MAKE THE UNITED STATES GREAT AGAIN, SO THE WORLD CAN BREATH!
In all my life I have never been identified by the color of my skin. I am only known by my name and my works. In Thailand, skin color does not matter. The thought of myself having some kind of color on my natural skin never entered my mind. Thai people are just like that - not skin-color conscious. Perhaps it is Buddhism. Buddhism preaches classless society long before Karl Marx. It has converted hundreds of thousands of Hindus fleeing their hierarchical Varna (color of skin) system for years since the days of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar was the the first famous untouchable Chandala under-class Hindu who was converted into Buddhism. He was the president of India’s Constitutional Assembly, or the father of the Indian constitution. Ancient Indian Varna system later evolved and formed a more complex caste system, the social evil beyond control of the constitution in post-colonial India. The Indian constitution prohibits caste system and racial discrimination, but failed miserably in practice. Caste prejudices and racial discrimination continue on even today with no end in sight. To be rid of it, a good constitution could not help much. People resorted to measures of their own by changing names, speaking with new upper class accent, adopting high class social manner, converting to classless religion - such as Buddhism, getting higher education, embracing Marxist idea of classless society, moving out of the village, and even migrating abroad. Many found new and better lives in the UK, USA, many European countries, and Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. Still, racial discrimination follows them like a shadow.
Chinese immigrants came to America long before sub-continental Indians. They helped build the great American railroads, but white Hollywood recognised them as the ‘Chinaman’ doing white men’s laundry. Following the days of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, many Asians of various ethnic origins from the vast continent of Asia flocked into the USA, chasing their American dreams. Modern-day Asian immigrants make up the complex racial demography in America. While Black Americans have been renamed ‘African Americans’, Chinese, - once conveniently called ‘Orientals’ - are , by the Act of Congress, to be called Asian Americans. Other immigrants, from India, the rest of Asia, and the Middle East, are also called Asian Americans. Japanese immigrants who, like the Chinese, had come to America early, suffered more humiliation than any others during the Second World War. Modern-day racism in America is more complex than any period of history. It’s not only out on the surface. It’s hidden deep in subconsciousness. It is systemic.
Life is hard and the living is unfulfilling for non-whites in America.
For a foreign non-white Asian visitors to the US, it’s like living a life of an Asian American, at least for a brief period of stay.
I ought to know. I am a Thai, an Asian who have visited the United States many times, and will continue to do so. It is a great country with great natural beauties.
“O Beautiful For Spacious Skies … ”,
I always hum along during my 15 visits to the US national parks, “America’s best idea”, according to Ken Burns.
In the United States I would automatically be branded 'a yellow-skin Oriental'. This is all wrong. Scientifically and culturally, that is. No human being has yellow skin. No-one has real white skin either. And I am not an Oriental. I am just a Thai, a citizen of a country called Thailand. As for 'Oriental', in my own context, it is just the name of a Japanese watch, a Thai airline, a first-class hotel in Bangkok frequented by Joseph Conrad during his Lord Jim's colonial days sojourn in 'the Orient'. In fact, by classic literary tradition, the term 'Orient' or 'Oriental' is beautifully romantic. 'Orient' is a French derivative from Latin, meaning "That region of the heavens in which the sun and other heavenly bodies rise, or the corresponding region of the world' (The Oxford English Dictionary). For white Europeans and Americans who live far away to the west of heaven where the sun goes down, they are 'Occidental'.
I have been observing racism in America since I was 18, attending a senior year at Park Hill High School, Kansas City, (Missouri, of course). I never sensed any kind of racial prejudice at Park Hill High, or anywhere else in Missouri. Life of an Oriental student in an American high school, in a former slave state, was all fun — just plain fun! I was inducted into the school’s National Honor Society, given a role in the school play, invited to give talks in broken English to local social clubs. My water color won a Gold Key Award from the Kansas City’s own Hallmarks card company, and went on to receive a merit award form the National Scholastic Arts Awards. My American host family looked after me and loved me like their own child. They are my second Mom and Dad, brother and sister, forever. There was no racism around me in Kansas City of 1967-67.
I spent another five years in Philadelphia in the 1970s attending the same Ivy League university as the man in the present White House. Frank Rizzo was then the Mayor of the 'City of Brotherly Love'. The Hmong refugees were a new addition to the already under-privileged class of blacks in West Philly. Clint Eastwood's Grand Torino was not stolen then. And "Doctor J - Julius Erving" who was not a real doctor, but somehow managed to heal all wounds in the Spectrum.
The Amish immigrants still said, ‘throw the cows over the fence some hays”.
After my years at the University of Pennsylvania I visited the United States many times, as a tourist, academic, journalist, and a parent visiting his son in a Boston music school.
What I had seen in Kansas City and Philadelphia then gradually transgressed into what I see today. My Park Hill High added new buildings, and students more racially mixed. I had a brief talk with them in class the last time I stopped by in 2004, during my on-the-road presidential election news report for Thai television. In Philadelphia, the Spectrum was demolished, Doctor J and the 76ers moved on after their 1983 NBA championship.
Recent police brutalities against African Americans started nation-wide fires of protests against systemic racism. Adding fuel to the fires is Donald Trump himself. Ignoring the plight of people in the mid of COVID-19 pandemic, Trump ran a campaign against the protesters and openly gave amoral support to the police and white conservatives through frequent interviews and campaign speeches. Mocking the new corona virus ‘Kung Flu’, an expression offensive to Asian Americans, Donald Trump keeps the fire blazing. His anti-minorities speeches and actions are nothing new. Only he kept doing it without shame, as if never wanted his supporters to forget the supremacy of white caucasian Americans.
It’s tough to be ethnic minorities in America. African Americans are the main target of systemic racism. Asian Americans - white, dark, brown and yellow - and Latinos, are next in line. And the line is long and winding. Asian Americans usually keep a low profile and mind their own business. It’s eastern Asian culture to keep the pressure to themselves. ‘Just keep calm and carry on’ as some people on the other side of the Atlantic would say. They had followed their elders’ traditional advise to just work hard, get good education, and success will come. But this advice is beginning to wear down on the new generation. Young Asian Americans now start to question their parents’ social and work ethics. Hard work is not a problem. But Asian Americans would have to work many times harder than white kids to get to an almost equal economic status. As for social equality, there is no hope as long as the ‘Kung Flu’ pandemic keeps spreading from that egoistic white man in the White House. Work harder, much, much harder, many times harder, and you will still be unlikely to achieve your dream. That is life of minorities in ”White America” today.
The skies are still spacious, though not so beautiful.
What I see today is a different America, a country under the not-so-good a governance by an uncultured, poorly educated, and a truly bad man in the White House. (And I am under constraint with my language.)
It's amazing how the world's greatest democracy can produce such disappointing result.
I am the product of a culture where skin colour is not noticed and races play no part in social discrimination. I do not pretend to understand racism in America, at least not enough to help solve the two-centuries-old social conflicts, but I take comfort in reading more, trying to understand, and sharing the pain with Americans I love. I'm certain a long-term and sustainable solution will be found.
The Greatest country on earth and leader of the free world will not fail humanity.
For the immediate future, the man responsible for the current crisis must be rid off and driven far away from the 'swamp' he has never attempted to clean up as promised. Instead, he made it more polluted. It is increasingly looking more like the kind of 'hole' he, not long ago, attributed to countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
As embarrassing as it is now to the world, America can still be rescued.
It doesn't need a second revolution, or another civil war.
It just needs a new election,
and that is coming this November to the polling stations near you,
MAKE THE UNITED STATES GREAT AGAIN.
SO THE WORLD CAN BREATH!
7 July 2020
▶️ READ ON
THE FOUR FACES ON MOUNT RUSHMORE
I have visited Mount Rushmore trice, the first two times in the summer while a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and the third 25 years apart when on a family driving tour of the US national parks in 2004. Like any curious foreign tourist, I just wanted to see interesting places along scenic road trips around the United States. In South Dakota tourists need to stop at the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. To me, Mount Rushmore is just a monument of four US presidents carved out of the stony mountain top, and it was done without respect for the mountain and natural beauty of the surrounding Black Hills.
American history is full of stories of environmental destruction - cutting down trees, clearing lands for settlers, heavy logging industries, etc. But that was done in the name of economic development and human settlement, and modern America has redeemed themselves by championing environmental protection with innovative ideas such as the creation of national parks and large-scale reforesting. The sin of early environmental onslaught can be forgiven though not forgotten. But to carve four gigantic human faces out of a towering mountain top, and destroyed the sacred beauty of the mountain, is not to be forgiven nor forgotten, certainly not by the Oklala Sioux native American nation who own and worship the sacred Black Hills.
▶️ READ ON
SUPPOSE THEY GAVE A WAR AND NOBODY CAME
I. TULSA SUPER SPREADER
On Saturday 20 June 2020 the Trump Campaign will hold a mass rally in an indoor arena to the capacity crowd of 19,000 at the Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Center, downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is done at the time when the COVID-19 pandemic is still surging in the country, making the US the country worst hit in the world. Many states reopened too soon, risking a recurrence of the pandemic beyond control. To make the matter worse, many people claim their right and freedom to not wearing masks nor following guidelines issued by local and federal health authorities. Other than the Trump's supporters or "his base", these proud and arrogant people who cherish personal freedom and equality include the White House staff, the Trump Campaign organisation, and Donald Trump himself. They will be at the BOK Center in full force. Rally attendees will be given masks at the entrances, but are not likely to wear them. Trump himself will definitely not wear it as he feels it will make him look weak.
AMERICA NOW AIN'T SO GREAT
It’s 06:30 PM Eastern DST, Monday evening June 1st, 2020 in Washington, D.C. or Tuesday morning 05:30 AM Bangkok time. CNN reports seeing a column of 8 or 9 military vehicles moving into the White House premises. The protesting crowd gathering at Lafayette Square Park just across the street from the White House appears peaceful. President Donald Trump prepares to speak at the White House lawn anytime soon after hiding underground in the basement bunker the previous day fearing the crowd attack into the White House.
America has been under protests in major cities all around the countries since May 25th, the day one African American (black), George Floyd was killed at he hands of a Minneapolis police officer while other officers looking on in complicity. Protests by Americans of all colors and ethnicities have exploded all over the country like wildfires, many peaceful, but some turned violent with property burning and looting. Teargas and rubber bullets are used to control the crowds. In some places police-to-protesters calm reasoning have been attempted with praises.
At 06:42, in an apparent attempt to disperse the protesters, rubber bullets and teargas are fired at the crowd outside the White House while some among the protesters shouts “ we’re doing nothing”. But the military police are doing something!
At 06:44 Donald Trump speaks. He accuses the protesters of violence, looting, and unlawful acts and demands law and order in the country. He told state governors to 'dominate' the crowd and to employ full security forces to quell the protesters or he himself will order the national guards and the military forces to take control of the situation.
The White House Full Text:
His short speech lasted 7 minutes.
After declaring his determination to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to enable him to deploy the military force to suppress domestic insurrection, Trump had the military police cleared the crowd for him so that he can walk to St. John's Episcopal Church nearby for a photo opportunity.
07:09 Donald Trump was standing in front of the St. John's Episcopal Church holding up the bible he probably never read through, saying ‘we’ll not take long’ to bring the country back. Surrounding by security details, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and other White House inner circle, Donald Trump then walked back to the White House without even entering the church, let alone saying a prayer! The last time he visited St.John’s Church was in June 2019*.
After less than four years of his presidency, “Make America Great Again” seems successful in its first phase. The greatest country in the world has to be made not great first before it can be made great again. Joe Biden who is likely to defeat Donald Trump at the presidential election this year can then start “Make America Great Again”.
For the time being America is not so great.
2 June 2020
*Rev. Robert Fisher of St.John’s Episcopal Church told CNN’s Don Lemon in an interview at 10:30 PM ET.
READING THE PAIN
JUST TRYING TO UNDERSTAND
This slightly expanded piece, with a proper title, is based on my 14 June 2020 comment posted to the Washington Post 12 June 2020 OpEd: "When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.I'm caught in a time loop where my white friends and acquaintances perform the same pieties over and over again." by Tre Johnson
I am 72, a citizen of Thailand. In all my life I have never been identified by the color of my skin. I am only known by my name and my works. In Thailand skin color does not matter. The thought of myself having some kind of color on my natural skin never entered my mind. Thai people are just like that - not skin-color conscious. But the minute I enter the United States I am automatically branded a yellow-skin 'Oriental'. This is all wrong! No human being has yellow skin. No-one has real white skin either. And I am not an oriental. I am just a Thai, meaning a citizen of a country called Thailand. As for 'oriental', to me, it is just the name of a good hotel in Bangkok loved by Joseph Conrad during his Lord Jim's colonial days sojourn in 'the Orient'.
I have been observing racism in America since I was 18 attending a senior year at Park Hill High School, Parkville, Missouri. Maybe because of my look, I was given the role of one of the Japanese Okinawan villagers in the school play "The Teahouse of the August Moon". But really, I never sensed any kind of racial prejudice at Park Hill High, or anywhere in Missouri, for that matter. Life of a foreign (Oriental) student in an American high school in 1966-67 was all fun, just plain fun!
Fifty years on, I now see a different America under the Trump era where white supremacy start coming out of the closet and racial tension is more like a cold civil war. Superficial changes have been introduced over the pre-Trump years to ease racial discrimination. The word 'Negro' had become an 'N word' and was replaced by the word 'black' and then 'colored' and then 'African American". The word 'Oriental' was outlawed by the Act of Congress banning its use in all official communication. So 'Oriental' is now the 'O Word' in America. 'Asian American', whatever and whoever that means, has become the 'New Yellow'.
I do not have a book club to join in Thailand but I read books from my own private collections to help myself better understand whatever puzzles me in the news.
For the current racial crisis in America, my first read is "The American Republic Since 1887", a 2007 Glencoe textbook my son once used in Walla Walla High School. This helps me understand the sense of history in the mind of youth in America today.
Laura Coates of CNN, while reporting from Minnesota, recommended Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" which I will read after I finish Hugh Brogan's "The Penguin History of the USA" (2001). I have read Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" a few times and plan to re-read de Tocqueville's idea on American prison reform in 1800s again. Of course, I enjoy Toni Morrison's "Love" almost every other Valentines until now that I am a little too old for romance.
I read the journal of Foreign Affairs' "America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy" By Annette Gordon-Reed January/February 2018. This Harvard law and history professor clearly explains why emancipation of slavey could not abolish white supremacy along with it. The great American experiment in democracy with freedom and equality at its heart declares that “all men are created equal,” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". The "Declaration of Independence" of 1776 was written by Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave owner. The original 13 colonies that agreed to joint the United States, to one degree or another, allowed slavery to continue. The American constitution, signed in 1787, ratified in 1788, and came into force in 1789, counted each enslaved person as three-fifths of a free person for the purpose of apportioning members of the House of Representatives.
The first decades of the Republic was built by slave owners by the names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson. The civil war from 1861 to 1865 was all about slavery which fortunately ended in the defeat of the Confederates in the South. Slavery in America had been legally abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865 but white supremacy was not exactly 'gone with the wind'. It is the whites who led, won, and lost the war against and for slavery. It is probably a nationalistic reason that propels the thought of tearing down statutes of the southern confederate generals and rid their names off some present-day military establishments, e.g., Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Hood, and Fort Lee.
But what about the slave owner General George Washington Monument on the Capitol Mall?
And what about his face along with that of another patriotic slave owner Thomas Jefferson on Mt.Rushmore? They are just inches away from the face of the great slave emancipator Abraham Lincoln!
The physical Civil War may have ended 155 years ago. But in the hearts and minds of Americans today it seems the War still rages on and with increasing intensity.
Professor Annette Gordon-Reed notes: "Abraham Lincoln understood that the central question for the United States after the Civil War was whether blacks could be fully incorporated into American society."
It appears now in 2020, after 244 years of independence, the American Experiment in democracy has failed to live up to the high praise of Alexis de Tocqueville. It disappointed the world where America had long been looked up to as the benchmark in democracy. Maybe the pursuit of happiness can be found somewhere else.
Even though I do not quite understand racism in America enough to help solve the two-centuries-old social conflicts, but I take comfort in reading, trying to understand, and sharing the pain. I am sure one day a solution can be found.
Life is so short and there are many more books on American affairs to read if I ever will understand the real America.
17 June 2020
America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy, by Annette Gordon-Reed, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January/February 2018
▶️ IN MY OPINION