A New Manhood

TW: mentions of Brock Turner’s actions, Alton Sterling’s murder, Omar Mateen, and generally all the horrible things men do

Vitruvian_Man_Noun_project_6674
Vitruvian Man by Olivier Guin

 

What does Manhood mean?

Does it mean a penis?

Strength?

Courage?

 

If it means a penis, is it having the body organ, or does it mean being able to have sex with one long into the night?

If it means strength, is it the strength in recovering from a personal loss, or the strength in winning a fight?

If it means courage, is it the courage to defend your friend from hurt or the courage to hurt someone before they get you?

 

Is Manhood something that can be proved?

Can I prove it if I turn people into pieces?

If I stay in business because I squeeze profit

from the labor of people whose wages I cut?

If I move a troop into someone’s home

so I can massacre my way into new territory?

If I turn a woman into a thing to use

and throw her away when I’m done?

 

Is Manhood achieved by doing?

If I follow through with a painful act because it would be weak to stop?

Did Brock Turner prove he was a man when he raped a woman behind a dumpster?

Did Omar Mateen prove he was a man when he killed 49 people in a gay club where he was a regular?

Did Howie Lake and Blake Salamoni prove they were men when they apprehended, subdued, prosecuted, sentenced and executed Alton Sterling before he had a chance to defend himself?

 

Can I prove my Manhood by how I cope

with sadness, rejection and failure?

If I accept my weakness,

am I strong?

If I feel my fear,

am I brave?

If I allow despair to come,

will it go before it hurts anyone else?

 

Can I be a man by how I react

instead of how I act?

 

Can my strength be my adulthood

my courage be my heart

my penis be my body

 

and my manhood come

second (third, fourth, ninth) to who I am

 

and call it a day?

Brooklyn In a Hurry

 

1873_Beers_Map_of_Flabush_Area_of_Brooklyn,_New_York_City,_including_Prospect_Park_-_Geographicus_-_Flatbush-beers-1873
Flatbush, Brooklyn in 1873.

 

Some call it Flatbush

some say Ditmas Park

or Prospect Park South.

Whatever you call it,

it’s changing.

 

When I walk down the street, I carry with me

The high-rise developments

built by those with eyes on the prize

of park views, subway access,

bougie bars, groceries and cafes.

The things that push old renters out

for new renters like me

who have their eyes on them too.

 

The Punjabi man who paves the sidewalk

outside my three-bedroom apartment

so he can pay for the one-bedroom he shares

with his wife and children

and maybe a stranger or two.

 

The absence of white people on the street

until six o clock, when they leave the subway station in droves

to reach their apartment

and become absent from the street once more.

 

The black boy watches the Q train go by,

missing his shift at Bed Bath and Beyond,

because a white policeman does not believe he paid his fare

and called for a back-up of five to watch

while he takes the boy’s wallet.

 

I’m not white, but I’m new

I bring change, but I shop local

I moved here for the rent,

but don’t want anyone else to lose their apartment

so somebody like me can move in.

 

But somebody like me did move in.

And in a few years, I might move

because I lost my apartment

to somebody like me.

 

When I walk out the door,

I give my neighbors a hello

chat about the weather

help them carry bags up the stairs

give flowers when a loved one passes.

The exchanges make us closer

but as the neighbor, comfortable on the street

chatting all day with those who walk by,

recently told me, when I’m out on the street,

I look like I’m in a hurry.

What makes one White ?

 

Bhagat_Singh_Thind_at_Camp_Lewis
Bhagat Singh Thind at Camp Lewis during WWI (pictured top center)

In 1923, Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian immigrant who had enlisted to fight in WWI and was a UC Berkley graduate, gave his case to the Supreme Court to become a naturalized American citizen. The Naturalization Law of 1906 stated that eligibility was  reserved for immigrants who were “free white persons, and … aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” So Thind appealed that his background as a high-caste North Indian with ancestors of Aryan blood meant he was in fact, white.

The judge responded (emphasis added):

…it is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable from the various groups of persons in this country commonly recognized as white. The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.

In short, “it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters what you look like.” Thind’s citizenship was canceled, alongside fifty other Indians who had previously been naturalized. Despite his wish to integrate, American laws had deemed him an immigrant from an“Asiatic barred zone” who would have no hope to citizenship because his Aryan blood did not in fact mean he was white.

In 1921, just two years before Thind took his case to the Supreme Court to prove his whiteness, Tulsa, Oklahoma had the highest concentration of black prosperity in any American town. In the segregated city, the black-populated Greenwood — “Black Wall Street” as it’s known now — had done well in the oil business, and had lucrative hotel businesses, movie theaters, banks as well as an investment in contemporary housing and public education. Ninety-four years ago to this day, an allegation of a black man’s sexual assault on a white woman lead to one of the most violent acts of terrorism on American soil. Linda Cristenson details the events that occurred:

… deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 black Tulsans who were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizen. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921.

Even while in compliance with segregation, the first industrial success for black people was not tolerated — it was obliterated and massacred until the survivors were left with the wreckage of their past community.

At the heart of Thind’s Supreme Court case, the underlying question appears to be: what makes one white? It was a question Takao Ozawa asked in his Supreme Court case for citizenship in 1922 when he cited that his personal values  made him, unlike Bendict Arnold, “ [in] name… not an American, but at heart I am a true American” (Ozawa would lose his case because his fair Japanese skin could not be classified as Caucasian).

Is whiteness a matter of skin color? A matter of racial lineage? A matter of patriotism for a Western country? Or is it the ideology of racial superiority?

When appealing to the Supreme Court, Thind’s lawyers assured that Thind himself did not approve of mixed-race marriages, stating he “regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro, speaking from a matrimonial standpoint.” This is important. Just two years after the Bombing of Black Wall Street, at a time when Jim Crow had no end in sight, Thind used this defense. True to his word, when Thind eventually received citizenship in 1936, he married a white woman, Linda Thind.

By stating the definition “free white persons” of the Naturalization Law applied to them as candidates for citizenship, both Ozawa and Thind were not challenging the racial definitions of the law. They were bending to it. They didn’t contend with the idea of an undesirable race, they were trying to prove they were not the undesirable race. They were trying to prove that despite not being European, they were still not black.

A sentiment of racial superiority remains prevalent with Asian-Americans today. Liz Lin writes in her article Why Asian Americans Might Not Talk about Ferguson of the “model minority myth”:

Once [Asian immigrants are] here, they encounter the model minority myth, the erroneous belief that Asians have been more successful in America than other races because of inherent positive qualities… It also aligns us with white people, the people with power, the people we want to accept us … [a]nd sometimes we keep our distance from those at the bottom, consciously or otherwise, out of fear that others will lump us together.

Lin describes the line that divides some Asian-American communities from partaking in causes like Black Lives Matter  — an immigrant mentality to succeed in a new country further fueled by a drive to elevate above the races “lower … on the social food chain.” But is the mentality to avoid being viewed at the bottom of the food chain enough to save oneself discrimination and neglect?

Chinese-American Sherry Chen was a hydrologist for the National Weather Services who was accused of sending an email of stolen information about American dams to China — despite being cleared by the Department of Justice (in actuality, the email was sent to Chen’s friend in China containing only public information about her work), she was let go by the NWS for her “[c]onduct of untrustworthiness.” Sureshbahi Patel, a grandfather from Gujurat, India, was going for a stroll in Madison, Alabama, and when he was approached by the police responding to a complaint that a “skinny black guy” was on the streets, he tried to explaining that he was visiting his son and grandchildren — because he didn’t speak English, the police threw Patel down and paralyzed him as they handcuffed him. Despite the Wall Street Journal writing in 2012 Asian-Americans “share with American Jews both the distinction and the occasional burden of immigrant success”, the Census reporting period from 2007-2011 showed the number of Asian Americans living in poverty rose by 37 percent (the U.S. national increase was of 27 percent), with Cambodians (29.3 percent) and Hmong (37.8 percent) faring among the poorest in the nation. In Karan Mahajan’s essay The Two Asian Americas, which references Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America” to detail the gap in social statuses within Asian-American communities, he writes “In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, Lee writes, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.”

I’ll remember Thind’s persistence in fighting the Supreme Court and asserting his right to citizenship as a benchmark in America’s racial history, but his appealing to the racist logic of the law did not equal opening up the borders between the US and India (the first step was made possible by other Asian activists like J.J. Singh and Diosdado Yap who lobbied Congress to pass the Luce-Celler Act of 1946.) America has progressed its definitions of citizenship, but there is still no image of “white” in which a man with a turban fits, nor is there one for a patriotic Christian Japanese American or a successful business person of African descent. The sooner we reject the myths of model minorities and of the model race, the sooner we can be able to accept each other as real human beings and fight for our rights together.

Write First, Succeed Later

 

 

I often feel like I’m in a race against time with my career. Despite the fact that I’ve been writing since I was 18, I have little to show for it in terms of work I’m proud of. Some of it has to do with me leaving projects before their final revisions, but for the most part, it’s that the final products I have don’t meet the vision I had in mind when I started writing. Most of my projects have gone this route:

The idea: amazing!

The writing: hard, but I’m holding out that it’s going to be amazing!

Final draft: Not amazing, but still pretty good!

Submissions to festivals, contests and job openings: Rejection. Not amazing.

Having the thick skin to accept rejection is a prerequisite for being a writer, but accepting it doesn’t mean it doesn’t faze you. It’s disheartening to go through this process year after year, and I often wonder how much longer I’ll be able to stomach being told my hard work isn’t the great idea I had in my head.

My college writing professor once told my class, “Any time you feel writer’s block, it’s probably because you’re focusing too much on how good you want the writing to be as opposed to just doing the work.” I think it’s the most valuable thing I learned in school, because it clarified for me the difficulty of being a writer. You need to write a great thing, but it won’t happen if you think too much about how great it should be.

Instead of scrolling Facebook to delay yourself from trying to meet your great idea, throw yourself at your idea. You may not succeed, but you will have written.

 

New Work Published!

In my last post, I wrote that one of my goals this year was to get three articles published. It’s my pleasure to announce that my essay “My Devil Advocates” is up in the first issue of the No Home Journal!

The piece covers some of the questions re: Islamophobia I’ve asked myself in recent months. With Daesh and Donald Drumpf dominating the headlines and mongering fear left and right, I’ve been feeling the urge to say something to stop the hate. It’s been hard to make a stance, when Islamophobic culture has made myself afraid to even be vocal about the topic. But for now, I’m still standing.

One down, two to go.

NYC to LA — Wondering if — Goals for 2016

I moved back to New York from LA in November 2014. I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to work up the television ladder. After three months of slowly making headway, I decided I didn’t want to work up the ladder. Thought I would rather make films with people I know and love in a city I know and love, and hope that a career would come out of that.

It’s now March 2016 and I’m back in New York. I have a Vimeo page, website in the works, and soon will have films (“online content” I think it’s called now) to put on them. I don’t know if I’m any closer to having paid writing or film work. I wonder if I had stayed in LA, I could have had more success doing the same independent work I’m doing now. I wonder if I’ll have to go back if I want to move my career forward.

I recognize the “wonder if” game is a waste of time. But if your career looks like it’s hit a roadblock while your peers are making moves, it’s hard not to play.

I wonder if I’m doing enough social media work.

I wonder if I’m meeting enough strangers and hearing their perspectives.

I wonder if I’m in the right city.

Sometimes I play the “wonder if” games for my curiosity. Sometimes I play to fuel my anxiety.

Doing the work helps. Work that might not lead to a career move, but work nonetheless. Work is important. It doesn’t take you away from your anxiety or depression, but it puts that shit to use.

So I’m here in NYC for now. I’ll most likely play the “wonder if” game again, but it won’t matter as long as these are done a year from now:

1)  A finished feature screenplay.

Me and my writing/partner Priya Mulgaonkar have a rom-com in the works. Expect dosas to play a pivotal role.

2) Four videos online.

Currently in post for my short film Before the Flood and my documentation of Borromean Resistance’s show Performance (x+1) An Interactive Computing System. Looking to producing another short narrative and a short doc .

3)  Three published articles. 

My essay “My Devil Advocates” will be published in No Home Journal’s first issue later this month.

4) Be on this blog at least once a month. 

Put The Mellow Dramatist in full effect.

Good luck to everyone else chasing their goals!