Tag Archives: Race Matters

Race Matters: The Misrepresentation of Race In The Media

by Sam Louie

Courtesy NY Daily News
Courtesy NY Daily News

 

As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.

In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model.   The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture.  In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.

The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender.  Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.

If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address.  While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media).  He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.

His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone.  Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side.  His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).

I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?

This is why his race matters.  Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it.  In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.

This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.

 

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  

Race Matters

Editor’s Note: Race Matters is a new column which provides a nuanced take on race and its impact on the culture of the South Seattle area.

by Sam Louie, M.A., LMHC

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks provoked controversy following his interview with Inc. Magazine regarding his views on race and culture.

“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”

His comment comes after the NBA’s actions against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on audiotape making racially charged comments.  The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars after he told a female friend, V. Stiviano, not to bring Black people to Clippers games.  Sterling is in the midst of having the NBA force him to sell his team as well.

Some have accused Cuban of being a bigot but I think this misses the point.  In the interview he adds, “While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control.”  Control and how we handle our prejudices is the operative word here.  Just because Cuban has prejudices doesn’t make him racist.  Being aware of race, culture, context and the implications it poses to us personally is much more valuable than people ignoring the subject matter by hiding behind the veil of being blind to color when they say, “I don’t see color”.  What these people are implying is that their decisions and how they treat someone aren’t based on another person’s ethnicity, skin tone, or appearance.  I believe for the most part, Americans don’t discriminate in hiring practices, housing, and other significant racial issues, but when it comes to issues of socialization and our own personal comfort zone, we do discriminate and have our prejudices.

Despite our best attempts to not think about race, there will be times and situations where race, culture, image, and stereotypes form our decision-making.  I believe if we deny this part of ourselves, we deny our humanity.  We are at our core, primal creatures.  We make automatic decisions that are unconscious, reflexive, and based on our need for survival.

There’s an almond-shaped part of our brain in the temporal lobe, called the amygdala, that is hard-wired to any threat (real or imagined).  The amygdala, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.  This is the “fight or flight” portion that we hear about and as much as we may want to turn this part off in the name of cultural sensitivity, the neurons that fire in this region are automatic and can’t be shut down.  Now I believe we can learn and grow in our sensitivity to threats but that takes much effort since what you perceive as a threat is based on your upbringing and as adults hard to change without significant work.

For example, I grew up in South Seattle and graduated from Rainier Beach high school.  I lived, played, and went to school with African-Americans for my formative years.  Consequently, in my adult life I gravitated towards Black journalists when I was working in t.v. news because I felt most comfortable around them.  This didn’t make me a racist but since I never knew or was surrounded by “middle-aged, white men” growing up (except teachers), I had no context of how I would be treated and hence saw white men as more threatening to my sense of security.  I remember at one point, my girlfriend at the time asked me, “Why do you only hang out with Black people from work?”  I got defensive because I wasn’t purposely ignoring White folks but had just gravitated towards African-Americans since I thought had more in common with them.

This same logic applies when I’m in other urban areas around the U.S.  I don’t have fear being in ethnic communities (i.e. Asian, Black, Latino, etc.) because there’s a certain familiarity I’m accustomed to.  However, if this isn’t your upbringing you’re going to feel uncomfortable, wary, and possibly scared or fearful.  The same applies to people who present a certain stereotypical image.  Whether it’s the stereotype of an Asian gang-banger, a White Supremacist, or a Black thug, I know for myself these images create different responses to me depending on the context.  In all the conversations and stories I hear about race, context is often left out.  Context is vital because context is what make the amygdala in the brain is searching for on a real, everyday, moment-by-moment level.

For example, if there’s a group of young White men with tattoos and shaved heads walking around South Seattle, I’d think they were lost and this wouldn’t trigger my amygdala as a source of threat.  Same thing if they were walking around downtown Bellevue.  However, if I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city close to the original headquarters of the Aryan Nations, and saw this same group walking down the street, my fight and flight response would be screaming at me.  I’d be foolish to ignore it.  This same response comes up when I see Asians who dress and look like gang members driving or hanging around South Seattle.  I am vigilant not to look at them in any way that could be misconstrued to provoke them.  Am I being racist?  I don’t think so because based on the context, it’s simply my sympathetic nervous going into autopilot.

I will acknowledge there are times when clients I work with have undergone significant childhood stressors and threats to safety (i.e. consistently getting bullied, beat-up, teased, etc.) that in adulthood they remain in a hyper-aroused state of fight or flight around men of any ethnicity.  Even if the perpetrators were of one race, the level trauma can be so damaging that any man, regardless of race, is seen as a threat.  The same level of trauma happens to women who are raped.  If race was a role then there may be extra sensitivity to the offender’s race but the damage can be so encompassing that the women don’t discriminate on race per se but the entire male gender could be seen as a threat.
Issues of race need to be further explored instead of simply compartmentalized or having people ostracized for their views.  Honest discussion, openness, education, and socialization can break down our preconceived notions of those we know little of or know only through caricatures or stereotypes.  It behooves us all to know where we fall on the continuum of prejudice, racism, and bigotry.

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also an Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at: www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  Sam Louie