Saturday, August 21, 2004

Minority Report Revisited

肌の色 比べ世界が 病んでいる

hada no iro
kurabe sekai ga

The color of the skin
compared, and the world
is ill


have been going through stuff left by my parents, and I came across the above senryu by my mother. As a Japanese woman who arrived in the US in the 1950s, she was subjected to her share of discrimination. She had learned that the US was the land of equality and she had high hopes of fitting in. But life isn't that easy. That she composed the verse in 1994 suggests that this issue has been on her mind for decades.

A few months back, I wrote a few entries regarding racial issues when a guy I talked to at a bar told me that he chose the team he rooted for by the number of whites that were on the team: the more whites, the better. As some have suggested, he probably related to the team better. I wrote the following entry back then as well, but decided to hold back for a while as too many entries on this topic can get adversarial. But I need to bring it out every so often, and so here it is, a bit updated...

My thoughts are my own, and if you get something out of it, then great. If you don't agree with me, well that's sorta good too, if for no other reason than that you at least took the time to read an opinion that you don't agree with. I mean, is that not one way to learn different views? Even if you do not agree with me, it at least tells me you are open enough to consider a difference of opinion. The unwillingness to consider different views is a recipe for disaster, one that we should all avoid. Worse, perhaps, might be a sense of ennui, the unwillingness to even consider subjects that are relative but "too much trouble" to think about...

In any case, I will say that I do believe that things are getting better. I have never said otherwise. Do I think that things are perfect? No. Do you? Does anyone? I just make it a point to discuss it sometimes--the trigger a few months ago was the guy at the bar, what reminded me of it again was the above senryu--so everyone will think about it. It is an issue close to home, and to ignore it is to deny my own identity and pride.

A recent comment suggested that being among minorities fostered a sense of being a minority. Perhaps that is true, because it gives one a sense of identity based on a shared trait. And I suppose that, searching for and identifying people who are similar to me/us is a way of deliberately separating ourselves from mainstream society. But that is because we feel a need to within this society. I have discussed this before, I think. I know that there are many who are righteous, who are truly enlightened, who view everyone as equal. But please don't think that everyone thinks like this. As I wrote, my parents wanted us to speak English, my mother wanted us to be Americans. So how did I come to feel that I was different? I didn't do it. I tried hard to be like everyone else. There was no RBJ back then, no Rainbow Coalition or Million Man march to separate us from them. Mainstream society made me feel different. Watch any movie or TV show from back then. Virtually all minorites played servant roles or marginal characters that were kind of kooky: Rochester (Jack Benny's valet Eddie Anderson), Mrs. Livingston (Umeki Miyoshi as the housekeeper in the Courtship of Eddies Father, notice her housecoat), and lest we forget, Arnold (the zany coffee shop owner on Happy Days, Pat Morita). Yes, Mrs. Livingston was demure and nice and helpful. Indeed, Arnold was funny and added life to the gang at Arnold's. These are ostensibly "positive" images of Asians... They do not, however, reflect me or the majority of Asians I know. There are, of course, other images of Asians all over TV, like... um... uh, let see... Gee, I can't seem to think of one. How many Asians have you seen play a regular role that is "normal" on TV? How many Asians have been portrayed as just another human being, a friend in "Friends" or a customer in "Cheers" on a regular basis? None that I can think of--well maybe a recent example, Lucy Liu in Ally McBeal, is pretty close. The images of Asians are restricted to the ones I have mentioned. Do these roles--which provided mainstream society an image of a particular race--reflect an attitute that suggests that all races are equal? Hardly. In such an environment, does anyone think that mainstream society truly provided equal access not only to roles in TV/movies, but to schools, to services, to politics? Now, today's society is vastly different and far more enlightened, but I cannot turn it on and off like a light switch. And I still face discrimination today. I know some of my students have experienced similar discrimination in Japan. Fortunately, they have the option to leave if it gets unbearable. I don't have that option. I was born and raised in the US. I am not about to be chased away, but I do have to deal with it. Further, I don't have the option of becoming non-Asian. Some can lose weight, others can de-nerd, but can I de-Asian? No, I am stuck with my minority categorization and will identify with those I share this trait with.

Oh well. Some will agree with me, and some won't. Some will understand my feelings and some won't. But I'd be remiss in not expressing my opinion.

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