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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 30, 2006

Written by C.N.

Health Care Costs an Issue in China Too

In my continuing quest to find stories of how China is increasing becoming Americanized and “capitalism-ized,” I ran across this recent New York Times that describes how thousands of Chinese villagers rioted against a hospital for allegedly failing to treat a three year old boy who eventually died because his family couldn’t pay his medical bills:

The unrest erupted after a 3-year-old boy died in the hospital, where he had been taken for emergency treatment after ingesting pesticides. Reports conflicted about how much medical care he had received. The human rights group said in a faxed statement that essential medical care had been denied the boy until his grandfather, who was taking care of him, could pay. The boy died after the grandfather left to raise money, the group said.

The New China News Agency confirmed that a dispute over medical fees had occurred at the hospital, but also said that doctors there had treated the boy even though the grandfather had not been able to pay the $82 bill. Local residents who heard about the incident staged a demonstration at the hospital that quickly turned violent. People smashed windows and destroyed equipment at the six-story building. . . .

Medical costs are a major issue for tens of millions of people in Chinese cities and hundreds of millions in the countryside who have no medical insurance and no public safety net to cover the soaring cost of care. The government once offered rudimentary medical care for nominal prices in the countryside. But hospitals were left largely to fend for themselves in the expanding market economy of the 1990s. Many ceased providing even emergency care for people who could not pay hospital fees in cash before treatment.

At first glance, we might be tempted to say that this kind of riot against a hospital couldn’t possibly occur in the U.S. However, if we look closely, we will see that many of the same issues that these Chinese villagers face are the same ones faced by millions of poor and working class Americans — unable to afford health insurance or meet the soaring costs of medical care and increasingly, relying on overtaxed emergency rooms who get little help from the government to cover their soaring costs.

In other words, the ingredients for a popular citizen’s revolt against health care costs exists here the U.S., just as it did in China. Just like how the government ignored the effects of poverty, injustice, and alienation among Blacks that contributed to the LA riots of 1992, this growing concern about the affordability of health care is a very real issue for many Americans.

The question is, just like 1992, is the government only going to do something about the problem only after people are so fed up and enraged with the problem that civil unrest occurs?

November 28, 2006

Written by C.N.

IBM to Improve Indian Call Center English

One of the most visible forms of the outsourcing is how many customer or technical service calls directed to U.S. companies are now handled by workers in India. This also happens to be one of the examples of outsourcing that produces the most aggravation and frustration on the part of many Americans, due to — at least on the surface — how many Indian call center workers speak English with heavy Indian accents. IBM now has a plan to improve that situation:

IBM Corp.’s India Research Lab says it has a way to help operators fix the harsh consonants, local idioms and occasionally different grammar of Indian English, often a source of frustration of those who call in search of tech support and other information. . . . The program evaluates grammar, pronunciation, comprehension and other spoken-language skills, and provides detailed scores for each category.

It uses specially adapted speech-recognition software to score the pronunciation of passages and the stressing of syllables for individual words. The technology also consists of voice-enabled grammar evaluation tests, which identify areas for improvement by highlighting shortcomings and providing examples of correct pronunciation and grammar. . . .

[Previously,] companies tried to ease Western fears of jobs moving offshore by training workers to use American and British accents. Many of them often used fake Western names. However, with resentment in the West waning, most companies are now discouraging their employees from faking accents or names. Instead, they are being asked to speak clearly and avoid accents.

I personally find it a little sad that in order for Indian workers to feel that their work is being appreciated that they have to disguise their true identity as much as possible. It’s certainly true that many Indian call center workers are hard to understand but I have always felt that the depper, more fundamental reason why many Americans resent talking to Indian call center workers has less to do with their accents and more to do with American fears towards their jobs being outsourced.

That is, I think that Americans are more resentful that their jobs may be the next one to be outsourced and because of this implicit threat to their economic security, they are more quick to lash out at the group they perceive as being the “cause” of that threat — Indian workers. Meanwhile, such Americans unfortunately can’t recognize that the real reason why their jobs might be outsourced is not due to Indian workers, but instead due to the fact that they live in a capitalist society.

In other words, one of the basic principles of capitalism is to maximize profit by minimizing labor costs. Further, for various historical and institutional reasons, citizens in most other countries around the world do not enjoy the same standard of living that Americans take for granted. Therefore, it is inevitable that given capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for profit that labor will be given to workers who can be paid less.

Ultimately, outsourcing — or more specifically, American resentment towards outsourcing — has little to do with India. Instead, it has everything to do with capitalism. If Americans want to rebel against outsourcing, they need to attack the source — the American capitalist system, instead of fixating on the most obvious symptom of the issue.

As the young kids say these days, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

November 26, 2006

Written by C.N.

New Internment Pictures Depict Harsher Life

We should know by now that the U.S. government (present one included) is notorious for keeping certain documents secret from the public. But as the New York Times reports, more than sixty years after the fact, new photographs taken by Dorothy Lange of life in some of the prison camps that held some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II portray life in much harsher terms than what many of us thought — or were led to believe:

The infamous episode has been widely chronicled in books and memoirs, as well as in famous photos by Ansel Adams. . . . Adams portrayed the internees in the now-infamous camp at Manzanar, Calif., in heroic poses, lighted against the backdrop of the majestic Sierras mountains. Lange’s images — nearly a hundred of which are being published for the first time — tell a starkly different story. . . .

“They tell us that conditions in the camps were much worse than most people think,” said Linda Gordon, a historian at New York University who edited the book with Gary Y. Okihiro, a historian at Columbia University. Lange’s work unflinchingly illustrates the reality of life during this extraordinary moment in American history when about 110,000 people were moved with their families, sometimes at gunpoint, into horse stalls and tar-paper shacks where they endured brutal heat and bitter cold, filth, dust and open sewers. . . .

The War Relocation Authority hired Lange to document the internments, possibly to demonstrate that the detainees were not being mistreated and international law was not being violated. But at nearly all of the 21 locations Lange visited, the government tried to restrict her. Upon arrival at the assembly centers, the internees passed through two lines of soldiers with bayonets trained on them.

Lange was not allowed to photograph the soldiers, but she did manage some stark images of the horse stalls where the families lived, pictures that are included in the book. Lange photographed hospital patients in outdoor beds beside latrines, exposed to the elements; children neatly dressed for school, kneeling on the hard floor as they wrote in exercise books, because there were no benches or chairs.

I thank the organizers of this project for working to make these forgotten photographs public. It is indeed a sad chapter of American society, but one that we need to be constantly reminded of, in order to fight against the same kinds of events happening again. Sadly, the fact is that despite our best efforts, these kinds of injustices continue to take place, targeting innocent Americans who are singled out as the enemy based solely on their ethnicity.

Does this mean that our efforts at education and awareness through history and photographs such as these are in vain? Not at all. If anything, the injustices would be many times worse if we could not bring evidence like this against them. Thank you Ms. Lange, and Professors Gordon and Okihiro for reminding us of that fact.

November 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Latest Racial Profiling Incident Against Muslims

On the heels of an Iranian American student at UCLA being tazered by police for not showing his student ID, as CBS News reports, the latest incident of racial profiling against Muslims and Arab Americans involves six Muslims Imams recently being removed from a US Airways flight and detained, all because a passenger and the flight crew became suspicious when they prayed aloud as part of their daily routine as Muslims:

A passenger initially raised concerns about the group through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways. She said police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused. . . . Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam. . . .

“The [Council on American-Islamic Relations] will be filing a complaint with relevant authorities in the morning over the treatment of the imams to determine whether the incident was caused by anti-Muslim hysteria by the passengers and/or the airline crew,” Hooper said. “Because, unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it’s one that we’ve been addressing for some time.”

Whenever I hear of incidents like this, on the one hand, I am not shocked to see that Muslims and Arab Americans are still being targeted for suspicion and unequal treatment. On the other hand, even though I know things like this keep occurring, it still makes my blood boil to see just how ignorant and intolerant Americans can be towards people who are different from the White majority norm.

This kind of ignorance is also reflected in the comments to the CBS News article left by “average” readers who defend the treatment towards the Imams and actually blame them for being Muslim and apparently bringing on this treatment onto themselves by merely practicing their religion. I really don’t have the time or energy to point out all the fallacies and prejudices in their arguments, but suffice it to say that judging by the recent election results, their extremist, ignorant, and intolerant opinions are thankfully in the minority of Americans.

November 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

Iranian American Student Tazered at UCLA

You may have heard that last week, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23 year old Iranian American student at UCLA was tazered by campus police after refusing to show his student ID card while in a campus library. A fellow student recorded video of some of the incident and although you can’t really see much in terms of the actual incident, the audio clearly conveys what happened:

As the Associated Press reports, Tabatabainejad feels that he was initially targeted and subsequently tazered because of his Middle Eastern appearance and that he is planning on filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers responsible:

A student who was shocked by a campus police officer’s Taser gun after he refused to show ID at a UCLA library thought he was being singled out by the officer because of his Middle Eastern appearance, his lawyer said. Attorney Stephen Yagman said he plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the U.S.-born student.

Tabatabainejad, 23, was shocked Tuesday night after arguing with a campus police officer who was conducting a routine check of student IDs at the University of California, Los Angeles Powell Library computer lab. Yagman said his client declined to show his school ID because he thought he was being targeted for his appearance. His family is of Iranian descent. . . .

UCLA’s interim chancellor, Norman Abrams, urged the public to withhold judgment while the campus police department investigates. Several civil rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have called for an independent review.

Obviously I wasn’t there to know the exact details of how the incident unfolded. But what I do know is that racial profiling against anybody perceived to be Arab, Middle Eastern, and/or Muslim is a very real fact in American society these days. Even if Tabatabainejad refused to show his student ID, I have to ask why was it necessary to tazer him. Was he brandishing a weapon? Was he threatening the police officer’s life? Usually, those are the only reasons why someone would be tazered, correct?

It seems to me that Tabatabainejad clearly has a case of racial profiling and excessive force on his hands. I hope he prevails and receives justice.

November 19, 2006

Written by C.N.

Vietnamese Indifferent to Bush Visit

As you might have heard, President Bush is in Hanoi right now as Viet Nam hosts the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. It’s not every day that the President of the United States comes to visit Viet Nam. In fact, the only other time was President Clinton’s visit in 2000. So are the Vietnamese excited to have Bush in town? According to the Associated Press, apparently the answer is, not really:

“I don’t care about Bush’s visit,” Lac said in an alleyway parallel to the hotel, where the president’s greeting party was limited to a lone flag-waving American who works for the American Chamber of Commerce. “It doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t do me any harm.” Lac’s indifference, which appeared to be shared by many Vietnamese, was a sharp contrast to the reception that Bill Clinton received in 2000, when he became the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Unlike the joyous crowds that stayed up late for Clinton’s unannounced midnight flight into Hanoi’s international airport — a half-hour drive from downtown — Bush’s late-morning arrival drew mostly the curious rather than the devoted, other than the police maintaining a security perimeter around the hotel. . . . Ton Nu Thi Ninh, deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly, said many Vietnamese, especially veterans who fought the Americans, find the Iraq war unforgivable.

People on the street — even those born since the Vietnam war ended 31 years ago — also dislike the Iraq invasion. “I don’t hate Bush personally, but I strongly opposed his invasion of Iraq,” said Nguyen Thi Tu Oanh, a fourth-year university student from Hanoi. “Vietnamese people have been through so many years of war and they don’t want to see the Iraqis, most of them civilians, to bear the losses and suffering of the war there.”

There you have it. It is certainly understandable that much of Viet Nam is rather turned off by the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq, perceived by many Vietnamese to be another misguided attempt to forcefully impose American-style ideals upon a foreign power. Actually, it’s quite ironic that Bush is visiting the country that many critics are comparing his war in Iraq to. Will being in Viet Nam lead to any sort of spontaneous revelation about history repeating itself for Bush?

I’m not holding my breath . . .

November 16, 2006

Written by C.N.

Election Results for Vietnamese American Candidates

As Vietnamese Americans have been increasing integrating themselves into the American mainstream, their political power has also increased. In fact, many politicians actively court Vietnamese American voters as a reflection of their potential as a strong voting bloc constituency. However, in light of the recent scandal involving Tan Nguyen’s campaign trying to scare Latino immigrants to stay away from the polls, how did Vietnamese American candidates fare in the recent 2006 elections? In most cases, the answer is, not good:

Eighteen Vietnamese-American candidates ran for office in California this election season, and only three won. All three winners were incumbents. What happened to the growing political clout of the state’s Vietnamese community? . . .

Many Vietnamese-Americans suspect the stunning defeat this year of so many candidates has much to do with the scandal surrounding Vietnamese-American congressional candidate Tan Nguyen. . . . Duc Ha, editor of Oneviet.com, says the friendly relationship that Little Saigon worked hard to build with Hispanic communities in California “is now shattered.” Some Hispanic voters quoted by the Los Angeles Times said they were furious about the flier, and that they were motivated in part to go vote because of it. . . .

De Tran, longtime publisher of the now-defunct Viet Merc, in San Jose, says that he’s not disappointed with the election results. . . . “I don’t think this is a setback. You keep having to have more candidates every electoral season. Maybe the new groups will be better prepared next time around, more savvy with coalition building,” Tran says. “The Vietnamese community sees the Cuban community in Florida as a model, one with growing political and economic influences and lobbying power. Eventually there’ll be many Vietnamese-American candidates out of Florida, Texas and California.”

Maybe someday, Vietnamese-Americans will even be present in Capitol Hill, Tran says. What about closer to home? “Not in the next four years,” according to Tran. “We haven’t arrived yet. We are only beginning to discover the electoral process. But beyond that, it’s quite possible that we’ll have a Vietnamese mayor in San Jose. Why not?”

I can only hope that Tan Nguyen’s bonehead goof won’t permanently damage the political power of Vietnamese Americans around the country. As seasoned politicians know, politics is full of ups and downs (among other things), and things are always changing. So if you fall off your horse, all you can do is get back on and keep trying.

November 14, 2006

Written by C.N.

Latest Trend in China: Dogs as Pets

As China continues to becoming more Americanized and “capitalism-ized,” as the Christian Science Monitor reports, the latest status symbol among China’s emerging middle and upper classes is having a dog as a pet. However, with this new trend comes age-old challenges as well:

A generation raised in one-child families is eager to bond with household pets. In Beijing, the number of registered dogs is up 16 percent this year, to 530,000, but the true dog population is likely far higher, as many animals are unregistered. The reason is not only to avoid paying a $75 to $125 registration fee. . . . But regulations being what they are, some dog owners were prepared to flout them, betting that law enforcers had bigger fish to fry.

All that changed in September, when Beijing declared it was stepping up the fight against rabies, a disease that officials say killed more than 2,500 people last year in China. In July, officials in a rural county in Yunnan Province slaughtered 50,000 dogs to contain an outbreak of rabies. Pet dogs were snatched off the street and clubbed to death or hung. Jining City in Shandong Province followed suit after reported deaths from rabies. . . .

But even registered dogs that have had rabies shots are said to be at risk, as police stations need to fill their weekly quotas for dog exterminations. . . .But buyers continue to visit the sprawling outdoor market, especially on weekends when thousands of dogs, big and small, pedigreed and mongrel, are paraded for sale in cages or on leashes. Not all are destined to become household pets, however. . . The dog is leashed and led to a waiting car to be taken to a restaurant and slaughtered for its meat, a common practice in parts of China.

Looks like the clash between old traditional practices and modern Americanized trends continues to rage in China.

November 12, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian American Exit Poll Data

In the wake of the recent election results, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) has released some preliminary exit poll data about the voting patterns of Asian Americans around the country. Below is their press release in its entirety:

AALDEF EXIT POLL OF 4,600 ASIAN AMERICAN VOTERS REVEALS ROBUST SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES IN KEY CONGRESSIONAL AND STATE RACES

76% of Asian Americans in Michigan reject anti-affirmative action referendum.

Asian American voters in eight states continued a decade-long shift to support Democratic candidates, with 79% of those polled favoring Democrats in Tuesday’s congressional and state elections. According to preliminary results of a nonpartisan, multilingual exit poll of over 4,600 Asian American voters, released today by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Democratic candidates in closely-watched races in Virginia, New Jersey and other states were consistently buoyed by Asian American voter turnout.

Most exit poll respondents (87%) said that they had voted in a previous election, while 13% told AALDEF volunteers that they were first-time voters. Over 625 pro bono attorneys, law students, and community activists monitored polling places and surveyed Asian American voters in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung said: “Asian American voters reacted to sharp ideological differences among the candidates and displayed their awareness of party labels. The decade-long trend of Asian American voters favoring Democratic candidates contributed to the dramatic shifts in political power that took place in Tuesday’s midterm elections.”

AALDEF Exit Poll Survey Highlights:

Virginia Senate: After maintaining a slim lead, Democratic candidate Jim Webb was declared the winner by 0.3% of the total vote (49.6%) beating Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen (49.3%), best known among Asian Americans for his derogatory “macaca” remark to a South Asian campaign worker. According to AALDEF’s exit poll of more than 250 Asian American voters, 76% voted for Jim Webb, 21% voted for Sen. Allen, and 3% voted for Glenda Parker.

New Jersey Senate: In this heated Senate race, among more than 370 Asian Americans polled, 77% voted for incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez, while 20% voted for Republican challenger Thomas Kean Jr.—a 57-point margin. 3% of Asian Americans polled voted for other candidates. Among all New Jersey voters, Menendez held his seat by an 8-point margin (53% to 45%).

Maryland Senate: In Maryland’s open Senate seat, among over 200 Asian American voters polled, 73% chose Democrat Ben Cardin, with 24% for Republican Michael Steele, and 3% for Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese. Among the general electorate, 55% voted for Cardin, 44% for Steele, and 2% for Zeese.

Pennsylvania Senate: Among more than 200 Asian American voters polled in Philadelphia, 71% voted for Democratic candidate Bob Casey, while 29% voted for Republican incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum. Among all voters, 59% voted for Casey and 41% voted for Santorum.

Massachusetts Governor: Democratic candidate Deval Patrick, who became the nation’s second African American elected governor, received support from 75% of more than 350 Asian American voters polled in Boston, Dorchester, Lowell and Quincy, with Kerry Healey receiving 21%. Statewide, 56% voted for Patrick, and 35% voted for Healey.

Michigan Proposal 2: Rejecting claims that Asian Americans are hurt by affirmative action programs, three in four Asian American voters voted No to Proposal 2, which seeks to end race- and gender-based affirmative action programs in education, hiring, contracting, and health initiatives. More than 300 Asian American voters—including Arab Americans—participated in AALDEF’s exit poll survey in Michigan. Proposal 2 passed by a wide margin, 58% to 42% .

Illinois Governor: Democratic incumbent Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich defeated his Republican opponent Judy Baar Topinka with a 10-point lead, 50% to 40%. In contrast, 99% of the 170 Asian Americans polled in Chicago voted for Blagojevich, with 1% for Topinka.

New York Attorney General: Of over 2,300 Asian American voters polled in New York City, 82% voted for Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo. Republican contender Jeanine Pirro received 14% of the Asian American vote, with 4% voting for other candidates. Cuomo led Pirro 58% to 40% among all voters statewide.

The 2006 Elections mark the 19th year in which AALDEF has conducted a nonpartisan exit poll of Asian American voters. Additional information on Asian American ethnic groups and population growth data in the eight states surveyed is available upon request.

AALDEF volunteers—the majority of whom spoke one of 15 Asian languages or dialects—conducted the multilingual survey, which was translated into nine languages: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer, Bengali, Arabic, Punjabi, Urdu, and Gujarati. AALDEF’s multilingual exit polls reveal vital information about Asian American voting patterns regularly overlooked in mainstream voter surveys and provide a snapshot of Asian American voter preferences on candidates, political parties, language needs, and other issues of vital importance to their communities. More detailed results from AALDEF’s exit poll will be released in the coming weeks.

We should note that as in past elections, AALDEF’s exit polls concentrated on Asian Americans in large metropolitan areas. As such, these Asian American voters are likely to be more Democratic than those who live in smaller cities or rural areas. Nonetheless, it is clear that among Asian Americans polled by AALDEF, there is a clear consensus in support for the Democrats. Perhaps we as Asian Americans will indeed constitute a powerful bloc voting constituency soon.

November 9, 2006

Written by C.N.

Indian Community in the U.S.

Among all Asian American ethnic groups, Indians consistently stand out as the most socioeconomically successful and one of the fastest-growing. As a reflection of those characteristics, Salon.com has an article that outlines the burgeoning Indian American community in the U.S.:

Not only is the Indian community burgeoning, it’s maturing. Increasingly, after decades of quietly establishing themselves, Indians are becoming more vocal in the American conversation — about politics, ethnicity and many other topics. “I’ve been studying the community for 20 years and in the last four or five years something different has been happening,” said Madhulika Khandelwal, president of the Asian American Center at Queens College in New York. “Indian-Americans are finally out there speaking for themselves.” . . .

Many Indian immigrants arrived in the U.S. focused almost entirely on individual success — getting a top-notch job, making good money and pushing their children to do the same. But things are changing. After the Sept. 11 attacks, many Indian Sikhs, who wear turbans as part of their faith, were mistaken for Muslims — and terrorists. Hundreds were harassed or worse: In Mesa, Ariz., a Sikh gas station owner was shot and killed on Sept. 15, 2001, by a man who told police “all Arabs had to be shot.”

Few knew their rights because few had been engaged politically, said Amardeep Singh, executive director of The Sikh Coalition in New York. “We were caught with our pants down,” he said. “Sept. 11 created a confrontation. We realized we now need to actively involve ourselves in the policy-making process. Otherwise policies will be made that exclude us.”

As this article illustrates, Indian Americans embody a very interesting and, I believe, ultimately good trend among Asian Americans — namely, seizing the opportunity to both assert their American identities and rights to act like, and be treated as, an American just like anybody else on the one hand, and on the other, to also maintain and celebrate elements of their traditional Indian culture.

This phenomenon is probably best embodied in the banghra music mentioned in the article — traditional Indian melodies and chanting mixed with a contemporary hip hop beat. In the process of synthesizing these two sets of cultural elements, Indian American show us all how it is possible to expand the definition of what it means to be an American. In the past, only Whites were entitled to that status. But now, Americans inevitably come from many cultures and have many skin colors, but are still Americans nonetheless.

November 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Sex, Race, and Denial

In American society, race and gender are constructed in manner that privileges some and disadvantages others. The same can be said of racialized gender stereotypes: black men and Asian women are hyper-sexualized, whereas Asian men and black women are desexualized. Asian women marry whites by a ratio of at least 2:1 over Asian men. Given these conditions, Asian males have grown weary of assertions that interracial love is truly colorblind. So, how does all this relate to questions of self-esteem? What are the consequences of racialized gender stereotypes?

An undated article titled The Asian Dating Dilemma: It Boils Down to Self-Esteem and Perception, by Harry Mok, was featured in Blast@explode.com, an Asian American online publication. This article was posted in the forum on September 28, 2006, for the purpose of edifying Asian men into disconnecting their self-esteem from racial stereotypes that disadvantage them. In short, Asian men are instructed to pretend that stereotypes don’t exist, and that the distresses caused, are fabrications of the mentally susceptible.

What began as a promising narrative about growing up Asian, in a predominantly white residential area, degenerated into a misguided reprimand of Asian men, as weak-minded dupes “feeding their own anxieties,” as well as overt trivialization of racism. This article ostensibly pays tribute to Asians who endured racism in the United States, but its conclusion epitomizes the Asian American traditionalist mindset: denying racism’s impact. Such mindset is prevalent among the first generation or immigrant parents who emphasize hard work as the solution to racism; thus living up to the model minority stereotype, so admired by whites.

About 80% of the article is dedicated to accounting the author’s personal experience, explaining how racial stereotypes affected his self-esteem. Clearly, he was victimized by individuals, as well as by a system that fosters anti-Asian racism. The remaining 20% of his text is a denial of social forces. Instead of encouraging Asian males to speak up and scrutinize American society, Mok prefers to lull his fellow co-ethnics into political complacency, by suggesting that racism is only “in the mind.”

Sometimes when I’m introduced to the non-Asian boyfriends of Asian women, an image pops into my head of a guy gloating and flaunting his sexual prowess. For an instant I feel powerless, “He’s a better man than I.” The moment passes and I realize it’s ridiculous, but nonetheless, it lingers in my mind.

Viewing myself through the filter of Asian male stereotypes has warped my self-esteem. I worry about how others perceive me and I’m angry. But my anger is not aimed at the Asian women who won’t date Asian men, nor is it aimed at the white guys obsessed with Asian women.

I save my wrath for myself. I’m the only one to blame for feeding my own anxieties. I know now that for the most part, it is just in my mind. Stereotypes, no matter who they’re aimed at, aren’t real. I wish more people would wake up to this, like I have.

The similarity between Mok’s self-criticism and Charlie Chan’s passivity in the face of racist diatribes is unsettling. If Charlie Chan takes no offense at racist pronouncements, then why should other Asians?

Perhaps a more insightful critique emanates from the research of political analyst and author Michael Parenti. In his book, The Culture Struggle (2006), Parenti examines New Age “hyper-individualist self-empowerment” beliefs, promoted by inspiration gurus. These spiritual leaders, urge their followers to focus internally and give up on trying to change the world (i.e., fighting racism, sexism, economic exploitation, and other injustices). In this context, Mok’s simplistic approach corresponds to these practices. It would be like telling a patient who has breathing problems, that his poor health is psychosomatic, and that the coal-burning plant in his neighborhood has nothing to do with it.

To accept Mok’s convictions, is to shrink away from the responsibility of standing up to racist culture. Telling Asian men to blame themselves instead of protesting or being angry at racial discrimination, is reminiscent of justifications used in the defense of the Hindu caste system. Parenti articulates:

“Individual will is all-powerful and determines one’s fate. Those who are poor and hungry, or who have been raped or murdered, must have willed it upon themselves in some way. Suffering, is merely the result of imperfect consciousness.
If you create your own reality, then you have no one blame but yourself-
or your past selves. Gender, class, and racial oppression are of one’s own devising, or one’s just desserts.
(p. 116).

There is nothing unethical about improving one’s social assets by physical exercising, grooming, cultivating personal tranquility and developing better social skills. Such measures may enhance romantic life for many singles, regardless of race. But to assert that the social reality of race is merely “a matter of mindset and self-will,” is to ventriloquize white racism. This type of attitude is what makes “model minorities” into willing pawns of white supremacy.

Self-esteem is a by-product of empowerment. Empowerment comes from activism and the attainment of consciousness; understanding the importance of solidarity and the need to struggle against racial, sexual, and social injustice. Empowerment is less likely to be achieved by individualized self-absorbed pursuits, than by unified politically cognizant efforts.

Still, there are those who advocate witticisms about genitalia, or sneering at bigoted louts, as the solution to the question of self-esteem. Chest-thumping behavior is unlikely to affect racial hierarchy or privilege, because emulating white hegemonic masculinity only reaffirms the very system that disempowers Asian Americans.

Asian American men would do better by rejecting demands for self-reproach, when confronting those who exploit or indulge in racial stereotypes for personal gain. Often, these individuals misuse “freedom of choice” as a ready-made defense for racial privilege. Coerced contrition and sociopolitical apathy does little in the way of empowering Asian Americans, but does much for reactionaries, white racists, and Joy Luck Club (JLC) pseudo-feminists.

November 7, 2006

Written by C.N.

China To Increase Aid & Investment in Africa

As another sign that China is continuing its quest to become a global economic superpower, China has announced that it will pledge billions in aid to African nations and significantly increase its trade with the African continent:

China is launching a sweeping effort to expand its access to Africa’s oil and markets, pledging billions of dollars in aid and loans. Chinese entrepreneurs on Sunday signed deals with African governments and firms worth $1.9 billion, state media reported. Some 16 deals were signed at the conclusion of a conference of Chinese and African entrepreneurs on the sidelines of a two-day forum in Beijing attended by dozens of African leaders.

African leaders at the forum said they welcomed Chinese investment and business ties, but Beijing also faces criticism that it is treating Africa like a colonial territory and supports regimes with poor human rights records. . . . Human rights activists accuse China of supporting governments such as Sudan and Zimbabwe that are accused of chronic abuses. African business groups complain about poor treatment by Chinese companies and competition from a flood of low-cost imports.

But a succession of African leaders who spoke Saturday said they want closer commercial ties with China and hope to learn from its two-decade-old boom as they try to reduce poverty.

I suppose it was inevitable that China would eventually expand its economic presence around the world and in effect, pick up where the U.S. is perhaps leaving off. In fact, I might even say that China is following in the U.S.’s footsteps in more ways than one — increasing its financial and economic role in a foreign country, then perhaps slowly increases its political clout with that nation’s leaders as well.

If indeed this is China’s strategy, it should know that previous results involving the U.S. have not always turned out well. You might even say that the current global tensions directed at the U.S. from various parts of the world are a direct testament to the U.S.’s “economic imperialism.” With that in mind, let China be warned — bring it if you want, but don’t make the same mistakes the U.S. made — and continues to make.