American Owned

You’ll see the signs still in some places.  Most of the time, “American Owned” hanging on a convenience store window or hotel means one thing: “We’re white.”  It’s racism, plain and simple, and carries the implication that someone who isn’t white can’t possibly be American.

About 10 years ago, on election day, I went to my favorite restaurant.  The shop owner, a Vietnamese man, was in the process of becoming a citizen while legally operating his business.  He came over, but rather than ask if I wanted my “usual,” he asked if I voted yet.  When I said I hadn’t, he firmly told me that he would not be serving me until I had done so.  At first, I thought he was joking and explained that I would vote, just not before eating! He insisted.  He told me about the process he was going through to become a citizen and that I, as a citizen, have a responsibility to America to go and discharge my citizenship duties. He said, “I can’t vote, but I can get people who can to do so.” Clearly, this man wanted to vote, and I know (he is now a very proud citizen) that he proudly votes in every election.

I left, voted, and came back later. I got a free meal for it.

When I think of people coming to America, I always think of this man. He worked harder than most people I know. Hard work is American, right? He ran a successful business in the free market, by providing what people wanted for a price they would pay. That’s American, right? He is more patriotic than most. That’s American, right? He recognized the good about America. That’s American, right? He’s exactly the kind of person that makes America into America. I don’t know what his religions was, but I do know that he didn’t look white. And, in my mind’s eye, I can see a competitor hanging a sign that says, “American Owned” in the window when the competitor cannot compete on the basis of a superior product at a superior value.

In WWII, we saw the enemy of the Japanese. Heck, we saw the enemy of the Japanese-American. We locked Japanese into internment camps. This was while we were fighting the Nazis who were sure that race mattered. Apparently, it didn’t just matter to them.

During WWII, the 100th Infantry was made up of Japanese Americans, fighting two wars: the war against the Axis and the war for recognition as full Americans. By all accounts, they fought hard and incredibly bravely. TWENTY ONE of the members of this battalion received the Medal of Honor during WWII. TWENTY ONE! This is the highest possible military honor in the United States. It’s awarded for the often dismissed phrase, valor “above and beyond the call of duty.” To put in perspective how high of an honor this award represents, a four-star general will salute a private, even if in civilian clothing, who is wearing the medal. I know a white veteran who was in Italy while the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a part of the 100th, was also there. I can assure you that nobody will insult a Japanese American in his presence without finding out the full story of what our fellow Americans did there.

But there’s more to this story. Those 21 medals? 20 were not awarded until 2000, because these men were ignored – due to race, according to the commission investigating in 1998 – despite tremendous valor deserving of the award. It took us 50+ years to recognize the heroes of the 100th. Of course there’s other awards, too, that many were deserving of.  The 442nd is, for the size and length of service, the most decorated unit in US military history.

But, in WWII, these brave men were the enemy. They had the skin color of our declared enemy. They weren’t Americans, they were the enemy. They weren’t “us.”

Of course Japanese-Americans weren’t the only ones treated this way. We did it to blacks and Asians (and still do). And today, it’s popular to treat Hispanic Americans and Muslim Americans the same way.  For instance, what could be more American than singing the American Anthem? Apparently you are not to do that dressed as anything but a western European:

Sebastien, the boy in the above video, is as American as anyone else. He’s a citizen, born in Texas. Yet, he was attacked online for being “Mexican” and non-American. Fortunately, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team responded in the perfect way: they asked him to come back and sing again.

Yet, a positive response by a sports team doesn’t erase racism. It’s still here.

We saw that again with the Miss America Pageant when an Indian-American woman won. Among the racist tweets and statements were many that assumed Nina was an Arab Muslim, a common mistake made by racists. Apparently, in their America, a Muslim or an Arab couldn’t represent America. After all, Muslim Arabs are terrorists, and so are people who look like them. And thus they are the Japanese of the 21st century.

It’s time to stop this cycle of hate. No, it’s not about whether she was Arab or Indian. She’s American. That’s what this needs to be about. And whether she believes in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Athiesm, or something else, she’s still an American. We’re a diverse country. With Muslims. That aren’t terrorists.

And, lest you think this attitude towards Muslims by an American is a new, liberal idea, check out this article by the Huffington Post. The founding fathers knew Muslims existed – they weren’t as stupid as some think. And they built a country that was supposed to recognize them as full Americans.

Not everyone wants that America, though. And rather than claim to be destroying the foundational principles of America, those who don’t want it hide behind the flag and patriotism, claiming they want “Americans” to represent America, when what they really mean is only white Christian people should represent America. Their “patriotism” needs to be called out as the bigotry that it is.

Sex Change in Iran

Quick, second to Thailand, what country performs the most sex reassignment surgeries?  Answer: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Flag_of_Iran.svgA few days ago, I wrote just a bit about Be Like Others, a documentary about transgender people in Iran.  I was sort of expecting to hear how Iran sees trans people, and that certainly was a part of the documentary.  But, more disturbingly, was how Iran sees gay people.

In the USA, when someone’s kid comes out as transgender to mom and dad, a frequent comment is, “Are you sure you’re not just gay?”  Being gay is more acceptable than being trans.  In Iran, the question is to gay kids: “Are you sure you aren’t trans?”

Certainly, there’s an element of “same but different” in homosexuality and transsexuality – in both cases, people are violating gender roles.  In the one, they are violating the gender role for who they are supposed to love.  In the other, for who they believe they are.  In both cases, the problem boils down to “not living as someone of your presumed gender should live.”

It turns out that some Muslims believe being trans is acceptable – not necessarily wonderful, but not mortal sin either.  Homosexuality on the other hand remains the mortal sin.  In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini, prior to receiving political power, in 1967 declared that sex changes were acceptable.  Stonewall in the USA didn’t happen until 1969, two years later.  For people not well versed on LGBT history, while gays and lesbians were targeted by police in Stonewall, the worst of the targeting was directed towards males wearing makeup (effeminate gays) and both women and men who wore the “wrong” gender’s clothing.

So, back to Iran.  What do you do in a country that doesn’t have gay people (something the Iranian president said when being questioned about the execution of two gay men – for being gay) if you are gay?  It turns out that what can keep you alive is to change your sex.  At least you can survive then, albeit not likely as someone who will enjoy their life.

Nobody knows how many gender reassignment operations are being done on gay (not trans) people in Iran, but it’s a significant percentage of the surgeries.  Nor do trans people have a choice in having the surgery – if it’s recommended, they are expected to have it.  And it’s recommended if the person is trans.  Period.  That said, in 2004, one organization estimated the rate of forced or coerced operations done on gays was around 45%.  Nearly half.

So maybe trans people have a slightly easier time in Iran than in some other countries.  They are fully legally recognized in their new gender, so marriage is not an issue – so long as they are heterosexual (that is, attracted to the sex opposite their reassigned sex).  But it’s hardly a welcoming country, even for people who really are transsexual and not gay.  But it’s even worse for gays.

From a western perspective it’s a strange situation.  Is it more accepting or less accepting than other countries?  I don’t know.  But it’s certainly not where we need to be as a world.

What is Natural?

DVD Cover art for Be Like Others, onsisting of a man sitting next to a woman with the words 'be like others' displayed above themYesterday, I watched Be Like Others.  It’s available (for a fee) from Amazon in the USA (not sure about availability outside of USA).

I have a lot to say about this film – and I’ll put that into a future post.  I think a lot of what is going on in Iran is truly horrifying, particularly seeing the number of people who are just about to have sexual reassignment surgery or have already had it who, if it wasn’t for the forced coercion of the Iran religious government, wouldn’t have the surgery.  Homophobia pushes gays and no-op trans people into surgery.  That’s pretty horrible.

What I do want to write about today was one interesting scene in the film where an Islamic religious expert (Iman?  Not sure) was speaking to a transsexual support group in Iran.  He was answering the question of whether or not it’s unnatural to have sexual reassignment surgery.

His answer was eloquent and beautiful.  My paraphrase of it probably won’t be, but I’ll try anyhow.  He talked about how man takes wheat and makes bread – he’s changing the nature of the wheat in the process.  Or how man cuts down a tree and makes furniture – something that is man changing something God made.

We do lots of things that aren’t natural.  And normally we consider that good.  “It’s not natural” really just means, “I don’t like it.  I don’t think you should do it.”  It’s what we fall back upon when we don’t have a good reason for what we are saying, so we need to rely upon “common sense” about nature – our bigotry in other words.

Natural is fine.  But so is man, responsibly, interacting with the natural.