Do you hear the people sing?

I was almost three years old and in Osaka, Japan on June 4th, 1989. I remember my parents glued to the hotel TV even though we were supposed to be on vacation, and I remember a sense of profound unease. You grow up, and years later you learn that the Chinese government wasn't screwing around and thousands of people died in the Tiananmen Square massacre that day.

天安門 (Tiananmen) roughly transliterates to Peaceful Sky Gate, or "The Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking" when English-speaking scholars want to be flowery. When I think of civil unrest I think of my parents staring bewildered at that TV on a summer day in a foreign country and not being old enough to understand why.

My parents came from Taiwan to the United States in the late 1980s, before the end of martial law. I was born months before the end of the martial law that my parents had spent their entire lives growing up under. For me, while growing up in the United States, the concept of martial law was meaningless. My parents spoke of the poverty they experienced, the strictness of the education system, the expectations of family members, not of white terrors, tribunals, or massacres. Later on, my mother would describe a concept of carefulness that would still be meaningless to me. They were not like other Taiwanese Americans living in the United States while their country of origin stayed under martial law--not when the occupying government of the Republic of China KMT on Taiwan was carrying out assassinations on American soil. They weren't radical. They weren't political prisoners or in exile. They conformed, safely, in ways that were quite adaptive, abilities they did not quite succeed in passing on to their children.

There's this yam shaped island on the other side of the Pacific Ocean over 6,000 miles away from my physical location and only 112 miles away from the country that has missiles pointed at it. Although my ancestors have lived on the beautiful island for centuries, I haven't set foot on it in nearly two decades--the longest anyone of my blood has been away. I don't know when I can visit. I'm terrified of that sense of connection fading. I feel like every time I spend time with my grandparents, I understand them less and less. I shore up my identity and my origins in other ways, by researching my DNA type from the marrow donor registry, (I am apparently a Taiwanese "hybrid"), by cooking and tasting, by observing and writing. I am simultaneously the least and most Taiwanese person in my family, maybe.

This week, the people of Taiwan held a public demonstration, which they have done often and in increasing frequency since Taiwan democratized. They protested because a young soldier died in a hazing death and the government covered it up. Over a hundred thousand people descended on the capital, peaceably. They used LED lights to project the words "injustice" and "truth" on the Presidential office. Twisting George Orwell, they erected a giant sign reading "Big Citizen is Watching You" and thousands of protesters held up a picture of a bloody eye. They co-opted the song "Do You Hear the People Sing" and rewrote it over the course of five days into an orchestral choral arrangement, in Taiwanese, a language once banned under that martial law. Peaceful assembly. </li> </li>

I think of my friends who got shot at with rubber bullets by the LAPD when they went to a rally for Trayvon Martin, or the pepper spray incident at UC Davis. I think about how recent documents show the US government's approach to the Occupy protests. This is so different. I don't know if I am idealizing Taiwan just to feel close to it, but it just seems so different. Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Democracy in action...and I realize that my parents missed it all.

My parents missed the democratization of Taiwan. They have played it safe all of their lives. First they played it safe under martial law in Taiwan. Then they played it safe, because they had to, as first generation immigrants in the United States. They have not had the opportunity to experience it. My mom was excited just to be able to cast her first ballot to vote (I believe it was Clinton, 1996, and then Gore, 2000.)

I relate so much more to this protest than I do to my parents' attitudes towards playing it safe. I wish my parents and I could have been at the protest.

Maybe I'm just sentimental.

My New Hero: Dr. Joycelyn Elders

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT DOCTOR JOYCELYN ELDERS (and then I'll return to homework.)

"You've got to get people's attention before you can achieve change. As Surgeon General, you have to take a stand. People are either going to love you or hate you." - Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Dr. Joycelyn Elders AKA Minnie Lee Jones was born in Schaal, Arkansas to a farming family. She was the daughter of sharecroppers. Her great grandparents were slaves. Her mother taught her how to read when she was five. That was also when, as the oldest of eight children, she began working in the cotton fields while attending a segregated school.

She graduated high school, went to college, joined the army, and was discharged in 1956, and enrolled in University of Arkansas Medical School. Even though Brown v. Board of Education had already passed, the dining room at the medical school was still segregated. In 1961 she became chief resident at her residency at University of Arkansas, in charge of the all white and all male residents and interns.

Once, I had a professor say to me, "You know you have as much education as a lot of white people." I answered, "Doctor, I have more education than most white people." -Dr. Joycelyn Elders

In 1978, Elders became the first person in the entire state of Arkansas to be board certified in pediatric endocrinology. She continued to research the health risks and sexual behavior of adolescents. Bill Clinton appointed her to the head of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987 during his tenure as governor. From 1987 to 1992, Elders nearly doubled childhood immunizations in Arkansas, expanded the state's prenatal care program, and increased home-care options for the chronically or terminally ill.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Elders U.S. Surgeon General. She was the first woman of color ever appointed to this position. To add insult to injury, some of her colleagues in the American Medical Association passed a resolution stating that all surgeon generals must be a physician.
You know, some people in the American Medical Association, a certain group of them, didn't even know that I was a physician. And they were passing a resolution to say that from now on every Surgeon General must be a physician -- which was a knock at me. Well, you know, not only am I a physician, I'm a pediatrician. Not only am I a pediatrician, I'm a pediatric endocrinologist. Not only am I a pediatric endocrinologist, but I was a professor at a major university medical school! They don't expect a black female to have accomplished what I have accomplished and to have done the things that I have. - Dr. Joycelyn Elders

During her time as surgeon general, Dr. Elders advocated for universal health care and comprehensive sex education for adolescents. Unfortunately, her time in this office was short lived, due to some of the following controversial statements she made.

"I think there should be laws against stalking physicians who perform abortions. We don't allow people to stalk people for anything else. Why permit them to stalk doctors just because they are doing abortions? We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children."

"I think all of America let the [AIDS] epidemic get out of hand. The infrastructure of public health had been so eroded that we didn't have the machinery in place to stop that epidemic. We didn't have a comprehensive health education program. . . . There were some people in those administrations who did not support health education and AIDS control, who had problems with sexuality. They were doing what they felt the majority of people who had voted for them wanted them to do. And the rest of us were silent."

"If I could be the 'condom queen' and get every young person who is engaged in sex to use a condom in the United States, I would wear a crown on my head with a condom on it! I would!"

"We would markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized; we need to do some studies."

In 1994, at a United Nations conference on AIDS, Dr. Elders was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity so they would be less likely to contract HIV. Elders replied "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." This was the last straw. Under pressure from Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton fired her.

Elders has absolutely no regrets about her time as surgeon general. "Our country talked about masturbation more in December of 1994 than they ever have in the history of the country, and you know, people would think you'd be embarrassed about that," Elders told CNN in 1996. "I'm not embarrassed about that."

After her forced resignation, Elders continued to teach and speak her mind.

In 1995, on her tenure and her identity: "I think being a black female enhanced my ability to bring up and discuss difficult issues. First of all, had a white man or woman talked about some of the issues I brought up--the links between poverty, education and pregnancy, for instance--they would have been attacked by the minority community. Because of my gender and race, and the fact that I grew up in a poor family, people knew that I understood many of these problems and I was not out there just talking about something I'd heard about or read about. They knew that I knew. Of the many things you've heard people say about me, you've never heard anyone say I lied about the issues. Black people, poor people and women--they all knew that I knew what I was talking about."

In 1995 on abstinence-only education: "Heaven knows every mother, every preacher, every teacher would love for young people to practice abstinence--but there is all kinds of evidence to the contrary. We have more than a million teen-agers getting pregnant every year--unplanned pregnancies. We have a rapidly spreading HIV-disease epidemic, other sexually transmitted diseases.

"So, rather than just standing out there and hollering "Abstinence! Abstinence! Abstinence!" we have to teach our children to be responsible. Other countries do it. They aren't out there trying to legislate morals. They're out there trying to prevent their young people from having unplanned, unwanted pregnancies and from getting sexually transmitted disease. The sexual activities of teen-agers in the Netherlands, Japan and many other countries are no different than those of our teens--yet, American teens are eight to nine times more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease."

In 1995 on violence in communities: "We need to teach our young people nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts. We know that it works. But the response is always, "We don't have enough money." But we have plenty of money to put people in jail. It just makes no sense."

In 1997 on masturbation: "Parents need to let go of the idea that ignorance maintains innocence and begin teaching age-appropriate facts to children. Informed children know what sexual abuse and harassment are, what normal physical closeness with others is, what should be reported, and to whom. Rather than tell children that touching themselves is forbidden, parents may gently explain that this is best done in private."

In 2010, on legalizing marijuana: "I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine and alcohol. I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana."

In 2011, in response to attacks on Planned Parenthood: Any woman who has a congressperson who votes against women's reproductive rights is headed back to the Dark Ages, when they were owned by their husbands. The fact that we have these votes [in Congress] alone is a threat. We're still fighting. We've always had to fight. It wasn't until 1965 that we had the right to even use contraceptives, and even then you had to be married and get permission from your husband.

You bright young people -- and I love you -- but you don't know what it was like for us old folk, when you couldn't have birth control pills, when condoms were not as readily available and we didn't have all the other contraceptives that are now on the market. I think if the women of this country -- whether black, white, young, old, Democrat or Republican -- cause the reproductive rights of any of our citizens to be lost, then we should never forgive ourselves.

In 2011, when asked if she had ever considered "toning down" her position: No. That never occurred to me in any way, shape or form. I felt that I was a surgeon general for the people of this country, and especially adolescents. I was doing what I thought had to be done at that time to improve education and access to services for adolescent youngsters, and I think we did some of that.

She gives me goosebumps. She is incredibly brave. She isn't afraid to speak the truth. And I think more people should know who she is.

What is this "Chinese New Year" You Speak Of?

Today is the Lunar New Year. I grew up calling it "Chinese New Year" in English but it has occurred to me that I don't know anyone who actually speaks Chinese and calls it "Chinese New Year" in Chinese. To them it's the "lunar new year" (農曆新年) or simply the "new year" (年節 or 過年) or the Spring Festival (春節, a newer name for the festivities after sinocentric countries adopted the Gregorian calendar.)

It occurs to me that the only people who actually call it Chinese New Year are people who are helpfully trying to distinguish it from the Gregorian new year. Also, multiple Asian cultures celebrate this new year. So really, calling it "Chinese New Year" is a verbal tic that I deploy that actually implies a number of problematic things: A) Sinocentricism-- All Asians are Chinese or Chinese Asians are the most prominent Asians who celebrate this holiday, this day is for them. Which kind of sucks for any other Asian culture that celebrates Lunar New Year. B) Nativism and white supremacy -- the Gregorian new year is the "real" new year and this is some cultural anomaly. C) I am a Taiwanese person saying I'm celebrating Chinese New Year which means I am also inadvertently reinforcing a Chinese political identity on Taiwanese practices, in a way that say, a Vietnamese person celebrating Tet would not.

A friend of mine got a corporate email earlier this week that read:
"The office is celebrating Chinese New Year this Friday! Wear clothing that represents Chinese culture or wear festive colors like gold and red!"

He works in a very conservative office where he is one of the only Asian Americans. He is regularly asked where he came from, complimented for his English, etc. He is worried people will dress up in awkward culturally appropriated or otherwise orientalized clothing. When he shared this email on Facebook some people were sympathetic but another Asian American friend wrote something along these lines:

They are not saying the think they are superior to you because of your race so this email isn't racist. This is supposed to be a celebration but you are acting like it is a put down. We're creating a culture where no one feels safe to say anything about another person's background for fear of being accused of being offensive--maybe they are just curious and maybe we should take the time out to nurture their interest and inform them instead of assuming the worst. Our mouths are just itching to scream "racist" at every awkwardly-phrased comment on race and we shouldn't need to be. These are opportunities to educate, not perpetuate hatred.

I think if this were me eight years ago I probably would have felt much the same way as this person. I'm not that person anymore, though. I have a lot of feelings and things I want to say about this email. (Mostly from the perspective of someone who has been paid to train people on corporate cultural competence with Asian Americans, but clouded by my own personal experiences.)

I guess to begin with, not all acts that create a racially demeaning environment need to spring from the loins of hatred. It is possible to celebrate something and honor people in a demeaning way. This is most commonly seen when the people/cultures who are being celebrated have no say in how they will be celebrated.

My friend may be one of very few people in his office who celebrate Lunar New Year. Yet, he was not asked how he would want (or if he would want) his coworkers to engage in this celebration with him.

For many Asian American people, Lunar New Year has intense personal, cultural, and religious meaning. It may be the only holiday directly related to an Asian American person's ethnic identity that they still continue to celebrate. (I sure has hell no longer celebrate other holidays like the QingMing Festival or Kuan Yin's day or Ghost Festival or even Lantern Festival which is a part of New Year.) For many Asian American people, Lunar New Year is a bigger deal than Christmas; it is definitely a bigger deal than the "real" new year.

For many, a "Chinese New Year celebration" at work may be seen as a pleasure or even acknowledgment, but for others who wish they could be home celebrating with loved ones it is a reminder that they are kicking it at the office with people who don't attach any significant personal meaning to the holiday. Kicking it with people who view the holiday as a great day to wear red and gold the same way you would to a Trojan game.

I think if his colleagues were to ask my friend what Lunar New Year meant for him, he would not say it was a day to wear red to the office or wear "clothing that represents Chinese culture." This is a holiday that his ancestors have been celebrating for thousands of years. If he truly had a say on how he would celebrate this holiday, I doubt he'd want to be in the office at all. These are all things his office could have found out if they had bothered to ask him.

Taking office racial and hierarchical power dynamics into account, too, imagine if my friend had sent out the following email instead:

"Hi everyone, your coworker here. As you may know, next weekend is the Lunar New Year, an important holiday for many Asian Americans. Some of our new year traditions include trying to make as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits, eating vegetarian, and wearing red. I'd like to invite you to celebrate with me!

I strongly suspect that most of his coworkers would be like, "Whoa, good for you buddy, but I'm not Asian so I don't get why you're asking me to do all of these things, that's kind of presumptuous." I suspect this reaction would be more socially acceptable than his reaction to the real office email.

Another relavant thing to note, because it is a microaggression, is the "otherizing" of "Chinese" clothing. These clothes are not regulation businesswear. The request that these clothes be worn on this racial/ethnic holiday moves these "ethnic"clothes from "clothing that is completely normal in an Asian person's culture (that an Asian person would be given crap for wearing to work or experience xenophobia for wearing on the street in the US)" to "costume to be worn on a special day to work."

(It also kind of speaks to the obtuseness of the email...Chinese American people who celebrate Lunar New Year don't take it as an opportunity to wear "Chinese" clothes to work, though they might wear their Chinese faces to work. A brand new set of clothing is usually how it works, if you're lucky and can afford it.)

Lastly, I don't think "our mouths are just itching to scream "racist" at every awkwardly-phrased comment" In fact, I think it is quite the opposite for people of color.

The reality is that it is much easier to admonish someone for speaking out about something they felt was racially uncomfortable, then it is for people to "scream racist." The reality is that willingness to even explore--much less confront--racism comes at great risk for individuals, including individuals like my friend who work in--let's face it--unfriendly, racially invalidating environments.

As evinced in the response my friend got, his expression of "worry" and "dread" (his words) could be and was automatically be taken and reconstrued as "screaming" and "perpetuating hatred (his friend's interpretation). In effect, she admonished him for expressing his discomfort about his employer's racial insensitivity because he did not take the "opportunity to educate."

This approach is what in fact "breeds a culture where nobody feels safe to say anything." It is obvious that my friend's employer had no compunctions about sending out this email. It is instead my friend who must weigh his words because even on Facebook, they can be misconstrued as "screaming", an uncooperative unwillingness to educate, and perpetuating a culture of hate.

I think what I really mean is, if this guy's office really gave a crap about "Chinese" new year they would follow the following traditions:

  • Paid holiday, or heck, the traditional two weeks off work

  • Generous new year's bonus from employer

  • Thank employees for great work they've done this year and invite them to lunch the following week


On Acquisitions and Fandoms

It occurred to me that I never fully gathered my thoughts about Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. People have asked me over the past few months and I've posted in different places like on Facebook and in the diversity thread in the expanded universe part of the forums on

I remember being a kid and discovering Star Wars and being told that my fandom would be a fleeting thing. I think for most kids, fandom is a fleeting thing. Things I used to enjoy when I was younger that I do not obsess over now include My Little Pony, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Firefly (don't get me fucking started.) Fandoms that I will probably stick around in include A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and my mainstay and "gateway drug," Star Wars.

Over time, my relationships with these fandoms have changed. This evolution can kind of be informally encapsulated in this blog at Social Justice League: How to be a fan of problematic things. Over time, things become boring or less relevant or less exciting. You begin to more deeply critique the things you once enjoyed (what the hell, Firefly.)

Back in 2009 during the RaceFail debate, a fan, obsession_inc, coined the following terms: Celebratory fandom, Affirmational fandom, and Transformative fandom

Celebratory fandom is a giant umbrella encompassing both affirmational fandom and transformative fandom. Keeping in mind that we shouldn't be essentialist in our conceptualization of fandom, affirmational fandom is loosely defined as a "creator-sanctioned" realm of fandom that is creator-mediated or at minimum, strongly creator-influenced. There is usually a vertical hierarchy of some sort. Furthermore, these spaces are primarily white and male dominated. Oftentimes these affirmational fandom arenas have some institutional bite [eg. Worldcon, SFWA, Enigma(?)] On the other hand, transformative fandom is a more uh, laissez-faire fandom space that doodles in the margins and can be quite marginalized. These are the fans who subvert, who slashfic, who critique and deconstruct. It's a much more horizontal space (no designated leadership, HQ, or authorial fiat) and is represented more largely by fans who are mostly women and/or people of color, queer, etc. (More here on both these topics.)

This is not to say that a person can't be a part of affirmational fandom in one fandom and then part of transformative fandom in another fandom, or shift between both back and forth or over time, but I do think that fundamentally there is a difference in philosophy and approach to fandom depending on which end of this spectrum you are on.

For example, with Game of Thrones fandom started out very firmly entrenched in affirmational fandom. I posted on creator-endorsed message boards with clear hierarchies and was part of this pretty well organized fan club called the Brotherhood without Banners. Occasionally, people in these communities would say horrifically sexist and racist things. I hung in there, though, because I thought this was what true fans of this book series did. 95% of the time it was great to gush about how cool the books were and share brilliant theories demonstrating my skills at conjecture and reading comprehension. The other 5% of it was reading soul crushing sexist or racist crap. Booping around the forum with a gender-neutral screen name was an interesting experience, too. There is a subtle shift in how people talk to you when they assume you are a white male. I did eventually leave this part of affirmational fandom (thank-effing god, their leader is a racist, sexist, hypocritical asshole), floating around until I rediscovered transformative fandom for Game of Thrones on livejournal (ontd_asoiaf!) and tumblr (if you read the books, I am in love with the biting satire at RobbStarkolypse, spoilers ahoy.) In the realm of transformative fandom I can crack jokes about Samwell's "fat pink mast" without aggravating fanboys who don't like it when people talk about penises or poke fun at George RR Martin for writing slow. Should I chose, I can explore transformative fanwork without being lectured about it. It's nice.

Another example: Avatar fandom. Believe it or not, there are still fans that are extremely upset that M. Night Shyamalan did not get to make a movie sequel. I know this because occasionally I hear from them. This is the hardcore definition of affirmative fandom. They thought the The Last Airbender adaptation was awesome. Why? Because it was part of their franchise and therefore it had to be--and those stinky, stinky not-true fans who complained bitterly about discrimination in casting sank the cruise boat. "You are not a true fan" was lobbed at me an astounding number of times by fans, journalists, and even academics because of the false belief that fandom cannot and does not actually critique and deconstruct (transformative) but only worships and commodifies (affirmative).

I'll always be thankful that Star Wars was my introduction to fandom because it was a fandom that really became galvanized and straddled the middle between affirmative fandom and transformative fandom. Fans radically shifted from heaping glory upon the creator to deluging the creator with critique. (Quite frankly, seeing people dogpile on Jar Jar inoculated me to the idea that anything in fandom could be considered sacrosanct.) As a Star Wars fan in non-Star Wars spheres this actually led to socially awkward situations in fandoms where criticizing the Great Creator is taboo. (Wait, you mean I can't tactfully and haltingly say: "Joss Whedon is clueless in some arenas" because to you he is a brilliant, brilliant man?)

With all that out of the way, how do I feel about Disney buying Star Wars?

1. I own stock in Disney. I bought Disney stock in 2008 prior to the acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm. My skinny retirement account made money off of both of these acquisitions.

2. Star Wars (and Lucasfilm by extension) was biggest independent fandom franchise in the world. There are no other big, independent franchises the size of Star Wars. Now there are none. Most other major fandoms are controlled by studio interests. When they are not, they are shifted in that direction one they get too big by economic forces (fandom is a commodity). (Game of Thrones is a good example.) Lucasfilm was one of the only independent, creator-run studios that could even dream to compete with big media conglomerates.

3. Being independent allowed Lucasfilm to test drive different ideas without studio interference. This happened for better or for worse.

4. Star Wars sucks at diversity. Like seriously. In multiple dimensions. Really bad.

5. When George Lucas tried to make a movie with an all black cast, Hollywood turned him down. Thankfully, his independent studio was able to make it himself. But now that structure that allows for this kind of independent creation via Lucasfilm is gone.

6. Disney sucks at diversity at least as much as Star Wars if not worse. Prince of Persia starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Johnny Depp as Tonto. Weird implicit messaging to kids through Disney Princesses and Marvel. Disney is horrible at diversity.

I'm a "transformative" fan now so I guess even if Disney shits all over Star Wars I can still hang onto the parts I like about it, critique all over the parts I dislike, and maintain a head-shaking sense of humor.

Well, unless they whitewash Boba Fett. If you do that I will fucking cut you.

Opposites Day?

I've really been mulling over the whole Distress of the Privilege people view remedies for discrimination and/or addressing disparities as a form of oppression.

Some examples:

OH NOES: "[Straight] people need to protect the marriage, families, and children from gays and their efforts to access the right to marry."
WELL, ACTUALLY... The same people who feel their marriage/families/kids are under assault are assaulting other people's (namely, LGBTQ people's) marriages, families, by either preventing them from accessing civil rights or taking away their civil rights. There aren't very many gay people trying to take away straight people's rights to get married or adopt children, etc.

OH NOES: "There is a war on Christmas."
WELL, ACTUALLY... Christmas is the only federally recognized national holiday associated with any religion.

OH NOES: "Affirmative action is granting an unfair advantage to students of color."
WELL, ACTUALLY.... Affirmative action is pretty much the only program (and banned in a lot of places) that grants advantages to people of color at all. Other programs like legacy admissions and the uh, entire K to 12 system afford numerous advantages to white students.

OH NOES: "If you say that this role must go to an Asian actor your are discriminating against white actors!"
WELL, ACTUALLY... Lead roles are reserved for white actors all the time; meanwhile, communities of color have difficulty getting studios to consider casting actors of color in films at all.

OH NOES: "Mexican American studies program or Black History Month are discriminatory against white students. Teaching students about Mexican or black history will cause them to resent white people."
WELL, ACTUALLY... The mainstream educational curriculum will cover the history of white Americans and even Europe during any given month while contributions from people of color are touched on rarely, if at all--or really focused on only one month out of the year. People of color aren't rallying together to successfully ban white focused curriculum but school boards are banning PoC focused curriculum.

OH NOES: "The term 'people of color' excludes white people. The term 'feminism' excludes men. The term 'LGBTQ' excludes straight people."
WELL, ACTUALLY... These terms were created because these groups were being excluded...

OH NOES: "When a woman marries a man and does not take his last name, that is disrespectful to him."
WELL, ACTUALLY... This is a case where the woman is doing exactly the same thing the man is doing, so it's equal. The man is not expected to take the woman's last name. Even though it's equal, it is still seen as oppressive towards the man?

OH NOES: "Men of color are out to snatch and rape white women."
WELL, ACTUALLY... It was kind of the other way around...there were entire institutions set up to condone the rape of women of color by white men (slavery, wars in southeast Asia, etc.) while systems were set up formally (anti-miscegenation laws) and informally (lynching) to "protect white women."

OH NOES: "Women lie about being raped so they can ruin men's lives."
WELL, ACTUALLY... Men who rape lie about being rapists and often end up discrediting the victim, falsely accusing her of being a liar and ruining her life, so. Very rarely are men's lives actually ruined by rape accusations, especially false rape accusations, compared to the reality for women who are targeted by rapists...?

Anyhow, there's just a lot of these and I'm just stumped, stumped by it all.

Edit: Oh, oh, also:

OH NOES: "If you don't like it, why don't you do something about it instead of complaining/whining."
WELL, ACTUALLY... These people are trying to raise awareness not just complaining or whining...but you're complaining and whining about them. If you don't like people whining and complaining why don't you actually encourage society to address their concerns by uh...doing something about it.

Digging deeper on the “tone” argument

I’m not really big on the tone argument.  I’m not going to even pretend I like the tone argument.   I guess I’m not very civil. 

Even if I were, if you’re a person talking about marginalization or oppression or social justice, eventually some person will drop by to let you know that you need to “calm down” or that you’re “too angry.”   They will tell you this even if you’re the President of the United States and have a practiced, even and monotone voice.   They will point at a Prop. 8 marriage equality/gay rights protest and say, “How can they expect to be listened to if they are blocking traffic and making things difficult for everyone else?”  

They’ll tell you that you are not polite enough to meet their standards for listening to you, all while emphasizing that they’re “just trying to be helpful” and that, in case you didn’t realize it, you’re alienating people with your “tone.”   There is an expectation—an entitlement—to basic politeness, which is understandable…but what happens when those expectations for politeness from the privileged become a competing interest against the voices of the marginalized?  When a desire for polite tone overrides and attempts to control how the marginalized speak out about oppression?

I stand behind what I wrote earlier this year about tone on the Racebending tumblr:

Is the tone argument derailing? Absolutely. Does tone matter? Absolutely. Yes.

Tone matters, but not the way [people] understand it to matter. Tone matters, because people with privilege use “tone” as an excuse not to listen to you. “Regardless of the content of what you said or the validity of your argument, because you did not say it the exact way I wanted to, I will invalidate you.” Or, “I didn’t intend for it to be offensive and I don’t find [what I did to be] offensive. What I do find offensive is your tone.” (ie. “I get to decide what is offensive.”)

This puts the responsibility on the oppressed. It suggests to people of color, to women, to gays, to any oppressed group that “if only they had confronted the discrimination they faced in a better (more tactical, more appeasing, etc.) tone, maybe the people who ignored them would have listened. It teaches them that they should not burden others with their stories. It teaches them that they are in part responsible for their oppression due to their poor use of tone, even though they have no power over how someone labels their tone and even less power over how they are treated. Which, come on. Deciding whether or not to listen is a choice. If the decision to ignore injustice hinges on someone’s tone…

It is very difficult to avoid this trap. It means playing offense and defense at the same time. The easiest thing to do is to try and give people fewer opportunities to attack your tone. But make no mistake: this also means capitulating to the same oppressive power dynamic that is silencing you in the first place. In addition to the outsiders who will police your tone, you begin to watch your own tone. Tone becomes a tool you use to amplify your voice and oppress yourself at the same time.

You stifle your outrage, your defense mechanisms, your right to speak out. You train yourself to talk about discrimination with a brilliant smile. You live with the anxiety and reality that they may slam your tone anyway, ignore you anyway.

They remind you that they listen to you only because they are benevolent enough to tolerate your pleasant tone. Perhaps they will even give you benevolent advice on how to talk about your experiences, all while reminding you that while experiencing discrimination is not optional for you, listening is optional for them. That before they care about your pain, you have to remember to please them, first, by respecting their right not to be annoyed by you. You must be deferent to be viewed as worthy of consideration, goes the advice.

You allow them to argue that the way you say it is more important than what you are saying. Because the majority has deemed that only certain tones are appropriate when discussing these issues. Because those with power get to dictate how the victims talk about their own oppression. And you want to believe that maybe, maybe if you just say it the right way, this one time…people will listen.

Was my tone too harsh there?   I guess it depends on who is listening.   I wonder how often the “tone” argument is used as an excuse not to listen to the arguments behind the underlying pain.

Because it’s pain, really, underneath all of that stuff, as one of my professors pointed out.  Behind anger is pain, and behind that, fear.  So whether you are angry at someone because they said or did something –ist, or angry at them because of their offensive “tone” when calling out a –ist action…there’s really fear behind that, right?   And rooted behind that, anxiety. 

In school, I’m learning about rudimentary neurobiology and mental health and therapy and we’re studying concepts like emotional regulation, fear responses, cognitive functioning, etc.  So for example, therapists will teach the concept of projective identification to their clients to help those clients adjust their outlook and understand how they react to what other people think of them.  This concept goes hand-in-hand with the old Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  

The idea is that if you teach people this, then they will be less affected by what other people do and how they treat them.  They will have more power over how they view themselves and have a stronger sense of identity that is less defined by others. 

But I wonder how well this idea factors in situations where the individual experiences systemic oppression.  It’s one thing to tell someone, “Don’t believe what people say, just because someone thinks you’re bad at math because you are a girl doesn’t mean that you are.  If you then believe that you are bad at math because you are a girl, you must be consenting to feeling this way!”  

That doesn’t make sense.  Stereotype threat is a proven phenomenon.  Internalized oppression is a very real experience for many people.   If, because this girl is surrounded by tones of social stereotypes about women in the sciences, she starts to become more anxious or experience self doubt or feel less incompetent or less deserving in her math major at college, is it entirely in her control to decide whether or not to be affected by discrimination?   Does she “choose” to be affected?   Choose to be offended?  Choose to be hurt?   Is “deciding not to let discrimination affect me” the same thing as ignoring discrimination, which in turn can mean tolerating discrimination so that it continues and flourishes?

Rooted in the tone argument is this idea of emotional regulation.   The entire argument is basically, “You are not emotionally regulated right now, cut it out, why should people listen to you?”    I’m not going to deny the value of emotional regulation and cognitive control.   Neurobiologically, it improves cognitive functioning.  In comparison, when you are in a state of hyperarousal, you are using your amygdala and reacting on very basic levels (fight, flight, freeze.) 

[As an aside, check out this blog article talking about a study that found that conservatives are more likely to use their amygdala and liberals are more likely to use their cortex…]

We see emotional regulation as a sign of emotional maturity, a sign of healthy functioning, a sign of cognitive flexibility, etc.   But we don’t consider how someone’s situation can impact their ability to emotionally regulate.  If you grew up in a dangerous environment or were constantly exposed to poverty, for example, your fight/flight/freeze response probably fired up a lot more frequently than someone not as exposed to those things. If you’re marinating in a subtly and implicitly sexist or homophobic or classist world, there’s a lot you have to overcome or learn to “tolerate” before you can get to the point of emotionally regulating.  Do we always take this into account before expecting people to be emotionally regulated?  It’s easier for some people than others.

As someone who is on the receiving end of discrimination, you don’t want to be locked into using your limbic system to respond to bullshit.  People who are emotionally regulated are using their anterior cingulate cortex and can process information much better and operate in a more goal directed way.  They can problem solve better and navigate situations better.   Surely that would be ideal, right?  To be able to be exposed to –ist bullshit, process your feelings in a validating and efficient way, and then be in a proper mind to protect and adapt to this stuff?

I’m not validating the “tone argument” because of this, though.  What I’m really arguing is that the “tone argument” or telling someone to “calm down” or “stop sounding so angry” does nothing to help someone emotionally regulate.  It’s a poison pill. 

“People are more likely to listen to you and change their behavior if you use a good tone.”   This is taken as common sense.  Is there proof for this premise?   Obviously diplomacy is important; if this is some sort of underlying universal truth and everyone knows this, why bother to say it aloud when saying it aloud also means reminding someone of all of the push-and-pull factors of catering your tone to others?

These conversations are uncomfortable.   The people impacted by discrimination feel uncomfortable.  Hearing about their experiences makes us uncomfortable.  Wanting to escape feeling uncomfortable is natural.  Is the intention behind saying “your tone is so bad, wow” really about helping someone find the “right tone” to get their voice heard?  Or is it more of a manifestation of your own discomfort?  Discomfort that someone is upset, discomfort because upset brown people/women/queer people/etc. are scary?  Are you threatened by their “angry” tone?  If so, how is it threatening to you, and why?  

Is it helpful, is it actually helping get that person out of their fears and their fight/flight response and into their thinking brain?  Or are you actually saying it with the subconscious intent to keep that person there?  Are you saying it so you don’t have to actually examine what they are saying?

I guess what I’m really saying is, when you tell someone to “calm down” or to “adjust their tone” you aren’t really helping them move out of the anger you perceive they are feeling.  On a subconscious level, you are reminding of them of their helplessness, and that they will be judged for tone before their situation can even be heard.  You are contributing to what upsets them, because you are telling them that they are not being heard.

Whether or not this person is still in that “fear response” stage, you are actually—actively—trying to push this person back into or keep them in that stage.   You are actually emotionally escalating them, not helping them.

And the net result is that as long as they are in that stage (whether they actually are, or you believe they are) then you have the perfect excuse not to engage with them.  Not to listen to them.  Not to challenge yourself.  

That’s the contradiction, right?  We usually don’t listen to people if they are being disrespectful to us.  But why should we be respectful to people who aren’t listening?  (Because we shouldn’t expect to be listened to unless we are respectful --which right there reinforces this weird, deeply embedded, parent/child dynamic between the person demanding respect and the person wanting to be heard.)  Why should people expect others to be respectful when talking about how they have been disrespected?   

So that’s again, privileging your discomfort (because someone’s tone was not-so-nice) over the person reacting to discrimination, and their discomfort towards being discriminated against.

At least have the honesty to say that you don’t like what they are saying, not just that you don’t like their tone.

Intergenerational Illiteracy

A few months ago I was visiting with my grandparents. Some of my cousins have been getting married, and my grandmother has been keeping the invitations in a little box, along with some letters and keepsakes. My grandmother was excited to share the box with me. She brought out a handwritten letter because she wanted me to read it.

I held the letter up and began reading the scrawls of traditional Chinese, haltingly, aloud, in Mandarin.

It's strange, because when I was younger, I hated attending Chinese language school. At age ten, there was something humiliating about learning Chinese from textbooks designed for four year olds in Taiwan. It was always on a weekend morning when I knew all the "American" (which in my city, meant white) kids were at home watching cartoons. The teachers were strict and reminded me of my mother. They were different from the teachers at school. They taught by rote. There was a part of me that didn't want to be like them, that wanted to individuate and differentiate and prove my Americaness. My mother monitored my progress at elementary school like a hawk. Surrounded by other Taiwanese immigrant parents trying to justify reasons for uprooting across an ocean, they compared their children's accomplishments as small talk. Some parents took these comparisons lightly and congratulated one another. To my mother, they highlighted inadequacies. And my inability to master this language reminded her of what was missing. There were pushes for me to try traditional Chinese dance, or to learn how to recite formal Chinese performance poetry (朗誦). None of this was compatible with the intense, compelling pressure I felt from greater society to be "normal" and assimilated. I never visited Taiwan, so there was no incentive to learn Chinese when my world was brimming with English.

English--even though I learned Mandarin first. I know this because my mother wrote it on my elementary school application. I was the most advanced reader in my first grade class, but because the word Mandarin was on my application, I was pulled out of class and tested for ESL. I didn't understand why I was being tested. They showed me flashcard after flashcard of images. I only remember one of the flashcards: it was an image of a toothbrush. I screwed up, I called it a "brush tooth," because that's what tooth brushes are for. I immediately course corrected and said, "No, no toothbrush." I remember that exact moment, even though I was only six years old, because I knew I had messed up, and I was terrified, terrified that something had broken, but did not entirely know why I should be scared. All I knew was that getting the cards right was important, my instincts were that I had to get them all right, or something would happen to change my fate.

I wasn't segregated into an ESL classroom. I grew up, went to school (the school, the implicitly normalized school, and also the cultural other school, Chinese school.) I majored in English, and somewhere along the way my automatic thoughts were no longer in Mandarin. A switch flipped and I began thinking in English. I gained relative pronouns and verb inflections and articles and tenses and pluralization. I lost tones and aspect particles and measure words. In college, I picked up Chinese again--but only because a "foreign" language was a mandatory General Education and English major requirement. I'm not sure I learned very much, other than how to type Chinese phonetically on the computer using pinyin.

I can maybe read parts of a menu, fish, chicken, beef, pork, tofu. Words and fragments of sentences I can make out, but unfamiliar characters are pure static. There is no phonetical sounding-out of words in Chinese. You either recognize the character or you don't, and if you don't maybe you parse it out based on parts of the character, or guess based on the words around it. But you can't sound it out, hear it, make inferences on it's meaning aurally.

About a year ago, after twelve years of intermittent language education, my brain finally began processing Chinese better. Without practicing, my reading proficiency improved. I know it's coming from a different part of the brain than the part I usually use to retain knowledge, from somewhere more subconscious. But when I read the letter my grandmother handed me, I was still nervous.

And I couldn't do it. I tried to read it, was able to capture some of it, but not enough to understand it. My grandparents stared at me.

"She doesn't know how to read," my grandfather said to my grandmother. There was shock in his voice. She's illiterate.

It was the first time I'd ever had reason, as an adult, to read something Chinese in front of my grandparents. They learned that their adult granddaughter is illiterate.


Mandarin Chinese is my grandparents' third language. It's my parents' second language.

It's my second language.

Both English and Mandarin Chinese are imposed languages of cultural oppression. I've mastered one. The other is terribly out of grasp, but spoken by one out of six people on the planet.

The third language is Minnanese. Well, sort of. Anglicized in English, it almost looks like my Chinese name anglicized in English: Minna. It's not the same words in Taiwan, but to me it is incredibly ironic that a Taiwanese American woman named Minna cannot speak Minnanese. It's also called Hoklo, or Taiwanese.

Taiwanese cannot be learned from reading books. It does not have a written tradition. It is learned from being around other Taiwanese speakers.

My grandparents grew up speaking Taiwanese. They raised my parents speaking Taiwanese. When my grandparents were in school, Taiwan was occupied by Japan. They learned to speak Japanese. When their children were in school, winds had changed and the Chinese (specifically the Kuomingtang party of Republic of China) occupied Taiwan. Children in my parents generation were forced to learn and speak Mandarin in school. Taiwanese was forbidden. There are records of Taiwanese children being given lashes for speaking their family's language in the classroom, though my mother says this was not something she encountered personally since she learned Mandarin early from being immersed in the mostly waishengren neighborhood she lived in.

Today in Taiwan, Taiwanese thrives. Taiwan is still under the control of the Kuomingtang, but consensually through democratic vote. Taiwanese is spoken freely. To many in Taiwan, it's viewed as a language of resistance politics, as part of a unique cultural identity.

I don't know it. My family is benshengren. According to my grandparents, the KMT did terrible things to them, to their friends. According to my parents, the KMT even did something insidious that changed my family's fate and resulted in my being raised in America, raised American.

When my parents immigrated to the United States, they made a practical choice to teach my brother and I the most universal language in the world. Adaptive, right? So the Taiwanese part expired and withered and grew irrelevant. It became the language my parents used to negotiate and argue in front of us, knowing we wouldn't be able to understand them. I can understand a little because my grandmother babysat me when I was a toddler. My brother knows even less.

I should know Taiwanese. When I speak to benshengren Taiwanese people, they assume my family is waishengren because I can't articulate myself in Taiwanese. This is so painful. They assume my family was part of the cultural caste that inflicted martial law and white terror on their families, because I can't demonstrate that I am Taiwanese through language. I feel so lost.

There's another language, one even more original and ephemeral, lost to time and my relatives' insistence that we are "pureblood" Taiwanese people of Han descent. One of the Austronesian languages, indigenous, and perhaps even extinct. If you want to argue colonization, then even Taiwanese is a supplantive language.


The one board game that my family can play together is Jenga. Well, almost grandfather isn't dexterous enough anymore. My partner, a white guy, can play with my Taiwanese grandmother, because you don't need to really talk when you can gesticulate. I can fold pork and chive dumplings from scratch. For lo ba bun, I have to look up the recipe online.

I haven't been to Taiwan since I was ten years old, for a grandfather's funeral. Last weekend I hung out with my friend's Taiwanese relatives and they asked me how often I go back. I struggled to explain in Mandarin, how it's impossible to "go back" to something you've never really known. I have no context to compare my American life with. Unlike most Taiwanese American kids, my family was never wealthy enough to have me spend my summer breaks in Taiwan.

When I say I am Taiwanese, I really mean Taiwanese American, an admixture of "mainstream" American culture and the ferocity of expatriate members of the Taiwanese diaspora. Generational legacies of people burned by the KMT, the attitudes of our parents locked in a pre-Taiwanese democracy cultural freeze. I'm intensely defensive of this identity, because it explains why I am not white, it explains why I am not Chinese, it explains how I have been able to integrate myself.

It also explains why I want to go to Taiwan and run around and eat food.


One of my friends interviewed me about being Taiwanese American for a school project last year, so I sat down and explained the whole language shift thing and how my grandparents don't speak the same language as me, etc. She asked me why my parents never taught me Taiwanese and I speculated about how Mandarin is more adaptive (read: useful.)

She then speculated that perhaps this kind of language shift is a form of intergenerational trauma. Because it means that I've lost the language that my family has spoken for centuries. Because it means I communicate with my grandparents in their third and my second language. Because it's never going kid's first language will undoubtedly be English, and it's highly likely that subsequent generations will know less and less Taiwanese or Mandarin.

It must be so incredibly mind-boggling to my grandparents--the fact that I'm illiterate. They were taken out of the Japanese-run schools before their teens. A Japanese teacher begged my great-grandparents to allow my grandfather to continue his schooling and they denied him. My grandparents had to learn how to read and write Chinese on their own, and learn Mandarin to survive the KMT white terror on their own. Education was so important for them, that when one of my uncles flunked out of public high school they scraped together money to put him through private school. They wanted their children and grandchildren to be educated. Yet, their granddaughter with a college degree from UCLA, in a graduate program, cannot read a language they taught themselves. All my cousins who grew up in Taiwan can speak and read Taiwanese, Mandarin, and some English. The granddaughter who grew up in America-- beautiful, dreamy America, land of opportunity--is actually the most illiterate.

I felt so ashamed, and so sad, sitting there and holding that letter. Not because some cultural tie had been completely broken, but because it had been stretched thin, pulled taut across the Pacific Ocean and thinned out. Made fragile because some self-interested Taiwanese American ten year old didn't want to try hard enough in the local Taiwanese community's Mandarin language school. Didn't want to try because she wanted to be really, truly, American, and she didn't think she could be both at the same time.

There's a new education fad called Mandarin Language Immersion schools. Rich people send their kids there, and bunch of people who are Mandarin-speaking immigrants and have American-born kids, too. Kids go to school and learn from teachers who speak only Mandarin. They leave elementary school fluent, reading and writing. I think about this a lot, how my life might have been different if there had been more of these programs around when I was young. If learning Mandarin had been normalized in 'regular' school, would I have been so resistant to learning it?

I think a lot about sending my future kid(s) to one of these public schools, but the houses in those school districts cost upwards of a million dollars; I could start saving now and never afford it. Even if I did, would they still be resistant to learning? Wouldn't learning Mandarin--even if it would make them more competitive in the global market--simply solidify Chinese colonialism and the erasure of Taiwanese identity anyway? These Mandarin Language Immersion schools are almost always full of kids from Chinese speaking families and rich white families...would the trade off be that I send them to a school where they exit fluent, and also completely inexperienced with interacting with black and brown people of color?

What am I trying to repair? I can't even articulate it, because I don't know what is missing. Being Taiwanese American is all I have ever known.

Packaged Soundbites from an Armchair Pundit

On the "Legitimate Rape" statement

The keyword here isn't rape, even though everyone is right to focus on how our society approaches the concept of rape (we are not very evolved. Oh, also, did you know that in 31 states, rapists are allowed visitation rights to their children?)

The keyword for me--at least just as important of a word--is the word "legitimate." As in, politicians discerning "legitimate" reasons for medical procedures and services specifically pertaining to reproductive health care.

This is why to some people, having uterine tumors is a more "legitimate" reason to use birth control than "wanting to have sex without getting pregnant." This is why "I was raped by a stranger in the bushes" is seen as a more "legitimate" rape than "I was flirting with him but he didn't listen when I drew a boundary and told him no." This is why "I was raped by a family member" is considered a more "legitimate" reason to get an abortion than "I am acknowledging that I am no where near ready to be pregnant or a parent."

What the word "legitimate" implies is: I get to decide whether or not it was okay for her to get that abortion. I get to decide whether or not it was actually rape. The arbitrator of what makes reproductive health access "legitimate" is an infringement on personal choice and freedom (ATTN: Libertarians) and good medical practice (ATTN: people who prefer medical decisions to be made by the patient and their chosen medical professional.)

The word legitimate is just as important as the word rape. It speaks to the entitlement people have towards deciding when a woman has been "really" raped or "deserves" to have an abortion.

On Romney bragging about not having to show his birth certificate

Anyhow, everyone is saying Romney is making a cheap shot at Obama's perceived foreign birtherness without really completing tying in racial nativism.

(tl;dr: In America, white racial nativism is this idea that white people are 'real Americans' while Asian Americans are Chicanos are presumed to be foreign or less American even if they are just as American, etc.)

Romney, you didn't have to show your birth certificate because you're a privilege douchebag who has never had to go through the indignity of being asked "But where are you REALLY from?"

Dude, your dad was also not born in the United States, but you did not undergo the same scrutiny as Obama because your dad was a rich white governor and Obama's dad was a Kenyan foreign exchange student.

You didn't have to show your birth certificate because you benefit from the public's tendency to assume all white people are American and all non-white people are not American.

Don't brag about benefiting from white privilege and racial nativism, dude. It's really embarrassing.

Richard Aoki: Alleged FBI informant

So this investigative journalist named Seth Rosenfeld wrote a book and claims he has exposed Richard Aoki as an informant. He had never heard of Aoki before writing the book (gah, why is that, he is probably one of the most famous Asian American activists like, ever.) Anyhow, because Richard Aoki was an Asian American Black Panther and he armed the Black Panthers and taught them ho to shoot things, people are freaking out. Lots of debate over whether or not Rosenfeld did a good job researching and what this all means. Also, this undermines the idea that Asian Americans are down with civil rights. This has become a story about an Asian dude betraying a black movement.

What I feel people are not focusing on enough is like, holy shit, COINTELPRO was fucking everywhere in the 1960s and 1970s, including at UCLA where two students were killed. The FBI had this organized, concerted effort to undermine civil rights organizations; it worked to defame Martin Luther King Jr., etc. Oldest story in the book. This isn't a story about an Asian dude betraying a black movement, it's a story about the FBI orchestrating the betrayal of activists of color within a Civil Rights movement. And inter-ethnic conflict isn't anything new, either, it's a form of social we please focus on the fact that the FBI managed to get so deep into the Black Panthers that the *cough* weapons supplier was allegedly a plant? Isn't that more shocking?

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer bars undocumented students under Deferred Action from getting driver's licenses

I mean, beyond all the stuff about how this is a really dick move, it's also not a very intelligent one. You want a bunch of unlicensed drivers puttering around the streets of Arizona? Okay then.

People saying "Today we are all Sikh" in solidarity.

No, you are not. If you are not Sikh, you have no idea what religious and/or racial discrimination people who are Sikh have had to go through in the United States, particularly magnified in the last decade. We are not all Trayvon Martin, we are not all Sikh, and being a member of a "minority" group for today is not the same as living that reality day in and day out.

Whoopsy Airplane Read

A few weeks ago I was in the San Jose Airport in the airport bookstore. My flight was delayed so I decided to browse some books before getting in line. I went to the "local authors" section and looked at what authors were there. It encompassed authors from San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose including Jack London, Dashiell Hammett, and of course, Amy Tan.

The book that caught my eye was history book The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, a Chinese American author (her parents are waishengren from Taiwan.) I'd heard of this book, of course, but on a very superficial level. Some atrocities occurred during World War II. China never really forgave Japan for them. Japan glosses over it. The Chinese American author committed suicide a few years after writing it. So, some light airplane reading, right?

I ended up standing in the book store for 90 minutes reading it.

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I think a lot of it was just a wake up call for my naivete. When you (random American layperson) hear about the Nanking Massacre you kind of imagine people getting shot up or women getting raped in a very academic, rated-R movie sort of way. Left to the imagination, without concrete detail, my mind's eye of the Nanking Massacre was much milder than anything in the accounts the survivors described to Iris Chang or the souvenir photographs the soldiers took.

And then maybe this personal thought, too, that my grandparents lived under Japanese colonialism in Taiwan. My grandfather was recruited into the Japanese Army for training in 1945, and if the Americans had not dropped the A-Bomb, he would have been deployed. Would he have participated in the same cruel acts of war? Thousands of young Taiwanese women were recruited into sexual slavery as "comfort women" for Japanese soldiers (Nanking rapes were "improvised," comfort stations were a way to systemize military rape so sacking would be more organized.) If my grandmother had not been married to my grandfather in an arranged marriage at an early age, or if she had lived closer to a Japanese barrack, could this have happened to her? Did this happen to people she knew?

So I'm an idiot for thinking that The Rape of Nanking would be a good pre-airplane read (given my body is already in a state of anxiety and physical alert in airports--I'm afraid of flying!) I honestly didn't think that it would impact me the way it has. I mean, luckily I have the resources and am aware enough of how my body and mind works to not freak out if I have difficultly "forgetting" the book. I honestly didn't think I would be this emotionally affected.

I'm kind of hoping that I can find an online forum or reading group where other people have read the book so I can kind of work through it. I know that other people online have said the book gave them nightmares, so... *shrug* It's helpful just typing it out and trying to organize my thoughts. Sweating like a mofo just sitting here and working through this.

I can't decide if I regret reading the book or not.

"Dealing with Discrimination" - Laughably Bad Advice from a Student Guide from UCLA

Earlier this month, Dr. Christian Head at UCLA's Medical School decided to sue the university for racial discrimination.  Dr. Head, the only tenured African American professor in his department, reported that he was repeatedly mocked as an "affirmative action hire" and was depicted in a slideshow at a student roast as a gorilla being sodomized by a white man (meant to depict his immediate supervisor.)

UCLA has since released a statement in response to the nationalized publicity.  It says all of the usual stuff--discrimination bad, UCLA good, etc--and also notes that Dr. Head did not go through the "formal grievance and disciplinary procedures."  (Even though Head raised the issue with higher-uppers... after they blew him off he opted to file this lawsuit instead of going through the Academic Senate.  So in a sense, the school is criticizing the way he chose to respond as a victim of racism.  Cool.)

In honor of this ignoble lawsuit and *facepalm* statement, I thought I'd type up an excerpt from the UCLA Graduate Students Association Underrepresented Student Resource Guide.   This guide was distributed to incoming graduate students who are "underrepresented" on campus or in their departments.   

It attempts to helpfully list resources like local radio stations (except it only lists local radio stations that are conspicuously jazz, hip hop, and in Spanish.  HMMMMMMMM) and "Neighborhoods to check out"  (eg."Pico Union is regarded as one of the toughest barrios in the city."  or  how in Highland Park, "tension between the historic pizza places and marisco stands are slowly being negotiated with indy art studios, ethnic galleries, and hip lounges"  "Leimert Park is home to...tasty jerk chicken spots and local jam sessions"  *awkwards*)

I believe this guide embodies UCLA's failed attitude towards racial discrimination. My favorite part of this pamphlet  (other than the picture of clearly miserable looking students of color on the cover--does UCLA not have any photos of happy smiling PoC students that it can use?)  is the "Dealing with Discrimination" chapter.  

It laughably attempts to educate people who have likely dealt with discrimination their entire frakking lives on how to deal with discrimination at UCLA.  (By encouraging them to doubt their own judgement and reenact hurtful experiences?)

Excerpts and comments as follows:


Underrepresented students may experience both overt and subtle forms of discrimination.  There is often the experience of others making generalizations about you.

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way.  In case underrepresented students didn't think this would happen to them after coming out of four years of being an underrepresented undergrad.

Some people may assume that because you are an ethnic minority, you are automatically interested in issues of diversity.  You may find that your peers or professors turn to you to get the "Hispanic" or "Native American" or "gay" perspective.  Such requests have their foundation on the generalization that you are an expert in your own culture, simply based upon you being a member of that culture.

"Instead of training our highly-educated, supposedly high-quality and highly intelligent professors on how not to do this basic ass bullshit, we are instead publishing a guide for underrepresented students on how to tolerate being treated in this way."

 Although this generalization may place you in an uncomfortable position of having to correct others, it is not always based on negative discrimination.

I have no idea what the fucking point of this sentence is.   Of course "positive discrimination" (assuming someone is good at math, articulate at speaking English,  talented athletically, fabulous, a credit to their people, etc. ) happens, too.  While I appreciate that UCLA acknowledges that this scenario is uncomfortable, what is the point of this sentence?  To try to explain that positive discrimination mitigates the impact of fucked up stereotypes and statements?  

On the other hand, there may be some in your department who might devalue diversity.  Because discrimination is so pervasive, it is essential that you prepare yourself to cope with any that you may experience.  Below are some suggestions for you to consider:
1.  Test Reality

Find ways to confirm or test your conclusion that you are facing discrimination directed at you.  Consider what you are noticing and the circumstances leading you to this conclusion.

How incredibly naive and insulting is this first piece of advice?  "When you feel you have been discriminated against, the first thing you should do is "test reality."   This is essentially gaslighting.  This is telling someone who just went through a great deal "well, are you sure that actually happened" instead of empathizing with their experience.  Maybe you are just...making it up!  Overreacting!  Not thinking rationally!   What about exploring why the environment may be triggering feelings of being discriminated against for that student?

Ask someone you trust to take an objective look at your analysis.  Is there any other possible interpretation?  If what is happening to you is not because of discrimination, determine what the source is and take steps to resolve the issue.  If it is indeed discrimination, then consider the steps below.

I don't think UCLA understands that when it comes to interpersonal interactions and issues of discrimination, it is impossible for anyone to be "objective."  Everyone approaches this issue with their own perspective.  Many people instinctively try and diminish the impact of discrimination as a form of defensive protection.  Who would want to think, for example, that the medical school that purports to be the best in the Western United States, (a) depicted a black faculty member as a gorilla as part of an end-of-the-year celebration (b) ignored his objections and told him he was taking it too "personally."    I'm sure Dr. Head would feel so much better if he just "tested his reality" and asked UCLA to take an "objective look."

I think it is helpful to understand where someone who said something mind-numbingly racist/sexist/heterosexist/ableist, etc. is coming from. ("Is there any other possible interpretation?"  Yeah,  UCLA, the other interpretation is that you don't have to wear a pointy white hood or deliberately intend to do so in order to do something that perpetuates discrimination!)  

I also don't think UCLA realizes how condescendingly insulting this message is.  It suggests that underrepresented students are incapable of identifying discrimination and must seek consultation in order to be "objective."  

(It later becomes painfully clear in this pamphlet who exactly UCLA considers to be "trusted" and "objective" when it comes to racism.)

Be Prepared

If you are faced with discrimination, it is helpful to be prepared to deal with possible specific situations before they arise, such as preparing for what to do if you hear a racist remark.  

Oh, okay.  Underrepresented students should prepare in case they are discriminated against.  How would one do this?

The strategy of stress inoculation may be particularly useful.  This strategy suggests several steps.:  preparing for encountering a stressful situation, confronting and coping with the situation, and evaluating your performance afterwards.  Consult with others about what they did, about how they dealt with their feelings, about how they determine the results of their actions.  If you are comfortable with some friends, you may want to practice various strategies of how you yourself might interact with someone who acts in a racist manner.

You are just going to have to get used to racism at UCLA by inoculating yourself through repeat exposure to more racism.  Make sure to take time to prepare for racism to jump out of the bushes at you and also then to Monday morning quarterback how you reacted when it did.  When in doubt, consult.

Because in between coursework, working to cover rent and pay the bills, and encountering discrimination that you should always be prepared to encounter at UCLA, underrepresented students should, in their free time, practice how to get better at working with people who act racist.

Get Social Support

When you experience discrimination, it is critical that you have an opportunity to discuss your reactions and feelings about the situation.  Talk to trusted friends, colleagues, and family can be extremely helpful.  


While you may feel more comfortable talking to other ethnic minorities, particularly those of your own ethnic background, it is important to recognize that many non-ethnic minorities can empathize with your experience, and provide you with the support you may need.  Such a staff person is there to help students confirm their conclusions and determine possible courses of action.  Sometimes this staff person has been aware of prior similar situations, and can be helpful in suggesting how to deal with your situation.

"While you may feel more comfortable talking to people of color who have experiences of discrimination similar to your own, it is important (but we will not explain why it is important) for you to acknowledge that "non-ethnic minorities" can empathize with your experience.   You do not get to decide who can empathize and who cannot, you must let non-ethnic minorities in.   Furthermore, this helpful non-ethnic person who is a part of the institution where you are a minority will help you confirm whether or not you were discriminated against."

(What the hell is a "non-ethnic minority"?  Is that a delicate way of saying "white people"?  Or are they saying people who are white but have experienced other intersectional oppression?)

Confront Transgressors

This suggestion can be particularly stressful to you, especially when the transgressor is a person in power over you.  We recognize that not everyone may want to challenge someone in these types of situations.

"...and it would certainly save UCLA time and money if you didn't."

 However, if you feel prepared, it can be empowering to confront the person acting in a racist manner.  Practicing with trusted colleagues may be very helpful, so you can learn how to respond in an appropriately assertive manner.  

You may be the only one of your colleagues who is a woman, or a person of color, or gay, or a person with a disability, etc. It may not always be possible to find someone at UCLA who can relate, but you should still practice with them.  Reenacting racism with people who do not treat you in a racist manner will help you get twice as much of your annual dose of racism learn to respond in a way that is "appropriately assertive" to racism.  (I thought this was a handout for all underrepresented students?)   The underlying assumption being that...people of color need to practice how toappropriately respond to racism?

Someone help me out with a .gif to illustrate the epic facepalm that is accompanying this post.