Meanwhile in Burlingame…

31 07 2013

Sometimes I forget how sheltering city life can be, so was surprised to see this in a ‘burb so close to SF.  Today outside Burlingame Post Office.





Bradley Manning verdict in context

30 07 2013

Bradley Manning trading cardThe Manning verdict came down on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.

For him facing 136 years in jail for telling the American people what our government should have been telling us — about torture centers in Iraq, 20,000 extra civilians killed in Iraq — I find outrageous.  He shouldn’t be put on trial. He is a whistleblower. The people that should be put on trial are the people who actually did those human rights violations.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

The Obama administration has proven particularly awful in its vindictive pursuit of leakers, whistleblowers, and this is just not the problem that we have.  I think these people are being scapegoated for the past decade of foreign policy failure.

It’s altogether telling that none of the architects of the Iraq war has been prosecuted, none of the CIA torturers, not even the lawyers who wrote the rationales for the CIA torture.  They’re all fine.  They have it made in the shade.

But Bradley Manning, a young private who did get the truth out is the one facing over a hundred years in prison right now.  I think that’s a very clear sign that Washington has its priorities backwards when it comes to both national security and civil liberties.

— Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning

Contrary to campaign promises of whistleblower protection, the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined, while ignoring violations of US and international laws on torture, not to mention white collar crime on Wall Street.

It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour.

— Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International

Obama’s Speech, Stop & Frisk, and the Ideology of Color-Blindness

22 07 2013

Excellent piece on Obama’s surprise speech on the Zimmerman acquittal by Aura Bogado at Colorlines today:

The short speech stands out as one of the few times that the president has talked explicitly about race and the problem of racism. But Obama’s remarks are also notable for what he did not address, and what so rarely gets addressed when we discuss racism today: white America’s responsibility for it.

How can we expect to make progress around structural racism without talking about what structures it?  In her introduction to White Privilege, Paula Rothenberg writes:

White privilege is the other side of racism.  Unless we name it, we are in danger of wallowing in guilt or moral outrage with no idea how to move beyond them.  It is often easier to deplore racism and its effects than to take responsibility for the privileges some of us receive as a result of it.  By choosing to look at white privilege, we gain an understanding of who benefits from racism and how they do so.  Once we understand how white privilege operates, we can begin to take steps to dismantle it on both a personal and institutional level.

obamakellyBogado points out the contradiction between Obama’s earnest words on race and his endorsement of NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” commissioner Ray Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security.  As Colorlines covered last week:

But Obama told Univision on Wednesday that “Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,” and that the police commissioner is “one of the best there is” — an “outstanding leader in New York.”

Here’s what some of that “extraordinary job” looks like, based on data from the ACLU.  Is this how “we bolster and reinforce our African American boys,” to quote our President?


[Links to more on Stop-and-Frisk:  NYCLU, HuffPost, Racism Still Exists]

Presidential Color-Blindness?

Sadly, when President Obama speaks to the importance of individual soul searching, he invokes the ideology of color-blindness, both when he advocates not having a national conversation on race (“I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations,”) and even more so when he references MLK on “judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”

That same King quote was invoked by a caller when Makani Themba was a guest on KPFA’s Flashpoints last week, and we really liked how she responded, making important distinctions not only between color-blindness and privilege-blindness, but also race and racism, and most importantly about racism as a structural and not just individual problem.

“I think that’s an interesting point.  I think one of the things people do is confuse color-blindness with privilege blindness.  And I think that it’s important to treat people based on their humanity.  But basically we have a system where people are calling it color blind when it’s really blind to privilege.  It’s blind to bias, it’s blind to racism.

“And there’s a difference between race and racism.  I love being a black woman.  I think it’s a cool thing, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  And I think there’s a difference:  I want people to see me, because I’m actually pretty fly. Y’know, I have no problem with that.  I want them to see my skin.  I want them to know who I am.  I want them to know about my culture.  Let’s not confuse race and racism. […]

“I think it’s important that we recognize that racism is a system.  It doesn’t matter the color of the person who perpetrates it.  You can be in the system perpetrating it.  In fact, almost all of us perpetrate it just a little bit unless we’re pretty incredible people.  There’s some piece of the system that we’re holding up, and we have to work really hard to step out of it.

“So when you have a structural analysis, and that’s what I think of when I think of going deep, then you understand that even that sister in the welfare office can be engaged in internalized racism, and it’s not the same as what Obama does when he’s dropping bombs on brown people across the waters that we’re not supposed to care (about).  But all of it is connected, so hopefully we can see those connections.”— Makani Themba, The Praxis Project, interview July 15 on KPFA’s Flashpoints, (31:04-33:00)

Listen to the entire Makani Themba interview archived at KPFA for one more week.

As for the continued silence around whiteness and the role it plays in maintaining systemic inequality, here’s Paula Rothenberg once more:

But rather than providing reasons to avoid talking about whiteness and white privilege, these concerns actually underscore our need to do so.  Discomfort of this kind is a sure sign that we need to continue the conversation.  If education is about learning to see the world in new ways, it is bound, at times, to leave us feeling confused or angry or challenged.  And this is a good thing.  Instead of seeking to avoid such feelings, we should probably welcome a degree of discomfort in our lives and feel short-changed if it is not present.

All of which speaks to the powerful role conscious artists are poised to play in shifting the narrative around racial inequality.  To paraphrase Mark Brest van Kampen at “The Artist in Public Life” symposium at SF Art Institute a couple weeks ago:  Art stops normal life, and in that moment is possibility for people to see things in new ways.  It makes tangible something that people are not normally aware of.  In that moment is the possibility for growth, change, and mutation.  Calling all mutants!

What is Whiteness: Zimmerman, Asiana, and “What is Asia?” at the Asian Art Museum

15 07 2013

What do The Asian and the Zimmerman trial have in common? The Asian's White Dominance

In 1988, Gayatri Spivak asked, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”  Sadly, a full quarter century later, the answer at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is still, “Just barely.” For the Proximities 1 exhibition, the Asian Art Museum hired a white male curator with admittedly no background in Asian art to curate a show of contemporary work by local artists with a central theme of “What is Asia?”  This white curator in turn put together a show where six of the seven artists are white,  a number of whom—like Ruth Benedict—have never even been to Asia. What is “Asia”?  And who gets to answer?

“Does an artist or viewer have to be Asian or Asian American to consider the subject?” — Glen Helfand, guest curator, Asian Art Museum

“At the level of racial representation…  whites are not of a certain race, they’re just the human race.” — Richard Dyer, The Matter of Whiteness

“I don’t think this is a show about race.” — curator Helfand, interview at Bad at Sports

“Basically we have a system where people are calling it color blind when it’s really blind to privilege.  It’s blind to bias, it’s blind to racism.” — Makani Themba, The Praxis Project, heard today on KPFA’s Flashpoints

“It is not simply that White is a normate.  It is a preference.  It is also the case that in each arena, decision makers are acting inequitably and that their decisions have a cumulative impact.  These practices of racial inequality are clearly unfair.  They reveal that acting in ways that are unfair is part of a cultural norm.” — Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible

Anti-Asian-Racism"Asia" as distant land of foreign otherness

"Asia" of pure inventionMaster Narrative: European Colonialism

Proximities 1‘s “concept of ‘Asia'” revives the 18th century quest for paradise called Orientalism, a racial ideology of absolute difference in the false binary between here and there.


Answer:  Consider the whiteness of Proximities 1 against 2010 Census Data:

  • The Bay Area is home to the third largest Asian population in the United States.
  • Six of the Top 10 Cities with the Highest Percentage of Asians in the U.S. are in the Bay Area (Daly City, Fremont, Sunnyvale rank #1, 2, 3, respectively in the continental US).
  • More than one third of the population of San Francisco identifies as Asian.  (Note: one third of Sanford, Florida, where Zimmerman was tried, is black).
  • Whites are a minority in San Francisco.


Othering-Asia Final Question:  Why is “Asia” at The Asian always Over There? Or: Why this could never happen at MOAD or the Mexican Museum This summer we’ve seen a lot of art by local Asian-identified artists at Bay Area museums.  Oakland-based Hung Liu recently had a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum and currently has a show at the San Jose Museum of Art.  SJMA is also showing “New Stories from the Edge of Asia,” which consists entirely of the work of Asian American artists.  In 2008-9, the de Young hosted a major survey of work by Asian American artists spanning 1900-1970. Why is art by Asians living in the U.S. always at museums other than The Asian? Why is “Asia” at The Asian always already “somewhere else” other than here? In contrast to the Museum of African Diaspora and the Mexican Museum, the Asian Art Museum makes no acknowledgement of centuries of transnational migration in its mission statement.  Contrast this with the “Migrating Identities” show currently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. How does The Asian’s narrative disavowal of the history of Asians in America contribute to the pernicious ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype that reared its ugly head last week?


KTVU gaffe

Half Staff for Trayvon?

14 07 2013
Taken 7/13/13 11:54pm San Francisco

Taken 7/13/13 11:54pm San Francisco

George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin tonight, by a jury where five of the six jurors were white, and none were black.   (Not unlike the racial dynamics of the Asian Art Museum’s current Proximities 1 exhibition, which considers the question “What is Asia?” with a roster of seven local artists, six of whom are white.)  Because what Richard Dyer pointed out almost twenty years ago remains a dominant perception today, in our so-called ‘post-racial color-blind’ culture:  white people are just people, but raced people can only speak for their race.

As the Nation magazine reports in “White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman,” a black man is killed by law enforcement or security guard every 28 hours (the frequency is only increasing:  last year it was 36 hours).

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