the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.

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Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
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Posts tagged "race"

Loretta Ross on the origin of the term “Woman of Color”:

Y’all know where the term “women of color” came from?  Who can say that?  See, we’re bad at transmitting history.

In 1977, a group of Black women from Washington, DC, went to the National Women’s Conference, that [former President] Jimmy Carter gave $5million to have as part of the World Decade for Women.  There was a conference in Houston, TX.

This group of Black women carried into that conference something called “The Black Women’s Agenda” because the organizers of the conference—Bella Abzug, Ellie Smeal, and what have you—had put together a three-page “Minority Women’s Plank” in a 200-page document that these Black women thought was somewhat inadequate.

So they actually formed a group called Black Women’s Agenda to come [sic] to Houston with a Black women’s plan of action that they wanted the delegates to vote to substitute for the “Minority Women’s Plank” that was in the proposed plan of action.

Well, a funny thing happened in Houston: when they took the Black Women’s Agenda to Houston, then all the rest of the “minority” women of color wanted to be included in the “Black Women’s Agenda.” Okay?

Well, [the Black women] agreed…but you could no longer call it the “Black Women’s Agenda.”  And it was in those negotiations in Houston [that] the term “women of color” was created.  Okay?

And they didn’t see it as a biological designation—you’re born Asian, you’re born Black, you’re born African American, whatever—but it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been “minoritized.”

Now, what’s happened in the 30 years since then is that people see it as biology now.

You know? Like, “Okay…” And people are saying they  don’t want to be defined as a woman of color: “I am Black, “I am Asian American”…and that’s fine. But why are you reducing a political designation to a biological destiny?

That’s what white supremacy wants you to do. And I think it’s a setback when we disintegrate as people of color around primitive ethnic claiming. Yes, we are Asian American, Native American, whatever, but the point is, when you choose to work with other people who are minoritized by oppression, you’ve lifted yourself out of that basic identity into another political being and another political space. And, unfortunately, so many times, people of color hear the term “people of color” from other white people that PoCs think white people created it instead of understanding that we self-named ourselves.  This is term that has a lot of power for us.

But we’ve done a poor-ass job of communicating that history so that people understand that power.

(Transcript courtesy of Racialicious.)

(via sexartandpolitics)

(via The Daily Caller)

Holy shit, guys. The conservatives have obtained a DAMNING secret video of the American president doing what no American president has ever done before in the history of this country: telling the uncensored truth about institutional racism.

According to that venerable institution for truth, The Daily Caller:

In a video obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama tells an audience of black ministers, including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that the U.S. government shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism.

“The people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much!” Obama shouts in the video, which was shot in June of 2007 at Hampton University in Virginia. By contrast, survivors of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Andrew received generous amounts of aid, Obama explains. The reason? Unlike residents of majority-black New Orleans, the federal government considers those victims “part of the American family.”

The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama’s carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.

Gee, ever think that  the “accent he almost never adopts in public” is actually what he would sound like in public if it didn’t scare conservatives like Tucker Carlson by reminding them that he’s black. Also, in case you didn’t catch the part where Barack Obama is BLACK, here’s another reminder that he is, in fact, BLACK. Did you get that? BLACK.

The only part of this story that makes me sad is that this video happened in 2007 and not 2012.

This is basically how I (and the rest of my high school friends) grew up. It’s an experience I’ll be exploring in my novel - how did my cultural identity and the immigrant mentality of my parents shape me and my relationship with writing all my life?

I’ll be heading back to the “626” this October … and yes, already looking forward to late-night boba and some proper dim sum, but even more eager to see if I can write about growing up at home with my mother while occupying my mother’s home with her in it. I suppose we shall see.

(FYI - I can’t criticize given that I may be one, but is the obnoxious Asian foodie quickly becoming my generation’s crappy Asian driver? Model minorities get such boring stereotypes.)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Also, continuing from my previous 'question', you honestly used to be one of my favorite bloggers, as well as a role model. But that Gabby Douglass post completely changed my opinion of you. Like that other person said, you seem to be very bitter about your place in life and the world in general, as well as completely pseudo-intellectual and narcissistic.
lenachen lenachen Said:

I apologize if the rant-y nature of my initial “diatribe” made it incomprehensible (though honestly I think the situation called for a rant given the obscene miscarriage of justice we’re dealing with here). I’m not trying to say that news outlets should cover Chavis Carter, and I’m definitely not trying to say that news outlets shouldn’t cover Gabby Douglas. What I am saying is that there’s a reason one gets attention and the other doesn’t. Chavis was a young adult black male with drug offenses. Gabby is an up-and-coming female athletic star with a “million-dollar smile” (as emphasized by every NBC news anchor ever) - and yes, they’re both black but there is absolutely privilege in Gabby’s position, because no cop is ever going to think that he’ll be able to get away with staging her handcuffed suicide in the back of a police car.

Gabby has the type of mass appeal that eludes most Black Americans, and the latter is what I’m trying to draw attention to - the fact that most people who look like her do not have the same advantages, that she is the exception not the norm, and that by glorifying exceptions, we forget in the process that we live in an incredibly messed up nation, a place where media commentators have the audacity to allege that sport is the “great equalizer”, even as fellow citizens are murdered each and every single day for having the wrong skin color or being born into the wrong circumstances. Even for other aspiring black gymnasts, Douglas’ experience is worlds away from their own. Black athletes are routinely commodified or exploited by historically white institutions, particularly at the college level, and sociologists have long acknowledged the false narrative of competitive sports as a vehicle for social mobility. I don’t think that pointing out these unpleasant facts about our society makes one “narcissistic” or “pseudo intellectual”, but I choose not to take either of those accusations personally, just as I would urge any Gabby Douglas or Olympics fan not take my words to be a personal attack against them or Douglas herself.

There is one additional thing I want to point out - and I want to preface this once again with the disclaimer that I realize Douglas accomplishment was clearly not a run-of-the-mill event. I may not have any experience with competitive athletics, but I can appreciate what it’s like to train to the point of mental and physical discomfort. (And hopefully, the 100-hour yoga training I’m signing up for this fall will not break my body!) But while the regimen necessary to produce your average Olympian comes at great financial, emotional, and bodily cost to athletes across the board, Douglas did arrive in London with one undeniable advantage: she’s American, and as a result, she’s had access to first-world privileges and amenities throughout the preparation process. Her competitors from less prosperous nations have dramatically different training experiences, some of which you might even categorize as child abuse. So although I think Douglas could be a very positive role model, it’s important to put her achievement into context.

Which brings me to this: The Olympics produces far more losers than it does winners, and I am talking as much about the social and environmental consequences of the industry as I am about the impact on athletes themselves. It really bothers me that people like me and my friends consider the Olympics a fun excuse to throw a party, while disenfranchised populations - the poor, the homeless, non-whites, indigenous people - are being displaced, ignored, or literally pushed out of their homes to make room for what is essentially a contemporary Gladiatorial Games. I won’t go into all the details of why I don’t like the Olympics here (as some of them are historical reasons that have little to do with the games today), but I would advise anyone interested in further reading to check out Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics, and Activism by Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, as well as the follow-up Olympic Industry Resistance: Challenging Olympic Power and Propaganda. Lenskyj offers “a critical analysis of the politics of Olympic bids and preparations from the perspective of all those adversely affected by the social, economic, political, and environmental impacts of hosting the Olympics”.

All of that said, when it comes to the competitors themselves, I fully believe that no amount of money, but only some kind of passion inexplicable to others, could be the motivation for what they put their bodies through. So, even though I have always considered myself unathletic, that passion is something that I can find myself relating to, and it’s probably why, despite my distaste for the Olympics, I still find Gabby Douglas inherently likable and admirable. I know what it’s like to put a passion before your own best interests, to charge pass the established limits, to learn how to work through pain. That the world we live in treats such dreams like products to be packaged up and sold speaks badly not of Gabby Douglas, but of the industry she’s entered and of the society she lives in. It’s possible that when she won gold, there were millions of would-be black gymnasts in America who had been holding their breath and waiting for someone to represent them, to show them that they could do it too. To me, Douglas’ story does serve a purpose, not necessarily one of racial progress but one of hope, by demonstrating that there are some passions so beyond containment that they find expression even in the least accommodating of worlds.

More burning questions? Ask Lena.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I really don't think it's fair pulling someone as inspiring as Gabby Douglass into your negative diatribe on the media & racial inequality. While I do agree that the Carter story should have been more publicized, there is no reason why Gabby's story (and the Olympics in general) SHOULDN'T be. The sad fact is that Carter's story is commonplace in our sad world. Gabby's story is not. If anything, Gabby's an inspiration to black youth everywhere and should be publicized MORE . - From a black girl
lenachen lenachen Said:

I think we’re basically in agreement here. It bears repeating that I have nothing against Gabby Douglas, since she clearly holds no personal responsibility for how the Olympics are broadcast or how media organizations make their content decisions. But ultimately, this is no more about Douglas than it is about Chavis Carter. She is merely an example of the type of story that most news organizations love to run when they feel like talking about race, and he is an example of the routine racial injustices that get ignored because stories like his probably make most people flip the channel. Yes, she won a gold medal, and yes, that is cool, but I think we can all agree that this accomplishment - while it’s great for her and great for aspiring gymnasts and maybe great for the Olympics too, it will nonetheless change very little about the lived experiences of the majority of black people in this country. And that’s because there’s exactly one Gabby Douglas in the world and as inspiring as she is, her story will never be the story of most Americans. But Chavis Carter? There are countless numbers of people with experiences like his. And if they each got even a fraction of the airtime that Gabby did, well, that wouldn’t be inspiring, no, it’d just be depressing, but it would undoubtedly outrage people and maybe even change the way Americans think about privilege and law enforcement and race.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
the choice isn't as you posit it (in regards to your Douglass/Carter post). the media can choose to (and should) cover bother stories and, of course, it should cover one (carter's) more seriously than the other(douglass'). also, douglass' story can be a good way to speak about important issues. so, the ideal scenario isn't how you describe it. instead, you just sound bitter and jealous about douglass.
lenachen lenachen Said:

I don’t think it’s a matter of free choice, and I also don’t specify what an “ideal scenario” would be. Yeah, the media CAN choose to cover both stories, but seriously, is it going to cover Chavis Carter on the same scale and how many stories like his slip through the cracks every day? It’s a matter of what sells papers, and what makes people “feel good” - a gold medal - often sells better than the story of a black man who was likely unjustly murdered by the very people whom our society considers to be its protectors. To me, that is far more worthy of media attention, because while it’s cool that some things have changed, there are far more things that have stayed the same and we routinely ignore them because they’re unpleasant to deal with.

This isn’t about jealousy or bitterness (especially since I have no personal investment in the Olympics, gymnastics, or sports in general), and really, this isn’t even about Gabby Douglas as an athlete or a person. I actually find Douglas much more likable than most athletic stars. Might the media coverage of her victory generate some interesting and progressive conversation? Certainly, but we’d also have some pretty interesting conversations if systemic injustices received as much attention as she did, and guess what, they rarely do. This has nothing to do with choosing Gabby Douglas over Chavis Carter, and everything to do with being fed up with the same old bullshit that pervades our airwaves, infects our minds, and helps us forget that beyond all this Olympic hoopla, there are people being killed, in our own country, by police officers who are not even competent enough to properly cover up a racially-motivated homicide.

Any more questions?

This could have been a satirical article on The Onion, but instead, it’s a rude wake-up call to the world we live in:

Relatives of a man who allegedly shot himself dead in a police car after being searched twice and handcuffed are questioning that account of his death. Chavis Carter, 21, was arrested in the state of Arkansas for a drug offence in Mississippi, and possessing cannabis.

Jonesboro police say Carter concealed a gun and, while handcuffed, raised the weapon and shot himself in the head in the back of the police car on 28 July.

Let me get this straight: Carter managed to conceal a gun from officers despite being searched twice, then maneuvered the gun into his hand despite being hand-cuffed, and shot himself in the right temple despite being left-handed? Also, if one really were that agile, would you not at least attempt to kill someone else before offing yourself?

If you were hoping that the video footage would answer some questions, you’re sadly mistaken, because “while it shows [Carter] being questioned and handcuffed, it does not include the moment the fatal shot was fired”.

How convenient.

Why can’t American news outlets be talking about topics like this instead of Gabby Douglas? How lucky for us that this year, in addition to raising the hopes and spirits of an imperialist nation besought with insecurities over its continuing economic dominance and relevance, the Olympics also has left mainstream America with the impression that racism is over because black girls can win medals too. It’s like that time we elected a black president and black people everywhere immediately ceased to be victimized by the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. Oh, wait.

I’d much rather see the injustice against Chavis Carter get airtime than some feel-good bullshit about the American Dream and everyone in this country being able to achieve whatever they set out to achieve. The Olympics are the reason why I haven’t gone outside this summer. They’ve been an omnipresent force pervading all public spaces and conversations, yet this nationalistic pissing contest is nothing more than the triumph of sheer ego over community, good will, common sense, and basically, all measures of humanity. It’s a spectacle of everything I hate: the media, competition, and patriotism. And then NBC has the audacity to apologize for ridiculous things like monkey commercials. MONKEY COMMERCIALS. How about apologizing for the existence of Matt Lauer and all the other clueless commentators too focused on the teleprompter to see their own white privilege?

Douglas was maybe the least annoying part of the Olympics. I saw her floor exercise during the all-around finals, when I was out to dinner one night. I don’t even like sports, but I was mesmerized by her energy but even more struck by how well-adjusted she appeared and the interactions between her and her coach. Yet I don’t believe for a second that the athletic achievements of a single girl is at all indicative of racial politics in this country having changed, and even Gabby Douglas has learned that when you’re black, you don’t get to simply enjoy the benefits of being an Olympic champion. She’s forced to carry - along with that gold medal - the burden of representing an entire people, even as I’m sure she realizes that what she’s accomplished is not within the grasp of most Black Americans. In fact, for most, it is far more likely that they become the next Chavis Carter.


Chances the woman actually looks a little like Yoko Ono: .1%

Chances the woman just happens to be Asian with long, thick hair: 70%

Chances the woman is just Asian, sharing no other personal appearance traits with Yoko: 29.9%

Can you imagine if every thin white blonde woman “looked like Gwyneth Paltrow”?

I think I’ll start pointing to random white dudes with gray hair and saying “Wow, he looks just like George Clooney.”

Replace “Yoko Ono” with “Lucy Liu” and that is the story of my life.

Over the course of the past year, I have developed a terrible obsession with Asian women. It’s unexplainable to me, as my wife has been great to me, loves sex, and really is an incredibly beautiful woman. However, I find myself thinking constantly about Asian women, during the day, during workouts, at night when I should be sleeping. It’s completely new to me as I have never been attracted to Asian women, and it really is interfering with my life. I have been visiting Asian “spas” now a couple of times a week, and in the morning when I should be working, I’m instead surfing the Web trying to find a way to meet Asian women. It’s to the point where I’m acting like a teenager again around any type of Asian woman.

"I’m Obsessed With Asian Massage Parlors — Should I Tell My Wife?", Tracy Clark-Flory | AlterNet

And this is just the latest example of how I am terrified by and disappointed in society on a daily basis.

I don’t expect gay people to prove to me, a straight person, that there’s actually homophobia. I don’t expect poor people to prove to me, a Harvard grad, that hunger and poverty are widespread problems. And if someone asked me, as an Asian person, to “prove” to them that racism exists, I would laugh all the way back to Chinatown. Marginalized groups are not responsible for explaining their marginalization to you. If you are actually concerned, you would take the initiative to do some research yourself instead of showing up at some oppressed group’s door step demanding a list of citations for things (racism, sexism, etc.) that are proven time and time again in the real world.

From the ch!cktionary — The Patriarchy Wants A Lesson On Privilege 101, written a little over a year ago :)

Jesus, over 4,000 notes on Tumblr now … AMAZING, people.

(via xtremecaffeine)