“Geisha”: Blog Wars?

Yikes — looks like we might have a blog war a-brewin’ between APAP and 8Asians.

I blogged earlier this afternoon about the “Geisha” bar opening in Oakland, linking a post from APAP for some of my sources. It turns out that Moye, over at 8Asians, also read the APAP post and has a different take on the “Geisha” fiasco.

Aside from the heavy cultural significance of the word, the leaders of this protest also cite that giving the bar with such a name would help support sexual harassment, mental illness, and a negative economic impact with its indirect support for the sex trade and/or pornography. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that rapist in the area who was targeting Asian women. Wait, what? These are all related?

I hate to be the one to say this, but I can’t help think these folks are overreacting in this situation, and wrongly defining the history of Japanese geisha. They were dancing and musical entertainers, and nowhere did violence and overt sexuality come to play in their formal occupation. No, geishas aren’t prostitutes. Maybe some of them were but hey, it’s the oldest job in the world.  If anything, they should be focusing their outrage on two Asian American businessmen with a tired and unoriginal idea for a new bar, or at least ask why someone would want to go to a Geisha bar in the heart of Chinatown. Wrong culture, people.

Also, what does the NorCal rapist have to do with this? Did he have a geisha fetish or something and this bar is his one chance to finally hang out in the open? I don’t see the connection.

I think the problem here is a question of interpretation: is the criticism of “Geisha” a reaction to the negative connotations of the geisha profession? Or how the term “geisha” is interpreted by American audiences.

As Moye points out, the traditional geisha was not a prostitute. Geisha would be best described as artisans, trained in music and dance and hired by wealthy men to entertain at dinner parties by playing songs, singing, and socializing. Some prostituted themselves, but the profession, as a whole, is oversimplified by the term “prostitute”.

But that’s looking at geisha from a strictly historical perspective, and not in the context of America’s sociopolitical landscape — which is the way most restaurant patrons and passersby will view the restaurant name. Here, the term “geisha” refers to an archetype that fits hand-in-hand with other images of the hypersexualized, demure Asian female “lotus blossom” prevalent in historical and contemporary American media. Asian and Asian American women are — and have been — predominantly depicted in hypersexualized and subjugated roles in American film and literature, and this directly counteracts efforts to empower Asian American women with a positive and healthy image of ourselves and our sexuality. To that end, failing to criticize a local establishment, opening in a heavily Asian American community, that draws upon and glorifies this negative stereotype of Asian women would be irresponsible.

Moreover, while the link between a bar named “geisha” and depression is not direct, dehumanizing stereotypes left unchallenged in mainstream media often lead to conflicted and unhealthy self-image problems. After all, no one questions that our society’s predilection for super-skinny images of beauty are contributing factors to high rates of anorexia and bullemia specifically amongst teenaged girls of all races.

That being said, I’m not sure I co-sign the Norcal rapist connection; mainly because I don’t think we know the specific motivations for that dude.

Subjugating APA Women One Meal At A Time

geisha

‘Cuz when I go out to dinner, I’m looking for a little bit of racism with my sushi entree.

The Asian American community is no stranger to offensive Asian-themed restaurants. Here in Tucson, the Asian American community successfully lobbied a local restaurant named “Eggrolls, Etc.” to change multiple anti-Asian references in their menu. Last year, this blog was involved in lobbying a restaurant on the East Coast in an effort to raise awareness about advertisements that exotified and objectified the Asian female form.

But, here we go on: a restaurant that has yet to open in the Oakland area is raising more than mere eyebrows. This restaurant will be named “Geisha”.

Yes, you read that right: “Geisha”.

As an Asian American woman, I am deeply offended by the title of this proposed restaurant, and am even more insulted by the nerve of the restaurant owners to open such a derogatorily-named establishment in the heart of one of the nation’s more populous Asian American communities. The last thing that Asian American women and girls need is to be walking down the street and get exposed to yet another example of mainstream exotification and subjugation of our bodies. America’s fascination with the geisha image is not for merely due to the rampant sexuality of the stereotype; no, it is an obsession with a distinctly racialized image of an Asian woman as existing purely for pleasure and domination by men. We’re not merely talking about simply hypersexualizing the Asian/Asian American woman (as if that weren’t bad enough) — we’re talking about glorifying the sexual slavery of the Asian/Asian American female body by rendering her nothing more than a meek, demure and ultimately silent sexual plaything. The persistence of the geisha image in the American cultural landscape is a daily affront to strong and empowered Asian American women, and takes the cause of Asian/Asian American feminism several steps backwards.

But, before I go on waxing philosophical, check out this incredible letter by professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, Dianne Wu. Wu breaks down the argument against “Geisha” poignantly and eloquently in her letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, urging them to deny a permit for “Geisha”. You can read the full text at Angry Asian Man, but I’ll quote my favourite part regarding microaggressions:

A recent study conducted by Derald Wing Sue et al (2007) from the Teachers College at Columbia university identified 8 major types of microaggressions commonly experienced by Asian Americans. Of the 8, 2 are relevant to the issue at hand today.

First is the exotification of Asian women, where Asian and Asian American women are perceived as being available for sexual favors for men. As Jessica Tan and Jen-Mei Wu’s testimonials also concur, these incidents are not isolated to academic books and journals and radical social justice circles, but a salient feature of Asian American women’s lives in Oakland, in downtown, in the United States every day. I would hope and expect that the Oakland in which I live, work, love and play would absolutely reject any role in allowing this stereotype to live or become in any way a feature of the physical or psychological landscape of this city.

Second was the widespread denial of Asian Americans racial realities. This included messages being conveyed were that Asians are not an ethnic minority group, experience little or no discrimination, and that their racial concerns are unimportant. In this case, the group’s prior attempted exchanges with Perry were met with absolute denial that our concerns about the name of the bar-restaurant-lounge could possibly be reinforcing a racist and sexist stereotype, nor even that geisha itself was a racist and sexist stereotype in the US and Western context.

According to Wing Sue et al, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial – and this case, racial and sex-based – minority group. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocuous.

Sadly, the Oakland Planning Commission confirmed the perceived innocuousness of these kind of anti-Asian stereotypes by voting in favour of “Geisha”. Here are the names of the four commissioners who voted “yes” (kindly collected by spamfriedrice over at Asian Americans for Progress) —  Act Now! and write a letter expressing your displeasure at their votes:

Michael Colbruno
Clear Channel Outdoor
555 12th Street, Suite 950
Oakland, CA 94607
835-5900
Fax: 663-4662
Email: michaelcolbruno@clearchannel.com

C. Blake Huntsman
SEIU, Local 1021
155 Myrtle Street
Oakland, CA 94607
452-2366, ext. 522
Fax: 452-2436
Email: Blake.Huntsman@seiu1021.org

Douglas Boxer
Boxer & Associates, Inc.
300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 500
Oakland, CA 94612
286-2937
Fax: 835-0415
Email: dboxer@gmail.com

Vince Gibbs
City of Oakland
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Ste. 3315
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 903-9516
Email: VinceGibbs.opc@gmail.com

In addition, write about how you find the restaurant’s name offensive on Yelp, where the restaurant’s owners are trying to stir up some good press for their future establishment. And of course, if you live in the Oakland area, boycott the living hell out of the place.

Hey, Hey – That’s Racist!

Apparently earlier this month, Harry Connick Jr. appeared on as a guest judge on an Australian live sketch show called “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday” involving a segment where celebrity judges rate amateur live acts. A group came on to perform a “tribute” to the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson — with the “Jacksons” in black-face and “MJ” in whiteface.

Here’s a YouTube of the entire segment, as well as the apology the show made to Connick later in the hour:

First of all, I don’t care what country you’re in, that shit is racist! Sure, America has a national history of racial insensitivity and outright oppression, but just because Australia didn’t fight a Civil War about oppression doesn’t mean that it is exempt from being  racist and offensive. A man in blackface standing alone at the North Pole is still in blackface.

After the show aired, the frontman for the “Jackson Jive” commented:

I want to say on behalf of all of us that this was really not intended to have anything to do with racism at all.

But how could you argue that the skit didn’t have anything to do with racism? Racialized make-up such as the kind donned by the self-described “Jackson Jive” is intended to caricature and mock racial physical features in an attempt to emulate a race of people, often paired with demeaning buffonery, and has been historically used around the world to diminish people of colour. What the “Jackson Jive” did is no different than Al Jolson donning blackface in The Jazz Singer or Mickey Rooney donning yellowface in Breakfast at Tiffany’s — each and every one of these people wore colour-face to play a racial stereotype for largely White audiences, and each and every one of them should have known better.

And if there was any doubt that the entire fiasco was not borne out of ignorance, consider that the “Jackson Jive” know enough about race relations to use the word “jive” in their group’s name — a clear reference to the “shucking and jiving” that Blackface minstrels performed at the turn of the last century. 

What’s truly shocking about the segment is the lack of commentary any of the two other judges made about it. Connick was clearly offended, but neither of the other judges even questioned the offensive use of blackface; indeed, the show’s host, Daryl Somers commented that the “Jackson Jive” won the variety show’s contest when they performed the same schtick back in 1998. Clearly, even only ten years ago, the producers of “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday” saw nothing wrong with demeaning Black people around the world (and in Australia!)  by praising this kind of racism.

Later, on CNN, Somers defended the “Jackson Jive” by calling them a tribute to Michael Jackson and essentially calling Americans (like Connick) humorless for not “seeing the lightness of it”. Which sort of makes the whole on-air apology to Connick ring a little false, no? Again, that skit was funny — if you think racism is hilarious.

Sadly, while I applaud Connick for actually speaking out against the sketch and getting an on-air apology from the show, Connick hasn’t gone so far as to boycott future appearances on “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday”. What the producers really need to do is apologize to the world’s Black community; blackface really has no place in today’s world — whether in Australia or America.

I’m Tempted to Choose Block…

Microsoft paranoia + U.S. Senate Finance Committee = unintentionally hilarious

screen-cap-trust-senate-finance-committee

(click the image for full size)

Judge Denny Chin Nominated to U.S. Court of Appeals

denny-chin

The White House announced today that Judge Denny Chin, the accomplished judge who presided over the infamous U.S. vs. Madoff case earlier this year, has been nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Here’s Chin’s biography, as released by The White House:

Judge Denny Chin: Nominee for United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Judge Denny Chin was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong. His family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old. Judge Chin was raised in New York City, attending Stuyvesant High School, a New York public school specializing in math and science, before attending Princeton University. He graduated from Princeton magna cum laude in 1975 and from Fordham Law School in 1978 where he was the managing editor of the Fordham Law Review.

After graduation, Judge Chin clerked on the Southern District of New York for Judge Henry F. Werker. He then spent two years at the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1982. When he left the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1986, Judge Chin started a law firm with two colleagues: Campbell, Patrick & Chin. Four years later, he joined the law firm of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., where he specialized in labor and employment law.

In 1994, Judge Chin was nominated and confirmed to the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he currently serves. He was the first Asian-American appointed as a U.S. District Court Judge outside of the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Chin has served as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching legal research and writing since 1986. He is currently the Treasurer for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Judicial Council, and he has served as the President of the Federal Bar Council Inn of Court and the President of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. He also currently serves on the Boards of Directors for the Fordham Law School Alumni Association and the Fordham Law School Law Review Association and as the Co-Chair for the Fordham Law School Minority Mentorship Program. Judge Chin is a member of the Federal Bar Council Public Service Committee, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Judge Chin is being nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

Why is this a significant step?

The Asian American Bar Association (AABA) openly discusses the lack of representation of Asian Americans in the upper tiers of the judicial system. They write:

At the federal level, the number of Asian Pacific American judges is miniscule. In the Northern District of California, which includes San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties among others, there has never been an Asian American district court judge pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution.  As to all Article III federal courts, the number of active Article III judges who are Asian Pacific American is:

•  Zero in the Northern District of California
•  Zero in the federal circuit courts of appeal
•  Zero on the U.S. Supreme Court

In addition, former AABA president Celia Lee and Judge Ken Kawaichi wrote a compelling argument lamenting the embarrassing lack of diversity of judges in the federal courts system for the San Francisco Chronicle, with a specific focus on the state of California.

The absence of an Asian Pacific American jurist on the federal bench is a stark contrast to the Asian Pacific American jurists who sit on the state courts in Northern California, where there are 27 Superior Court judges, two commissioners, a justice on the Court of Appeal and two justices on the Supreme Court. Even with that number of Asian Pacific American jurists on the bench, state courts have not achieved parity with the Asian Pacific American population, which constitutes 33 percent of San Francisco’s population and about 20 percent of the Bay Area population. But at least there is progress. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed five Asian Pacific American judges in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties.

Lee and Kawaichi go on to state the case for why having equal representation among judges is critical; many of the country’s landmark civil rights cases throughout history were brought by Asian Americans against the state of California or the federal government. Here are those listed by Lee and Kawaichi in their article:

In Yick Wo vs. Hopkins, one of the earliest civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court in 1886 struck down a discriminatory San Francisco ordinance targeting Chinese Americans.

In Wong Kim Ark vs. the United States, a landmark immigration case in 1898, the Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to grant citizenship to an American of Chinese ancestry born in the United States.

In Korematsu vs. United States, one of the most infamous civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court upheld the forced exclusion and detention of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II without the right to notice of charges, the right to attorneys or the right to a trial. Forty years later, in 1984, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District court overturned Korematsu’s conviction, ruling that there was no good justification for the internment.

In Lau vs. Nichols, a suit brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, the Supreme Court expanded the rights of all students throughout the country with limited English skills by requiring language accommodation.

Asian Americans are not merely impacted by decisions made in federal courts, we have been instrumental in changing the face of the United States for the better throughout this nation’s history. Yet, Asian Americans are yet to be adequately represented in the positions that actually make these critical rulings.

Earlier this year, President Obama took a major step towards rectifying this disturbing lack of representation of Asian Americans among federal jurists; in August, Obama nominated Judge Edward Chen to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where he is now the first Asian American to serve as a federal judge overseeing a region encompassing some of the country’s largest Asian American populations.

If I read the AABA’s website correctly, if Judge Denny Chin were confirmed to the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, he would be the only Asian American currently serving in the federal court of appeals system. In other words, even with Judge Chin sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Asian Americans would still only represent 1% of judges in the federal circuit courts of appeal compared to representing more than 4% of the population.

Nonetheless, I applaud President Obama for this important step towards improving diversity in this nation’s courts. When Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he took a stance towards improving representation of underrepresented minorities in the judicial system, and it’s good to see that he has been true to his word when it comes to the Asian American community.

Act Now! The Asian American Bar Association has a number of recommended actions you can take if you want to let your elected representatives know you want more Asian Americans in the federal courts.

  • Send an email to Senators Feinstein and Boxer letting them know this is an important issue, letting them know that it is important for Asian Americans to be represented on the federal bench. For Senator Feinstein, click [here], and for Senator Boxer, click [here].

  • Become an AABA member and join our committees, including our Judiciary/Public Appointments Committee.

  • Support AABA, NAPABA, and other organizations seeking to diversify the judiciary.

  • Come to our Annual Dinner and other events to learn more.