Posts tagged ‘racism’


The expectation of invisibility

03.01.2023

I rewatched Princess of Chaos, the TV drama centred around my friend, Bevan Chuang. I’m proud to have stood by her at the time, because, well, that’s what you do for your friends.

I’m not here to revisit any of the happenings that the TV movie deals with—Bevan says it brings her closure so that is that—but to examine one scene where her character laments being Asian and being ‘invisible’. How hard we work yet we aren’t seen. The model minority. Expected to be meek and silent and put up with stuff.

Who in our community hasn’t felt this?

While the younger generations of the majority are far, far better than their forebears, the expectation of invisibility was something that’s been a double-edged sword when I look back over my life.

The expectation of invisibility was never going to sit well with me.

I revelled in being different, and I had a family who was supportive and wise enough to guide me through being different in our new home of Aotearoa New Zealand.

My father frequently said, when speaking of the banana Chinese—those who proclaim themselves yellow on the outside and white on the inside—that they can behave as white as they want, but there’ll always be people who’ll see the yellow skin and treat them differently. And in some cases, unfairly.

He had reason to believe this. My mother was underpaid by the Wellington Hospital Board for a considerable time despite her England and Wales nursing qualification. A lot of correspondence ensued—I still remember Dad typing formal letters on his Underwood 18, of which we probably still have carbons. Dad felt pressured—maybe even bullied to use today’s parlance—by a dickhead manager at his workplace.

Fortunately, even in the 1970s, good, decent, right-thinking Kiwis outnumbered the difficult ones, though the difficult ones could get away with a lot, lot more, from slant-eye gestures to telling us to go back to where we came from openly. I mean, February 6 was called New Zealand Day! Go back another generation to a great-uncle who came in the 1950s, and he recalls white kids literally throwing stones at Chinese immigrants.

So there was no way I would become a banana, and give up my culture in a quest to integrate. The parents of some of my contemporaries reasoned differently, as they had been in the country for longer, and hoped to spare their children the physical harm they endured. They discouraged their children from speaking their own language, in the hope they could achieve more.

As a St Mark’s pupil, I was at the perfect school when it came to being around international classmates, and teachers who rewarded academic excellence regardless of one’s colour. All of this bolstered my belief that being different was a good thing. I wasn’t invisible at my school. I did really well. I was dux.

It was a shock when I headed to Rongotai College as most of the white boys were all about conforming. The teachers did their best, but so much of my class, at least, wanted to replicate what they thought was normal society in the classroom, and a guy like me—Chinese, individualistic, with a sense of self—was never going to fit in. It was a no-brainer to go to Scots College when a half-scholarship was offered, and I was around the sort of supportive school environment that I had known in my primary and intermediate years, with none of the other boys keen to pigeonhole you. Everyone could be themselves. Thank goodness.

But there were always appearances from the conformist attitudes in society. As I headed to university and announced I would do law and commerce, there was an automatic assumption that the latter degree would be in accounting. I would not be visible doing accounting, in a back room doing sums. For years (indeed, until very recently) the local branch of the Fairfax Press had Asian employees but that was where they were, not in the newsroom. We wouldn’t want to offend its readers, would we?

My choice of these degrees was probably driven, subconsciously, by the desire to be visible and to give society a middle finger. I wasn’t going to be invisible. I was going to pursue the interests that I had, and to heck with societal expectations based along racial lines. I had seen my contemporaries at college do their best to conform: either put your head down or play sport. There was no other role. If you had your head up and didn’t play sport at Rongotai, there was something wrong with you. Maybe you were a ‘faggot’ or ‘poofter’ or some other slur that was bandied about, I dare say by boys who had uncertainties about their own sexuality and believed homophobia helped them.

I loved design. I loved cars. Nothing was going to change that. So I pursued a design career whilst doing my degrees. I could see how law, marketing and management would play a role in what I wanted to do in life. When I launched Lucire, it was “against type” on so many fronts. I was doing it online, that was new. I was Chinese, and a cis het guy. And it was a very public role: as publisher I would attend fashion shows, doing my job. In the early days, I would be the only Chinese person amongst the press.

And I courted colleagues in the press, because I was offering something new. That was also intentional: to blaze a trail for anyone like me, a Chinese New Zealander in the creative field who dared to do something different. I wasn’t the first, of course: Raybon Kan comes to mind (as a fellow St Mark’s dux) with his television reviews in 1990 that showed up almost all who had gone before with his undeniable wit; and Lynda Chanwai-Earle whose poetry was getting very noticed around this time. Clearly we needed more of us in these ranks if we were going to make any impact and have people rethink just who we were and just what we were capable of. And it wasn’t in the accounts’ department, or being a market gardener, serving you at a grocery store or takeaway, as noble as those professions also are. I have family in all those professions. But I was out on a quest to break the conformity that Aotearoa clung to—and that drove everything from typeface design to taking Lucire into print around the world and running for mayor of Wellington. It might not have been the primary motive, but it was always there, lingering.

This career shaped me, made me less boring as an individual, and probably taught me what to value in a partner, too. And thank goodness I found someone who also isn’t a conformist.

When we first met, Amanda did ask me why I had so many friends from the LGBTQIA+ community. I hadn’t really realized it, but on reflection, the answer was pretty simple: they, too, had to fight conformist attitudes, to find their happy places. No wonder I got along with so many. All my friends had stood out one way or another, whether because of their interests, their sexuality, how they liked to be identified, their race, their way of thinking, or something else. These are the people who shape the world, advance it, and make it interesting. They—we—weren’t going to be pigeonholed.
 

With fellow nonconformist Stefan Engeseth in Stockholm, 2010


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Posted in cars, culture, design, interests, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, TV, Wellington | 2 Comments »


New Zealand Chinese Language Week: a podcast entry

29.09.2022

As we come to the conclusion of New Zealand Chinese Language Week, a review about how inappropriate it was by being the very opposite of inclusive, for those who’d prefer to sit back and listen rather than read one of my blog posts.
 

 

You’ll likely catch me on RNZ’s The Detail on Friday, September 30 (PS.: uploaded this morning here). The AM Show changed its mind, so you won’t see me ‘come home to the feeling’ on TV3.


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The US, where big business (and others) can lie with impunity

31.12.2020

One thing about not posting to NewTumbl is I’ve nowhere convenient to put quotations I’ve found. Maybe they have to go here as well. Back when I started this blog in 2006—15 years ago, since it was in January—I did make some very short posts, so it’s not out of keeping. (I realize the timestamp is in GMT, but it’s coming up to midday on January 1, 2021 here.)
   Here’s one from Robert Reich, and I think for the most part US readers will agree, regardless of their political stripes.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.
   In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the Sackler family, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.
   Yet here, too, those responsible have got away with it.

   I did offer these quotations with little or no commentary at NewTumbl and Tumblr.
   What came up with the above was a Twitter exchange with a netizen in the US, and how some places still touted three- to four-day shipping times when I argued that it was obvious—especially if you had been looking at the COVID positivity rates that their government officials relied on—that these were BS. And that Amazon (revenue exceeding US$100 milliard in the fourth quarter of 2020) and Apple (profit at c. US$100 milliard for the 12 months ending September 30) might just be rich enough to hire an employee to do the calculations and correlate them with delays—we are not talking particularly complicated maths here, and we have had a lot of 2020 data to go on. But they would rather save a few bob and lie to consumers: it’s a choice they have made.
   The conclusion I sadly had to draw was that businesses there can lie with impunity, because they’ve observed that there are no real consequences. The famous examples are all too clear from Reich’s quotation, where the people get a raw deal—even losing their lives.


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The 2020 Level 2 history exam is racist

14.12.2020

The below is excerpted from an email sent to the Race Relations’ Commissioner, Meng Foon, sent yesterday, in light of this Tweet (and the thread that follows):

   The New Zealand Qualifications’ Authority responded to Cadence:

   My words to Meng:

I find it totally bizarre and inexplicable in the wake of the March 15 mosque terror attacks that someone would have thought it appropriate to include a poem by Terry in such a context, which in my view affords a murderer, racist, and white supremacist undeserved sympathy, and treats the murder of Joe Kum Yung as a side note.
   I dare say the equivalent would be quoting from the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist.
   I would have no issue if Terry had been discussed in the context of the xenophobia (even the sinophobia) and racism of the era, with students asked to analyse that critically.
   Looking at the Level 2 history exam paper in full, I question whether the poem’s inclusion is even that relevant to the question, more so when compared to the other sources given by the examiner.
   Cadence Chung, the student who brought this to the attention of a number of people on Twitter, said she received a response from NZQA suggesting that sufficient context had been given. This I feel dismisses the seriousness of the hate crime perpetrated on Joe Kum Yung and, by extension, on our community, and is yet another example of the ongoing racism that surfaces from time to time.
   One is used to it coming from certain quarters but from an official government body?
   It does not reflect where New Zealanders stand today and NZQA should both explain and apologize for its inclusion.
   Indeed, right now, an analysis of why NZQA felt its actions appropriate in 2020 would make a suitable question in a future exam.

   If only I had read Tina Ngata’s Tweet on the subject first, as it is far more to the point:

   One hundred and fifteen years on since the racially motivated murder of Joe Kum Yung, we still have people who give this little regard to our various communities. My tale about being denied service at a Wellington supermarket in 1993 on racial grounds doesn’t seem that far-fetched, to be frank.


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Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.


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Going beyond a blacked-out image: thoughts on Black Lives Matter

04.06.2020

Usually I find it easier to express myself in written form. For once, Black Lives Matter and the protests in the US prompted me to record another podcast entry. I’m not sure where the flat as and the mid-Atlantic vowels come from when I listened to this again—maybe I was channelling some of the passion I was seeing in the US, and I had watched the news prior to recording this.

   My Anchor summary is: ‘Personal thoughts in solidarity with my black friends in the US. Yes, I posted a blackout image on my Instagram but it didn’t seem to be enough. This is my small contribution, inspired by a Facebook post written by my white American friend Eddie Uken where he reflects on his perspective and privilege.’ Eddie’s Facebook post, which is public, is here.


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Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

26.05.2020

When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
   And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
   The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
   But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.


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Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:


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Social media produce some terrible clairvoyants

19.02.2020

I see Billie Eilish is singing the next James Bond title song, and it sounds pretty good.
   The last one, ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, wasn’t one of my favourites and while I didn’t mind Sam Smith’s composition, I felt a female voice might have suited it better. On a Bond music forum on Facebook (when I was still using it), I voiced disappointment, only to get comments in the thread essentially saying, ‘Everyone who dislikes this song is a homophobe.’
   Up until that point I had no clue about Smith’s sexuality—didn’t care then, don’t care now. I didn’t think much of this until tonight, when it dawned on me that when I say I’m not a fan of Brexit, on busier social media threads I’ll get, ‘Stop calling British people racists.’
   In neither case was homophobia or racism even hinted but it puzzles me that people can somehow go into Mystic Meg clairvoyant mode and see things that aren’t there—and get it completely wrong. And that has to be one of the things wrong with social media these days: people far too much in their own heads to even see what is right in front of them, letting their imaginations run riot. Could they be projecting? In any case, a discussion, or even an argument, is pointless if parties are unwilling to stick to the facts in front of them, preferring to go into snowflake mode and fling out accusations. It does them little credit.
   And folks wonder why so many of us have social media fatigue and would be quite content if certain sites vanished overnight.


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Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’


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