Saturday, August 27, 2005

American Perspectives on C-Span

If you're watching TV, right now, please check out C-span. There's a panel of Asian American journalists, academics (and James Yee, the Muslim chaplain who was kicked out of the Army for being Muslim and Asian) who're discussing media images of Asian Americans. The panel was originally on August 18, but I can't seem to find a transcript. I'll be live-blogging this, so please keep refreshing this page to get my take... Bill Ong Hing on "Vigilante Racism" and Cultural Defense Prof. Bill Ong Hing, UC Davis professor of Law and Asian American Studies made a great point just now about how the Patriot Act encourages "Vigilante Racism" and de-Americanization. He charged journalists of not seeing this interpretation when they cover people of colours, especially post- Patriot Act. This is what happened to Wen Ho Lee, to James Yee, to Muslim Americans who were cited as un-American for their colour and religion alone. This is no different than any other bias-related incident. Prof. Hing also makes a point about cultural defenses which I found interesting. He suggested that if we assume there are some acts in the American judicial system that are inexcusable, and in those cases, the cultural defense is not only problematic, but legally shaky. However, he also mentioned that the courts are tending towards allowing cultural defense to influence a decision in the sentencing phase, rather than the guilt/innocent phase, which I found thought-provoking. Is this just hiding the idea that cultural defense does hodl some weight? Doesn't this still just make a man less innocent based on his culture? Hing also brought up how vague the definition of culture is, and how it can differ from the homeland culture once a group of people leave their home country and immigrate to America. French Canadians, for example, have a different culture than French people. I'm uncomfortable with completely disregarding culture, because I do think it affects people's perspectives, and though it might be convenient to assume that all immigrants begin to think like Americans once they get their citizenship, that's rarely true. And, in the interest of maintaining diversity, nor should it be. The issue is raised in the Van case (the Hmong hunter case), in which there are rumours that a cultural defense will be used. Hing points out that cultural defense is not black and white -- this man is not looking for innocence based on culture, nor is he looking to get off because the hunters may or may not have yelled racial slurs, but we must remember that not everyone "inherently understands" what Americans are expected to -- that corporal punishment for children is always wrong, that ideas of property are immutable, and even that women are not subordinate to men. Though these are not always the most kosher ideas, is a man who doesn't know he's breaking a crime as guilty as a man who willfully disrespects the law? These are questions to be considered, and cultural defense cannot be unilaterally disregarded in all cases. James Yee on his "dodginess" Former Army chaplain James Yee just mentioned that when he was the focus of such powerful media attention, he was characterized as "dodging questions" and "refusing to" answer them. Journalists didn't mention what he just stated -- that members of the Army are restricted on what they're able to say about the Army. Did you know that members of the Army aren't even allowed to contradict the president when in uniform? @ 10:25 Wow, a graduate from Harvard just stood up and lit a fire under James Yee's ass. She accused him of dodging questions on this panel. Honestly, he is, but I also think he's a little terrified of the Army -- he's been trained to never disagree with them, and he's a civilian now who was thrust into the position of poster boy. This is a man who never wanted to be a racial martyr -- cut him some slack. Plus, apparently, he's writing a book. @ 10:35 Yee just talked about being an ambassador of Asian-ness and the Muslim religion. Personally, I disagree with being an ambassador of anything, but, then again, Yee raises the point that a lot of the hatred of Muslims in today's America comes out of ignorance. That doesn't excuse it, though. @ 10:37 Mee Moua State Senator of Minnesota Mee Moua mentions her pet peeve, one in which I share: journalists should recognize their own biases. There is no objective journalist, and lately, with the advent of infotainment, journalists are more biased than ever, not only by their own outlooks, but by the drive to entertain and earn money. Recognize it, people. This reminds me of the story I was exposed to, an old story from the mid-nineties by Lindsay Stahl, in which she wrote a really soft piece on foreign teaching assistants and the over-academia of universities. Media people need to take responsibility of exactly how much impact they have on American thought. @ 10:41 Hing just said "I want to move to Minnesota so I can vote for [Mee Moua]!" Me, too!! @ 10:43 Great point by Jadeep Singh, from the Sikh American LEgal Defense & Education Fund who is currently discussing the Sikh community! Media people are vultures -- great point that the media only cares about communities of colour when a hate crime occurs. We are used by jouranlists, even journalists who share our race, because all they care about is infotainment and the news story. No wonder minorities have such a distrust of mainstream media -- we're still a minstrel show to them. Stop apologizing, Yee, Singh came down hard and I want to applaud him. If I only I knew his name! @ 10:47 Another good point by a person in the audience, who said that the badgering of the media should be directed towards the government. Absolutely -- but I wonder if some of this has to do with the continuing fear of "de-Americanization" by journalists of colour, worried about "Other"-ing themselves by criticizing the American president? After all, journalists of colour are already "Other"-ized whenever a foreign relations story comes out; ever notice how CNN, for example, always sends their brown correspondants to countries overseas in which they superficially match the colour of the foreign citizenry? But back to the issue, journalists have an entire Amendment that protects their freedoms, and recently, especially with the Iraq War, I've felt that amendment has been wasted. Journalists, at large, are so terrified of being punished for being "un-American" that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox were basically propaganda arms of the Bush White House. Hing just touched on what I just said by mentioning that he, as an Asian American Law professor, always gets called only to discuss issues of race. @ 10:53 Moua argues that in the Van case, if the victims had been of colour (American Indians in her example) and the hunter had been white, the journalists would have been more inclined to "balance" the story by looking for reasons of indirect culpability in the victims' background. Again, we see the inherent bias of the media to inherently cover white Americans as innocent, and more understandable. Electroman and I had a discussion the other day about what communities of colour are considered more or less American than the other -- but whether we agreed or disagreed on the specific narratives, the consensus was that the mainstream (media and public) have an image of the red-blooded American, as people who don't look like us. @ 10:56 I'm all on Moua's ass right now. She made another great point, charging Asian Americans to be more vigilant of what the media does. We need to read the news, be aware of current events, and respond! It reminds me of the general ambivalence the APIA community has towards being politically aware, even when overt racism occurs against our community, if it doesn't directly involve us. The DJs in Albany for example, which was something I cared about a great deal, but found that many people that I networked with to do something about it just couldn't get the ball rolling. It's not always our responsibility to make America tolerant of us, but we can't expect to be coddled just because we are different. We absolutely have to stay involved. @ 10:58 Steve Montiel suggests re-spinning involvement so that it's not a responsibility but an opportunity. I dunno, that strikes me a little like being thrown a bone that people assume "normal" Americans already have. @ 11:01 Tram Nguyen, editor of Colorlines Magazine (note to self, find out what that magazine is) brings the point home by saying that the media spent so much time humanizing the Minutemen, if only because of the colour of their skin. @ 11:03 And of course, the inevitable question about what we can do pro-actively. The answer, in my opinion, is to raise awareness, to discuss our issues internally and externally, and stay involved. Don't be an ambassador, but be willing to know what your experience is about and confront racism on the small scale to prevent racism on the larger scale. @ 11:06 I love you Jadeep Singh. He only just touched upon it, but he mentioned how a global paradigm of white supremacy makes journalists of colour lax about challenging that paradigm. They buy into it, making them just as guilty. Again, I suppose the answer is to be more vigilant about questioning white supremacy, and, as Singh said, challenge racism. If the shoe fits... ... now, if only this progam hadn't been attended and watched by Asian Americans alone. This is the kind of program I think all journalists, of any colour, should be watching. For more information, check out the Asian American Journalists Association which sponsored this event. update: if you missed this, you can try watching C-Span at 12am PST for a re-run. Or you could always go to the C-Span website and order a VHS or DVD copy of the show, part of the American Perspectives series.


Anonymous ben said...

great update.

8/28/2005 02:09:00 AM  

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