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Thursday, September 22, 2005

The 'Asian-themed' party

It's crazy what you take for granted until it's gone. Recently, I've felt a level of discomfort gnawing at the back of my mind for weeks -- and it's become more conscious these past couple of days. I'm getting frustrated by the racial ignorance of Tucson. I've blogged about this before. Tucson's racial environment is completely different from that of Ithaca. I was used to a racially aware bubble at Cornell -- one in which I surrounded myself with people who knew what racist ignorance was and did their best to avoid and/or address it. I seem to have had a problem finding those people, here. Last night, I met with a small group of chill people in my incoming class to go over some of the material for an upcoming exam. It was a five hour meeting, and we spent the last little while just chatting, having completed the practice exam together. The group is made up of myself (the Asian American woman), a Hispanic guy (J), a White guy (C), and a White woman (L) -- and we've been more or less cool with each other. But, of course, as with any new clique of people, boundaries have yet to be set. The conversation turned to a lab party that J was going to later this week. It was, and I quote, an "Asian-themed" party. Immediately, my stomach sank, and I felt nauseous. It was made worse by the fact that this "Asian-themed" party was in fact being thrown by some Japanese American friends of his. There was going to be fried rice, Peking duck, and a "come dressed like an Asian" costume thing happening. Yes, people. Yellowface. J mentioned that he wished he could grow his hair out, spike it with gel, frost the tips pink and wear a tight black shirt. This is stereotypical FOB wear. L mentioned that the Asian guys at her high school wore their hair with two long tendrils and the rest shaved close. J responded by saying he wished he could grow a Fu Manchu wispy moustache but he wouldn't have the time. C then said he should wear biker gear and get a "riced out" bike (this is after an earlier comment made by C about whether or not having people step on your back to massage you actually happened and, yes, he had seen it in a Bond flick). It was at this point that I said the discussion wasn't cool. And it really took me saying, "guys, this is really wrong," for them to realize that maybe talking about dressing as a person of another race -- with a person of that race sitting at the table -- might be somewhat offensive. I told the group that it was akin to people walking around with their eyes pulled back. J belatedly recognized it was wrong. They apologized for being offensive. I felt terribly alone. Not because what they said was itself offensive (though, it was...), but that these were not people who would just understand. Even J, who has been bitching for weeks about the offensiveness of being drafted by the department to take a mandatory class for minorities in graduate programs had no problem with the Asian-themed party until I said something. This class he's in teaches time management and how to avoid failing out of grad school and I could just as easily have been forced to take this class as J. Strange how the Asian girl was given a pass. Stranger still that no one has noticed. This is all coupled with the continuing offensiveness of my local hip hop radio station. I like the music and hate the banter. The other morning, I listened to their prank call segment in which one of the (white) DJs called up a UPS store, adopted a fake FOB accent and proceeded to pretend he was an Asian guy speaking broken "Engrish" and whining about why all the "Asian girls like black guys". This morning, there was an interview with this comedian, Carlos Mencina, who has this show on Comedy Central in which he basically makes fun of Latinos, throwing around slurs like "wetbacks" and perpetuating Latino stereotypes. I guess I'm just tired of it. I'm tired of the people who think that my being Asian means I'll laugh at the Asian stereotype jokes. I'm tired of people thinking they don't "see race" while having no problems with a Fu Manchu moustache. I'm tired of having to explain to a group the history of Indian Americans as Caucasoid and why just because Greeks are dark-skinned doesn't mean they're 'people of colour'. I don't blame the group I met with last night -- I appreciate that they stopped the discussion because I was uncomfortable and apologized long past when I had calmed down. I guess, this is just the kind of self-enlightening realization as to what America's attitude towards race really is that I would prefer to do without.

17 Comments:

Blogger phillyjay said...

I've heard of asian themed, latin themed, and black/hiphop/ghetto themed, parties.But never white parties? Have you by any chance?

9/22/2005 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous normal2 said...

what you did was right and courageous. we gotta stick up for each other.

reminds me of this poem by one of my favorite poets.

9/23/2005 12:54:00 AM  
Blogger Sheldiz said...

oh phillyjay, then you've never been to a white trash party....... they do very much exist.

9/23/2005 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

On the real, you should spay and neuter those idiots.

I'm really glad you spoke up; lots of folk in your position would have kept their mouths closed. Good job for laying the smack down.

That's a real dealbreaker for me - people can be cool with one another, but once the conversation gets stupid racist without the perpetrators noticing on their own where they've fucked up, I stop caring about their feelings. You are much nicer than I - their apologies seem more derived from upsetting their smart classmate than truly understanding that racial impersonation is always offensive.

Seriously, you have to expect more of this oppression ignorance because you are working in the sciences. (I was a liberal arts person, and developed the bias that caricatures science people as so analytical that they ignore all problems that have no exact right answers, like politics and race.) However, when it crops up, it's assassination day. It doesn't matter what they meant, or whether they are good people, or whether they are really really sorry, or whether they really don't understand - at that point (especially after the Fu Manchu comment!) it's time to wage war.

Damn, that's crazy!

9/23/2005 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

I feel your pain here. I am the ONLY brown person in my department, I think, and am feeling quite isolated. Perhaps there are some, but maybe they are advanced graduate students. I was just griping to my friend last week that I need to hook up and find some Black and Latino students.

But I digress...again. James - the bias exists in the liberal sciences and the social sciences - obliquely though. I think it is masked as class differences though.

Word up on the spay and neuter. It just goes to show how blind people are to their ignorance.

9/23/2005 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

White trash party?That's what they are called?With the theme and everything?Never knew that.

9/23/2005 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Cheshire, you're totally right. That's why I referred to my anti-science person stuff as a bias; I know ignorance of oppression isn't just in the sciences; anyone sitting through Government 111 at Cornell will learn that in the first five minutes.

That being said, I recognize that I have many prejudices. That's why I feel nothing but contempt for this kind of outright hate masked as a fun time for young people. White trash parties are no different - its still *insert-oppressed-minority-here*-face, and should never be tolerated.

You're also right on the class difference stuff here. You won't find pimp & 'ho or white trash or, now, Asian-themed parties outside of college campuses. It's like some folk with excess money and leisure time are so bored and so sadistic that they impersonate ordinary people for "fun". How sick is that? Are their lives so cellophane that reveling in other folks' ethnicities is all they can do to feel something?

9/23/2005 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

@james: It's so sad though, you know? And don't forget, these are usually people who perceive themselves to be "liberal." I am continuously skeptical of folks who label themselves as "liberal." It's just two sides of the same coin. As Stanley Fish said, it's a "boutique" kind of multiculturalism, the things liberals and others find so novel, so cute, so worth buying products to wear their liberalness...when you need those same liberal folks to truly be liberal, to truly be multicultural and respectful of difference, they run the other way. A damn shame.

9/23/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Exactly, Cheshire. That's another problem with these folk that Jenn was talking about. Reading the post it seems that the group was talking about how this Hispanic kid was forced to take some useless but mandatory class for minority students (separate but equal, anyone?) but saw only time as a problem with growing a Fu Manchu moustache. What is that - me-first liberalism?

It is sad, but more than that, demeaning. I tell you, I am so sick and tired of so-called 'liberals' whose liberalism is nice and diverse and open and inclusive and progressive, until a person with dark skin enters the room.

The only difference between the stereotypical The O'Reilly Factor Southern conservative and the stereotypical Real Time with Bill Maher Northern liberal is that the conservative will call me a nigger to my face.

9/23/2005 07:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I read an article recently (or maybe an LJ post) about the fact that it seems to be more cool to identify or want to be something that you're not, because you're conditioned that it's not cool to be white (or to be seen to be white) English-speaking European. I think that it's pretty sad that it's come down to that. I'm going to try and explain what I mean and hope I don't offend too badly (yet again), even tho I am knackered. (I could also go into the whys and wherefores but 1. it's too late in the day for me and 2. it's a whole different post again and not really for right now.)

I don't know that it's deliberate racism, ignorance sure, but deliberate...I don't know. I wasn't there. But it's all down to the coolness factor - being ethnic is where it's at right now, or so it seems. If you're of white English-speaking descent, you're boring, uncool, or whatever. I don't happen to think there's anything wrong with being Canadian and that we DO have a culture all our own, quite distinct from any other cultures that went into the patchwork that makes our country what it is. First and foremost I am Canadian, above my Cornish/English/Scots/Irish/Ojibway heritage. I am starting to think that we need to 'take back' or rediscover what we've lost in that respect. There is NOTHING wrong with being Canadian, American, English, Scots, Irish or what have you, and people need to stop thinking that it's uncool to be what you are. I would think this would go for ANY ethnic/cultural heritage that ANYONE has. Not just white people.

I am not sure if it was Jenn or someone else who made the point in a post about people asking 'no, really, where do you come from' when being told that she's Canadian. That is what I mean. Why should she have to say anything else? Is there something inherently wrong with being seen to be from a Canadian cultural background? (or American, or whatever) I don't believe so, and neither should anyone else. (convoluted or what? *sighs*)

Anyway, what I am trying (and feel like I'm failing miserably at saying) to say is that these ppl need to wake up and smell the roses; be their own particular culture(s) and be PROUD to be what/who they are, not try and imitate a stereotypical image of someone else's culture. Especially not when they're in the same room as you are. Nobody likes to be made fun of, even if unintentionally.

9/23/2005 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger nykol said...

@ kaede: It's kind of like colonizing people's identity; it's a novelty. Some folks have to have it. It's the same line of reasoning that irked me so much when I lived out in Colorado (it happens further out West and on the coasts as well) - how New Agers essentially appropriated the more "exotic" in-touch-with-the-earth religions (e.g. Native American religions) for themselves. Okay fine, I understand the appeal of it, but it often gets to the point where certain affiliations and identities are diminished into simply being a commodity. I mean even MTV thinks South Asians are a new hot market - look at MTV Desi - geared towards South Asians. It's trendy AND a new hot market/commodity.

9/23/2005 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

That's exactly what I meant - they aren't happy with their own culture, being told it's boring and not cool/untrendy, so they feel they need to appropriate someone else's culture cuz it's cool. I myself am guilty of this in that I am a huge fan of anything Japanese. I don't make out that I AM Japanese, I just enjoy things that are, if that makes sense. I don't even claim to be an expert on it, tho I know those who do (and that in itself is annoying, cuz how can you be an expert if you've not studied it and haven't even been there, much less lived there?).

I was thinking about it again last night and there was something I should clarify here, just in case people are reading me wrong. When I mean be proud to be who/what you are as a white person, I am not saying glorify yourself at the expense of others, or join (hate) groups or whatever. I mean be fine with who you are culturally and be fine with who everyone else is culturally. You can be oke with who you are and appreciate other cultures without going overboard in any way....

One of the things I wondered tho, was why it has become uncool to be a white person in today's society and why it's become trendy to popularise others' racial or ethnic backgrounds at the expense of one's own. I have my ideas on that, but....yeah.

Oh and don't even get me started on those New Age people. They're just frauds and charlatans anyway - there is no scientific basis for much of what they've appropriated as their own anyway, it's all a product of Victorian stereotypical....what's the word....glamourising. They take rituals that they think happened and use them without 1. understanding the original and 2. without even doing it right to start with. It's like with those druidy type people. Druidism as a 'religion' was started not by druids, for whom there is little recorded evidence (as to the rituals they performed) and made stuff up which they then clouded in supposed historical facts which have since been disproven. It's just a con really....and irks me no end as well...

9/24/2005 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

On the supposed uncoolness of being White: I don't agree with the observation that people believe being a White person in Western societies is inherently uncool. I'm skeptical if White people believe that; I certainly don't. But it sounds to me that if it exists, it does not justify cultural exploitation.

The problem to me is the easy commodification of minority cultural production by people who do not share or understand those cultural products. I don't think those perpetrators have to be White; Jenn's example shows that in stark relief. Ignorance of cultural disrespect does not justify cultural disrespect. Further, racism, deliberate or not, is racism, and should not be tolerated.

But Kaede was definitely correct about people finding cultural worth in the cultures they were born into as well as others. However, if people decide against that, they still have no justification in lampooning other groups. The Fu Manchu comment certainly crossed that line.

9/24/2005 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Exactly, but I didn't mean being a white person, I meant the culture of being a Canadian/American/British white person, rather than strictly a white person. All white ppl are that way regardless, but they're Canadian or whatever by birth and should be happy for the cultural things that goes with that territory. It's the same regardless of whatever colour you are, or should be.

I should try and find the article; it explains what I was trying to say so much better than I could say it (which is presumably why I'm not a journalist nor never will be *chuckles*).

I totally agree with you in your last statement, there is no excuse in ANY of the statements that Jenn mentioned. I do have to say that all these discussions with you guys over the months has certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things and I notice a lot more of this stuff going on than I used to. I also recognise where I myself have been going wrong, altho I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do about some of it, as there isn't a large community here as there is in most other places. Scotland is still fairly white as they go. Only in places like Glasgow and Edinburgh will you even see people who are not British, and due to the lame-ass culture here of separation/segregation as well as distrust (fostered by the media), they almost never associate with those not of their own kind. That's not to say I won't try but it's not as easy as I am used to, growing up in the relatively freer area of Canada where I never actually had a truly Canadian friend until I moved to Saskatchewan. (they were all immigrants from elsewhere)

9/24/2005 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi jenn its dan xanga.com/shortnbitter. i wrote something related to identity for my core course @ UCSC. dunno if its worth apia but just fyi.

ehh that sux that ur friends of all ppl had to say stuff like that. good for u for standing up against it though. they know its disrespectful now. youre a hero!

9/24/2005 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Cherryaa said...

I don't understand.

I'm sorry that you feel you're suffering prejudice - it certainly is real and everybody except a straight, white, healthy, middle-class male is going to come up against it more than a few times.

What mystifies me is why the Asian-themed party and the Fu-Manchu moustache angered you so.
Is the Asian-themed party not about enjoying Asian culture? How is that prejudicial?

I'm asking out of genuine curiosity, not some disguised form of race hatred.

I'm a white, British woman and last time I went to an Asian-themed party (in case you forgot, Asia includes more than the Eastern states), an Indian friend lent me a sari and helped me with my makeup. And we made Indian food.
I simply don't see how this is discriminatory.

Enlightenment, please?
Cx

10/01/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

An Asian-themed party is not about appreciating Asian culture. In many contexts, it is about dressing as an Asian person -- which is about a few pinky toes removed from wearing makeup to become a person of another race.

The problem is that this isn't about appreciating Asian culture, it's about masquerading as a person of another race using stereotypes to change your race to another. Whether those stereotypes are wearing a sari or pulling your eyes back with Scotch tape, an attendee of an Asian-themed costume party is denigrating what the real Asian identity and culture is. Most of the time, Asian-themed parties thrown by Asians or otherwise is a falsified, simplified, undignified and gaudy presentation of my culture for the purpose of entertaining outsiders. At it's worse, it's an orgy of stereotypes, as this party described above was.

As far as the Fu Manchu moustache, without trying to be critical of you, this is almost a perfect example as to why Asian-themed parties are not a celebration of culture. You may not know this, but the Fu Manchu moustache is a yelloface stereotype of Asian, created by white people to villify Chinese people. We have been fighting the stereotype that Fu Manchu single-handedly created for nearly a decade.

10/04/2005 10:23:00 PM  

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