The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the shame of racism

Unbelievable. Again and again, I’m reminded how some Americans have a stubborn racist streak that’s covered up by a veneer of political correctness, but comes out with just a little bit of provocation.

Last year, people expressed ignorant racist hatred against Japanese … after the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 that devastated northeast Japan. Many referred to the disaster as “revenge” for Pearl Harbor, the military attack on the U.S. base in Hawai’i that pushed the United States into World War II.

Today, during what’s supposed to be the peaceful international celebration of athletics and goodwill, competition and sportsmanship that is the Olympic Games, that same ugly reference to Pearl Harbor came up … when the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated the Japanese in a 2-1 contest for the Gold medal.

The Huffington Post quotes some of the racist tripe, such as “This was payback for the USS Arizona! Take that you Japs!” by a Twitter user who describes himself thus:
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A national town hall to mark the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death

"Vincent Who" is a documentary about the death of Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin was beaten with a baseball bat 30 years ago on June 19 in a Detroit suburb, and died four days later.

At the time, I was three years out of art school, managing a paint store, and was a budding young rock critic writing for a Denver newspaper. I didn’t follow any news coverage about the attack on Vincent Chin, and I was clueless about the importance of his tragic death. I was still a “banana” — yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. Like the name of the 2009 documentary film about the impact of Chin’s murder on the Asian American community, if you had asked me then about him, I would have said, “Vincent who?”

Today, Vincent Chin is very much on my mind.

In the decades since his death, I’ve become aware and much more appreciative of my ethnic roots, culture and history as a Japanese American, which I used to take for granted. I’ve also become much more aware of my place in the much larger Asian American community.

Chin’s death still resonates three decades later, like the murder of Emmett Till resonates within the African American community as one of the driving forces of the civil rights movement. The 14-year-old Till was murdered in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
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Marion Barry keeps digging a deeper hole with racially insensitive remarks

DC's "Mayor-for-Life" Marion Barry

Marion Barry is the elected councilman for Washington DC’s 8th Ward, but he’s more commonly referred to in the District as “Mayor for Life.” That’s because the man seemingly has nine lives, politically speaking.

He’s now embroiled in a controversy over anti-Asian remarks he made a couple of months ago, but an attempt to mend fences with a community meeting today added some more fuel to the fire when he called Polish people “Polacks” — which is tantamount to calling Asians the “C-word” and African Americans, uh, you know, the “N-word.”

Barry’s no stranger to controversy as a politician.
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9th grade filmmaker wins national award for “The Constitution and the Camps,” documentary about Japanese American internment

Pretty powerful stuff. Matthew Shimura, a 9th grader from Honolulu, Hawaii won the Grand Prize for his documentary, “The Constitution and the Camps,” in C-SPAN’s annual StudentCam competition. The Grand Prize winner (announced March 7) received a $5,000 award and $1,000 for his teacher to buy video equipment for his school. (Coincidentally, he attends the Punahou in Oahu, where Barack Obama went to school.)

The contest chooses themes each year to get students to think about issues affecting the country. This year the topic was “The Constitution and You: Select any provision of the U.S. Constitution and create a video illustrating why it’s important to you.”

Shimura chose to focus his documentary on Japanese American internment camps because his uncle was imprisoned during World War II. The StudentCam website has more information and a list of all the winners (and links to every video in each category).

Here’s also a link to a cool interview with Shimura and Sen. Daniel Inouye on C-SPAN.

Congrats to Shimura for winning the competition, and for the great hard work he did to produce the video. Nice job!

Mike Coffman stands by his apology, but won’t explain his birther statement about Obama

This is what a politician looks like when the media have him under an intense spotlight for a controversial statement.

Nice work by 9News investigative reporter and 9 pm anchor Kyle Clark, who contacted me yesterday to confirm that Republican Congressman Mike Coffman had indeed sent a surrogate to attend an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month event over the weekend that Erin and I emceed.

What was Coffman thinking, baiting birthers and saying “in his heart, Barack Obama is not an American” to a room of conservative donors?


Rep. Coffman published a mea cupla in The Denver Post in which he flatout retracts his birther statement and says it was a “boneheaded” thing to say:

Last Saturday, at an event in Elbert County, I made an inappropriate and boneheaded comment. I misspoke and I apologize for doing so. I have never been afraid to admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong here.

More importantly, I was also wrong in another respect. I should never have questioned the president’s devotion to our country. The president and I disagree on many issues — his approach to health care, jobs and energy independence, to name a few. But disagreeing on these issues was not license for me to question his devotion to our country.

I believe President Obama loves this country and wakes up every morning trying to do what is best for our nation, even if I disagree with his approach. To question the president’s devotion to our country based on the fact that we disagree over policy issues was wrong of me and I am sorry.

That’s progress. Kudos to Coffman for coming clean. It’s still a bizarre statement, so we’ll see if it’s enough for the public — and the media — to move on.