Archive for May 2004

Minority Report: Response 2

May 31, 2004
If you want to submit your senryu poem,
click here

M

y past two entries have further elicited responses from some of you… and nothing from others. It is a touchy subject, I realize, and I hope that I am not turning anyone off by writing about it. The guy at the bar just pushed the wrong button in me and I can’t seem to find the off-switch.

Writing about this subject allows me to think about how I relate to others. It is–as some have stated–a knee-jerk reaction to label whites who root for whites as budding, closet, or hard-core racists. And this is unfair, as most knee-jerk reactions are. So I need to examine my own reaction to this guy in the bar, because it will force me to think about my own place in society.

A number of issues were raised and I would like to address one. Can a group that is a majority in one aspect of society be considered a minority in another? I.e. should we consider whites a minority in the NBA? I wonder if the Japanese feel this way? The Japanese professional baseball league–unless they’ve changed the rule recently–limits the number of foreign players on each team to three and only two on the field at any one time. This prevents the Japanese players from becoming the “minority” to superior non-Japanese players. Don’t you think it should be based on the individual’s talent and not ethnicity or nationality? Of course, their arguement is that if a team was dominated by non-Japanese the fans would not stand for it, attendance would dwindle and they would go out of business. Almost sounds like the MLB before Jackie Robinson. But I’m glad the NBA is more enlightened. They play the best players. They are not concerned with who becomes a minority. They put out a winning team and everything else will fall into place.

This issue is actually a very important question for me because it involves affirmative action. Asians comprise a signficant percentage of students in post-secondary school. If a white is a minority in the NBA because there are more blacks, then conversely is an Asian considered a non-minority and no longer eligible for the considerations sometimes given to minorities for admissions and scholarships? Because the number of Asians in college is significant, is that justification to recategorize them irrespective of their history in mainstream society? My father–born in America–had to relocate during WWII. I was beat up as a kid for being a ching chong Chinaman. We have US citizenship; we speak English. So why were we treated this way? We were racially different. We were a minority. But now, I am told that purely because I–or any Asian–am a member of a group that that is demographically (read: percentage of society) over-represented in one aspect of society, academia, in which hard work has translated into success, many would say I no longer deserve minority status.

So this begs the question: What is the definition of a “minority”? Is it based strictly on numbers? Recent voices against affirmative action would seem to suggest so, as would the idea that whites are a minority in the NBA. Personally, I am disturbed by this definition, because that would mean that I would be a minority in American society for the rest of my life; that I would never be a member of the mainstream.There is no way that Asians will ever equal or out-number all the races in the US. So I ask, am I to be a minority for the rest of my life? Will there ever be a way that I could become a member of the majority? Ideally, yes. If I am accepted as an individual among a large group of indviduals called “Americans,” then yeah, I can be a part of the majority. It would be great to be accepted as a contributing member of society based on my talents and abilities. And, ideally, this would creep into all aspects of society including politics, business, academia and sports.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. My place in society is often determined by my race, whether it be non-minority status in college or deserving of slower service at a restaurant or retail store–I should point out that this happens to me more often in DC/Virginia than any other place I’ve ever lived. As a result, being a minority is more than just being fewer in number–we are not looking for a quorum. Being a minority also includes the issues and experiences, past and present, that are a direct result of being fewer in number. Did a Larry Bird or John Stockton (I think there were even fewer whites in their heyday) suffer indiginities such as smaller contracts because they were a minority? Yes, I am of the opinion that a minority group in society should be defined by more than pure numbers. but that’s only my opinion.

And by the way, I did not root for Shinjo or any other Japanese players after Nomo. Fro me, it is truly not about the race. It is about the talent (I loved Sandy Koufax), the character (Kobe is out!) and any affinity that I may feel–like being an underdog–toward a player as a human being.

I guess I’m corny, but am I being unrealistic?

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Minority Report: Response 2

May 31, 2004
If you want to submit your senryu poem,
click here

M

y past two entries have further elicited responses from some of you… and nothing from others. It is a touchy subject, I realize, and I hope that I am not turning anyone off by writing about it. The guy at the bar just pushed the wrong button in me and I can’t seem to find the off-switch.

Writing about this subject allows me to think about how I relate to others. It is–as some have stated–a knee-jerk reaction to label whites who root for whites as budding, closet, or hard-core racists. And this is unfair, as most knee-jerk reactions are. So I need to examine my own reaction to this guy in the bar, because it will force me to think about my own place in society.

A number of issues were raised and I would like to address one. Can a group that is a majority in one aspect of society be considered a minority in another? I.e. should we consider whites a minority in the NBA? I wonder if the Japanese feel this way? The Japanese professional baseball league–unless they’ve changed the rule recently–limits the number of foreign players on each team to three and only two on the field at any one time. This prevents the Japanese players from becoming the “minority” to superior non-Japanese players. Don’t you think it should be based on the individual’s talent and not ethnicity or nationality? Of course, their arguement is that if a team was dominated by non-Japanese the fans would not stand for it, attendance would dwindle and they would go out of business. Almost sounds like the MLB before Jackie Robinson. But I’m glad the NBA is more enlightened. They play the best players. They are not concerned with who becomes a minority. They put out a winning team and everything else will fall into place.

This issue is actually a very important question for me because it involves affirmative action. Asians comprise a signficant percentage of students in post-secondary school. If a white is a minority in the NBA because there are more blacks, then conversely is an Asian considered a non-minority and no longer eligible for the considerations sometimes given to minorities for admissions and scholarships? Because the number of Asians in college is significant, is that justification to recategorize them irrespective of their history in mainstream society? My father–born in America–had to relocate during WWII. I was beat up as a kid for being a ching chong Chinaman. We have US citizenship; we speak English. So why were we treated this way? We were racially different. We were a minority. But now, I am told that purely because I–or any Asian–am a member of a group that that is demographically (read: percentage of society) over-represented in one aspect of society, academia, in which hard work has translated into success, many would say I no longer deserve minority status.

So this begs the question: What is the definition of a “minority”? Is it based strictly on numbers? Recent voices against affirmative action would seem to suggest so, as would the idea that whites are a minority in the NBA. Personally, I am disturbed by this definition, because that would mean that I would be a minority in American society for the rest of my life; that I would never be a member of the mainstream.There is no way that Asians will ever equal or out-number all the races in the US. So I ask, am I to be a minority for the rest of my life? Will there ever be a way that I could become a member of the majority? Ideally, yes. If I am accepted as an individual among a large group of indviduals called “Americans,” then yeah, I can be a part of the majority. It would be great to be accepted as a contributing member of society based on my talents and abilities. And, ideally, this would creep into all aspects of society including politics, business, academia and sports.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. My place in society is often determined by my race, whether it be non-minority status in college or deserving of slower service at a restaurant or retail store–I should point out that this happens to me more often in DC/Virginia than any other place I’ve ever lived. As a result, being a minority is more than just being fewer in number–we are not looking for a quorum. Being a minority also includes the issues and experiences, past and present, that are a direct result of being fewer in number. Did a Larry Bird or John Stockton (I think there were even fewer whites in their heyday) suffer indiginities such as smaller contracts because they were a minority? Yes, I am of the opinion that a minority group in society should be defined by more than pure numbers. but that’s only my opinion.

And by the way, I did not root for Shinjo or any other Japanese players after Nomo. Fro me, it is truly not about the race. It is about the talent (I loved Sandy Koufax), the character (Kobe is out!) and any affinity that I may feel–like being an underdog–toward a player as a human being.

I guess I’m corny, but am I being unrealistic?

Empty Praise: Response

May 29, 2004
If you want to submit your senryu poem,
click here

It was amazing how varied the comments were to yesterdays post. I think I exhausted my “racial issues” energy for the next month or so, but I just want to squeeze out the last few drops and respond to some of the comments.

I was going to use my normal Q & R format but change my mind. Words in direct response to one particular comment may be misconstrued as criticism, disaproval or censure. That is not my intention. The commenters on this site are all good people who express their opinion. I never prejudge or view their comments as negative. I accept them for what they are: A point of view different from mine. I believe that dialogue is important and the more we know each other, the better we will understand each other. Expressing one’s view is a good thing. Otherwise we end up in a society with a worldview of zero.

Is there a double standard if minorities root for minorities?

The guy I talked to at Glory Days said he rooted for a team that incorporate more white palyers. This could be compared to Asians rooting for Ichiro of the Seattle Mariners or Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets. This could be construed as a kind of double standard. Now, if you are Asian and you root for the Mariners or Rockets specifically because there is an Asian on the team, then yeah it would be similar, but not necessarily the same.

Now, I am JA but I have never rooted for Ichiro. I see nothing to root for. And I will never root for Matsui. Why? Cuz he’s a Yankee. It has nothing to do with his race and everything to do with being a (former) Dodger fan. I share absolutely nothing with these guys. I rooted for Nomo when he first came because, like Yao, he was an underdog, and being a minority, being an underdog myself, I loved to root for him.

I root for Yao Ming not because he’s Asian, but because he’s an underdog. An Asian in the NBA has to be considered an underdog–think of all the stereotypes: unaggressive, slow, can’t jump–and that is the reason why I root for him. But I don’t root for the Rockets, ever. I also rooted for Spud Webb (black) because he was an underdog; he was short like me. I also root for Mark Maddog Madsen (white) because he looks kinda dorky and dorks–like me–are always underdogs in the NBA (re: Kurt Rambis), and we also went to the same school. the bottom line is that I root for particular players for reasons that go beyond race. We share something in common that bonds me to them, from being short, to being a dork, to challenging the stereotypes of being an Asian in America.And this is the point the most crucial point, because it separates me from the white guy I was talking to.

Yes, I root for Yao because he’s Asian, but not because he’s ethnically Asian or has the same color skin as me, but because he faces the same challenges that I face: An Asian fighting against stereotypes. And I think that is why many ethnic minorities–black, brown, yellow–will root for people of the same ethnicity or heritage; they can relate to something that is internal, NOT external. The vibes I got from the guy in the bar was that he roots for whites because they share the same skin color. Not the same heritage, not the same struggles. And what strikes me about this kind of allegience is that people like him root for whites because they are not Black or Hispanic or Asian. The distinction he is making is purely skin tone and so the distinction is clear. If Szczerbiak of the T-Wolves was Black, he wouldn’t root for him so loudly when he hits a three. Is this guy from Minnesota? No. Did he go to the same school as Szczerbiak? Probably not. Is he the same ethnicity as Szczerbiak? I don’t know. The ONLY thing he mentioned that would bond him to Szczerbiak and others was that they were white. Which means, they were not Black. He is making a distinction that is purely race based. The next time you hear someone rooting for whites because they are white, ask them why? I bet you’d find that many root because, for no other reason, they aren’t black.

So I don’t think that there is a double standard for me.

I will continue my thoughts tomorrow. I gotta go grocery shopping with M…

Empty Praise: Response

May 29, 2004
If you want to submit your senryu poem,
click here

It was amazing how varied the comments were to yesterdays post. I think I exhausted my “racial issues” energy for the next month or so, but I just want to squeeze out the last few drops and respond to some of the comments.

I was going to use my normal Q & R format but change my mind. Words in direct response to one particular comment may be misconstrued as criticism, disaproval or censure. That is not my intention. The commenters on this site are all good people who express their opinion. I never prejudge or view their comments as negative. I accept them for what they are: A point of view different from mine. I believe that dialogue is important and the more we know each other, the better we will understand each other. Expressing one’s view is a good thing. Otherwise we end up in a society with a worldview of zero.

Is there a double standard if minorities root for minorities?

The guy I talked to at Glory Days said he rooted for a team that incorporate more white palyers. This could be compared to Asians rooting for Ichiro of the Seattle Mariners or Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets. This could be construed as a kind of double standard. Now, if you are Asian and you root for the Mariners or Rockets specifically because there is an Asian on the team, then yeah it would be similar, but not necessarily the same.

Now, I am JA but I have never rooted for Ichiro. I see nothing to root for. And I will never root for Matsui. Why? Cuz he’s a Yankee. It has nothing to do with his race and everything to do with being a (former) Dodger fan. I share absolutely nothing with these guys. I rooted for Nomo when he first came because, like Yao, he was an underdog, and being a minority, being an underdog myself, I loved to root for him.

I root for Yao Ming not because he’s Asian, but because he’s an underdog. An Asian in the NBA has to be considered an underdog–think of all the stereotypes: unaggressive, slow, can’t jump–and that is the reason why I root for him. But I don’t root for the Rockets, ever. I also rooted for Spud Webb (black) because he was an underdog; he was short like me. I also root for Mark Maddog Madsen (white) because he looks kinda dorky and dorks–like me–are always underdogs in the NBA (re: Kurt Rambis), and we also went to the same school. the bottom line is that I root for particular players for reasons that go beyond race. We share something in common that bonds me to them, from being short, to being a dork, to challenging the stereotypes of being an Asian in America.And this is the point the most crucial point, because it separates me from the white guy I was talking to.

Yes, I root for Yao because he’s Asian, but not because he’s ethnically Asian or has the same color skin as me, but because he faces the same challenges that I face: An Asian fighting against stereotypes. And I think that is why many ethnic minorities–black, brown, yellow–will root for people of the same ethnicity or heritage; they can relate to something that is internal, NOT external. The vibes I got from the guy in the bar was that he roots for whites because they share the same skin color. Not the same heritage, not the same struggles. And what strikes me about this kind of allegience is that people like him root for whites because they are not Black or Hispanic or Asian. The distinction he is making is purely skin tone and so the distinction is clear. If Szczerbiak of the T-Wolves was Black, he wouldn’t root for him so loudly when he hits a three. Is this guy from Minnesota? No. Did he go to the same school as Szczerbiak? Probably not. Is he the same ethnicity as Szczerbiak? I don’t know. The ONLY thing he mentioned that would bond him to Szczerbiak and others was that they were white. Which means, they were not Black. He is making a distinction that is purely race based. The next time you hear someone rooting for whites because they are white, ask them why? I bet you’d find that many root because, for no other reason, they aren’t black.

So I don’t think that there is a double standard for me.

I will continue my thoughts tomorrow. I gotta go grocery shopping with M…

June topic

May 28, 2004

Change of topic please,
Poems make me think a lot,
Spare my brain sensei.

by ekin

Interesting poem. If nothing else, it made me laugh… Okay here’s the next topic… But remember the rules of composition. Read my comments for the May’s submisions. For a refresher on the basics, read this. Rule of thumb. Maintain the syllable count, try to draw a picture that is evocative through text, and reflect a moving or insightful aspect of the topic, preferably in a comical way. All submissions should be in English, and should reflect the topic. Poems that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered.

This month’s topic: graduation

Using the topic word in the poem is the usual practice, but if you can convey the topic without it, that is fine as well, but be sure it is clear. Don’t expect the reader–me–to interpolate your topic. For example, with this months topic, words such as “diploma” or “pomp and circumstance” would suggest a graduation, but “taking photos” or “sittin in an auditorium” would not necessarily suggest a graduation and would fail to address the topic.

One poem per person–your first submission–so you may want to take your time and think about a good one before submitting, but it is up to you. Please submit your poem to this entry.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Sarah Marie and dawn_1o9 for their support by recently bookmarking me on RBJ. And if I haven’t mentioned it yet, thanks to the following for bookmarkng me as well: marie, ms. c, randomguru, rie, sam, shiz, spygirL, taku nishi, yohei.

Empty Praise

I will respond tomorrow to some of the various comments made to yesterday’s post. I think dialog is a good thing, don’t you?

June topic

May 28, 2004

Change of topic please,
Poems make me think a lot,
Spare my brain sensei.

by ekin

Interesting poem. If nothing else, it made me laugh… Okay here’s the next topic… But remember the rules of composition. Read my comments for the May’s submisions. For a refresher on the basics, read this. Rule of thumb. Maintain the syllable count, try to draw a picture that is evocative through text, and reflect a moving or insightful aspect of the topic, preferably in a comical way. All submissions should be in English, and should reflect the topic. Poems that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered.

This month’s topic: graduation

Using the topic word in the poem is the usual practice, but if you can convey the topic without it, that is fine as well, but be sure it is clear. Don’t expect the reader–me–to interpolate your topic. For example, with this months topic, words such as “diploma” or “pomp and circumstance” would suggest a graduation, but “taking photos” or “sittin in an auditorium” would not necessarily suggest a graduation and would fail to address the topic.

One poem per person–your first submission–so you may want to take your time and think about a good one before submitting, but it is up to you. Please submit your poem to this entry.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Sarah Marie and dawn_1o9 for their support by recently bookmarking me on RBJ. And if I haven’t mentioned it yet, thanks to the following for bookmarkng me as well: marie, ms. c, randomguru, rie, sam, shiz, spygirL, taku nishi, yohei.

Empty Praise

I will respond tomorrow to some of the various comments made to yesterday’s post. I think dialog is a good thing, don’t you?

Empty Praise: Identifying by Race

May 27, 2004

R

ecently, Sleetse wrote that he was tired of being a “glob.” I was surprised and flattered that he remembered the word I “coined” in nlute, a short narrative of selected periods of my life. I too was a glob–good little Oritental boy–not because I was genetically predisposed to be a “model minority” but because others expected it from me.

I have always been aware of my racial identity. Born and raised in the 50s and 60s–before and during the civil rights movement–a non-white was always accutely aware of being, well, non-white. My mother never insisted that we learn Japanese. Quite the opposite, she wanted to learn English along with her children as they grew up. She wanted her kids to be pure Americans. But as a child, I never felt pure. Not because I didn’t want to be, and not because of my parent. My identity as a non-white, a Japanese American was being forged by those around me. All my neighbors were white or hispanic and I was the good little Oriental boy (as well as the ching-chong Chinaman and ah-so Nip). It was difficult to live up to the expectations of being an Oritental boy, and failing to do so created, at first, a sense of guilt, then a sense of radicalism, the feeling of being pressured too much and ultimately rebelling against everyone and everything. Of course, back then, I was told not only by whites but by JA community leaders that being identified as a “model minority” was a good thing. It suggested that mainstream (read: white) society recognized our good qualities and held us in high esteem. These qualities? Hard-working, uncomplaining, sorta like the definition of the model slave… When will people learn that this kind of identity is demeaning? By identifying a racial group as the “other” is to objectify it. By categorizing and studying them, raising them as an object to be emulated–by other minorities, of course, not whites–don’t they realize that they are delegating us to the realm of the sub-human.

But I’m not here to rag on American society. Because, in truth, this phenomenon is not exclusive to America. The character on the right is a plastic blow-up toy that was all the rage in Japan in the early 1960s. She is called Dakko-chan. Literally, dakko means to carry in one’s arm, and -chan is a diminutive suffix that replaces the more adult -san, similar to “-ette” in French or “Xiao” (little) in Chinese.

As you can see, this little toy does not represent a Japanese person, nor any other East Asian or White. Neither is it an animal of any species I know. It has big lips and black skin and is wearing a grass skirt. Yes, that’s right, it’s supposed to represent an African female. Obviously, the Japanese of the 1960s had the sensitivity that would make any good ol’ boy proud. But I find it repulsive and embarrassing.

When I bring this up to a Japanese person old enough to be familiar with the doll, their first reaction is often, “How nostalgic! It was so cute.” And of course, their first line of defense is usually, “It wasn’t meant to be offensive. It was created to be cute. What’s wrong with thinking that Africans are cute? Isn’t that a positive approach?” Obviously, these Japanese people have never read Orientalism by Edward Said. The more knowledgeable among them will also come back with a Western example: Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman. It’s a British story of a sharp little Indian boy who is chased by a tiger but eventually outwits it as the tiger ends up running around a tree and melting into butter. So this Indian boy, black and poor, is smarter than the tiger–Oh look, aren’t Indians actually smart? Further, the descriptions of the boy and his family are offensive (read above link), and the story has been banned as racially inappropriate in most schools. But, there are websites for it, and the book is still being sold widely. People still don’t realize that images identifying one specific group as a whole–even, or especially, if it is an attempt to point out a good trait–is still identifying the “other”, and is ultimately demeaning.

So what got me on this train of thought? Last week, when I went to my favorite watering hole, I conversed with this guy at the bar about basketball. He was rooting for the Minnesota Timberwolves and trash talking the Lakers and LA and while I’m not particularly a Laker fan, I do hold a bit of nostalgia for the City of Angels, and was willing to defend her honor. Well, this guy–a white guy in a dress shirt and tie, likely straight from work at some office–was raving about how great Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant and Shaq were, that these black players were incredibly talented.

I asked him if he was from Minnesota.

“Naw, I’m from around here,” he said matter of factly. “I’m rooting for Minnesota because they play more whites.” I’m not sure what surprised me more, the fact that he actually said it, or that there was no hint of malice or malevolence in his voice. Apparently, rooting for a team based on its racial make-up–a team made of the same rather than the “other”–was nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about. It was a part of who he is, and perhaps, for him, a part of being American. Now that’s a scary thought…