Monday, March 31, 2008

All the news that fits

A couple of links here from the New York Times:

A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith: A really good article about Sen. Obama's relationship with the Rev. Wright. Note the date: April 30, 2007. So why did it take almost a year for this dialogue to really get going? Really, why did we have to take so long to start talking about race? And are we talking? Maybe if we had been talking all along, you know ...

Who Are We? New Dialogue on Mixed Race: Published today, a nice article about being mixed race in the Obama era. He's done for us what Tiger couldn't.

"Obama made it right to be white and still love your black relatives, and to be black and still love your white relatives: to love despite another person’s racial appearance.”

Also, check out this page at Union Theological Seminary (where I'll be on Friday and Saturday to attend the New Testament and Roman Empire conference) that highlights black liberation theology in light of Rev. Wright's media attention, and discusses everything you ever wanted to know about black liberation theology. I especially found the link to the Forbes magazine interview with James Cone (whose book God of the Oppressed we're about to start reading in my theology class) particularly interesting.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Throw Grandma from the train

What is UP with all the right-wingers pouncing on Obama's race speech by saying he threw his white granny under the desegregated bus? Check out this post on Media Matters about Fixed News anchor Chris Wallace himself getting PO'd about how Fox & Friends were snarking on and on about it.

I had flipped by Faux News the night after the speech and saw Hannity going off about that very point but I didn't think it was going to be the nail on which the right-wingers would hang their argument. And then I saw Ann Coulter using the same argument in her weekly column and realized it was going somewhere.

On the night of the speech I was watching Olbermann and was absolutely spellbound at the way he, also, fixated on that point because he was able to relate to it so well. He told this rather touching tale of hearing his grandfather complain about Hawaii 5-0 getting interrupted over "some (insert racial epithet here) getting shot" (MLK) and realizing that even though he loved his grandfather, he'd never be able to trust him fully, that even discussions about who the greatest baseball players would from then on be tainted.

I think I owe ER somewhat of an apology over my dismissal of personal confession in race. While I don't believe that Obama is calling us to confess our personal race sins and focus totally on our personal feelings and responsibilities, it suddenly hit me today what role confession serves. Used wisely, it's a personal reflection that helps you sift through what's helpful and hurtful in your life. It's SELF-reflection, which is quickly becoming a sadly lost art in our world, one that needs reviving. Personal confession/self-reflection allows us to think critically about the things we think about, about the things that we take in and shape us, and determine whether they benefit or harm us.

In the people who are attaching Obama for his confession about his grandmother -- which is as much a self-reflective act for him as it would be for grandma, since trust me, there's pain in understanding that someone you love is being hateful toward other people who have traits similar to yours -- I sense a lack of self-reflection or even just reflection about what goes on in their heads and around them. This is reaction to something they find upsetting, with no excavation to discover why they're upset.

So many people who fixated on Obama's line about his grandma -- and I'm one of them -- were transported with that sentence back to the moments in their lives where they realized the dark side of their beloved's humanity, decided to keep loving them anyway but knew that a shadow would always hang over their relationship. Or they realized this about themselves.

Here's my confession. My mother hates nearly everything about the way I look that indicates that I'm Asian. She, like Obama's grandmama, also said things about nonwhites, especially African Americans, that made me hurt. She threatened us girls once we reached our teen years with the dire prediction that our names would be sullied if we ever dated anyone who wasn't lily-white, and threatened to disown us if we ever did.

Years later, after dating a succession of men of a variety of ancestry because I knew my mom was wrong about the race thing, I saw a white woman walking hand-in-hand with a black man and still thought, "You'd think she could find someone better than that." And was immediately horrified by my own thought and what it meant, which seemed to come out of nowhere but obviously was down there close to my heart.

Here's my biggest sin: While I tend to regard most people warily, I especially do not trust white people who profess color-blindness, who ask me where I'm REALLY from, who use racial slurs in my presence and then apologize by saying, "I forgot because you're not really Asian." Deep in my heart, I really don't think they get the race issue and maybe never will, and I'd almost prefer to let them go.

I wrassle all these down on various occasions. I especially need to wrassle down that last one if I'm really committed to building bridges and dialogue. It's ugly, but OK. Time to take a bite and swallow it down. Better than choking on it.

I realize that if we don't think about racism, we don't recognize it when we see it in the wild or in our own houses. (And we all have, no one's unblemished enough to throw that stone.) Our loved ones are racist or we're racist, and we say nothing because we either didn't notice or didn't want to think badly about us/them so we just didn't think about it, fiddle-dee-dee. Because it's true -- once we realize something like this in someone we love, even ourselves, things are never quite the same. But then, we don't have to stop loving someone even though we don't agree with them 100 percent. That's mature love. It's like costly grace, hurts and it don't come cheap, but you treasure it more.

So, ER, you were right about the personal.

Now, on to other things ...

I saw Horton Hears a Who today, and it's fantastic. Forget all the yahoos who think that Dr. Seuss was writing an anti-abortion parable; that's the shallowest interpretation -- and very much taken out of context -- of what "A person's a person no matter how small" means. This story is a classic Hero Quest, following the myth story so perfectly and so well that you can almost attach any meaning to it and it'll come out. For me, I thought it was one of the nicest allegories for God I'd ever seen. I like the idea that God is all-powerful and all-loving, yet evil exists, why? Because God's also kind of bumbling, too, and a little distracted.

And oh holy shit, back to race: Look at this crap that's going around the Internets. Beware if this lands in your inbox.

Better stuff on race: Check out PBS' Religion & Ethics weekly page about The Speech:

(Obama) represents a post-racial approach to engaging difference and oppression. But again looking forward in a hopeful fashion ... a focus on what we have in common as Americans. Again, Dr. King did that. JFK did that. Obama has much of that appeal. And I hope that we can take his invitation to move forward. It has to be multi-racial, it has to be interfaith. And it has to start with what we have in common as the children of God.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Sermon

The Huffington Post put up the ENTIRE video of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermon (well, the important part) -- hat tip to What Tami Said -- but you can watch it below, and I strongly urge it. Find out more about Trinity UCC at the Truth About Trinity blog.

To Rev. Wright -- Amen. God bless you for your love and your truth.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Speech II

You can read the whole thing here or here or watch the YouTube post below. Most interestingly, read comments.

The Speech

OK, gang, what'd'ja'think?

I, for one, am blown away and amazed that Barack Obama actually pulled it off. I know this partially because I'm watching commentary on MSNBC and Pat Banana's face is peevier than usual because there's not much for him to grab onto. But Obama did it. He denounced the words without abandoning the man, he addressed race as a lived experience, a reality that affects all of us regardless of our skin color. He acknowledged our anger, resentments, frustrations and fears as legitimate and asked us to channel that not against one another but at the forces that are their genesis.

As a religious scholar in training, I mostly am grateful that he addressed the fact that our religions, our denominations, our churches themselves are not monolithic, that we may worship together and stand together in solidarity as fellow beloved human beings in God and Christ without having to agree with one another (which, by the way, is the hallmark of the UCC -- see the UCC's comments on the whole controversy here) and in fact ought to disagree with the things that we say or beliefs that we harbor that have the potential to truly divide us, though in ways that do not distance each other from our fellowship (Heaven knows as much as I hang on every word that drops from SuperPastor's mouth, there are times that he makes me wince; and as much as I love my church there are people there who drive me nuts and make me move away from them -- and that's something I need to work on).

I'm proud to be a member of the UCC, which includes Trinity UCC and even includes all the conservative churches that want the UCC to change its policy of inclusiveness to gays. Our table is open for everyone, and that includes them. I'm proud to be a supporter of Barack Obama, who is dealing with race honestly and from reality, recognizing our tragic pasts without apologizing for its tragic legacies. We do not move forward into hope without acknowledging our despairs. He did that today. Onward into hope. Let's go. Sí se puede.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Original Sin-suality

I bought Chris Hedges' (I) Don't Believe (in) Atheists yesterday and spent most of yesterday reading through it. I also bought Bart Ehrman's God's Problem (I admit, most just to yell at him). Comments and reviews on both to come in time.

Something in the Atheists book sparked a rather interesting realization though. Hedges writes that we do not need to afraid of anyone who does or does not believe in God. We should, however, be afraid of anyone who does not believe in sin. The concept of sin, Hedges writes, is the recognition that we human beings can never be omnipotent.

Wow, I thought, and read it aloud to a friend. He looked at me rather puzzled and said, "That doesn't make any sense at all." After a few moments of debating back and forth on why that didn't make sense to him, I finally asked, "What is sin to you?"

"It's when you do something wrong."

Well no wonder. I explained where Hedges was coming from, that one of the biblical views of sin is not the act of doing something wrong, but a state of imperfect being. It wasn't small-s sin, that you list during your weekly confession, tallying up as either venial or mortal, or even take up to the altar call and swear you'll never do that again lest you make Jesus cry. We're talking about big-s Sin, the stalking monster, the disease that gets within in or is within us and in the end makes us do what we do not want to do and not do what we should do.

"Oh," he replied. "Now that makes sense."

We are both christians, mind you. You'd think that we'd have the same basic understanding of what sin is. And yet. It never ceases to amaze me to discover how often we human beings who speak the same language actually translate our words with different meanings.

And what a difference this makes! Sin as something external that you do vs. Sin as something that lives within your soul. Sin as a medium in which we live, breath, think, love, laugh and be human, vs. something that we commit.

Sin as something that we can wrestle to the ground with Jesus as our tag-team partner. Sin as the acts we commit, the vile thoughts we think, the decisions we make. And if we can do right,well so can anyone else.


Sin as the inner unconscious mystery that drives us to do the act, think the thought, make the choice, the boiling force inside us that's as fundamental to our nature as our taste in lovers that makes us choose one woman over another, without really understanding why. Something that, despite our best intentions, will usually lead us to hell if we refuse to look at it fully and claim it as our own. And which will lead us there even when we do.

That's the Sin that makes grace make sense to me, that underneath our human veneer lies a beast, and every hair on our heads is loved anyway despite this, even when and especially when we fall.

So, I ask you: What is Sin? Try not to use the words you grew up with. Try not to rely on words that are comfortable. Take your best shot. No wrong answers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What's in the middle?

Hoo-kay, over at Erudite Redneck's blog, he's got a meme-thing going on with middle names (ER by way of Geoffrey, that is. Here's the rules:

1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.

2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don’t have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother’s maiden name).

3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person (or blogger of another species) for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they’ve been tagged.)

Y'know, for many years I've been going back and forth on changing my name. My moms, when she immigrated to the U.S. back in the melting-pot '70s, was -- there's no other word for it, really -- bullied by all sorts of people to "raise" us kids as "Amurikin" as possible. So we didn't learn her language, we didn't get Japanese names and we learned next to nothing of our heritage. Although we did eat a lot of Japanese food, thank God, they couldn't take that away from us!

But I've gotten rather used to my first name, I'm rather attached to my family names, so I've considered changing my middle name to a Japanese name, with the same first letter so my monogram doesn't change (all those towels, you know). But man, it costs to change your name, like $280. So I'll go with the name I've decided on; it's also the name I bowl under. I seem to hit higher scores when she bowls. The 194 I scored (new career high! five strikes!) last week was under this name.

So I guess I'm (h)apa Ayame Thealogy.

A: Asian. How's this a fact? Well, because being multiracial means that you tend to look like whatever people are around you, or whatever people that other people are familiar with whose skin color is similar to yours. So around here generally I get asked a lot, "What tribe are you?" One of my best buddies at school is multiracial Chickasaw, and whenever we're hanging out people ask us if we're sisters. My sisters, who live on both coasts, get mistaken for Latinas or Arab constantly. I have to name it and claim it: Loud, proud Asian.

Y: Years away from being finished with my education. To think, I went back to school in 2002 just to have something to do in my spare time. Five years later, I finished two bachelor's degrees (well, I cheated a bit, I left school the first time with a measly three hours to spare on my first degree, and when I showed up 14 years later to finish it they said, "Take anything, we don't care!). Now I've got a target graduation date of 2010 for the master's (which FINALLY got changed over to the Master of Divinity!), and then there's doctoral work that I'm shooting for, which is another five years, minimum. I'm going to a conference in New Yawk next month, partially to check the school out as potential grad school material.

A: Apatheistic. That is, I don't know if there's a gawd and I really don't care. As I've said before, I highly suspect that there is some sort of whatzis in the universe making the right moments fall into place, but suspecting or even believing is not the same as knowing. I'm a fan of the push to translate the Greek pisteuo as "trust," and not knowing makes the trust part much more profound for me. I trust that the universe is running like some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption, and that the boot will fly over to the oven door on cue.

M: Multi-literate. I would say that I'm literate, at least functionally so, in at least four languages, two of them dead -- English, Spanish, Latin and kione Greek. I'm planning to add biblical Hebrew, French and Portuguese in there, too. Ah the rigors of academia, huh? Not that Latin really gets you very far, except once you know Latin you realize how funny the "Romani ite domum" scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian really is, and the Harry Potter books get a little more fun. Keep in mind that being literate is not the same as being fluent. I'm good with English, my native language, enough to have spent the last 14 years employed by working with it, but I'd say that I speak it just as atrociously as most Americans. I can speak and understand Spanish, but not terribly well, just enough to watch los partidos de futbol y las telenovelas and listen to my favorite rock en espanol bands (Mana, Jaguares, Juanes, Julietta Venegas, Aterciopeladso y otros). And Greek, well -- I found a coffee mug at Tarjet that had "hello" printed on it in several languages and after phonetically sounding out the Greek word -- kalimera -- I realized that it was made up of kala -- good -- and hemera -- day/morning. So it must be coming along. I know I've got ho huios tou theou (the son of God) down pat. Ugh.

A: Aficionada de futbol. Am I cheating by going into another language? But it's a fact -- you can't really talk about being a fan of futbol -- what we ignorant folks in the U.S. call soccer -- in the United States without speaking a little Spanish. Hell, a good portion of the Major Leage Soccer players are from Mexico, Argentina or another Latin American country, and most of our US Men's and Women's National Teams speak Spanish because our conference is a Spanish-speaking one. Most US games are broadcast on the Spanish channels, with better commentary because the Univision announcers actually know something about futbol. I could have cried during the last World Cup when the doofus they got from ESPN started talking about the opposing country's major exports like he was reading a social studies textbook. The US Men's Team is currently in competition for an Olympic berth, and they're struggling. But heck, Mexico, our conference's powerhouse, is struggling too! MLS's 2008 season begins in two weeks! Anyway, yeah, I'm a yuge futbol fan.

OK, I guess I've got to tag Geoffrey, ER, Kirsten, Dr Lobojo and MFranks to take part, except ER and Geoff already did! Oh well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex, stupidity and fudamentalist atheists ...

There's too much going on this week while I hunch over my desk typing papers! It's like when news of the ridiculous breaks while The Daily Show is taking a week off! I ... can't ... not ... snark!

Sex: We begin with Eliot Spitzer, at least, we begin there so I can say -- political sex scandals are getting to be a bore. Yes, we feel bad for the wife, but marriage is private so let's not go there. Although I'm waiting for the day when a spouse of a politician caught in a sex scandal takes the mic at the press conference where said sex scandal is announced and says, "I'm divorcing this (insert nasty epithet here) right freakin' now, any divorce attorneys in the room?" Stand by your spouse? Good advice, Tammy Wynette. What I find the coolest thing: David A. Patterson becomes New York's third African American governor and the nation's first blind governor! My moms has a similar type of blindness, she began losing her sight when I was about 10 or so, and it's been a struggle her whole life to just live day to day. This world is not set up for the blind and visually impaired -- for most people with disabilities, for that matter. So I'm super happy that Mr. Patterson is running New York, it's something my moms and I can look at and get more dialogue going on with.

Stupidity: If you did not watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night to see his special comment on the Geraldine Ferraro "I'm not a racist, but ..." comment, go here. Here's a taste:

Senator, if the serpentine logic of your so-called advisors were not bad enough, now, thanks to Geraldine Ferraro, and your campaign's initial refusal to break with her, and your new relationship with her -- now more disturbing still with her claim that she can now "speak for herself" about her vision of Senator Obama as some kind of embodiment of a quota...

If you were to seek Obama as a Vice President, it would be, to Ms. Ferraro, some kind of social engineering gesture, some kind of racial make-good. Do you not see, Senator?

So, was it racist? Mmmmmm, yeah. It was also sexist and classist, but then the three always go together. Is Ms. Ferraro a racist? She seems to be confusing, both in her comment and in her rather ridiculous defense, who people are with what people do. I was rather shocked when I heard her say that her vice-presidential nomination was an affirmative action stunt, which in an of itself is a clear misunderstanding of how affirmative action is supposed to work. Affirmative action is supposed to make us look not at other people, but at ourselves and the preconceived assumptions we make about other people based on race, sex, orientation and ability. Instead we made it a quota, about the person being hired or chosen, confusing who they are with what they do. For her to designate her successes to her gender alone means that she's a profiteer who took advantage of a flawed system in order to get ahead. But hey, at least she's honest about it, right? And if we tend to look at other people the way we look at ourselves, then it's no wonder she would go that way for Sen. Obama. So she's a victim, all right, but she victimized herself.

So is she a racist? What she did/said was racist, no doubt. That doesn't mean she's a racist. People make boneheaded, ignorant mistakes all the time. Mistakes can be fixed. Ignorance can be corrected. This is how we learn. Except that she keeps saying it. So ... what does that say?

If Sen. Clinton doesn't do something about this, other than offer a lame apology for what her former president husband said a few months back, well, if she's the nominee, come November I might just vote for Bill the Cat.

Fundamentalist atheists: Salon has an interesting interview with Chris Hedges -- not to be confused with Chris Hitchens -- about Hedges' new book, I Don't Believe in Atheists. I read Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, so I'll probably go hunting down Atheists to read that, too. Hedges rightly points out that fundamentalism of any stripe is bad, bad, bad for humans, but it seems to be something we have a tendency to fall into, no matter who we are or where we come from. The interesting thing about the interview is that it doesn't seem as if the writer understands the difference between secularism and fundamentalist secularism, much like many religious people don't understand the different between religion and the fundamentalist forms of their religions. Fundamentalism invariably leads to legitimization of killing the Other. Check it:

If we're afraid to privilege Enlightenment values, don't we run the risk of sanctioning religious rituals that discriminate against women and minorities?

But I would never argue that! I mean, I think genital mutilation is disgusting. I'm not a cultural relativist. I don't think that if you live in Somalia, it's fine to mutilate little girls. There is nothing wrong with taking a moral stand, but when we take a moral stand and then use it to elevate ourselves to another moral plane above other human beings, then it becomes, in biblical terms, a form of self-worship. That's what the New Atheists have, and that's what the Christian fundamentalists have.

Dude, how is it that we always go to the extreme but we never see it when we're there? Why does someone saying, "We must be careful not to privilege our worldview over and above others" become "We must throw Western Enlightenment values out the window"? Hedges is right on the money with his answer. I'm looking forward to reading his book.

OK, back to papers ...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'll make a deal with you blogsphere ...

Dear blog,

I know we haven't chatted in about a week or so, but it's been really busy for me. Well, sort of. I had an opportunity to hang with you last week, but I got that migraine and just couldn't be on the computer. And I was reading that monster book by Gayatri Spivak, which is taking all my time, and I'm trying to throw in that book about moving Christianity beyond monotheism.

And it's not like I don't have things to talk about. Oh yes, I do. I've got all sorts of news (New Testament conference in New York! AP/ONE award! Bowling score of 194! Skinny pants fit again!), and some rants I'd like to go off on. Sally Kern is going to get an earful from me, don't doubt it.

But it's crunch time now. I've got two papers to write in five days, one on pastoral counseling strategies for transracial adoptees struggling with race identity issues, the other a midterm for theology class ("Reflect upon the earliest reception of Jesus' teachings within and outside of Judaism. How was he viewed by difference groups and why? ... Compare the religious teachings of Marcion, Valentinus and Justin. ... How do you assess the significance of Constantine for the development of Christianity?")

And another paper on language and hybridity in border areas. But that's for next week.

So if I can get done with these things on time, I promise I'll get back to you soon.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Review: Incognegro

I purchased Mat Johnson's Incognegro at my comic book shop yesterday and gave it a read-through between Keith Olbermann's deliciously snarky comments on on Tuesday's turnouts and reading through various postcolonial theologies for school and personal edification. That divided attention span may or may not play in to my first thoughts.

The Good: It's a gripping story, a detective story/social commentary on not only race but gender and human failings. It puts the spotlight on what has been traditionally hidden in our muddy mainstream, not just that lynchings were a regular part of American life until just a few decades ago, but also the blurred edges of identity that we would do well to wrestle with except that we're too busy trying to ignore it. Warren Pleece's art is exceptionally good for the task, as the clarity of the black-and-white drawings obscures the racial differences between the characters, which is the whole point. Even though race and gender are the two things that people allegedly notice about us when they meet us, they are not absolutes and not concrete and can be changed or developed as needed or desired. This is why passing -- either into another race, another class or another gender -- has been such a horror in a society that revels in the comfort of uniformity and categorization, even as, or especially as, it pays lip service to diversity.

The Not-So-Good: The weakness of Incognegro is in what I've called the John Grisham effect: an author writes a book (in this case, collaborates in a graphic novel) with an eye toward the silver screen. Ever noticed how much movies made off John Grisham novels stick to the book so closely? It's because Grisham writes books that are easy to turn into scripts. The pacing in Incognegro has that Hollywood feel to it, with each section a scene rather than a chapter and comic characters appear at the right time to lighten the heavy moment. The graphic novel/comic book is a medium in and of itself, with plenty of creative room for dramatic and incredible storytelling. It would have been nice to see Johnson to push the boundaries of the graphic novel format to tell his story, rather than just using it as a vehicle for his story. Also, as suitable as Pleece's art was, I think he could have gone into more graphic detail to present the violence and horror of what the protagonists were experiencing.

The main character, Zane Pinchback, the Incognegro, also suffers from what I call the Det. Bobby Goren effect (from Law & Order: CI). Like Goren, Pinchback is all-knowing, all-sure, in-control, where he notices every little detail, understands more than anyone what's going on, has the inside track. He's got enough flaws and makes enough mistakes to keep from being a Mary Sue-type character, but I think this might be part of the script-like flaw of the presentation. Once the story gets going, we no longer get a chance to see what's going on in Pinchback's interior, his thoughts, feelings, rationals or understandings of what he's experiencing, and I think the dialogue-only format robs the reader of a deeper experience.

Overall: I should come up with some sort of rating system, huh? What, four-out-of-five stars? Six-ouot-of-seven communion shot glasses? Whatever. Incognegro is a good, important book that I'd recommend to just about everyone to read. Hopefully it will spur discussion, not only about America's history that needs discussion, but also about the present issues of identity, race and gender that we call inappropriate for polite society. Fuck polite. Let's get upset for once. And if they do make a movie/TV show based on Incognegro, you can bet I'll be there to watch it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Candidate Whose Time Has Come

Ronald Takaki, author of the seminal book on Asian American history (and, incidentally, the book that woke me up to my own history, for which I'll always be grateful) wrote this Op-Ed piece about Sen. Barack Obama. Sí se puede! (Hat Tip to Reappropriate)

Barack Obama: A Candidate Whose Time Has Come
by Ronald Takaki
Like Barack Obama, I grew up in Hawaii. He went to Punahou, while I attended Iolani. Both of us lived in a part of the United States where everyone belonged to a minority. Both of us left the islands for our college education on the mainland. But our Hawaii roots shaped our perspective on what America was and could become.

In Palolo Valley on the island of Oahu, my neighbors were Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Hawaiian. As children, we visited each other’s homes and heard a variety of languages. But we all spoke Pidgin English as our common language.

After graduating from high school in 1957, I attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, where I experienced a culture shock. My fellow students asked me questions like: “How long have you been in this country?” “Where did you learn to speak English?” But my grandfather had come here from Japan in 1886, before many European immigrants. Yet, they could not and did not see me as a fellow American. I did not look like an American, and did not have an American-sounding name.

Looking back at my Wooster experience, I realize that the ignorance was not their fault. What had they learned about Asian Americans in courses called U.S. history? Or about Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans. Nothing or almost nothing. They saw me through a filter – what I call the Master Narrative of American history. This narrative is the familiar story that our country was settled by European immigrants and that Americans are white or European in ancestry.

The Master Narrative is so deeply embedded in our mainstream culture that it is a powerful current swirling beneath the surface of everyday conversation, the curriculum, the news and entertainment media, and political decision-making. This narrow definition of who is an American is something we take as a given.

“Race,” African American writer Toni Morrison explained, has functioned as a “metaphor” necessary for the “construction” of Americanness.” In the creation of our national identity, “American has been defined as “white.”

Today, the Master Narrative is being challenged by the tremendously expanding diversity of the American people. Demography is declaring: “No all of us came originally from Europe. And we are all Americans.” Here the numbers do the telling. According to the 2000 Census, whites have become a minority in California. What has happened in California is happening in Texas, and will happen to the total U.S. population within the lifetime of young people today. Indeed, in the coming future, we will all be minorities!

Youth are aware of the changing colors of America. They can see diversity on the faces of students in classrooms across the country. They want to change America, to make it more multicultural not only in demography but also in education, employment, and most importantly, in politics. They include young people of all races and ethnicities.

And, across America, now in Ohio and Texas, many of them are energetically and joyously seeking to “Barack” the vote. They are fired up by the fact that Obama has already made history as a viable African American candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. They are also wildly excited over the probability that, if nominated, he will become the winner of the presidential election.

For me, regardless of what will happen in the primaries or the general election, Obama is already a winner. He has challenged the Master Narrative of American history. He has made his complexion an American one, and his name an American-sounding one. He has opened a new identity not only for African Americans, but also for Asian Americans and Latino Americans. As the son of a father from Kenya, he has remembered his immigrant roots; as the son of a Caucasian mother, he has represented mixed race complexity. Like Tiger Woods, Obama has inspired bi-racial and multi-racial Americans everywhere to embrace their ethnic multiplicity.

Moreover, as a historian of multicultural America, I welcome Obama’s affirmation of America as a nation peopled by the world. He personifies diversity as America’s “manifest destiny.” A leader of vision, Obama has reached for the ties that bind -- Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory,” seeking to unite us as a diverse people belonging to one nation. Crossing racial, economic, and political boundaries, Obama has already inspired millions of us, both young and old, to be audacious in our hopes for changing America and the world.

Obama’s is a candidacy whose time has come.

Ronald Takaki is professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Little, Brown).
Phone: 510 527-1926

Sí se puede cambiar (Yes, we can change)

Good lyrics and more powerful visuals than's video, which, by the way, has a new version and opportunities for you to get involved with the movement.

Singer/songwriter Andres Useche (30), an immigrant from Colombia whose father lives in Houston, will arrive in Texas on Saturday morning. He will volunteer on Latino outreach with California State Senator Gilbert Cedillo, who makes a cameo in Useche’s video.

Useche said of his new hit song, “I felt disillusioned and powerless for many years as I watched our government fail us. But Obama’s message awakened me. While volunteering for him, I experienced the spirit of renewed enthusiasm that has touched so many people, and this inspired me to write the song.” (From Reappropriate blog)

Going Incognegro

I'm a big fan of the comic book, or of what the slightly higher-brow of us would call the graphic novel. Anyone who poo-poos the comic book as a medium for rotting kids' brains, well, they've obviously never read them and are poisoned by the homophobic rantings of Fredric Wertham. On my shelf is a small collection of graphic novels that are theologically relevant (we own more than 2,000 in all, but this collection has less than 30 titles in it as of yet), ranging from Preacher (and ER, you might like this one, it's a Suothern-fried commentary on the fundamentalist view of God, done in a style that's a cross between Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Kill Bill) to A Contract With God by graphic novel granddaddy Will Eisner to Art Spiegelman's Maus, a biography of a Holocaust survivor and first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

So I have to say that I'm really excited about reading Incognegro by Mat Johnson. Incognegro is the story of a biracial African American man, Zane Pinchback, who goes undercover as a caucasian to investigate black lynchings in the American South. The idea for the novel comes from Johnson's life:

"Well, I grew up ethnically and racially black, but looking white. The other pieces came to me: learning about Walter White, the birth of my twins, one of which looks more European, the other more African. ... It just seemed like a natural story to tell. And I always wanted this hero to be out there. Someone just like me, who turned what many see as an oddity into something priceless." (from interview at Racialicious)

I read a teaser page for Incognegro in the latest Jack of Fables (which is another fun series, spun off from the widly imaginative Fables by Bill Willingham). It depicted the aftermath of a lynching, the moment in which the men involved would line up to get their picture taken with the body (I realize this is a very link-happy post, but if you follow one link today, follow that one. It heads to a site for a book called Without Sanctuary by James Allen that shows this terrible part of our history. Watch the Flash movie. Note, fellow Oklahomans, how many of these photos were made in our state.). Zane, the novel's hero, circulates the crowd and takes names of those involved, posing as the assistant to the photographer taking orders of the photos for home delivery.

Incognegro is commentary on the social construction of race and its impact on all of us. Johnson stands those constructions on their heads, especially those of "passing" and the "Tragic Mulatto."

The rest of Zane’s subterfuge can be chalked up to philosophy and role playing. “Race doesn’t really exist,” he says. “Race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom. Race is a strategy. The rest is just people acting. Playing roles. That’s what white folks never get. They don’t think they have accents. They don’t think they eat ethnic foods. Their music is classical. They think they’re just normal. That they are the universal and that everyone else is an odd deviation from form. That’s what makes them so easy to infiltrate.” (New York Times review)
"Well, I have a different concept of race, more distance. Yes, I wanted this to be a different story. This is not a Tragic Mulatto story. While I am interested in the form, I’m also interested in taking ownership of it, not borrowing it. I took the shame and judgement out of Passing, and tried to show it being used in a positive, practical light." (Interview on Racialicious)

Tomorrow is comic book day -- the day the week's new comics hit the shelves -- and I'm hoping my guy will have this so I can get read it. Personal review to come.

Monday, March 3, 2008

We who are strong

Yesterday at church, Superpastor let fly with a smack-you-upside-the-head sermon, the challenging, prophetic kind of rhetoric that is the very reason I go to church, and especially this church. Yet again departing from the lectionary (for us UCCers, would have been John 9:1-41, the story about the blind man who gets kicked out of the synagogue) Superpastor instead picked a passage -- actually, just one verse -- to address an ethical issue that his congregation faced. Not only did he jump the lectionary, he jumped the NRSV entirely and read instead from the King James! He said he felt the older translation got at the heart of what the verse really meant over the NRSV's blander translation. Our scripture lesson yesterday was the King James Romans 15:1

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Which, quite honestly, is the very essence of Paul's theology. This is Paul fighting the corrupting forces of empire with the power of community, held together by love. I've been looking for an NT verse for a tattoo in Greek, and this might be my next skin art.

Superpastor was speaking truth about a civic issue in our community, but this verse and this sermon also spoke to something person for me. You might have noticed that I've redecorated the blog a bit -- added some blogs and sites to the links on the right -- but also altered the name and my profile a tad.

This is a blog is one from my context, which is that of a biracial woman of Asian heritage. I grew up being called "half" my entire life, and when I reached adulthood I began to wonder exactly which "half" was my Asian half and which was my European one. Top or bottom? Left or right? Or is it scattered throughout my being so that when my parts become a sum, I add up to 50% Asian and 50% European? I'd love to take a DNA test, just to see if the numbers really do add up this way. But "half" sounds reductive -- I am half a person, half an identity based on who's doing the looking, because you know, I'm only half-Asian around other Europeans. And, of course, the only words available to describe my racial-ethnic identity were not polite. Ainoko and konketsu are two from my Asian side, but they both essentially mean bastard. And on my European side -- halfbreed, mutt, mongrel, and of course, being half-white doesn't keep you from being called a japchinkgookslantslope, go home, go back were you came from. Oh how we Other anyone who is Other.

So a few years ago I discovered the word hapa, a Hawaiian word that sort of means "half" but also means "mixed" but, I learned, essentially is used for anyone who is multiracial and of Asian heritage. It became really out there in the last year or so thanks to artist Kip Fulbeck's Hapa Project. All I get out of this identification is personal satisfaction of being able to name myself -- an important factor in good mental health -- because I have to explain what hapa means as much as I (still) have to go through the torturous conversations of Where Are You From No Really Where Are You Really From Oh I Thought That You Were Asian I Could Tell From Your Eyes You Look Like You're Indian Which Tribe Are You How Long Have You Been In This Country You Speak English Very Well De Donde Eres No Verdad?

Since I've been attending seminary, I've been opening up to new ways of looking at the world, and one of them is postcolonial criticism. Postcolonial criticism is, to put it not so simply, the voices of those who have been oppressed under colonialism, who have had their identities decided by people who don't know them, Others. Postcolonialism is the speaking to former colonial powers and current imperial powers by people who have traditionally been ignored, silenced, rubbed out. It calls to the carpet those who have privilege of any kind, and turns on its head the notions of who matters. It's the recognition that there are more ways of looking at the world that the one that we've been given. It's a fairly new field, academically speaking, but then it'd have to be, since colonialism's not yet in its death throes and empire is still a factor.

As you can guess, I'm quite enamored with this field.

There are moments when I read these works and collapse in relief because my context as a woman of color finally has a place to be heard. And there are moments when I burn in shame because my context as a woman of privilege hears and understands the human price of that privilege.

So the other night I was reading entries from Mixed Race America, a blog on race issues in America that I've added to my blogroll, and I came across a link to an essay by Wei Ming Dariotis, a scholar who had embraced and championed the world of the hapa, or mixed, individual, and had even proposed a field of study she called Hapa Studies. In fact, it was her Web site with its examination of the need for Hapa Studies that put me over to embracing the word for my own self identity. However, in this essay, she was giving up her identification with the word. Native Hawaiians who were hapas had been miffed for years that us mainlander mixed-race, non-Hawaiians had taken up the word as our own. I didn't know, or rather, I knew but thought it was a small, disgruntled group, much like the people who say that Barack Obama can't be black just because he says so, who want to jealously guard the racial barriers of self-identification.

Dariotis, however, came at the argument from a postcolonial angle.

Increasingly, many Native Hawaiian people object not only to the way the word has been changed in its grammatical usage, but also to how it is applied to anyone of mixed Asian and or Pacific Islander heritage, when it implies Native Hawaiian mixed heritage. This is not merely a question of trying to hold on to word that like many words encountered in the English language has been adopted, assimilated, or appropriated. This is a question of power. Who has the power or right to use language? Native Hawaiians, in addition to all of the other ways that their sovereignty has been abrogated, lost for many years the right to their own language through oppressive English-language education.

Given this history and given the contemporary social and political reality (and realty) of Hawaiian, the appropriation of this one word has significance deeper than many Asian Americans are willing to recognize. To have this symbolic word used by Asians, particularly by Japanese Americans, as though it is their own, seems to symbolically mirror the way Native Hawaiian land was first taken by European Americans, and is now owned by Japanese and Japanese Americans and other Asian American ethnic groups that numerically and economically dominate Native Hawaiians in their own land.

In Foregrounding Native Nationalisms: A Critique of Antinationalist Sentiment in Asian American Studies, Candice Fujikane argues that Asian Americans are "settlers" in Hawaii, and therefore "support American colonialism" even while trying to fight racism and discrimination in a "colonial context". She defines the term "settler" in opposition to "native," and argues that Asian Americans "refuse to see themselves as the beneficiaries of [the US] colonial system." Although Fujikane does not specifically mention the use of the word hapa by Asian Americans, her argument is certainly in line with the critique that Asian Americans have wrongfully appropriated the term in a way that disenfranchises Native Hawaiians from their culture.

I have to admit, this upset me quite a bit, and Dariotis mentions in her article the reactions of people who, like her, like me, love the word and have come to use it as a way to self-identify. I am something, it is this word that sums up all my parts without giving emphasis to one or another. Can't we all just share it? I asked. For heaven's sake, I'm not a colonizer, I'm not a power, why do I have to be the one to suffer, to compromise, when it wasn't me who did those oppressive deeds? I'm with you now! I want to keep this word that is my identity!

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

I am a woman of color. I am a woman of privilege. I choose to exist in tension between these two poles, and never fully claim one or the other, so that I never forget either. Even when I do, and oh how I do.

The heart of the gospel is this, that we live in community, bounded by love for one another and the love of God. To live in community is to be aware of the needs of others and to fulfill theirs before we fulfill our own. This means we give up privilege, we give up power, we give up comfort. We wear new markers of identity over our old ones, not excising them but adding to them and enriching them, so that we become new people under God's heavenly rule, in which there is no hunger or poverty, where there is no oppression that we live under or we live out. We do not live there yet, but we can see it, and we live like it's already happened in order to taste some of its blessings.

So I give up hapa. Admittedly, now I'm stuck for a word, because mixed is OK, multiracial/biracial is OK, but for me it lacks the power of hapa. So I've cheated a bit, gone with (h)apa, which for me will stand for (half) Asian Pacific Islander American, which is still my context and what I study (postcolonial and APA hermeneutics and theologies). But I can't say I'm wild about that either. But like the man said, we can't always get what we want. I'll keep it for now, and I'll keep my theological ears open for a more accurate title.