Monday morning racism from Monroe County

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I’ve never heard of Monroe County. Turns out, it’s a little county in Forsyth, Georgia, which is north of a town called Macon and far south from Atlanta. But, if you Google “Monroe County”, the first website you get is for the “Monroe County Reporter”, the self-proclaimed “No.1 source of news and advertising in Monroe County”.

I think that’s the dictionary definition of  being a big fish in a little pond. Or, perhaps a puddle even.

In any event, Will Davis (shown below in an incredibly flattering Glamor Shots photo possibly taken during a shoot for the local high school yearbook) is a journalist (as well as publisher and editor) for the Monroe County Reporter.

This is Will Davis.
This is Will Davis.

Last week, Davis wrote an opinion piece about a recent field trip he took to a local medium-security prison, the Al Burruss Correctional Training Center and Boot Camp, which (conveniently) is also located in Forsyth, Georgia — clearly the Monroe County Reporter goes all-out for those hot above-the-fold headlines. Rather than write about the treatment of incarcerated inmates, the prison-industrial-complex, or something else, well, newsworthy, Monroe decided to write about his fellow tour group attendees. See, it turns out that Davis had the incredible fortune to share his tour with a Chinese tour group (I mean, like, from China!), and this was such a unique experience for Davis in lil’ ol’ Monroe County, that Davis felt compelled to devote an entire column to the day.

Or, in Davis’ words, “most communists I’ve met are U.S. college professors”. So, given the opportunity to interact with communists of colour (a.k.a. real live Chinese people!), “it was nice to branch out a little last week”. 

Now, clearly, Davis isn’t much of a brain-trust. He professes to know a few things about China: 1) they’re Communist, 2) they manufacture things that American consumers consume, 3) they speak Chinese, and 4) they’re Communist. Oh, and 5) did I mention they were Communist?

So, at the prison, while the Chinese tour group was attempting to learn about the American judicial system, Davis documents in his article how he went from one tourist to another, trying to find someone whom he could interrogate about the “lack of freedom” in China. Recounting how he cornered the group’s translator:

After a few pleasantries, I had to ask Fei: “Can you see if anyone in the delegation would talk to me about human rights in China? To discuss the freedom to worship, freedom of the press, things like that?”

Later in the day, Davis managed to browbeat another tourist into a conversation. According to Davis it went something like this:

Finally, when we circled back for a BBQ lunch, I found an English-speaking Chinaman willing to discuss human rights. He was a social worker back in China and was working for UGA in its China program.

Starting with small talk, I asked him his observations. He said he was very impressed with the prison and the professional staff in Forsyth, calling it “perfect”.

Then I asked him about the freedom to worship in China. He said the state limits religious activity to within the church and in the home. He said religious expression doesn’t have a place in greater society (I hope they told God).  Then he added, it’s the same way in the U.S., I think. Sadly, he was not too far off.

I asked about China’s policy limiting families to one child. He said it’s true, and his “one” is a four-year-old girl. He said that having a baby isn’t an individual affair, but that it affects the entire society and state, and therefore deserves to be regulated. “One child is very good,” he said. “More children add to the burden of the family.”

Helpfully, he added that there are lots of methods to avoid having a baby (are condoms made in China too?). He did not mention his country’s practice of forced abortions.

And what about communism? Still a big thing, over there? I asked.

Oh yes, he said, noting that foreign companies love communist workers who are diligent and work hard.

Clearly, however, Davis doesn’t really like Communists as much as those crazy foreign companies. Claiming that, “as a reporter”, Davis couldn’t actually argue with this tourist, Davis decided that it would be far more “journalistic” for him to go home and write a biased column than to actually disagree with the man to his face. Instead, in the height of journalistic integrity, Davis rails to his computer screen in an angry anti-China rant that he then chose to publish so that all of the Monroe County Reporter’s 500 readers could read his one-sided and prejudicial thoughts:

As a reporter, I was asking questions and recording his answers. My job was not to reason with him. But I wanted to so badly. I wanted to say that here in America we see things differently. Our founding documents declare that man is not a tool of the state, but the crown of creation. I wanted to say that children are not a burden, they are human beings endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. And I wanted him to know that when these rights are taken from people it is an offense to God and to humankind. I wanted to tell him that man has a soul, and that his relationship with God is more important that his subservience to the state. I wanted to suggest he think for himself — and examine the logical conclusions of his answers. If the state can tell a man how many children to have, when and where he may express his religion and everything else, then man is an ant, one who exists for the good of the whole, and his life means nothing.Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot — none of these murderous dictators did anything wrong if humans exist for the state. But I believe human dignity and liberty trump the state, I wanted to declare. 

Davis titled his column “Things I wanted to say, but didn’t”, but it would have been more appropriately titled “Acts of cowardice: I was too afraid to say these things to a Chinese person, so I didn’t” — but than, Davis might have been in danger of actually losing his argument when he had an opponent to argue with.  

But, what I think is more telling about Davis is what he did choose to say in his article.

The column is intended to be a hit piece on healthcare reform — you know, standard Republican drivel that screams “Communism” for the same federal programs they gratefully collect cheques from. Davis invokes the “death panel” myth of healthcare reform, and even tries to tug the heartstrings by citing a nameless sick grandma, all the while proclaiming the value of selfishness in America. It’s all rather ho-hum — we’ve heard it all before from better writers who write bigger, and better, ideas on their days off.

But, what’s far more interesting (and galling) is Davis’ casual racism, despite representing the Republican “party of inclusion”. Well, to be fair: Davis’ column is highly inclusive — it runs the gamut of the different kinds of anti-Asian racism the APIA community is party to. Let’s enumerate them, shall we:

1. An inexplicable video clip showing a translator translating from English to Chinese opens the piece. As if watching a person speak Chinese is so weird and out there, it’s worth actually posting to YouTube! Cultural safari, anyone?

2. Davis jokes, “since my Chinese is a little rusty (Moo Goo Gai Pan is chicken, right?), I stayed by a translator with the tenacity of a week-old cup of hot and sour soup.” Hahahaha! Because Americanized “Chinese food” (that’s not really Chinese food) is hilarious, yet oh-so culturally authentic! And also, hilarious!

3. “If you’ve been paying attention you know some things about China. First, they seemingly make every consumer product sold in the U.S. Perhaps as a result, their economy is growing rapidly. It needs to, for they have 1 billion people. But with China’s economic growth, we forget sometimes they are still a communist country, one where a heavy hand of tyranny still saps life and freedom from its citizens.” Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that China is Communist?

4. After asking for the translator to send over a Chinese tourist who would like to be badgered by an ignorant American reporter, the translator had the following response: “Fei looked puzzled and then began talking rapidly to one of his fellow Chinamen in their native language. They erupted in laughter. I took it the answer was no.” Well, first of all, the request was idiotic and self-absorbed, and secondly, just because you don’t understand what’s going on, doesn’t mean they were making fun of you. Well, in this case, though, I think Davis deserved it.

5. “It was amusing to watch our Chinese visitors take pictures not of Disney World, the Empire State Building or a Georgia Tech co-ed (eighth wonder of the world), but of the inside of a prison cell.” Because all Chinese are know-nothing, wide-eyed tourists, who love to take pictures. Then again, I will admit that this is a pretty low-budget Chinese tour, if they stopped at some prison in the middle of Georgia to be insulted by the local newspaperman.

6. The following exchange as documented by Davis:

“You speak English?” I asked hopefully.

“Vewy wittul,” he said.

“Well,” I offered, “what can you tell me about humans rights in China — are they observed there as they are in the U.S.?”

“O vewy much,” he replied. “We hawv hoo-mun rights like you hav hoo-man rights. Just ze zame.”

I did not realize that Charlie Chan was on this tour! Now, that’s newsworthy!

(Although, for the Trekkies out there, did anyone else notice that Charlie Chan sounds an awful lot like Quark, these days?)

7.  It may have slipped by you when I excerpted it the first time, but Davis casually calls the guy he sat down to lunch with a “Chinaman”. Now, I don’t know how they do it out there in Forsyth, but here in the rest of America, that’s a derogatory and racist slur. (And check out the story comments, where readers attempt to liken the term to “Frenchman” or “Irishman”).

8. And finally, last but not least, what’s with Davis’ continual assertion that God would be offended by separation of church and state in China? Yes, there are Chinese Christians, but Davis makes the JudeoChristian-centric assumption that the deity who should be relevant in a debate over religious freedom in China is the Christian God.

Yep, Republicans are definitely racially tolerant!

And before you pooh-pooh that I don’t know that Davis is a Right-winger, take a second look at those last couple of paragraphs. Davis invokes the Founding Fathers and declares that man is the “crown of creation”, “endowed by the creator with inalienable rights” that, when taken away, is “an offense to God”. He then compares Chinese people to Hitler.

What Davis forgets is that even here in America, where “human dignity and liberty trump the state”, Republicans (and Democrats) are willing to give up those liberties and dignities for the good of the state. Davis doesn’t condemn the Patriot Act, which legalized the breach of many of our civil liberties to protect the country in our “War on Terror”.  Davis doesn’t conclude his editorial with a shot against extraordinary rendition, wherein the government kidnapped American citizens and sent them overseas to be tortured for months. Davis doesn’t make an empassioned plea for a woman’s right to choose, or the rights of two people (regardless of gender) to marry. And ironically, though the whole story is set in a prison, Davis doesn’t lambast this country’s practice of life sentencing and capital punishment.

Instead, Davis concludes his article by declaring that in 2012, he will not be voting in favour of Obama and the Democrats trying to overhaul this country’s broken healthcare system. No, Davis will be voting for someone else, someone who will protect his right to be casually racist and ignorant to a bunch of Chinese tourists who exercised their own personal freedoms to laugh at him as he tried to play journalist. Maybe he can vote for Palin; after all, they both have one thing in common — Asian people makes her uncomfortable, too.

Act Now!  Comment on the piece or write a letter to the editor if you think Will Davis is a racist. You can also, apparently, post a “Vent” on the website, which is a little bit like a really slow Twitter.

Diabetes: A Silent Killer of Asian Americans

diabetes

Last month marked National Diabetes Awareness Month, yet diabetes remains one of those diseases that remains largely misunderstood by the population at large.

Diabetes refers to a loss of the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels by reduced (or absent) activity of a hormone called insulin, which normally helps the body cope with the complex sugars we intake and convert into energy. Too much or too little glucose in the body can produce catastrophic effects on health, and can even be fatal; thus patients with diabetes require close monitoring of their blood glucose levels. Type I diabetics (diagnosed in children) suffer from an inability to make insulin and must inject insulin multiple times a day to keep their blood glucose levels within normal ranges, while Type II diabetics develop an insensitivity to their naturally produced insulin, which can become progressively worse as they age. 

Interestingly, it appears as if Asian Americans (and African Americans) have increased risks for diabetes compared to other racial populations. One study, conducted in 2004, found that Asian Americans with a given body mass index (BMI) had a higher prevalence of diabetes than non-Asians at the same BMI, suggesting that the standard cut-offs of BMI that are used to determine increased risks for disease may be ignoring racial differences in how body-fat is distributed and contributes to disease. Dr Sophia Cheung, with the Joslin Diabetes Center, describes the problem thusly:

According to Cheung, important studies that look at prevention and treatment for people with type 2 diabetes use Caucasian patients primarily. “Due to differences in body size, physiology and cultural differences between Asians and Caucasians, results may not be applicable to Asians,” she states. A classic example of this, she says, is the body mass index (BMI). “At a lower BMI, Asians tend to accumulate more body fat compared to Caucasians,” which she says underscores the need for different BMI thresholds for Asian American patients.

In addition, 7.5% of Asian Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, compared to 6.4% of total Americans, and diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death for Asian Americans, while it is seventh for all Americans. The prognosis is particularly grim for Pacific Islanders, who have about a 13% prevalence for diabetes. This higher incidence of diabetes is associated with higher risk for end-stage renal disease, although it hasn’t been linked to higher risks of other health complications.

Recently, another study revealed that Chinese- and Korean-American women are also at increased risk for developing gestational diabetes, a special form of diabetes that afflicts pregnant mothers that can produce complications for both mother and child. Unique compared to other Asian ethnicties, Korean- and Chinese-American women have about a 10% risk for gestational diabetes, compared to 6.7% in the pregnant female population at large.

The problem with understanding racial and ethnic factors associated with disease is frequently that the data collected remains inadequte to fully understand all the issues. Few studies are able to provide the kind of detail needed to fully understand how certain diseases impact communities like ours. Writing about their gestational diabetes study, Dr. Teresa Hillier said:

“Many previous studies have lumped all Asians and Pacific Islanders together,” study co-author Teresa Hillier said in a statement. “We now know that the risk for developing [gestational diabetes] varies greatly depending on your specific ethnic background. Future studies should also look at whether women in these higher risk groups also have more complications.”

Nonetheless, these increased risk factors underscore the importance of healthcare reform, which will help all Americans — including Asian Americans — prevent and treat their diabetes. Recently, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report detailing the cost of diabetes and how healthcare reform will help diabetic Americans:

One in six individuals with diabetes report avoiding or delaying needed medical care because of cost. Annual health care expenses for a diabetic topped $11,477 in 2007. A box of 100 test strips for blood sugar monitors can cost up to $60 while the price of a vial of insulin can range from $30 to $70, mainly because generic brands are not manufactured in the United States.

A study showed that 80 percent of people with diabetes went uninsured after having lost coverage due to health insurance
transitions triggered by job change or layoff, a move, divorce, graduation from college, or a change in income or health status.

If all states improved diabetes control to the level of the top four best performing states, at least 39,000 fewer patients would
have been admitted for uncontrolled diabetes in 2004, potentially saving $216.7 million.

Sadly, the prognosis and quality of post-diagnostic care following diagnosis of diabetes is dependent upon insurance status, and many insurance companies refuse to cover people pre-diagnosed with diabetes. And it turns out that while Asian Americans, on average, enjoy higher annual incomes than the total American population, we are still woefully underinsured as a population. The Office of Minority Health notes that only 83.9% of Asian Americans have health insurance, compared to 89% of White Americans. Moreover, the Asian American population, insurance coverage varies widely by ethnicity, with more than 13% of Vietnamese (for example) uninsured.

It’s tempting to, as a community, stick our heads into the sand about issues like health and disease, particularly when we are not confronted on a daily basis with the statistics that show that Asian Americans should care about something like diabetes. After all, diabetes affects all Americans, so it’s not a problem we should specifically make a stink about, right? Sadly, no, diabetes, like several other diseases, is of particular concern to racial minorities like Asian Americans, and yet we spend comparatively little time sponsoring private studies, or petitioning for federal studies, to help shed light on these health risks. These diseases are the silent killers in our community, and we must do more to bring the facts about these illnesses out into the open.

Act Now! I know I missed National Diabetes Awareness Month by about two weeks, but it’s not like there’s a bad time to let your Asian American friends know about the risk factors they face associated with Type II diabetes. Send this podcast, released by the CDC, to your friends and family about the risk factors for diabetes amongst Asian Americans, and what one can do to help prevent the development of Type II diabetes, in particular. The Joslin Diabetes Center, at Harvard University, has also developed a Chinese-English bilingual site to help support Asian Americans with diabetes.

Also, you can donate to the following foundations to help support diabetes research:

Kate Gosselin wanted China Doll children

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Speaking of Jon Gosselin, I stumbled upon this article while researching Jon Gosselin’s ethnicity that described an old episode  of “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” where Kate Gosselin discusses the appearance of her mixed race children. Talk about just plain wrong! Kate not only describes her children as “little China dolls” because they appear (to whom, exactly?) part Asian, but she also wishes that she, herself, were Asian in appearance, presumably because Asian features are attractive to her.

In this particular episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8, Kate was reading e-mails from fans, and one of the fans asked how she felt about the fact that all the kids looked Korean. …

Kate explained that she has always wanted her kids to “look like Jon.” She talked about having daughters who looked like “little China dolls.” She said she wished she herself were Korean. But what Kate doesn’t realize is that the children, at least some of them, have also inherited her looks as well. In a previous article of mine, I explain how Kate has a nearly flawless face.

Ew. Just ew.

With Kate Gosselin’s apparent Asiaphilia over her own children, I’ve gotta wonder what will happen to the Gosselin kids’ racial self-identity and awareness, now that Kate is rumoured to be starrin solo in the spin-off show of “Jon and Kate Plus Eight”. Will Kate Gosselin give these kids a healthy relationship to their Korean ancestry, or is she gonna instill in these kids the same “little China Doll” outlook on their race and ethnicity that she see, herself, sees in their genetics?

Asians Behaving Badly: Jon Gosselin

jon gosselin

Showbiz Tonight, a celebrity tabloid show, has awarded Jon Gosselin, ex-star of TLC’s “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” with the dubious honour of being 2009’s “Most Provocative” celebrity.

Gosselin, who is half-Korean, is notable for the many embarassing news stories that emerged about his personal life following his split with than-wife Kate Gosselin over the summer. Gosselin went from one of the few (perhaps the only?) examples of a nurturing and loving Asian American father on national television, to typecasting himself as an overgrown frat boy, partying heartily into the wee hours at famous clubs around the world. Gosselin also became known as an excessive flirt, and was romantically linked to several women all of whom were nearly ten years his junior.

It was announced in June that Jon and his wife Kate would be separating following rumors of strife in their marriage. The June 22 show, on which the pair announced they were separating, drew 10.6 million viewers — record ratings for its network, TLC.

Jon dominated tabloid news coverage over the summer with his bad boy behavior, dating a string of younger women and being photographed in New York nightclubs.

But what really put Jon Gosselin over the top, according to “Showbiz Tonight,” was not just his ability to remain in the news, but also his willingness to tell all, including a series of eyebrow-raising answers to questions about his separation and impending divorce and his new relationship with girlfriend Hailey Glassman.

Gosselin told ABC’s Chris Cuomo that he “despised” his estranged wife Kate and described in graphic detail how he felt about Glassman, who he had only been dating for a few months.

“Love her,” Gosselin told Cuomo. “Huge word. It’s like when you look at her my heart pounds. I get sweaty. I feel like I love her more.”

It’s not too often we see a person of colour run the gamut from one stereotypical extreme to another. While I saw pre-divorce Jon Gosselin as a well-adjusted, well-meaning father and a good role model for other Asian American men, it was certainly conceivable to criticize early depictions of Gosselin as emasculated by the stronger personality of Kate Gosselin. But, from this one extreme, Jon Gosselin managed to a complete 180 in a matter of months, and spent much of 2009 perpetuating the stereotype of Asian American men as hypersexualized and irresponsible.

In both cases, Gosselin seems to enjoy playing the role of a dehumanized stereotype — and it’s hard to tell how much of the stereotype is due to media bias, and how much is due to Gosselin’s own bad behaviour.

Sarah Palin – A Minority Thing

sarah-palin

Sarah Palin’s got no shortage of embarassing moments in her personal history. From an unflattering, and much lampooned, interview with Katie Couric to being taped by reporters giving statements in front of a graphic turkey slaughter, Palin is a textbook example of “Politics 101: What Not to Do If You Want to Stay Relevant”.

If Palin is gearing up for 2012, she’s gearing up to run for dogcatcher.

But, in what appears to be an effort to keep her name in headlines, Palin released a memoir earlier last month, titled “Going Rogue“. In it, Palin casts herself as an “of-the-people” politician, mishandled by Washington “insider” (a term that Palin finds most damning) political advisors in the McCain campaign. She attempts to address the many embarassments of her 2008 candidacy as McCain’s vice presidential pick. Although the book has been hyped as a vanity project-turned-appeal to voters, Palin has created quite a splash (and caused much head-scratching) by extending her book tour only to strongly sympathetic cities she won over during the 2008 campaign season, and by refusing to allow mainstream media outlets to cover her book tour lectures.

But this week, Palin’s “Going Rogue” has raised even more eyebrows.

Palin recounts in her book how she ventured out of Alaska while attending college. Her first undergraduate institution (of four) was at Hawaii Pacific University, which she attended in the fall of 1982, but quickly left the university to continue her undergraduate education at North Idaho University.

In “Going Rogue”, Palin describes her decision to move away from Hawaii thusly: “Hawaii was a little too perfect… Perpetual sunshine isn’t necessarily conducive to serious academics for eighteen-year-old Alaska girls.”

But Palin’s father paints a far different picture. In an interview given to reporters compiling information for a book titled “Sarah from Alaska”, Palin’s father Chuck Heath, says Palin was made uncomfortable by the high number of Asian Americans in Hawaii. He is quoted as describing the problem as “a minority type thing and it wasn’t glamorous, so she came home.” 

Hold up. What?

Asian Americans, including descendents both of indigenous Hawaiians as well as Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Korean immigrants during the late nineteenth century, make up more than 40% of Hawaii’s population, making Hawaii home to one of the most populous concentrations of Asian Americans in the United States. Without a doubt, Asian Americans are the numerical majority in Hawaii, and Whites, comprising about 27% of the population, are the minority.

It’s tempting to conclude that Palin’s discomfort with the “minority thing” in Hawaii was due to anti-Asian bias; after all, the quote reads as if Palin couldn’t handle being so close to so many Asian people, as if black hair and mocha skin made her nauseous. And the whole thing rings of the kind of “Yellow Peril” stereotype that grips far too many.

But, I tend to think the problem was “race shock”. Palin grew up in Alaska, where nearly 70% of the state is made up of Whites. She was undoubtedly a member of the racial majority, and probably thought of race issues as the kind of thing only ”outsiders” had to worry about. Stepping foot in Hawaii was not just an exposure to the fact that there are, indeed, different kinds of people in the world, but suddenly Palin had to reconcile herself with the notion that she wasn’t part of the racial majority, or the ”norm”, anymore.

Being a minority isn’t easy; those of us who live our lives every day as part of a racial identity that is a numerical minority in our city or town know all too well the curious looks, the racist assumptions, and the sense of “Otherness” that comes with waking up in our skin.

Palin experienced that feeling for the first time when she was eighteen years old. And, like so many other majority-turned-minority, she ran as far away from that place as she could. In her very own example of hysterical White Flight, Palin packed her bags for one of the Whitest states in the Union: Idaho.

Well, we can say one thing about Palin: when she puts her mind to something, she sure commits. Idaho’s White population made up nearly 97% of the state in 2005.

The problem here isn’t that Palin hates or fears Asians, it’s that she ran scared from the experience of being a racial minority in Hawaii. For a woman who, by all accounts, covets the Oval Office, she demonstrates in this moment in her personal history her lack of readiness to lead a nation wherein racial “minorities” will overtake the number of Whites within the next thirty years. How will Palin fare if the entire country starts looking a little more like Hawaii by the time she’s president? Will she able to handle calling D.C. her home for four years while African Americans still outnumber Whites there by 54% to 40%? Or will Palin turn tail and run back to the suburbs of the Midwest, where she no longer has to face the “discomforts” of race relations?

And above all, Palin has painted herself as a politician of the people. Her schtick is all about her hockey mom persona, and she hopes to rekindle the sense of familiarity and down-to-earth homey-ness invoked by George W. Bush during his 2000 campaign. Yet, how does she plan to make friends with voters across the nation when she has demonstrated fear and discomfort with racial difference? Nearly one third of all voters aren’t White!

Palin values her status as a Washington “outsider”, yet it seems that, in at least one opportunity, she couldn’t handle “outsider” status. Instead, in the height of hypocrisy, she did what she has criticized her political opponents for doing ad nauseum: she sought soothing comfort in the familiarity of being an “insider”.

But then, what does that say about the rest of us “outsiders” who haven’t moved to our iterations of Idaho?