Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Macaca moment changes momentum; a manifesto on race, politics and empowerment

Nice article in the Washington Post about how Allen has been on a mostly downhill slide since his macaca comment, and his delayed apology.

Interesting bits from the article:
Stuart Rothenberg, political prognosticator:
"We have a real race," said Stuart Rothenberg, who edits the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks elections nationwide. "The race has changed fundamentally." Allen's "macaca moment" -- a term that has rapidly become part of America's political lexicon -- has breathed new life into Webb, a former Republican and Vietnam war hero who worked for Ronald Reagan.
Chuck Schumer, Senator from NY's newfound optimism about the race:

"Virginia is becoming a more Democratic state, in what is shaping to be a Democratic year," said New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic campaign committee in the Senate, which has promised to help finance Webb.

"We think this is a neck-and-neck race," he said.

And Dick (Wadhams), Allen's campaign manager, refusing to let the candidate speak (as I predicted earlier), for fear that Allen would make further gaffes and so he can play the heavy:
Allen's campaign accuses Webb of failing to offer specifics. "Even his signature issue of Iraq . . . is still hazy at best and contradictory at worst," said Wadhams, who declined to make Allen available for an interview, saying, "I'm going to speak for him."
Also, a nice op-ed on "becoming a 'real' American" from a professor of theology:

The Allen incident offers evidence that America is not now or likely to ever be a color-blind country. How are South Asians to live with this truth? Resignation is not the answer. Vigorous political participation is. My youthful intuition that what makes me as American as any Mayflower descendant is citizenship — not race or ethnicity — was only partly on the mark. The piece of paper that validates our identities as American citizens can do only so much if we do little to struggle for recognition.
Since the term "macaca moment" has entered the lexicon, it recalls another racially-tinged term: Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment.

In response to militant hip hop activist Sistah Souljah's comment after the LA riots that "If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"[1]
Clinton replied, "If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech."

Thus he distanced himself from the extreme views of Sistah Souljah and positioned himself firmly in the center for political gain, angering some African Americans in the Democratic party base, including Rev. Jesse Jackson. Clinton's "Sistah Souljah" moment was 14 years ago now.

What the macaca moment means for Asian Americans of all shades is that we, and the rest of the left, if not the country (hopefully), will not stand for having our race or ethnicity played for political points. What the macaca moment means to me is that it is the repudiation of a "wink wink nod nod" form of old school politics that involves drawing a protective, secretive circle around the politician and his or her base, and then using someone of a different race as a target, for fun and laughs.

My hope is that Allen's remarks and the subsequent firestorm of criticism means that American politics have entered a new age where not only is it is no longer okay to use African Americans as political bait, it is also no longer acceptable to use Asian Americans. And perhaps this trend will also make itself seen in the comedy world where it seems like stand up artists think the last acceptable racial epithets are those made at the expense of APIAs.

So I would like to echo in the belief that the "macaca" moment has not only changed the momentum in the Virginian senatorial race, but that it has also changed the meaning of American politics. I pray that "dog whistle politics" particularly on race is no longer acceptable, and that more Asian Americans get involved to hold candidates accountable.

And it's true as Reappropriate has commented that our community has no Malcom Yellow, no Sistah Souljah, no one established community leader that the press goes to for the definitive word on "the state of Asian America." But I think that's okay, that it's possibly a better thing for the community since I'm no believer in the great man theory of history or activism, despite the media's preference to shine a light on single people creating change. I don't want one individual to speak for us. We are a multi-hued multitude with immigration histories like tapestries in the fabric of America. We are a relatively younger demographic in terms of gaining critical mass in this nation, since we were denied "legal" immigration status for so long that we became an oddity, a circus freak show and sight to behold in some parts of the USA.

This spectacular reproduction of the Durbar of Delhi Procession was staged to compete with the shows at the newly opened Dreamland on the seaward side of Surf Avenue. A newspaper reporter described it. "There were gilded chariots and prancing horses, and trained elephants and dancing girls, regiments of soldiers and an astonishing number of real Eastern people and animals in gay and stately trappings. The magnificence of the scene was such as to make those who witnessed it imagine that they were in a genuine Oriental city." Four million park visitors in 1904, 5000 at a time, watched this show. There was a charm about the Streets of Delhi that kept them spellbound.
Don't get me wrong, I'm tired of Michelle Malkin and her antics getting more press than local leaders who are hard at work to create real social change. It doesn't surprise me that some of the leading Asian American pundits (Malkin, Ramesh Ponnuru to name a few) are conservatives whereas progressives like Vijay Prashad get less ink and facetime. Conservatives are adept at playing follow the leader, whereas progressives don't want just a figurehead, we want a real fighter with brains and guts, and the temerity to see things through.

Me, I wouldn't follow someone who wasn't in the trenches and who lacked sincerity and plain old life experience. So I'm drawn to Asian American leaders like Mike Honda, Helen Zia, and Chaplain James Yee - people who have struggled and overcome. I would follow someone like Wen Ho Lee, except that he very definitively does not seek to be the standard bearer for Asian America, and has largely declined press interviews.

We are still finding and defining our leaders, developing our voices and power, and I don't want any individual to start growing a cult of personality around themselves before we get a chance to fully empower ourselves. The way we empower ourselves is by becoming informed and getting active in local politics around issues that matter deeply to us. That's how we build the power of our community, and if people across the country do that, we'll naturally have leaders that emerge, the media will pick a golden child, and we'll have our Jesse Jacksons and more Mike Hondas.

Ideally, each and everyone of us is Malcolm X. So get to it - we all have a hell of a lot of work to do.


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