Today I heard two stories, one sad and one heartening. Both relate to the media and stereotypes that lead to violence.
Sometimes when I see a particularly noxious person on the news receive a lot of acclaim and money for trafficking in the worst kind of race-baiting and fear-mongering stereotypes, I feel completely disheartened. How can we fight against these forces that would have us turn off our minds and react like Pavlov’s dog? BE AFRAID OF SUCH-AND-SUCH! Shout it once and I might wonder, Why are you shouting? Shout it enough from a big enough bully pulpit and it might permeate my subconscious, as much as I might hope that it won’t.
Often these days I feel too exhausted by the negative media barrage to muster the energy and will to fight back against the lies.
So what am I talking about? Here are the two stories. You’ll see why one is discouraging, one encouraging. Both show that we mustn’t give up. We have to speak up against racist stereotypes, again and again and again.
1) a sad story from a friend, who is a very well-known and bestselling author. Today he received a package in the mail from some jerk, who called him all kinds of racial slurs, blamed my friend for inciting violence on the U.S.-Mexico border, and then enclosed a bunch of loony and nasty DVDs. My friend is one of the sweetest people I know…and the least violent. His books are not about promoting violence, as you might have guessed, but because my friend is Mexican-American, this crazy person who wrote him felt as though my friend embodies all the negative stereotypes ever reported about Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
Although my friend also received much support from his fans, this episode clearly hurts his heart. I understand. It hurts. It will always hurt.
2) But then there are also moments that are completely unexpectedly wonderful. Today I also received a letter from a reader about my book Hapa Girl. And he understood exactly what I was trying to get across! That makes me happy. It makes the years of writing and re-writing worth it. Here’s the letter:
Sent: Mon, Jan 10, 2011 11:29 pm
Subject: hapa girl
I just finished reading your memoir, Hapa Girl, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was especially moving and relevant for me because I am an Asian man married to a blonde girl. We have two children, a girl and a boy. It’s also funny that I grew up in New Jersey, and now we happen to live 10 minutes from Redlands, in California. As I read your memoir, I often thought of my daughter and the world she will grow up in as a biracial girl. I’ve always told my wife that I have fantasies about one day moving to a place in middle America, like […], and buying a farm and “living off the land.” Your memoir showed me a different side of that idea!
I would hope that we live in a different era now.
I am glad for the sections which included some historical, economic, and political context to the racism that you encountered while growing up. It would have been too easy to just portray those people as evil ignorant hicks. I thought it was important that you tried to show that racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Thank you for a great read! My wife also read it and enjoyed it.
btw we bought your book as an e-book from B&N
[And here’s my response:]
Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful letter!
The Redlands-New Jersey connections and similarities in our families are indeed interesting! (And as you know, families such as ours are not considered “weird” in Redlands, Ca. or New Jersey.)
My goal in writing Hapa Girl was very much to put what we experienced into a historical and media context as I know that the media’s fear-mongering doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Back in the 80s, all the hateful stories about Japan’s rise and the Native American civil rights movement created an atmosphere conducive to violence. And I think that while our type of family isn’t targeted in the media today, the heated rhetoric in the media is having ill effects yet again.
Today I worry about the anti-Muslim statements, anti-immigrant movements, fear-mongering over the state of a rising China, and the extreme anti-government rhetoric. I know from experience that fear mongering works: it produces both fear and big ratings. Maybe the bigwigs on TV and the pundits won’t feel it, but the rest of us will have to deal with the fallout sadly enough.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me and for telling me a bit about your family. I appreciate knowing that somebody liked my book, and also I’m very happy to know that you liked my efforts to put the racism into a context. I agree with you 100 percent. Racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum!
Best wishes to you and your family for a Happy 2011 and a Happy Year of the Rabbit!
(P.S. Cool to know Hapa Girl is now available in e-book form!)