Wanted: APIA Women with Ink


I just received an email from a student named Doris Zhang, a senior at Pitzer College. Doris is looking for some help with her Gender/Feminist Studies senior project. Doris has identified a disturbing lack of representation of APIA women in media for the tattoo community, and hopes to rectify the situation by developing her own tattoo magazine specifically focused on Asian American women with tattoos.

Here is the text of the email:

I’m a senior at Pitzer College and was wondering if you could help me out a bit with a favor. For my Gender/Feminist Studies senior project, I’d like to interview and photograph self-identified tattooed Asian American women. My intention is to create my own ‘tattoo magazine’ – think “Tattoos For Women”, but with an Asian American focus. I don’t see a lot of Asian American women being represented in the media, let alone in tattoo magazines and in the tattoo community. In addition, I think it would be so interesting to see how gender and race (amongst other factors) intersect to shape the artistic and expressive choices of Asian American women.

If you are a tattooed Asian American woman and are interested in being interviewed for this project, please email doris.zhang.2010@gmail.com.

I think this is a great project and wish Doris the best of luck in it! I hope to post about the magazine when it is released.

NY Daily News Picks Up Toby Keith “Chinky Eye” Controversy


Yesterday, I posted about how Toby Keith, country crooner, made a racial faux pas in Norway immediately following the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Today, the New York Daily News  picked up on the blogosphere buzz about Keith, and wrote an article describing the controversy.

In it, they obtain quotes from representatives of the Asian American Justice Center, who said:

“Toby Keith embarrassed himself and his country, denigrated the Nobel Peace Prize and offended Asians and Asian Americans by using a crude, racist hand gesture,” a spokesman for the Asian American Justice Center tells TMZ.

A spokesperson from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), mis-cited as the Media Action Network for Asians in the article, also said:

“By doing this, he is telling Asian fans, ‘You don’t matter, you’re not on my radar,'” chimes in a representative from the Media Action Network for Asians.

Well, to be fair, I’m not really pissed at Keith because I’ve been let-down by one of my country singin’ idols. In fact, I really don’t care if I’m on Keith’s radar. I would just prefer if folks didn’t think they could get away with derogatory, schoolyard racism aimed at folks like myself, without at the very least being called out on it.

The NY Daily News also contacted Keith’s spokespeople for a quote.  Keith has yet to issue an apology for his behaviour, but his publicist did have this to say:

“No one at the concert thought Toby was out of line,” his camp said. “Everyone was impressed with his rapping skills and that’s it . . . all of the artists liked each other, hung out, and it was a very friendly, genuine, and supportive atmosphere.”

Ri-i-ight. Because it’s only racist if the impromptu concert went something like this:

Wyclef Jean: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The first black president got a Nobel!

Toby Keith: I’m cool because I’m on stage with musicians people actually respect! Never mind that people can’t name a single song I’ve ever sung — I’m hard to the core!

Will Smith: Turn the mic up, everybody! Let’s get jiggy! I would freestyle, but I’m too old (and too famous) for that mess anymore, so let’s just throw on some Rapper’s Delight. And anyways, these Norwegians are just excited that I’m even here instead of home with Jada! (rapping) … Well, I am Will Smith and I’d like to say hello. To the black —

Toby Keith: Haha! He said Black! He must mean him! (points at Will Smith)

Will Smith: — to the white —

Toby Keith: Hey, I’m White! (points a self) Shoot! This is easier than identifying numbers on Sesame Street! What’s next Will?

Will Smith: — the red and the brown —

Toby Keith: Shucks, that’s harder. Well, if I wave my hand around, I’m bound to point to someone who’s red or brown somewhere on the planet, right? (waves hand in a circle)

Will Smith: — the purple —

Toby Keith: Derrr…?

Will Smith: — and yellow!

Toby Keith: Hahaha! Yellow means Asian and Asian people have funny eyes. (does the “chinky eye”)

Will Smith: But first I gotta bang bang the boogie to the boogie…

Toby Keith: Whew, now I’m back in familiar territory. What was with the purple thing? Bang! Bang! Bang! (does the finger gun)

Will Smith: Say up jump the…. wait, wait, hold up.

DJ grinds the music to a halt.

Toby Keith: What, Will? I was just getting my jiggy on!

Will Smith: Did you just do the “chinky eye”? You know that is profoundly racist and derogatory to people of Asian descent? In fact, I am so offended by what you just did that I can’t even perform anymore. You have taken the joy out of President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, and for that, I cannot forgive you. You, sir, are a racist, Mr. Keith, and I cannot bear to share the stage with you any further.

Will Smith drops the mic and stalks off.

Toby Keith: Wha’ happened?!?

Wyclef Jean: For shame, Toby. For shame.

Yeah, of course that’s not going to happen. But just because nobody called Keith on his racism then and there, doesn’t make Toby Keith’s behaviour inoffensive. In other words, just because people who didn’t have the privilege to be in Norway only now got to see the video footage doesn’t render their (or my) argument that Keith’s behaviour was racist inadmissible.

And more importantly — how many drugs do you have to be doing to think that the reason Keith wasn’t called out on his racism in the heat of the moment was because people were too impressed by Keith’s rapping skills. I mean, do I really even need to make a joke about that, or can I just let that statement stand on it’s own?

Toby Keith Make the “Chinky Eye”?


In the aftermath of Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Will Smith, Wyclef Jean and Toby Keith were performing at a concert in Oslo, Norway when Toby Keith apparently pulled his eyes back in the “chinky eye” to mimic Asian features. The context: Will Smith was performing verses of Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight” when he reached the following lyric:

See I am the [garbled] Will and I like to say hello
To the black, to the white, the red and the brown,
The purple and yellow
But first I gotta bang bang the boogie to the boogie
Say up jump the boogie to the bang bang boogie
Let’s rock, you don’t stop
Rock the rhythym that will make your body rock

While performing this part of the lyric, both Will Smith and Toby Keith pointed at Smith for “black” and Keith for “white”. Then, Keith proceeds to do some gesticulating with his hand for “the red and the brown”, and than points to the corner of his eyes for “yellow”. Afterwards, he points his index finger (in the shape of a gun) for “bang bang” — indicating that he’s miming out these well-known lyrics for Smith.

The relevant part of the video can be found below, starting at about 1:20 on the video counter.

As Gawker points out, it’s possible Keith just had an ill-timed itch in his eye. Or it’s possible he was making the “chinky eye” and got caught on video. If so, shame on you, Toby Keith; and not just for wearing a jean jacket and a cowboy hat to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Monday morning racism from Monroe County


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


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: