Monday, July 25, 2016

Amazon Reviews

And They're Very Positive Reviews...

I was happy to discover that there have been three very positive reviews of my novel posted to Amazon.....
I purchased this book to take on vacation but I ended up reading it from cover to cover before I even left. I couldn't put it down. The Legend of Fu transports you to another place and time, I felt I was observing the characters from my bedroom window. This book is full of action, intrigue but is also a tragic story that needs to be told. Smooth writing and twists in the plot will keep you glued to the book and have you trying to solve the mystery. This is a must read not only for Asia-Americans but all Americans.
..and secondly...
This book’s a real rarity: both exciting and thought-provoking. Just an excellent book! Couldn’t put it down! The action carries you along and the message makes you pause and think. Very well-written, with well-developed characters who really stay with you. I recommend it highly.
..and third....
This is a page turner with a very interesting plot. The characters are well developed and thought out. It is set in a historical perspective that most people don't know about.
This is a nice bright spot after several days of ongoing stress in the aftermath of the recent troubles we've had here.

Visit my Createspace page to order a copy.......

Monday, July 18, 2016

LOOK!! A Squirrel!

Progressive Subject-Changers Gone Wild.

There's a scene in the sci-fi movie "I Am Legend", starring Will Smith in which his character encounters a group of diseased zombie-like humans huddled together in the dark recesses of a dilapidated building of post-apocalyptic New York. The image of the zombies is brief - see it here, first twenty seconds or so - but they gather in an extremely disturbing, bestial manner, their bodies twitching uncontrollably, and positioned in a circle with their backs to the outside world as if to emphasize their separateness from, and obliviousness to, the uninfected human world of Smith's character. 

Sadly, my ability to suspend belief was itself suspended when I realized that the zombies looked like they were in the finishing stages of shooting a bukakke scene, or like a gaggle of macho males at the club, standing around the edge of the dance floor, heads bobbing uncontrollably from excessive testosterone and the struggle to control roid rage, to such an extent that you can't tell if they are trying to dance or are in the beginning stages of a group epileptic fit. 

Most interestingly of all, the zombies in the scene reminded me of early twenty-first century Asian-American progressives. Similar to the infected feral humans in the movie, our progressive friends seem to have a singular, inward turning focus that ignores and mythologizes those members of their community not like them, seem to be engaged in a circle-jerk of self-involvement, and, most hilariously of all, they act like poseurs at the club. Childlike moral reasoning, and internet-only militant posturing complete the picture of the modern-day Asian progressive as a gaggle of macho poseurs trying too hard to impress.  

I've written previously about Asian-progressive activism and its abandonment of any pretense of being an Asian focused movement. While our zombie friends in the movie respond most ferociously to the scent of human blood, our Asian progressive friends seem to lie dormant until spurred into action by anti-black racism - usually the shooting of innocent black people. The difference is, that zombies smell blood and attack the source of it, but when black people get shot by the police, Asian progressives smell only the opportunity to draw attention to themselves, usually by attacking other Asians and refocusing attention away from the issues of judicial collusion in enabling police excesses. So, while the disgust at police excess is worthy, the response of turning their rage inward at their own community is bizarre.

The recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have unleashed a never before seen level of Asian progressive impotent fervor, and of course, the attention has been deflected away from the issue of police excess and refocused on the real issue: Asian immigrants and their supposedly rampant - but so far unproven - anti-black racism that causes them to be complicit in anti-blackness by not supporting Black Lives Matter. In particular, the killing of Castile was of grave concern as initial reports claimed that he was shot by a "Chinese" (Chinese-American, thank you very much) officer, although subsequently the officer was revealed to be a four-year veteran of Hispanic origin. The subsequent sighs of relief are believed by Norwegian scientists to have increased the greenhouse effect for at least half a day.

I think that when it comes to fobby Asian "anti-blackness", the truth is far more mundane than our progressive friends might have us believe: our ignorant-seeming, broken-English speaking antecessors, and recent immigrants are simply not reactionary. This is probably why they don't jump up and down, pointing accusatory, self-promoting fingers at those around them - they might want to base their beliefs on evidence, not wishful thinking, or made-up narratives that assert guilt by association, or some kind of racism by default of circumstances.

In the wake of the Castile killing, progressive reaction was swift and an open letter composed that really was quite an epic effort of backflipping out of their Asian-ness, moral grandstanding, pompous lecturing, and an embarrassing inability to actually express what exactly Asian "parents" and other Fobby immigrants are doing that warrants such scrutiny. It's not as though Asian immigrants are going around shooting black people - although guns may have helped resolve issues where our vile, racist Asian parents deservedly got themselves beaten, killed  and thrown onto train tracks several years back. And they deserved every burned out product in their illegal and implicitly racist corner stores in black urban areas. But, yeah, this letter should go a long way in helping to eradicate unwarranted police violence towards the black community.

What seems to lie at the root of this letter, is the fear that Chinese "parents" will once again embarrass their mind-numbingly progressive kids by protesting in favour of someone who they thought was the Chinese cop who killed Castile like they did with Peter Liang. The letter says this.....
When someone is walking home and gets shot by a sworn protector of the peace -- even if that officer's last name is Liang -- that is an assault on all of us, and on all of our hopes for equality and fairness under the law. 
Thoughts like these are what prompts my disillusionment with our latest crop of Asian progressives. Liang was an inept rookie cop, whose poor training and lack of aptitude for the job resulted in a tragic accident that warranted both the trial and the proportionate sentence that he received. Liang never intended to fire his weapon and thus never intended to kill Akai Gurley, he neither knew, at first, that he had actually shot anyone, and there is no evidence whatsoever that he deliberately targeted a black man - even the prosecutor agreed with this. The Asian progressive viewpoint insists on labeling Liang a murderer - against all the evidence - and someone whose racist heart (stemming from his racist immigrant parents, no doubt) was so full of anti-blackness that even an accidental shooting must, by definition, be an act of racist violence.

The embarrassing thing for Asian progressivism is that it is our fobby generation of, perhaps, older immigrants whose English language skills may be poor or non-existent, that have actually grasped the nuance of American racism with far more clarity than the self-promoting American-born progressive wannabes. I have greater faith in their ability to reason that the killing of Castile - even if it had been perpetrated by a Chinese cop - is not anything like the accidental shooting of Akai Gurley and they would, thus, not jump to his defence with the same passion. It is the progressives who are incapable of discerning these kinds of differences as evidenced by their bizarre insistent delusion that Liang committed murder.

Almost as bad, yet unsurprisingly, the letter plays the oppression Olympics and diminishes the extent of the Asian racial experience as well as shows a disturbing lack of comprehension for what Asians report experiencing on a day to day basis....
It's true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don't think of us as “leadership material.” Some of us are told we're terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks “dangerous criminal” when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.
Not getting promotions because of your race is a pretty serious act of discrimination despite the attempts to play it down. It is such a serious act of discrimination that nations have felt compelled to change their constitutions to address the problem. But in a typical moment of short-sighted reactivism, Asian progressivism undoes the work and efforts of previous generations of activists by diminishing the seriousness of the problem and creates a problem for the generations that come after us: logically, if we can reason that discrimination against one group can be hand-waved away, then there are no reasons to apply this to all minorities. If workplace discrimination is not that bad (and even the UN and other international organizations say it is), then it is not that bad for anyone.

That is where Asian progressive grandstanding leads us and I'm sure feminists who have struggled for decades to win equality in the workplace will be horrified by the stupidity in this poorly thought out diminution of one of the major struggles of civil rights movements throughout the world.

Additionally, the letter's diminishing of racial rudeness effectively denies Asians the racial experience that is, perhaps the most common to all of us. Even something as normal as walking down the street for Asian-Americans can often be a terrible experience. For us, racial harassment in the form of random people calling out to us with mockery seems to be a universally and regularly experienced thing that many of us, at times, find quite threatening. Asian women, in particular report routine racialized sexual harassment that I would suggest they find problematic too. Asian progressives, however, think these women should stop whining.

Consider, also, that often this street level harassment is also expressed openly in the media - notably this years Oscars ceremony - such that it has become normalized to harass Asians to the extent that the prevailing mainstream wisdom seems to be that it isn't racist at all. We have to wonder if the sentiments expressed in the letter were written by some modern-day, stealth version of the Asian Exclusion League.

You don't convince people by attacking or lecturing them, and this is why I view these pompous tactics of open letter-writing, trashy attempts at public shaming, and transparent self-promotion as doing more harm to the cause of BLM than the supposed racism of the Asian fobs they're targeting. It speaks of an overwhelming failure of ideas when your movement's most prominent activities for the mattering of black lives involve lecturing and attacking Asian immigrants with poor English, and elevating some vague minor act of racial insensitivity to the same level of significance as violent police excesses.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

That Was Scary.

Coup Attempt In Turkey.

Well this has been an eventful twelve hours or so. Late last night there was an attempted military take-over of the country, which has now been put down, with, thankfully and sadly, relatively few casualties. As one might imagine, last night was largely sleepless which we spent preparing back-packs filled with two days worth of clothing, passports, and our most prized possessions, in the event that we would have to flee (yes, I used the word "flee") to safety in one of the foreign consulates here.

Strangely, even though we live a mere ten minutes from Istanbul's central square where there was, apparently, a confrontation taking place between military and protesters, the coup-attempt was for us a largely quiet affair. Throughout most of the night, however, the sonic boom of low-flying jets flying over the city reminded us that there was a conflict taking place around us. At a couple of points in the night, we could hear what sounded like explosions in the distance.

Helicopters - presumably, military - with their lights turned off, flew patrols over the area, and an occasional chant carried to our apartment from some undefined place in the distance. At some point in the night, a crowd passed nearby our house, chanting, "Allehu Akabar", presumably on their way to confront the army in the main square.

It's now, ten in the morning, the uprising seems to have been quelled, and all is quiet. We're staying indoors today, and probably for the whole weekend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Announcements.

Just up.....

Please visit the Facebook page for my recently published novel........


There's also a permanent link in the side bar of this blog. Feel free to leave a message, or a question, and don't forget to like, and if you really like, buy!

Also, I have post a short preview from the novel here.....


Please rate - feedback and reviews are welcome.

For any questions contact me via e-mail.....

benefsanem@aol.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Chinese Detergent Commercial

When Coalitions Break Down And No One Notices.

There's been an internet year's worth of controversy in recent days over a Chinese-made detergent ad that shows a black man being put into a washing machine and coming out as a light-skinned Chinese man. Naturally, the media has taken the incident and run with it - although, surprisingly, Asian progressives haven't yet latched onto the incident to spout their anti-Asian rhetoric and use it as a reason to launch an anti-Asian exclusion movement from higher education. That may still come - I'm sure.

Completely shocked (shocked I tell you!) that racism can exist in the media, some news sites have even suggested that the ad could be the most racist ad ever. America's ethnic minorities long used to being casually demeaned in the media, may not agree, however, but this post is not about obvious media racism per se. 

I first read about the detergent ad in a Washington Post article that describes incidents from India and China that actually happened on the same day, from which the article's author deduces that China and India "have a huge problem with racism toward black people." Yet, the two incidents described are worlds apart in nature, severity, and consequence.

Firstly, the article's author,  Ishaan Tharoor, describes the incident that happened in India....
Just minutes before his birthday, Masonda Ketanda Olivier was beaten to death. The Congolese national was confronted by a mob of men late at night last Friday in New Delhi and killed. Police said the incident was a dispute over the hiring of an autorickshaw; Olivier's friend, an Ivorian national, said it was a clear hate crime, with racial epithets repeatedly invoked.
There you have it - an African student was beaten to death by a mob shouting racial epithets in what one witness believes was a racially motivated attack. In terms of severity, dying from a racially motivated beating is pretty severe. 

The consequences of the beating are huge....
This week, irate African diplomats in the Indian capital pointed to Olivier's murder as evidence of wider discrimination and bigotry against black people who visit and live in India......"The Indian government is strongly enjoined to take urgent steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India," Alem Tsehage, the Eritrean ambassador and the diplomat representing other African envoys in New Delhi, said in a statement. They also warned against new batches of African students enrolling in Indian universities.
Hmm...serious stuff. And then.....
A number of African diplomats chose to boycott a planned event celebrating the history of India-Africa ties on Thursday.
African envoys are so concerned about a wider societal antipathy towards black people living and working in India, that the incident has prompted a diplomatic crisis in which African diplomatic representatives are discouraging African students from enrolling in Indian universities.

The latter part of Ishaan Tharoor's piece addresses the issue of anti-black racism in China - in this case, as evidenced by the racist detergent ad. As I read this section of the article, I couldn't help but notice that there was no mention of murderous mobs attacking Africans and beating them to death, nor did I read of any notion of a diplomatic crisis caused by the belief that the ad reflects a deeper violent anti-black prejudice in China.

In fact, in my opinion, the two incidents should not have been placed in the same article since the latter story of a racist ad somewhat diminished and detracted from the far more serious issue of a violent expression of anti-black sentiment in the former story which should have been explored in more detail.

Don't get me wrong here, I agree that media portrayals shape attitudes and can dehumanize groups of people to the extent that it has the potential to lead to violent behaviours and in and of itself, the ad certainly has the potential to do that. But from an Asian-American perspective, the idea of placing a negative media portrayal on the same level of severity as a racist murder seems to go against everything that both white America and our very own Asian progressive friends tell us about the Asian-American experience of race.

White America informs us that we need to lighten up in the face of anti-Asian media portrayals, and Asian progressives downplay anti-Asian racism as insignificant compared to the violent racism faced by black Americans. Yet, somehow an American media outlet suddenly elevates a racist ad to the same level as a racist murder. Bearing in mind that only weeks ago, Chris Rock paraded three Asian children in a live broadcast of the Oscars and proceeded to racially mock them in front of millions of viewers, the media's response to this Chinese detergent ad seems arbitrary and certainly biased.

Few, if any, commentaries in the mainstream media called Rock's skit an outright racist performance even though it was similar in scope and kind to the detergent ad - worse, perhaps, since it exploited kids. It is not controversial to say that anti-Asian racism is not taken seriously, and it is rare that the issue even makes the agenda of many politicians. Even ultra-liberal Bernie Sanders in his June 9th speech after meeting Obama, failed to mention Donald Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric and mockery of Asians in the early stages of his campaign for the presidency during his condemnations of Trump's anti-Muslim and Hispanic speeches.

In fact, the mainstream media at the time of Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric seemed largely apathetic to his racist speeches towards Asians, failing, in my view, to come out strongly enough to condemn him. There was certainly no one in the GOP nor the conservative media who called him out on his racism, and the liberal media's reaction was muted to say the least. It was only after Trump expanded his rhetoric to target Muslims and Hispanics that his racism was considered a problem.

Tharoor continues...
Yet many Africans who have come in the tens of thousands to China and India as students and businessmen, petty merchants and backpackers, complain of persistent racism.
And how does that manifest in the two countries? Well in India........
In February, a Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese man, in an entirely separate incident, was believed to have hit a local with his car.
Last year, an Indian publication put together a moving, sad video, below, of testimony from African students and professionals about their experience of daily discrimination. It also includes 2014 footage of a mob in a Delhi metro station attacking three black men with sticks, while chanting nationalist slogans.
Now that's bad. It seems that time and again, there are bouts of spontaneous mob violence targeting Africans in India. But what about China? How does the racism there manifest?

According to Tharoor, it is a "similar" picture.....
In China, it's a similar picture. In a 2013 account, an African American English teacher recounted his students complaining about their instructor: "I don’t want to look at his black face all night," one said.
Africans across the country, whether on university campuses or elsewhere, have also been subject to attack and abuse. Growing merchant communities in certain cities, such as in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, rub up against a wider population that is ethnically homogenous and largely unfamiliar with the diversity and history of black populations elsewhere.
The African community in Guangzhou has taken to the streets to protest unfair treatment on a number of occasions, including in 2009 after the death of a Nigerian man fleeing a police raid and in 2012 after another man died mysteriously in police custody.
Sorry, but that is not a similar picture at all, not by any reasonable stretch of the imagination. On the one hand, you have disturbing incidents of spontaneous mob violence resulting in the murder of Africans. On the other hand, you have a case of racist students - kids - and cases of police brutality. Now racist students and police brutality are bad things, but is it reasonable to say that issues of spontaneous mob violence that must arise out of a mutual, widespread negative attitude towards blacks, can compare to racist kids or even police brutality?

This is not to say that police brutality towards blacks in China is not a terrible thing, but can it be implied that this reflects a larger, society-wide attitude of racist feeling? After all, we are not hearing of any cases of spontaneous mob violence in China, and police brutality is a problem faced even by the Chinese themselves, not just minorities and should be viewed as a part of a general democratic deficit and lack of political accountability. So police brutality cannot be used as a reliable means to gauge wider racial attitudes within China.

A little online research into Chinese attitudes towards blacks who live in, or visit the country reveals some interesting things. The reports of people crowding black people to touch their hair and skin, stories of how whites are favoured over blacks and other non-Chinese Asians and Asian-Americans, as well as reports of vicious online racism are cringe-worthy and terrible. Despite these somewhat uncouth attitudes and behaviours, what we don't find are any reports of mob violence against black people in which there is a spontaneous eruption of anti-black violence involving the apparently random assembly of racist mobs.

In short, it's beyond unreasonable for Tharoor to conclude that there is similarity in racist attitudes in the two countries, and it is completely unrealistic to imply that these attitudes manifest in a similar way in both countries. Even more telling is the way that the media has almost completely ignored the lynching of a black man in India, and become hysterical about a Chinese detergent ad. There is a great irony in this that suggests Indian attitudes towards blacks more closely resemble, in unexpected ways, American attitudes towards East and SE Asians - as this incident of two random strangers joining forces to harass a Chinese woman suggests.

Even the way that the media responds and covers Asian subjects resembles a mob mentality. Take for example, the case of student Jarrod Ha. Last year, Ha was set upon by a mob of white female rugby players at his college, where he was beaten, kicked, and then attacked by a male student, Graham Harper, who beat Ha, whilst repeatedly slamming his head into a car. This sounds like an attempted murder that was only prevented because Ha defended himself by stabbing Harper several times. In the aftermath of the attempted murder, it was Ha who actually was arrested and stood trial while Harper and the women who started the fight, have to date not been charged with a single crime.

The media reaction to the case had all the hallmarks of a mob mentality - almost all outlets that covered the case, painted Harper as a hero, and Ha as a villain, ignoring the facts of the case and all but asserting his guilt. Almost all early reports took Harper's version of the story as the truth and all but ignored Ha's version of events. The reasons are difficult to discern, but perhaps these outlets were responding more to their own bigoted concepts about Asian men's supposed misogynistic behaviours and attitudes, and that this clouded their capacity to report fairly on the subject. Just like spontaneous mobs in India who, perhaps, also congregate based on their ideas about black people, the American media spontaneously spurts biased reports based entirely on their racist conceptions of Asian people.

The point here is not to detract from the violence faced by Africans living in India, nor to throw South Asians under the bus since, in my opinion, the point of these kinds of media hysterics when describing racism perpetrated by non-whites is a kind of deflection away from America's own race problem. The point is to make us cognizant of how the media will manipulate tragedy to push an anti-Asian (specifically an anti-Chinese/East Asian) agenda. It is often lost on us that the media can use incidences of racism to promote racism and racialized thinking about Asians and their cultures. It's like giving with one hand and taking with the other and if we don't call it out, no on will.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My Novel Has Been Published!!!

Just a notice that my novel has finally been published. After three years or so, it is now available for purchase through Amazon under the title, "The Legend Of Fu."

I self-published through the Amazon Create Space platform and is available only in paperback at the moment. 

You can buy the book directly at the following webpage.......


I have reprinted the novel's preface below......

History often surprises, with even the most casual study revealing unknowns about the past that, once learned – or re-learned – add a significant layer of context to the present. Without the past, we lose a significant portion of our identity, since our historical experience – both personal and societal – defines who we are, and frames the context of our experience. 

Identities are defined through our day-to-day interactions with those around us in an exchange of ideas and attitudes which can be thought of as our personal historical experience. All of this is set against a backdrop of engagement with the wider social, political, and historical context that has perhaps determined our social status and capacity to move across social strata, the opportunities that are available, and our level of engagement with, and inclusion in mainstream society.

It should follow, therefore, that the more knowledge we have of our history, the greater our ability to define who we are on our own terms. For those belonging to mainstream communities, this capacity for self-definition is a given - a natural by-product of being part of a mainstream whose identities are informed by saturation in a national historical biography and dominant culture.

For those whose lives are lived outside of the mainstream - such as racial minorities - this opportunity for self-definition is limited. Worse, as has often been the case in American history, racial minorities have been denied the opportunity to define themselves – both as individuals and communities - since access to their own historical experience has often been overwhelmed by mainstream narratives that have rendered them invisible, or have sought to outright marginalize and dehumanize them.

Either by design or disinterest, there are episodes of racial minority history that have been lost, forgotten, or even deliberately expunged from the historical memory. One such episode involves the history of the earliest mass immigration of Chinese people to North America in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Coming from the old Chinese empire, these (mostly) male migrants were lured to America by stories of great fortunes to be made on the gold rich West Coast, or were brought as cheap sources of labor and recruited to drive America’s burgeoning industrial might. Many were enlisted as laborers used to lay down the Pacific railway that opened up the West for industry and settlement.

Even though as a nation we acknowledge this influx of Chinese migrants, our knowledge of their experiences once they arrived has largely been forgotten. There is certainly almost no cultural record of their considerable contribution to the settlement and development of the West Coast in the same way that the culture embraces Wild West cowboys and hardy settler families having given rise to that part of America’s identity which includes fearless pioneers and hard-living, rugged individuals who overcome any challenge thrown at them.

A study of these early Chinese migrants may reveal one very good reason why our culture has avoided mention of their experiences: they were on the receiving end of some of the harshest anti-immigrant violence ever witnessed on our shores. Between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries - a period spanning three to four generations - in dozens of west coast towns, Chinese communities were targeted by mob violence fostered by anti-Chinese labor agitation and antagonistic political rhetoric.
 
They suffered beatings, arson, murder, and expulsion from their homes and communities during episodes of violence that echo the anti-Jewish pogroms and expulsions carried out during the nineteenth-century in Tsarist Russia. This novel is set in the period of American history which lacks a voice for the long silent and silenced victims of anti-Chinese pogroms.

Taking place in late-nineteenth century San Francisco, this story borrows heavily from actual historical events. Set against a backdrop of the constant threat of mob violence, the story is woven together by harvesting actual incidents of anti-Chinese violence spanning several decades and dramatizing them to form the core of the novel. These incidents are deeply troubling and difficult to read, but this is the case because the actual events that inspired them were disturbing - all the more so because there was a subsequent and equally disturbing historical silence that effectively pardoned perpetrators of the crimes committed against the first Chinese-Americans.
The novel also explores the power of racist narratives and the stereotypes that are both spawned and driven by them. One such stereotype to emerge in this period was that of the Asian arch-villain - a dehumanizing caricature that embodied all of the base qualities of human nature into the form of a scheming and rapacious Asian man whose innate wickedness manifested in his “misshapen” East-Asian racial characteristics.

Sly, steely-eyed and forever engaged in devious efforts to undermine and overwhelm Western civilization and its values, the Asian arch-villain became the symbol of the implicit and insurmountable difference between the incomprehensible Eastern and the rational Western mind. The notion of Asiatic incomprehensibility formed the foundation of anti-Chinese sentiment that still clouds modern day attitudes towards East Asia and its people. In the nineteenth-century, this idea of mutual incompatibility drove and justified anti-Chinese racism and led to violent expulsions from dozens of American west coast towns.

Other aspects of the arch-villain stereotype evolved over time, and more dastardly qualities were afforded it. By the nineteen-forties, the Asian arch-villain with all of his wickedness and deviousness had become a full-scale cultural phenomenon and was perhaps the most influential and visible representation of Asian men of the time. By this period, the Asian arch-villain had become, in his most extreme incarnation, a semi-supernatural creature, whose devilish plots were aided by ungodly mystical power and a threatening hyper-intelligence geared towards the destruction of the American way of life.

Given America’s past commitment to Caucasian racial purity and the consequent imposition of anti-miscegenation laws, it should come as no surprise that the Asian arch-villain was also imbued by his creators with an obsession for undermining racial purity. A rapacious craving for white women to be used as sexual objects and slaves became a major motivation ascribed to the Asian arch-villain. In real-life, the unfounded accusation that nineteenth-century Chinese communities were kidnapping white women for sexual slavery became a rallying cry that preceded many a mob rampage.

All of these factors have been incorporated into the story - particularly the supernatural aspect of the stereotype. Seeking to turn these racist fables on their heads, the stereotypes have been referenced to highlight the rabid prejudices that beset Chinese migrants of the time. This novel attempts to demonstrate the idea that significant swathes of American society engaged with, and reacted to, Chinese migrant communities based almost entirely on manufactured and false testimonies about them.

This is the power of the dehumanizing racial stereotype when coupled with a lack of opportunities for racial minorities to define themselves within the mainstream culture. The attitudes that drove Americans to violently expel and murder Chinese migrants in the nineteenth century became the framework through which subsequent Asian immigrant groups were marginalized, and which contributed to, and culminated in the large-scale incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. With this novel, I hope to bring to our cultural consciousness the immense price paid - in the blood of pioneer Asian-Americans - for their right to call themselves Americans. 

It must be mentioned that even though Chinese migrants are the subject of the story, I am not an Asian of Chinese descent. As an author, I struggled with the idea that a lack of personal acquaintance with Chinese culture(s) might hinder my ability to describe a “Chinese experience”. This is a legitimate consideration, but misses the point of the project in a number of ways.

Firstly, when living under circumstances that are life-threatening, the most basic human instincts for survival supersede cultural conditioning. Thus, I developed the characters via their human natures, acting in accordance with universal survival instincts rather than through their cultural sensibilities.

Secondly, there is a danger that when people not of a particular culture attempt to write about it, they will utilize clich├ęs that detract from the narrative. This story relates dramatized actual historical events without being cluttered by cultural peculiarities that might detract from the primary intent of the novel. Thus, it is the hope of this author that readers will not become unnecessarily distracted by assessing the authenticity of cultural nuance, and thereby miss the larger historical overview.

Thirdly, although this is an Asian-American story based on a history that has affected, to varying degrees, all Asian-Americans, it is ultimately an American story. This is an important point, since it records long-forgotten American history that recalls the actions of both white Americans and those of the Chinese they victimized.

Some readers might find it difficult to believe the extremely cruel and violent nature of the events described in this novel. The historicity, however, of the anti-Chinese violence portrayed in the novel has been thoroughly explored in a very harrowing investigation of the subject made by Jean Pfaelzer in her book “Driven Out”, and to a lesser degree, in John Kuo Wei Tchen’s book, “New York before Chinatown”. I would like to direct readers to these two thoroughly researched historical books for further investigation into the experiences of Chinese immigrants of the period. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Saw It Coming

A Slippery Slope Of Slanty Silliness.

I saw it coming, I really did. The attempt by Asian-American band, the Slants, to get their name trademarked has seemingly empowered  and encouraged others to increase their efforts to trademark racially demeaning terms.

Since my exchange with Simon Tam of the Slants that was published in "Where are you from", I've stayed largely out of the debacle of the Slants attempts to have the US government trademark their band's name. But recent events have caused me to sit up and take notice.

In the wake of the band's attempts to trademark their name, and following an important legal ruling, none other than the representatives of the Washington Redskins have stepped forward to voice support for the right of cultural and business entities to trademark racially demeaning titles. For those who don't know, the Washington football team has been embroiled in an ongoing battle with the trademark office to keep their team's name - redskins - which Native Americans find extremely derogatory and dehumanizing. I agree with the Native Americans - any name applied as a descriptor for an entire group of people is inherently dehumanizing even if its intent is not to be so or it is not ostensibly negative.

In a recent article, posted to his blog, bassist Simon Tam rejects the claim that his case can be reasonably used to support the Washington bid. He outlines three points that show, he feels, the differences between the two cases.

The first point follows...
Unlike REDSKINS, THE SLANTS is not an inherent racial slur. “SLANT” means a number of different things and the racial connotations are so obscure, nearly every major dictionary publisher removed the racial slur from its list of possible definitions. REDSKINS always has been used as a racial slur and has a long history of demeaning Native Americans. “SLANT” has not. It has been and is a commonly used “neutral” term (according to dictionary experts, it was obscure even during the height of its racial use in 1920-1940).
The problem here, is that there seems to be great degree of uncertainty about the origin of the word "redskins", and that it is not at all certain that the term was coined to be derogatory, or even that it was not used - in the past - by the First Americans to describe themselves. Some argue that the term was itself a "neutral" term that simply described the cultural habit of some tribes who painted their skin red. According to a study by Smithsonian historian, Ives Goddard, the term's origins were both benign and used by Native peoples to describe themselves.

If you peruse some of those links, you will notice that some supporters of the Washington football team are using some familiar arguments to bolster their case. In this article, a guest panelist for Fox news, argues this....
"When’s the last time you heard someone use that as a racial slur?" asked Pete Hegseth, a guest panelist on the Fox News show Outnumbered. "It’s not used commonly at all as a racial slur. It’s used historically to refer to — a term of respect to people."
This is remarkably similar to what Tam has argued in his quest to enlist support for his case - the term "redskins", like "slant" is no longer used to demean or dehumanize, but rather, these terms are being used in a positive way (somehow!).

On a final note on this point, the argument that the term "slants" was obscure even at the height of its usage seems to somewhat ignore the fact that Asians themselves were "obscure" during the same period of history. Decades of strict immigration controls that all but halted Asian migration, coupled with the fact that Asians were largely herded into segregated ghettos, meant that the vast majority of non-Asian Americans were unlikely to have encountered many Asians on a regular basis and so the prevalence of usage for the term compared to the population size of non-Asian Americans would likely be small.

Furthermore, this reasoning further damages Asian-Americans, since it relegates the Asian experience of racism relative to the term "slant" to a secondary significance to that of the racists who abused them. Tam is effectively saying that we can determine the significance of a racial slur based on how it is utilized by the racists who use it, and not how it affects those being targeted. This becomes clearer when we consider the relative population sizes of Asians to non-Asians at the time.

Between 1930 and 1940, the Asian-American population fell by around ten-thousand from 264,766, to 254,918. The general population rose by roughly ten-million during the same time period from around 122 million to 132 million. This means that  during the period when the term was most common, at no time did the Asian-American population ever reach even half of 1% of the total population. If we grant that the vast majority of this 132 million people had no contact on any regular basis with Asians who were largely concentrated in small enclaves on the west coast, then it becomes clear that any racial slur directed at them would have been an "obscure" occurrence within the society at large.

Tam does a disservice to our Asian pioneers by ignoring their experience - it's absolutely irrelevant how often this slur was used by non-Asians when spread across the wider population who had little to no contact with Asians. What is important is how frequently this term of dehumanization was experienced by the Asians themselves. If all 264,766 Asian at the time were abused with the slur every day, it could still be considered an "obscure" term because set against the larger population it might never find widespread usage even though the Asian targets were experiencing it regularly. To ignore this possibility simply deprives Asian -Americans of that era their voice and their history.

Tam continues with point two.....
REDSKINS has a substantial composite of Native Americans demonstrating serious concerns over the name. THE SLANTS has not garnered wide protest from Asian Americans; in fact, quite the opposite. Our band has been supported by lifelong activists, organizations, academics, and other experts who understand the sentiment of our community.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword. We can again refer to demographics to illustrate how spurious this argument is. The Washington football team is a national franchise with an international following whose players, and those otherwise associated with the team, receive far more media and societal attention in one game day than the Slants might receive over a period of weeks or even months. By contrast, not only are the Slants less visible due to their comparative anonymity, they are possibly not known to most Asian-Americans 75% of whom are foreign born and average forty-four years in age and who, therefore might not be into popular music or culture of this kind, may not be familiar with the history and significance of racial slurs and how they represent the popular simplified expression of millenia of western racist philosophy and science.

The point is that it is possible that the Slants' support derives from a mere fraction of the actual population of Asian-Americans and does not represent the attitudes of the majority at all. In fact, I might suggest that it is more likely that Tam's support comes from a demographic of Asian-America that is in the minority (even, perhaps, of the American-born), but which has greater engagement with social media, America's and Asian-America's cultural milieu, and which is more vocal and visible within it.

As for Asian activists supporting the right of Asian-Americans to demean themselves - I'm not surprised nor impressed. My observations of Asian activists is that they are not even remotely close to understanding our community's sentiment and quite often seem engaged in attacking their own communities. If these activists who support Tam's case are anything like these guys, then all the more reason to oppose!

Where Tam's argument becomes a double-edged sword is in his appeal to popular support for how his case is different to the redskins' case. According to this Forbes report from last year, Washington revenues amounted to roughly $440 million dollars, working out to around $40 "per fan". This means that the Washington support probably runs into the millions - possibly more people support Washington than there are Native-Americans who number roughly 3 million people, not all of whom may actually find the term "redskins" problematic. Thus, we have a situation where there may be vastly more Americans who believe that they have "reappropriated" the term and are using it positively, than there are who oppose the word. If the majority of people using the term "redskins" positively outnumbers those who find it offensive, then the demographic numbers argument fails to support Tam but supports the case of the Washington football team.

You might argue - as Tam does in his third and final point - that the "referenced" group's attitude should be taken into account, but this has no logic or reason to support it as I'll explain next.

Tam's third point is as follows....
The owners of “REDSKINS” are not members of the “referenced group,” unlike THE SLANTS. It’s important to remember that of the 800+ trademark applications for variations of the term “slant,” only one was denied for being a “racial slur.” In other words, the Trademark Office never considered it to be a slur against Asians until an Asian applied. The Trademark Office clearly expressed that the only reason why they associated our trademark application with a racial slur was because of my race. They wrote, “it is uncontested that applicant is a founding member of a band…composed of members of Asian descent…thus, the association.” In other words, if I were white, like every other applicant in the history of the country, it would have not been questioned to begin with.
This is where the whole house of cards falls apart. Tam complains that the association of his race with the term "slants" is why it has been viewed as a slur by the trademark office. Yet, elsewhere, he has argued that he is not referencing the Asian race by his use of the term, although in his article he clearly states that his band does use the word as a means of referencing his race. I'm confused too.

Worse, there is nothing implicit in this argument that excludes people who are not the group referenced by slurs from deciding to use them positively - to say that white people cannot be allowed to reclaim a slur and change its meaning is racist. This means that although there may be some cause for concern that non-Asians could trademark the term slant, whilst Asians are prevented from doing so, there is no reason why non-Asians should be forbidden reference to racial slurs in their trademark as long as they can show that they have used these terms in a positive way. And Washington wins.

This is exactly what the Washington football team is arguing - they have reclaimed the word "redskins" and are using it in a positive way. Given Tam's argument, and the fact that the trademark office seems set on granting his band the trademark, it should follow logically - and perhaps legally - that Washington will be granted the same rights. After all, isn't it racist to deny trademarks based on race?

Finished with his three main points, Tam writes....
Also, while I personally believe in the power of reappropriation as a tool to create social change (as I explain at YOMYOMF here and here, TEDxUofW here, at RaceFiles, and to TIME), our legal argument isn’t constructed on this point. You can read our entire brief and all of our arguments, via JDSupra.
This is a somewhat disturbing point. As the links in his own article indicate, much of Tam's writings that I have read have argued that his band has used their name as a way to reappropriate a formerly derogatory term. In and of itself, this contradicts claims that their name is not a racial reference, even though the band has garnered support from the community precisely by pushing the idea of empowerment through reclaiming a slur. Of course, one has to wonder how you can reclaim a slur that has apparently fallen out of common usage without first re-acquainting society with its derogatory meaning.

That aside, it seems as though there has been a bait and switch used on Asian-Americans - on the one hand, arguments have been made, articles written, and seminars given that seem to put forward the idea that the band is fighting to appropriate a racial slur, then we find out that this has absolutely nothing to do with their legal challenge at all! Call this what you will, but to me it throws doubt on the alleged outpouring of support that the band has received - do people actually know why they are supporting the band? I'm not so sure any more.

What the Slants' case highlights is that the Asian-American experience of race is often hidden behind a thin veneer of racial double-entendres and vagueness. The fact that the racial slurs that dehumanize us are so deeply ingrained in the language that we can hear and experience terms of racial abuse even when these terms are not being used racially, is a testament to the throw-away and off-handed nature of anti-Asian racism in America. 

Racial slurs sometimes used to describe Asians also have benign, alternative definitions which means that they can be, and are, often used in a way that permits plausible deniability on the part of the user. I often argue for greater nuance in the Asian-American conversation on race, but in the case of ambiguous, double entendre racial slurs directed at Asians, I think that more nuance is the last thing we need.

Instead of adding definitions to dehumanizing racist language, we should be striving to reduce definitions so that all ambiguity is removed from them. This is especially pertinent in the case of ambiguous anti-Asian racial slurs which enables a kind of verbal racist hit and run that strikes, then disappears into the safe ambiguity of the language. 

The Oxford Dictionary recently made moves to change its definition of the word "marriage" so that it includes same-sex unions as opposed to solely male/female unions. Although they are not the first dictionary to do this, it highlights the significance of words and labels to help establish social and cultural norms and practices. If it is that easy to redefine words, then vague, racial double-entendres that characterize anti-Asian racism can and should be redefined to help to establish social and cultural norms and practices that diminish opportunities for racism to propagate behind the ambiguity of the language.

The word "marriage" is not implicitly demeaning towards homosexuals just like the terms "chink" and "slant" are not implicitly derogatory towards Asians, yet, unlike the latter two terms, it is hard to use the word "marriage" to actively demean homosexuals. If word definitions can be changed to avert the "passive" negative ramifications of their meaning, how much stronger an argument we have to redefine ambiguous words that are co-opted to actively demean Asians so that their most racially negative, dehumanizing meaning becomes the predominant or, perhaps, only one.

In this light, it is difficult for me to see how the Slants' case would benefit Asian-Americans in any meaningful way. Other than to add more confusion to the mix in a situation where confusion and ambiguity already empowers anti-Asian racism, the Slants case would make it even easier for such racism to exist. There are absolutely no benefits to Asian-America, nor are there benefits to the causes of other minorities. If anything - and this has become obvious given the support offered by Washington - a win for the Slants would set all minorities back.

In summary, while I can appreciate that the Slants are one of the only bands of their kind, and that we should support them with our fandom, nothing has happened since my previous engagements with Simon Tam to convince me that his cause has any benefits either for Asian-Americans or minorities in general. As I - and circumstances - have shown the Slants' case has merely given impetus to entities whose cause is harmful to ethnic minorities. In this case, fears of a slippery slope are not fallacious - by supporting the Slants, Asian-Americans "activists" have empowered white racism, again.

Of course, being the rational and fair-minded guy that I am, if someone can explain how and why the Slants' case benefits, empowers, or advances Asian-Americans or their issues in any way, I would be quite willing to change my view.