Category Archives: south asian

An Open Letter To Kal Penn On Stop And Frisk

"The Time Machine" PremiereBy Guest Contributor Bridget Todd

Dear Kalpen Suresh Modi,

I’ve been a big fan of yours for some time.

Even though I don’t know you, you always struck me as someone who was thoughtful about race.

When I heard your stage name Kal Penn really came from your wanting to see if white casting directors would be more responsive to “Kal” than to “Kalpeen,” I found it was so hilariously insightful that I couldn’t help but become a fan.

For whatever reason, I assumed you and I were similar. But on Tuesday when you tweeted that you were supportive of Stop and Frisk, I knew we weren’t as similar as I once assumed.

We had a brief back and forth about the policy on twitter, and while I appreciated you taking the time to share your thoughts, 140 characters isn’t enough space to adequately tell you misinformed you really are on Stop and Frisk.

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Uh-Oh. The Pentagon Considers Well-Traveled, Broke Indian American Women Threats

by Guest Contributors The Aerogram Editors, originally published at the Aerogram

threat-level-high

The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge recently introduced readers to “Hema,” a character in an online training given to Pentagon employees to teach them how to identify “insider threats.”

Writes Sledge:

A security training test created by a Defense Department agency warns federal workers that they should consider the hypothetical Indian-American woman a “high threat” because she frequently visits family abroad, has money troubles and “speaks openly of unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy.”

As you can imagine, reading that line caused all of us here in The Aerogram’s headquarters to have a “Hey! That sounds like me!” moment.

Sledge goes on to say that the training was designed to help catch future Bradley Mannings and Edward Snowdens, who are both white men. (Editor’s note: We think the training would have been much more true-to-life if Hema had been the child of a Welsh immigrant a la Manning.)

Visits twice a year; inadequate work qualityBecause the training is declassified, anyone can now take it here. Examining the slides, we were struck by the fact that a character that regularly plays high-stakes poker was considered less of a threat than Hema, and that Hema’s propensity of travel made her as much of a risk as a recently divorced man mired in debt who openly worries about paying child support. Hema’s foreign travel, the slide notes, is a threat because it “gives foreign agents a chance to contact foreign intelligence services. She also demonstrates possible divided loyalty and financial difficulties. She is a high threat.”

Emphasis ours. Let’s break down exactly why labeling Hema as a threat to security is problematic. Using this training’s criteria, in order to be classified as low risk (0 indicators) by the Defense department, one would have to:

1) Estrange oneself from family and friends, not to mention cultural connections and heritage by not going back to India regularly. (Besides, who needs grandparents or your aunties when you have Uncle Sam?)

2) Be politically apathetic or somehow always support U.S. foreign policy, even though that policy could vary wildly from administration to administration. But never mind that. U-S-A! U-S-A!

3) Be financially well off. (But don’t you dare spend any of that money on foreign travel or political causes, like other well-off people do. Always remember: brown-skinned individuals have to be extra careful.)

For us, the strangest part of seeing someone like the fictional Hema classified as a high risk threat is that traveling internationally, exercising the rights to free speech and having political opinions are generally indicators of a well-rounded, actively involved citizen. Couldn’t the government use more inspired young people who know that the world is a big and complicated place? Why are these traits considered undesirable and threatening when the person possessing them is a South Asian American woman?

Meanwhile, On TumblR: Interrupting Fuckery With Asian American Princesses

By Andrea Plaid

Considering last week’s foolishness, no thanks to Day Above Ground’s “Asian Girlz,” we need some pop-culture interruptions around here–and our anti-racism-and-pop-culture compatriots at Racebending helped out.

This week, we reblogged their post featuring the digital photography of Kim Navoa and Donnie, who reimagined the Disney Princesses as Asian American women. Check out the great results:

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Quoted: Dueling Asian Stereotypes Rise From The SFO Tragedy

SFO Crash

It’s a predictable pattern: Tragedy strikes, and the volume of racism gets loud on the Internet. After Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed in San Francisco last weekend, leaving two dead and many others injured, some folks thought it was appropriate to resurrect the dated trope that Asians are bad drivers. The pilot flying the plane when it crashed was identified as Lee Gang-guk, according to Korean authorities.

The stereotype that Asians aren’t great behind the wheel isn’t new, of course. I mean, it’s been featured in Family Guy. It has its own special place in the revered Urban Dictionary. It’s entrenched enough that it’s been the focus of multiple studies, which compared crash rates of immigrant drivers with those of native drivers. (One Canadian study from 2011 found that immigrant drivers — the biggest groups of whom were from China and India — actually had fewer accidents than “long-term” drivers.)

What’s confounding, though, is that the whole “Asians are bad drivers” stereotype clashes with another beloved Internet meme: that Asians are good at all the “hard” things, especially things that include math, technology or coordination.

Some folks might ask, Wait! Isn’t a positive stereotype, like the tech-wizard ninja one, actually kind of good? Some folks might also never have been asked to calculate the tip at a restaurant because of their assumed Asian math prowess. (Ahem. I’m just sayin’.)

How can a group be stereotyped in such diametrically opposite ways? If folks are going to say racist things after a fatal tragedy, is it too much to ask that at least the stereotypes be consistent? Because, you know, we can’t possibly be bad drivers and good at All The Things.

But I’d prefer neither.

–Kat Chow, “Dueling Stereotypes: Bad Asian Drivers, Good At Everything,” Code Switch: NPR 7/11/13

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist Is A True Conversation Piece

By Guest Contributor Joyce Chen, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

Changez (Riz Ahmed) falls under the tutelage of Jim (Kiether Sutherland) in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” Image via IFC Films.

When Mira Nair set out to make a film about post-9/11 New York City, her aim was simple, though her approach was not. The India-born director already had several noteworthy titles under her belt, including 1991’s Mississippi Masala, 2001’s Monsoon Wedding, and 2006’s epic coming-of-age story starring Kal Penn, The Namesake — and yet, she was still finding trouble getting the industry behind her latest project.

“When I approached people with my idea, I was told that I would have to make the film at most for $2 million because I had a Muslim protagonist, and I should just shoot it in Rockaway [Queens],” she told the audience at a Tribeca Talks event opposite Bryce Dallas Howard at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival. “[So] I didn’t go to the studios. And the trouble is, we only think there’s one way. But there isn’t. There are many other ways. But they’re damned difficult.”

“I have this weird thing with rejection,” Nair continued with a laugh. “I just want to prove them wrong.”

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Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency

100 Questions About Indian Americans

Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.

One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.

When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.

I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”

“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”

I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”

The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”

The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.

–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13

Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness

By Kendra James and Arturo R. García

Image via Collider.com

You know why we picked the poster for the 3D showings of Star Trek Into Darkness? Because that’s about two more dimensions than the story ended up having. Set phasers to spoilers under the cut, as we talk about Khan, Sulu, Uhura, and where the franchise might go after this — assuming the fan backlash doesn’t sink the new film series.

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A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness

By Arturo R. García

Poster for “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Image via thetrekcollective.com

Kendra and I will have a more thorough discussion regarding Star Trek Into Darkness on Wednesday. But, now that the film is out and a rather big racebending cat is out of the bag, I figured we’d open things up for a bigger discussion. Spoilers under the cut.
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