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To Awaken Asian America

Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old law studentLately, violence and exclusion against Asian Americans has been at a visceral high—and while I am of course angered as always by these instances of discrimination and hate, something else also has been stirring within me.
​At this historic moment in time, following the election of one of the most outrightly bigoted Presidents in our country since before racial desegregation, we as American citizens have been made well aware of the racial tensions in this country being brought to the surface. These prejudiced, racist sentiments have existed in America for hundreds of years, but seem to be projected more violently and explicitly right now than they have been at any other time in my young life.

​On one hand, seeing the exclusion, the literal brutalization of Asian Americans, hurts me deeply. One can never learn to like the reminder that often America has a penchant to see the Asian American body as only an Asian body, and has a penchant to see the Asian body as something to be exploited, abused, and eradicated from this country. One can never learn to like the reminder that at the root of racism is not just the belief that people of color are less than, but need to either exist in complete submission and subservience to those in power, or just not exist at all.

​In just the last month, after booking an AirBnb in Big Bear, Asian American woman Dyne Suh’s host cancelled on her at the last minute by telling her in a series of texts that she “wouldn’t rent to [Dyne] if [she] were the last person on earth.” When Dyne confronted her and asked why she would go back on her word and cancel so last minute, the host told her, “One word says it all. Asian.”

​“It’s why we have Trump,” the host continued, justifying her discrimination with Trump’s election. Trump, of course, has not spoke out refuting that her actions should be done in his name. The refusal of goods and services is an action that, under law, is never to be done on the bases of race, gender, or creed. Still, it is something LGBT communities have had to struggle against in even recent years, and right now in the case of Dyne Suh, wasn’t respected for Asian Americans.

​Last week saw the case of David Dao, a doctor on a United Airlines flight who was dragged, violently harassed, and beaten for refusing to leave an overbooked flight. Dao had purchased a ticket, and the singling out of Dao to leave the plane and the subsequent beating of Dao more than appears race related—the unfounded brutalization of Asian bodies has been historically condoned, as in the last thirty years in the case of Vincent Chin’s murder, and hundreds of years of colonialism before.

​With every new piece of news of these kinds of deeply racist and violent crimes, there is a part of me that feels a little weaker, a little sadder. But I also have to wonder, are these just the issues that have lived under the skin, under the surface of the earth of this country for years, simply festering upwards and projecting themselves now more violently before? Is this an inevitable part of the move forward?

​While I have no true answer to this and of course, I wish nothing more than for these people, for their souls and bodies to be safe, for their health and livelihood to be in no danger, what I do know is that I have watched the Asian American community take note and take action. I have seen many who have bought in to the model minority myth begin to perceive the way in which we are not just otherized, but brutalized, excluded, and discriminated against. I have seen something in the Asian American community awaken—in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois speaking of the black community, the gaining of a “double consciousness”, if you will—an increasing awareness of the self as an Asian American in contention with the awareness of people’s perception of the Asian American.

​While more than anything I sorely hope discussion and peaceful but rigorous action will put a halt to, or at least mollify such violent actions against Asian Americans, I also hope that from this our community may better mobilize and may better find solidarity among other people of color. May we all march forward, and learn to situate ourselves on the side of equity and justice.

AAA-Fund Stands with Planned Parenthood to Protect Women’s Health Care

Press Release today from Planned Parenthood reads:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America condemned President Donald Trump’s signing of a measure designed to undermine women’s health and overturn a rule that reinforced protections for the more than 4 million people who rely on Title X, the nation’s family planning program, for their health care.

The bill signed by President Trump today does not “defund” Planned Parenthood. That is a separate issue. However, this latest move could embolden states to try to block access to health care through Title X, both at Planned Parenthood health centers and independent clinics. These types of actions are already illegal, as a court in Florida found just this past summer.

Statement from Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and this bill is just the latest example. Planned Parenthood strongly opposes President Trump’s willingness to undermine millions of women’s access to birth control through the Title X family planning program. Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and by signing this bill, President Trump disregards their health and well-being.

“We should build on the tremendous progress made in this country with expanded access to birth control, instead of enacting policies  that take us backward.  Too many women still face barriers to health care, especially young women, women of color, those who live in rural areas, and women with low incomes.”

“Women marched in historic numbers the day after the inauguration because they feared the worst. Their worst fears are now coming true. We are facing the worst political attack on women’s health in a generation as lawmakers have spent the past three months trading away women’s health and rights at every turn. That’s why women are the core of the resistance and have have been organizing and speaking out since the day after the election. They know speaking up and speaking out can change the direction of this government.”

In less than three months, the Trump administration and anti-women’s health Members of Congress have taken unprecedented steps to rip away women’s access to health care:

  • Trump reinstated and expanded the harmful global gag rule, meaning a wide range of health organizations combating HIV or the spread of Zika will be banned from all U.S. global health funding if they also happen to provide counseling, referrals, or services for safe and legal abortion.
  • The House considered a bill to repeal the ACA that was the worst piece of legislation for women in a generation, prohibiting women from getting care at Planned Parenthood through the Medicaid program, kicking millions off insurance, ending  maternity coverage for millions of women, and imposing a ban on insurance coverage for abortion.
  • Extremists in Congress attempted to revive the failed ACA repeal bill by trading away women’s health and proposing to gut the essential health benefits provision, which would roll back maternity care, raise insurance rates for women and reduce access to birth control and other reproductive health care.
  • President Trump jammed through an extreme and anti-women’s health nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court, endangering women’s access to abortion and birth control in the years to come.
  • The Trump administration quietly eliminated U.S. funding for UNFPA, an organization whose mission is to champion maternal and child health across the globe.

– See more at: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/planned-parenthood-condemns-president-trumps-signing-of-bill-that-threatens-health-care-protections-for-4-million-title-x-family#sthash.VJJQYr8c.dpuf

Asian American Action Fund Calls for Investigation and Response to the Recent Actions of United Airlines and the Chicago O’Hare Police

In light of yesterday’s brutal assault on Dr. David Dao in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, the Asian American Action Fund (AAA-Fund) calls for an investigation into the actions, motivation, and behavior of the United Airlines employees and O’Hare Airport’s Aviation Police.

Upon the request of United Airlines staff, the O’Hare Airport’s Aviation Police forcibly dragged a paying customer out of his seat, bloodying and possibly concussing him in the process. Dr. Dao, the customer in question, was twice dragged off the flight, the second time on a stretcher. Dr Dao expressed the belief that racial animus and not random chance was the reason he was singling out for forcible removal.

The use of force against an Asian American traveler is a symptom of a nation which tolerates violence against minorities. AAA-Fund calls for an investigation to determine if there is systematic racism in the O’Hare police force or within the United Airlines organization. We also call on O’Hare and United to engage in training to diffuse conflict without violence and how to recognize and counter systematic racism.

Police on United Airlines

Yellowface, Whitewashing, and the Colors of Historical Oppression in Film

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, seventh on voting access, eigth on fearing microaggressions, ninth on fearing microaggressions, and tenth on firgetting Chinatowns.

​This last week, the film adaptation of acclaimed Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell came to theaters, and was immediately met with immense criticism over the casting of Scarlett Johansson, a white woman, as the Japanese female lead Motoko Kusanagi. According to Paramount, the film faced difficulty in the box office as a result of this.

Ghost in the Shell (Manga / Anchor Bay)Before I begin this discussion I first must disclaim that I have watched neither the original anime of Ghost in the Shell nor the movie, and am by no means an expert on the story itself. However, I am fairly well versed in the history of race and casting in media. To this day, nothing itches at my skin, grinds against my bones, or shakes my soul the way whitewashing does.

For a seemingly small act, it riles and perturbs many, and many others have difficulty understanding why. Many say the message of Ghost and the Shell conveys that the body doesn’t matter, that race and the physical construct of self is irrelevant, and therefore the changing of race supports the story. Others, even Japanese people who have loved the original anime, say it’s an American production and the race should not matter.

But the truth of the matter is that race does matter, and there is a much greater history of whitewashing at play. The Good Earth, The Dragon Seed, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charlie Chan: yellow face has been in practice since film began. In those times, laws in Hollywood actively kept people of color from seeing the silver screen. The origins of yellow face were marked by active exclusion and segregation within the film industry, not only keeping Asian Americans from representation, but from jobs.

The acts of whitewashing and yellow face are politicized because they are rooted in historical oppression, and today they still reflect this act of white people claiming Asian narratives as their own while simultaneously excluding actual Asian people. We are taken out of the equation even in telling our own stories—no representation belongs for us anywhere.
And what that tells us as Asian Americans, is that our stories, the one that are truly ours, don’t matter. That perhaps we don’t matter. The evidence for this in media is staggering.
In a study among children, self esteemed dropped in response to exposure to television among all groups except for white boys.

In a study of top grossing films worldwide, 1.2% of leads were Asian, and all of them were male, compared to the 60% of the world population that is Asian.

The only Asian woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Actress was Merle Oberon who was ¼ Indian, ¾ white, and at the time of her win hid her half Indian mother from the public eye, lied about her birthplace, and presented herself as white to the world in order to avoid discrimination. The only Asian woman ever to win Best Actress was thought to be white.

And still, in media as recent as Ghost in the Shell, Aloha, and Doctor Strange, Hollywood continues to refuse to let Asian Americans tell their own stories and instead grossly excludes Asian Americans while co-opting their bodies.

Even now every new instance of whitewashing, of yellow face, reminds me of these facts, and still often feels like someone telling me that I do not matter to Hollywood, so maybe I do not matter to the public, and so why should I matter to anyone.

Lupita Nyong’o once said, “Until I saw people who looked like me, doing the things I wanted to, I wasn’t so sure it was a possibility. When I was a little girl, the first time I thought I could be an actor was when I watched The Color Purple.” Representation is important. Hearing stories we identify with makes the world of difference in what we believe we can accomplish, and therefore what we can accomplish.
At our very core, it is true—race does not matter and all people are equal, and ideally changing a character’s race should not matter. But we must acknowledge that race is not treated as equal, and has not been treated as equal in film for a long time. Change comes slowly, but we have a responsibility to actively change the narrative of the film industry, to push for diversity in film. For a better society, for one in which every person can, and furthermore believes they can, do anything, representation is of the greatest necessity.

Ghost in the Shell, your box office flop was not for naught.

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