Being stereotyped out of ignorance isn’t as bad as flat-out racism, but…

I faced an awkward racial situation a few days ago and let it pass, but then posted about it on Facebook and found it struck a nerve with a lot of my Facebook community. It resulted in a spirited conversation, and not just with Asian Americans. My takeaway is that sometimes, stereotypes and racial assumptions arise from mere ignorance, not utter racism and hate. But it can be just as irritating in 2011 to hear someone innocently treat you as a foreigner as it can to face the uglier stuff that’s still out there.

Here’s what I posted:

Even in my local supermarket, I’m reminded that “post-racial” America isn’t past its attachment to stereotypes: I went to the customer service desk at King Soopers (a Kroger chain in Colorado, store #36) and asked if they still carry the Cento brand of white clam sauce.

The clerk looked at me and immediately said, “Well, if we do it should be in the Oriental aisle.” I glared at her and said “Uh, well, I’m making linguini with clam sauce.”

It turned out they don’t carry the Cento brand while the store is undergoing a lot of construction (it’ll be the chain’s first “superstore” in the metro Denver area, with clothes, furniture — the kind of stuff you’d expect in a Super Target, or Walmart) so I went to another nearby King Soopers store and got the clam sauce.

I like our store and many of the employees so I’ll keep shopping there, but this left a sour taste in my mouth. An Oriental sour taste, I suppose.

I don’t think the woman was racist, and I don’t think there was any ill-will behind her assumptions. She looked up at me, saw I was Asian, and her brain processed a bunch of split-second information before it processed my (perfect, accent-free English) question about clam sauce. Hell, maybe she thought I said “oyster sauce” and she knows Asian cooking and really was referring me to the correct aisle… for oyster sauce.

But mostly, I think she made an assumption from my face without hearing what I said. It was a kneejerk response to send me to the aisle that would have the food of “my people.”

I gave her more information to clarify my request:
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It’s not just P.C.: “Geronimo” was a poor choice for a codename for the bin Laden mission

Geronimo, not Osama bin LadenThe message to everyone waiting with bated breath in the White House situation room was terse and to the point: “Geronimo-E KIA”: “Geronimo,” the Enemy, Killed in Action. Really? Osama bin Laden was codenamed “Geronimo?” Even if, as the White House later clarified, that “Geronimo” was the codename for the mission, not the target, the choice is ripe with symbolism that reeks of mid-18th century American imperialism and European American racial privilege.

I know I’m going to hear from the folks who screech at the thought of political correctness overtaking American culture and spoiling pop references that used to be commonly used but now can be offensive. I’m going to hear from people who thought I didn’t have a sense of humor when I got angry that Shaquille O’Neal, or Adam Carolla, or Rosie O’Donnell, or Rush Limbaugh pull out the “ching-chong” routine to mock Asians. I’m going to hear from people who think I’m over-sensitive about “yellowface” in Hollywood (the long and still-going history of white actors playing Asian parts) and the use of Asian stereotypes. I’m going to hear from people who defend racially offensive statements or behavior as OK because it wasn’t “meant” to offend — therefore leading to the non-apology apology that blames those who are offended for taking it wrong.

The fact is, if something is offensive to someone, it’s offensive. Period. It’s not about the motivation, or the intent. It’s about the impact.

And the impact of the U.S. military’s use of “Geronimo” — either as the codename for Osama bib Laden, or the codename of the mission that took bin Laden out — is definitely negative in the Native American community.
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Happy 10th birthday to Phil Yu’s landmark Angry Asian Man blog!

Angry Asian ManErin and I are celebrating the second anniversary of our talk-show visualizAsian, and I’ve been writing my Nikkei View musings since 1998 (check out the Nikkei View archives). But it boggles my mind to think that Phil Yu has been writing his Angry Asian Man blog for 10 years. Why? Because he’s so frickin’ dedicated that he writes multiple times day — every day — week after week, month after month, year after… well, you get the idea.

visualizAsian is once or twice a month. Nikkei View can be several times a week, or sometimes once a month.

But writing sometimes more than 10 post per day? Yowsa. That’s some some serious blogging — blogging on steroids.

Last year, Phil took some time off and asked guest bloggers to fill in, but I know he felt guilty stepping away for a vacation (I’m sure his wife appreciated it, though). Phil is organized — he doesn’t spend his workday posting stuff. He writes at night and sets the posts to launch later. And, these days he gets tons of submissions via email and Facebook to write about, so he’s never lacking material to cover.

Still, it’s truly an amazing feat to keep up this level of productivity for a decade.

Angry Asian Man is the one site I tell everyone that is a must-read daily blog, if they care one whit about Asian America, in politics, pop culture, news or whatever. He calls out racism. He covers hate crimes that mainstream media either overlook as not newsworthy or have forgotten. He gives props to AAPIs doing great things in Hollywood, on the world stage, in pop music. And, he helps the careers of budding young artists who deserve a wider audience.

He gets a ton of traffic and is quoted by the national media when they need an Asian American perspective. He’s inspired a generation of bloggers to follow in his wake. Some Asian Americans, notably Nelson Wong of AA Risings, have been writing longer. And some Asian Americans have gotten their blogs turned into movie deals (yeah, I’m jealous).

But it’s hard to argue that Phil Yu isn’t the most influential Asian American voice out there. He represents us all, and is a national treasure for his efforts.

Thanks, Phil. Keep rocking.

It’s a shame that the National Association of Black Journalists is pulling out of Unity

UnityI’m disappointed that the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is pulling out of Unity, a partnership of journalists of color with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA — full disclosure: I’m the president of the Denver chapter of AAJA).

It’ll diminish the power of next year’s Unity convention, which is slated for Las Vegas. The four Unity orgs have gotten together every four years for a combined confab since 1994.

My introduction to both AAJA and Unity was an inspiring convention in 2004 in Washington DC, when both then-President Bush and presidential hopeful John Kerry spoke to the gathered attendees. Kerry got a noticeably more robust welcome from the assembled journalists of color, which was noted in the mainstream media.

I also attended the 2008 Unity convention in Chicago, where candidate Barack Obama spoke. Both conventions were great learning experiences, and emotionally powerful experiences as well, for just being part of a large group of people of color.
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It never stops: Minneapolis radio station’s racist parody stereotypes Hmong

Racist morning show team in Minneapolis

Via Angry Asian Man: Look at this nice-looking, monochromatic morning show team and tell me you’re not surprised that they came up with a racist parody of an Eric Clapton song that stereotypes the Hmong, a population that’s concentrated in the Twin Cities area.

I dare you to listen to the song and not be disgusted, saddened and appalled.

Here are the lyrics:
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