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.

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:

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?

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.