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Jeremy Lin, Racist Headlines, and Drone Attacks

By Dennis Loo (2/24/12)

A prelude and background:

One summer, when I was young, a group of us - family and friends - rented a house in Kihei, Maui. This was long before Kihei became a major tourist destination. Back then it was mostly Kiawe trees and a few old houses here and there dotting the landscape. The house we were in was across the street from the beach so it didn’t get the shore breezes and became fairly warm, especially in the daytime.

One evening when we were sitting around the house I got into a discussion with someone who was a friend of my cousins about Punahou School. She was a Punahou graduate and I was a student still, probably in fifth or sixth grade.

Haole Protestant missionaries (haole is the Hawaiian word for Caucasians) founded Punahou School in 1841 in Honolulu as a college prep school. Most of the school’s buildings are named after rich haoles in island history such as Dole, Dillingham, Bishop, Alexander, and so on. (Barack Obama, or as he was known then, Barry, graduated from Punahou.) If you grew up in Hawaii you know that going to Punahou is a mixed blessing: you went to the best school in the islands but there were also people who resented your privileges, so not telling people where I went to school was a tactic that I more than once employed. I got tired after a while when I said that I went there hearing people say in response: “Oh, you went to PUNahou?” (To be fair, not everyone responds this way and I don’t know if it’s changed in recent times.)

(I remember thinking when we were at high school football games that the cheerleaders of the other schools wore a lot of funny ribbons on their outfits and that they dressed oddly compared to our cheerleaders. And then years later I ended up marrying one of those other school’s cheerleaders who wore those funny clothes. She and I decades later attended the Punahou graduation of one of her nieces and I was stunned by the sense of entitlement emanating from the podium. I cannot recall the exact words of the school’s principal, but it was something stronger than that you’re golden because you just graduated from the best school in the islands and everyone else envies you. When I was a student there I suspect that this kind of self-congratulatory talk I merely took for granted.)

The discussion in Kihei with this other woman turned into a debate, with my counterpoint (who was haole) asserting firmly that Punahou was not a haole-dominated school and I insisted the opposite. I remember the conversation well, even though it was ages ago, perhaps because it was possibly my very first really intense political debate with anyone and also because this woman was remarkably insistent that she was right. I wasn’t deeply invested in my perspective, other than certain that I was right (!), but what amazed was how determined and important it was to her to tell me that I was wrong.

My parents liked to talk about how much they liked and admired Punahou President John Fox who they said spearheaded the admission of Asian-Americans to Punahou against the sentiment of others at the time.

I tell you this story because one of the factors that led me to conclude that things are not as they should be in our society was my experiences personally with racism.

Across the school from Punahou there was a Mom and Pop store that kids would frequent before and after school. The store was there for decades from before I started in first grade till well after I graduated twelve years later. The store was known on campus as the “Chink Store.” “Are you going to the Chink store?” “Yeah, I’ll see you there!”

In my naïveté as a youngster I always thought that people were calling it the Ching Store, in part because I guess I couldn’t believe that people would actually be calling it the Chink Store and the fact that owners were in fact named Ching. I think it was my way then of getting along and not making a scene.

This comes up, of course, in connection with ESPN’s recent racist headline about the loss that the Knicks suffered against the New Orleans Hornets, their first defeat after seven wins in a row since Jeremy Lin started as their point guard. The headline read: “Chink in the Armor” and featured a picture of Lin under the headline.

ESPN pulled the headline after it had been up for about 35 minutes and subsequently fired the editor who penned the offensive headline and suspended the anchor who read the copy that included the headline for thirty days. This has provoked comments from various right-wingers such as Glenn Beck.

As described at NBC Sports:

“Beck said that the anchor, who he pointed out is married to an Asian, had used the line ‘in proper context’ without intending to offend anyone. ‘How is this racist?’ he asked, before replaying a clip of the audio.

He said that ESPN ‘wears panties,’ and directed the network to ‘man up.’”

What’s striking about following the comments thread about this ESPN headline is how many yahoos there are out there who think nothing of posting the some of the most heinous kind of racist rants imaginable. The sampled comments here are reproduced exactly as they appeared, typos and all.

Keith in San Diego: “If anything remotely as offensive as this were said about blacks Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be leading a riot before they burned down the ESPN building. Blacks are the most sexist, racist, homophobic group in this country. Its time they were held accountable for their bigotry.”

Casco: “ESPN is afraid of its own shadow. Panic. Much about nothing. Since Lin is not black, no reason for alsharpton and jesse to show up and shakedown more money. Just like Golfchannel suspending Kelly Tighlman for an innocent comment. Absurd. What a wussypussy culture.”

Casco: “Such crap. A harmless pun, not very funny and creators not too bright. But to make a big deal of it highlights our wussypussy culture.”

Wes: “Maybe the Asians in this country can riot because of this....oh, wait, only blacks do that, Asians work hard and had no problem assimilating into American society and working to enjoy America's benefits with pride, so no need to riot, they are not looking for a free ride. And blocks think they suffered, Geezz!”

Paul in LA: “Give me a #$%$ break,it's no wonder this world is soo dull and boring and non creative ,whatever you say is going to offend someone ,people,especially when you have 7 bilion and counting,whatever you say you'll offend some ethnic race,this political correctness has really out of hand and having to walk on tiptoes and watch every little word you say because you might lose your job,if One word slips out is really taken it way too far and has got WAY out of hand.i'm beginning to hope the 2012 thing is correct,at this point,too many people,and not enough too sustain this many forever ,I think that's why the planet sheds everytime it gets overloaded in the past,and needs a good shedding about right now,”

Conservative Republican in Dayton, OH: “Humor always offends someone, no doesn't it. There are jokes like, Willard Romney has about as much chance as a one legged man in a b&tt kicking competetion - offensive to one legged people. And what about, Willard Romney is about as bright as a retard. Doesn't offend retards, because they can't comprehend what you are saying, but does tend to offend people that know retards. FAct is, no one needs to appologies to the Chinese. They are offensive by their very presence on this earth.”

Neither “Conservative Republican” nor Glenn Beck have deemed it necessary, however, to comment on the two recent racist deaths of Asian-American soldiers Danny Chen and Harry Lew – hounded to death by their racist officers and fellow U.S. soldiers. Since “Conservative Republican” finds all Chinese to be offensive then I suppose it just makes sense that he wouldn’t find these deaths to be problematic. Interesting how Beck and "Conservative Republican" intertwine masculinity with being angy, intolerant, and unapologetically racist, even while claiming that they're not and that they are the ones who get humor and everyone else is humorless.

(This incident has sparked some people to propose that the phrase “chink in the armor” should be retired. You don’t, however, eradicate racism by banning certain words or phrases. Racism and sexism are not about words and phrases per se. Whether something is racist or sexist has to do with intent and context.)

The unleashing of bigotry-as-journalism that people like Rush and O’Reilly have made famous and politics-as-resentment spearheaded by the GOP, creating an atmosphere of intolerance and reactionary nativist sentiments, has directly led to the murders of people such as Dr. George Tiller, the assassination of Arizona judge John Roll and five others and near assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the recent deaths of two Asian-American soldiers.

To those who want to say that the murderers in these cases are just crazies, they should pay attention to the fact that human behavior exists on a continuum and that if a political atmosphere is created in which bigotry becomes “legitimate” and people such as Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter claim that the commie, panty, PC, Muslim, anti-American traitors are out to destroy America, then it can only be expected that the most loosely screwed among us will act out those sentiments in murderous acts. Murderous words such as theirs stoke murderous reactionary acts and any plaints to the contrary by those who bray such venom are the height of hypocrisy and deceit. As I wrote in Globalization and the Demolition of Society at p. 185:

These are the early expressions of a full-blown fascist movement. They are the domestic analogue of the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war and torture. As long as the Bush Doctrine remains in place in foreign policy, its equivalent in domestic policy will and must persist because the government cannot continue those policies abroad without shoring up a xenophobic domestic base. As Paul Craig Roberts puts it, referring to Chris Hedges,

Indeed, Hedges reports that “radical activists in the environmental, [anti]-globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism.” Hedges warns: “This corruption of our legal system will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. [Syed Fahad] Hashmi [American accused of terrorism] endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later.”

This is not confined only to the right-wing. Or, put another way, the right-wing now consists of both the GOP and the Democratic Party leadership.

When President Obama says and also acts upon his claims of executive powers to be judge, jury, and executioner of those he alone has decided are “terrorists,” extends this power to the military when he signs the NDAA that permits the military, based on a mere accusation, to arrest and indefinitely hold individuals as “terrorists” who will not ever have recourse to challenge their detention, and sends drones upon alleged militants and innocents alike, including targeting with drones those who are coming to the aid of those who’ve been hit by drone attacks and those attending their funerals, then this poisonous atmosphere is being curried by both Republicans and the Democrats.

As reported by The News International, “’CIA drones deliberately target innocent people,’” by Noor Aftab on February 7, 2012:

In what can only be described as a gross violation of the Geneva Convention, the CIA-sponsored drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of innocent civilians involved in either rescuing injured victims, or partaking in funerals.

According to a report published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism with the Sunday Times, between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 minors, have been credibly reported as killed as a result of drone strikes since US President Barack Obama took office three years ago.

“A three months investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims,” affirmed the report. It went on to state that “More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

Speaking publicly for the first time on the controversial CIA drone strikes, Obama claimed last week they were used strictly to target terrorists. However the new report counters this claim, with international law specialists fiercely positing that the strikes amount to little more than state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions, and going on to question just how the US government would react if another state such as China or Russia started taking similar “justified” action against those they declared enemies.

It has been reported that when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also showed frequent references to civilian rescuers. Mosques often exhort villagers to come forward and help, for example ñ particularly following fatal attacks that mistakenly kill civilians.

The upsurge in Washington ís unmanned war has been so dramatic that the US now has 7,000 drones in operation, with 12,000 more on the ground, while not a single new manned combat aircraft is under research or development at any western aerospace company.

In response to the BIJ’s report cited above, The New York Times breached their own standards for citing anonymous sources and permitted unnamed officials to claim that those who criticize the drone program are terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. As FAIR put it:

Earlier this month, in a story (2/6/12) about a new Bureau of Investigative Journalism report about CIA drone strikes targeting rescuers and funerals, the Times granted anonymity to a U.S. official who equated the nonprofit news outlet's researchers with Al-Qaeda sympathizers.

“A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report's findings, saying ‘targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.’ The official added: ‘One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions--there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al-Qaeda succeed.’

Both examples clearly violate the paper's stated standards on the granting of anonymity. That privilege is to be used rarely, should be "the subject of energetic negotiation" and should "tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source." The policy also bars granting the cover of anonymity "to people who are engaged in speculation," and states directly: "We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack."

In these cases, government officials are being granted anonymity to attack individuals critical of those governments’ policies. The privilege the Times extends to these powerful figures means they are shielded from any accountability for their words.

As I wrote in Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

Leading individuals are the group’s cutting edge. Depraved individuals, on the other end, express the darker side of the group. There are, of course, different groups within any society, with their own respective representatives. We might compare a group’s leader to an arrowhead that can penetrate an object when propelled through the air attached to an arrow and its fletching. Without the connection to the arrow shaft, the arrowhead itself could not perform properly. You could not even send an arrowhead minus the arrow shaft through the air with any real force; the arrowhead would tumble about and fall quickly to the ground.

The interaction between the individual and the group is also evident in public leaders addressing a rally or audience, athletes competing on a field of play before a stadium of fans, actors performing on stage, musicians playing before a live audience, and teachers speaking in front of a class. All of them experience the same dynamic of the interplay between performer and audience. This interplay is either strong or tepid. When the connection is strong, the audience feels that the performers in front of them are expressing their deepest sentiments and highest aspirations, entertaining them by striking a responsive chord, or perhaps stirring their darkest fears in a concentrated way. The audience members hear and recognize elements of themselves through the performer/leader.

The individual’s connection to the group is also evident when you sample people’s opinions about a given subject; you will find without exception that their opinions can be grouped into a fairly small number of categories. If the alpha and omega of individual opinions reside within the individual and are not traceable back to any group, then why do individual opinions constitute identifiable patterns that can be grouped? There is no such thing as an entirely unique idea or an entirely unique behavior, no matter how bizarre or outstanding. (p. 37)

The unleashing of reactionary sentiments is a direct result of the nature of neoliberal regimes' need to suppress popular action against their moves. What is needed more than anything now is the mobilization of the opposite values and perspective to the ugly manifestations of reactionary values and policies.

[P]ublic policies, corporate behavior, and any other group behavior are not the product primarily of the values, personalities, or choices of the individuals within them. They are primarily the product of the standards being set by the leading individuals in those groups and organizations and the governing logic and rationale of those organizations and groups. Changing the behavior and nature of public policy, et al requires a structural change, and said structural change must be led by individuals who enlist the support of others to supplant the existing leaders and the existing structures. Change, in other words, requires leadership and groups of people acting in concert with each other and under that leadership. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 356-35)

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