The Current Situation The More You Know...

Happy Juneteenth!

Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — dates back to this day in 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

For those of you who were reading closely, June 19, 1865 is a full two and half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on New Year’s Day in 1863, and a couple of months after the end of the Civil War in the U.S. and Lincoln’s assassination. Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery.

Here’s what has to say about what happened when the news arrived in 1865 (the emphasis is theirs):

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

I’ve made the occasional mention of Juneteenth on this blog over the years, but it’s high time I gave the day its proper due. It’s right, it’s necessary, and it also paved the way for Asians like me to be classified as people and not as railroad equipment.

And while we’re at it, let’s make Juneteenth a national holiday! (Besides, how hardcore a racist do you have to be to not want a day off?)

Here’s some recommended Juneteenth viewing:

The Current Situation The More You Know...

“White fascism” is a more accurate term than “White blessings”

Pastor Louie Giglio: “I think maybe a great thing for me is to call it ‘white blessing,’ that I’m living in the blessing of the curse that happened generationally, that allowed me to grow up in Atlanta.”

During a discussion about race with Christian rapper Lecrae and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, Pastor Louie Giglio was on his way to making a good point about slavery: That even to this day, white people are reaping the accumulated generational advantages that it provided. Then he stumbled:

We understand the curse that was slavery — white people do — and we say “That was bad,” but we miss the blessing of slavery, that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in, and lived in. And so, a lot of people call this “White Privilege” and when you say those two words, it just is like a fuse goes off for a lot of white people because they don’t want somebody telling them to check their privilege. And so I know that you and I both have struggled in these days with hey, if the phrase is the trip-up, let’s get over the phrase and let’s get down to the heart. Let’s get down to, “What then do you want to call it?”. And I say, maybe a great thing for me is to call it “White Blessing” — that I’m living in the blessing of the curse that happened generationally, that allowed me to grow up in Atlanta.

Here’s the clip:

I get what the good Pastor was trying to say, but I think his choice of words was terrible. It effectively rebrands what is supposed to be an unfair advantage as something nicer. Or to quote another Pastor, John Pavlovitz: “How positively Caucasian Evangelical of him.”

He writes:

It’s difficult to overstate both how wrong and offensive Giglio’s statements are from a Biblical perspective and from a simple human decency perspective—and how much of an indictment of the white Evangelical Church in America a moment like this is.

Louie Giglio is dangerous in a way that is subtle but important. This is not your mother’s televangelist. He is not old guard Evangelical. He’s not from the stuffy, dusty, buttoned-up pipe organ cathedrals of Frank Graham and Jerry Falwell. He doesn’t bulldoze with damnation or pound a pulpit of brimstone warnings. He paints beautiful word pictures of the vastness of a loving God (who is decidedly male). He is engaging, passionate, and he has mastered the pastoral art of appearing spontaneous, while delivering surgically-precise language surrounded by swelling music and glowing lights, all crescendoing into an emotionally-manipulative moment that feels decidedly spiritual. (The modern megachurch blueprint is found here.)

Giglio’s comments on slavery and whiteness reveal a more nuanced kind of Prosperity Gospel; one offering favor (not for financial contribution, as the older guard pitched), but through American whiteness (though it would never be framed as explicitly). Much like its sister organization the GOP, the new Religious Right is a movement where power and privilege are evidence of God’s approval.

Combine Giglio’s influence with Lecrae’s massive fanbase and Cathy’s huge national teenage restaurant staff, and represented in a conversation like this one are millions of soon-to-be American voters, who are being indoctrinated into a religion of supremacy and misogyny in ways far more subtle than MAGA hats and racist diatribes—but that perpetuate the same gender disparities and racial inequities, all in a package so emotionally stimulating and that almost feels righteous.

Giglio isn’t stupid and he is self-aware. He will likely walk back these comments, do even greater theological gymnastics to connect the dots from a Middle Eastern Jesus to white American colonialism, or reframe the criticisms he’s getting as religious persecution to fuel his flock.

Pavlovitz was right: Giglio has already walked back what he said.

By the way, if the name Pastor Louie Giglio is familiar, it might be because you remember his getting removed from Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration over anti-gay comments. He’s probably a bit tetchy about the recent Supreme Court ruling.

A more accurate term: White fascism


You’re probably already thinking of moving on to another page, but bear with me here — consider the actual meaning of the word before you dismiss it as hyperbole.

The word comes from from fascio, which means bundle in Italian. In ancient Rome, a fasces was a bundle of wood with an ax head, used as a symbol of leadership. The original Italian fascists were referring to bundles of people.

The key tenet of fascism is that society should be a hierarchy where increasingly smaller groups of betters should hold power over larger groups of lessers, all under the control of a single, strong, autocratic leader. This isn’t unique to fascism — it’s just that in fascism, the people at the top are “us” — where “us” is whoever defines the system.

Fascism is built on two pillars:

  1. A sense of rebirth. It says that “We, as a unified people, are ancient, our glory has waned, and we are due to rise again.” (Sound familiar?) It imbues the “us” at the top of the hierarchy with mythological importance.
  2. A sense of a distinct group identity in the form of a national identity.

Combine these two and you get fascism’s tenets:

  • The nation is of the utmost importance.
  • The people running the nation should be a narrowly defined “us”.
  • “We” should rule because it’s more or less our destiny.

Does this sound even more familiar?

To find out more, it’s fantastically summarized in this video, White Fascism, by Ian Danskin, and it’s part of a series titled The Alt-Right Playbook:

The Current Situation The More You Know...

It’s Philippine Independence Day!

In addition to being Loving Day, it’s also Philippine Independence Day, a.k.a Araw ng Kalayaan, which means “Day of Freedom”. It’s observed on June 12th, and on that day in 1898, the Philippines declared independence from Spain.

Among other things, Filipinos fly the flag, whose parts symbolize the following:

  • Royal blue field: Peace, truth, and justice.
  • Scarlet red field: Patriotism and valor.
  • White triangle: Equality and brotherhood.
  • Three stars on the corners of the triangle: The three main geographical regions of the country namely Luzon (my home island), the Visayas, and Mindanao.
  • The sun at the center of the triangle: Each of its eight rays representing the eight Philippine provinces that started the revolt against Spain.

I’m happy to mark Philippine Independence Day, but tracing it back to June 12, 1898 and calling it “independence” is, in my humble opinion, a bit of a stretch. While the Filipino revolutionaries did some impressive stuff, including drafting Asia’s first democratic constitution and forming Asia’s first democracy, that was quickly undone by:

  • The signing of the Treaty of Paris turned the Philippines into a U.S. territory,
  • The Philippine-America war, which would give us such gems as Rudyard Kipling’s dickhead poem, White Man’s Burden. Fuck you, Rudyard, and all your poems. I don’t even quote The Sons of Martha, and I was an engineering student. (And thank you, Mark Twain, for The War Prayer.)
  • The massacre in Samar, where U.S. forces just up and killed every male over the age of 10.
  • Garbage like this:

    Tap to see the racist garbage at full size.

In spite of all this, I still celebrate the day. I just don’t do it blindly.

It Happened to Me The Current Situation The More You Know...

Save the aloha shirt from the alt-right

There’s an alt-right group who believe that a second Civil War — which they call the “boogaloo” — is coming, and they’re raring to take their part in it. The name “boogaloo” comes from the 1984 film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, which was a sequel to Breakin’. The term “boogaloo” has since been contorted into similar-sounding shibboleths: “big igloo,” and quite notably, “big luau.” It’s the “big luau” expression that led to their adopting the aloha shirt as a signifier, along with camo pants, MAGA caps, and other clothing that’s meant to signify to their buddies that “I too am a fascist.”

That’s the point of this article…

These alt-right assholes are trying to claim the Aloha shirt as part of their symbology, and I intend to do everything in my power to stop them. It’s bad enough that they’ve associated themselves with the tiki torch, but this Pacific Islander will not stand idly by as they attempt to co-opt my sartorial specialty.

Aloha shirt history

Quite unsurprisingly, Aloha shirts are the creation of an Asian expats in Hawaii. One account credits its creation with the “Musa-Shiya The Shirtmaker” store

…under the proprietorship of Koichiro Miyamoto, pictured below:

Another story says that Ellery Chun, a Chinese merchant who ran King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods in Waikiki. He is believed to have been the first to mass-produce pret-a-porter aloha shirts.

Because aloha shirts have straight lower hems, you’re supposed to wear them untucked, following the example of local Filipinos, who often wear dress shirts untucked (I do).

If there’s one person who should be credited with the popularity of the aloha shirt (the term “Hawaiian shirt” is technically incorrect), it’s textile manufacturer Alfred Shaheen. While he didn’t create the aloha shirt — they’d been made in Hawaii since the 1930s, and with the rise of air travel in the 1950s, tourists started them bringing them home from their vacations in the islands. Shaheen took these shirts, which were originally cheaply-made, and elevated them with better tailoring, materials, and patterns. The red aloha shirt that Elvis wore on the cover of the Blue Hawaii soundtrack album is a Shaheen design:

Those of you who’ve known me a while know that I maintain a fine collection of aloha shirts, and I’m often mistaken for Hawaiian. You have no idea how many times I’ve been greeted with “Mahalo!” It’s the perfect clothing for my general vibe, and it’s even more appropriate now that I live in Tampa’s sub-tropical climes:

The Wall Street Journal hit the nail on the head in their article Why the Extremist ‘Boogaloo Boys’ Wear Hawaiian Shirts with this paragraph:

…the inherent jolliness of a Hawaiian shirt gives heavily armed boogaloo boys a veneer of absurdity when they appear in public that can deflate criticism. “It’s tough to talk about the danger of guys showing up to rallies in Hawaiian shirts without sounding a little bit ridiculous,” said Howard Graves, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

When an alt-right group has tried to appropriate something as a symbol, the brand has pushed back. After a neo-Nazi tried to declare New Balance “the official shows of white people” in 2016, New Balance quickly denounced white supremacy. Fred Perry has had to do the same because the Proud Boys are so fond of their shirts. Tiki Brand, the people behind the torches, have gone to great pains to distance themselves from the “very fine people” at Charlottesville. But since no single brand is associated with aloha shirts, there’s no organized pushback or single voice speaking out against the boogaloo bois and their sullying the aloha shirt by association.

There may be hope. Perhaps someone who’s a credible representative or symbol of Hawaii can speak out. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser made a good start in a recent editorial:

We’re Hawaii, and we want our shirts back.

Not only do we want them known by their proper name — aloha shirts, and not “Hawaiian shirts” as mainlanders call them — but in particular, they should not have been taken over by a violent political fringe group.

And yet, as a result of memes in social media, aloha shirts have been adopted as a kind of uniform for white nationalist groups. Folks who get the relaxed vibe of aloha shirts call that inappropriate. No aloha to those violent Hawaiian-shirt wearers.

Until we get that official voice, it’s up to us — those of us who wear aloha shirts out of love for the style, the signifier of being “the life of the party” or a person of good cheer, to celebrate a love or heritage of the Pacific islands, or any combination of all those — to defend our beloved items of clothing and keep the boogers from ruining them. Join me in this fight!

I’ll close with a gallery of Yours Truly in some of my favorite aloha and aloha-style shirts.

Recommended reading

The Current Situation The More You Know...

FREE book of the day: “Who do you serve, and who do you protect?”

For the next four days, you can get the ebook version of Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States for FREE from Haymarket Books, a nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago and project of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

What is the reality of policing in the United States? Do the police keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do recent police killings of young black people in the United States fit into the historical and global context of anti-blackness?

This collection of reports and essays (the first collaboration between Truthout and Haymarket Books) explores police violence against black, brown, indigenous and other marginalized communities, miscarriages of justice, and failures of token accountability and reform measures. It also makes a compelling and provocative argument against calling the police.

Contributions cover a broad range of issues including the killing by police of black men and women, police violence against Latino and indigenous communities, law enforcement’s treatment of pregnant people and those with mental illness, and the impact of racist police violence on parenting, as well as specific stories such as a Detroit police conspiracy to slap murder convictions on young black men using police informant and the failure of Chicago’s much-touted Independent Police Review Authority, the body supposedly responsible for investigating police misconduct. The title Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is no mere provocation: the book also explores alternatives for keeping communities safe.

Once again, the book is FREE for the next four days and you can download it here. While you’re at it, check out Haymarket’s books, which are eye-opening, sometimes uncomfortable, and definitely not going to be found on the book table in Costco/Sam’s Club/whatever big box store you buy your “basic” books from.