Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nakamura Hits Free Kick Into A Moving Bus

A Hole In One.

Former star of Scottish Premier League side, Celtic, Shinsuke Nakamura showing some amazing skill......

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just Acting?

Or Moral Dilemma?

For Asian-Americans the single most highly debated subject - after the inter-racial dating disparity(!) - is possibly the issue of media representation. From outright derogatory and demeaning representation to invisibility and white-washing of Asian characters, the issue is definitely a hot-topic in any discourse on the Asian-American experience.

One aspect of this issue is the phenomenon of Asian-American actors who come under heavy criticism from within the community for accepting demeaning roles. This often leads to questions of the obligations (if any) of individual actors faced with the dilemma of working in an industry that only permits them stereotyped roles, and the part these roles might play in perpetuating negative attitudes towards Asian people in society in general. Most recently the broadcasting of the comedy show earlier in this year- 2 Broke Girls - has generated renewed discussion on this issue of negative stereoypes and how Asian actors willing to fill these roles might be contributing to their promotion in society in general.

On one side of the argument some Asian actors feel that accepting a demeaning role is part of a larger process that incorporates Asian characters (albeit negatively at first) into the mainstream consciousness that they believe and hope will at some point tilt the balance of influence such that they, or future, actors will have more input in how Asian characters are depicted. The general belief is that demeaning roles must lead inexorably to more nuanced and less stereotypical depictions. Some Asian actors suggest that such roles are not actually as damaging as we would believe and offer nuanced arguments defending roles that severely limit the qualities of the Asian character being portrayed, or might argue that the role will be filled regardless. Others, suggest that the entertainment industry is driven by artistic creativity and thus one-dimensional roles that uphold demeaning stereotypes should somehow be exempt from politically or socially based criticism.

Of course, it could be suggested (and has been suggested) that media characterizations do not, or cannot, influence, or shape public attitudes or behaviours. Yet, casual observation of America's news and media suggests quite strongly that the media itself is heavily invested in the notion that the things they broadcast can heavily affect how people vote, shop, believe, and behave. A look at history should also give some clues that promoting bias through the broadcast media can alter the moral compass of individuals within a population and enable attitudes to shift to such a degree that horrific atrocities can seem like good ideas - the Nazis and Stalin's Russia are a testament to this.

There is, therefore, very little reason to believe that ubiquitous negative and demeaning media (or political) depictions of Asian people can have anything other than a negative impact on the behaviours and attitudes of mainstream Americans towards Asians - this is particularly acute because there are very few positive representations of Asians that provide a balanced perspective. What all of this adds up to is that American culture has a dialogue going about Asian people that is almost ideological in character, which is derived from xenophobic hostility and is a discourse from which the perspectives of Asian people themselves are excluded. Stereotyping in the mass media is the way that this hostile dialogue is popularly propagated throughout American culture, and a casual observation of the degree of anti-Asian behaviours amongst mainstream America's children provides us with strong evidence of the success and pervasiveness of this dialogue.

This should (but surprisingly, often does not) present us with a dilemma of conscience such that the decision of an Asian actor to accept a demeaning role becomes almost a moral question. This is because pervasive negative depictions can and do shift the moral compass of mainstream America and thus normalize demeaning attitudes and behaviours towards Asian people that would be deemed unacceptable if enacted towards individuals within their own group. Given that American culture has been through over half-a-century of an ideological shift that promotes the ethic of respect and acceptance of people regardless of colour or creed, and is, therefore, not ignorant of issues regarding social and cultural integration, the fact that anti-Asian attitudes continue to be normalized underlines the unethical nature of the practice and underscores the moral nature of the issue.

The apparent failure of the Asian minority of America to recognize the ethical nature of this issue is fundamental to understanding why the issue of media representation continues to be such a problem for us. Most of the time we tend to concieve of stereotyping as a way to offend or antagonize, when in fact, their purpose is to promote a worldview of exclusion and insurmountable differentness of Asian people. Yet, the result of promoting such hostile attitudes towards Asian people may even, perhaps, have far more potentially devastating effects such as negatively influencing America's foreign policy choices in Asia.

Since there are no serious moral sensibilities - under normal circumstances - that view actions that promote harm to others as being morally acceptable courses of action, it would seem obvious that there should be an obligation on the part of aspiring Asian-American actors (or anyone with a moral conscience) to cease participation in roles that do that very thing. No actor would accept a role in a film that promoted or normalized the idea that child-abuse is a good and normal thing (well, Clint Eastwood and some Asians might). No actor would accept a role in a movie that promoted the idea that slavery was morally acceptable. The reason is that these things might go beyond the simple creative process and propagate beliefs that normalize child-abuse or the brutality of slavery and thus have the potential to cause harm and suffering to others. It is a question of ethics and morality.

And this is one of the most overlooked aspects of the drive to empower Asian-Americans. We ourselves diminish the seriousness of hostile depictions by failing to place the practice into an appropriate moral frame work. What we fail to realize is that the central principle that underlies any practice of dehumanization is the denial of moral agency of individuals in the target group. Thus, if Asians lack moral agency, then they are incapable of making ethical choices that are congruent with that of Americans. This in turn justifies xenophobia and prejudicial thinking because it is only the depraved or the lower animals who lack moral agency. Additionally, because of this lack of moral agency, it follows that one need not apply the same moral considerations towards Asians as one would towards one's own group. Thus, the very act of accepting demeaning roles could itself be seen as an example of deficient moral agency and, thus, reinforces dehumanization.

Asian actors - or any public figures, perhaps - happen to choose professions that place them in the front line of America's cultural denigration of Asian people. Thus, it would seem obvious that it is they who must, more than anybody, challenge this process of dehumanization. I would suggest that actors have a moral obligation to boycott demeaning roles - where writers and producers are unwilling to compromise - because a major aspect of combatting dehumanizing images is simply to exercise moral agency. The outcome of such an action would only be positive. It's not enough to accept a role hoping in blind faith that it must necessarily contribute to overall progress at some unspecified time in the future.

Film makers might resort to using "yellow-face" to depict Asian characters in which case at least the racism would be undeniable, or they might write the Asian character out of the script altogether, in which case what has been lost except for a few bucks? These types of demeaning roles for Asians are the entertainment industry's equivalent of the dead-end Macdonalds job that purveys a vile junk food that clogs the arteries of Asian creativity and fosters an obese irrelevance. So why do so many people scramble to do it?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Went To The Crossroads...

I Looked East And West

Check out this Asian dude........

Damn, he did a great job with that slide guitar, and a great version of the song!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Soccer Trivia

Elastico - The Japanese Connection!


Most soccer fans will agree that one of the most skillful and entertaining teams ever to grace the football pitch was the now legendary Brazilian team that won the 1970 World Cup. One of the most exciting talents to emerge from that team of greats was winger, Roberto Rivelino. Quick, incredibly skillful, and with a brilliant football brain, Rivelino could be said to be have been one of the players who drove the evolution of the modern game.

Amongst his repertoire of skills were the ability to curl a football around a wall of defenders at an immensely high velocity (very hard to do), and amazing dribbling skills. One of his most enduring contributions to the skill of dribbling was the so-called "elastico". Never seen before it was performed by Rivelino, the technique threw opponents off balance and allowed him to glide past several defenders at once.

The technique is so useful that almost every player of skill in the modern era has incorporated it into their game. Modern greats such as Eto'oRonaldo, and Ronaldinho, have used the technique to devastating effect. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that the technique has made a major contribution to how the game  is played, and if performed successfully can open up defences and lead to goals.

It was, therefore, interesting to discover that the guy who actually developed the technique was not actually Rivelino, but an old team-mate of his from his Brazilian club side, Corinthians. Even more interesting is that the player who, according to Rivelino himself (see the above video from 6:16), actually developed the technique was a Brazilian Japanese Nissei named Sergio Echigo.

There isn't much information out there in English about Echigo, but according to his Wiki page, he spent around 5 years playing with the Corinthians and then moved to a team in the Japanese league. For those who speak Portuguese - or don't mind trying to make sense of the crappy Google translator - here are a couple of links, with pictures, of the man himself. According to one of the articles, Echigo  made some important contributions to the development of the game in Japan.

In soccer, a piece of skill can win or lose games, and individual players who are able to utilize techniques like the elastico can cause such problems for opposing teams, that strategies and tactics are often created to deal with them. In the modern game, which is characterized by fitness, strength, and an emphasis on preventing the opposing team from playing by closing down space on the filed, the elastico is one of the ways that individual players can take out two or three opponents with one flick of the foot and thus overcome an opposing teams tactics. So, I think it's safe to say that although Echigo will not be remembered as one of the greats, his great contribution to the modern game is undeniable.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not Like Us

Dying To Be An American; The Asian-American Paradox.

It goes without saying that the Asian-American experience of racism has been, and continues to be, a complex affair. Even at the height of institutionalized anti-Asian prejudice during the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, when strict and uncompromising immigration legislation, along with laws forbidding miscegenation and limits on legal and citizenship rights, some Asian immigrants into this country still managed to lay down roots and build some degree of prosperity. Altough beset by roving mobs of angry white men who were jealous and fearful of the Asian man's capacity to endure through the most hateful of atrocities, and in constant danger of the lynch mob, Asian men still managed to work their way to a (admittedly) precarious economic empowerment that formed the basis and blueprint for success emulated by subsequent generations of Asian immigrants.

Even today, our experience is paradoxical and the way that various members of the community conceive of this experience with its remarkable diversity of opinion and perception is a clear reflection of this paradox. On one end of the spectrum we have Captains of Culture, Political Pacesetters, and Jocularity Jockeys, for whom racism may not have been an obstacle, non-existent (in certain cases), or is something so far out of their experience that it doesn't even get a mention in their discourse. On the other end of the spectrum we have the Japanese tsunami victims - whose suffering elicited an outpouring of racist gloating from America's mainstream online communities thus highlighting pervasive anti-Asian attitudes. There's also Private Danny Chen, the Chinese-American army volunteer who died recently of racism.

Bizarrely, Asian-Americans are admired, but also feared and disliked for the very things that we are admired for. We are respected but are largely demeaned by American culture. Most importantly we are protected by legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against us because of our race, yet, we live in a society whose culture actively promotes personal hostility, dislike, distrust, as well as negative demeaning attitudes and behaviours towards us. As I pointed out here, even though it is illegal for institutions to exhibit racist practices and attitudes, American culture itself promotes these very things in its depictions of, and attitudes towards, Asian people. Thus, although no longer permitted by law, it is now propagated by private institutions and individuals - most notably in the mass-media and entertainment industries - the result of which is a normalization and mainstream acceptance of anti-Asian behaviours and attitudes.

This means that institutional prejudice may have diminished, but personal dislike as fostered by American culture, continues unabated. Thus the paradox; legislation to combat institutional racism is off-set by a private sector propagation of anti-Asian hostility as a matter of personal taste. Often the result is the same - the promotion that never comes through, the pay-raise that never materializes, the unsuccessful job interviews of a highly qualified applicant, violent beating, or even a failed college application, all of which depend on the personal tastes of an individual from the mainstream who has been conditioned by his culture to dislike Asians. This normalization of anti-Asian attitudes manifests in other ways too; blasé declarations of distaste, casual harassment, and racially inflected mockery have become accepted ways of interacting with Asian people as modeled by glamourous celebrities, or on-the-make politicians, via the platform of popular culture.

The case of Private Danny Chen is a clear of example of this process in action. The army as an institution opens its doors to all people. In fact, although under-represented in proportion to the Asian population of America (not surprising when you consider that most Asian-Americans are foreign born and many are unable to speak English), there has been a healthy representation of Asian-Americans in the military, many of whom served with distincton both in the past and present. It is almost impossible to say, therefore, that the army practices institutional racism towards Asians since it seems that they are accepted into the ranks without much hoopla.

Yet, what is clear from the Chen case, is that racist attitudes and behaviours towards Asian people can be casually practiced and accepted as normative within the structure of a non-discriminatory institution because such actions derives from culturally conditioned personal distaste - just like in mainstream American culture. As this article suggests, Chen's success or failure became something of a crap-shoot; if he was lucky, then he might have been put into a unit that might have allowed him the opportunity to prove his value as a soldier. If not, then he faced attitudes from peers conditioned by their culture to believe that racism is the normal mode of interaction with Asians. Sadly, most of the soldiers understood this dynamic except for Chen, who seemed confounded and confused by the harassment (Asian-American culture bears some degree of blame for that).

And this is the crux of the Asian paradox. Because promoting personal distaste for, and negative attitudes towards Asians is an almost intrinsic aspect of the conditioning that occurs in American culture, Asians can simultaneously reach the heights of success whilst experiencing casual racist attitudes. It is why some Asians are fortunate enough to experience very little racism, whilst for others it defines their worldview, with neither side really able to understand the other's point of view. Common to both is that what they both experience is considered normal - being harassed by someone who may smash your head in with a baseball bat if you talk back becomes as normalized a potential experience as someone saying good morning.

What happened to Danny Chen is the natural outcome of America's cultural antagonism towards Asian people in general and Asian men in particular. Because personal distaste (via dehumanizing depictions and attitudes) is propagated as the normal and accepted way of conceiving of Asians, the moral compass of mainstream America is skewed in its behaviour towards us. Since dehumanization implicitly diminishes the moral agency of the target group, it by necessity diminishes the obligation of the mainstream to apply the same moral consideration to Asian people as they would to their own group or groups. Whether it is school administrators turning a blind-eye to violence against Asian children, big-name directors promoting the idea of racial abuse of children as a means to integration, or torturing a fellow soldier because he's Asian, the necessary outcome of America's skewed moral attitudes towards Asians is apparent.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Silence Isn't Golden

But Speaking Up Is.

I came across this post via the Angry Asian Man that was written by an Asian-American man describing his experience of being on the receiving end of some verbal racial abuse on San Francisco's public transport system. You can read the full post here. In short, the post describes how, whilst riding the BART train, the blog writer was subjected to several minutes of racial abuse and harassment by another passenger, yet chose not to engage in an altercation with his harasser. What I found interesting are the reasons the writer gives for his decision to not confront the other passenger as well as his general reading of the situation.

The Asian-American experience of the 21st Century can be characterized as being similar to the experience of a society under the threat of terrorist attack. As I've alluded to here and here, the routine dehumanization of Asian people in American culture, coupled with political rhetoric that blames Asia for all the economic woes of America, combine to create an environment in which the bomb of racial violence or abuse can go off at any time. Much in the same way that extremist madrassas produce individuals who are conditioned to believe that blowing themselves up is a path to Paradise, American culture and society conditions Americans to normalize feelings of hostility towards Asian people - as well as normalizing the notion that their hatred and hostility is justified.

As the writer of the blog post relates.....

I don't know if I did the right thing, but I didn't exercise my freedom of speech to speak back directly. I remained silent. I kept quiet because I remembered that when Vincent Chin retaliated when he was called a chink, two white men chased him down, clubbed him to death with a baseball bat, and then got off scot-free by the legal system.
This to me is a clear indication of terrorism having a succesful outcome. Just like after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when so many people were terrified by the thought of getting on a plane, or even working in a high-rise building in a downtown area, for some Asian-Americans, the threat of random violence or racial abuse stemming from the unaplologetic culture of anti-Asianism that pervades American society is a very real concern.

As you can see from many of the remarks in the comments section in the article, the general attitude seems to be that the writer should have utilized some kind of physical retribution against his abuser. I don't really agree with this for a several reasons.

I generally tend to see those who resort to physical violence to win arguments as being intellectually limited. Don't get me wrong, being able to defend oneself against physical attack is natural, and devleoping this ability is an necessary aspect of developing confidence. As I suggested here, physical empowerment is essential. But most of the time, it should be the last resort. This is because all conflicts are won or lost on the strength of ideas and beliefs, and the person or group who has the last word is always the winner. That's why battles can be lost, and peoples subjugated, but the ideas of the subjugated can change the conquerer more profoundly than the violence of the conquerer is able to change the subjugated.

Because negative and hostile mainstream social and cultural attitudes that promote this type of (sometimes violent) behaviour is designed not to offend but to keep Asians in their disempowered place, keeping silent is tantamount to an acceptance of this lower social value that is placed on Asian men. This, in turn, means that for the Asian guy on the train, a verbal retort instead of a physical one, would most likely still have resulted in his being attacked. This is why being able to defend oneself gives one the freedom and confidence to not stay silent for fear of attack - the emphasis here is on developing the physical prowess that would give one the confidence to use the mind to win battles.

That is why I believe that eloquence in speech and language, and the ability to utilize these qualities to articulate compelling argument, are some of the most important qualities for any group or individual faced with prejudice. It is the voice that cannot and should not ever be made to go silent, physical resistance is often easily vanquished, but the voice can go on resisting. True empowerment means having the courage to not be shouted down, and I think that one of the biggest problems facing our community is an apparent aversion to the culture of argumentation. It is one of the reasons that people like Frank Chin become pariahs - argumentation seems to be discouraged. The problem is, without the culture of argumentation, you can't develop the qualities that I believe are necessary to empower the individual.

The ability and confidence to argue compellingly, means that the mind is on a path to emancipation, which in turn means that whatever psychological barriers instilled in Asian men by the conditioning of mainstream culture no longer have power over us. That is a terrifying thought for mainstream America - more terrifying, even, than the idea of physically empowered Asia men. Thus, having the capacity to talk enemies down is more empowering than beating them down.

I think that for some Asian people there is a tendency to rest on the belief that a strong community voice empowers individuals - this seems logical. Positive media representation, an influential political voice, or a charismatic leader, are some of the things that we believe will empower Asians. Regardless of whether this is an accurate projection, the fact remains that unless individuals accept the responsibility of personal empowerment - success in these areas become meaningless. Just as many Americans are starting to understand that democracy is more than simply picking a candidate, and is an ongoing task of participation in political and social life, Asians have to realize that empowerment is also about participation and involves asserting one's self respect in every day interactions with the mainstream.