Monday morning racism from Monroe County

monroe-county-map-chinese-people-uncomfortable

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.

How to Otherize your friends for Christmas!

racist-nyt-gift-feature

(Hat-tip: Gawker)

So, let’s say you’ve got to buy Christmas presents for a friend of yours, but you just don’t know what to get her. A gift certificate from the local steakhouse? The latest 50 Cent CD? A gag gift from Toys ‘R Us? A new crockpot?

But what a minute! Your friend is Latina! Surely, that’s a hook to get her the perfect Christmas present! But, gosh, you just don’t know anything about Latina heritage. Well, New York Times has the perfect gift suggestions for you: how about a children’s book on Sonia Sotomayor? How about Iman’s book of beauty tips for women of colour? And, of course, there’s always a “Wise Latina” t-shirt! (Because apparently the hot thing for Latinas this year are Sotomayor-related products.)

And what if you’re buying me a present? Well, clearly, because I’m Asian American, I simply must have a copy of “Asian Faces“, a book that tells Asian women how we’re applying our eye makeup wrong, and how to do it right.

The New York Times isn’t exactly known for its racial sensitivity, but what moron green-lit this racist stereotype-perpetuating gift suggestion feature?

The assumption made here is that people of colour somehow need “race-related” presents, because our race is the be-all and end-all of our identities (and Christmas gift wishes). Not only that, but NYT readeres are encouraged to typecast their friends of colour to find “race appropriate” gifts — so, the friend is no longer just a friend, she’s “the Asian friend” or “the Latina friend” or “the Black friend”, and gifts should be bought reflecting your brand-spanking new racial categorization. Meanwhile, your White friends don’t need to be Otherized, since obviously they don’t have racial identities to contend with, so you can get them meaningful and non-offensive presents!

(Which makes me wonder what you do if you have mixed race friends? Do they just get multiple racist gifts? Or do you just pick the gift most in-keeping with the race you think they look the most like?)

And even if we, just for a second, accept the racist notion that we should be buying gifts based on our friends’ races and ethnicities, why would we buy these stereotype-inspired gifts? How racist is it to suggest that African-American women should receive haircare products specifically geared towards “problem hair” or Carribean cruises featuring a gospel choir (because Black women hate their hair but love some gospel music), while Indian women want nothing more than multi-coloured head-scarves (or coffee-table books celebrating multi-coloured head scarves)? Oh, and, what about the nail polish with benefits going to the people of Haiti — because both your friend and Haitians are people of colour, so somehow there’s a logical Christmas gift-giving connection?

And don’t even get me started on the “Baby Jamz” gift idea: because Black women love hip hop and have lots of babies, so clearly they need a gift that blends the two, right?

Then again, maybe the NYT is on to something. Perhaps this year, I will also give my friends race-inspired presents. In fact, right now, I’m on my way to go buy my Asian friends kimonos, bonsai trees, and pearl-inlaid chopsticks. My Latino friends? Clearly a set of antique maracas and a matching sombrero are the way to go. My Indian friend shall receive a henna kit, a book on yoga, and some bags of incense, and (since I’m an equal opportunity bigot) all of my White friends are getting gift boxes of cheese and coolers full of cheap beer, all the better to tailgate with. And electroman? Well, since he’s Black, he’s in for a special treat: the complete Tyler Perry DVD library collection, including full seasons of “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”. Oh, and while I’m at it, all my gay friends will receive adult sex toys, and all my friends over the age of forty will receive tennis balls and denture adhesive.

Sound like a great Christmas? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Kate Gosselin wanted China Doll children

kategosselin

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?

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?

Affirmative Action Revisited

I saw this short post on Time’s Detroit Blog today: Still Getting It Wrong on Affirmative Action. In it, blogger Darrell Dawsey comments about the recent news that civil rights groups in Michigan have brought an appeals case challenging the constitutionality of a rcent ballot measure banning the practice of affirmative action in Michigan state schools

Dawsey doesn’t get into the constitutionality of affirmative action in his post; rather, he complains about the persistent perception of affirmative action as merely a “race thing”. Dawsey writes:

Yes, I think affirmative action is a palatable, if mild, remedy to the ongoing discrimination that women and people of color face in Michigan and around the country. But this take isn’t about cheering the court’s decision to hear the challenge to race preferences or even affirmative action itself, for that matter. Rather, it’s about the implications of the persistent, narrow belief that affirmative action is just a set of “racial preferences” — when the truth is that the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women.

No, I’m not saying that  blacks, Latinos, Arab-Americans and Asian-Americans haven’t also benefited. (The University of Michigan, for instance, has 11 percent fewer minorities than in 2006, in part because affirmative action was outlawed.) But it’s the idea that these minorities, not white women, are disproportionately helped by affirmative action that inflames much of the opposition that we saw here three years ago.

I agree with Dawsey: affirmative action suffers a public relations problem. Affirmative action is frequently discussed in terms of race — both by proponents and opponents of the practice. Yet, the reality of affirmative action is far more nuanced: affirmative action not only is intended to benefit members of all underrepresented ethnic groups (Native Americans, and underrepresented Asians to name a few), but it also benefits applicants who come from other underrepresented backgrounds including class, gender, and faith.

The problem is the word “minority”, which in our society has become a codeword for “Black”. This is not only unfair, it is inaccurate: critics of “minority”-targeted initiatives present narrow-minded arguments that fail to accurately represent the full spectrum of people encompassed by the word “minority”. It paints reasonable and useful policies with a tinge of racial favoritism. And above all, it reinforces the notion of Blacks and Latinos as the bottom rung of our social hierarchy, rather than one of many underprivileged yet deserving minority groups.

That being said, I’m not sure that Dawsey gets it right with the point of his post. Dawsey argues that opponents of affirmative action, in colouring (pardon the pun) the debate as a “race thing”, are motivated by racial hatred in their opposition.

Many who voted against affirmative action had it in their heads that black people and other minorities were somehow getting something they didn’t “deserve” or were receiving “something for nothing.” Sure, some will howl that I’m wrong — that affirmative action opponents were driven solely by noble desires for “fairness” and “equality” — but I’m not. I’ve lived in Detroit much of my life. And I know well that even though many of us here consider it uncomfortable or impolite to discuss race when talking about why metro Detroit is what it is — and that includes its standing as one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. —  intense racial hatred remains alive and well.

While racism is clearly alive and well in today’s America, I’m not sure what use there is in characterizing the majority of affirmative action’s detractors as seething racists. Clearly, there is a perception that underrepresented minorities are being accepted despite the appearance that they are “less qualified”, but I simply don’t believe that all or even most of affirmative action’s critics are primarily fueled by this misconception.

Affirmative action is a tough issue: neither side has a clear, moral (let alone legal) stance to advocate. Even proponents of affirmative action admit it is an imperfect (dare I say “band-aid”?) solution to a tough societal problem. To over-simplify the other side as racists does nothing to improve the quality of the debate on affirmative action, and turns the whole thing into finger-pointing and name-calling. 

Related posts