Sunday, August 10, 2008


So, I'm moving over to Wordpress.

At least I don't have to pack.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

End of the Week

So, its the end of IBARW and I didn't really know what to put here, so I figured I'd be more reflective.

Basically, I have a long way to go as far as learning and understanding (though it seems so nonsensical at times) racism, and through that myself and how I'm to live because of it. I think I learned that a lot this summer. I'm not a scholar or a scientist, I'm a 20-something student who, a couple years back, began to realize that my skin color affected me in a bigger way than I thought. And I'm still learning how my skin affects me. Though I am sometimes frustrated, sometimes sad, often angry, sometimes bitter, I really do appreciate the opportunities I've been given to read and write and study racism. Yes, I am unable to separate myself from this trying topic when it gets difficult to breath thinking about how much differently I see the world because of my skin color. No, I can't just stick my head in the sand and hope that bad things won't happen to me, because, though I've been enormously blessed in these past 20 years of my life to never experience a more explicit, verbal, or violent racism, the subtle kind hurts, too. Maybe because it burrows its way underneath my skin after its been repeated so often and tries to live inside me it has a more lasting impact. It is an enemy to be combatted everyday when I wake up and see that my hair texture is devalued, as is the shape of my nose, the scale of my frame, the color of my skin-- my intelligence is mocked, my words interrupted, my thoughts unspoken, my history hidden...

But then I think its the coolest blessing in the world to be born African-American, to have such a rich history to uncover, to not really be able to take for granted the people in my past because there is such a tangible connection between how they lived their lives and how I am now able to live mine. And of course, everyone has a connection to those who came before them, but not everyone has to confront it everyday.

So I'm thankful that I wake up every morning and think about how I am a black woman because it has made me stronger and wiser as a person.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Black Boys and Football

My younger brother, Jordan, is 14. He's going to be playing football for the local high school this upcoming year so he's been practicing with the team this summer. Now, Jordan is going to play Quaterback, starting on JV (hopefully) and maybe moving up to Varsity (though not as a starter) by the end of his Freshman year. He's a really great football player. Anyways, he came home from practice today and told me a story that went like this:

J: Hey Amaryah, let me tell you what one of the JV coaches said to me today.

A: Ok, what'd he say?

J: Well, first, let me say this guy has never seen me play. But anyways he came up to me and he started talkin and he was like, "So you're wanting to play QB, right?" And I'm like, Yes sir. So he was like, "That's good. Yeah, you'll probably be started because we don't think our other QB is going to be eligible."

So, my brother's like yeah, yeah, that's cool starter. So, anyways, this sam coach comes up to my brother later and he's talking to him about the offense and he's like, "Yeah, we'll probably try to use you like a Mike Vick or a Vince Young." Michael Vick and Vince Young, for those who aren't football savvy, are two young black QB's known more for their ability to run than pass. Now, my brother is a fan of Mike and Vince, but he wants to be more of a passer than a runner, so he tells his coach, "Yeah, they're cool, but I really like guys like Tom Brady." And his coach is like, "Yeah, but we've got to use your athleticism." And my brother's like, "Well, I really want to be a good passer first." And his coach is like, "Yeah, but we can use your legs, blah blah blah."

Why this was so striking to me was because for a long time, black men were held out of the Quarterback position because that was a leadership and a mental position and many white people felt black men weren't smart enough to lead as QB's. Hand a couple of brothers the ball and let em run as much as they want, sure, but don't let them run the offense. Well, those walls have started to come down, with a increasing number of black QB's, but black QB's are still plagued by the stigma that they can't throw as well as white QB's, the underlying racism being that throwing requires much more knowledge and critical thought, and blacks just aren't capable of playing QB at as high a level as white QB's. So most black QB's are seen as "Athletic" by that it is meant that they are able to run out of the pocket and elude the defense. Anyways, my brothers encouragement from his coach to be an "Athletic" QB instead of a "Pocket Passer" further highlights the extent to which the idea that blacks are somehow natural born athletes has seeped into the mindset of football fans and coaches, etc.

For one thing, the coach hadn't seen my brother play and simply assumed Jordan was Athletic, when he could be slow as hell. Another thing, when my brother told him he'd rather be a passer than a runner, he continued to try to encourage him in the direction of an athelete. It kind of reminds me of that scene in the Autobiography of Malcolm X where Malcolm, in a classroom of all white kids, says he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up and his white teacher tells him thats not a realistic goal for a black boy. He tells him to try being a carpenter, or something like that. While there are a magnitudes of problems with my brother's coach's statement, I think the crux of the matter is the different expectations placed on my brother as a young athletic looking black man. He is encouraged to aspire to a life that has been laid out for him as an athlete, as a QB like the other popular black QB's, and when he tries to break from the mold he is met with resistance and continued encouragment into the box that he is supposed to fit into.

It is sad that he has to deal with things like this, but he knows life isn't easy for a young black man. Here's hoping he sticks to his guns and proves this coach wrong.

An Easily Overlooked Racism?

I have been reading Asian American writings and experiences dealing with race. Blogs, books, and articles, though of course, I'm still quite a newb in learning about racism against Asians, are all eye opening and revealing of my ignorance on a lot of things. My lack of knowledge about racism against Asian Americans is fed by the Myth of the Model Minority, the prevailing stereotype that Asians are super smart, quiet and submissive, hardworking, and have assimilated in to (White) American culture. I think most Americans have bought into this myth, making racism perpetuated against Asians very difficult to notice at first, because it seems they "have it so well."

In Frank Wu's book, "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White," He exposes the myth and shows how it allows racism against Asian Americans to be overlooked. Possibly one of the greatest uses of racism against Asians is casting them as Perpetual Foreigners, as unable to really be American. As Wu writes in the chapter of his book on the subject:

"Where are you from?" is a question I like answering. "Where are you really from?" is a question I really hate answering. "Where are you from" is a question we all routinely ask upon meeting a new person. "Where are you really from?" is a question some of us tend to ask others selectively. For Asian Americas, the questions frequently come paired like that. Among ourselves, we can even joke nervously about how they just about define the Asian American experience. More than anything else that unites us, everyone with an Asian face who lives in America is afflicted by the perpetual foreigner syndrome. We are figuratively and even literally returned to Asia and ejected from America.

Like a lot of racism, it is rooted in a contradiction. Asians are supposed to be the Model Minority, they're supposed to show Blacks and Latino's how to act as minorities. Yet Asian American's continual casting as foreigners in media, books, conversation, etc., does nothing but present them as outsiders, or, "the other." So, even with their supposed, "almost whiteness," that comes from the Model Minority Myth, there is the negation of that but how Asian's are actually treated.

Looking back over my life now, I can think of numerous occasions where I and others I know gave life to the myth of the perpetual foreigner. Here are the most vivid accounts I have:

My earliest memory of this is when I was around 6 or 7 and we were vacationing in Orlando at a friends house. Wheel of Fortune came on and all the kids (5 of us at the time) were watching it with my dad. It was team Wheel of fortune and so there were two people for every color. There was an Asian American team and, wouldn't you know it, they were the color yellow. But even worse than that when my dad cheered for them he would say, "The Japs! The Japs!" And my siblings and I began to repeat happily, thinking we were just cheering for the team, not realizing we were using a terrible choice of words, and creating ideas of how one thinks of Asians as foreigners. And then I remember walking into the kitchen to get a drink and my mom saying my dad shouldn't say that because it was racist. I'm pretty sure that was as far as I thought about it at that moment, but now, it is interesting to reflect on.

Earlier this summer, I was talking to my 10-year-old brother about an Asian American actress who plays on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." She had recently had her own Disney Channel Original Movie, and I think I said something about why did Disney make their original movie starring and Asian person a Kung-Fu movie. My little brother replied that she wasn't Asian in the movie. I said, how could she not be Asian. And he said, She was an American from California. I think I realized then how quickly the stereotypes of others become in embedded in us. So, anyways, I told him that Asian's are Americans too and most Asians in America are born here, thus they are just as American as we are.

In the Spring semester at school, the Musical Theater Department put on Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was overflowing with racism in its portrayal of Asians. I must say, I was thoroughly upset about the whole thing. First, the guys playing the Asians, I believe they were supposed to be Chinese immigrants, had white face makeup and slanty eyes. I couldn't help but think that if they'd dressed in blackface, surely there'd be an uproar (Of course, they are putting on Ragtime this year, so we'll see how they handle that-- they're already sending out emails about how they want the black students to try out for roles because there aren't many black people in the musical theater department *eyeroll*). That wasn't the only bad thing about the musical, however, the villian was a white woman pretending to be Asian who pronounced her L's as R's, and said she used soy sauce to clean a stain. Of course, she also treated the two Asian immigrants who worked for her as if they were stupid, and the silently and humbly submit in front of her, though behind closed doors they argue in Chinese (I guess it was real Chinese), with subtitles projected above the stage. And then one of the Asian men falls in love with one of the white women in the musical, blonde hair, blue eyes, you know the deal. At the end of the musical, they get together, as if his reward for working hard and being submissive, for being mistreated, is the gift of white womanhood, the pinnacle of creation. So yeah, I was pretty pissed about that whole thing.

Finally, I recall clicking through a friends Facebook album and seeing her dressed up in white makeup and slanty eyes, with a straight black wig on. Yes, it made me sad because she's a pretty cool person, but even pretty cool people can be complicit in racism.

All of this, on top of whats in my own heart, and my own struggle to fight against the stereotypes and negative imagery that I want to apply to Asians. I remember when I would "pretend", as a child, to be "Chinese" (Which was synonymous, at that time, with anyone Asian), pulling my eyes back and chanting, "Ching chong, ching." It feels terrible now to acknowledge this, but I'm sure there's more I can't remember and I must be honest with myself about how I perpetuate racism so that I can stop myself when I see it. So, yes, there is a long way to go, but I'm certainly learning a lot about how important it is to have our eyes open to the varying forms racism takes so we can stand up for justice regardless of who is being treated unfairly, because in the end, it affects us all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Race and the Christian Church

I've grown up as a pastor's kid. My father is the pastor of a Black Southern Baptist Church. My dad has also been a strong proponent of racial reconciliation. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he's had a conference over a weekend in February about racial reconciliation with various pastor's from different racial makeups in the community. And every year, for as long as I can remember, white people seem to be practically non-existent in attendance. Sure, there's a handful of members who came to support their pastor, and the one or two white people who come every year (God bless their souls, really great people, too), and other than that its mostly black people, members from my dad's church, and number of Hispanic people.

Fast forward to the latter half of my First-Year in college and the beginning of my Sophomore year, I regularly attended a white non-denominational church. It was a pretty small church, which I loved, and everyone was friendly and such, but I was also the only black person there. I think by the end of my Sophomore year, I had come to place where I couldn't really deal with the racial isolation (I also started solely attending Mass, instead) coupled with the fact that there was no talk about race or racism or anything having to do with that whatsoever.

And those are the churches I've been privy to. A Black SBC with an emphasis on racial healing and reconciliation to a White Non-Denom Church that didn't have to talk about race at all.

My brother works on his campus, trying to bring about racial reconciliation as well, and he comments that a lot of the white people he talks to use, "But its hard to talk about race" as their excuse to not talk about it.

And perhaps this is my biggest problem with the usual handling of race relations in the church. It tends to become like a diversity rally and its shallowness begins to show. It becomes more about making friends of a different race than it is about acknowledging the real reason we aren't able to be really reconciled racially, which is racism.

Perhaps framing discussions of race in the cloth of "Racial Reconciliation," is not as frightening to people as framing the discussion in terms of "Racism." But what a disservice is being done, and what a stagnant body of work.

Maybe I am just bitter after watching my father work tirelessly in this area, and always having such difficulty getting white people to show up. Maybe I am just tired of White Christians who think just because we love Jesus we should be able to forget about Racism and all have a good time. Maybe I'm just tired of White Christians who say they love me with their lips, but not their actions.

Because if you loved me, you would love me enough to really know me, and not isolate me through your coded white-is-right rhetoric and bs explanations of why things are the way they are in this country. God, if I hear another person say "But I don't think of you as Black."

I'm all for being friends with people of different races and having honest discussions, yadayada, but that is not the point of racial reconciliation. Its not about us all being able to hold hands, cause we can all hold hands now. Its about there being a problem. There being something broken in the world that needs to be set right. That is real reconciliation. Working as fellow believers to set right the injustices of racism is the goal, not learning to be friends. But the great thing about working together with people against injustice is that friendships often do flow out of that work. Real, honest friendships.

If the church wants to see some real growth, some real healing across racial lines, it has to start addressing real obstacles and real wounds, not the consequences of racism. Because when one begins striking at the root of the problem instead of the branches it is a far more powerful action than if one starts with the branches. In fighting racism, institutionalized and overt, in acknowledging racism in our history and in our present, and certainly in our future, in fearlessly confronting the isolation and separation that sometimes comes with this kind of counter-cultural work, only then will walls really start to fall, and only then will we really be able to be unified.

Monday, August 4, 2008

International Blog Against Racism Week

The Week of August 4th through the 9th is International Blog Against Racism Week! Oyceter at livejournal explains how to participate:

1. Announce the week in your blog.

2. Switch your default icon to either an official IBAR icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAR icon, you may modify one of yours yourself or ask someone to do so.

3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn't yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to some blogging against racism!

Cheers! ^_^

Slavery By Another Name

I've been meaning to wath this interview on Bill Moyers show with Douglas Blackmon, author of "Slavery by Another Name." Its an overall insightful and eye-opening interview. I definitely want to read this book now. The book uncovers how many places in the South continued to enslave black people after Reconstruction using petty laws that were overwhelmingly enforced on blacks to return them to forms of forced labor. Hard stuff.