pardon the lesser quality - a storm rolled in around the time I decided to take photos.


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(Source: piercingmylove)

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Yep, I just yelled “fuck you” at some blow job who said “ni hao” to me in the park.

My good friend Phoenix, posted this Facebook status a few weeks ago that turned into this interesting hotbed of resentful Western White male privilege.

Not only did this guy, Luke, brazenly display an incredibly condescending whitesplaining, mansplaining attitude, but he demanded that my friend, a woman of color, explain to him why the behavior that this man displayed while yelling at my friend in the park was harassment.

I hope I do not need to explain how utterly ridiculous and entitled of him it is to tell a Chinese-American woman to “present [him] with depth” and prove to him why it’s unacceptable for some dude to approach strangers in the park, saying “ni hao” at them. I hope it’s evident as to how absolutely arrogant it is for a White man to defend some stranger he’s only ever heard about rather than believe a woman of color when her life experiences deem this encounter to come from a point of racism/sexism. As obvious as how presumptuous Luke’s entitled reaction may be, I would like to make it clear that White men injecting themselves, uninvited, into conversations women and people of color are having about oppression happens all the time.

All. The. Time.

And worse than White men assuming their opinions are welcome in this place, White men believe their opinions should be valued above all others’, for theirs are the only ones that are “un-biased”. Notice the silencing tactics Luke uses. Women of color who are upset by racist/sexist remarks made to them in public who dare to react to those violations are “angry”, “irrational”, and not deserving of this White man’s Facebook friend list. Welcome to Gaslighting 101, everyone! Racist, sexist, privileged, arrogant gaslighting.

However, I don’t want to write about awful gaslighting today. I actually want to write about something else this privileged White dude brought up, being White in China vs. being Chinese* in the U.S.

Luke wrote,

[…] and for the record, I’ve had numerous similar experiences as being the ‘white guy’ in China for the past decade. I never reacted like that but then I don’t think this is about race as much as it is about Phoenix […]

First of all, way to be an asshole, Luke, by again dismissing the validity of Phoenix’s experiences and her assessment of the situation that she was in and you were nowhere near.


But, “why, Kathy?” you may ask. “Why can’t I just swap out different races/ethnicities in any scenario and the end result be the same?”

Really? Why? Because read a fucking history book—preferably one not crafted by the hegemonic White Western discourse.

The same people who think saying “ni hao” or “konnichiwa” to an Asian person in the U.S. is the same as an Asian person saying “hello” to a white person in an Asian country are the same people who think “reverse racism” is a thing. Guess what? Reverse racism isn’t real and those two situations are not at all the same thing.

Let’s just start with demographics. We all know that race is a social construct, but for simplicity purposes, let’s use it.

Population of China: 1.35 billion
Population of the U.S.: 316 million

Percentage White in the U.S.: 72.4%
Percentage Asian in the U.S.: 4.8% 

Percentage Asian in China: 99.x%
Percentage White in China: <1% (the number of White people in China is so insignificant compared to the entire population, it hasn’t bee properly documented)

Wow! There is a significantly smaller percentage of the Chinese population that is White compared to the American population that is Asian! Who would’ve thought?

Okay. That shouldn’t be a shock, right? The United States is a “land of immigrants” (even if certain states and politicians seem to spit on that fact). Being non-White in the U.S. isn’t supposed to be a novelty, it’s a truth. The U.S. census estimates that in 30 years, non-Hispanic/Latin@ Whites will make up less than half of the population. So seeing a non-White person really shouldn’t be a shock in the U.S. in 2013. And considering Phoenix works in Boston, and not middle-of-nowhere, Maine, she shouldn’t be treated as an anomaly walking through a park.

Approaching a random person of color or any person you do not definitively know the ethnicity of and saying “ni hao”, “hola”, or “jambo” at this person (particularly if you do not speak Chinese, Spanish, or Swahili) is not only obnoxious, but it is othering. The effect (regardless of whether it’s intentional or not) of this action on the person of color is to point out that they are somehow different from the White person (and legitimate American) speaking to them while transmitting the message “you are not welcome here”. API peoples constantly receive this message. From “where are you from?” to “what language do you speak?” to “what does your name mean?”, White people are consistently reminding us that because we are not White, we are not American.

So when some stranger says “ni hao” to my Chinese-American friend in the park, it is absolutely not  to be “friendly”, it is to invade her space and remind her that no matter what her birth certificate, voting record, or life experiences are, she will never be considered American and she will never be welcome because her hair isn’t blonde and her last name isn’t Smith.

People of color built this country. They did so despite political, economic, and social barriers erected to prevent them from prospering. The first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1800s, brought over to work on the transcontinental railroad as cheap labor at wages. Chinese workers were paid $27-$30 a month, compared to Irish workers, who were paid $35 a month and provided with living arrangements. Not only were the Chinese paid less than the Whites, they were also treated terribly. The White construction crews would order Chinese workers to enter caves where not all the dynamite had gone off, killing dozens of Chinese men. These men were forced to risk their lives, placed in to baskets and lowered over cliffs or into mines to drill holes and place dynamite, staking their luck and their lives on how quickly their fellow workers were able to pull them up. The term “Chinaman’s chance”? This practice is one of it’s origins. Over 1,200 Chinese workers died building the Central Pacific Railroad alone.

And what did the U.S. do to repay these Chinese immigrants for building such an extensive railroad system in this country? They passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to prevent Chinese immigration and then passed the Geary Act to extend the exclusion and placed new requirements on existing Chinese residents of the U.S. Among these requirements was a law that Chinese residents must carry proof of their residency at all time or risk a year of hard labor or deportation. Sound familiar? The Geary Act also forbade Chinese residents from bearing witness in a court of law and denied Chinese bail in habeas corpus proceedings.

For a country so proud of its immigrant-roots, its laws speak differently. Or are only White, Anglo-looking people allowed to claim this country as their own and all people of color must simply accept that we can never call the United States our homeland?

Let’s just step back a minute. Many Chinese families have been in the United States just as long or even longer than your European ancestors. Chinese workers played a big part in building this country. Yet, Chinese-Americans are being treated like they don’t belong in this country daily. Yes, even in the 21st century.

So don’t you dare fucking compare how you as a White man are treated in China to how a Chinese-American woman is treated in the United States. I haven’t even started exploring the rampant sexism that’s entwined with White men fetishizing API women as submissive and exotic. This view is a stereotype. It is a stereotype largely rooted in a history of Western colonialism and the geo-political dynamics between American soldiers and local women in the various wars and military aggressions of the late 20th century waged in East Asia and the Pacific, a stereotype that’s been perpetuated by Western, White, male-dominated mainstream media.

If you are a White person in China, you are most likely a tourist, or your job has located you there and you make significantly more money than the average Chinese worker (~$9k/yr). If a Chinese stranger approaches you and says “hello”, that might be annoying, but it doesn’t come with any of the same history and implications as a White stranger saying “ni hao” to an Asian person in the U.S., regardless of whether that person is Chinese. Considering the fact that British and U.S. imperialism has made English the default official language for multinational organizations and the forced lingua franca of many states in the Global South, the power differential between the White person and the Asian person in both of these situations favors the White person.

To Luke and every other White asshole who doesn’t “think about race”:

Your experience as a “minority” in an Asian country is not comparable to Phoenix’s experience as a Minority (Capital M for all of the historical, political, social baggage of that word) in the United States.

So sit down and shut up.



*You can apply this same theory to Japanese-, Korean-, and other API peoples in the U.S., in so much as noting that being White in Japan is nothing like being Japanese in the U.S. (or Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, etc.). However, remember that although API peoples have a shared identity, the histories of each ethnic group’s legacies in the U.S. are different and the geo-political histories of the U.S.’s respective relationships (and wars and imperialism, etc.) are also distinct. It is ludicrous to assume that all 17.3 million Asian-Americans have the same histories and that nations with a combined population of 4 billion people have the same diplomatic relationship with the U.S. It is not only irresponsible, it is also racist.

My cousin’s white boyfriend brought up being white in China as a parallel to being a person of color in the U.S., and I had to tell him, “Noooooooo…”

Read the whole thing.

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When good people do bad things

When people get together in groups, unusual things can happen — both good and bad. Groups create important social institutions that an individual could not achieve alone, but there can be a darker side to such alliances: Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group.

“Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people’s priorities change when there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’” says Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT. “A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into ‘mobs’ that commit looting, vandalism, even physical brutality.”

Several factors play into this transformation. When people are in a group, they feel more anonymous, and less likely to be caught doing something wrong. They may also feel a diminished sense of personal responsibility for collective actions.

Saxe and colleagues recently studied a third factor that cognitive scientists believe may be involved in this group dynamic: the hypothesis that when people are in groups, they “lose touch” with their own morals and beliefs, and become more likely to do things that they would normally believe are wrong.

In a study that recently went online in the journal NeuroImage, the researchers measured brain activity in a part of the brain involved in thinking about oneself. They found that in some people, this activity was reduced when the subjects participated in a competition as part of a group, compared with when they competed as individuals. Those people were more likely to harm their competitors than people who did not exhibit this decreased brain activity.

“This process alone does not account for intergroup conflict: Groups also promote anonymity, diminish personal responsibility, and encourage reframing harmful actions as ‘necessary for the greater good.’ Still, these results suggest that at least in some cases, explicitly reflecting on one’s own personal moral standards may help to attenuate the influence of ‘mob mentality,’” says Mina Cikara, a former MIT postdoc and lead author of the NeuroImage paper.

Group dynamics

Cikara, who is now an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, started this research project after experiencing the consequences of a “mob mentality”: During a visit to Yankee Stadium, her husband was ceaselessly heckled by Yankees fans for wearing a Red Sox cap. “What I decided to do was take the hat from him, thinking I would be a lesser target by virtue of the fact that I was a woman,” Cikara says. “I was so wrong. I have never been called names like that in my entire life.”

The harassment, which continued throughout the trip back to Manhattan, provoked a strong reaction in Cikara, who isn’t even a Red Sox fan.

“It was a really amazing experience because what I realized was I had gone from being an individual to being seen as a member of ‘Red Sox Nation.’ And the way that people responded to me, and the way I felt myself responding back, had changed, by virtue of this visual cue — the baseball hat,” she says. “Once you start feeling attacked on behalf of your group, however arbitrary, it changes your psychology.”

Cikara, then a third-year graduate student at Princeton University, started to investigate the neural mechanisms behind the group dynamics that produce bad behavior. In the new study, done at MIT, Cikara, Saxe (who is also an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research), former Harvard University graduate student Anna Jenkins, and former MIT lab manager Nicholas Dufour focused on a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex. When someone is reflecting on himself or herself, this part of the brain lights up in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans.

A couple of weeks before the study participants came in for the experiment, the researchers surveyed each of them about their social-media habits, as well as their moral beliefs and behavior. This allowed the researchers to create individualized statements for each subject that were true for that person — for example, “I have stolen food from shared refrigerators” or “I always apologize after bumping into someone.”

When the subjects arrived at the lab, their brains were scanned as they played a game once on their own and once as part of a team. The purpose of the game was to press a button if they saw a statement related to social media, such as “I have more than 600 Facebook friends.”

The subjects also saw their personalized moral statements mixed in with sentences about social media. Brain scans revealed that when subjects were playing for themselves, the medial prefrontal cortex lit up much more when they read moral statements about themselves than statements about others, consistent with previous findings. However, during the team competition, some people showed a much smaller difference in medial prefrontal cortex activation when they saw the moral statements about themselves compared to those about other people.

Those people also turned out to be much more likely to harm members of the competing group during a task performed after the game. Each subject was asked to select photos that would appear with the published study, from a set of four photos apiece of two teammates and two members of the opposing team. The subjects with suppressed medial prefrontal cortex activity chose the least flattering photos of the opposing team members, but not of their own teammates.

“This is a nice way of using neuroimaging to try to get insight into something that behaviorally has been really hard to explore,” says David Rand, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University who was not involved in the research. “It’s been hard to get a direct handle on the extent to which people within a group are tapping into their own understanding of things versus the group’s understanding.”

Getting lost

The researchers also found that after the game, people with reduced medial prefrontal cortex activity had more difficulty remembering the moral statements they had heard during the game.

“If you need to encode something with regard to the self and that ability is somehow undermined when you’re competing with a group, then you should have poor memory associated with that reduction in medial prefrontal cortex signal, and that’s exactly what we see,” Cikara says.

Cikara hopes to follow up on these findings to investigate what makes some people more likely to become “lost” in a group than others. She is also interested in studying whether people are slower to recognize themselves or pick themselves out of a photo lineup after being absorbed in a group activity.

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(Source: denisselove)

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Ulyana Sergeenko. Couture collection.

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