RaceChangers

If you've found a little downtime this weekend, please check out RaceChangers, a new blog by Jen and Carmen over at Racialious.com which posts an “assignment” each week and encourages targeted discussion of race issues based on the “assignment”.

Assignment 1 was to read “Troublemakers“, an article at the New Yorker about stereotyping and generalizations, that include racial profiling. Please take a gander at the article and post your comments over at RaceChangers.

The Departed

Hollywood hasn't got a creative bone left in its withering old body.

Most big-grossing films these days are re-makes or film adaptations of stories that have achieved success in print media. If not comic book movies, than some of the most popular films of our times have been part of a burgeoning genre of Americanized reinterpretations of classic Hong Kong, Korean or Japanese movies. Although the most well-known of these films are J-Horrors like Ju-on (i.e. the Grudge) or Ringu (i.e. the Ring), today marked the opening of the Departed, which was Martin Scorcese's take on a fantastic Hong Kong gangster film from 2002 called Infernal Affairs, which starred Tony Leung and Andy Lau.

It's frustrating to watch Hollywood appropriate Asian films to try and revive its flaccid box office numbers, as the process of modernization not only involves bigger budgets, but usually includes a dumbing down of the plot and a White-washing of the cast. In the Departed, the storyline of Infernal Affairs is moved from the gritty streets of Hong Kong to the city of Boston where the criminal enterprise being investigated are Irish gangsters rather than the Chinese mob. Other than a few scenes early in the film to establish racial tensions in mid-twentieth century Boston (setting the stage for Jack Nicholson's race-baiting rants), the entire cast of The Departed is White.

In other words, in this film, lifted almost entirely from a classic Hong Kong movie, there is nary an Asian person in sight.

Or at least, I could say that… except that Scorcese seems to love rubbing salt into an already gaping wound of cultural misappropriation. Although the vast majority of the film's two-hour-and-a-half running time featured an all-White cast of characters, there was a rather unimportant fifteen minute scene which did involve some Asian people. However, if this was a nod to the film's roots in Infernal Affairs, I don't want it.

In this scene, Jack Nicholson's character meets with a group of Chinese mobsters who are working for the Chinese government — all of them stereotypes. One of the Chinese characters is a terrified government lackey, emasculated in a room full of hardened criminals. The rest are crazed, machine-gun wielding triad members, either standing around glaring shiftily at Jack Nicholson's crew, or otherwise ranting and raving in Cantonese. (Note, that they are supposed to be working for the Chinese government.)

But the insult comes not in these caricatures of Chinese characters. No, the insult comes with Jack Nicholson's dialogue, which blatantly invokes nearly every “amusing” anti-Asian joke one can bring to mind: from Chinese as spies, to Chinese as foreigners, to Chinese as un-American, to Chinese as emasculated, to Chinese dick-size jokes, to — and I quote — “No Tickee No Laundry”.

All in the span of five minutes.

As quickly and as pointlessly as these Chinese mobsters arrived on the scene in this film, they vanish back into the night. And the only other Chinese guy we see in the movie is a Chinese food delivery guy who gets knifed by Matt Damon.

This is how Hollywood treats the people who gave birth to the film upon which the Departed is based. This is how visible our community is in Hollywood. And they wonder why we don't go to theatres anymore: tonight, I spent $17 on a movie that basically spat in my face.

More Yellowface

Eddie Murphy is reprising his one-man-as-many-characters act in a new movie called Norbit, due in theatres in 2007. In it, Murphy plays a dorky, meek Black man adopted as a child by an old Asian man and, in adulthood, who is dominated by a fat black woman stereotype. The catch? Murphy plays Norbit, Norbit's girlfriend, and the Asian man who adopts him. As the Asian man, not only does Murphy wear yellow-tinted skin, but plays up the old Asian male stereotype, complete with poor Chinglish accent. (view trailer)

So, I know Murphy playing a cast of characters is classic Eddie Murphy, but in this case, I'm not excited to see Murphy play two stereotypes (Asian male and overweight Black female) on-screen with the express purpose of mocking them both. I know it's been awhile since we saw sex icon, pleather-jumpsuit Murphy whom the girls were throwing their underwear at, but this is hardly to get your name back into the limelight. Let's save the yellowface for kitschy has-been cult favourites like David Carradine and Christopher Walken, please?

(Hat-tip to Mac)

Also in Yellowface favourites? David Carradine (the very definition of modern yellowface) has been seen on a commercial I've been meaning to blog about for sometime. In a commercial for Yellowbook.com, Carradine plays a Chinese monk who correlates enlightenment with the Yellowbook.com website, and does some stereotypical Chinese Buddhist monk trash while he's at it.

God, there are some times I just want to climb up to the tallest building I can find and scream at the top of my lungs: THIS MAN IS NOT CHINESE!! Bad enough Yellowbook.com (Yellow? Get it?) is promoting such trashy, cliched interpretations of Chinese religion and heritage, but they couldn't even find a single, bonafide, Chinese person to show in their commercial as they did it.

Owning the Building and Still Wanting a Seat

It's a hard thing to realize as a minority in a White-dominated society: though I am saturated with White culture, White society, White history, and White people, and though I can probably guess-timate to a greater extent what Whiteness is all about compared to a White person trying to imagine the life of a person of colour, my best guess-timate is still just that — a guess. Recently, I have been preoccupied with trying to understand how and why many Whites in America seem to have such an alien reaction to discussions of race relations, very much akin to a “White Man's Burden” narrative, that strikes me as wholly foreign. (I was particularly struck last night as I watched David Mamet's film adaptation of his play, Edmond.)

As a woman of colour, race remains foremost on my mind. Every morning, I step out into a world in which I am perceived primarily as different, unique, and unusual. I cannot hide in a sea of faces, and believe that I am just like everyone else: even the slightest comment is enough to remind me that my skin colour and “almond eyes” are a factor. Even the most supposedly tolerant White people I work with cannot help but Otherize me; last month, I was subjected to several non sequitor remarks referencing my “Eastern” heritage in conversations that otherwise had nothing to do with anything Asian. Two weeks ago, I noted that I was one of a mere ~265 Asian Pacific Islander graduate students at my school last year (representing a fraction of a percent of total graduate students), a statistic which most graduate students wouldn't even bother to look up, let alone place any significance upon.

It's hard to imagine myself in a position where I wouldn't feel racialized, or in which, when I step outside in the morning, I can rest assured that, if all else fails, I am just like everyone else: normal.

So, I can only scratch my head when I observe what seems to be an increasingly popular sentiment amongst the White mainstream: a frustration with race relations and a backlash against racial identity. Just a couple hundred miles north of where I currently sit, an undergraduate student group at Arizona State University has gained national notoriety. Over 40 students at ASU have formed and claimed membership to the newly-founded Caucasian American Men's Club (CAMASU), which describes itself as a cultural club for Whites (CNN video).

The choice of name is hardly incidental: though the group purports to celebrate Caucasian culture, the name specifically cites Caucasian men. We understand almost immediately that this is a club intended to re-invent the most privileged group in America — White men — as the underprivileged, based on cultural clubs that have been traditionally used to communicate minority viewpoints to White-centric college campuses.

The group's founders state that they feel the existing of CAMASU is only fair in light of the existence of an African American Men's group on campus. One founder, Matt Jiezerski, cites Whites as an emerging minority group, saying:

I [as a Caucasian man] do feel like a minority and I do feel like Caucasian males in general, y'know, from all parts of Europe, from all nationalities are being underrepresented… so [after seeing a poster for the African American Men's group] I thought it would only be fair to have a Caucasian American group and to show it as, y'know, a legitimate organization and as, y'know, a group of people with a cultural history and a signficiant heritage and past.

The formation of this group is, to me, in the same vein as the formation of specific groups earlier in this country's history that was intended to exclude, explicitly or inexplicitly, the Other. Like White Southerners who grow up long past the era of the Civil War and yet still claim pride in the Confederate flag, it seems as if, more and more frequently, we are seeing White Americans who misread privilege and normalcy as oppression, and are drawn to these groups because they see something “special” in being different. Though the CAMASU advisor is quick to point out that the group doesn't advocate White supremacy or the exclusion of people of colour, one has to wonder what message is sent by a group of people, with membership in the racial mainstream, feeling the need to appropriate niche aspects of people of colour to further emphasize their own identity.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that CAMASU shouldn't exist. I simply don't understand why it needs to.

I have to wonder why Whites seem to feel threatened by the existence of minority-oriented clubs and organizations in the first place. What was it about the African American Men's club that so bothered Jawierski that he felt the need to create CAMASU? Clubs like the African American Men's Club are also open to people of races, and focus on narratives largely excluded from the traditional American narrative. Back at Cornell, when I participated in events held by the Black Students United group (or created my own events for the Asian Pacific Americans for Action club I led), we discussed parts of history that are ignored by the White-centric classes taught in courses we could take for credit. For my group, we focused on the presence of Asian Americans during the Civil Rights era (for example, a radical Asian American group the worked closely with the Black Panther Party called I Wor Kuen that is rarely mentioned in today's history classes, even those focussing on Civil Rights) or the struggle of Asian American men in navigating Hollywood's sexual stereotyping of them as demasculinated and invisible). What, we have to ask, would CAMASU do for its events to highlight White heritage that is not already addressed in class?

Beyond just CAMASU, I have heard ever more frequently this characterization of Whites as a minority group, underrepresented in a society with increasing minority presence. Though statistics don't support any possible underrepresentation of Whites in mainstream media or on campuses like ASU (as an aside, Survivor: Cook Islands singlehandedly increased representation of Asian American characters on television by a third), why are many Whites feeling marginalized by minorities? For that matter, why do some Whites still struggle with discussions of race politics?

Many of the Whites I have the greatest problems with on a racial level, are those who most avidly claim to be non-racially biased. Although one might imagine the vocally intolerant, older generation of Whites who lived through Jim Crow to be the most difficult to interact with, I have come to find that it's frequently the White liberals, who claim to be open-minded and tolerant to diversity, who have the hardest time adjusting to discussions of race relations. I interact with many White people who blanche (no pun intended) at the mere mention of race, or who almost instinctively respond with the nigh-hysterical statement, “I'm not racist! I don't have a problem with race! It wouldn't matter to me if you were Black, White, Brown, or Yellow!” anytime I bring up my perspective as an Asian American woman. What's frustrating is that this fanatic adherence to superficial tolerance is almost as close-minded as the most fervent KKK member; so desperately are these Whites afraid of being labelled a racist that even suggesting an open discussion on race terrifies and frustrates them.

Instead, clinging to a view of the world in which racism can be willed out of existence by merely chanting the mantra of “un-racism”, these White liberals soon find my presence untenable and unwelcome. My identity as an Asian American woman becomes exhausting and I become the problem: always finding racism where they see none. I, as the person of colour, become the perpetrator of racism, by being “over-sensitive”. I, as the person of colour, become the oppressor by making the White person feel uncomfortable in their privileged skin. I, as the person of colour, become the self-absorbed, because I experience racism when they do not. In the end, these “un-racists” prefer to return to their world of “tolerance”, safe in feeling liberated from racism while never being challenged by the thoughts of a genuine person of colour.

And so, CAMASU exists, to cater to this “new minority” of Whites, who see racism in the existence of race and who feel oppressed by America's history of oppression.

Unfortunately, this seemingly inconsequential reaction to the Civil Rights Movement has a more sinister side: this interpretation of race relations as marginalizing Whites only serves to refocus discussions of race relations away from people of oppressed races. The unspoken consequence of the CAMASU club is, also, to parody the African American Men's Club that inspired the group's name. Rather than approach race relations in good faith, this “un-racist” mindset would reject complex discussions of race politics in favour of sweeping the discomfort of racism back under the rug.

In a mere century, racial minorities have gone from being animalistic creatures undeserving of basic human rights (let alone Constitutional rights) to representing a sizable fraction of people in the country and at institutions of higher learning. Brought to this country under bondage, forced to work for the benefit of Whites, marginalized, misunderstood, misrepresented, and — on occasion — murdered for our differences, we have nonetheless forged ahead and created a round table where we can share mutual equality.

That table might be rickety and creaky, it might sit in the back-room of a large restaurant, and we might still struggle with the number of chairs to seat at it, but, at least, it is ours. Whites own the rest of the building — why do they want a seat at our table, too?

Live-Blogging Survivor: Cook Islands, ep. 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of me live-bloggin Survivor: Race Wars. Although the race-based tribes have since been liquidated, there is still a great deal of racial undercurrent to this particular season. Not only is Probst deliberately using racialized terminology (for example, “integration” instead of “merge”, and referring to the new tribe structure as a “melting pot”), but because the tribes were initially divided along racial lines, the castaways have been made that much more aware of their racial identities, as have we, the viewer. Even despite the “integration”, many online fans are still referring to the castaways as much by their race as their names.

7:03
Returning from Tribal Council, the Aitu tribe reflect on how things went down. Ozzy, in particular, seems crushed and has lost his motivation to continue playing the game. This seems to bode poorly for his continuing presence in the game, as it's certain that the White & Asian alliance (or Twinkie Alliance) on Aitu (consisting of Jonathan (Chicken Thief), “Love-at-first-sight” Candice, Yul (Super Asian Man, or S.A.M.) and Princess Becky) will endeavour to keep the Crunchy Kid Alliance (consisting of the hippies Cao Boi (aka Mr. Miyagi) and Flicka (aka Pony Girl)) in their pocket and chip away at the remaining members of Aitu, forming the now defunct Brownfolks Alliance.

7:08
An ongoing mystery is why Candice, of all people, was chosen by Raro to go to Exile Island. I have to say, I'm still stumped, as Raro had no way of knowing how crucial Candice was to the Twinkie Alliance.

Meanwhile, over at Raro, Parvati expresses frustration that she and the other women were working so hard on the shelter while the men lay around and pretended to fix their boat by untying and retying the strings that held the oars in place. This is shaping up to be a strong male-oriented alliance that should threaten the security of the women on Raro. Parvati is really going to have turn on that 1-900 “sex kitten” thing she's resting on right now.

The tribes go to the reward challenge where they compete for pillows and a hammock, and the opportunity to put someone on Exile Island. Aitu, in an impressive display of teamwork (and perhaps again challenging this characterization of Princess Becky as a princess, as she gamely accepted a face full of sand as part of running the obstacle course) win the reward and vote Adam to go to Exile Island. And of course, cementing the superhuman abilities of S.A.M., it seems that he singlehandedly solved the puzzle at the end of the challenge to score the win for his tribe. Is there anything this model minority can't do?

7:21
Aitu returns and celebrates their victory. As Chicken Thief and Ozzy catch fish (Ozzy describes himself as the “sole provider” of the tribe, and S.A.M. dubs Ozzy “Poseidon”), Flicka does this weird shoulder-shaking thing in her solo interview, making her sound like the world's. Biggest. Ditz. I mean, seriously, Flicka has got to be the demon child of Bob Marley and Anna Nicole Smith.

In the meanwhile, Parvati schemes to “infiltrate” the male alliance by flirting with Nate. Again, there's some racial overtones involved here with the White girl immediately getting drawn to the light-skinned, somewhat effeminate Black man she finds at once super-masculine and malleable enough to control. Nate, who is apparently not exactly a braintrust, claims to “trust” Parvati and is incapable of seeing through her horribly anti-feminist strategy. I'm just offended by Parvati, and cannot wait until she gets voted out.

7:29
Back from commecial break and over in Aitu, some of the tribe members stumble across a booby's nest with a mother protecting a newborn chick. Cao Boi climbs the tree, knocks the nest out of the tree and the baby falls onto the ground, causing the Chicken Thief to nearly burst into tears (which was just kind of unnerving). Cao Boi blames his actions on “the child in him” — I blame it on the fact that he's just plain creepy.

7:32
After the booby nest and baby is returned to Mommy Booby, the tribes go to the Immunity Challenge. The actual challenge involves four tribemates having to put together a stretcher, three swimming out to the water to rescue a tribemate shackled to a mast and returning the “victim” on the stretcher to the beach where the final three tribemates must build a fire to win Immunity. I just had to laugh to see the “set-up” shot with Candice and Parvati as the “victims”. While, of course, the two “weak women” have to play damsel-in-distress, Parvati took to the role just a little too well. She just had to have her leg all sexily curled around the mast — posed as the quintessential sex bunny needing a knight in shining armour.

Meanwhile, “Poseidon” (we need a better nickname for this dude) made up a lot of time for Aitu, and after Mr. Miyagi uses his magic hands to dance wildly around the fire, twirling his kindling over his head like a helicopter, he actually manages to start a fire before Raro could even get a spark. Aitu wins immunity and poor Raro, sitting pretty at the beginning of this episode, will be forced to vote someone out.

I'm thinking Stephanie is gone, just because it's hard to imagine a bunch of cavemen tossing out their token Sex Bunny.

7:42
At Raro, Pinoy Brad reveals that Cao Boi was the ex-Puka fire-tender. Stephanie, in a supreme feat of self-sacrifice declares herself the weakest link, pretty much inviting a removal from the tribe. However, at least one person was thinking: Rebecca points out that the women currently out-number the men and should maintain that majority. It's a sound plan, but the question is who the women will target.

Unfortunately, there one hurdle that must be overcome in this potential coup: Anti-Feminist Sex Bunny Parvati who, in her teensy-weensy-string bikini basically says “oh, hell no, I ain't voting off my me-eeehhnnns; my feminine wiles won't work on you, women!!”.

In a desperate effort, the women then reach out to Pinoy Brad. And you could practically hear the hammer come down on this feeble coup like that “Cluhn-Cluh” sound on Law & Order. It will be a miracle of epic proportions if J.P. (the guy being targeted by the female alliance) is snuffed out instead of Stephanie.

7:51
Although my feminism demands that I root for the women somehow emerging victorious, I almost want Stephanie to be voted out, because she absolutely does not know how to play this game. Every time she opens her mouth, she somehow manages to shoot herself in the foot. Even at Tribal Council, she has to say she doesn't trust her tribemates; not one to butter up your potential allies, are you, Stephanie?

7:53
Echoing J.P.'s sentiment upon realizing that the women pulled it off, I have to say, “Wow“. I am utterly impressed that the clumsy stumbling of the female alliance actually worked. This has to be one of the biggest upsets of the season thus far — I was completely surprised that Un-Survivor Stephannie managed to outlast anyone at all, let alone the admittedly stronger and more likeable (at least if your a fellow lazing, belching, frat boy) J.P..

Wow. So, it turns out that not only did Sex Bunny Parvati actually discover her inner feminist, but Pinoy Brad not only joined the female alliance but pulled over Adam as well.

I just want to point out however, that so far three original members of the Latino tribe and one member of the Black tribe have been eliminated. Why are the Brown tribemates dropping like proverbial flies in the milk?

Next Week: Cao Boi bitches about the “princess-y” women while Raro gets an unwelcome visitation from the Aitu tribe.