Posts tagged ‘identity’


How a car accident makes you grateful

04.05.2015

The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
   Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
   Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
   With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
   The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
   After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
   The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
   But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
   Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
   We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
   And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Did Facebook really mean it when it apologized to the drag community for freezing their accounts?

04.04.2015

I’m getting quite used to the hypocrisy behind the likes of Google and Facebook. Remember last year, when Facebook received criticism for freezing accounts because users did not use their real names? It’s not dissimilar to the furore that came up when Google brought in the same policy a few years ago, affecting the people you might expect: people who were hiding from abusive ex-partners, for instance, and those in the drag community.
   Facebook eventually apologized, with Chris Cox offering a heartfelt statement on behalf of the firm here.
   But, in usual fashion, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing at Facebook.
   Even though I believe Mr Cox’s apology to be sincere, Facebook’s systems are still whack. Remember, this is a website that continues to freeze parts of its site on the 1st of each month because it’s not the 1st in California—probably because its boffins don’t know there are time zones that tick over to the new month before US Pacific time.
   One drag queen friend waited till January before her account was reinstated and, today, LaQuisha St Redfern lost hers, and Facebook did not offer her the opportunity to appeal. Her name has been banned.
   I know that’s two people caught up in the strange policies of Facebook, but after getting this bad rap in October, what’s with not even giving someone the opportunity to appeal this decision? Did Facebook even learn from it?
   This is a company that permits spammers to go on there en masse, and prevents you from reporting any more than 50 before banning reports from you for a day. Considering I’ve run into 277 a day, an upper limit of 50 is madness.
   This is a company that says it’s against click-farms, yet has been proven to use them. I’ve been reporting them, too, and according to Facebook’s own support pages, the company allows them to stay.
   In other words, Facebook puts spammers ahead of drag queens.
   I’ve written to Mr Cox, very politely, and thanks to Magenta Gutenberg on Twitter, I’ve found this Change.org petition to allow performers to use their stage names on Facebook. At Google, we got lucky because we found someone who cared about his company’s reputation when my friend Vincent lost his blog. Will we be as fortunate at Facebook?

PS.: To answer my last question, the answer is yes, though one wonders whether we would have been as successful without pressure from different parties. LaQuisha’s account was restored just after 6 a.m. GMT on Easter Day.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 2 Comments »


What’s wrong with our values now?

11.05.2011

Alistair Kwun always finds great articles on personal identity. The latest is from Wesley Yang in New York, discussing the Asian-American experience, and why, despite having such good grades at school, are there so few Asian-American leaders in the US? (Incidentally, this is a strange term: what do Americans call non-oriental Asians?)
   I applaud Wesley in writing this piece, because it’s an issue that needs a voice. Whenever you write an article that covers an entire race, it’s always going to be tough. The debate he’s generated is very valuable, and it’s through that that we can improve ourselves and our systems.
   You almost need to base part of it on stereotypes, no matter which race you talk about. And Wesley highlights that there may well be racism in the US against Asian-Americans (just as there would be in China against Caucasian Chinese if someone did an article from that perspective):

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.
   And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.

   But here’s what I don’t get. The idea that because we retain our values, we’re worth less as leaders. That somehow, having decent values means we lack some kind of ability to take risks.
   Wesley doesn’t generalize. In fact, he points out numerous examples of Asian-Americans who did take risks. And, when I think about it, among my peers, our propensity to take risks isn’t far off any other group’s.
   Here are the two paragraphs that struck a nerve:

Chu has a pleasant face, but it would not be wrong to characterize his demeanor as reserved. He speaks in a quiet, unemphatic voice. He doesn’t move his features much. He attributes these traits to the atmosphere in his household. “When you grow up in a Chinese home,” he says, “you don’t talk. You shut up and listen to what your parents tell you to do.”

And the attempt to connect that with the following idea:

Aspiring Asian leaders had to become aware of “the relationship between values, behaviors, and perceptions.” He offered the example of Asians who don’t speak up at meetings. “So let’s say I go to meetings with you and I notice you never say anything. And I ask myself, ‘Hmm, I wonder why you’re not saying anything. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what we’re talking about. That would be a good reason for not saying anything. Or maybe it’s because you’re not even interested in the subject matter. Or maybe you think the conversation is beneath you.’ So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

   So being considered, taking in everyone’s viewpoints, and not being brash about something is a bad thing?
   In a decent, multicultural society, one would hope that we can appreciate different norms based on how someone is raised. And it’s not just between two races. Even in a single race, you can have someone whose parents taught them to be quiet and another whose parents encouraged lively debate. Is one person worth less than the other? Is one less suited for leadership? I don’t think so: so many other things need to be looked at.
   Surely the “weapon” for any race is the ability to have perspective and to be proud of all your cultural norms? While Wesley’s examples are about a few Asian-Americans who want the recognition they deserve, those of us who are proud of our culture and have done all right because of it—and being smart enough to bridge our traditions with the host nation—might think the following, as one of Alistair’s friends did:

My issue with articles like this is that they seem to encourage disdain for our heritage. I am trying to raise my daughters to have pride in their ethnicity.

   My view was this, initially, and I’m still quite happy with this comment on Al’s wall. Naturally, I could not extend it to our other oriental cousins because it’s a statement founded on personal experience, but I’m sure some would agree with this. I added the italics for emphasis here:

I would have thought that because we are “different”, it would make us more suited to challenging “the Man”. We can question them because we come from a culture that affords us perspective—and it’s not just us Chinese, but anyone with any ethnic background. (I was even chatting about this to a white Irish–American New Zealander recently.)
   But is there a ‘traditional’ pathway? If there is, I don’t know of it, and was never told it. Maybe I won some genetic lottery and had parents who were smart enough to realize that having values is not an impediment, if you can make them work to your advantage. I also had parents who took risks—the risk of going to a new country, the risk of starting their own businesses—and where my mother, when she was working for someone, refused promotion because she didn’t want the extra responsibilities.
   But isn’t risk-taking something instilled in all Chinese émigrés? In the US and here, it was those who headed to the 金山. Those were the pioneers and they had a hard time. Those of us with grandparents who fought the Japanese. Those of us who came out with our parents. If we respected their histories, we should realize—and maybe this is me talking in hindsight—that we have our own mark to make like our forebears, and that means having our own adventure.

   I don’t believe there’s something about our culture that holds us back from speaking our minds, being subservient or taking risks. We invented enough stuff to show that we have decent lateral thinking among our ranks. What about Honda? It’s a motorcycle and car company now making jet planes—how many companies started doing bikes and now makes planes? I have always thought the “meekness” that Wesley writes of is, in itself, a stereotype: if you buy into it, then you’ve just hurt yourself by conforming to someone’s false idea of what it means to be Chinese.
   Goodness knows the number of times I’ve heard (though, interestingly, not last year) ‘I thought Asians weren’t interested in politics.’ Well, obviously, we are, and we’ve had more of them for a lot longer than a lot of other cultures. (Try telling Peter Chin or Meng Foon of their supposed disinterest over the years.)
   The mark of an open-minded society is one which values people equally, realizing that everyone has a different way of doing things.
   The mark of maturity is having perspective, which has come about through contact, dialogue, travel or endeavour.
   If the failure of an Asian-American to speak out prevents them from being promoted, then maybe we need to look hard at that organization.
   Because I honestly don’t think blame should be levelled at the person for being the way they are.
   What it does show is that there are systems that are inherently racist. When it comes to denying Asian-Americans their rightful place, it’s apparently now our fault once again for being who we are.
   I’m hoping to high heaven that the stats in New Zealand aren’t as dire as the ones Wesley cited, though we sure are under-represented politically. I don’t blame the voters, and I don’t blame the potential candidates. But it should make us wonder about the fairness of the system and the institutions behind it.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Surely something all Chinese can agree on

18.01.2011

It’s 2011, which, by my calculations, is the centenary of China kicking out the corrupt Ching dynasty.
   It’s the one event that both Republicans and Communists can agree on as being positive. It’s why Dr Sun Yat-sen is such a uniting figure for all Chinese, as the father of the nation.
   I can’t speak for all expatriates, but personally, I think this is an anniversary worth celebrating.
   Twenty-eleven might be the time to put aside the usual animosity and all the political rhetoric. Like New Year, we can look forward to some unity surrounding the formation of a Chinese republic.
   And since we’re unlikely ever to get the two sides agreeing on much more, then maybe a Chinese commonwealth is an idea we should entertain?

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong | 2 Comments »