Friday, September 12, 2014

Lost Without You.....

Ferguson And Are Asian-Americans Stupid?

I generally avoid topicality in my blog posts particularly when it comes to race issues because, all too often, I find that it is all too easy to get caught up in the cycle of reacting and emoting so much that not much else gets offered or if it is, it is drowned out by the passion of the moment. The recent tragic shooting death of Michael Brown by a white police officer (Darren Wilson) is one such case where I felt it would be better to put some time and space between the killing and any commentary. A couple of posts by Asian-Americans in particular caught my attention.

An "aggregator" piece in The Bamboo Post ran with the headline  "Asians Should Care About What's Going On In Ferguson!" - exclamation mark mine - and wrote......
But even though many Asians (I’m sure) are following the story, they may not know how it affects them.
Meanwhile, Soya Jung over at Racefiles writes a piece titled;  "Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans which fills Asians in on why Ferguson is important to them.
Japanese and Chinese American organizations and leaders were active in creating the model minority myth, and they embraced anti-blackness. But Asian American identity was forged in the crucible of the black liberation struggle, and also centered demands to end imperialism and war. This is what it means to be Asian American. I choose resistance.
Even though I question the assertion that embracing the model minority myth is an implicit embrace of anti-blackness (and the assertion that Asian-American identity is heavily dependent on the black struggle), what I struggle with most is the implication in the Jung piece, and the explicit sentiment in the Bamboo Post piece, that Asians somehow just don't know how to make moral decisions without the guiding wisdom of activists or are somehow incapable of forming a meaningful or sympathetic opinion about social issues in general and the Ferguson case in particular.

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that the Racefiles had in mind an article written by an African-American journalist in The Root, who was shocked that the Asian-American Journalist's Association (AAJA) had failed - at the time the Root piece was written - to issue any statement of condemnation for the heavy-handed policing in Ferguson, particularly with regards to their suppression, intimidation, and abuse of journalists covering the events. But the actions of journalists cannot possibly be used as a gauge of the general attitudes of the whole community, as the apparent response of the Hispanic community to the events in Ferguson shows.

Despite the satisfactorily swift condemnation by both the respective African-American and Hispanic journalists associations, general interest amongst the general communities of both groups has apparently been dramatically different. According to the Pew research Center, whilst 54% of blacks had "shown most interest" in the events in Ferguson, only 27% of whites, and 18% of Hispanics have shown a similar interest. At the same time, 80% of blacks and 50% of Hispanics, and 37% of whites, believe that the Brown shooting raises questions about race. Asian-American opinions were not solicited for the poll - LOL!

The point here is that it is impossible to make any meaningful assessment of Asian-American attitudes toward the incident since they are - as usual - not included in polls that cover the issue, they are sometimes somewhat disconnected from the activists and media who claim to represent them, and thus, any attempt to portray their attitudes must be mere guesswork and probably not too constructive. In fact, it seems as though it would behoove us to take the position of investigators into Asian-America rather than using guesswork and projection to act as shapers of perceptions about them. The Pew study shows a remarkable apathy amongst non-blacks on the subject of Ferguson, as well as a false presumption that the reactions of journalist associations in any way reflects the general attitudes of the communities they represent.

We simply do not know what Asian-American attitudes and responses to this issue are, and very few of us are in any position to claim to be able to speak on behalf of, or even merely claim that their particular viewpoint - which no doubt for Asian-American bloggers must be more enlightened than those of the rank and file drudge Asians - is not shared by, or any different than, "mainstream" Asian-American attitudes.

I came across an interesting article in the online National Journal publication that covered a Chinese School in St Louis that has become part of the city's desegregation drive. As a public school, students who live in the city attend free of charge, and lessons are entirely in Chinese for the first three years of attendance. Started by educator Rhonda Broussard in 2012, the school offers opportunities for multilingual education in a multi-ethnic setting for kids - many of whom come from deprived backgrounds. As you can see from the article, Asians are playing a significant role in the drive to help end the cycle of poverty and poor educational experiences by giving kids skills that they might not normally be exposed to.

The point here is that it is all well and good to make sweeping statements (pointing no fingers here) about how Asians should or could behave, but the real work gets done when people set up the structure whereby Asians can make a meaningful contribution using skills that they already possess and are willing to impart to those who might not have the same opportunities that they had. Put another way, instead of telling Asians that they don't do enough, or that they don't do enough for our personal tastes, why not actually present a method and a means by which Asians can - and most certainly would be willing - to play a role?

For those who designate themselves as activists - online or otherwise - is it more helpful to decry supposed moral or behavioural shortcomings of Asian-Americans than it is to actually present a realistic course of action that can inspire and motivate them to participate? Certainly, it is much, much easier to employ rhetoric that wins internet fans and kudos, but after all of the oratory, is there any structure in place that puts the strong words to practical use? My sense is that the Asian teachers in the Chinese Immersion School are having a greater positive effect on race-relations than anything I or any other cyber-observer could possibly have regardless of how eloquent we might be. But, don't talk about them, or the experiences of the countless other Asian-Americans whose lives are directly intertwined with those of the racialized poor. We simply seem content to project our own privileged ideologies onto them.

It seems to me that efforts to contextualize the Asian experience through incidents like Ferguson, merely distract from the tragic event itself by shifting focus away from it. If people want to analyze the issue, then good, but to then spill about the Asian experience, or racialize your feelings, seems to somehow be stealing the attention away - even though that may be completely unintentional. It should be enough - and possibly more potent - to simply voice support without trying to shoehorn the Asian experience into it to give one's empathy more credence. It reminds me of how Vanilla Ice always asserted his credibility by talking about how he "came from the street". The sad part is that there is nothing more beautiful and profound than people who have vastly differing experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs, who through tragic events suddenly find that what gives you pain also gives me pain regardless of how much we have, or don't have, in common from our respective backgrounds.