Saturday, November 29, 2008

On Guess Who?

Opponenet: "Is your mystery person black?"

Me: Shit!!! "Yes."


I had Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house, and while I was there, her daughter pulled out the classic game "Guess Who?" and challenged me to a round.*

The second I saw the box and the name, I was thinking to myself, "Holy sh--. Guess Who!! I remember that game! I used to play that all the time as a kid." The thoughts that quickly followed covered my memories of the ridiculously small number of people of color in the game (all black), and the fact that there had only been one woman of color in the whole game. I recalled the feeling of knowing I had all but lost when I drew that card with the black female face on it. And I was interested in seeing how the PC police had updated the game since my childhood.

The answer? NOT AT ALL. I mean - honestly- not one bit. Although the style of cartoon was a bit different, the numbers were the same: 24 faces; 5 faces of color (all black); 5 female; one black female. Sure, there were a couple black-haired folks that could possibly represent other races, but they certainly seem white. Either way, the messages remain the same: It is a negative thing (i.e. you're going to lose) if your person is black because - 1) White male people are the norm. 2) There are some black people, but they are rare. 3) Black women are extremely rare (and unacceptable). 4) Those are the only two races in the world that matter (even if one of those races hardly matters) - white and black. Forget Asian, Latin@, Arab, Native Indian, Pacific Islander, or any other such "abnormal" races. 80% white. 80% male. Nothing else matters.

It kind of blew my mind. And it hurt. Fresh from my "encounter" with the young Asian kid from the YouTube video I put up on Wednesday, I couldn't help but be reminded of one other arena in my youth where I wasn't "normal" enough to count or be counted. One more straw reminding me of my outsider stance in this country. A freaking kids' game!!! Just like all the other manufactured kids' games I played throughout my youth - not a single one had an Asian kid, that's for sure (most didn't even have a single non-white kid).

Otherization. Constant messaging throughout every mass-marketed second of my childhood. And from these two recent examples (Guess Who? and the YouTube kid) - none of it has changed. Sure, we elected a black president - that's beyond huge - but where the Hell will my kids go to feel like part of it all?


Opponent: "Is your mystery person Asian (or Arab or Latin@ or Native Indian or Pacific Islander or mixed)?"

Me: "Yes."

Opponent: "That's not possible - you must be cheating."

* For those that missed the "Guess Who?" boat, the rules are simple: each player has a board filled up with a bunch of cartoon faces (the same for each player) on plastic tiles that can be lifted or put down. You each draw a card with one of those faces on it, and then you proceed to try to guess your opponent's face by taking turns asking 20-Questions-type questions, flipping face-down any face that doesn't fit the characteristics of your opponent ("Does your mystery person have a mustache?" No. Flip down all people with a mustache).

** When looking for images for this post, I actually found images of a current version of the game where EVERY face is white - only one slightly-tan face in sight. And people say we're "post-racial." How I'd like to cave their f-ing heads in . . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Words are not Enough

This post has nothing to do with Cho Seung-Hui, but it might give all you non-Asian folks a slight idea of what kind of frustrations could cause a Korean kid in this country to lash out in such a terrible way.

This video makes the point more strongly than anything an adult could ever write. I wanted to cry and take this kid under my wing, tell him what's up and show him something different . . . wondering if it really is any different, as an adult (because I definitely could have made a pretty similar video when I was a kid).

THIS is how this country teaches Asian kids to think of themselves:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Levity

In general, this blog can cover some pretty frustrating and depressing topics. Not a bad thing, really - because these things need to be mentioned and/or discussed, but I thought I should get some regular levity in here to show any readers that I'm not always "so serious."* So I've decided that I'll do some blast-from-the-past posting once a week, putting up a past post from my now-deceased "entertaining" blog. The concept is explained in this one, but in summary: they are letters to inanimate objects meant to express my appreciation for the "little things." See? I appreciate things . . .

* It probably also shows how "American" I really am.

Without further ado, the CVT's Past Presents:


Dear Coconut Cream Pie
So my friend, A, gave me a little critique on this crappy blog, and she had a great idea. She told me that it might be a little more interesting ("a little," mind you, she's smart enough not to make big promises for this blog) if I wrote my posts as letters to various people/things. I thought that was a pretty good idea, so I've thrown out the "Theme of the Week" idea (which, if you've been reading, I actually threw out the day after I started it), and I'm going to go with letters.

Today's letter: Dear Coconut Cream Pie,

I ate a lot of you today. A's dad gave her a big piece of you yesterday, and she decided that I should have it (not knowing that you are my favourite dessert in the world). I ate the whole chunk in one sitting as I watched the beginning of "the Scorpion King" on tv. Unfortunately, it turns out that "the Scorpion King" is one of the worst movies ever made (it reminded me of the Conan the Barbarian movies, but much worse for having been made in the modern era), and the piece of you I was eating wasn't so terrific, either.

You see, I'm spoiled. My mom happens to make a really kick-ass coconut cream pie, and I've never met another's pie that has ever come close. It all started with the crust: today's piece of you had an awful crust. I'm not sure if it was burnt, or if it was supposed to be that way, but it was dry and had a definite charcoal taste to it. Nothing like mom makes it.

Now, don't get me wrong - I enjoyed you today. I really did. It's just hard not to get my hopes up when somebody gives me a bakery-box with you in it. Something about that pink box makes me think of my youth when only exciting treats came in those cleverly-folded containers: cupcakes, birthday cake, donuts . . . All generally signifying some fun event (usually a birthday).

So when a pink bakery box is combined with coconut cream pie, I'm expecting something really special. Something that is going to make me forget all about how horribly bad "the Scorpion King" is. Something that will throw me straight into the land of Eating Bliss no matter what else is going on. But when I opened up that magical box and began eating you today . . . well, I was thinking about how bad that movie was.

I know this is pretty hurtful to you, Coconut Cream Pie. That's why I wanted to address it clearly and immediately. We've had some amazing times together. All those birthdays when my mom makes you for me, and I eat you (nice and cold out of the fridge - the best way to enjoy you) for breakfast . . . The moments of hesitation when G asks for a slice of you, and I have to be polite and say okay. Today's little incident will never erase those memories or make them less special for me. I just figured that - if I was thinking it - I should say it.

So here it is: I think I would have preferred a big chocolate chip cookie this afternoon.

I'm so sorry.


Friday, November 21, 2008

On Code-Switching

Yeah - that's right. That's a photo of some thuggish-ruggish, street-repping ASIAN youth. Kids like many I've worked with who balance the American street life with traditional "Asian" cultural systems at home with the dominant white cultural systems of the establishment. Think that's easy?

There's a term that I've heard off and on within educational circles called "Code-switching." Now, this term was initially coined in terms of bilingual people - whose brains adapted to switch linguistic coding depending on their situation: such as English at school, and a different language at home. In countries where people grow up speaking even more languages, this is even more evident as people can end up switching between three or four different languages in one social situation, depending on who is there and the circumstances.

When used by educators (and other social workers), however, "code-switching" is use more broadly as a term referring to adjusting to different cultural situations, in general (including language, but not only language). And this isn't just in terms of ethnically mixed folks (like me), but anybody that finds themselves regularly interacting with people of very different cultural backgrounds.

Specifically, this idea is used by educators to discuss the obstacles in the way of many students within the current public education system in the United States. Because, to be blunt, our schools are run within the parameters of the dominant white, middle-class culture. This means that the values being enforced are white, middle-class values - whether or not that reflects the students (or even staff) in the system. So anybody from a different demographic (whether it's by socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, or otherwise) comes in at a distinct disadvantage; because they come in having to learn new rules of social interaction, new ways to handle situations, different ways to communicate - all on top of the academics they are also expected to learn.

The problem being, of course, that few teachers actually go about TEACHING any of these new rules or ways of communication. Since the education system is so biased towards this white middle-class cultural mindset (and usually hires those from within that demographic), it is often assumed that this mindset is "normal" - thus, kids who are not fluent in the ways of being and communicating in this system are "bad kids" or "trouble-makers," etc. Students are assumed to have an instinctual knowledge of these rules, and so nobody takes the time to TEACH it - and so the kids who come in from a background of poverty, or a different ethnic or racial culture often suffer disciplinary repercussions, as well as poor school performance.

And this is where the concept of "code-switching" comes in. Because it is not necessarily a bad thing that schools move through a white middle-class cultural framework. Nor is it necessarily a good thing. It just IS. And, realistically, most of the professional world in the United States operates from an identical framework, so it is important for kids to master an understanding of these "rules" in order to move up, economically. It's not exactly fair (since it puts kids from a different cultural viewpoint at a distinct disadvantage), but it's brutal reality.

So some educators have begun to try to actively teach students how to code-switch in order to be successful in school. What that entails is throwing out a lot of the judgments that usually come when a student isn't following implicit school rules (such as levels of volume that are "too loud," ways of interacting that are "disrespectful," or ways of communicating that are "violent" or "aggressive") and instead teaching the student how to adjust. For example, a teacher could tell a kid, "Hey - I know it's not so easy to just 'turn the other cheek' in real life, but you've got to be able to find other ways to handle it if you're going to be successful in school and/or keep a well-paying job" and then following up with some brain-storming of other ways to solve it in a way that works within the system, but also for the kid.

Because, for many kids that don't fall under the white middle-class umbrella (which, actually - are the majority) coming to school can be like playing football all their lives and then suddenly being thrown into a basketball game without ever having the rules explained to them. So when the coach tells them to keep the other team from scoring, there's one most likely outcome: the kid tackles the Hell out of the dribbler in the middle of the court, gets thrown out of the game, yelled at by coach and other players and fans, and hates the sport of basketball ever afterward. At least, that's what would happen if the coach ASSUMED the kid had seen/played basketball before. If the coach was working with a kid he knew was new to the sport - a very different outcome would result.

And that's what happens in our current education system. We have a bunch of teachers (coaches) who ASSUME that kids know all of the many implicit rules of the white middle-class cultural game because that's the framework within which those teachers have lived their entire life. And so the kids end up getting themselves in unwinnable situations that end up in tragedy.

Of course, some folks are better adapted to code-switching than others: for, instance, those who have been practicing it from infancy. Those people who learned from a very young age about the changing rules of the game. Those who implicitly comprehend the very fluid nature of cultural values and are able to read the subtle cues that can clue them in to ways to be in different cultural situations. One such group of people are mixed folks like me. And that's why I will forever be grateful for my mixed background - because it gave me this inherent code-switching ability that most people don't have.

Because I grew up knowing - when I visit my Chinese grandparents, I should act this certain way, and talk this certain way, eat this certain way, etc; when I'm with my white grandparents, I should do these other things; when I'm with my friends, I should be like this. When I lived in Tanzania, people were constantly commenting on how "Tanzanian" I became - in action, mannerisms, ways of thought. But it was natural for me, because I was born into an adaptive cultural world, so I sub-consciously adjusted to a "Tanzanian" way of living and speaking as a matter of course. I have lived my life with a given intuitive knowledge that there are a whole number of different cultural ways of being and acting, and they are not on a hierarchy of "good" or "bad" or "rude" or "acceptable" - but rather a spectrum of "how this group does things." And that will forever be the greatest gift my mixed background has given me.

The problem is, of course, that those without an inherent understanding of cultural fluidity so often peg folks like me (let's call us "Instinctual Code-Switchers" or ICS) as "sell-outs" or trying to "play both sides" because of our ability to interact at the cultural level of whomever we happen to be with. I am now able to start pegging the distinct ways I change my demeanor depending on who I'm talking to, and it's interesting to me. I completely change my body language depending on the demographic of the people around me, and it is completely automatic. I've even tried NOT to do it, at time, and it's an actual fight for me to do so. And I'll tell you this - it is NOT "fake." It is not "selling out." It's just being able to better communicate between cultures and to adapt to subtle cultural cues to get along better.

Because we all do this on a regular basis. We all talk differently to our friends in a relaxed atmosphere than with our co-workers at work (on rare occasions, we don't . . .). We act differently in a job interview. We speak differently to our elders (hopefully) than to our peers than to small children. When we go to a show, we take on the mannerisms and adjust to the expectations of the specific fan-base for the show we are watching, whether it's rock, hip-hop, or the symphony. We are constantly code-switching as we move from situation to situation.

But when we do the same thing between racial cultural situations, people get uncomfortable. POC tell other POC we're "acting white." White folks get upset when POC don't automatically adjust to a white cultural framework and wonder why "they act that way." We make jokes about how people do things in other countries, or in ethnic cultures different from our own. We make tv shows called "Bizarre Foods" and crack jokes about the people of the country we are visiting.

And why? Because we don't directly acknowledge code-switching and how it works in our society. White teachers are afraid to tell their students that, in essence, they actually ARE being asked to "act white" to do well in school.* POC are afraid to admit that we do, indeed, "act white" in order to get better jobs. We all tip-toe around it because it's so damn touchy - and, in the meantime, our education system fails the majority of our children. Were we able to simply say - "there are certain rules to every game you play, and the specific rules for the game called 'do well in school' or 'get a promotion' are like this . . ." Kids are all about rules and fairness, so when you explain it to them in these terms, it settles them. You're not telling them how they do things are wrong or bad or any other such judgement - simply that they've got to learn some different rules and adjust to them to play these particular games.

Because, again - these kids are no less skilled or intelligent than their white middle-class counterparts.** In fact, I would argue that they must be a little MORE skilled and intelligent to be able to adapt (something others don't have to do) and still be successful. And this is why I think white college kids so often struggle with all-black fraternities, or the existence of BET, or why an Asian students' coalition is NOT the same as a white supremacist group - because these are the very kids who NEVER had to learn to racially code-switch in order to survive. Because they never had to adjust their ways of thinking or being to make do. And so they are unable to wrap their heads around the concept of different cultural value systems, or how other people do things without judging it based on their own narrow views.

And, oddly enough - it's not really their fault. It's frustrating as Hell, and often makes me want to scream - but it's more a flaw in the system than anything specific to them, personally. Because nobody ever explicitly taught them about code-switching or how it works or its prevalence in our society. To them, that has never been shown to exist because we're all so scared to admit it, and so they are allowed to roll through their lives in ignorance. It's the backbone of white privilege. Tell people to "respect other cultures" by saying "that's a pretty dress" or "I really love your hair" without ever having to understand that it's just about different rules to a game, thus eliminating "normality" and replacing it with "how things are done in this particular situation/place."

And so right here represents the beginning of a movement. Whether you're white or a person of color - please start openly acknowledging how code-switching works in our society. Just be honest about it. Teach your kids about it. Talk to your friends about the different rules you all play by. And if you're an educator? Start changing the system by just being open and frank about what we're asking our kids to do to be successful - and stop assuming they "should know how to behave." Please.

* Specifically, "middle-class white."

** Again, I must stress the "middle-class" aspect of the educational culture here, because white kids coming from poverty struggle with the adjustment in the same way that their more colorful peers do.

*** Thinking about it, I should probably specify that the educational system runs from a STRAIGHT white middle-class cultural viewpoint, as I have no doubt that GBLT students must also do some heavy code-switching to have success in school.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Interracial Math

This is going to be a short post. Short, because there's not a whole lot to say about the matter - but that doesn't make it any less important.

Over the years, I've often heard people speak of interracial relationships and mixed children as a key to "changing the world" and making current racial designations obsolete within the next 50 years. I've already discussed - at length - why I disagree, but I just want to ask one simple question regarding these magical multi-racial babies and their interracial parents:

Who do mixed (specifically white-plus-another-race) folks end up dating or having kids with most often: white people, other mixed people, people sharing the race of their non-white parent, or another race entirely?

Now, really think before answering.

Guess what? Biracial kids are more likely to end up having white partners than any of the other groups.* And it's not too shocking really.

The reasons? First of all, there are more white people in this country than there are any other race, so if you're somebody that crosses different racial barriers, you're still more likely, statistically-speaking, to run into white people - therefore a higher chance of randomly ending up with a white person.

Of course, it's not just random. Because biracial kids with one white parent generally grow up more immersed in white culture than their other culture. Part of this is the fact that we live in the U.S., which is dominated by white culture. But it's also because white culture is more "acceptable" and "normal," and the white partners are less able to actively subdue their own "normality" to enable their child to have an even immersion in both racial cultures of their parents. So - if a kid is raised in white culture, white people are who they are going to be around more often, and have more in common with, culturally, than another race - thus making it more likely for them to date white people.

Also, biracial kids are seen as more "acceptable" partners for white people than mono-racial "others." We're "exotic" and all that, a more comfortable middle ground for white people that want to "date dangerously," but don't really want to cross the racial line. We're less-threatening and more user-friendly, and so white people are more likely to be attracted to (and be okay with dating) us than somebody "more ethnic."

The end result? Within three generations, the descendants of an interracial union are basically white (I don't believe in the "one-drop" rule when we're talking fourths or smaller), making them more likely to date other white people, etc. So that - really - the majority of interracial relationships between a white partner and another race are the first step in white-washing the non-white partners racial lineage. So, in spite of all these arguments to the contrary, many interracial relationships are actually reducing racial diversity and color in the long-run. Now ain't that a crazy concept?

And for those who don't buy my argument - do a bit of snooping around, and tell me what you find. Find families of bi-racial (white and non-white) couples and see what the grandchildren look like. Personally, my cousins have pretty much drained all the Chinese blood from our family line, already. My brother is marrying a white girl. A large number of the mixed kids I knew back in the Bay have married white people (in fact, all the ones that I am aware of that have gotten married).

One possible exception to this rule is biracial (white/black) women. Partly, this is due to the fact that biracial folks with black heritage are a lot more likely to be considered just "black" on a general level. More importantly, it involves various racial stereotypes about black women, etc. which makes this the one exception where my proposed trend may not fall out (although I'm not entirely sure about that).

So, look around. Read up on some statistics. Do the math. And please don't tell me that interracial dating is a cure for racism until you have some proof. Because I'm not buying.

* I had actual numbers on this at one point, but lost them - anybody?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On Un-doing Right

I mentioned this briefly in another post, and other people have written more eloquently on the matter, but the fact of the matter is that voters in California undid the right thing last week: they took away the right for same-sex couples to get legally married. The key here is that they took it away.

In May of this year, the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court. It went that high, and the powers-that-be found that it was unconstitutional to deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry. As a result, thousands of same-sex couples got legally married in the state in the following months. Married. As was their RIGHT, because they were in love with each other and wanted to make that level of commitment that so many straight couples consider a fact of life and a necessary stage of partnership.

Then, a mere 6 months later, that right was revoked, due to a slight majority (52%) of people voting for Proposition 8. The name of Prop 8? Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act. The freaking NAME of the proposition flat-out stated its intent to "eliminate a right." And it passed. Because barely more than half of the people in the state voted for it.

And that is horrifying. Because how can it be that it only takes a 52% majority to ELIMINATE A RIGHT!??? What if that proposition was to "eliminate the right of non-white Americans to vote in the general election"? By the same faulty logic that had same-sex marriages revoked, white voters ALONE could revoke the rights of non-white folks to vote - and it wouldn't even take ALL white voters. Of course, that is a ridiculous premise that could never happen . . .

And yet - Proposition 8 did happen.

And what about all those happy couples that had marriages planned for this coming year? Cancelled. Not only cancelled - but banned. Made illegal. And those that already got married!? Fear and uncertainty. It's unlikely that their marriages would be annulled - but it's possible. For all those straight folks out there that still aren't horrified about this - imagine if you were part of an interracial relationship last spring and then had your marriage deemed illegal six months later because 52% of the people in your state didn't approve of your marriage?

It makes no sense. It seems completely illogical. At the same time that we voted a black man into the Oval Office, we allowed voters to take away rights from other citizens. And that is a conceptual paradox that cannot be acceptable to anybody who felt pride in our country last Tuesday night.

Still, we fight on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Bridging the Divide . . . through Paintball?

This might be one of my stranger posts, but bear with me here - because I'm serious.

So - I was down in LA this last weekend. And, although I'm going to save this for another post - I have to say that being there really knocked the f-ed up aspect of Prop 8 into me. As there is a large gay community in LA, there were marches and rallies being held all over the city, and everybody was talking about it. My brother (who I was visiting) told me about his friends who had just had their knees cut out. How can you just undo something like that?

I'll write more on this in a future post (soon) - and I'm not trying to minimize the issue - but I want to try to keep a little bit of the positive flow that Obama's election brought me, so I'm going to change the subject right now. To paintball.

Yup, paintball.

My brother and I went paintballing my last day in town, and I couldn't help but bring my race-ometer with me, and I was kind of amazed by the results.

To be brief - paintball is a form of entertainment that basically consists of running around with guns in a faux-battle type environment shooting each other with paintballs (that explode and thus show you that you've been hit). There are playing fields all over the place - but the one we went to consisted of a few different large fields covered in bunkers and hills and partial walls and what-not. We joined as "walk-ons" with other people who had just shown up on their own to play - and for each game, we were divided randomly into two different teams (try to shoot members of the other team, and protect those on your own as you try to capture your opponents flag).

That's a quick summary, but it captures the gist. So - obviously - it's not the most PC form of entertainment, due to the gun-toting, shoot other people, war-imagery nature of the game. It's pretty "masculine" and vaguely violent. So you'd expect it to be a bunch of adrenaline-filled macho-men that just want to shoot things.

And, at first look, it seemed like that was the case. Most of the other people there with us when we got there were men, a lot of them in army fatigues. They ranged from about 18 to 40 years old.

But, an hour later after more people had arrived, I started really looking around, and I was a bit surprised. The first thing was the incredible racial diversity of the participants. There were white guys, of course, but also a large number of Latino (mostly Chicano), Asian (Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese - with certainty), black, and ambiguous folks like me and my brother. And I'm talking true diversity here, meaning white did not make up 50% by any stretch - and neither did any other racial group. And neither did any group fill the "token" role of being just one or two people.

Then I noticed it wasn't just guys. There were actually a decent number of female players (not 50-50, of course, but still many more than I would have expected).

The age-range stretched FAR. There were a ton of younger kids (from around 11 to 16 years old), as well as their parents and other older folks (over 50 for sure, probably up to 70-ish). And a number of people spanning the years in between (and I really don't think that was the largest population).

And the part that really blew my mind? The span of socioeconomic categories. Seriously. Because, in real life, when people are talking about diversity - they are seldom talking about a group that spans different economic classes evenly. But this was just that. There were the stereotypical "working-class" types (more rural, white hunter-types). There were "urban" youth (vaguely "thuggish" with the whole hip-hop "gangsta" look). There were middle-class folks (some business-types, college kids). And there were upper-class folks driving around nice-ass cars. And it really was pretty evenly spread throughout. Of course, I'm making some big assumptions and generalizations about the people there based on a number of stereotypes - but I feel confident in my assessment, nonetheless.

And finally - the number of languages being spoken on the field was refreshing. Everybody there spoke English fluently (as far as I could tell), but it felt good to hear them easily switching back and forth between English and (what I assume to be) their "home" language. I heard a group of kids speaking Japanese with their parents. A number of folks (that didn't come together) were speaking Tagalog. Spanish was prevalent. And there were a few other languages that I didn't recognize.

All of the above. On a paintball field. And it felt perfectly natural and fine. There were no conflicts. In a game where you shoot other people (and it can hurt), there were no arguments, or threats, or even cussing. People just played the game. We were stuck on random teams with strangers - guaranteed to be filled with people spanning a number of different demographic categories from each other - and we played together, as a team. We strategized, covered each other, took risks for each other, and played to win without blaming anybody else when we lost.

And it was FUN. On a number of levels. It just felt so good. Maybe it was the ongoing high from the Obama election, but it just filled me with ease and positivity. F-ing PAINTBALL brought together so many different groups of people that we have been taught cannot get along in this country. We're filled with stereotypes about racist "red-neck" rural white guys who just want to go hunting and hurt non-white folks. We're taught that urban Latin@s and black folks are gang members that are violent and unable to get along with other groups. Asian folks are foreigners that don't trust or respect other races. Middle-to-upper class people are arrogantly prejudiced against "lower" economic classes and races and don't mix it up.

But - for one day -this was all flipped on its head. On a paintball field.

And I couldn't help but try and apply the lessons learned to the bigger world: the most obvious one is a common goal. The focus wasn't on race, or economic status, or any of these other dividing factors because everybody was playing together to achieve a common goal - and so individuals were willing to help each other out and get along because it clearly benefitted themselves, directly.

The other big part (in my head): there were no given stereotypes to play upon. It was paintball. To my knowledge (and probably to most of the people there) there are no stereotypes about what kind of person is "naturally" better at paintball. Not by body-type (I saw plenty of "larger" folks who were just as good as any "more athletic" competitors), not by race (there's no "insert-race are just built for paintballing," and - surprisingly - not by gender (the females were just as good) or age (one of the best players was the oldest). So, without stereotypes to fall back on, every individual was treated on their own merit - by what they demonstrated on the field and nothing else. And when was the last time you ever saw that actually happen?

Finally, there's the simple fact that the stakes were low. We were all there to play a game. And that's it. We wanted to win, of course, but that wasn't all-important (because there was always another game, another opportunity to make up for it). And so we were able to relax and not resort to all the negative qualities of humankind that end up being triggered by the stress of high-stakes (survival, success, etc.) and that cannot be ignored.

So my question is this: how can we build this into "real life"? Can we even do so? Are there other areas of life where these three conditions exist to eliminate the tension of "perceived difference"? Because now, I actually think it can be done. It would take a ton of work, of course (because I think it runs counter to a lot of ways we do things in this country), but it could be done. And if y'all can help me figure it out, I'll see what I can do to become your president and put it into action after Obama's eight years are through . . .

* Now, obviously, there are stereotypes about sexual preference that likely would be brought out in this atmosphere. However, I cannot be sure about that one, as that was not a readily-noticeable distinguishing factor in this context. Of course, I had a lot of other assumptions dashed about stereotypes that would be played out in this situation, so maybe even ones about sexual preference wouldn't have come out this time (unlikely, but I've been proven wrong before).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On the Unexplainable

I wish I could share this feeling with everyone. This blissful, giddily-surprised, calming, uplifting feeling. Hundreds of pounds of baggage have been lifted from my shoulders, and I get to raise my head from the burden and just look UP again. It's like I've been knocked back to childhood - looking at the world through new, shining eyes.

The world changed yesterday. It did.

Everything I did was new. As I drove to work - 'I'm driving to work, and we just elected a black president.' I ate breakfast - 'I'm eating and we just elected a black president.' Talking to my students - 'I'm teaching math after we elected a black president.' EVERYTHING is NEW.

Because I never truly believed this day would come. And so EARLY in my lifetime. So monumental that I even had flashes of - maybe I could run for PRESIDENT!!! - like a giddy kid. Because that had never been a true possibility before. And maybe I will run for President. Because this country just showed me that it could happen.

And as I walked around with my giddy smile, I wanted to find every single person of color in this city and just look at their eyes. To share this glow and emotion. To have a wordless exchange of pure joy on such a scale that I'll never feel again - and SHARE THE EXACT SAME FEELING with another soul (or more).

I tried to share it with white folks. I did. But it didn't work. Because this amazing moment is for us - people of color. I don't minimize the part of all the white voters (who I suddenly have so much more faith in than I ever had before), but white folks just can't FEEL this. As I told my co-workers, "Today is the only time that it kind of sucks to be white in this country - because you can't feel THIS" (as I tapped my chest). And in spite of arguments to the contrary, it's absolutely true. Because, without all the weight and baggage of race in this country, white folks can't fully feel the power of having a load of that knocked off.

And I kind of feel bad about that. Because I really DO want to share it with everybody. My teaching assistant came in, and as I explained to her how I had no intention of teaching anything real because of the moment, she said, "Cool, I totally understand."

And then when I started talking about how I hadn't been able to sleep and how shaky I was, etc. she asked, "Why?" And I wanted to scream. "WHY!!??? We just elected a f-ing BLACK PRESIDENT, that's why!!!! Suddenly this country has invited all people of color to be a real part of this nation!!! There's a guy that's moving to the Oval Office that actually gives a sh-- and KNOWS what it's like to be another color!!!!! Are you kidding me!??"

And it's simultaneously crazy and sad and kind of gratifying that not everyone gets to touch this feeling. It's like all my payments to the "being a person of color in America fund" got reimbursed in one fell swoop, and I honestly think I'll be a little high for the next month or so. Maybe longer.

And it felt even BETTER to share this with my one co-worker of color. We just looked at each other and KNEW that we were in the same place. We both had raw, post-teary eyes. We both couldn't stop smiling. We both had shaky hands. And we both were looking at the world from a brand-new set of eyes. And we got to share it.

And from that, I suddenly feel this familial, happy bond with ALL people of color (even worldwide, really). We're all getting to share in something so wonderful - and it's just for us. Not to say white folks aren't happy, and don't understand it to some level, but this FEELING - it's just ours. It's a little bit of a refund for all that we've had to shoulder.

And the smiles I get when I think about those who lived through and participated in the Civil Rights movements of the 60s? There's must be a level of bliss that can be matched by nothing less than Heaven, itself (and even THAT might not match it).

So I thank you, America. All of you - no matter who you voted for. Because, in the end, you gave me (and so many others) a gift that defies explanation and comprehension. I really don't think anything else earthly can match this, and I say that with no exaggeration.

Thank you for this new world. I promise I won't ever take it for granted.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No Title Necessary

What's there to be said? Last night, when I heard the results, I went numb. I wouldn't believe them. I was convinced that the exit polls were completely inaccurate, that people were lying. I thought I'd wake up this morning to see that this was another "Dewey Defeats Truman" . . .

5am. There will be no more sleep for me. I've been all weepy and emotional as I surf the web reading the same story over and over - Obama really won. I don't cry about anything at all (even when I should), but these "tears of joy" things are really some kind of wonderful.

I've never felt like this before. Hope, shock, giddiness, pride, strength. It's so overwhelming, I don't even know what to do with myself.

I would like to have taken today off of work, but I'm also so damn excited to see the look in the eyes of my kids of color when they walk into the building this morning - their world just changed, and now I can look them in the eyes and tell them, "You could be the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES" - because these tears are for them, and the possibilities and hope that they can now have that no kid of color has ever had before.

And, sure, sweeping policy changes are unrealistic (and unlikely). I don't know if things are going to look all that different from a street-level view. But that actually doesn't matter much - because it's just the POSSIBILITY that matters. That this really CAN be a country for people of all races.

Nothing more to be said - THIS is the f-ing FIRST FAMILY, BABY!!!! -

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On an Historic Occasion or Footnote

Who's that random white guy in the painting? It looks kind of old-timey - maybe he was a general or something. Doesn't look like a president . . .

That's Aaron Burr. He was the Vice President a long time ago. Seemed in line to be the President. But why do most people recognize that name? Because he got in a duel and shot Alexander Hamilton. Needless to say, he never was President.

Tomorrow morning, Barack Obama will either be a symbol of an historic landmark, or just an interesting side-note to tell kids in forty years, "I remember when a black man looked like he could become the PRESIDENT."

And that's why my tv is off. It's why I refuse to use the internet past this posting. Because I'm terrified. Tomorrow will either be the beginning of a new world for me - one in which the lack of faith I have in America (and white America, specifically) will be proven unworthy; or a depressing proof of what I currently believe - that this country is not for non-white folks, and that my vote will never count.

Those are the options - as extreme as they could get. Sure, I didn't want Bush to win the election last time, but it didn't alter my world. Kerry was just another white guy who did not represent me in any sort of way. He didn't give me any sense of hope. He just hadn't proven himself to be as much of an ass as the other guy. But this - this is different. I never believed I would see a person of color be the president of the United States in my lifetime, let alone this early in my lifetime.

I've written on this before, so there's no need to continue, but I have never consciously faced such a pivotal moment in history before. September 11 was huge, but I did not see it coming - there was no anticipation. We all stand on the edge of a precipice - looking at despair or a New Dawn - and there's nothing left to do but wait and see which one it is. And that's terrifying.

This is like Christmas Eve (for a little American Christian kid) wrapped in with the "last mile" of an inmate on death row: tomorrow morning awaits that shiny bike I've always wanted but thought I'd never get, or Santa's going to be waiting with a butcher's knife. Seriously, it's like that.

And so now I kill my internet, to attempt to fall into the blissfully unaware throes of musical creation, so I don't think about what tomorrow may bring . . .

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Being More Other than Other

Recently, the subject of racial hierarchies has been on my mind. At "Mixed Race America," Jennifer posted about Asian racism in regards to interracial dating. At the same time, I was having a conversation with a mixed (black/white) friend of mine about hanging with her relatives, and the different styles of ignorance that comes out depending on which side she's with. Not too long before that, I had some conversations with my mother (Chinese) about her dating mostly white guys growing up, and her exposure to black folks (and culture). Add to that all the forms of bigoted Halloween costumes and what that says about people's respect for other races and cultures, I haven't been able to avoid thinking about it.

So I think it's time to lay down an obvious fact (but one few people acknowledge or talk about): EVERYBODY ranks the races in some way. Some may be more conscious about it all, but EVERYBODY does it. And so I thought I'd put forth a list of my perceived racial rankings, from the point of view of people of differing racial backgrounds.

Now, the rest of this post is going to be based purely on observation and experience, so I don't have statistical data for those that want cold, hard, facts. However, I think a lot of it is just common sense - but anywhere where I am just plain wrong, I welcome my readers to set me straight.

So here comes the CVT's Hierarchy of Race:

Let's start with white America.
There are a few different sub-sections here, dependent on economic class, geography (in terms of the likelihood of being exposed to different races), and self-proclaimed "liberal-ness" or "conservative-ness." But, to cut to the quick - white folks are on top. They are in a literal, power-structure sense, but they are also on top in a sub-conscious understanding sort of way to white folks. And this transcends other variables, mostly due to the power of the media. No matter what a white American professes, the vast majority of them understand that being white is "normal" while anything else is not. And with that "normality" comes a sense of superiority. Because even "liberals" have a gut-level belief that other races are inferior enough that they need "white saviors" to come swoop down to save them. At best, these saviors poor pity on other races - using the numbers of "minorities" to demonstrate the level of difficulty this "saving" takes (i.e. more non-white people = "tougher" school/neighborhood, etc.). I don't need to talk about the more overt levels.

Now, the rankings for white folks after number one differs dramatically by the situation. If we're talking about academic success or raw intelligence, white folks will stick to the stereotypes of Asians being number one (while putting black and Latino at the bottom). However, athletic ability will have black folks at the top, followed by Latino, then "others" and Asians at the bottom. In terms of just raw "coolness," black and Latino are at the top, again with Asian at the bottom.

So the question is: what about all the other races? Why am I not ranking Arab, Native American, Pacific Islander, or other more specific ethnicities in the white racial hierarchy? Because, mostly, they don't exist in the hierarchy. They just get lumped into a category of a race that has the most similar skin-tone or eyes (unless we're talking about "terrorists," of course).

So what about Asians?
Asian-Americans are a hugely diverse population of people, but the basic hierarchies remain the same. Depending on the ethnicity, Asian folks (and right now, I'm drawing more on Chinese experience, as I know less about other Asian cultures, directly) would have white and Asian in the first two places. Some Asian folks in America will set white as the bar to reach, while others (and my grandmother was definitely on this list) hold to the superiority of the homeland and their own race.

And then it falls out much like with white folks. Black folks are seen to be the most "dangerous" and "unacceptable" in terms of dating and the like (I would say, in many cases, even MORE so than with white folks these days). Other brown folks would come in second (even Asian-Indians have a clear preference for lighter-skinned folks within their own "race"). But again, in terms of "coolness," many Asian youth tend to emulate "black" youth culture and music. In many cases, Latino folks aren't as low on the list as with white folks, though - which might be due to the shared immigrant experience, as it's less likely to revile the "foreigner," when you yourself are almost as often seen in that light.

Now my experience runs less strongly with the rest (since it's not my background), but I can hazard some general guesses.

Sadly, black folks - as a whole - do NOT put themselves at the top of the list. The media and constant barrage of negative stereotypes and set-backs have been too strong for that. So white people make the top of this list, as well. Similar to Asian-Indian culture, lighter skin, straighter hair, etc. too often become a standard of "better than," as opposed to more strongly black-associated features.

And, in some ways, I don't even know if - on a very general level - the black community would put themselves second on a racial hierarchy. So much encouragement to fight and hold down EACH OTHER comes down through media messaging, that I often see my kids thinking more highly of other races (other than white) over themselves. Asians seem to have a different standing in much of generalized "black" culture - seen more often as the goofy, non-English-speaking "foreigner." Latinos are also often lumped into the "foreign" category, as if white and black are the only actual "American" races (this mirrors white hierarchies, as well).

This is hugely dependent on country of origin and immigration status (similar to Asian culture). This makes it hard for me to make claims, since I'm less involved with this widespread community. However, I would say that on a very superficial level, white still makes the top of the list.

American Indian:
This would parallel other indigenous cultures and the system of self-hate that has been beat into them from the days of the colonization. It's a combination of pride and defeat that holds white as far below on a scale of nobility, but simultaneously on top in terms of success and power. In my experience, I have not come across another group that so clearly holds contempt for the white race while also standing them on a pillar. It makes sense, given the history, but it's an interesting (and frustrating) dichotomy.

And I'm going to stop here because I've been slowly treading into the land of blind conjecture, and I don't feel like making any more blanket stereotypes with even less personal experience to back me. In the end, this is my particular perspective based on my particular experience as an ethnically-ambiguous Chinese/white mix who has found himself mixing it up with a lot of different racial cultures. I'm sure I've been far too broadly general, but I would love to hear folks' more personal takes on my claims - to set the record straight, as well as let me know where I'm accurate.

After I see some outside opinions on the matter, I'll follow up with a more thorough treatment of WHY and HOW this all happens, and what I think we should do about it.