Asian American students in 6 words

Check out Chalkbeat’s Student Voices project in which Asian American students use six-word stories, artwork, poetry and music to comment on the times they’re experiecning.

Kelly Shi, 15, of Queens, New York, is one student who contributed more than one piece. She shared this artwork and a six-word thought: “Why fit in? Stand out instead.”

Artwork by Kelly Shi, 15, Queens, New York

Artwork by Kelly Shi, 15, Queens, New York

Chalkbeat Editor-in-Chief Nicole Avery Nichols said the students’ work took her back to discrimination she experienced as a fourth grader in Long Island. She told her own story and added, “In just six words, students of Asian descent and allies shared their thoughts about race, racism, culture, and the reparative conversations that are long overdue in America. Their mini-stories … are heartbreaking, powerful, jarring, insightful, thought-provoking, inspiring, poignant, and all too familiar.”

The students ranged in age from 6 to 33. As Nichols said, Their messages ranged from sad to powerful to angry to hopeful.

Nine-year-old Quentin Tai Murphy of Denver wrote, “Teaming up, we can stop racism.”

Their thoughts should touch you.

Posted in Asian American, East Asian | Leave a comment

What does APIDA mean?

This year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which begins May 1, continues to evolve. There are at least three factors changing the month, first recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in 1990. It had previously been just a week, and Islander was added in 1992.

Cover for 100 Questions and Answers About East Asian CulturesIn 2021, as in 2020, the month will be celebrated under pandemic conditions. This year, rising protests against anti-Asian hate give the month a sharper edge. And now, the month’s focus is expanding as May is more frequently noted as APIDA month. That stands for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American.

Desi embraces South Asian people, typically those from or with ancestry in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The subcontinent also includes Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan and the Maldives are often considered part of South Asia, too.

Desi is from the Sanskrit word for a native of a “desh” or country. Desi is not a nationalistic designation, but rather, it is pan-ethnic and used in the name of the month to complete the concept of who Asian Americans are.

So far, the Bias Busters series has guides on East Asian cultures and Indian Americans. One on Sikh Americans, who are rooted in Punjab, is in the works. “100 Questions and Answers About East Asian Cultures” is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore.

Posted in Asian American, East Asian, Ethnicity & Race, Indian Americans | Leave a comment

Arabs and Muslims: Not the same

As Arab American Heritage Month concludes, James Zogby writes in The Nation about a lifetime of slights, large and small, over his ethnicity. Zogby is a pollster and founder and president of the Arab American Institute.

Portrait of James Zogby

James Zogby, author of Arab Voices, speaks to the Microsoft Political Action Committee at Microsoft campus in 2020.
Photo by BankingBum, licensed under Creative Commons

He recounts slurs, being excluded or marginalized and discrimination. He recalls The Rev. Martin Luther King’s observation that people can be alternately excluded or included not because of their qualifications but because of their ethnicity.

Zogby tries to set the record straight on a major misconception in the United States. Recently, rather than recognize Arabs in the United States for who they are, a group tweeted a celebration of AMEMSA Heritage Month. That stands for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian.

Zogby wrote this amalgamation is “not a shared heritage but rather a rubric created as a product of targeting by government national security policies. By choosing to recognize this invented category, they in effect canceled our decades of work to achieve recognition for our ethnic community.”

Islam is one of many religions practiced by Arab Americans. The also belong to many Christian faiths and, like more and more Americans, many are nonreligious. South Asia is a puzzler because there are no Arab countries there at all.

Zogby sees the mistake or misidentification as a denial of the Arab identity.

Who are Arab Americans? Learn more reading “100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans,” which Zogby helped shape. “100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans” is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore.

Posted in Arab Americans | Leave a comment

Did Justin Bieber commit cultural appropriation again?

Justin Bieber has been accused, again, of appropriating Black culture for having his hair styled in dreadlocks, an ethnic hairstyle.

Is it wrong to adopt an identifying characteristic of a culture one does not share?

The answer is debated. It lies in why it was done, how it was done and how people who are of that culture see it.

Justin Bieber in dreadlocks

Justin Bieber in dreadlocks on Instagram

Bieber’s April 2021 display of dreadlocks on Instagram is not his first. He did it in 2016 and was called out.

For many, the hairstyle represents a reclamation of Black identity. It signifies protest and beauty and a restoration of justice. It is in the face of White European standards that put it down. The twisted or locked hairstyle has roots in Hindu mysticism, Ethiopia, Nigeria and, later, Jamaica.

When someone from outside the culture wears it, motives come into question. Is it to express solidarity? Is it to draw attention or turn a profit? Worst case: Is it to ridicule?

Wearing the hairstyles of another culture can be taken as supportive or corrosive.

In 2016, Bieber told the artist Big Sean people were saying “‘You want to be black’ and all of that stuff people say. I’m like, ‘It’s just my hair.’”

To a lot of people, it is much deeper than “just my hair.”

Cultural appropriation or misappropriation comes up in several Bias Busters guides, including “100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.” It is is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore.

Posted in African Americans | Leave a comment

Online vigil on April 22 for Indianapolis FedEx shootings

The Sikh Coalition is inviting people to an online vigil on Thursday, April 22, for the people killed and hurt in the shootings at Indianapolis’ large FedEx warehouse. Eight people have died, including four members of the Sikh community. #StandWithSikhsSikhs make up a large proportion of the workforce there. The shooter worked there in 2020.

The victims were between the ages of 19 and 74.

The online vigil is being organized by the Revolutionary Love Project. It is billed as a national, multiracial, interfaith event, It will be at 8 p.m. EST, 5 p.m. PST.

The Revolutionary Love Project is led by Valarie Kaur, a peace and interfaith activist who is Sikh.

A post by the Sikh Coalition, which has people helping in Indianapolis, says “the vigil is intended to allow all to grieve and stand in solidarity with the Sikh community one week after the mass shooting.”

You can RSVP to attend via Zoom.

The invitation says the event will be “a night of testimony, music, prayer, and song.”

It adds, “Join us for a multiracial interfaith vigil to grieve and stand in solidarity with the Sikh community one week after the mass shooting in Indianapolis. The massacre is touching the open wound of decades-long racial trauma.

“In the wake of the verdict over George Floyd’s murder, we will gather to recommit to ending anti-Black racism and racial violence in all forms. We will be joined by faith leaders, artists, activists, and Sikh community members. This online event will be a night of testimony, music, prayer, and song. We will gather in grief, rage, and love — and the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala, ever-rising spirits even in darkness.

The Bias Busters team at the Michigan State University School of Journalism has just completed a guide called “100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans” and will publish it soon.

Posted in Sikhs | Leave a comment

The Blue Wall of Silence and the police killing of George Floyd

The Blue Wall of Silence, also called the Blue Code or the Blue Shield, is a protective silence by police about officers who commit crimes, including police brutality.

The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, charged with killing George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 has been cited in the press as a case where that silence crumbled, collapsed, was dented or cracked.

Prosecutors called the Minneapolis police chief and officers about the arrest, in which Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

The code of silence in other cases has included officers declining to testify or turning off their body cameras.

In the #BiasBusters guide “100 Questions and Answers About Police Officers,” there is an entry on the blue Wall of Silence. It says, “Police and deputies swear to protect the community and civilians, and they also back up and help each other. When an officer is in trouble, the first person to help is almost always another officer. This contributes to the idea that a code of silence keeps officers from reporting each other’s wrongdoing. This idea is behind a 1988 movie, “The Thin Blue Line,” about a wrongful conviction. It is also true that many officers want to see bad cops brought to justice and that they initiate or lead investigations into corruption.”

NPR reported that Minneapolis activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong said she hopes “officers will be more willing to intervene when they see their fellow officers engaged in misconduct or abusing someone out on the streets.” However, NPR reported, “she remains skeptical of the trial’s outcome, given the history of juries often failing to convict police officers around the country.”

“100 Questions and Answers About Police Officers” is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore.





Posted in Police officers | Leave a comment

COVID protocols for Muslims during Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan, now being celebrated by Muslims around the world, is having some COVID-related adjustments.

CNN answers questions about what is different about this, the second Ramadan to fall under the shadow of the pandemic. The answers give an insight into Muslim practices.

A lone man reads the Koran

Photo by Rachid Oucharia on Unsplash

Here is some of the advice:

Does getting a COVID vaccine violate daily fasts?

No. Several authorities have said that the vaccine does not violate the fast. Furthermore, they have said the shots are halal, that is, permissible, as they do not contain pork or alcohol. Observant Muslims who feel a vaccine violates the fast can take advantage of the rule that says missed days of fasting may be made up at the end of the month

Should I pray at the mosque this Ramadan?

Given the hazards of being indoors with groups if people, religious authorities advise against it. Some mosques are making adjustments to provide greater social distancing. Other precautions include staying away if sick, making ablution, called wudu, at home, praying outside and bringing your own prayer rug.

May Muslims gather for Ramadan’s special daily meals?

Suhoor, the first meal of the day, and iftar, the first meal after sunset, may still be shared with family or friends if gatherings are small. This could help ensure that everyone will be able to gather for this communal meals in post-pandemic times.

“100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans” is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore. Photo credit to Rachid Oucharia on Unsplash.


Posted in Muslims | Leave a comment

What is Vaisakhi?

This colorful holiday, celebrated on April 13 or 14, is recognized by Sikhs and Hindus. It marks the beginning of the Sikh and Hindu new year, which follows a solar calendar.

Vaishaki parade in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by British Columbia NDP, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

For Sikhs Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, has historical and religious significance.

The holiday was chosen in 1699 by Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh chose to create the Khalsa, the association of initiated Sikhs. The story is dramatic.

Sikhs believe Guru Gobind Singh, bearing a sword, invited Sikhs who were prepared to die for their faith should come into a tent with him. Five entered and the Guru emerged with the bloodied sword. Apprehension turned into exultation as the five emerged uninjured and wearing turbans. The five became known as the Panj Piare, the “Beloved Five” first members of the Khalsa.

The Guru sprinkled them with blessed water, called Amrit, and said prayers. The custom is followed today. That is what makes Vaisakhi more that s spring festival to Sikhs.

Students at Michigan State University are just completing a Bias Busters guide, “100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans.” We will announce when it becomes available.



Posted in Sikhs | Leave a comment

Images that bred racism now used to fight it

By Dina Kaur

“It’s not going to do any good for us to pretend that hatred does not exist,” said Ruth Ann Jones during a Michigan State University Libraries special collections Zoom session: Unpacking Racist Stereotypes.

Book cover

“Understanding Jim Crow” uses images and memorabilia designed to perpetuate racism to buster biases and promote social justice.

The April 1 session consisted of a presentation with images that came from several areas of the MSU libraries.  

Jones is MSU’s Special Collections education and outreach librarian. She focused on “the brute,” “the mammy” and “the pickaninny” stereotypes.  

“These stereotypes were everywhere in popular culture before the 1960s, absolutely everywhere,” Jones said. “There was nowhere that a Black person could look in mainstream culture that didn’t have a demeaning portrayal of Black people.

She said the stereotypes still still turn up in mainstream culture today but perhaps a little bit weakened and not presented with such lack of shame, but they do still exist. She brought up an example of how Michelle Obama was often characterized as an angry Black woman.

Jones said myths about slavery are not based on truth and their purpose was to justify the existence of slavery and hide the truth.

Slaveholders often claimed that Black people had to be enslaved because they weren’t able to take care of themselves, Jones said.

Another myth about slavery was that people were treated well and slaves were happy. An image from the food history collection showed a trading card and the woman is presented as she’s dancing through her work of picking cotton.

The next myth is that slaves were completely content. A postcard set said “Greetings from the Happy South” all the images showed different reasons or assertions that slaves were happy. 

Another myth was that slaves wanted to please their masters, not out of fear of punishment but because they were devoted to them. 

Disobedience was tolerated was another myth Jones brought up. The truth is that disobedience could violent punishment. 

The final myth was just no other way to handle the agricultural needs of the South. Someone had to pick the cotton, someone had to plant the corn, and so on.

The mammy stereotype was revisited in 2020 when Quaker Oats announced it was dropping the Aunt Jemima caricature, an image very clearly meant to be a mammy cook during. 

“The mammy stereotype, first of all its sheer repetition, implies that a Black woman is only capable of domestic work, or domestic work plus field work: picking cotton or planting cotton,” Jones said.

Jones said this stereotype  tied in with White women who freely appropriated Black women’s recipes, published them in cookbooks, then got paid for writing them.

The mammy stereotype often portrayed Black women with a very large body to desexualize her, as she was in the house and not in the fields. The truth, Jones said, was that hundreds of thousands of Black women were raped by White slaveholders.

Black children were stereotyped as pickaninnies. They were often shown as  eating watermelon or being eaten by alligators. They were portrayed in ragged clothes with coarse, curly hair and were speaking in dialect.

“The Black man as a brute or savage beast is still operative today,” Jones said. “If you read the comments by White police officers that have shot unarmed Black men, very often they say something like ‘I was afraid for my life, he was so violent, and aggressive and scary’ even though the black suspect was unarmed and the police officer had a weapon.” 

Jones said George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin said something similar about feeling threatened.

Posted in African Americans, Culture | Leave a comment

Ramadan greetings in Arabic and English

What do you say to a Muslim at Ramadan?

You may greet the person in their everyday language or in Arabic, the language of Islam. Most Muslims in the world are not Arabs, but they use the language in their prayers, given Islam’s founding in the Arab world.

A popular greeting is “Ramadan mubarak.” In English, that means “Happy Ramadan.” A good response is “Khair Mubarak” which returns the good wishes or, “And the same  to you.”

Another popular greeting is “Ramadan kareem.” It means “Have a generous Ramadan.” A good response is “Allahu Akram” or, God is much more generous.”

In 2021, Ramadan runs April 12 to May 12.

In 2022, it will be April 2 to May 1.

And in 2023, Ramadan is March 22 to April 20.

Ramadan is the ninth month of Islam’s lunar calendar, and lasts 29-30 days, depending on the local sighting of the moon. Although daytimes are marked by fasting, it is a celebratory time of year with festive meals after sunset.

At other times of the year, a non-holiday greeting in Arabic is “As-salaam-alaikum.” It means “Peace be unto you.” It may be returned with he similar “Wa-alaikum-salaam,” meaning, “and unto you peace.”

Posted in Arab Americans, Muslims | Leave a comment