this about any women, black, white, or ignored. "Ho" is short for "whore", which is insulting slang for "prostitute" and an insult commonly used to deride women, in the belief that a woman's chastity is still important. Once again, black rappers may well be using it. Doesn't mean Don Imus gets to. See above. Plus, who says black rappers get to use it with impunity?
    • "jigaboo": also not okay. No, it's not from Spike Lee. It's an old school racist term on par with the "n-word", only never used as much. There is no universe in which it is not offensive.
    • "context": here's the context, folks. The Rutgers women's basketball team was news because they had just lost a championship game. Imus and pal decided it was appropriate to discuss both the Rutgers players' and their opponents' looks, because they are womenz. They pronounced the Rutgers team "rough-looking" (i.e. not good looking) and backed it up by saying they had tatoos and were "nappy-headed ho's" and "jigaboos". Spot the "ism"! This is racist, sexist, and entirely off topic. There is no way you can tweak this context to make it okay.
  9. How long, sweet Jesus, must we sing this song?

(cross-posted at Other Magazine staff blog.)

April 03, 2007

White Ethnicity Redux

O-tay.

I realized, while I was writing the preceding post about white ethnic blogging, that I've been unconsciously supporting the whole white ethnic blogging as default blogging thing. You see, I have "asian american" as a topic category on my blog, but not "white". And guess what? I'm both Asian American and white.

But because white is default, my only "ethnicity" is Asian, right?

Well, not anymore. I've added a "white" topic category to my blog and will be tagging posts that deal specifically with my white issues or my white ethnic perspective from now on.

It'll be interesting to see if I ever use this tag. I've been thinking of myself as a person of color for so long--and been treated as such for so long--that I don't know if I can think of my perspective as white. But for years I've been saying that I'm not a new category--a multiracial--but rather both Asian and white, whole and complete in both.

That turns out to not actually be true. I'm not whole and complete in being white, and don't know if I can be. We'll see. Experiment begins ... now!

April 02, 2007

White Blogging As Ethnic Blogging

There are a number of blogs, which shall remain nameless, that I have quit reading in the last year or so. I quit them (I do know how to quit you!) because they were so damned white.

What I mean is that the blogger/s were white, but the blogs didn't acknowledge this in any way. The blogs themselves were grandly themed and very popular, and purported--either explicitly or implicitly--to represent the ethnically non-differentiated world of that particular theme. And yet all the people they talked about, all the bloggers they linked to, all the issues discussed, were white, white and white.

Sure, of course they'd occasionally find something from a person of color or from another country, but days, weeks, occasionally even months would go by without this happening. The blogs were clearly by and about whites. That wasn't what disgusted me, though. What disgusted me was that the blogs were sincerely and truly not just for whites. I'm sure the bloggers hoped and dreamed (once a year, or maybe decade) that nonwhite people would come and read their blogs too. They sincerely thought that they were pursuing a topic rather than pursuing a white topic.

In the meantime, bloggers of color--who are always aware when they are being ethnic and when they are being general or nonethnic--have blogs which openly acknowledge the ethnicity or raciality of their points of view, and are attacked for it.

Okay, I'm not the first blogger to make this complaint, and no, it doesn't interest me anymore, either, although it still angers me. My point here is that I was reading a white friend's personal blog today, which is very popular and read and linked to by a lot of peeps in our skiffy tribe (don't think you know who I'm talking about because you don't!) and it hit me like a pile of trolls: this is an ethnic blog!

Well ... duh.

It's an ethnic blog because my friend, and all my white, blogging friends whose blogs are popular and considered a destination for a certain interest group, all of my white blogging friends who deal with "culture" and "arts and literature" and other unacknowledgedly cultural products, are doing it about, from, and for the white cultural sphere. Period.

Including poc and foreigners occasionally is nice, especially if the inclusion arises from genuine interest and admiration. But the blogs are white blogs, not just blogs. They are white book blogs, not just book blogs. They are white writing blogs, not just writing blogs. They are white blogs of interesting things, not just blogs of interesting things. They are white political blogs, not just political blogs. They are white art and film blogs, not just art and film blogs. etc. I think you get the picture.

It seems obvious now, but this is America, and the most obvious things are hidden in plain sight. George W. Bush, for example.

Now that I've had the realization, I feel differently about these white blogs. Everyone has a right--nearly a mandate, almost an imperative--to explore his or her home or group culture, to examine it, to illuminate it, to critique it. I love this about black, brown, and yellow ethnic blogs, and now I love this about white ethnic blogs as well. I no longer need them to change. I no longer have to fight down long emails to each blogger telling them how white they are and that they need to be more inclusive. They don't need to be more inclusive, any more than Cute Overload needs to blog about Iraq.

All they need to do is acknowledge that they are blogs written by white people from a white perspective about white culture. All they need to do is admit that they are white ethnic blogs.

Think that'll happen?

March 20, 2007

Checklist for Originality in Ethnic Writing

A moving portrait (check) of three generations (check) of the Chan(check) family (check) living (check) in Vancouver’s Chinatown (check)

Sammy (check) Chan was sure she’d escaped her family obligations(check) when she fled Vancouver(check) six years ago, but with her sister’s upcoming marriage(check) , her turn has come to care for their aging mother(check) (check) (check) . Abandoned by all four of her older sisters(check) , jobless (check) and stuck in a city she resents(check) , Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) and delving (check) into stories (check) that began in 1913(check) (check) , when her grandfather(check) (check) (check) , Seid Quan(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil.(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check)

The End of East (check) weaves in and out of the past (check) (check) and the present(check) , picking up the threads (check) f the Chan family’s stories(check) (check) : Seid Quan, whose loneliness (check) in this foreign country(check) is profound (check) (check) even as he joins the Chinatown(check) community(check) ; Shew Lin, whose hopes(check) for (check) her (check) family (check) (check) are threatened by her own misguided actions(check) ; Pon Man, who struggles with obligation and desire(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) ; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver (check) everyone expects(check) (check) , even as she feels herself unravelling(check) (check) . And in the background, five little girls (check) (check) grow up (check) (check) (check) under the weight of family expectations(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) . As the past unfolds around her(check) , Sammy finds herself embroiled(check) in a volatile (check) mixture (check) of a dangerous love affair(check) , a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother(check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) (check) , and the still-fresh memories of her father’s (check) long illness.(check) (check) (check)

An exquisite (check) and evocative(check) debut (check) from one of Canada’s bright (check) new(check) literary (check) stars(check) The End (check) of East (check) sets family (check) conflicts (check) against (check) the backdrop (check) of Vancouver’s Chinatown(check) – a city(check) within a city(check) where dreams are shattered a(check) s quickly as t(check) hey’r(check) e bu(check) ilt(check) , (check) an(check) d wher(check) history repeats itself(check) (check) (check) through(check) the generations(check) (check) (check) .

No, I did NOT make this up.

March 10, 2007

The Land of Justified Racism Because the Dragons Say So

Kristina Wong has some fun at Kenneth Eng's expense.

March 03, 2007

Octavia Butler Tribute Fundraiser!!!!

LAST CALL FOR BOOZE 'N' SCI-FI!

Yes, cows and cowboys, tomorrow's the big day. You DO NOT want to miss this one.

Nalo_1Nalo Hopkinson will be there, she of the interesting hybrid accent, straight from Toronto, author of two of my favorite books: Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber (wouldn't it be cool if she did a sequel to Brown Girl in the Ring and called it Tralalalala?)

Jewelle
Jewelle Gomez will be there, in all her former grantor glory! Four words: lesbian escaped slave vampires. I know that's enough.

Gomez_penaGuillermo Gomez-Peña will be there, mixing it up, literally, linguistically, futuristically, and poetically. A MacArthur Genius. Heh, like Octavia. Now how often do you get to see geniuses?

Susiebright_1 Susie Bright will be there, erotica'in like there's no tomorrow. Really, do you want to miss the woman who is the nation's true expert on sex fiction? I think not.

MartaacostaMarta Acosta will be there, and can someone please explain to me what could possibly be wrong with Latina vampire chicklit? Yeah, that's what I thought.

DeguzmanJennifer de Guzman will be there. Comix goddess, yes. That's "Woman of Color Comix Editor" to you, sucka, Ms. de Guzman if yer nasty.

So you see why you can't miss out.

Here's the info again:

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
and
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.
510-841-2082
http://www.starryploughpub.com/

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

March 01, 2007

Black History Month Over

Black History Month ended five minutes ago by my clock and I didn't do what I said I was gonna do. So much for "it's our Black History Month, too!"

I have lots of excuses: exhaustion, being in the middle of a life-transition (no, not menopause, asshats), fighting off viruseses. But during May, API Heritage Month, I'd go out sick and blog something at least every other day, something cranky, no doubt. Bottom line: it's not our Black History Month. Not yet. All rhetoric aside, I still clearly think that it's their Black History Month, not mine, and not my responsibility.

And therein lies the conundrum.

I hinted at it here, when I posted that:

east asians are famous for being afraid of black people, but i steel myself when i see a black man headed my way because that purposeful walk means only one thing: he’s gonna get up into my shit for being asian. 99% of the time, i’m right, too. not all, not most, not even that many black men. just the ones who actually walk towards me that way.

do you know how long it’s been since i’ve taken shit from anyone but a black man for being asian? and yet, every single one of those black men who give me shit are wearing the aura of homelessness or some similar economic desperation on them, and they give me shit while i’m on my way to my fancy nonprofit, bleeding-heart job, or on my way to my mfa creative writing class, stinking of perfumed soap.

in response to Angry Black Woman's question about whether or not blacks can be "racist".

The tension between Asians and Blacks--and indeed between Blacks and all other minorities--exists, is constant, and just never gets talked about.

So how amazing is it that an extremely editorially ill-considered, blatantly racist "column" in an ethnic mag actually gets people talking about this very hidden tension? I'm talking (again) about the Kenneth Eng piece in AsianWeek, which I first saw in Hyphen's blog.

Go back to the article and read down into the comments. There's a lotta stupidity going on there, but it's also the most amazing discussion I've ever seen in Hyphen's comments. Almost every comment so far has said something new. The level of articulateness in these comments is well above par. Why does it take racist assholes to get people talking like this?

Some of the obvious things to say:


  1. Blacks are lowest on the racial totem pole, yet have the strongest racially-based social justice institutions; blacks have more cultural power to defy stereotyped images than all other ethnic minorities combined, yet are probably more judged and worked upon by those stereotypes in real life than all other minorities. This is complicated and difficult to comprehend, and no one who is angry about their lack of privilege will try to understand it.

  2. Fear of blacks nowadays is both the traditional fear of the rampaging negro savage, and the more postmodern fear of the incomprehensibly angry black tongue-lashing. The latter fear has become "racist" because it is so bound up with the former fear, but it is not, in itself, racist. It is the result of racism, where someone holds racist ideas and cannot free herself of them, and is therefore afraid to speak because every time she does, she is taken to task for her racist ideas. I want to separate these two fears because the latter fear is, in part, a fear of giving offense, and it is exactly that fear of giving offense that prevents many people from venturing a racist idea and then being corrected.

  3. I do not know to whom Black History Month belongs. I do not know what to do about it.

  4. Asians and blacks. Oh my gods. I can't even begin to touch that subject until you've listened to Ishle Park's amazing piece "Sa I Gu" on this CD. That's my cop out. There are so many individual crossovers, and so many individual clashes. What there has almost never been, except during the Rodney King riots, or "Sa I Gu", is groups of Asians and Blacks beating on each other, or, actually, talking to each other. I can't say anything.

  5. Except this: the Chinese are very, very racist against blacks, yes, it's true. It's culture-wide, and it's very different from how whites do it. The justifications are different, even here in the States. There's an imbibing of white cultural valus, certainly, but there's also a special Chinese brand of racism all its own, where "ghost/demons" are generally white, but there's a black version as well. Where everyone who isn't Chinese is a monkey, and not in a good way.

  6. And this: Chinese Americans led some of the early Asian American Movement groups and they modeled their protest consciously on the Civil Rights Movement ... for reasons that are obvious now--because they did it--but were not obvious then, when Chinese were considered foreigners, and not somehow "native" lessers, like blacks. It was the consciously taken lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, taken by the Asian American Movement, that enables discussions of parallels and differences, compare and contrast, between As Ams and Af Ams today. We chose to make blacks our model of activism and not whites. As Ams chose to model our Movement after Civil Rights and not the equally accessible and equally powerful white anti-war movement. Everybody needs to stop and think about that.

And here's the Black History Month conundrum:

Blacks don't get the spotlight often, so I should stay out of theirs in February.

But that doesn't mean that I should ignore Black History Month. That would be just as bad.

But it's weird to play an explicitly supportive role, for a whole month. Isn't that weird? And patronizing?

And I have all of this unresolved anger against blacks which is genuine, if vague. And did I mention unresolved?

And I'm angry at this specific black pundit for a stupid comment about Asians and I don't know where to put it to get it out of the way for February.

Plus: Black History Month: not really my deal, is it?

Ohmygod, if I say anything at all during Black History Month everyone will be looking at me and judging me and what if I say/do the wrong thing? It's not like anyone else who's not black is doing anything to take the heat off of me.

Am I really just an insufferable goody-goody?

Plus, now the month is over.

Yes, I'm being partly silly but I'm also deadly serious. I have not given up on My Black History Month. I just don't think it'll happen in February.

February 27, 2007

Embarassed 2 B Azn

I posted this over on Other Magazine's blog but I got quoted in the Chron today and there's new stuff out there and I have more to say on it here so I'm going to repost it so it's all together in one place.

There are times, yes, times when I'm embarrassed to be Asian.

Like, for example, whenever I see an AsianWeek distribution stand. This weekly tabloid---long brought to us by the same Fang family (even Asians pronounce "Fang" like tooth) that embarrassed the entire Bay Area with their transparently whorish version of the Examiner---is the adult equivalent of a midwestern suburban teenager's identity-angst zine, only without the freshness and honesty.

The writing is horrifyingly bad, their stories are six months behind the times---Hyphen, a tri-annual magazine, consistently scoops them---and their occasional shameful shows of community support---fobbed off on 18-year-old interns, or at least reading as if they were---do nothing to counteract their constant flow of vitriol toward Asian American writers, journalists, and cultural workers more savvy and successful than they.

When we started the self-same Hyphen magazine that kicks their ass every morning for breakfast (and twice on Sunday, for brunch) before it even prints a word, AsianWeek's first, and pretty much only, response was to sic on us Emil Guillermo (the only nominally competent staff writer, and that I say only because he manages to stick to the rules of grammar). In his column "Emil Amok", Guillermo, after admitting that he hadn't yet seen the magazine, proceeded to attempt to tear us a new asshole because our editor in chief, Melissa Hung, had said in an interview that Hyphen wasn't going to do Asian American Studies 101. Guillermo, naturally, didn't bother to call Hung and clarify, 'cause he's not really a journalist, and Hyphen remains of the single-asshole persuasion.

The middle-aged Guillermo took exception to that statement, presumably, because he works for a publication that phones it in, week after week, on that very syllabus. He hadn't moved past it, so why should we? That's when I stopped even attempting to read AsianWeek. Because either Guillermo's editors had read his column and supported his low journalistic standards and ignorant opinion, or because they didn't support it but were too lazy or chickenshit to say so, or because they hadn't bothered to read it in the first place. Whatever. None of those are publications I actually want to read.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that AsianWeek is now publishing some of the most blatantly racist, not to mention poorly executed, dingleberries passing for writing on the internet today. And that's saying a lot.

As Hyphen's staff blog reports today, they've acquired a new columnist recently named Kenneth Eng. He's been producing extremely short columns with titles such as "Why I Hate Asians," "Proof that Whites Inherently Hate Us," and, most recently, a savvy piece of marketing entitled "Why I Hate Blacks." Being an irony-steeped Gen-Xer, I hear titles like this and think, "What a great opportunity for Swiftian satire!" But alas, we're talking about AsianWeek, and if these buttcrusts were intended as satire, Eng is too shitty a writer to get that across.

I'd link to some examples of his excrescences, but I'm too damn lazy or something. Follow the links in the Hyphen article if you want it. There's also a petition, which is only a good idea because somebody needs to let teh blacks and teh whites know that most Asian Americans have never even heard of AsianWeek, much less agree with its "editorial" "decisionmaking". As for me, I can't even be bothered to sign it. Let AsianWeek sink into its own mire. It has proven again and again unworthy of Asian American support. Let it die. I'd rather have no As Am newspaper at all than this piece of shit.

February 07, 2007

Ching Chong, Mutherfrakker!

It's a poignant story, many times told. Immigrant family arrives in America, begins lifelong tug of war between assimilation and cultural identity, struggles to find a foothold on the economic ladder, establishes a flow of information, cash and visa sponsorships (and/or arranged marriages) between those left behind in the old country and those busily becoming citizens of the new.

Kids come home from school speaking English; parents answer in Spanish or Farsi or Cantonese. Parents eat menudo or lavash or jook for breakfast; kids slurp milk pinkened by Fruity Pebbles. Kids grow taller and more cynical than their parents, refuse to attend church or mosque or temple, leave home, marry or intermarry, serve as translators between their parents and their own kids during bilingual holiday dinners, and cobble together a patchwork culture, an often-uneasy union of their customs of origin with new, Americanized traditions of their own.

Arrrrrrggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

Is there a book in the world I want to read less than this one that Salon.com describes above? Maybe the Newark, NJ phonebook? Naw, that'd have good names.

Sad thing is that this might actually be a good book ... no, wait, what am I saying? Even if it's well written, there's no possible way it could actually be good. How could you possibly retell a cliché to make it fresh?

So let's just amuse ourselves at the reviewer's expense:

In "The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother," William Poy Lee lends his family's coming-to-America story a fresh twist by structuring the book in an unusual way. In alternating chapters, Lee lets his mother's story come through in her own voice; her memories, and perspectives, taped by the author during a series of interviews, are juxtaposed with his, rendering lush and surprising what might otherwise be a somewhat predictable tale. In the tradition of the blockbuster multigenerational epic -- "Roots," "'Tis" and "Cane River" come to mind -- "The Eighth Promise" describes William Poy Lee's upbringing in, rebellion against, and ultimate return to the bosom of his family, community and culture.

Does somebody else wanna say it? No? Okay, then, I'll say it again: read the mutherfuckin' Joy Luck Club, you philistine! Holy Mother of Quan Yin. Since when does alternating the "voices" of two different generations of Chinese Americans represent "a fresh twist"?

But maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. It is Salon.com, after all, the Soy Cluck Club. They don't phone it in, they email it in. They probably have an online intranet for contributors with vast files of review templates: cross-reference "Chinese immigrant" with "memoir" with "mother" and it'll come up with bookreview_unchallenging_diversity. Alternate phrasings will be listed at the bottom of the document where pullquotes would ordinarily be: "rendering lush and surprising," "richly drawn and evocative," "paints a picture of young green rice shoots waving in the PLACENAME breeze," "her pride in her heritage is palpable," etc.

Sadly for the author the book only seems to pick up on the second page of the review ... or maybe it's just that the reviewer, desperate and grabbing for straws, picked the only part of the book that interested her and ran with it ... for a whole page. Why not lead with the interesting stuff about the author's brother convicted for a Chinatown gangland murder? This is the meat! We've never read this stuff before!

This is how we do, this is how we are racist in our post-identity age: we refuse to call ethnic crap out, and we rehash the same tired, old tropes until the groove has worn through the floorboards. The reviewer herself says it early on, "a somewhat predictable tale." Only if "somewhat" synonymizes "screamingly" en Salonspeak. I bet this will be the only Asian American book reviewed between now and API Heritage Month --- that's in May, Salon, so you'd better start pitching those Jerry Yang and Yo Yo Ma profiles now. Hey, I heard that Maya Lin is giving interviews again! Better get on it before she changes her mind! And did you know that a buncha Japanese Americans fought in World War II? That would make an interesting, and potentially controversial, story!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

February 03, 2007

Black History Month Support

Angry Black Woman is proposing a different kind of project for Black History Month:

I thought that instead of posting the same old and tedious BHM posts or even the anti-BHM posts, let’s make Black History Month useful again. What black folk do we hardly ever talk about yet deserve to be remembered if not celebrated? What recent history is worth exploring? And what is your personal black history? I would love to hear stories about people’s families. Either stuff you remember or stuff you were told. How did your people contribute to history? How were they affected by it?

So seriously, this is the Black History I want to explore this month. Post this on your blog, pass it around, email your grannies and cousins for material. Recommend some books, dig up some history, have fun!

Then come back here and tell me about it. Oh, and tag your posts “Our Black History Month”

I love that she's doing this, and love the idea of the project. I really hope people will participate.

This strikes home for me because I worked for so many years in the Asian American ethnic community and for all these orgs, programming tends to center around May (API Heritage Month, for those of you who don't know). Every year around May there's someone who makes the obligatory speech about how we shouldn't encourage the idea that people are Asian only one month a year--We Are Asian All Year Long! blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever.

What bugs me more about API Heritage Month is the same thing that ABW complains about: all you ever hear about is the 442nd and Amy Tan. Dragon Boat Races and martial arts demonstrations. You know, comfortably exotic stuff with a little outraged history so far in the past that no one needs to feel bad about it anymore.

Our job at the APA orgs was to diversify the stories. (The Center for Asian American Media does a kickass job of this. With all the thousands of documentary shorts they have access to and their great relationship with local PBS affiliates, May is basically a tv Asian lovefest.) And I really enjoyed doing this, even though it was a bit much to watch all of my colleagues going nuts over one month in the year, jostling and competing with each other to get their best programming out and then lapsing, exhausted, at the end of that time, to be essentially ignored for the rest of the year.

Also, people participate (or not) in API Heritage Month activities out of some vague sense of "diversity" duty, and not out of any real understanding that Asians have a real role in the history of the United States. And this would be my same complaint about Black History Month: there's a vague feeling that it's about being fair to the poor blacks, and not that it's about focusing on how Af Ams' history is woven into the whole cloth of American history. Or how your life has been shaped by the roles Af Ams have played in American, and your, history.

Another complaint I have about both February and May is that everybody who is not black and Asian, respectively, sits back passively (albeit often receptively) and waits to have the History and Heritage brought to them. It's not their history after all.

Wrong. It's all of our history. I'm American and my daily life is shaped by America's history of slavery, coolie labor, industrial wage slavery, immigration restriction, Jim Crow, westward expansion, Indian genocide, women's suffrage, militarism, imperialism, etc, etc. I don't get to pick and choose the parts of history that affect me directly and the parts of history that don't. It's not a timeline, history, it's a biosphere. Have a butterfly get on a boat in Hong Kong and soon you'll have a typhoon of immigrants drowning off the coast of New York. Whip a slave in Georgia and soon you'll have to cut the thumbs off of weavers in India.

So while ABW's call to words is for African Americans specifically--because Black History Month may be for all of us, but it needs to be driven by teh Af Ams--I propose a support project to complement hers. Let's all blog this month on "How have Americans of African descent--both those you know personally and those didn't--affected your life?" You can address one or more of the following, and I suggest that you address them all in more than one post:

  1. You've learned about black history in school or through cultural events. But what was the thing, the incident or the moment you first got a gut reaction, a visceral understanding of the impact of black history on the position of African Americans in our country?

  2. Tell us about the African American/s who came into contact with you and/or your family in the near or distant past and had an impact, either positive or negative. (Be honest. Especially if you're white, a lot of you will have black servants or employees in your family's past. If your family is from the south, there may even be a history with slavery. It maybe embarrassing to you, but this is real history that you shouldn't obfuscate.)

  3. Do a little thought experiment. Pick one of your daily or weekly habits--brushing your teeth, putting too much salt on your food, surfing the internet (a-hem), dancing in your car on the way to work--and find the connection to African American history. For a crude example, look at what you wear, the history of your Levi's, for example, and the "jean" cotton canvas material that Levi Strauss copied from the French, but was able to make in mass quantities because of the extensive American cotton production, built up and fueled first by slaves, then by tenant farmers and share croppers.

  4. Use this opportunity to do a little research. Pick a field of endeavor that's important to you: your career, your avocation, your favorite sport or hobby. Then go and find an African American you'd never heard of before who excelled in this field or contributed to it profoundly in history. Then tell us all about them.

I'm gonna do this too, and I'm gonna check in with ABW about it. If you decide to participate, do check in here and over there and let us know about it!

January 28, 2007

Ishoo Wun

So why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?

First, let's quickly define "hybridity". I did this before in a triumphal, let's-change-the-world way. But we need a more working definition. So for now, "hybridity" means the process or product of a melding of two cultures, subcultures, forms, processes, or dynamic structures.

Got that? So you mix, combine or meld two things, and the process is hybridization. The outcome of that hybridization is a hybrid, or hybridity. This could be, for example, American yoga (melding American understanding of religion and exercise with an Indian tradition form), or Eminem (melding white, working class cultural norms and understanding with a "traditionally" black, working class art form), or nanotechnology (biology and robotics), or wholistic (holistic) medicine (western traditional medicine with western science-based medicine with eastern traditional and science-based forms), or the Prius (gas-powered and electric-powered), or me (Chinese and white).

Got that? Okay, let's go.

Hybridity, especially of the racial sort, but of many other sorts as well, is a topic frequently explored in YA (young adult) fiction. That is to say, when authors grapple with multiraciality or hybrid identities, they tend to turn to YA, or Bildungsromane (trans.: Bildung means "upbringing", "education", "personal formation" in German; Roman means "novel"). Most novels of hybrid identity either fall entirely within the scope of YA or a Bildungsroman, or else begin with youth and the identity-forming years.

But that is also to say that when you approach YA novels and Bildungsromane that aren't otherwise about hybrid identities, their form and format very often leads them into an examination of some type of hybridity or hybrid identity. The two---identity search and the exploration of mixing and melding---seem to be closely associated in our cultural thinking ... or perhaps merely in our narrative form.

Of course, all teens are definable as being in the midst of the basic and essential identity search: "finding themselves", who am I? and all that. Given. Teenagerhood is also a process of transitioning from childhood intellectual and emotional dependence to adult independence of same. Dependence on the conceptual constructions of another means necessarily a lack of flexibility. When Mommy says playing with yourself is bad, she doesn't mean (or perhaps she simply didn't say) that doing it in front of other people is bad and doing it when you're alone is acceptable, and doing it when you're lonely is good, and doing it instead of being promiscuous with strangers is virtuous, and experimenting with it is dangerous but exciting. Playing with yourself is just bad. Period.

Which is why we say that teens "experiment" with drugs and sex: not to see what happens when you mix this drug or that action with your body chemistry, but to see what happens when you challenge something Mommy or Daddy told you. The experimentation fractures your understanding of "do" and "don't" into "do sometimes" and "don't do under these circumstances" and "think first because you don't know what to do here." The confusing but comfortingly black and white instruction set of childhood is replaced by an ethical code which requires interpretation. Teens are introduced to the necessity for flexibility, to an ambiguous world in which ambiguity is often what allows you to survive or to be yourself.

For a few short years, teen minds are so soft and flexible that they can literally be turned around overnight. A concept they always held to be sacred can be flipped in an instant. Faith can be killed, or created, in an afternoon. Three different adults can tell them three different things and they can act on all three beliefs simultaneously, while consumed with rage at the contradictions.

Ah, teens.

Adolescence is the moment we come closest to touching ambiguity as a substance, and not just a state of understanding.

I have a tendency to use "ambiguity" and "hybridity" interchangeably because, obviously, this is my experience of being what other people consider a hybrid. But they are not exactly interchangeable. Ambiguity is defined by its use in words and communications. It is "doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention," or "Doubtfulness or uncertainty as regards interpretation," or "unclearness by virtue of having more than one meaning."

What I mean by interchanging them is to underline the fact that certain things about me are verbal or conceptual constructs, and not actualities. Race, for example, is a conceptual--and verbal--construct. I am only multiracial if you consider my race/s to be:

  1. distinct
  2. mutually exclusive
  3. important
In defining me as a hybrid, you are giving me two or more distinct, mutually exclusive, and important values and meanings. Which means that my singular meaning to you, my meaning, being and purpose as a person contains within it more than one distinct, mutually exclusive, and important meaning. Which makes my meaning, and which makes me as a person, ambiguous.

The synonyms of "ambiguity," which is to say, the word's connotations, are "vagueness, equivocation, deceptiveness." Its antonyms are "explicitness" and, oh irony!, "clarity." Ambiguity, the lack of a clear meaning, is, in itself, neither bad nor good. It simply is. However, our culture (and perhaps to a certain extent all human cultures) values clarity, hard definition, and shuns ambiguity. Probably why it is only since the European Enlightenment we have even had adolescence, much less a culturally-understood search for oneself.

Most people in our society go through an extended moment of recognizing that their categories are not, technically, all perfectly dovetailed. The things they thought were hard, neighboring truths about themselves are, when taken to logical extremes, terribly contradictory. And becoming adult means--in essence--acclimating to what seems like contradictions when looked at in this way. Becoming adult means learning to ignore what seem to be personal contradictions--or learning not to mind that one can't explain oneself to oneself. Learning to accept one's own mystery and the mystery of others. Learning to live meaningfully in the absence of a single, clear meaning of life.

Lovely enough, but it's a process that isn't seen at all, being internal. It's a process that's impossible to tell stories about directly because it's manifested mostly in tantrums and acting out.

So, often and often, some sort of obvious hybridity becomes the metaphor for the process of disambiguation (or more accurately, enambiguation) that happens beneath the surface of every zitty teenage skin.

This is often some sort of racial hybridity or hybridity of biological genesis. After all, in our society we permit people to leave behind with rage of adolescence the hybridity of being both parents and children, being both friends and enemies, lovers and fighters, teachers and students, athletes and drunkards, artists and accountants. We move forward no longer seeing that these are any contradiction. We actively avoid the hybridity of male/female, desire and friendship.

What we can't let pass is the hybridity of race. Not in this society, with our racial hierarchy. Such things can't be ambiguous. Whether you're a father or son right this second isn't important. It doesn't impact your status or how a stranger will treat you. But whether you're black or white right this second really, really does. So racial hybridity or hybridity of genesis become the stand-ins for all such adolescent processes.

All Graeco-roman heroes' tales are Bildungsromane, coming-of-age stories. Because the very definition of the hero is a semi-divinity: someone born of a mortal and an immortal parent, who is himself mortal, but possesses superpowers. A hybrid. There is always a near-climatic moment of reckoning with one's hidden parentage. There's always a moment in which the desires and limitations of the human are forced, through action, to meld with the powers of the god; a moment in which the hybrid potential is fulfilled by ignoring the contradictions inherent.

I'm exposing myself to severe flame-action, but that's Jesus' story as well. Son of a human and a god, he finds himself three times: at the temple when he is (no coincidence here) twelve years old lecturing to his elders; in discovering his ministry, which exposes his superpowers of reasoning, persuasion, love, and leadership; and on the cross, where he discovers his superior powers of self-sacrifice. He is in himself a hybrid, but he is also one aspect of the ultimate contemporary western hybrid: the trinity, simultaneously father, son, and holy spirit. (Yeah, and no coincidence, either, that protestant sects violently debate the nature of that hybridity; it is also protestant sects that raised the racial slave trade in North America to an industry, and that went to war over ending that same institution.)

And then of course, in these atheistic times, the hybridity between the natural and supernatural---which makes into story our ability to fulfill our own potential by ignoring categories---becomes more and more abstract and less and less religious. We no longer believe in gods or fairies, so the hybrid coming-of-age story becomes related to what we recognize as fantasy only.

I'm not gonna say that the slide from the more obvious forms of hybridity in our society to fabulist literary forms is seamless. China Miéville points out that the magical races (dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.) in Tolkienesque fantasy are rigidly held to biologically determined character virtues and flaws and that that is profoundly reactionary and bigoted. Obviously, not all swords and sorcery writers think such things about human races. And the hybridity in the YA magical protagonist is not always racial (being half-elf, for example) but otherwise genetic (being of a line of witches, for example). But the connection between the two is an obvious one, and one that is made usually without a great deal of reflection or philosophy.

Which is why you see so many protagonists of Young Adult fiction who have magic in them. Usually, they got it from one parent. Usually, that parent is missing or dead or presumed dead. Usually, that parent turns out to be either alive him/herself, or alive in the form of a close relative with similar aspects/powers. Usually there is a reckoning with that parent, with that parentage. Usually--always? almost always?--there is a moment where the implications are thrown to the winds and the potentialities of both parentages are melded. Always this is the climax. Always it leads to a new hybridity of two old, seemingly mutually exclusive states of being or doing. Always this new hybridity is understood as the becoming of the protagonist, the protagonist's total being.

I can only half-remember examples of the many, many books like this I read when I was young. The albino kid from Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which was my favorite series, sticks out. Here, the kid (SPOILER ALERT) is raised as an orphan by relatives, and later discovers himself to be the secret son of King Arthur and Guinivere, displaced in time. King Arthur, of course, is a magical being simply by virtue of his position in the imagination.

Or, more recently, there's the Harry Potter series, in which the human racial diversity is a matter of extreme blandness, but a deep discomfort with racial ambiguity is only semi-intentionally displayed through the conflict between Muggle and Wizard families. The main hybridity there is in Harry, whose mother was a Muggle. Harry is raised as an orphan by relatives who obfuscate his magical heritage, and the magic in his Muggle heritage. This hybridity is mirrored, naturally, in Harry's arch-enemy, Lord Voldemort, who was the son of a witch and a Muggle, raised contemptuously by his Muggle family, and "rescued" by Dumbledore and Hogwarts School. Both hero and villain face a reckoning with their mixed heritage, but only Harry, and by implication only, makes peace with both, although he allies himself with the magical world. Voldemort is portrayed as succumbing to evil because of his hatred of his Muggle half--like a half-Jewish Nazi.

There's also a more complex and nuanced discomfort with the whole issue of authenticity and cultural genesis evidenced in Hermione, who is herself a Muggle with magical abilities, an analogy to, say, Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, who is a white girl with mysteriously black powers of dancing. And then there's Neville Longbottom, who is feared to be a Squib, a pureblood wizard with no magical abilities, the analogy to the Oreo, the black person who is white on the inside---or perhaps to the aristocrat with common tendencies.

An early exchange between Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley, both pureblood wizards, about the value of mixed-bloods intentionally promotes Rowling's diversity agenda, and unintentionally displays Rowling's discomfort with the idea that there can be a difference in being born to a magical family and being adopted into one, or to being "naturally" magical, yet having to learn magic in school---all racial/ethnic issues rampant in current American and British demographics.

But my favorite example is not considered a YA at all, although I think it has all the markers of one. That is China Miéville's King Rat, definitely not his most popular book, and also his only full-length novel that doesn't take place in Bas Lag. It's not a coincidence that I quoted his notions of raciality in fantastical races above. He's the only fantasy writer I've seen who's created a plausible and effective fantastical scenario, that consciously promotes an actively ambiguous hybrid identity in its protagonist, rather than implying it, or fumbling the ball by calling something hybrid that actually looks only like one of its parts. (I'm sure there are more of these, but I haven't read them.)

The whole structure is there (BIG OL' SPOILER ALERT--and take this one seriously, because this book is worth reading for its own sake): a young man, Saul, raised by his father (his mother is dead) comes home to find his father killed by defenestration. Arrested for patricide, he is rescued from jail by King Rat, the anthropomorphic supernatural spirit of ratdom, who claims to be his uncle. King Rat tells our hero that his mother, King Rat's sister, was a rat as well, making Saul half-rat. Saul is then instructed in the art of being a supernatural rat.

There is the necessary revelation and confrontation of parentage when Saul discovers that King Rat is actually his father, his mother having been a human that King Rat raped. Then there's the moment of melding of identities at the climax, when Saul faces the Pied Piper, who can't compel him by flute because he's half-human, but has melded (hybridized) his flute music with a drum 'n' bass DJ's beats to catch both rat and human in Saul. This is the part that is unusual, because Saul's revelation here is that he is not two halves, but one whole, and cannot be made into a sum of his parts, like the music that the Pied Piper has created. You can't mix human and rat music and expect to catch a human and rat mix. He is something else; himself.

A very multiracial conclusion. The irony is of course that Miéville has essentialized human and rat for the purpose of making the point that races can't be essentialized. But I'll (mostly) let that pass.

A lot of this is implied in more sophisticated fantasy, like Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, where magic isn't really a result of parentage. It just happens. And the hybridity is actually an entirely internal process of melding virtuous with dark impulses, that LeGuin manifests in a shadow self.

And then, of course, there's Octavia Butler. But I'm not ready to write about her yet. She didn't follow this particular pattern at all. She created her own. That's a topic for another post.

Complex of Ishooz Redux

I proposed a Complex of Ishooz a while ago and then ignored it. Let's get into it again. Let's set 'em up and knock 'em down.

Here were the Ishooz again:

1. Why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?
2. How would an adult or mature hybridity tale look? Are there any?
3. Why does contemporary urbanism necessitate hybridity (besides the obvious, and yes, we will detail the obvious)? What would a homogeneous city look like? (ooo! Zamyatin, here we come!)
4. Why are magic and technology always "other", and therefore a product of hybridity? Why are magic and technology never indigenous or immanent?
5. Why is technology of the city, and magic of nature?

Aaaaaand ... they'roff!

January 27, 2007

Hair Petting

The Angry Black Woman has been pursuing the hair petting issue for awhile.

It breaks down to this: white people feel entitled to touch black people's hair without permission, to ask them if it's real without preamble or reason, and to talk incessantly about it. Angry Black Woman says: don't.

This whole thing makes me cringe for two reasons. Firstly, I have a similar thing, which is that people make a very big and rude deal about my height in terms and in a manner in which they wouldn't make a big deal about the aspects of anyone else's body. No one would walk up to a woman with big breasts and say, "Wow, your breasts are BIG! What's your bra size?" People wouldn't even walk up to someone and say "Wow, your feet are BIG! What's your shoe size?" If they did, they'd be considered at least weird, and definitely rude and obnoxious. But it appears to be okay to walk up to me and say "Wow, you're TALL! How tall are you?" I never answer this question. I always explain that I don't answer and why. But no one EVER stops to think about it. Everyone ALWAYS takes immediate offense, as if my refusing to talk about MY BODY is somehow me deliberately insulting them. MY bodily dimensions, you see, are about THEM.

This being the case, it makes me crazy that when I first met Angry Black Woman I DOINGED HER CURLS. I got permission first, of course, but the fact that I did that to someone who SO OBVIOUSLY has hair that people touch all the time and talk about all the time in an obnoxious way makes me absolutely frustrated with myself. I even remember thinking briefly that I shouldn't do it. But I did it anyway. Being a good person, ABW forgave me and is still my friend. But that doesn't make it okay that I did it.

Sure, I've got other excuses. Such as that I NEVER do the usual black hair thing (I don't); such as that I definitely have a curly hair fetish that transcends race (I do) or that I ask to doing the hair of everyone with corkscrew curls, who usually are Latino or white, not black. Sure, all of that is true. It's even possible that ABW is the only black person whose curls I've asked to doing, since I've been sensitive to this racial issue since a very young age, and that I did it because she was my friend. Lots of excuses.

But then, nonblack curlyhaired people have a similar problem with people touching their hair. It's not necessarily a racial issue, but it's definitely a personal space issue. An issue with people thinking that because you have an attribute that attracts them, or repels them, or is simply different, that your personal space isn't as valid as other people's. It's a difference issue. It's a privilege issue.

It's like we're all a bunch of big babies toddling around grabbing things we've never seen before and putting them in our mouths. Maybe it IS hardwired. Maybe we really CAN'T help ourselves, at least not at first. I've had to deal with more of this than most people because I have both the multiracial thing (which means that there's nowhere I can go where people won't make a big deal about my race) and the tall woman thing, (which, ditto). But I STILL do it to others, even though I should know better.

But even if it is hardwired I think we can train ourselves out of it. The fact that I thought about touching ABW's hair before giving in to the impulse indicates that next time I might be able to stop myself before commiting an annoyance. Or that I HAVE stopped myself ever since before committing an annoyance.

I have a black coworker who wears wonderful, bright-colored scarves on her head. The scarves give me a great deal of visual pleasure and I usually comment on women's attire when I like it, but this is so close to the hair petting issue that I've hesitated, and I'm glad of it. Because, you know what? I comment on my other coworkers' CLOTHES, but not on what they do with their hair. Ever. I don't know why that is. Maybe I don't like the way they do their hair. But I've never commented on scarf-woman's CLOTHES, even though I generally like the way she dresses. It's her headscarves that get my attention. I'm not 100% on why that is, and until I am, I'm keeping my damn mouth shut and just smiling at her to say "good morning."

None of these choices are satisfactory, and yes, it's a pity we can't just go with our impulses. But people, you don't have any gods-given RIGHT to act on your impulses in public, so let's not act as if we do. If your impulse were to pet a woman's breast, no one would have to tell you why you shouldn't do that. If your impulse were to call a total stranger a "cunt", ditto. We control ourselves all day long. This is just another item on the list. Add it.

By the way, it's a good thing the height thing "intimidates" people, because I particularly hate being touched by strangers, and if ABW and I changed places, I'd be slapping people right and left and not being dignified, generous, and funny about it, like she is.

November 25, 2006

SF Story Call for Submissions

I'm calling for submissions for my blog! Okay, it's a new idea, and it may die out very, very soon if I get a great job and can't keep this up, or if nobody submits anything, which is far more likely, ... but here's the idea:

The Idea: Once a month I would like to post an SF story (for our purposes, "SF" means "Speculative Fiction", i.e. science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, magical realism, combos thereof, or etc.) based upon a particular idea, topic, or new technology.

How It Will Work: I will post an idea, topic, or ... thing here, will sit back and wait for submissions, and a month later, will close submissions and post the best story. That is to say, post the story I think is best according to constantly shifting criteria which I will not explicate. The stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. That is to say, don't pull some random SF story out of your drawer, add a scene in which somebody talks about or uses the thing, and think that's going to cut it. It won't.

The Purpose: is to get people to write new stories --- and they can be bad, I don't expect them to be great --- to get them thinking about current topics. Also, to get people to write things quickly and not be afraid. You know already that this story won't end up in Interzone (since if I "publish" it, they probably won't take it.) I also want people to get an opportunity to try something new in terms of technique, writing strategy, world, characters, etc. So just let yourself go and devil take the hindmost.

Limitations:

  • Because this is a blog format, we don't want a post that will go on forever and ever. So let's say you keep it under 2000 words, exceptions only for really fantastic stuff (that is to say, if it's 5000 words and the first paragraph makes my teeth grind at night, you will get no benefits, doubt or otherwise, and the delete button will get an early workout.) I don't feel bad about imposing this limit because you're all writing these stories from scratch, right?
  • Once again, the stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. Seriously. Don't try to fake it. I will nail you.
  • Please paste the story into an email and send it to seelight44 down yahoo way. This means no funky fonts or formats. Just paragraphs full of sentences full of words. Please put "SF Story Sub" and your name in the subject line.

A Note On "Quality": If I don't get any good submissions, then I just won't post anything. "Good" in this case, does not mean perfect or polished. You only have a month at most and I don't believe that most writers can turn out a perfect story based on somebody else's theme in a month or less. What I want to see is a story that's full of life and energy, full of that juice that makes the world and characters and situations come alive for you, that makes you forget that there's a real world outside your head for 20 minutes or so.

A Strong Desire: Anyone who reads this blog will be aware that I am very conscious of race, class, and gender issues, and have strong words for published writers who use literature to reify existing hierarchies, or simply fail to note the mechanics of said hierarchies and reify them by default. If you have never thought about such things, your new little 2000-word story is a great place to start. Try writing a protag who is much older than you, or a different gender or race than you (with gender, I particularly encourage people to try characters who are transgender or whose gender identities aren't simply female/male but more complex), or comes from a signifcantly less, or significantly more, advantaged background than yours. Try to get deep and avoid stereotypes (you know stereotypes: those easy "ideas" that jump into your head, seemingly as a gift from your muse).

So Here's The First Topic:
"Robotics used to create custom-themed interactive game park rides."
Submissions Due Date: December 25, 2006, Christmas Day.
Will Post (or try to post): Jan 1, 2007.

November 20, 2006

Takei Joins "Heroes" Cast!

Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hyphen mag tells us that George Takei, a.k.a. Mr. Sulu from the original "Star Trek" series, is joining the cast of "Heroes" as Hiro's father.

Yay!

Takei is a bit of a hero of mine, one of the best-known Asian American faces, an actor who has never sold out, or (that I know of) taken any roles that denigrate Asian Americans, and who has remained true to the Asian American community throughout his career, acting in community independent films, sitting on nonprofit boards, and turning out appearances at community fundraisers over and over.

He raised this to another level last year when he came out as gay, uninspired by any Perez Hilton-style outing shenanigans, and then connected that experience with his childhood experience in the Japanese American internment camps. He's also long been active in LGBT organizations. He followed this up with a Human Rights Campaign-sponsored "Equality Trek," a speaking engagements tour around the country.

The campaign to get Captain Sulu his own "Star Trek" series failed, but honoring not just the stature of the Sulu character, but also the stature of the actor who plays him, should be a priority down "Star Trek" way. If they ever do another series ...

Meanwhile, we get to see him on "Heroes." How appropriate!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 5037
Total wordcount: 7861

November 06, 2006

Innnnnteresting ...

Yeah. Um ...

Checking my web stats, I found that someone linked to my Why are interracial relationships important to society? post from this webpage (WARNING! NOT SAFE FOR WORK! DO NOT CLICK IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED!

It's a large, large life.

October 09, 2006

Why Are Interracial Relationships Important to Society?

Some people have been linking to this blog via an ask.com search on "Why are interracial relationships important to society?" So I'm going to address this question (again) directly.

Q: Why are interracial relationships important to society?

A: They're not.

Yeah, that's right. They're not important to society. Period. Know why? because interracial relationships are relationships, not government-sanctioned social tweaking, like affirmative action. Interracial relationships are romance, family. It's important to accept them, yes. It's important to society that you accept interracial relationships, because then your society will be less racist. But your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships not because interracial relationships perform that all-important deracifying function on society. Your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships because you are being less racist.

You have frequent opportunities throughout your day, week, year, and lifetime to be more racist or less racist, and to affect your society, to make your society more racist or less racist. People partnering interracially and entering your public space create opportunities for you to be more racist or less racist. But if no one partnered interracially, you'd still have opportunities to deal with race; you'd still be forced to deal with race.

People partnering interracially are not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society. They're doing it because they're in love, or because they make each other hot, or because the sex is fantastic, or because every day is a delightful surprise, or because they have a fetish and this person is the perfect embodiment, or because they're feeling adventurous, or because they have something to prove, or because they want to piss of their parents, or because they're abroad and they're really, really homesick and this person is comforting, or because they learned the language and wanted to practice it on somebody and chose the wrong person to try to practice on who then lambasted them about how they were actually American too and didn't speak the language but their lips were so mobile as they said it and they did such a cute thing with their hair that one really couldn't help oneself, or, okay, maybe because they think they should or because it reflects their values. But they're not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society, and turning their relationship, their sex, their dating and fucking and having brunch and arguing over the remote into an important societal function is just plain stupid.

People do what they do, the world changes, and you adjust. Or you don't adjust. Interracial relationships are a symptom of the world changing, not the cause. They are not important to society. Your response to them is important to society. They're not the problem, but you might be.

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