Just days ago PolicyMic put up a piece entitled “National Geographic Concludes What Americans Will Look Like in 2050, and It’s Beautiful.” In it writer Zak Cheney-Rice attempts to address the so-called rise of multiracial peoples which has captured/enchanted the public eye and with which the media has become deeply enamored. He spotlights a retrospective and admiring look at National Geographic’s “The Changing Face of America” project of last year featuring a series of multiracial portraits by well-known German photographer Martin Schoeller, and also peripherally cites some statistics/graphs that demonstrate the explosion of the mixed-race population.
“In a matter of years,” Cheney-Rice writes, “We’ll have Tindered, OKCupid-ed and otherwise sexed ourselves into one giant amalgamated mega-race.” Despite admitting racial inequity persists, he still flirts with the idea of an “end” approaching (presumably to race and by association racism), and suggests while we’re waiting for things to get better, we might “…applaud these growing rates of intermixing for what they are: An encouraging symbol of a rapidly changing America. 2050 remains decades away, but if these images are any preview, it’s definitely a year worth waiting for.” We are then perhaps left with this rather unfortunate centerpiece of his statement, “Here’s how the ‘average American’ will look by the year 2050”:
Not surprisingly, the Net erupted in controversy/debate; some standing by and championing the purported beauty of race-mixing as hope for a post-race future; many others pointing out the absurdity of a multiracial=postracial equation, angrily accusing the article of privileging light-skinned mixes thereby centering whiteness and upholding an age-old white dominant race hierarchy. NPR blogger Gene Demby @GeeDee215 tweeted, “Dunno what to do with the fact that the idea we’ll screw racism out of existence is considered a serious position.” A day later Jia Tolentino wrote a rebuttal on the hairpin in which she calls the piece “dumb,” “shallow,” “shortcut-minded,” and charges it with appearing “researched and progressive while actually eliding all of the underlying structural concerns that will always influence what race (and attendant opportunity) means in America far more than the distracting visual pleasure of a girl that looks like Rashida Jones.” She too also unfortunately comes to rest again on this particular portrait, “Look at this freckled, green-eyed future. Look at how beautiful it is to see everything diluted that we used to hate”:
I have been thinking a lot about this face which, thanks to National Geographic and PolicyMic, is now flying around the World Wide Web and has become the stage for much heated race-arguing. What is particularly striking to me, and what I have written on before, is that this person is an actual living, breathing human being — but she is not being treated as such. She is being wielded as a tool, a device, maybe even a weapon? Her physical body is used as a site for others to play out their racial theorizing while her own voice and story remain conspicuously absent.
What I think is incredibly important here (and doesn’t seem to have come up in the ensuing disputes) is why portraits designed to quantify/quality racialized appearance were taken with such intent in the first place? Photography which captures a person’s image for the sole and express purpose of measuring then discussing their supposed race is not new and frankly, like pretty much everything race-related, has a long and insidious history. It’s known as racial-type photography and it was popularized in the late 19th century by white pseudo-scientists to “prove” the superiority of some races, and the inferiority of others. Anthropologists used photography to make anatomical comparisons, then racially classify and rank human subjects on an evolutionary scale “seeming to confirm that some peoples were less evolved than others and would therefore benefit from imperial control” (Picture Imperfect: Photography and Eugenics, 1879-1940 by Anne Maxwell, p.21). One of first scientists to use photography to record the anatomy of different races was Swiss-born zoologist and anthropologist Louis Agassiz who lived in America and in 1865 was the nation’s most celebrated naturalist. Agassiz, along with the help of portrait photographer Thomas Zealy, produced some of the earliest racial-type photographs of African slaves to appear in the US. He “wanted to see if the distinct traits of African-born slaves survived in American-born offspring. This would prove his theory that environmental factors wrought very few changes to the type, which by and large remained stable over time.” He staked his whole scientific career on the belief that the different races were created separately by God and in accordance with a divine, preordained plan (Maxwell, pp.23-24):
Other influential examples of racial-type photography include: those produced by “British anthropologists Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lanprey [who] developed guidelines for the anthropometrical photographing of native subjects” (Maxell, p.29), those produced in 1871 Germany by the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory which “set out to assemble anthropological images from around the world, with the eventual purpose of disseminating these to scientific institutions in Germany and Britain” (Maxwell, p.39), and those by Australian photographer Paul Foelsche, “among the best examples of photographs of colonized peoples taken under oppressive conditions” (Maxwell, p.35):
(1870) untitled portrait by Paul Foelsche
Of course the overt, blatant racism in this older practice of racial-type photography would not be acceptable today. But has the practice of “photographing race” then gone away completely? Has our need to scan and declare the racial appearance of others for the purpose of valuation diminished? Apparently not. We’ve now got National Geographic’s 2013 endeavor (photographed by a white man through a racialized lens no less). We also have Time Magazine’s infamous 1993 cover “The New Face of America: How Immigrants Are Shaping the World’s First Multicultural Society” which was the computer generated face of a mixed-race woman created by merging people from various racial/ethnic backgrounds and who I have read her creators subsequently sort of fell in love with Pygmalion-style:
(1993) Time Magazine cover, “The New Face of America”
And we have Kip Fulbeck’s 2001 photo project of over 1200 volunteer subjects who self-identified as “Hapa” meant to promote awareness, recognition and give voice to the millions of multiracial/multiethnic individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Though Kip Fulbeck is aware of racial-type photographic history and acknowledges/challenges it in his book Half Asian 100% Hapa some feel his attempt to stand old forms on their heads, doesn’t work. He himself is a person of mixed-race Asian descent and certainly being a person of color behind the camera lends credence to the idea of reclamation and redefinition. Nevertheless at the end of the day, we are still left with a collection of photographs meant to capture race in some formation.
Apparently now we are comfortable shifting the practice of race-scanning and many of its same foundational values onto the ambiguous appearance of “different” looking people. Racism is incredibly adaptive and morphs to fit the times. I suggest that while modern race-photography believes itself to be celebrating the dismantling of race, it may actually be fooling us (and itself) with a fantastically complicated show of smoke and mirrors. What a critical mixed race view can offer at this juncture is something so crucial. We need to continually challenge and examine our desire to racially file people. We need to lift our eyes from the ground and take off the rose-colored glasses. We need to put away the headphones, turn off the music and turn on our ears. We need to make much, MUCH more space for something ultimately pretty simple — the stories of actual people themselves which in the end, will paint the real picture.
Hello! We're the Chinese Historical Society of America, a nonprofit historical organization and museum based in San Francisco. We started following your page (it is a great tumblr btw) awhile back, we were wondering if you could look at ours. It's full of Asians not studying, breaking ground and just being generally awesome.
Hello! I’m a TA for a free online class from Stanford University on International Health and Human Rights. The course focuses on critical issues, namely those that may mean life or death to a woman, depending on whether she can exercise her human rights. These critical issues include: being born female and discrimination; poverty; unequal access to education, food, paid work and health care; and various forms of violence. Topics discussed include son preference, education, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, violence in the home and in war and refugee circumstances, women’s work, sex trafficking, and aging. The course also hopes to create an international network of engaged students. It would greatly benefit from the participation of you and your followers. Learn with us! Class starts Friday.
Hoping for a signal boost, but if you don’t feel that this is relevant to your blog or your followers, I apologize and please ignore! Thank you!
"I’m a strong proponent of investing in ‘change, not charity.’ Supporting programs that decrease oppression and exploitation by increasing literacy, creativity, sustainability, and democracy offers an extremely high return on investment for our community.”
- fourth-generation Japanese American
- identifies as transgender
- worked with queer homeless youth in New York
- licensed therapeutic foster parent
- Hawaii Board of Education member since 2006
- civil rights attorney
- lives in a dopeass home designed to decrease ecological footprint
My parents came to the United States with a suitcase filled with things from their previous lives. They worked two jobs, seven days a week, while studying as full-time students to complete their education. My dad tells me stories about how he waited tables late into the night, while my mom sold shoes at flea markets on her days off to earn spare cash to buy a car. They built the privilege affirmative action says we have from nothing but hard work.
I was given the gift of being able to be born into a family that defined the American Dream. My parents taught me English and Chinese simultaneously, spent hours reading me stories of Snow White and Cinderella, and the Monkey adventures in Journey to the West. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that they had learned English from memorizing vocabulary cards and reading old textbooks on grammar.
And though my parents taught me English, they ask me to deal with scheduling doctor appointments for them; they ask me to proofread emails for them, out of embarrassment that they feel their English isn’t sufficient to be taken seriously, it sickens me when I realize that while their mastery of the English language is more than proficient, it doesn’t matter, because the rest of the world doesn’t care.
But you wish you were Asian.
I grew up, hearing the words of boys whose only “standard” for the girls they were interested in was “Asian,” realizing that the disgustingly scary fetish of Asian women is actually a reality. I grew up, watching the world’s understanding of my cultural heritage be reduced to ching chong’s and ling long’s, kimonos, and fortune cookies. I grew up, being asked if my parents belonged to the communist party, when I held in me the stories they told me of labor camps they were sent to at the age of 13, of how one day, they couldn’t go to school anymore, of how my grandparents tried desperately later on, long after Mao’s regime ended, to force their children, now adults, to eat copious amounts of food, as if to make up for times when there was nothing to eat.
But you want to be Asian.
I live in a country that has yet to realize that yellow face is not appropriate on mainstream television, a world that somehow doesn’t realize that statements like, “Kill the Chinese!!” are not acceptable to be aired on talk shows. I live in the 21st century, where the only understanding I can get about the story behind my heritage comes from my own parents, where the only times I can see people who look like me on screen is on Youtube.
I grew up as an Asian American, an individual in a group of people that never really belonged anywhere. Because in the United States, we’re nothing more than descendants of the people who invented orange chicken, and in China, we’re foreigners who fail to adopt the careful nuance of the dialect spoken there. We grew up, holding our ethnicity as something of great pride, and at the same time, of great burden.
Our representation in the United States government practically is nonexistent. There is no proof that we as a group of human beings existed beyond the pages of Amy Tan novels. The caricatures on television taught us that we were nerds, deficient at English and social skills, bound by our supposed tiger parents to live out their dreams.
And because we apparently don’t exist to the rest of the United States, the inherent racism my “fascinating” ethnicity faces also ceases to exist.
But still. You enjoy your green tea and kungfu movies and paper lanterns. You love your Chinese 1 class and your Japanese Civilizations course and Wang Leehom. And my goodness, what you would give, if only you could be Asian.
i am a queer non-cisgendered korean living in canada. i moved here to study years back, and had really high expectations. i thought canada/america was going to be a “gay heaven” and “multi-cultural” etc. i mean that is what most mainstream media portrays canada and america as. progressive society….
here’s the thing about immigrant narratives and why (white) people think they’re “sentimental”
it’s because it’s not just about the protagonist. in a lot of white American stories it’s all about the protagonist, the hero, and it’s JUST that person’s story. whenever parents or similar mentor figures come up they are often archetypal and one-sided, magically appearing to distribute advice and disappearing again. so rarely are their own stories included within the main narrative because they are not deemed important enough.
like step outside this Western centric mentality for one sec. so many Asian American narratives are real tearjerkers for the likes of myself because they include our parents’ stories that we know so, so well and have internalized. we’ve all heard it. they moved over here from China/Korea/Japan/Vietnam/India/whathaveyou to give us a better life, they sacrificed so much for us, they learned how to cook their own foods because nowhere here made it the way they liked it, and on and on. these stories are so much a part of our own, coming from an almost mythical Other place that we know to an extent and yet we don’t, that it’s almost impossible not to include in some way when writing our own stories.
in a lot of Western stories even when family backstory is included it is always framed around the narrator; the narrator eclipses most of it and understands that because of this, they must fulfill their destiny, or something along those lines. I would argue that in a lot of immigrant narrative we share the story space more equally with our family members and it’s really jarring to a lot of people who have grown up reading tales of Individualism and ME ME ME ME to be like “why did that writer include that whole chunk of his mom’s backstory when it’s extraneous to the immediate plot/you don’t need to go into such detail” oh but the writer does!
because we can never tell our own stories without including those we were brought up with!
disclaimer it’s late and I’m hella tired and rambling but that comment “oh this is way too sentimental” really cheezed me off okay why is it sentimental to talk about your parents we can’t all be drugged up rockstars who angst over sad girls and smoke cigarettes on Brooklyn rooftops while our parents play absolutely no role except to provide all that money that the narrator is constantly spending on booze and torn jeans
The New York Post reported that 84-year-old Kang Wong crossed 96th Street against the light about 5 p.m. as he walked north on Broadway, and an officer ordered him to stop.
But Wong, who lives a block away, didn’t seem to understand the officer, according to witnesses.
“The guy didn’t seem to speak English,” said witness Ian King, 24, a Fordham University law student.
“(The officer) stood him up against the wall and was trying to write him a ticket,” King said. “The man didn’t seem to understand, and he started walking away. The cop tried to pull him back, and that’s when he began to struggle with the cop. As soon as he pushed the cop, it was like cops started running in from everywhere.”
Wong was bleeding and dazed after the struggle, witnesses said, and had cuts on his face.
Yumi Sakugawa's more recent work I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You was published as a book in December. The comic, which first hit the Internet in 2012, looks at a modern-day friendship — friend crushes — and expresses all the delightful, little things we hope our best (and even not-so-best) pals will do for us.
Sakugawa, 29, never knew how she’d combine her two loves, drawing and writing. She’d been doing both since she was a kid but didn’t merge them until college, when she started making comics. But it’s clear that she’s both a comic artist and a writer — the two are inseparable. Her words, given a natural staccato by the confines of each panel, flow with a rhythm that the images help propel.
Her work has an eerie, wondrous quality to it, blipped with panels that will make your heart soar and dip and soar again. Themes of space and love pull readers into a pensive world of fantastical creatures. And when her characters aren’t fictitious monsters, they’re all undoubtedly Asian-American.