Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Progressive Celebrates 100 Years of Racism

To travel through The Progressive's April 2009 issue is to stare in disbelief at just how racist the people involved are. The White periodical, started by White people, serving White people celebrates its 100th anniversary by reducing race to Black and White.

100 years

Even more appalling than the silence is the promotion of racism. An unnamed Vietnamese man (presumably Colonel Nguyen Van Ve) appears on page 81 in a comic by Pat Oliphant. Whomever the Vietnamese male is supposed to be, he's drawn as if he were a guerrilla. If it is Ve, it needs to be noted that the prison he ran was run on methods he was taught not only by Americans but by the British, in fact, Ve traveled to England in 1965, five years before the cartoon, to attend a training at the Prison Service Staff College at Wakefield. We're failing to see any cartoons where British males are drawn as apes. We live in the Bay Area which isn't the Whiter Shade of Pale that Madison, Wisconsin is. There is huge shock and outrage in the Asian American community over this comic. And there should be.

As already noted, the cartoon is by Pat Oliphant who has a long history of doing cartoons known for their racially offensive nature. In 2001, Marsha Ginsburg (San Francisco Chronicle) reported on only one instance of Oliphant trafficking in racial stereotypes to demean Asian Americans:

Outspoken Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant, who once said political correctness "drives me crazy," enraged Asian Americans with a cartoon that appeared this week in many Bay Area newspapers.
The cartoon, which The Chronicle declined to run, portrays a buck-toothed Chinese waiter delivering cat gizzard noodles to a customer who concedes he had been "slowly getting used to doing business with China."
The waiter trips, dumping noodles on the head of the customer, who says the waiter must have been waiting for an apology. The waiter jumps up and down while saying, "Apologize Lotten Amellican!" The customer, who gets up in a huff and leaves, is Uncle Sam.
The 1,700 member Asian American Journalists Association said Oliphant's work "crossed the line from acerbic depiction to racial caricature" and yesterday demanded that he stop using racial stereotypes in his work.

So how the hell did his racist comic make it into The Progressive? We're not talking about back in 1970. We're talking about in the April 2009 issue.

The magazine reproduces the cartoon on page 81 which is devoted to 1970. With twelve issues making up 1970 and multiple illustrations to select from each issue, a decision was made to go with this cartoon over others. A decision was made to run this racist cartoon which suggests that Vietnamese (or all Asians?) are apes.

We're not even sure the cartoon ran in the magazine originally. If it did, it wasn't created for the magazine. They could have chosen any illustration. They went with that racist one. By a cartoonist who's long been called out for drawing racial stereotypes and who has a very hostile relationship with the Asian American community.

"But we're happy with the final result," gloats Matthew Rothschild on page 66 as he begs for more money. Apparently, with enough of your hard earned dollars, Rothschild would be able to run even more racist cartoons.

As you leaf through the bad issue, you search in vain for many topics. The internment of Japanese Americans? Not there. Native Americans? In 100 years of publishing, you might think the magazine had a lot to say about the topic but apparently not. One article . . . on the schools attended.

Latinos? In May 2006, the largest rallies and marches took place and they were advocating on behalf of immigrant rights. They offer one lousy paragraph (page 123) that doesn't even make it clear that this was about immigrants, that this was a Latino led movement and a student led movement.

As I marched on May 1, I began to grasp the heart of this movement: the economic rights of any and all people, regardless of papers, to decent pay and dignified work, housing, education, health care, an equitable distribution of wealth and income. Borders are now irrelevant. Corporations have long acted as if this were the case. Why shouldn't we?

That could be about immigrant rights . . . It could be someone elaborating on Judystock, a gathering of Judy Garland buffs discussing the meanings of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."

In the excerpt, the word "immigrant" is never used (the headline to that paragraph is "A Single Movement"), nor the word Latino, Hispanic, etc. Another curious absence is the term "Holocaust."

Despite having WWII stories abounding throughout pages 46 through 51 (and after), the Holocaust is never noted. Norman Thomas (heavily featured throughout the magazine) has a 1948 piece on Palestine which mentions "Jews and Arabs." That's apparently the first mention of "Jew" in the retrospective.

It's hard to believe that a magazine wants to look back on the last 100 years and refuses to note the Holocaust, especially a magazine that features Ruth Conniff who is so damn eager to portray others as Holocaust deniers. (Such as when she falsely accused Norman Finkelstein of being one.)

The refusal to note the Holocaust is all the more appalling when you grasp that they included Milton Mayer's "Let Me In on the Kill" where Mayer's ridiculing those who would hang the Nazi leaders, "Let me drink the blood of the Beast, and I shall be new and pure" (originally ran October 14, 1946). This has to be a first: A look back at WWII that omits the Holocaust but does include sympathy for the Nazi leadership. In one form or another, Mayer spent the 40s and 50s begging for sympathy for Germany. Prior to WWII, Mayer, a non-practicing Jew, was most famous for penning "The Case Against The Jew."

What you quickly find as you flip through the issue is a narrative where race in the US is Black and White and that no issue could ever matter as much as what 'wonderful things' Whites have done for Blacks. Careful readers will quickly catch on that it's what 'wonderful things' White males have done for Black male. It's not only condescending it's sexist and, in their 100th year celebration, they make a strong case for why their bad magazine needs to go out of business. Pronto.
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