Houston, We Have a Problem

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I was happy for the Houston Astros this week when they won their first ever World Series. As A Cubs fan, I can relate to years of disappointing seasons and the elation of finally having your team come through. But my happiness is tempered by the behavior of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game Three of the series.

Gurriel, who had just hit a home run off of Japanese national Yu Darvish, laughed and made a slanted eyes gesture at the pitcher while savoring his feat. Witnesses also reported that he used the slur “Chinito,” which is Spanish for “little Chinese person.” While Gurriel apologized and claimed he meant no disrespect for Darvish, the incident hit a bit too close to home for me. You see, I have a Chinese daughter.

When I told my daughter about the incident, she revealed that she too has been on the receiving end of that mean-spirited slanted-eyes gesture. It happened to her at her elementary school when she was just a little kid, and it happened this past summer in Sweden when she and her soccer teammates were enjoying a local amusement park. I was appalled and saddened, yet I knew when we adopted her that she would probably face racism.

I was also disappointed that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gave Gurriel a five game suspension but allowed him to finish the Series. As Gary Mayeda, National President of the Japanese American Citizens League, said, “It’s like getting punished as a kid, but having your parents say, ‘Well, we’ll punish you next year.'” (abc7.com, Nov. 1, 2017) Ironically, my daughter found the five game suspension a bit harsh.

It’s hard enough being of a different race in a white-dominated society. My daughter has had issues with looking different and trying to meet the Western standard of beauty. She doesn’t need to be reminded of those differences by small-minded people. And Gurriel, who is Cuban himself, should know better than to disparage someone of a minority culture.

I hope the loss of pay does hurt Gurriel enough to remind him of what he’s done. I hope it encourages him to think twice about the way he interacts with other players and with people in his day to day life. He did get a little taste of condemnation when Darvish’s teammate Rich Hill was on the mound in Game 6. He took his time when Gurriel was at bat so that fans had plenty of time to boo the Astros player. (Yahoo!Sports, Nov. 1, 2017)

Darvish himself, though, seemed to be more forgiving. He put out a statement acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and that he hopes Gurriel learns from his. In Darvish’s own words, ” If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger.” (Yahoo!Sports)

So I’m happy for Houston fans. But Gurriel’s thoughtless gestures reminds us we still have a long way to go in race relations in this world.

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Costumes and Controversy

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71BQabb5+rL._SL1500_It’s Halloween, so that means time for more skirmishes in the culture wars of the new millennium. Readers of my blog are familiar with my opposition to Indian sports mascots and dressing up in ways that demean racial and ethnic minorities. But even I am shaking my head at some of the clothing choices deemed cultural appropriation these days.

The latest controversy surrounds dressing up like the Disney animated character Moana, from the movie of the same name. Moana is a spunky Pacific Islander whose quest to save her people forms the plot of the 2016 feature. The controversy arose when a blogger wrote about why she wouldn’t allow her white daughter to dress up as Moana for Halloween. It wasn’t right, she reasoned, to appropriate the dress of a non-white culture. But Moana is a fictional character, and wearing an outfit that looks like the one in the movie is hardly demeaning to anyone.

Disney has made a real effort in the past few decades to present heroes and heroines from cultures other than the dominant white Anglo one. Shouldn’t we be encouraging our little girls to admire and emulate characters from other cultures? The blogger even questioned whether allowing her brown-eyed, brunette daughter to go as the ice queen Elsa might be sending her the message that only blonde, blue-eyed women are desirable. That is way over-thinking the process of selecting a Halloween costume, if you ask me.

Even in the realm of ordinary fashion, culture warriors are taking the issue of cultural appropriation to ridiculous extremes. Can we agree that there is a huge difference between dressing in blackface or Indian war paint and wearing hoop earrings? Apparently not, to some. Not long ago, a group of Latina students at Claremont McKenna College protested that white women should not be wearing hoop earrings, which are part of Latina culture. Similar arguments have occurred over white women styling their hair in cornrows.

The term cultural appropriation has taken on a very negative connotation, and I myself have used it to describe demeaning depictions of minorities by whites. But in a way, cultural appropriation is an integral part of the American experience. As we have welcomed immigrants of various races and ethnicities, we have also come to appreciate and incorporate styles, cuisine, music, and art from these various cultures.

On Halloween and every day, we should be respectful of others from varied backgrounds and identities. There are some very clear cut instances of white people trashing the cultures of ethnic and racial minorities. It’s kind of like what has famously been said about pornography: You’ll know it when you see it. A little common sense and sensitivity are called for so that we don’t start to compartmentalize and segregate ourselves into a narrow definition of what constitutes our culture.

 

Hidden v. Overt Racism

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I prefer a Richard Spencer to a Donald Trump. Richard Spencer is the white nationalist whose recent appearance at the University of Florida created a security nightmare for the university and prompted Florida governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. Spencer was basically shouted down by a preponderance of protesters who object to his overt racism.

Spencer’s stated goal is the creation of a “white ethno-state” in America. (“His Kampf,” Graeme Wood, Atlantic Monthly, June, 2017) In his now infamous “Hail Trump” speech, Spencer stated:

To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward … For us, it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man …. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet.

Spencer also supports abortion rights because it will reduce the number of nonwhites in the world, who are, according to him, too stupid to use birth control.

There is nothing subtle or open to interpretation here. Thus, as hateful and disgusting as Spencer and his ideology are, it is easy to counter and criticize them.

On the other hand, our president is (only slightly )more subtle. Trump ridicules Gold Star families, but only when they’re brown. Trump throws paper towels at hurricane victims and minimizes their suffering, but only when they’re brown. Trump calls peaceful protesters “sons of bitches,” but only when they’re brown. In each case, he and his supporters can declare that they are misunderstood or that the media is lying about Trump’s behavior. They can couch his casual racism in vague concepts of patriotism.

I’m not saying that the beliefs of neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer aren’t dangerous. But they are clear cut. We know what we are dealing with and fighting against. Much more difficult is the implied bigotry underlying Donald Trump’s words and actions as president. His hollow embrace of the American flag masks his assault on the American values of liberty and equality for all.

 

The World in Black and White

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When I was about 9 years old, our family got our first color television set. It was a wonder to us and a plague to my father, who spent endless hours trying to get the color adjusted properly. People on early TV shows always looked orange or green, it seemed, but it was exciting to see the television world full of color. It was like that moment when Dorothy gets deposited in Oz, and she steps out into a new and beautiful world.

The advent of color TV coincided with a flowering of expression and political activism in the United States. The civil rights movement had given birth to the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the beginning of a larger push toward affording blacks equal rights to whites. Growing unrest over US involvement in the Vietnam War led to protests and violent clashes with police. The late Sixties was the time of hippies, free love, and drug experimentation. Many in America, youth in particular, rebelled against the homogeneity and conservatism of the 1950s.

The Fifties were a prosperous time for many, and after the deprivations of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II, Americans naturally craved comfort and security. The problem was that nonconformity was frowned upon, and prosperity and security remained elusive for blacks. So although some of the unrest and unruliness of the Sixties was negative, overall the era brought about progress for women and minorities.

Trump’s America seems to be a return to black and white. So much of his political platform and presidential agenda are designed to turn back the clock on civil rights, reproductive freedom, and freedom of expression. During the campaign, for instance, he called nonwhite immigrants criminals, rapists, and terrorists. He questioned the validity of Barack Obama’s U.S. birth certificate until late in the campaign. He said that women who had abortions should be punished and bragged about grabbing women’s genitals against their will. This was dismissed by his supporters as “locker room talk.” It seemed clear to those not dazzled by his reality TV fame that his slogan “Make America Great Again” really meant “Make America White Again.”

As president, Trump has put his reactionary views into action – decreeing a de facto travel ban on foreign Muslims, appointing an anti-civil rights attorney general, removing the contraceptive mandate from Obamacare, calling for a ban on transgender individuals in the military. He has made both veiled and overt threats against press freedom and taken exception to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. He has called these peaceful protestors “sons of bitches” while refusing to condemn white nationalists marching in Charlottesville and shouting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.”

Seeing things in black and white is an apt metaphor for both the conformist Fifties and today’s politically polarized environment. It is incredibly depressing to see the hard-fought gains of the Sixties and Seventies being undone by the current administration with the complicity of the Republican-dominated Congress. I can only hope that the many Americans who have grown to love a world of color will rise up and demand that our country move forward, not backward, in the advancement of freedom and human rights.

Thank You, President Trump

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Dear President Trump,

On behalf of a divided nation, thank you. Your insensitive and thinly veiled racist jabs at Colin Kaepernick and other black NFL players has had some beautiful unintended consequences.

Prior to your latest childish and angry tweet, wherein you called peaceful protesters “sons of bitches,” a few NFL players had been taking a stand (so to speak) by taking a knee during the national anthem at the start of games. Since your remarks, entire teams of NFL players, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, have chosen to remain off the field rather  than salute a flag that stands for freedoms they find far too elusive. More and more players have chosen this dignified and nonviolent method of protesting police brutality and institutional racism. So rather than do away with the practice, your hateful comments have created a tidal wave.

Another unintended consequence of your hate-spewing bile is that you have fostered unity among players, coaches, and others who support their teammates in their struggles to right injustice. Last night at the Dallas Cowboys game, the entire team including the coach took a knee to make such a statement of solidarity. Then they stood, arms locked together, during the anthem. All of this had been agreed upon beforehand in conversations that may never have taken place had you not had one of your Twitter tantrums.

I have also noticed people who are not particularly political taking a stand – whether prominent celebrities or just Facebook friends who are fed up with the hatred and casual racism that has been growing like a cancer since you took office. Their courage to speak out gives me great hope in our future. It gives me hope that your election was an aberration and that people of good will can bring some sanity and dignity back to our great nation.

I pray that this movement continues to grow and that it forces local and state governments to take action against police brutality and other forms of institutional racism in this country. I pray that it is not just a blip on the screens of our lives. I pray that it energizes a new civil rights era and moves us away from division and hate and towards unity and equality for all.

White Like Me

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Dear Black People,

After watching season one of the Netflix series Dear White People, I want to apologize for my ancestors having screwed up your lives for the past 200 hundred plus years and for making race relations so fraught to this day.

Watching Dear White People made me uncomfortable, as it is no doubt meant to do. Episode after episode, I squirmed as well-meaning (and some not so well-meaning) white students try to relate to their black counterparts at a fictional Ivy League school called Winchester. (The gun comes immediately to mind.) Whether getting called out for partying in blackface or learning that only blacks get to use the N word, the white kids at Winchester are alternately baffled and angered by their black classmates’ refusal to go easy on them.

The premise of Dear White People is that a mixed race student named Samantha White hosts a regular segment on the college radio station that starts “Dear white people” and  gives her a platform to air her exasperation, dismay, or outright disgust at the way people of color are treated at her school. Her show – and indeed the series – force whites to look at their privilege in a sometimes humorous, but always uncompromising, way.

What I love about the show is that each episode is told from the perspective of one student at the school. Even the black students at Winchester are not united in their views of how best to advance black causes at the school. Some are assimilators who want to find diplomatic solutions. Some are activists who wish to be confrontational. All have unique stories, and learning their stories is perhaps the most instructive part of the show for whites who might be tempted to paint all African-Americans with the same broad brush.

A twist in the show is that Sam, the radio personality/activist, is secretly dating a white grad student at the beginning of Episode 1. Once they are outed, Sam’s boyfriend Gabe tries to walk the tightrope of being sympathetic to the black students’ plight without being patronizing. But he learns that, as a white person, he just doesn’t get it, and probably never will. The same can be said for white audiences of Dear White People. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

While the show has deadly serious moments, it’s also very funny. The repartee among the students is topical and witty.  And the characters totally won me over. There’s the shy gay student who has a crush on his roommate, his equally gay newspaper editor who is constantly yelling at him for not doing the story he was assigned, the Buffy-like girl who gets an Emotional Support Animal to handle the stress, the Kenyan who insists that his people are superior because “we did not get captured” in Africa.

Dear White People is a sly, witty, earnest, and well-acted comedy-drama and a must-see for anyone who wants to examine modern race relations in America. I can’t wait for season two!

The Supremacy of Hate

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It hurt my heart to watch HBO’s coverage of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on its news series VICE. The white supremacists wore their naked hatred towards Jews and people of color as a badge of honor.  While Donald Trump blamed the violence on “many sides,” it was the Unite the Right demonstrators who came armed to the teeth with bats and guns, helmets and shields. They were clearly spoiling for a fight.

Add to the mayhem the sight of a car plowing into the crowd and dozens of injured on the ground crying and screaming in pain. A black woman cried out in anger and frustration that this terror is what she and other blacks live with on a daily basis in an American South that is still nursing its wounds over the Civil War.

Leaders of Unite the Right ominously promised that this was only the beginning of their quest to “take back” the country for like-minded whites. One of them, Christopher Cantwell, spoke of his disgust that Trump would allow his daughter Ivanka to marry a filthy Jew. He proudly displayed the personal arsenal he was bringing to future demonstrations and predicted that many more people are going to die.

I feel as if a time machine has transported us all back to the 1950s. The threat of nuclear war hangs over us as our president gets macho with the unstable North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. And torch-wielding mobs of white men menace Southern towns.

Two days after I began writing this post, another scene of terror unfolded in Barcelona, Spain. The agent of death was the same: a motor vehicle plowing into a crowd. Yesterday 13 people were killed in that horrendous attack, and many more were injured. The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility. Once again, an armed group of (mostly) men expressed their hatred for the “other” through violence and the threat of violence (fake suicide vests).

In my present mood, I am hard pressed to believe that “Love trumps hate.”