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Apr. 5th, 2012

In Which I am Mean to Mulan

Reposted from my tumblr

As a young-ish Asian American girl when Mulan first came out in the early 2000s, I distinctly remember not liking Mulan's appearance. I never really pinned down why exactly this was until recently.

I mean, what was up with those slanty eyes? I remember arguing with white kids on the playground when I was younger and the only Asian in my class that Asians didn't have slanty eyes, see how I did not; I really resented that Mulan had slanty eyes and here Disney was winning the battle over that stereotype.

I just remember thinking: she is Asian and ethnically Han Chinese, like me (though my family is more Taiwanese than Chinese at this point)...but I don't look like that, do I?

And I can appreciate Disney basing her appearance on ancient Chinese standards of beauty with the round face and thick eyebrows and defined features, because that is a thing, but still...working on the Racebending protest I really, really began to resent Mulan.

Rage resent. Because people would say things like, "If Aang is supposed to be Asian, why doesn't he have slanty eyes, why doesn't he look more like Mulan." And even if I had contextual proof (eg. the Avatar creators have stated that they decided to use the Korean animated art style to draw faces since that was what those artists were good at, etc.) there was still this mental disconnect...because Aang did not look like what white people (and really all Americans via osmosis) EXPECTED Asians to look like. Because these stereotypes are so ingrained.

Early on in the Airbender protest, I remember giving a long ass PowerPoint presentation on the Asian elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender to a prominent Asian American advocacy group in order to convince them that Avatar was in fact being whitewashed. The leaders of the organization told us that Aaang and co. had round blue eyes and they were confused, until I reminded them that this was the case in anime as well.

I remember protesting the Runaways casting calls because Marvel was seriously, seriously considering whitewashing the Japanese American character of Nico Minoru. I remember approaching other longstanding Asian American groups with this news to ask for their support in pursuing the issue. I would send out these briefing sheet emails and attach images of Jo Chen's beautiful covers featuring Nico. I encountered so much resistance because to these older non-comic book, non-anime savvy Asian American advocates, Nico "didn't really look that Asian" to them. Instead of being happy that for once, we were not being drawn with exaggerated, stereotypical features, they doubted that Nico was Asian at all.

We got the same questions from mainstream geek press. "She doesn't look Asian to me." So I began to cull images of Nico from all of the different artists who worked in the book. And I noticed that the Asian, Asian American and Asian Canadian artists would draw Nico looking, well, "normal" ...and the non-Asian artists were more likely to, well...draw her as looking like Mulan. Because that is what we are accustomed to imagining cartoon Asians as "looking like."



My love-hate relationship with Mulan is really impacted by the way she was depicted, to the point where I still can't stand Mulan merchandise. I've been looking for an Asian Barbie doll for a long time but I feel like the Mulan doll isn't a good substitute because of her exaggerated racialized features. I don't know if I am the only Asian who feels this way or not. I simply experience a lot of cognitive dissonance between how I feel Mulan should look like and how she does look like. I PARTICULARLY resent Disney for always marketing her in the same goddamn outfit she sings about as oppressing her in the movie, and for calling it a freaking "kimono" last Halloween, etc.


http://mickey89eli.deviantart.com/art/Real-Mulan-94298507

And for me, it isn't about wanting Mulan to look more "white" even though yes, I grew up in a culture that taught me that white beauty was normative and to have her not look like the other princesses is kind of othering, etc...It's just about her not looking like an alien. Because I'm pretty sure part of the reason why aliens are drawn with slanted eyes is because in the early and late 1800s Asian immigrants were referred to as celestials and aliens because we looked so different. (citation needed.)

To me, Mulan looks like what white people expect Asian people to look like, and not what I felt Asian people should look like--or do look like. While I don't think the first picture is perfect either, it is closer to how I would have drawn Mulan.
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Mar. 9th, 2012

On Obama, Bell, and what Critical Race Theory is to me

First it was "social justice."

Given its liberal bent, the term " social justice" was always going to be somewhat open to interpretation. Glenn Beck said that "social justice" is a "perversion of the gospel", and ever since then politicians have been wary about using those two words.

In speaking about social justice, Beck also said that "Progressives are good at changing words." I would argue that it's not just progressives. Now, conservative right wingers are gunning for Critical Race Theory, too.

The editor in chief of Breitbart showed a video of President Obama (then a law student at Harvard University) embracing Derrick Bell, the first tenured professor of color at Harvard Law and one of the founders of critical race theory. This hug took place at a rally to encourage more diverse faculty at Harvard Law. It was 20 years ago.


Two black guys hugging! Someone call the whambulance!


Yesterday, the editor in chief of Breitbart dueled with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien about whether or not this is a Very Big Deal.

Pollak: Derrick Bell is the Jeremiah Wright of academia. He passed away last year, but during his lifetime, he developed a theory called critical race theory, which holds that the civil rights movement was a sham and that white supremacy is the order and it must be overthrown.
O'Brien and Pollak fight over whether his definition of CRT is correct.

Pollak: Well, wait a minute! You’ve made a claim that my characterization of critical race theory as the opposite of Martin Luther King is inaccurate. You’re telling your viewers that, but you’re not telling them what it is.

O'Brien: Critical race theory looks into the intersection of race and politics and the law and as a legal academic who would study this and write about it, [Bell] would advance the theory about what exactly happened when the law was examined in terms of racial politics. There is no white supremacy in that. It is a theory. It’s an academic theory and as one of the leading academics at Harvard Law School, he was one of the people as part of that conversation. So that is a short definition.

Pollak: I’m glad we’ve got you saying that on tape because that’s a complete misrepresentation. Critical race theory is all about white supremacy. Critical race theory holds that civil rights laws are ineffective, that racial equality is impossible, because the legal and Constitutional in America is white supremacist.


Pollak goes on to say that CRT is anti-semitic and that Obama "forced his students to read Derrick Bell" when he was a law professor at University of Chicago. O'Brien says, "A lot of law students read Derrick Bell."

Okay, so...they're both correct. And they're both wrong.

A Common Lexicon for Conversations About Race

I've written previously about how we really need a new lexicon to talk about race. The academic definitions of concepts like racism and white supremacy are light years away from how those terms are used in every day life.

It's like trying to convince someone that "irregardless" isn't a real word, or that they are using the phrase "that begs the question" incorrectly. Good luck.

That's what is happening with this CRT debate right now. Pollak has insight on the democratizing power of language. Conservatives are crowing about this, because Soledad O'Brien is kind of wrong. Critical Race Theory does talk at length about "white supremacy." Just not in the way Pollak is trying to lead people to think.

When Pollak says that CRT thinks that "white supremacy is the order," he knows that viewers will hear that and substitute "white supremacy" for "dudes in white hoods." That is not the "white supremacy" CRT talks about. When Pollak says critical race theory talks at length about "white supremacy," he knows that means this:
"[By] 'white supremacy' I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural
system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread,and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings." Ansley, F. L. (1997) from Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror

The CRT perspective says: "Hey, there are a lot of white people in the United States. All of the Presidents of the United States have been white except for one at this point, so maybe being white is still important and conveys some advantages. You are more likely to avoid being sent to jail for petty drug crimes if you are white. You are more likely to go to college if you are white. Most of the 1% is white. Is this a coincidence, or does history have something to do with it? Is it really that radical to wonder if a country founded by people who did racist things might still have issues with race?"

But let's backtrack a bit. What is CRT? The wikipedia page is under bombardment by dueling editors right now, so I will use the 101 definition presented by social work students at UCLA in 2009. Since this summary is still a bit tl;dr, I will simplify it further:

CRITICAL RACE THEORY 101 (obviously coming from someone like me and not from someone like Pollak)
  • Can and does the law really treat people equally, to the point where race is never a factor? Do historical circumstances or biases get in the way? These questions, posed by lawyers of color, began to revolutionize legal scholarship's approach to race.


  • CRT is a way of looking at race, and by extension, diversity in the United States. Can we use this lens to make things more equitable? (social justice.)


  • CRT is different from "multiculturalism" or "colorblindness." CRT argues that race matters. It mattered historically (your race allowed you to be a citizen or not, allowed you to vote or not, etc.) It also likely matters today, because many racial disparities cannot be explained by pure coincidence or meritocracy alone.


  • CRT argues that "racism" is a fact of life in American society--not because everyone is a bigot, but because discrimination occurs on institutional levels. Because of this focus on institutional discrimination, CRT's definition of "racism" is broader than the "person-on-the-street" definition of "racism," just as it's definition of white supremacy is different from dudes in white hood.


  • CRT argues that in addition to macroaggressive forms of racism (hate crimes, dudes in hoods) people of color also experience common, every day forms of microaggression. These are tiny paper cuts that build up over time.


  • CRT argues in support of the concept of intersectionality**. This means that there are several different forms of oppression, such as class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Discrimination is complicated. For example, CRT would say that a gay, black woman who is a wealthy doctor may have more "class privilege" than a straight white man who is unemployed. However, this straight white man would have more "white privilege," "straight privilege," and "male privilege." The fact that the black woman is wealthier than him does not negate the fact that she experiences more institutional racism, sexism, and heterosexism than he does, and vice-versa.


  • CRT argues that race is "socially constructed." This is not too far off from people who say "there is just one race, the human race" with one key difference: Even though there is just one race, the human race, society pretends there are several other races and that some are better than others. We need to address those inequalities and call out racism if we ever want to get to the point where race stops mattering.


  • In addition to the position that race is a social construct, CRT argues "differential racialization." Different groups are racialized in different ways. For example, Irish people used to not be considered "white" and now they are. Asians used to be viewed as "lazy" but now they are viewed as "hard working." Why?


  • Critical Race Theory also proposes the idea of "interest convergence." People start to care when it affects them. This makes it hard for the majority to care about minority interests. (eg. If you are straight and have no gay friends you might not care as much about gay marriage as someone who is straight but has a lot of gay friends and family members.)


  • CRT scholars have proposed the concept of "white privilege." In a nutshell, it proposes that being white makes some aspects of life much easier than being a person of color in the United States, the same way being rich, Christian, male, straight, college-educated, etc. comes with certain advantages in our country. This does not mean that all white people have silver spoons in their mouths or do not experience bigotry for being the other or even for being white (see intersectionality.) It does however, mean that people who are white are able to go through life breezing past barriers created by institutional racism.


  • As Pollak noted, CRT argues that the Civil Rights Movement hasn't completely fixed racism. What Pollak neglected to note was any context as to why CRT would argue this.


  • My personal opinion is that CRT focuses more on differential impact (is there a difference in how groups are impacted by this policy based on race) than intent. The road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions. This ties into CRT's emphasis on narratives and how no matter what, they cannot be objective. Some narratives are more silenced than others. (eg. Invisible Children's #KONY2012 voice is louder than that of actual Ugandan activists)


It sucks, because using CRT, if I were to say (god, this is going to be taken out of context, huh) that "The Academy Awards is a white supremacist institution" it would be taken in different ways.



Because there is such an extreme difference in definitions, there is no conversation. This is a major shortcoming of CRT that unintentionally also reinforces the persistence of white privilege. The white majority's definition of "white supremacy" (KKK, evil bigots, completely removed from every day experiences of racism) dominates the conversation over the minority definition.

CRT scholarship would argue that it does not run counter to Martin Luther King Jr.'s ideals, but is complementary to and even inspired by his ideas. King's most popular speech is about judging people by the content of their character versus the color of their skin. CRT bemoans the reality that even today, this is still not happening. To me, CRT is a clarion call demanding that we all work harder to do MLK justice.

This means that when someone using a CRT lens is talking about racism, they are not merely talking about "whites only" signs on drinking fountains. Let's look at two examples, Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin

Till was a 14 year old boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955 when he was killed by two men, Roy and J.W. Milam, after he reportedly flirted with the 21 year old wife of the men. He was beaten, shot, and dumped in the river.

Martin was a 17 year old boy who was visiting his father in Florida in 2012. He walked to 7-11 to buy snacks and was on his way back to his dad's house when he got into an altercation with George Zimmerman, a neighbor and neighborhood watch member in the area who had called police and reported Martin for "suspicious behavior" and subsequently followed Martin in his car. Zimmerman shot Martin.

Does race play an important role in these two cases? CRT scholars would argue, yes. Given the amount of explicit racism in Mississippi in the 1950s, can we extrapolate that the Milam brothers freaked out because Till was a black person flirting with a white woman? Or were the Milam brothers simply control freaks who would have killed anyone who dared to flirt with Roy's wife? The Milam brothers were acquitted. A year later, they confessed to the crime in a magazine interview. In that same interview, J.W. Milam also said: " I'm no bully; I never hurt a n-- in my life. I like n---s."

CRT would argue that race did matter with Emmett Till, and that the Civil Rights Movement did not protect him from being attacked. Till was killed just months after the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that schools had to integrate black and white students. Milam's professed affection for n---rs did not protect Till, either. As far as I am aware, there is no case that is inversely equivalent to Emmett Till (a case where two black men kill white boy for flirting with a black women and are acquitted, and admit to the crime in a magazine.)

As for poor Trayvon Martin, shot just yards from his father's home? Is it significant that Zimmerman, who has not been charged, was white, while Martin was black? Zimmerman was told by 911 dispatchers to stop tailing Martin and wait for police to handle it. His response was "those people always get away." Here again we see a grey area where it is impossible to prove intentions, only impact. CRT asks that we be cognizant of the role racism may have played in these cases.

It's hard, though, to talk about CRT given how mixed up all of these definitions are, and Pollak obfuscating things does not help. The truth is, people have been concern-trolling CRT for decades. Why are conservatives speaking out against CRT, and why now? From a CRT lens, I might argue that this is due to interest convergence.

My guess is that Pollak is trying to argue that Obama thinks that white supremacy is par for the course, and that Pollak trying to suggest that Obama is a radical for assuming that such a thing as white privilege exists. It's not a new argument. Beck has speculated that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people." People don't like racists. Maybe the belief that Obama is racist will make Obama lose votes.

Or maybe the fear is that more people will study CRT and begin to critically apply it to examine how unevenly power is distributed in this country.

A lot of politicians have a far more concrete connection to "white supremacy" (both the CRT and general-public definitions.) Widely-renowned Democratic Senator Robert Byrd founded a chapter of the KKK in his youth. Strom Thurmond was a segregationist and his history was dragged back up when Chris Lott suggested things would have been better if Thurmond had ever been elected president. I have a hard time equating that to the President, twenty years ago, as a black law student, hugging the founder of CRT.

But CRT is framed as an "ideology" that is an attack on white people. Pointing out that being white comes with some pretty handy racial privileges is a threat? Why? A threat to those privileges? The fact that the President gets CRT is enough to discredit him? A lot of students read Derrick Bell, because CRT is an important post-modern legal theory, and I would frankly be appalled if Obama, the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, on Harvard's campus while the concept was being floated, was not familiar with CRT and could not recognize it's importance as a part of legal pedagogy. The fact that Obama read CRT and liked Bell's work makes him educated and realistic, not radicalized and racist.

The Breitbart argument is basically saying that discussing racism and trying to address racism makes you more racist than ignoring racism. The issues raised by this "controversy" are totally what CRT is talking about. Here, wealthy white men are telling the people of color who designed CRT and use CRT as a tool for social justice, "No, we are going to tell you what CRT is really about. No, you don't get to argue with us about the definition of CRT. No, we get to declare that CRT is bad for America, your opinion on it doesn't matter. If you challenge us, if you challenge the system, then you are the real racists--just like President Obama."

Feb. 23rd, 2012

The deal with Jeremy Lin

Time magazine reports that China's state-run media, Xinhua, has called on Jeremy Lin to renounce his U.S. citizenship and join the Chinese Olympic Team.   The article speculates about whether or not Lin should, and includes quotes encouraging Lin to play for China's since the U.S. Olympic team doesn't think he makes the cut since he hasn't played long enough.

    Never mind that he hasn't played long enough because he faced discrimination for being Asian at every level from high school to the NBA.

    Never mind that the article glosses over his Taiwanese heritage ("since Taiwan--or whatever China wants the Olympics to call Taiwan this year--doesn't qualify for basketball, Lin can always play for China blah blah blah")

    Thank you, Time magazine, for continuing to perpetrate the stereotype that Asian Americans are avaricious turncloaks who will jump at the opportunity to denounce their American citizenship and "switch sides."  It's not like that stereotype has ever been used to perpetrate the mass imprisonment of Asian Americans or anything like that, just harmless speculation, right?

    And while we speculate about Jeremy Lin's loyalty to Team USA, we can also talk about whether or not Barack Obama a secret Muslim with a forged birth certificate.

Jeremy Lin is Taiwanese American.  Most of his family has been in Taiwan as long as most white people have been in America; they moved to Taiwan to get away from China and find a better life. 

Only one of his four grandparents is from China.  She was a Christian and she fled China for Taiwan in the 1950s.  Like many waishengren, she did not feel safe in China.  If she had stayed in China, she would not have been able to openly practice her religion--the same religion she has clearly passed down to her grandson.

Successful athletes of Taiwanese descent are bribed to denounce their Taiwanese heritage. Taiwanese women's golf prodigy and current No. 1 ranked Yani Tseng was offered $25 million by a Chinese company to change her citizenship from Taiwanese to Chinese.

The Chinese are more than happy to "reclaim" Lin, even though the only reason he has had the opportunity to be what he is today--an openly Christian, American NBA player-- is because he is a Taiwanese American.  

Add in the additional context that many Taiwanese hold citizenship in the United States or have moved their family to the United States in part because China has tons of missiles aimed at Taiwan, the freedom of Taiwan is at stake, and they feel American citizen is a safer and more prosperous bet.

Jeremy Lin grew up American, and learned his moves from watching VHS tapes of Jordan, Magic, Kareem with his immigrant father.  Rather than examining the oppressive structures that have made it difficult for Jeremy Lin to play for American or Taiwan in the first place, now it looks like Americans are more than happy to speculate that Lin secretly harbors loyalty for China, simply because he has an Asian face. 

Simply because China thinks that it has the right to tell Taiwanese Americans who and what we are.

Feb. 3rd, 2012

Straight A's

One of the interesting and frustrating things I've observed in my graduate program is the attitude that "grades don't matter." This is not just from the professors--who take great pains to remind us: "Your grades in graduate school don't matter. No one is going to care. Well, unless you're going to get a Ph.D. Then they might care."--but from other students, too.

Normally, in an academic setting, this would be a great thing. If your competition doesn't care about their grades, and you do, then you have an edge. (Lawd I sound like a Slytherin.) But, because our program is designed to produce empathetic counseling professionals, and we are all supposed to have high EQs, we have a lot of group projects.

"Your grades don't matter. You don't need an A. No one cares!" But I care! This is where the complacency makes me want to curl up into a little ball and rock myself slowly. Grades do matter. My high school grades determined where I went to college and my undergrad grades determined whether or not I would be in this program right now.

Grades in graduate school do matter because in graduate school if you get below a B (not a B-, a B) you can get kicked out. A B is a passing grade. Grades in graduate school matter if you want to go on to a Ph.D.

And they certainly matter if you want one of the limited graduate fellowships available for next year. Competition for those is fierce. Getting one of those fellowships determines whether or not I empty my savings account next year. (A small part of me kind of has this dream that after I graduate from graduate school, I will use the money that I saved for tuition that I did not need--due to scholarships-- to travel the world. I would love to visit Taiwan for the first time in 15 years and meet relatives I have never met, to buy a house or even get married.)

They matter because I want to be able to show my grandparents that I got highest marks. They matter because I want to know that I reached my full potential in graduate school, because I wasn't firing on all cylinders in undergraduate.

There is definitely this stereotype of the overachieving, grade grubbing Asian who insists on straight As. This was reinforced recently--thanks a lot--by the whole Tiger Mom/Asian Fail thing. For example, on Glee, the solution (liberatory narrative) to all the stress about getting straight As (oppression) is to teach the Other Asian that it is okay not to always be perfect and have straight As. (Of course, What fails to come up in these conversations is that because of systemic discrimination, on average, Asian Americans have to have more years of education just to make the same amount of money white people make with fewer years of education.) The stereotype is that all Asians care about is grades, that this puts an intolerable level of stress on those Asians, and that they should really learn to liberate themselves from this obsession with grades.

But that's not me. Aside from a couple of quarters my senior year in college, I've never had straight As in anything before, not until I came to graduate school. This isn't about living up to a stereotype of impossibly high expectations that was imposed on me, or that I am victim to. (I think?)

I can't help but feel (projecting) that when people in my program tell me (one of the few Asians) that I need to chill out about grades, that they are projecting that stereotype on me. I think this is partially due to my past experiences.

I remember when I was in high school I once went to a humanities teacher and asked if my B+ could be raised to an A-. I really felt that based on the quality of my work and my participation in class compared to the performance of other students who got A's that I should have gotten an A as well. The teacher sat me down and told me that one day I would realize that grades did not matter and that the B+ was not a reflection of my value as a person. (Which was small comfort to me because in my immediate life grades did matter--I was punished--and the B+ was a reflection of my value as a child to my family.) It kind of felt that the teacher was trying to do me a favor by teaching this Asian girl this lesson early, maybe even assuming "she will get As in a lot of other classes so it is important that she learn this lesson."

There was another teacher in high school who really had me convinced that I sucked at math. My learning style for math is basically such that it is impossible for me to pick up concepts simply from lecture. I remember I would doodle in class, especially since she wasn't a very good lecturer. Once the teacher caught me and said, "Doodling in class, well, I don't want your parents to come calling me about how I gave you a B+ instead of an A." (While I can't say with certainty that this comment was racialized, I do feel that it was based on the white teacher's stereotype of Asian parents as obsessive grade grubbers, especially since I was nowhere near an A in her class. This teacher also had a reputation among Asian American students for saying racialized things in the past.)

In any case, this teacher extended an offer that all students could come see her for "office hours" during break if we wanted extra one-on-one help. I would come in frequently for extra help but she never seemed happy to see me. She would say things like, "None of the other students need to come in for this much extra help." It did help, though because I remember my test scores started out in the 60s and once near the end of the semester I even got a 100% on a unit test. I ended up getting a C+ (79.8%, I think) in that class and I remember being pretty upset and sharing this with the teacher since I know she had rounded up for other people before, and I had gone to so many office hours during my breaks. With mathematics, tests are not as subjective as humanities classes, so yeah, I own that grade. The teacher did NOT need to round it up as a favor. But that teacher kind of struck me as perversely happy that I got that grade. I will never forget the sneering way she assumed that my parents were the kind of parents to want a B+ to be an A (because I was Asian?), or why that was a problem to her.

I'm not really sure what it means that I remember these two incidents from eight years ago. Perhaps it does mean I have internalized the stereotype--though it is NOT the stereotype as conceived in popular, mainstream, culture.

It is true that grades are an external evaluation of performance and that rather than internalizing self confidence, I am relying on grades to tell me that I am smart, and that I am competent--the same way I relied on my perfect SAT II score to tell me that the math teacher was wrong and I can be good at math. Yes, I care about that A, and yes, the stakes are higher for me than for you. And please don't dismiss my concern because you're dismissive about some Asian stereotype.

It's not because I am a perfectionist, it is because I have never had it before. Unlike all of those Tiger Cubs where high achievement comes naturally and discipline comes smoothly, I've always flailed around and really had to work for it. That is not to say that those who fit the stereotype don't work hard, just that there are certain things I've never been able to do, like perform a cartwheel, or ride a bike more than 200 meters, or run a seven minute mile, or get honest-to-god straight A's for a full academic year. Right now, I am trying to put in the discipline and hard work to achieve that metaphorical cartwheel, to learn how to ride that bike, to run that seven minute mile.

"No one cares if you can do a cartwheel," I guess. Except, I care. I've always wanted to do one.
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Nov. 8th, 2011

The Last Great Civil Rights Battle of All Time

I am a cranky, crotchety, person.

Yesterday I heard on the radio commentary from director Rob Reiner. Reiner is an awesome advocate, and I respect him. He is going to make a movie about the Prop. 8 trial, which is fantastic because the videos of the trial were blocked to the public. (I pieced through some transcripts here, hereand here.)

Yesterday, the commentator said something about how Reiner felt gay marriage was the last great piece of the civil rights puzzle. I am not sure about the context of which Reiner said it, but I guess any way you slice it, it isn't true.

Is gay marriage an important part of the civil rights battle? Absolutely? But I don't know why people are in a rush to frame it as the last great civil rights battle.

We had an excellent guest speaker today about LGBT bullying and she also presented some arguments that made me wince. For example, she said that parents would never give a child a hard time about the child's race, but they would give their child a hard time about their sexuality, it is hte oly thing parents bully their kids, too, on. Or that parents never tell girls they can't do something because they are a girl (like a scientist) but do tell boys they can't do something because they are boys (like a cosmetologist)

I could just feel my blood pressure rising because these things all seem like such half truths.

The denial of right to marry for two individuals simply because they share a gender is sexist, heteroist, and an undeniable civil rights violation.

Parents do very frequently bully their own children for being gay or otherwise not gender conforming.

Parents do encourage their daughters to pursue certain traditionally male only occupations (like engineering) but do not encourage their sons to pursue traditionally female occupations.

But you can't say that gay marriage is the last civil rights battle. Even just looking at circumscribed LGBTQ issues alone we see intersections of other issues like immigration, race, class, or the criminal justice system.

You can't say something like parents don't bully their kids about their race. Talk to some transnational or transracial adoptees. Talk to some families about their own internalized racism or self loathing.

You can't say that parents don't tell girls they "can't do things because they are girls." I mean, come the frak on.

Sometimes I think the LGBTQ advocacy movement gets so caught up in the very glaring disparities they face in terms of sexual orientation, that it becomes the only oppression in their minds. Intersectionality doesn't factor in.

So there is that LGBTQ girl, in an undocumented family, who faces internalized racism, and genderism. And the movement doesn't see her.

Well, I guess you can say those things. But I will cringe the entire time when you say them.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

Oct. 20th, 2011

FOX News's epic "translation" of a CNN article

Back in September, CNN covered a child named Tammy who is transgender. The article talks about Tammy's childhood struggling with being born "Thomas" and the journey her family went through. It then talks about the transgender hormone therapy Tammy is receiving to delay puberty. By delaying the development of secondary sex characteristics, when Tammy is older if she decides to fully transition as an adult, she will not need to get expensive surgeries.

CNN's article quotes:

  • Other transgender children

  • the chairperson of a committee to update treatment guidelines for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health

  • the American Psychological Association

  • a professor at USC whose expertise is in transgender children
  • Tammy's parents

  • the director of Gender Spectrum, a conference for families of gender nonconforming children

  • a doctor who does "reparative therapy" and promises to make transgender kids "normal."


The CNN story shows a picture of Tammy today and while not perfect, refers to Tammy as Tammy with her preferred pronoun.

Fox News picked up the story shortly after. The story exclusively focuses on the hormone therapy Tammy is getting instead of the big picture (like her parents' repeated attempts to ask Tammy if she felt like being Tommy again.) The story also plays up the fact that Tommy was adopted by two lesbian women.

Fox News's Sources are:
  • The director of education and training for Gender Spectrum

  • The Vatican's advisor on sexual matters

  • Fox's official health editor

  • A plastic surgeon who does transgender facial therapy (which "coincidentally" the treatment would eliminate the need for)

  • A person who goes on anti-LGBT sites sharing his "ex-transgender" story

  • The other Fox health guy who said parents should not let kids watch Chaz Bono dance with the stars.


The Fox story shows a picture of Tommy and hides pictures of Tammy under a cut. Fox News's story does not follow AP journalistic standards and refers to Tammy as Tommy and uses the pronoun "he."

I think it's safe to say that one article actually quotes people who are familiar with transgender medicine and transgender issues, and the other doesn't.

I'm not even really sure how I can put this in words. I know this Fox article doesn't directly hurt Tammy or her family...in the sense that she is really blessed to have access to transition treatment so early and to have supportive parents. It's not going to stop the therapy she is getting to help her.

But what about the kids who aren't so supportive, whose parents listened to this Fox News bullshit? Ten, twenty years later, because they did not get this treatment, the children of people who listened to Fox News will have to pay thousands of dollars and undergo surgery that this treatment could have prevented from becoming necessary.

Sep. 6th, 2011

On who can be --ist and the need for a new lexicon

I was out with a group of friends a few days ago and a conversation about my really inexpensive (but apparently has problematic plumbing) apartment came up. The origin story for Casa Jedifreac.

The truth is, my apartment is brilliantly cheap for the area I live in. The narrative behind why that is is a bit more complicated than that. If you ask my boyfriend (who is white), he will say that it is because on the day we were negotiating the apartment, the landlord's wife and I both discovered we were Taiwanese, began speaking Taiwanese Mandarin, shut him completely out of the conversation, and came out of that with a low rent. Condense this narrative, and it says: I was cut a special deal because I am Taiwanese American, and it worked because my landlady is racist, and my rent would have been higher if I had been white.

In the brief conversations I have had with my landlady since, I have learned that she totally holds racist views against certain groups. For example, she told me that the apartment I was renting was lucky because the previous tenant, "although he was only Filipino" got a good job and a rich wife and moved out. (Which, seriously, what the frak!) She also rented to us differently because we were dating and not married, which is apparently not kosher under California landlord tenant law. Despite this, she and her husband rent to a huge diversity of tenants and I have never heard her say anything disparaging about white people, only other racial minorities.

At the pub last this topic came up, and a couple of my friends (who are white) chuffed about reverse racism ("Don't you know only white people can be racist!") and I started feeling really uncomfortable. I kind of just slunked back into my chair and listened. It's interesting because although the narrative that my boyfriend shopped is that we were able to get this sweet deal because I am Taiwanese American, I don't feel that is precisely the case. After all the landlady had no problem renting to the previous tenant who she clearly thought was from an inferior culture (it sounded like she really liked him, too.)

To be more accurate, I think that having the skill set to negotiate a lease in Mandarin Chinese (as well as references from two other tenants already living in the building!) was what gave me the edge when it came to the price point. Now, being Taiwanese American and having Taiwanese parents certainly helped me get access to learning the language early, and also gave me an edge on cultural fluency. But plenty of second generation Asian Americans have access to that, go to Chinese language schools on weekends, and by the time they reach adulthood cannot speak diddly squat.

Being Taiwanese American and a minority in this country and in this city, of course, has also exposed me to a unique set of systemic and institutional barriers, including racism. The effect has been really striking on my family. If you are a white kid growing up in the United States the chances of seeing your father, a grown man, rage and cry because some Irvine kids taunted him and called him a Jap and a Dirty Chink are substantially lower. Language barriers have also limited my parents from really pursuing jobs in mainstream corporate culture (though the bilingualism does come in handy in other ways.)

Maybe i am just rationalizing and this is truly an instance where my "race card" came in handy. What is fascinating to me, as someone who informally studies critical race studies, is that there is this misconception that people of color have this thing, a race card, and that they get to use it. But the reality is that everyone has a race card, that there is a skin color totem pole built into our history and even our modern society. Because of these disparities, it becomes more apparent when a person of color flashes their card than when a white person does. All the little ways that a person who is white can more smoothly navigate our society are not as noticeable, almost normal, but in reality, the most powerful, influential, and privileged race card is colored white.

I think I skillfully negotiated my lowered rent and I did it in a foreign language, and it took years to level up those points. But the narrative is that it was because of my race, not my abilities. If a white rental applicant had done the same, even if the landlord was racist and preferred white tenants, it would likely not be attributed to a card game. Likewise when an Asian American scores well on a math test or a black American kicks butt on the basketball court it is often often viewed as an inherent expectation based on stereotypes about innate racial ability rather than the result of effort or skill.

Then there is this whole "people of color can't be racist" critical race studies thing that ultimately stems from different lexicons. To generalize, there tends to be two different perspective on this whole "racism" deal.

One is the microcosm. This is how racism is defined colloquially. We're talking common usage. So when people ask "is President Obama is racist against white people?" they mean does he hold bigoted or prejudiced beliefs towards white people. Under this definition, people are "racists" and there is also usually a binary--you are racist or not racist. So, using the colloquial and common definition of racism as a view perpetrated by individuals, for example, my parents' reluctance to accept my white boyfriend would stem from racism.

This is the big communication lapse--the view from the academic ivory tower that racism is perpetuated systemically, not by individuals alone, and a focus on racist institutions, rather than prejudiced people. (The anti-racist scholar's definition of racism as prejudice+power.) When someone coming from this angle says "people of color can't be racist, only white people can be racist" from the perspective of the layperson this statement comes off as absolutely ignorant. Especially when misinterpreted.

What this concept is really trying to say is that given the "crabs in a bucket" situation that minorities find themselves in, there is no systemic benefit to minorities when we are prejudiced to one another or towards people who are in the majority. (It just perpetuates more racism or sexism etc. and buys into a system minorities cannot win.) So it would be more precise to say, rather than "people of color can't be racist" that "people of color cannot benefit from systemic racism."

Or at least this way, hopefully, this perspective wouldn't get laughed out of the room because of the colloquial definition of racism and people's willingness to be dismissive about racism.

Framing with a different example, it is like saying "women can't be sexist."(which is not a precise or persuasive argument.) If you want someone to understand this argument, you have to say, there is no way a woman can win at sexism, whether she is actively sexist or not. If you are woman and you are sexist towards other women, you are still only gaming for the second-best seat at the table and reinforcing inequality. If you are mean to other women because they are women, and you are a woman, you are still screwing over yourself. If a gay guy is bigoted towards gays, and say, passing legislation in political office that harms gays, he is not really benefitting over straight folks.

What I hope one day can come about is a shared lexicon and common definitions that cannot be as easily dodged or manipulated.

And yeah, I also wish the narrative about how I got this damn deal on this apartment wasn't so simplistic. Did I perhaps benefit from my ethnicity as much as my language skills or diplomacy skills? More so than say, a white tenant? But then if you think about it, being a white renter comes with it's advantages, too. You're considered racially neutral, with few negative stereotypes. And, because you can speak fluent English, you face far fewer language barriers than many renters of color. Would a white landlord selecting a white tenant when coincidentally both are fluent in English be seen as racial favoritism? Or does it happen enough that it has become mundane?

And this is what I really don't know how to express to my friends who are white. That my one alleged racially lucky break is comparative to what they can benefit from consistently. It's kind of like explaining to a male nerd that being a female nerd is not glamorous and all about constantly receiving fringe benefits and free World of Warcraft stuff.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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Aug. 10th, 2011

Star Wars Gets Slap-Happy

And the reason why I just vommitted my summary about talking to Star Wars writers (below) at ComicCon was really to add context to my heavy discontent about recent developments in the Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi series as surmised by Tricia the FanGirl at FanGirlBlog.com.

[First off I want to say that Fangirlblog.com is a great blog and Tricia does a great job articulating why Star Wars Expanded Universe has disappointed me in the women-depicting department recently--not that the franchise has ever had a great track record. I don't always agree with her (on intersectionality stuff, especially) but it's a good read if you're a lapsed EU fan like me!]

So the most recent book, Fate of the Jedi: Ascension, came out this week. The cover features Ben Skywalker (Luke Skywalker's son) and Vestara Khai (who apparently shops at Hot Topic, is at least 20th in the string of white female love interests for any male character introduced in the books.) Vestara was raised by The Lost Tribe of the Sith. She is the only standout character Ben's age in the entire story.



Since there are no gays in Star Wars and the mere suggestion of including them sends fans into conniptions about a "ridiculous politically correct claptrap designed to shove a political agenda down the throats of readers" we can assume that Ben Skywalker is straighter than Camilla Parker-Bowle's tampons, and further conclude that Vestara was a transparent play at an age-appropriate love interest for Luke Skywalker's only child.

Of course this is how their love scene plays out (in a book written by and edited by women), via fangirlblog:

The scene occurs on pages 173 to 181 in the book.  Ben breaks into Vestara’s locked bedroom and demands that she show him her private files on her computer.  He’s not doing this just to be a jerk, of course; he was at first worried about Vestara, then as the scene progresses worried that she might still be betraying the Skywalkers.  He tries to seize the computer from her, then grabs her wrists.  Defending herself from his intrusive verbal and physical demands, Vestara Force-shoves him away.  In return, Ben uses the Force to slap her across the face – the ultimate iconic “put a woman in her place” action by a man. 

Their confrontation degenerates further.  Ben prevails by using the Force to bind Vestara in her bedsheets – no crass symbolism of male sexual domination there – and then proceeds to read her private files despite her sobbing and begging him not to. 

When he does, he realizes that he has in fact intruded into her deepest personal emotions, the equivalent of reading a teenaged girl’s diary.  He apologizes and consoles her by spooning with her on the bed.  The scene ends with Vestara proclaiming to Ben that she wants to become a Jedi, and their first kiss. 


It would be difficult to draw up a more classic scene of domestic violence.  Escalating tension between the couple leads to a violent confrontation, followed by contrition.  Ben has forcibly violated the privacy of Vestara’s bedroom, the sanctity of her private diary, and the dignity of her body.  Immediately thereafter, though, Vestara expresses in words her desire to join the light side and in actions her love for Ben – and we’re supposed to believe that these emotions are reliable and real? This young woman has just been abused by her boyfriend.  She doesn’t have clear thoughts or honest emotions at that point – especially because it’s the first time he’s dominated her in this way.  For any person, male or female, who experiences this sort of event with an intimate partner, the predominant initial reaction is usually profound shock. </p>...Ben does not act like he has done anything wrong.  There are no more apologies, and in fact no further references to the abuse having even occurred.  Vestara is not traumatized in the slightest, apparently; there is no fear or withdrawal, no outrage or distance.  The remainder of the book reveals no recognition of the seriousness of what was portrayed in this abusive incident.


Ew.

Talking to the Star Wars Editor in Chief and a Writer at ComicCon

After my previous complaints (concerns? complaints?) about diversity in Star Wars I thought I should follow up with an update. In between all the fangirling and Racebending.com work at ComicCon I managed to get some "diversity in Star Wars advocacy in." You know, beyond my complaining on intarwebs work.

I did not end up going to the EU Books panel. I did stop by the Star Wars Books booth and talk to Editor-in-Chief Shelly Shapiro about diversity in EU for a good ten minutes or so, though. She said they were trying--which is why they include aliens-- but that they are "so PC" they cannot describe races in Star Wars.

(I didn't really want to be rude and call her on that, since white characters are described with white features time and time again--I could easily pull 20 examples out of my ass-- but I was pretty disappointed in that answer.)

I acknowledged the difficulty of portraying minorities in writing ("so and so's almond eyes and hot chocolate skin"), and Shapiro talked about how when you read Star Wars you are supposed to imagine diverse characters when you are reading.

"Just because the character is not described that way doesn't mean they are not, for example, Asian," she said. And then about how the reader can choose to imagine a diverse Star Wars galaxy when they're reading crowd scenes (putting the onus for diversity on the reader, really.)

I did point out that even if the race is not described it IS depicted in the covers and in the artwork where almost everyone is white. (I mean, Mirta Gev and Dur Gejjen are presumed by us to be brown, but it's not like they get on covers.) I noted the Crosscurrent (ambiguous ethnicity Jaden Korr) versus Riptide (ph hai thar white dude!) covers. Shapiro said she wasn't a big fan of the Crosscurrent cover. I said I was glad to see a woman repping on the Choices of One cover but she said she didn't like that cover either and acknowledged that Mara's head looks pasted on. (I was being charitable, the cover does look hideous!)

She said she would bring my concerns about diversity to the art director, which I hope does happen!

I guess the difference is that the representation of characters of color is more abstract than the representation of white characters. The existence of important white characters (plus one black Lando) is confirmed in the EU books time and time again. But in order to have people of color in the stories it seemed like the takeaway was you're reliant on the audience to believe the world of Star Wars is full of humans that come in all shades and colors--it's just never confirmed that they are also doing cool things, too. This bothers me because it puts the onus on readers to imagine a diverse world. The creators should share this responsibility because they are shaping what we imagine.

Shapiro said she could relate because growing up she had brown hair and it bugged her that all the Barbies were blonde, too. I said it bothered me as well. I didn't really have the heart to point out that at least brunette white girls have Padme and Leia in Star Wars. I thanked her for Saetele Shan and Kerra Holt--even though both characters were created by other Star Wars franchise licensees (Bioware and Dark Horse), and not her-- and went on my way.

Meeting up with Star Wars: Invasion writer Tom Taylor was refreshing! He was there promoting his new comic book, The Deep, out of Gestalt, an independent comics publisher from Australia. Even though Gestalt is a smaller press (or perhaps because of it, who knows) Taylor was able to successfully advocate (and received much support) for creating this comic that features a multiethnic "The Incredibles" like family, the Nektons. Taylor told me he really wanted to prioritize a family with a black dad and an Asian mom. It's one of the first comics I've seen to feature "Blasian" kids. (Strongly recommend you all pick up a copy.)




I spoke with Taylor about Star Wars and diversity and it was really interesting to get his perspective. He definitely seems to think that mainstream comics should be more diverse. We both voiced our disappointment that the new DC reboot doesn't have enough women writers despite all the great ones out there (a big lightening rod at ComicCon.) We also spoke for a while about Star Wars Invasion and the next book (Book 3.) Book 3 will have more of Finn's new master, Dray (finally a new black character for the New Jedi Order). I expressed my dismay that in the 19 books of NJO they introduced a bunch of new Jedi Knights but none of them were people of color--such a missed opportunity--and that I hoped to see more people of color in upcoming Invasion books.

One thing that Taylor said that was really interesting was that his initial concept was for the Galfridian family (the main characters of the comic book) to be black. Clearly this did not happen. (I didn't really want to press why not...but wow.) We both agreed it would have been awesome to have a Black ruling family (eg: black princess!) in Star Wars.

We also talked about Kaye Galfridian and how the character has gotten a really negative reception on the TheForce.Net forums. I told him that I didn't have a problem with Kaye and found her more interesting than her brother. I explained that the boards are largely white and male dominated and in that it shouldn't be his own resource for fan feedback since a lot of women and people of color, minorities, etc. would be turned off by the atmosphere on these boards (last month a fan vomited over the diversity thread insisting gay people were unnatural) Having been on these forums for over 12 years with a formal account for 9 years, I shared that I've noticed that fans hold female characters and authors to higher standards than male characters and authors, which may explain some of the antipathy towards Kaye. (Bria Tharen is a Mary Sue but Corran Horn is not? And pretty much every female author has gotten chased off these boards except for Jan Ostrander.)

We talked about how in a way, Invasion is more about Kaye's story than Finn's. Finn's story is there to connect readers to the NJO books and classic characters like Luke, it's the traditional new Jedi character in Star Wars story. Kaye's story is something new, something we haven't really seen in Star Wars or in the NJO, and really a different perspective to that series. In a way, Kaye and Finn parallel Luke and Leia in that Leia is more of a leader and in the thick of things and Finn is more Jedi but also more lost and naive. Especially given she has been groomed for leadership all her life, Kaye's leadership skills aren't that unrealistic in the context of a universe where 18 year olds are Senators representing entire planets and 14 year old queens are elected by popular vote.

He did seem really bummed out that Kaye does not get a lot of support (which I have noticed, even though her story is of equal page time and importance to Finn's, Finn usually gets the back blurbs and is more the face of the book) so if you like Kaye and you're on TFN or elsewhere make it known!

So there's that.

May. 20th, 2011

Riding my High Tauntaun with my Minority Agenda

Shelly Shapiro, the editor at DelRey in charge of Star Wars books, did a Facebook chat today which you can read here: Star Wars Books Facebook Chat with Shelly Shapiro.

I went out on a limb and decided to ask her about diversity in Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU). I guess bringing up lack of diversity in EU made people uncomfortable because this guy named "Darth Severity" got all up in my grill ranting about how Star Wars isn't the place for your minority agenda, Marissa blah blah high horse. (I wish I had saved the quotes, they have since been deleted.)

It surprises me how when this topic comes up in fandom a certain subset of fans react by trying to suppress conversation, as if bringing Star Wars up to Star Trek levels of diversity is a bad thing. How dare I take the piss out of Star Wars. Star Wars fans never do that!

So I said:
I'm a long time reader of Star Wars books (own over 200+) but I am also greatly disappointed by the lack of diversity in the Star Wars EU. I was particularly disappointed that the "Rip Tide" cover established Jaden Korr as just another young white human male hero (like the primary protagonist in every other era of Star Wars publishing.)

I would like to see more characters of color and women (including women of color) in Star Wars stories. Will DelRey make a commitment to pursue diversity in future publications?


Shaprio's response:
Diversity: I feel we've had quite a bit of diversity, especially when you take into consideration the growing number of prominent characters that aren't human. Saba Sebatyne, for example: An awesome female Jedi who is barely even humanoid. (I like her a lot!)



I feel so represented.


Really, how hard could it have been to say something like: "We are committed to pursuing diversity in our stories and have several projects lined up with human characters of color, and some cool alien characters, too! We understand that a lot of our fans are diverse and that many of you are women, too, and we want to make sure that Star Wars remains a property for everyone." How frakking hard?

It really would have been simpler than saying, "Star Wars is soooo diverse it even has a lizard!" Whaddaya mean Star Wars isn't diverse? Sure, all of the important human Jedi in post-"Return of the Jedi" books have been white, and the ones that are female have been handled rather poorly, but we have lots and lots of imaginary aliens. (The representation of aliens in Star Wars has vastly improved from the Mos Eisley cantina. The representation of women and minorities in Star Wars has remained stagnant.)

(I really don't understand how Dark Horse Comics can create great, popular PoC characters like Quinlan Vos and super-diverse comics like Legacy, but the books by DelRey can barely cough up anything. I haven't bought any DelRey Star Wars stuff in like three years, but since then I've purchased like 20 comic trades from Dark Horse.)

Given I wasn't even referring to alien diversity I was kind of disturbed by this answer because alien diversity =/= human racial diversity. Racial minorities are not aliens. When the Star Trek franchise talks about diversity they don't have to say, "We're so proud to be diverse because we have Klingons." (It always rankled me that the one non-white author who wrote for Star Wars was assigned what I believe is the only book to feature an alien as the main character.)

When I griped to Coop (an online forum mod from a site I used to hang out with in 2000, who now mods Literature at TheForce.net) he shared that when he asked Star Wars author Troy Denning why nearly all of the human characters in his books were white, the response was along the lines of "how dare you? We don't say they're white in the dramatis personae!"

If DelRey can create, develop, and popularize non-human characters like Saba I don't understand why DelRey can't popularize more human characters of color, too. (Unless they don't care to, or don't think to do so.)

Star Wars, I am disappoint.
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