Race & Class

Lies, Damned Lies, and Government Surveys Part 2

Update tweet, later on April 4: Nearly 40 years after the government defined #Hispanic and #Latino, Hispanics still have not fully embraced the terms http://t.co/cex9SDCc via @PewHispanic

I find this tweet very interesting. My question to this statement is why should Central and South American people adhere to the U.S. government imposed labels, let alone embrace them? I just realized that use of those terms give credit to Spanish colonialism. However, a colonialism discussion is far beyond the scope of this blog post. Food for thought.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Surveys

Tweet of the Day: When Labels Don’t Fit: #Hispanics and Their Views of Identity #latinos http://t.co/Ugav1WeY

My relationship with government surveys is complicated at best. Pew Research tweeted a report on the Latinos yesterday comparing 2010 census data to their own survey. The census, more than anything, reveals the social construction of race in this country. Starting with the 2000 survey, the government made the act of pigeonholing oneself even more convoluted. There are now fifteen racial categories in the census.

Latino or Hispanic? White or ?

As I grew up, virtually every survey that asked about race used "White (Not Hispanic)" for the white category. My Arizona birth certificate declares that I'm white, since at the time separating white from black was most important. My grandfather was more indigenous than European, but how does one categorize that as race when only "American Indian" is an option. In my undergraduate career, I learned that, in California since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the nineteenth century, Mexicans were considered white. Except when they were more often not. Politics in the state of California are nothing, if not fickle. 

Fast forward to 2000 when race and culture were mixed up in the census. The census report and the subsequent news coverage focused on the fact that a large percentage of Latinos consider themselves white. The media also conveyed a good deal of surprise. My reaction to the news was anger. How are people supposed to categorize themselves? When asked by Pew research this time around if Hispanic or Latino is a preferred term, Hispanic was chosen more frequently. After thirty to forty years of "White (Not Hispanic)," Hispanic would be a logical choice for most.

Identity on the Margins

This year I met numerous fascinating people at General Assembly. In fact, I spent a larger proportion of time talking to others. I am an officer in DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries), and volunteered to be at the table for some time each day in the exhibition hall. I roomed with a woman I met at a DRUUMM event several years ago, and we were able to deepen a friendship that has continued to grow as we see each other each GA, since we live on opposite coasts. The DRUUM folks have been like family, and I love them.

A life changing meeting was with a Chicana sociologist from San Diego. She told me of her work, and how she applies sociological methods to different questions. She modeled how to ask questions in dialogue with someone, as she greeted people at the DRUUMM table. For negative self dialogue, she told me to tap into my inner grandmother. Her participation in the Chicano/a movement in California inspired me to claim the identity Chicana. Depending on the grandparent, I am third or fourth generation Mexican American. My grandmother was born in Arizona before it became a state. Latina and hispanic never felt right, but when I was much younger Chicana was "too political." Claiming "person of color identity" is a political act. I am in solidarity with the struggles of all people who are marginalized due to their culture or skin color.

The word Chicana is distinctly Mexican. Years ago in an undergrad philosophy class, there was a reading about Tucson, and the author wrote that she did not want to send her children to public school because of all of the "Mexican children." I did not question anything but the racist tone of the article, because that was my lived experience. My classmates were other Mexican American students. Numerous students in the philosophy class, from countries like Guatamala or El Salvador,  spoke out against the assumption that the kids were "Mexican." Up until this point, I was thrilled about the diversity in Los Angeles, but I learned that Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans are on the bottom of the social hierarchy in California not only by race (a social construct), but by culture as well. I still love the amazing diversity of Los Angeles, but took too many years since for me to claim Chicana.

As we go into next years justice oriented General Assembly in Arizona, I will go with less reticence. I have been boycotting the state with its racist politics, even though my family lives there. At GA I learned that by going in at the invitation of indigenous groups, we UUs will strive to make more of an impact than simply taking our money our money elsewhere. The folks from DRUUMM are taking a particular chance to be arrested. I will stand in solidarity with them, the "Mexicans" I grew up with, and the others who are targeted by the policies.

Gulf Coast Anniversary

Three years ago, on August 24th, a tropical depression became a storm in the Atlantic ocean. Meteorologists named it Katrina. It would become the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. When it made landfall for a second time in Louisiana on August 29th (after pummeling Florida), it was the third-strongest recorded hurricane to reach the United States, and became one of our five deadliest. It laid waste to large swaths of both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Natural disasters cause wide-spread misery by definition, but the tragedy following hurricanes Katrina and Rita was largely human-caused, and revealed the devastating impact of systemic racism and classism. The levees protecting New Orleans had already been flagged as dangerously unsafe, yet these warnings were ignored. The flooding from broken levees caused more deaths than the storm itself.

Before Katrina’s arrival, evacuation plans relied on individuals to make their own way out of the hurricane’s path, ignoring the fact that many did not have access to private transportation. Fleets of buses lay unused, and then submerged. And in the hours and days following Katrina, our government failed to respond to the disaster. The lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and the violence that ensued from this chaos, claimed many more lives.

The media showed us images of white Americans and told us they were “searching for food.” The same media showed us images of black Americans doing the same thing and told us they were “looting.” We saw members of communities that were less hard hit forcibly preventing desperate people from entering their towns. For almost two days, American citizens were referred to as “refugees” in their own country. And in the analysis afterwards, it was starkly clear that the areas most affected corresponded to neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and of color.

Three years later, the misery wreaked by Katrina and Rita continues, as government bureaucracy and apathy slow the rebuilding process. Casinos and luxury hotels were rebuilt relatively quickly, but much of the old neighborhoods where the tourists seldom venture are still waiting. The Gulf Coast disaster is at least as much human-created as it was “natural.”

Free Hawaii!

Whenever the subject of Tibetan independence from China comes up, my father almost invariably says that if Americans think that China should free Tibet, then the U.S. should free Hawaii.  The first time I heard him say it, I laughed.  "But Dad," I protested, "Hawaiians don't want to be independent from the U.S."  I very soon found out that asumption was not necessarily true.

A little history about our 50th state that you may or may not know (summarized from the mighty wiki):

American missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820. In 1887, a group of primarily American and European businessmen forced King Kalakaua to sign the "Bayonet Constitution," which stripped the king of administrative authority, eliminated voting rights for Asians and essentially limited the electorate to wealthy elite Americans, Europeans and native Hawaiians.

In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani announced plans to establish a new constitution that would have replaced the "Bayonet Constitution" and restore power to the monarchy.  But a group of American and Europeans formed a Committee of Safety and seized control of government. The U.S. Government Minister summoned a company of uniformed U.S. Marines to "enforce neutrality," but what that really did was subjugate the monarchy.

With the monarchy overthrown in January 1893, it was replaced by a Provisional Government composed of members of the Committee of Safety.  Hawaii was run as a republic until it was annexed by the U.S.  The vote for statehood, therefore, was cast in large part by foreign settlers, businessmen.

In 1993, a joint Apology Resolution regarding the overthrow was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

 

Over the years, I've subsequently learned about native Hawaiian hostility towards immigrants on the islands.  Epithets and violence directed at those seen to be invaders.  I do not mean to make it sound like native Hawaiians are not justifiably angry.  Nor to make it sound like all native Hawaiians are angry.  My point is that Hawaii is not necessarily the happy member of the Union that we paint it to be.

All of which is leading up to this news story, a native Hawaiian independence group occupying the Royal Palace in Honolulu.

The group is one of several in Hawaii that reject statehood and seek to return to the constitutional monarchy that effectively ended in 1893 when a group of politicians, businessmen and sugar planters -- aided by the U.S. minister to Hawaii -- overthrew the kingdom's government.

The monarchist groups say the kingdom was overthrown and annexed into the United States illegally.

Interestingly, this story has gotten little play, while coverage of the Tibetan resistance movement has been widespread.  If we truly believe in the right to self-determination, what does that mean?

Tibet... Again.

First there was the post on Making Chutney, talking about the feudal and oppressive governance in pre-communist occupied Tibet.  I was very happy to see a UU presenting the other perspective and recognizing an "anti-Chinese" sentiment in the Western response. But during the discussion within the comments, I became a little uncomfortable.  Understanding that Tibet was a theocracy ruled by the lamas should not then automatically become, "Tibetans are better off now under the communists."  That runs the danger of us not responding to oppression that continues to exist.

Second, a member of A/PIC posted a link to a YouTube video that gave the Chinese side of the story.  In the discussion that followed, someone brought up the very real possibility that some UUs will probably try to present this as an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW).  The idea of a UU statement that mirrors Hollywood, the Western media, and your standard, white "free-Tibet" protesters turns my stomach.  I'm not sure that I could stay a UU if that happened. 

I am still wrestling with how to respond to this.  Every time I argue with someone who makes the claim, "the Chinese are torturing Tibetan nuns!!" I run the risk of sounding like I condone these acts of oppression or am arguing for complacency.  I do not and am not. 

So what is it that I am reacting against? 

1. People romanticizing Tibet as a completely peaceful land of smiling Buddhist monks.  I dislike it when China is romanticized too - it's just offensive.  They're not seeing people as real people.

2. The Western media and some people presenting the violence as the evil, cruel Chinese who just like to torture Tibetans for the fun of it versus the peaceful loving Tibetans.  Rightly or wrongly, the Chinese think that Tibet is part of China. The brutality displayed by the communist govt towards the Tibetans does not come from ethnic hatred mainly, but rather a) a brutality levied against anyone that it perceives as a threat, even Han, and b) ethnocentric paternalism and disregard for the value of Tibetan culture.

3. I can't help but think that many people (not all) are using what is a very legitimate concern in order to justify expression of their latent anti-Chinese bias.

Otoh, I don't want my need to defend China to convince anyone not to act for Tibet.  What disturbed me about the conversation in the comment area of Making Chutney is that, once it was acknowledged that Tibet used to be a feudal theocracy, the sentimant seemed to swing to the opposite extreme.  Tibetans=bad, therefore Chinese=good.  I honestly don't like that any more than Chinese=bad, Tibetans=good.  Surely we are able to grasp a more complex view of the situation.  Whether it's the Mongolians, or the Han, or the British, or the Tibetan aristocracy, the bottom line is that the Tibetan people have never been free. A well-crafted, informed, fair, and ultimately firm AIW bearing witness to the suffering in Tibet (and indeed the rest of China) would be completely appropriate.

Emancipation Day, VA Tech, and Hope

Today was Emancipation Day, a DC holiday.  It is the anniversary of the day Lincoln freed the slaves within the District, nine months before he freed all slaves within the U.S. via the famous Emancipation Proclamation.  It's interesting that we celebrate an event that is widely seen as motivated by political expediency.  Emancipation of the slaves within DC was not based on the moral conviction that slavery is wrong, but rather in the hopes that freed DC slaves would fight for the Union side.

Today is also the one year anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and as the Asian American community is well aware, perpetrated by one of our own. 

I've realized that I've been extremely emotional this past week, knowing that today was approaching.  The anniversary would have been hard in any case, both because of the number of people killed and also because the shooter was Asian.  But I am all the more on edge because of the controversy surrounding China and the Olympics.  I hate the fact that when an Asian American does something awful, we as a community feel shame and fear possible anger directed at the rest of us.  But that is how things are.  We know from experience that it happens.  And I hate the fact that when criticisms of China arise, even legitimate criticisms, there is always part of me that wonders how much of it is motivated by anti-Chinese sentiment.  But that is how things are.  I know from experience that it happens.  And I know that other folks of color have had similar experiences.

Today is Emancipation Day.  I am wondering how it would be to be free of such doubts and fears.  What would it be like to have someone of your ethnicity commit a crime and NOT have to think, "Oh crap, why did he/she have to be x?"  What would it be like to discuss social issues involving one's own ethnicity and NOT always feel some part of it personally? I guess I'm wondering what it would be like to be white in this society.  But maybe someday we'll all be free from this oppression.

And of course I hope for freedom from the pain for family, friends and survivors of that awful shooting. 

May all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

- from the Karaniya Metta Sutta

After all, even now there are kind people of good will.  With the magnitude of the violence and loss it would be so easy to hate, and many have.  And yet others have hearts big enough to reach out to the family of the shooter, and some even have mourned for the loss of a stranger who did so much damage.  In reading the Washington Post's coverage of Virginia Tech, it's these stories that broke my heart anew.  But in a good way, keeping it open to hope.

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.

- from the Karaniya Metta Sutta

More on Obama - sort of...

Really, it's more on race and class in the U.S.

I. This is old news but I didn't hear it talked about much. A couple of weeks ago, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice weighed in on Obama's speech and the issue of race in this country. She said it was "important" that Obama gave the speech "for a whole host of reasons," and described slavery as a "birth defect" in the founding of our nation. She pointed out that the African American experience is different from that of Asian Americans or Latino Americans in that African Americans are not immigrants (in the sense traditionally used in the U.S. - we're obviously all immigrants compared to Native Americans):

Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together - Europeans by choice and Africans in chains.

But even as she recognized the reason for the anger as expressed by Rev. Wright, Rice was quick to defend black patriotism:

What I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn't love and have faith in them - and that's our legacy.

I bet Obama would agree with her on that, tho I know not all blacks would, and understandably so. Anyway, it was refreshing to see that Rice does recognize that race is still a problem in this country that needs to be addressed. One would think that any semi-intelligent person of color would, but then there's people like Clarence Thomas so ya never know.

 

II. Hillary Clinton is attacking Obama for using the word "bitter" to describe Pennsylvania's working class, claiming that he is "out of touch" and "elitist." For perspective, this is the full quote in context:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Call me out of touch and elitist (I'm sure some will), but I don't see anything wrong with what he said. Of course it's not true for everyone. Generalizations always have exceptions. But Obama was describing the economic situation and explaining why issues like gun control and immigration might take on more prominence than they otherwise should. It was a compassionate explanation.  Are we at the point where a politician cannot speak the truth (without getting blasted) just because it doesn't sound nice?

Clinton (and McCain) can keep making their claims of elitism, but ultimately it depends on whether the working class who are being talked about see Obama or them as more truthfully describing their situation, not just giving platitudes.  Will people actually buy Clinton as a pro-gun, church-goer?  The Clintons didn't even start attending church until Bill lost re-election of the Arkansas governor's mansion.  We'll see.

 

Addendum (2008.04.13 4:34 pm)

Tracing back through a series of blogs, I found this great news article that pertains to the Wright controversy:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23947058 

It Doesn't End When You Die

My brother and I spent the afternoon running errands, some of which took us to Colma, which is a little ways south of San Francisco and what I call the city of the dead.  When land became too valuable on the peninsula, almost all of the graves were dug up and its residents transfered to Colma.  Coma is, I think, the only city in the country where the dead outnumber the living.

As we drove along El Camino Real, we saw a Jewish cemetery, and an Italian cemetery, and a Chinese cemetery... 

Ching Ming was yesterday but since most adults work, not everyone has the luxury to be able to visit graves on the day proper.  Thus a large sign at the Chinese cemetery proclaimed that the "Ching Ming festival" would take place this weekend, today and tomorrow.

We drove on in the sunshine, reflected by the golden California poppies clustered on the side of the road.

My brother remarked that even when we're dead we still want to be segregated.  I reminded him that there was a time when Jews and Italians and Chinese were not allowed into the white cemeteries.  Having "ethnic" cemeteries wasn't so much born out of desire to be with one's own so much as necessity. 

Still, D's point was well taken.  Even in death we live segregated lives. 

What the Heck is Hillary Thinking?

Whenever I evaluate a person's actions, particularly a politician's, I look at two considerations: 1) ethics - was it the morally right thing to do? and 2) logic - was it rational?  These are not the same thing.  One might commit a completely unethical act that nonetheless is logically expedient - helps advance your cause.  Ultimately I would argue that unethical acts are not expedient in the long run, but still, I can understand why sometimes people choose the short-term gain.  

 

With Mrs. Clinton's campaign these days, her choices seem neither ethical nor logical.

 

First off, there was the 3 am commercial, designed to suggest that Obama does not have enough experience to handle crisis defense decisions.  It's not entirely unethical to raise such a concern. It was not a personal/character attack, tho I disliked the preying on fear.  But it was not logically expedient.  If you're going to raise military experience as a primary concern, McCain is the winner, not Clinton.  She hurts herself even as she attacks Obama.

She did it again shortly thereafter, asserting that Obama was light in the experience category, unlike herself... and John McCain.  And I was like, why the heck would she add that last part?  Who is she running for, herself or McCain?

Now, when the furor over Rev. Wright seems to be dying down just a smidgeon, Clinton decides to raise it again by claiming that if Wright had been her minister, she would have left the church.  

Whether or not it was unethical depends on whether it was sincere or merely calculated.  If for some reason Clinton is truly appalled by Rev. Wright's words, then maybe she has the right to say so.  I guess I simply find it hard to believe that she's really that appalled.  (And if she is, that's an even greater reason to distrust her.)

Logically speaking, this was a ridiculous blunder.  Clinton might have surreptitiously enjoyed the negative attention that it brought Obama when it was other people raising the stink.  But to go on the offensive herself is just... ugly.  Even if she manages to hurt Obama, she is irreversibly turning the faithful against her.    

It used to be I would say that I favored Obama but would be happy if either one won the nomination.  Now that's no longer true.

Both unethical and illogical.  How can we ever respect her again?

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