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The real problem with Betty Brown: words matter

April 12, 2009

Side note: I have this whole post brewing about the US, Israel, and the UN Human Rights Council, that I’m excited about but haven’t finished. It kind of demands more thorough research and long-form writing than is suited for blogging, so I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe some time this week.

Today, though, I want to put in my two cents about this Betty Brown business. For those of you who haven’t already heard of Betty Brown, she is a previously unknown Republican lawmaker from the state of Texas who got her 15 minutes of fame last week when shemade some seriously inflammatory remarks about how Asian-Americans should change their names to make them “easier for Americans to deal with.” I kid you not. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of her madness.

Upon hearing initial reactions to her statements, Brown, dismissed them, saying Democrats are “trying to make it all about race.” Um, I think she made it about race when she made all her ignorant statements. Anyways, she has since apologized, but only in part. She has apologized for suggesting Asian Americans change their names — but she hasn’t apologized for suggesting that Asian Americans aren’t American. Specifically when she says:

“Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here.

“Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for both you and for people who are pollworkers, if there were some means by which you could adopt a name just for your poll identification purposes that would be easier for the Americans to deal with?”

That kind of language, and ignorance, is the REAL problem here. The problem is the fact that Brown still subscribes to the antiquated, racist notion that Asian Americans are The Other and are not real “Americans.”

In 2009, I would think most people would have caught on to the fact that the meaning of American is no longer white, blue-eyed, and blond, but far more diverse than that. It seems some of our lawmakers still haven’t clued in to that, however.

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6 comments

  1. This is unbelievable. How do people think this is an okay way to talk?

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention – I hadn’t heard about it. Now that I have, I am outraged.


  2. I know, right. The kind of ignorance it takes to think talking that way is okay is kind of shocking.


  3. I think there are always glass walls between white americans and asian americans, simply coz they look different. Like it or not. That being said, the post was certainly was offending to me as an asian.


  4. You can’t “Un-Say” things. It’s terrible that certain types of discrimination are still tolerated.


  5. Ah, I just don’t get you, Nisha.

    This isn’t the least bit an issue of race. There is no mention of race, however indirect or tangential, at all! Its an issue of language. Asian names are particularly difficult for English speakers to get a hold of, which is exactly why most of them adopt English names in the U.S. I’m studying Chinese right now, and I know that its very difficult to even pronounce their names correctly, if I can manage to remember them. It’s an arduous task, and impractical to expect a country of 300,000,000 people to sit down and learn how to pronounce names in every different language.

    Personally, I make an effort to learn and address foreigners by their given names, especially for politicians, celebrities, and people I know and work with often. But what they’re talking about in that video is an administrative problem for voting.

    Your blog is totally disingenuous, dishonest, and misleading, and you know it. You emphasize, “Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here” without including what she says immediately afterward, “I’m not talking about changing your name, just using a transliteration with us.” And don’t run away with her using the term “us” as Americans vs. Chinese; she is, again, referring to native, non-Chinese speaking English speakers.

    Then, somehow, you miss the point of the second comment you emphasized, “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for both you and for people who are poll workers, if there were some means by which you could adopt a name just for your poll identification purposes that would be easier for the Americans to deal with?” Again, she’s talking strictly about voting (“just for your poll identification”) and by the context, when she says “Americans,” you can understand that she is talking about people who were born and raised in America and have spoken English their whole lives.

    The whole point of the line questioning is to figure out how to make it easier for Asian immigrants to participate in the voting process. How can that possibly be construed as racist?

    Listen to the tone of Brown’s voice and the way she addresses the speaker. Is there an Old South racist streak in her manner, or is she trying in earnest to pursue a solution to correctly identify voters and avoid unjust disenfranchisement?

    The kind of language you use yourself is more inappropriate. You throw around invectives like “ignorant,” “racist,” “seriously inflammatory,” and “madness” without making any real argument about why you think she is any of those things. You’re only blogging to people who already agree with you; any fence sitter to visit your site and gradually take your side could do so only for emotional reasons. Furthermore, using your tactics, I could more easily accuse you of being racist toward whites, subscribing to the antiquated notion that whites are all supremacists. Would you consider a black lawmaker in Brown’s position, asking the same questions, to be racist?

    Finally, this hyphenated-American nonsense is really getting old. That type of language drives racist undercurrents, particularly because white people, even non-European whites, are almost never hyphenated. My ancestry is from the U.K., Ireland, and Germany, but no one has ever referred to me as European-American. I’m referred to as American.

    Am I just a default American because I’m white? Does that mean that for anyone who isn’t white, we prefer to emphasize their non- whiteness by prefixing their American citizenship with a nod to the approximate geographical origin of their ancestry? If that’s not racist, it is certainly and explicitly race-based. I must have been erroneously persuaded by my parents and friends that race is a meaningless descriptor.

    As an example, most African-Americans will never visit Africa. What makes them the slightest bit African? Nothing. But they do have a set of morphological differences they still carry in their genes that evolved in their ancestors over many millennia in a different geographical region of the planet where those traits helped them survive the long-term circumstances of the environment, most conspicuously, their skin color. So what could “African” in “African-American” refer to other than, and exclusively, their race?

    Some of them still want to cling to African culture that hasn’t been practiced in their families for generations, which is fine, although kind of pointless. Others actually have emigrated from Africa and still practice African cultures, which makes sense and is perfectly natural.

    The bottom line is that African-Americans are Americans. European-Americans are Americans. Asian-Americans are Americans. We have an all-purpose word for citizens of America no matter where they came from: Americans.


    • bravo shawn. well put. this echo chamber needed a fresh coat of paint.



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