Monday, August 30, 2010

The King Has No Clothes?

The Oppressed becomes the Oppressor.

No mention of the black Civil Rights struggles of the nineteen-fifties and sixties is complete without a reference to the bravery and determination of the Little Rock Nine. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Little Rock Nine were the first African-American students to attempt enrollment in the segregated Little Rock High School in 1957. The images of the mass of white students shouting racial abuse at them as they enter the school have become  almost iconic and are a  portent of the abuse they would experience throughout the ensuing school year.

In the year following their enrollment the nine faced continual and repeated harrassment as well as physical abuse and intimidation. One of the nine, Minnie Jean Brown Trickey , after enduring repeated harrassment and abuse was suspended and subsequently expelled for calling one of her tormentors "white trash". Carlotta Walls Lanier was spat on and regularly harrassed by white students. The studious and quiet Jefferson A. Thomas was heavily targeted by bullies. Gloria Cecilia Ray Karlmark was especially targeted by bullies and was jostled, pushed and physically intimidated by white students. Melba Patillo Beals had acid thrown into her face. All of the nine faced daily harrowing abuse, bullying, physical intimidation and violence. All the while the Administrative and teaching staff  permitted the violence to continue unabated.

Because of their endurance and bravery, the story of the Little Rock Nine has empowered subsequent generations of the dispossessed and disempowered. All of the nine went on to be successfull in their fields and themselves became community activists. How painful, then, must be the realization that one of the main lessons learned by some of the heirs to the struggle for equality is how to be oppressors.

It's something of a clichè to write that history repeats itself, yet, the ongoing violence and harrassment of Asian students at the hands of the descendants of the Civil Rights movement in South Philly High school proves that this age-old wisdom is sometimes true. As readers may know, the Asian student body at South Philly High School has been involved in an ongoing judicial struggle to have their grievances appropriately addressed by school authorities, who have so far apparently pursued a policy of denial and dishonesty in order to avoid upholding the civil (and human) rights of their Asian students. At the school, students of Asian descent have reported repeated racial baiting, harrassment, intimidation and physical violence all under the watchful indifference of school staff.

It's therefore the greatest irony that Federal investigators have found merit in the complaints of the Asian student body on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The similarities in the experiences of the Little Rock Nine and the Asian students are remarkable. Just like the Little Rock Nine, the Asian students at South Philly want to better themselves through education and hard work. Unfortunately, also like the Little Rock Nine, the Asian student body is being abused by an ignorant group of students whose violence and intimidation has been (allegedly) repeatedly ignored by school authorities. Sadly, on the anniversary of King's speech that inspired oppressed people throughout the world, the heirs to his legacy have been called to address their own oppression of a weaker minority.

Does the King still have clothes?


H/T Masir Jones at Destroy & Rebuild

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Magic Mushroom Clouds

Being White means never having to say you're sorry.

The annual commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is typically accompanied by a debate on whether the bombings were justified or simply an act of mass-murder motivated by revenge. Often, this debate then evolves into a discussion on whether the Japanese have done or said enough to redress the actions of their militarist regime of the period. Although Japan has issued several apologies to their Asian neighbours, many still feel that Japan has failed to genuinely, and fully, acknowledge atrocities committed by the Imperial Armies against its former enemies. So, even though it's been sixty-five years since the bombs were dropped, the political and social fallout from their use is still being felt.

Whatever position one takes on these issues, I think most people would agree that imperialism deserves condemnation and that any crimes of brutality resulting from any colonization process should be brought to some kind of justice. By examining the attitudes and ideologies that led imperialist nations to believe that they had the right to brutalize, exploit and enslave others, we are better able to understand the basis for much of the biases and prejudices that exist today, both in the way that international relations are conducted and in the racial dynamics within those societies themselves.

Again, although Japan's apologies are considered by some to be insufficient, of all the nations that attempted colonization of Asia - often brutally savage - Japan is the only one that has actually ever apologized for its actions. Somehow, yet for me unsurprisingly, not one Western country that waged wars of aggression on the peoples of Asia, has ever apologized for any atrocities committed during this process of conquest - even though some of these very nations have been vocal in insisting that Japan apologize for its atrocities.

Part of the reasoning behind the West's insistence that Japan fully acknowledge its atrocities is based upon the fear that without full acceptance of responsibility and the subsequent historical re-interpretation that this would entail, Japan might once again become militaristic. This is sound reasoning, yet the West seems unwilling to apply this reasoning to their own imperialism - "sorry" doesn't seem to be a part of their vocabulary. The biggest irony is that after Japan's defeat, the French, Dutch and the British all returned to their former colonies to wage war against the very Asian countries that they had supposedly fought so hard to free - killing millions in the process.

For a diverse country like America, accepting responsibility for colonial brutality is a necessary step in integrating its minorities. For example, the U.S has by and large accepted responsibility for slavery and by doing so has legitimized programs and policies leading to cultural acceptance and  inclusion of the black minority. African-Americans are afforded a degree of respect, deference and empathy not given to other ethnic minorities (at least ideologically). This can be partially explained by the fact that America and other western countries have acknowledged their atrocities and in so doing have placed the presence of its black minorities in a context that supports their specific rights and needs, as well as their very right to be there.

If we compare this to social and cultural attitudes toward East Asian minorities in the U.S, you'll notice a vast difference. There is a fundamental distrust of Asia and its people and Asian-Americans struggle to be recognized as true, loyal Americans. Xenophobia and economic resentments combine to keep Asian-Americans on the periphery of society and therefore vulnerable to violence. Lacking the mechanisms to define and present our own identity, empathy for Asian-Americans is minimized by negative images controlled by a hostile media and propagated by racist institutions.

In short, America exists as the result of colonialism. Its diverse population reflects its past colonial aspirations. Asians are in America as the natural and necessary outcome of America and the West's aggression and interference in our countries. Naturally, this fact isn't covered in the history books. This is why Asians continue to be thought of as outsiders that don't really belong in this society.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Think, Therefore I Think I'm Asian.

Pulling Leaders Out Of Our Arses

Of the many factors that contribute to making a good leader, one of the most important has to be a solid philosophical underpinning; a basis of thought that guides actions and determines the nature and method of approach to achieving an objective. A good example is Martin Luther King. A strong and charismatic leader, King campaigned for Civil Rights guided by a philosophy of the intrinsic value of man - a philosophy which he exhibited by pursuing his objectives through non-violent resistance. The strength of King's leadership was determined by the strength and coherence of the philosophies he adhered to.

Clearly, King’s greatest asset was the philosophical wealth that he inherited from both African-American philosophers (W.E.B DuBois, William Fontaine, Alain Locke) and various religious philosophies (Jainist non-violence, Christian compassion). There was a circulation of philosophical ideas and ideals throughout the African-American community that tackled issues of racism, morality, colonialism, identity, and cultural expression. From this dynamic richness of philosophical thought African-American leaders seemed to emerge almost as a necessary consequence of it.

By contrast, we in Asian-America are often left to wonder about the dearth of charismatic Asian leaders. If it is indeed true that philosophical richness can provide fertile ground for leaders to emerge and that there is a dearth of Asian-American leaders, it’s unsurprising to find that there seems to be a dearth of Asian-American philosophers also. What exactly is the philosophy of Asian-America? Are we shapers of American destiny or the implementers? Are we in the vanguard of a new America that looks to the East with affection equal to its affection for the West? Is our future full assimilation? Do we need a semi-autonomous United States of Asian-America? What is our vision and who are our visionaries?

In short, I would submit that as a community our need to reassure the xenophobic mainstream that we are “people, just like them”, may perhaps have stifled the development of an Asian-American vision and stunted the emergence of a hotbed of philosophical ideas competing against one another to be the best guide for our future. This may be because of fears that Asian-Americans with new social or political ideas would contribute to xenophobic fear and reprisals against the community. Yet it seems to me that the first step in the emergence of a consciousness has to be through the examination and evaluation of ideas, even those that are scary or uncomfortable.

Clearly, our lack of leadership may be partially but directly attributed to a lack of philosophical richness. A necessary part of that philosophical richness has to include the exploration of concepts and ideas that are uncomfortable, ugly or even frightening. Yet, in the spirit of free inquiry we must be willing to do this regardless of the consequences – if we can’t be free with our ideas, then we’re not really free. We need to move beyond supporting existing paradigms and become the creators of new paradigms.