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?

Polite

Saw a headline this morning for an iReport on CNN: A day of politeness. In it, author A.J. Jacobs challenges people to spend one day being as polite as possible.

Fair enough.

But then, here was the picture CNN chose to include above the story:

tzvids_polite_gi

Three presumably Asian girls bowing.

Huh? Are you failing to see the connection, too?

First National Asian American Civil Rights Conference

I kind of wish I could go to this: The first national Asian American civil rights conference to be in L.A.

The 2009 Advancing Justice Conference: Asian American and Pacific Islanders Building New Foundations for Civil Rights is an inaugural national civil rights and social justice conference expected to draw community and government leaders and legal professionals from across the country. 

The conference will be held in Los Angeles. It will be the largest gathering of advocates and community leaders from the AAPI community to share, network, mentor, and address the major policy issues facing our nation today.

The Advancing Justice Conference is a joint project by the Asian American Institute (Chicago), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, D.C.), Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (Los Angeles).

The conference will cover a variety of issues including immigration reform and enforcement, immigrant integration, human rights, civil rights and national security, health care, Census 2010, redistricting, low-wage workers’ rights, hate crimes, and LGBT rights.

Act Now! If you’re in L.A., this might be a great event for you to attend.

Lazy Link-Blogging #1

I don’t know if the #1 is an implication that there are more lazy link-blogs to come, but here are a couple of good reads I found today:

California may be a beacon of diversity, with Asians, Latinos and African Americans comprising the majority. But when it comes to its nonprofit sector, that racial and ethnic diversity is not reflected, and Latinos are especially underrepresented, according to a recent study.

Although Latinos are more than one third of California residents, they represent just 6 percent of directors and 28 percent of staff jobs at nonprofit groups. Among members of boards of directors, Latinos are just 9 percent.

Asian Americans are also underrepresented in leadership positions, though less dramatically. They are 12 percent of Californians, but just 7 percent of executive directors of nonprofits.

Rola admitted that the amount of research done in the area of Asian LGBT studies is still small, calling the field “relatively new territory.”

But before examining the experiences of Asian members of the LGBT community, Rola stressed that her use of the term “Asian” does not imply a uniformity of experience for “a host of people from very different, disparate groups.” Every culture is different, as is every family, although Rola suggested that a shared “history of war” helps to tie them together.

Rola described how many Asian Americans struggle to form a cultural identity in a society that is not predominantly Asian, and explained that students of color tend to go through six stages of understanding their culture: conformity, dissonance, immersion, emersion, internalization and integrative awareness. These steps outline a tumultuous and emotional process where the student first tries to fit in with the dominant culture before changing his or her worldview and consequentially taking steps to define himself or herself as Asian American.

A Couple Back-Pats for a Couple of Asians

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Speaking of people of colour who don’t get the appropriate kudos they deserve for a job well done, at least some folks are breaking the race barrier and getting the spotlight they deserve.

I don’t follow sports, but thankfully my Google! Alerts do. Seems that Yankees player Hideki Matsui, who is playing his last season with the team this year, helped score six runs to lead the Yankees’s first World Series victory since 2000. No small feat, even for a talented player like Matsui; his performance earned him the first World Series MVP honour to be awarded to an Asian or Asian American player. Congrats, Hideki!

Also, a post office in San Francisco’s Chinatown may be renamed for Lim Poon Lee, who was postmaster for the area since 1966. During his tenure, Lee established the post office that will likely bear his name, and worked tirelessly to increase the representation of Chinese Americans in the postal service. This article has a full biography of Lee, who passed away in 2002, but sufficed to say, being postmaster was only part of Lee’s great accomplishments during his life.

Lee enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, and after training as a counterintelligence specialist, he served in the Philippines and then Japan. Lee used to recount, Chan said, his company’s dispatch to Hokkaido, where they found that Chinese war prisoners in Japanese labor camps had launched a revolt against the Japanese.

The Army asked Lee to stop the riots because he was the only soldier who spoke Japanese and Chinese. His solution, as a representative of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was to swear in the Chinese troops as members of the U.S. Army with their same ranks.

After World War II, Lee entered college and received his law degree in 1954 from Lincoln University. He continued his community advocacy while working in court systems in San Francisco, and in 1959, he helped found the Chinese American Democratic Club.

“He was ahead of his time and was very influential,” said former state Sen. John Burton. “He was one of those that encouraged the Chinese community to stand up for their rights and not be intimidated by the government.”

Chan said naming the Chinatown post office after Lee “will remind people of my children’s generation that there were Chinese Americans who, when called upon, made a difference.”