Why I Still Watch Lost

By Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at the Star Tribune’s Your Voices Blog

(Thanks to Katie Leo, Darren Lee, Jasmine Tang, Charlotte Karem Albrecht, and Phil Yu, who proof-read and offered edits, thoughts and arguments for this entry, and a big shout out to Tatiana, Thuyet, Sajin, Lisa, Juliana, Jasmine, Darren, and the rest of our beloved people of color Lost Twin Cities viewing crew)

For much of my adult life, I didn’t watch television.  Except for the Simpsons and X-Files, I had not been a big fan of television since my early addictions to Robotech, Reading Rainbow, and Transformers.  I missed out on shows that a lot of my peers seemed to be into, like Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince.   Mostly because I didn’t have time to dedicate myself to a weekly viewing schedule, and I hated the idea of missing an episode if I did happen to fall in love with a series.  Added to this my growing unease with the lack of, or problematic depictions of, Asian and Asian Americans in media, and television became a pop culture blind spot I was more than willing to have.

With the invention of the DVD and being able to rent series from the video store, I began to rent shows and see what I had been missing.  One show that was getting considerable buzz in the Asian American community was Lost.  Until I started hearing murmurs from my peers about the show, I had dismissed it as that show about being stranded on an island starring that hobbit from Lord of the Rings.  But some very impassioned community members kept arguing about how great the writing was, the fantastic premise, and above all, the nuanced characters played by Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Despite all the positive buzz, I couldn’t quite believe it.

Asian Americans have good reason to be skeptical, when it comes to representation in film and television.  You either get racially displaced (see this great post on Racialicious regading whites cast as Asian: and that’s just the tip of the iceberg)  or, if Asians are portrayed at all, it’s usually as a male martial arts villain/punching dummy for a Caucasian hero, or a female victim in need of love and being saved from her war-torn homeland/her oppressive patriarchal culture by a white knight.  Pun intended.  Even in shows like E.R., where you’d think since it was based in Chicago hospitals that there’d be lots of Asians, there were just a token one or two.  You know those online quizzes where you answer a series of questions and it tells you what character you’d be on a television show or movie?  I don’t take those quizzes, because usually “Asian delivery boy #2” is not one of the outcomes.

What’s especially perplexing is the failure of American media, mainstream and alternative, to mention issues of race and representation when it comes to Asians.  As a person who reads pop culture reviews from Roger Ebert to the Onion’s AV Club to local papers such as the Star Tribune or City Pages, seldom have I found any American reviewer or commentator, regardless of race or gender, mention issues of representation when it comes to Asians and Asian Americans. From movies like The Painted Veil where Asians are relegated to mere backdrop, to films like Rambo and The Last Samurai where a white hero is inserted to save/slaughter Asians, to pop culture blockbuster shows like Battlestar Gallactica with its loaded and problematic Asian female character, to films like 21 and Avatar: the Last Airbender, where Asians are outright replaced by whites, one cannot find many instances where reviewers and commentators think race regarding Asians and Asian Americans is worth mentioning or discussing.

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Does National Geographic’s “Border Wars” Series Sensationalize Border Enforcement?

by Guest Contributor Ishita, originally published at Restore Fairness

The issue of long-term and comprehensive immigration reform has gained tremendous momentum over the last month. Be it progressive bloggers, faith-based groups, immigration rights activists, the White House or Congress, the buzz is that those in power must deliver a sustainable and humane solution to the immigration problem. But the disconnect between the mainstream media and the issues of immigration continues to remain challenging.

National Geographic Channel’s new reality series, “Border Wars”, is a perfect example of how the popular media tends to misconstrue the issue of immigration through a sensationalist approach to the problem. Launched on January 10th 2010, and co-produced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “Border Wars” follows agents from CBP as they go after drug trafficking, human smuggling, and undocumented migrants trying to cross the border.

The description of the show from the National Geographic website says -

The U.S.-Mexico border stretches for 2,000 miles, over mountains, through deserts and dividing cities. Each year over one million undocumented people cross this border….U.S. dollars are the answer for many poor people struggling in Mexico, Central America, and beyond….From the skilled tracker on foot to the agent able to see in the dark with special night-vision equipment, the U.S. Border Patrol faces the challenge of controlling the desert every day. In “Border Wars”, National Geographic goes inside the world of the U.S. Border Patrol with unprecedented access to the surprising world of the southern border.

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Obama’s speech addressed several categories of people and communities except race and ethnicity

By Guest Contributor Andrew Grant-Thomas, originally published at RaceTalk.org

EDITORIAL: Obama’s speech addressed several categories of people and communities except race and ethnicity

What a long, strange year it’s been.

A year that began with the loud insistence by some that Barack Obama’s election confirmed the United States as an essentially colorblind, post-racial nation went on to present a series of spectacular counterpoints to that claim – flaps over Attorney General Eric Holder’s “nation of cowards” race speech, Joe Wilson’s shouted “you lie!” during the president’s health care address, Professor Henry Louis Gates’ encounter with a white police officer at his home, the Senate inquiry into Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, and more.

And yet, while President Obama’s State of the Union address sprinkled references to several categories of people and communities about whom he expressed concern, race was altogether absent from his remarks. “Small towns and rural communities” received early mention. So, too, did “those who had already known poverty,” “working families,” “small business owners,” “first-time homebuyers,” gays in the military, women (with respect to equal pay laws), and, of course, “middle-class Americans,” among others. Race? Ethnicity? Nothing.

As a matter of political calculus, the silence was unremarkable and unsurprising, coming as it did from a president reluctant to publicly tread the ground of race except, at times, in the context of his personal biography. However, with respect to on-the-ground realities and the opportunity presented for social transformation, a continued failure to engage race would be devastating.

The pain of economic recession has been felt widely, but not equally. President Obama noted that 1 in 10 Americans could not find work. (The fraction would be much larger if we included those so discouraged that they have stopped looking for work and therefore are not included among the “officially” unemployed.) He didn’t tell us that joblessness is much worse for African Americans (1 in 6) and for Latinos (1 in 8 ) and has worsened much faster for them than for Americans as a whole. The president referred to declining home values. He did not acknowledge that African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and women have borne the brunt of the resulting dramatic loss in wealth. He pointed out that in the 21st century “one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” However, the president neglected to mention that young Latino adults earn bachelor’s degrees at one-third the rate of their white peers, and that African Americans earn degrees at only half the rates of whites.

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links for 2010-02-01

Why Haiti Matters: Barack Obama and the Larger Discourse on Haiti [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince

In the current edition of Newsweek[1], President Obama claims to tell Americans why Haiti matters. Unfortunately, his claims reflect the racism, dishonesty, and denials of history that surround the way the “First World” frames Haiti and Haiti’s earthquake. Haiti does indeed matter to a variety of people and entities for reasons both good and ill – but not for the reasons Obama gives in Newsweek.

First, Haiti matters to the American government and American society because it gives us a chance to rewrite history. This tragedy provides us with the opportunity to expiate our crimes and portray ourselves as Haiti’s saviors. Due to America’s and the First World’s extensive financial and media resources, we get to determine the story that is told to the world about Haiti’s past and present. Thus, Obama’s version of the story claims, “… in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up…” However, in terms of our relationship with Haiti (and other non-white or non-Western countries) the opposite is true.

As Randall Robinson pointed out in his works Quitting America and An Unbroken Agony, the U.S. has been sabotaging Haiti ever since the country’s independence. I could write an entire essay on the U.S.’s crimes against Haiti, but I’m just going to give a few of the examples Robinson offers on pages 200 and 201 of Quitting America.

The U.S. sided with France against the slave rebellion that brought Haiti independence. We then destroyed Haiti’s economy by forcing the country to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave-owners for their loss of property (slaves.) We occupied Haiti for nineteen years beginning in 1915, re-enslaving Haitians and leasing over 200,000 acres of land to American corporations – land stolen from tens of thousands of peasants. President John F. Kennedy gave military aid to Dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. We even provided the murderous post-Duvalier National Council of Government with millions in aid.

But the story doesn’t end there. As Paul Street has noted [2], “A reformist priest named Jean Bertrand Aristide threatened Washington’s vicious neoliberal regime when he won Haiti’s first free election in 1990… Aristide was removed in a U.S.-supported coup in 1991 but returned amidst popular upheaval in 1994. The Clinton White House initially backed the coup regime even more strongly than did George Bush I. Thanks to its rhetoric about ‘democracy’ at home and abroad, the militantly corporate-neoliberal NAFTA-promoting Clinton administration felt compelled to pretend that they backed Aristide’s return to power in 1994. The Clinton Pentagon and State Department delayed that return for two years and made it clear that Aristide’s restoration to nominal power depended upon him promising not to help the poor by offering any further challenges to Washington’s ‘free market’ economics.”

The story continued in 2004 when the U.S. government ousted President Aristide and sent him to the Central African Republic, although as Colin Powell notes, “We did not force him onto the airplane.” [3] I give this lengthy excerpt from a far lengthier litany of crimes to show that Obama’s claim that America doesn’t use power to subjugate others, but rather to lift them up, is untrue. But while America has overwhelmingly been a negative force towards Haiti, Haiti played key positive roles both in the development of the United States and in the worldwide quest for liberty that is as old as humanity itself. Continue reading

On Discussions of Transracial Adoption

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Carleandria sent us this LA Times article over the weekend:

The telephones kept ringing with more orders and although Duan Yuelin kept raising his prices, the demand was inexhaustible. Customers were so eager to buy more that they would ply him with expensive gifts and dinners in fancy restaurants.

His family-run business was racking up sales of as much as $3,000 a month, unimaginable riches for uneducated Chinese rice farmers from southern Hunan province.

What merchandise was he selling? Babies. And the customers were government-run orphanages that paid up to $600 each for newborn girls for adoption in the United States and other Western countries.

“They couldn’t get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and so did the prices,” recalled Duan, who was released from prison last month after serving about four years of a six-year sentence for child trafficking.

When we post articles about taking the time to consider children in the adoption discourse, I am always surprised at the number of comments that assume we are anti-adoption (or as one amusingly put it, leaving these poor children to rot) when we believe in listening to perspectives from adult adoptees and adoptive POCs.  The perspectives are quite different from the standard narrative on adoption.  Just check out what Paula, of the Heart, Mind, and Seoul blog had to say:

[W]hy do so many people casually accept (and perhaps even secretly celebrate) it as fate, good karma, a higher power at force, destiny, luck, etc. when a woman who is without a true, just selection of choice or is told that the only real choice she has is to place her child, and believe this to be perfectly acceptable so long as it benefits our agenda?  Our plans.  Our lifelong hopes and childhood dreams.  Why is okay for other women to find themselves in a position to have to make arguably the most God-awful and heart-wrenching, hellish choice or worse – to find themselves WITHOUT choice – when it suits us or those we love?  And why aren’t more of us or more of those we love willing to make the same kinds of sacrifices that we expect, assume, hope and accept that other women will do? Continue reading