RECAP: Fast & Furious Workshop on Racism

Editor’s note: On this blog we’re going to sometimes recap various workshops held at TAF. They’ll include write-ups by the staff members that helped facilitate the workshops, along with any slides or videos that were used. We hope that both campers AND parents will be able to gain something from these entries, as either a reminder of lessons learned, or as a way to experience and understand a very important part of TAF, the workshops, which are unfortunately under-represented in what the Parents usually see at TAF Night, in the Slideshow, or on the TAF DVD’s. So TAF Parents, please enjoy!

Our first RECAP is for the “Fast and Furious” workshop from the Junior High Program, written by JH Counselor Kevin Lee.

You always have to be careful when you talk about race because you don’t want to understate it to a point where it becomes seemingly insignificant. But you also don’t want to overstate it to the point where you radicalize, dichotomize, or otherize your audience. Therefore, to maintain that balance in this year’s Junior High program, Ann Wu, Justin Yang, and myself focused on three major goals in our Fast and Furious workshop about race: understanding stereotypes, breaking down social barriers, and reaffirming the campers’ self-identity.

With stereotypes, we wanted the campers to discuss moments in their lives where they’ve been stereotyped, but we also wanted them to understand that they consciously or subconsciously use stereotype themselves. We began by having the campers list Asian American or Taiwanese American stereotypes in their small group, and then compiling it into a big list for everyone to see. By having a tangible list, it allowed small groups to confront stereotyping and personal experiences with stereotypes more easily. Bringing it full circle, we also wanted the Junior High campers to acknowledge that while they were victims of stereotyping, they also stereotyped as well.

To do that, we showed pictures of people like Josef Mengele, Nelson Mandela, MIA, and others and let each camper shout out what their first impression of each person was. After we showed all the pictures, we would reveal who each person is and what they had done. Each person would have a list of accomplishments opposite of what their stereotype was. For example, one picture we used was that of General John L. Dewitt. Imagine a stoic general in full uniform and the adjectives associated with that picture. The campers responded to that picture with words like “honorable”, “patriotic”, “proud”, and “general” only to find out later that General Dewitt was a huge proponent and organizer of Japanese Internment in World War II, his famous quote being, “A Jap is a Jap, whether or not he is an American Citizen or not.” Not very patriotic or honorable at all.

To break down social barriers, we showed a video of famous Asian/Taiwanese Americans in the entertainment industry. We compiled a list of questions about stereotyping and social barriers for musician Dawen Wang, hip-hop group Far*East Movement, film producer Karen Lin, Formosa Betrayed actor Adam Wang, and the writers of Asian American focused comic book Secret Identities.

In a “Post-Obama” world, many people think that all the social barriers for women or racial minorities have been torn down. Even the campers have the same impression as many of the Junior High students in my small group thought that social progress for many Taiwanese Americans was “good” or at least “getting better.” However, while these speakers in the video are Asian American pioneers and leaders in the entertainment, many of the campers admitted that they didn’t know any of these entertainers. Asian American representation in the media is still heavily based on stereotypes and that shows that, if anything, America has a misconception about race relations in our modern world. The recent arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates and the backlash that followed reveals that perfectly. We wanted to make sure that our campers realized some of these barriers still exist, and that there is still much room for progress and growth.

Finally there is identity reaffirmation. We wanted to make sure that the campers saw themselves as Asian or Taiwanese American, but only in a smaller scope of their greater identity. Many times I’ve seen people radicalize or otherize their experience as Asian Americans and ostracize themselves from the greater community. It was important that they understand that they are more than an Asian American boy or girl. While we all share cultural backgrounds, each individual has a different path and a different identity that is beyond race, gender, socioeconomics, and so on. It is critical for us to embrace our culture or heritage, but only in terms of our greater autonomous identity.

All of the counselors came away with the experience feeling confident about the JH campers ability to comprehend some of the issues. Other issues, we realized, would be better resolved by time than by discourse. Overall, we were amazed by the maturity of the JH campers in discussing such issues; I know for a fact that I was not thinking or talking about such issues at such a level at their age.

However, the discussion doesn’t stop there. The pursuit for great social equality is an ever-evolving process that melds with a greater society. To keep up with that, I recommend TAFers read and educate themselves as much as possible. Blogs are a great medium for people of all ages to do just that. A few recommendations:
* Angryasianman is a blog that updates its readers on the most recent news in the greater Asian American community.
* Slant Eye for the Round Eye is a blog focused on but not specific to Asian America and its role in the media.
* 8asians is a community blog where a handful of Asian Americans (including myself) from all different backgrounds and places that post about anything and everything pertaining to Asia America.

– Kevin Lee TAF’09 JH Staff

2 Responses to “RECAP: Fast & Furious Workshop on Racism”

  1. […] Just wanted to say congrats to the Far East Movement for their song “Fly Like a G6″ reaching platinum status! I’ve met them a few times and am a fan & supporter, and I also blogged about one of their shows, a landmark concert at The Roxy Theater, back at my old blog. FM members Kevnish and Prohgress also took the time to sit down and speak to TAFers regarding Asian American issues of race and racism in a video that was used as a discussion prompt in 2009. You can watch the video again below, and read the original post it was placed in here. […]