Episode Nine: "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism" with Jeff Yang and Phil Yu

Simran Jeet Singh:
Thanks for joining our program, "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism." I'm delighted to have you all today here. We're discussing anti-Asian bias and we're joined by two activists that might know already through their work, Phil Yu and Jeff Yang. I'm so excited to have them here and so grateful for their voices. This is actually a special episode that we're cross-publishing here on this show and also on their podcast, “They Call Us Bruce.” So we'll have a slightly different format today, but we'll still be doing the same deep dive into anti-racism that we do in every episode. Before we turn to our conversation, I just want to give you a quick word on the program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First, we want to offer you insight into what's actually going on with racism.

And that's why each episode focuses on a particular aspect of racism and helps us go through it to better understanding what James Baldwin so beautifully stated: If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism, into taking action. And this comes in different forms. It could come as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within ourselves. It may come on guidance on how to be an activist and deal with problems outside of ourselves and inside of our society. But at the end of the day, we're really looking to move towards action. So that's the vision for today. That's the plan and thank you all for joining us here. Let me just introduce our guests briefly.

I've followed the work of Phil and Jeff for years now, and I've learned so much from them along the way. Angry Asian Man was actually one of my own introductions to online activism. It's been a force for many of us thinking about how we're minoritized and marginalized. And so Phil has played a really important voice in helping me find my own voice online. And Jeff is a force as well. And I've learned a ton from reading his pieces on CNN Opinion. It sounds like he has another one that he's working on for today, and he has this fantastic book that I love called I'm Jackie Chan: My Life In Action. So I'm grateful to them for joining us and Phil and Jeff, just wanted to start by checking in how are y'all doing today. How are y'all? How are you holding up?

Jeff Yang:
Every day is like every other day it feels, but, holding up pretty well I'm actually on vacation with the family, and trying our best to get away from it all while also staying away from everybody. So it's kind of a tough line to walk there. Phil?

Phil Yu:
Phil. Yeah. Yeah. I just, it's pretty much the same thing it has been for the last, I dunno, I've lost count of how long we've been this, but, hanging in there and trying to keep it together and keep a clear head about everything that's going on. And then like witnessing the world through this small little window, try not to like, just, you know, scream. That's pretty much it. 

Singh:
Yeah, I appreciate that. And I want to jump in by just getting right into it. And the way I like to start with asking my guests is just to give us a sense of your own experiences with racism. Could you share with us your first real memory of dealing with racism?

Yu:
Jeff, you're want to take that one? I don't know.

Yang:
Sure. I mean, you know, the first experience and the first real experience, kind of bakes into it. The question I think a lot of people have when they talk about racism, which is -- what is quote-unquote real racism, right? Is something as seemingly trivial as somebody calling you a slur as a child in the playground, quote, unquote real racism, or it doesn't have to escalate to threats of violence or, you know, overt discrimination or otherwise. And I guess the way that I address that is -- I grew up as one of the very few Asian people in an extremely white enclave of New York City. I lived in Staten Island, so, it wasn't just white. It was a particular kind of white. It was mostly people who, I mean, themselves, you know, were immigrants or post-immigrants. You know, white ethnic people who were Italian American, Irish American, et cetera, but whose perspectives on people of other races very frequently didn't take into account that they themselves came from those origins from abroad and apart.

I certainly recall the sort of typical experiences, the ones we talk about on “They Call Us Bruce,” right? Literally having kids strike martial arts poses at me, and suggest that I come at them with the kung fu that I did not have. But I think the first incident that really underscored to me the environment in which I lived in personally was the first time my parents allowed me and my sister out for Halloween. And it was part of an exercise in which me and my sister were trying to convince our parents to allow us to engage in American holidays. Right? It began with Christmas, then Thanksgiving. You know, both of those had vaguely religious connections that they embraced in various ways. Thanksgiving, of course, is a favorite immigrant holiday across many different categories, religious or not. But Halloween was something that they always had a little bit of an issue with not least because it felt, you know, my parents are deeply Christian, it felt vaguely, you know, weird and satanic.
It was expensive and felt incredibly dangerous as well. Sending your kids out into the night to beg for stuff from neighbors who in many cases took a, you know, kind of had an askance view of the fact that we were making their neighborhoods less white.

So we did nevertheless convince our parents. We did not have costumes, so my parents sent us out in -- essentially a wardrobe that we wore for Chinese school. My sister had kind of her dance outfit, you know, sort of ribbon dance outfit. She basically looked like, you know, she should be performing in Cirque de Solei. And I was in a judo gi. I didn't do kung fu, but I did do judo at the YMCA. And so we went out to the night dressed like that, and almost instantly were set upon by the sort of roving gang of teens who, threw eggs at us and called us, you know, various kinds of "ching chong" names. We managed to fend them off 'cause my sister actually happened to be carrying a parasol as part of her outfit and use that to sort of block the eggs as we ran back home. And that was our first Halloween. So, it was a little bit more trick than treats, certainly. Hello racism.

Yu:
Okay. So for me, this is not my first memory of it, but it's the most vivid and the one that has stayed with me all these years. I was in junior high and I was waiting for the bus -- I was at a bus stop waiting for the bus, and this car stops at the light right next to the bus. And then, there's a group of teens inside, loud music, all that stuff. The light turns green, as they start going and they pass me, there's a guy hanging out the passenger side window and he pulls his eyes back and he's doing the whole mock Asian language at me as they ride off. And so I always say that, you know, getting "ching chonged," that's like standard-issue, like schoolyard, growing up in America type, you know, experience. But then in that case I got, I got drive-by by "ching chonged." And so that was wholly unfair as I had no way to retort, you know, so -- but that one has stuck with me 'cause I remember telling my friends about it afterwards and they laughed and they thought it was funny and I was just like -- Man, forget you guys. Yeah. Yeah. So that has stayed with me many, many years now.

Yang:
Yeah. I feel just to add to that whole point of like standard-issue "ching chonging," right. It really is kind of like, for East Asians, the racism starter kit that we all have actually deal with, you know, because it's so ridiculous. So trivial seeming. And yet once actually that objectification, that sort of sense of othering sets in, especially once you get to a point where you start dismissing in your head, it opens you up to an acceptance of a certain status in your society -- of you as somebody who does not belong -- that will follow you for the rest of your life. And, you know, whether, it comes with a pelting of rotten eggs or simply somebody driving away, laughing hysterically, you know, that little wedge that goes into your brain, it just widens and widens and widens and takes a long time for you to overcome that.

Singh:
Yeah. Let me ask you more about that because that really struck me when both of you were talking. I think because, that's my own recollection of our childhood and not just schoolyard friends or peers -- like it was also [inaudible], you know, same kinds of jokes. And laughing because I thought they were funny. And so here we are in 2020, and you know, we're grown men now and we're looking back at that and like, we're kind of laughing as you tell these stories because -- not for the same reasons I think, but kind of thinking about how ridiculous it is in a sense, but I think one of the challenges, especially for me is where you're taking us, Jeff. And that is, it seems trivial, right? It seems like a joke. And a lot of times people, when we talk about racism and racist jokes, they'll sort of shrug it off and be like -- Oh, I was just kidding. It doesn't really matter. And so I'd love to hear you both talk a little bit more about why it matters, right? Like Phil, you're telling this story from decades ago, I guess, a couple of decades ago, but it stuck with you. And like, on the one hand you're kind of laughing about it. But on the other hand, it seems to have made an impression. And so, why does it seem like it sticks around so much?

Yu:
I think, well -- one, we're laughing 'cause of the pain. We're laughing because it hurts and that's where the comedy comes from -- No. I think that it's not just anyone incident that really sticks with you. It's sort of the collective pain of like all these little cuts along the way that you have to endure. And then, the part of -- like Jeff, what you're saying about the acceptance of it -- you become like, you internalize it and it becomes part of you, right? You develop this thicker skin and not necessarily for the better, but like, because you have to. And so much of it is about reminding you on like a near-daily basis that like you -- there are people here who think that you do not belong. You do not belong here because of this -- one look at you, one look at this East Asian appearance, and this goes for so many different groups as well, but like, you know, for me it was like -- my appearance here is what sets me apart. And what opens people up to say those things. And like a random dude on the street can just do that? You know? Like I don't even know you. And so, that's part of it -- the recognition that like, Oh, for my entire life as I have this face, in the past and in the future, this is something that people will recognize as something that it makes you an outsider. You do not belong. You are a guest in this country, in their eyes, you know? So that's a big part of it for me.

Yang:
Yeah. I would add, it's not just guest, it's sort of ungrateful guest, right? Anytime we choose to complain or raise our voices, especially when we'd raise our voices, not just for our own communities, not just in the face of our own threats, but if we choose to stand in solidarity with other people who have encountered racism, there will always be people saying, if you don't like this country, if you don't like how we do things here, then leave. Right. And that conditional nature of our belonging, of our Americanness, is so deeply baked into what it means to be Asian American. You know, whether we're South Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, et cetera. Right. But I think that notion of what happens when you accept petite racism, right? The sort of petty offenses or, you know, the scorch marks of just simply living as a person of color in America, as an immigrant in America, as being okay. It's not just the thicker skin in the sense of like -- okay, now I can deal with it and laugh, and as an adult, ha ha, it's okay. It's something which gradually with that thickening blinds you, right? It makes you self-satisfied and content that as long as things stay beneath a certain threshold, like a background radiation, then we're okay. And we can ignore that racism is in the air we breathe, in the economy we belong to, In the social institutions we subscribe to, and yes, in ourselves.

And I, you know, I think especially now, there've been so many calls by Asian Americans, including from ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, right? To sort of speak out and push back against anti-Asian racism. Each of those calls is almost always followed up by people saying -- where were you, you know, as Asian-Americans, when these other things are happening, even within our community, right? Where were East Asians when South Asians were being targeted, right? Where were you when Muslims being targeted? Where were you when, you know, who were born here in America when first-generation immigrants were targeted, you know -- where you were you with us then or not? I think that thickening, That gradual blinding of ourselves, to the small things that occur to us, allow us to take comfort enough in our adjacency to acceptance, to assimilation, to acculturation, in ways that help us to forget the plights of others. And I think that's more dangerous than virtually anything that we ourselves end up encountering. So yeah, you know, I've had to check myself, I feel like, quite a lot over the course of even just these last couple of months, to not make the efforts that, you know, I, and others, Phil and I on our podcast, and elsewhere, so centered in the conversation that we are not reaching out and ensuring that the conversation is collaborative.

Singh:
All right. I appreciate that. And if you're just joining us, this is "Becoming Less Racist" and I'm here with Jeff Yang and Phil Yu, two prominent, I don't know, East Asian activists, superheroes, that I've learned a lot from. And I'm sure you talk about this -- we're talking today about East Asian and anti-Asian racism -- I'm hearing you talk a bit about the nature of racism that you each have experienced and that your community's experienced. And, you know, one of the interesting things that I've kind of been struggling with, is that when we talk about racism in this country, it's usually Black and white, right? And quite literally, we talk about anti-Blackness. We talk about whiteness and occasionally we talk about brown folks. But we don't usually talk about East Asians and they don't figure into the conversation and they don't really enter into our consciousness. And I'm wondering if you have any into why that is, right? What's going on there? How do East Asians fit in from your perspective, and also how does that make you feel, as people, as real-life people who deal with racism, whose families deal with racism, but end up being rendered invisible in a lot of these conversations?

Yu:
Well, I think, I mean, so much of that is why we do the work we do, right? It's just trying to get people to listen and for us to be visible in that, like -- we exist, you know what I mean? I think a historical view is like, there is a dehumanization of Asian-Americans when it comes to sort of our place in this country and this society. It's almost like we said before -- we're just kind of there, we're like... we're kind of just there, but we're not active participants in this citizenship, in this society. And that takes a couple of different forms. It's like just being plain ignored and invisible when it comes to discussions of race, but also when it comes to just everything else, all levels of society and participation. The other part that kind of, it manifests itself in a way that's like, where we Asian Americans accept that, and then just be like -- okay, well maybe we don't really have a place in this sort of mainstream dialogue about anything including race.

And so maybe we should just extricate ourselves and we can just get by, by not having these hard conversations or not even participating. And, I think that's a view that a lot of Asian Americans have that has been kind of disrupted, you know, in recent months, just because like -- we cannot ignore this, you know, the kinds of things that are happening right now. And so, I think that's a good thing. And for the conversation where people say, like, where have you been all this time? Like, where have you been? It's like, you know, like, it's okay to own up to them. Like, I, you know what, I wasn't there, but I'm here now. So let's do something like... You know, whether you are here to learn or take part or whatever, it's like... I think it's okay to be like, for everybody to be like, all right, let's just acknowledge, like I wasn't there. And some people were, but like... but I'm here now let's do this, you know?

Yang:
Yeah. I think that there has been an absolute change in the weather, when it comes to a lot of the conversations I'm having with fellow Asian Americans. There's been a gradual, and then more sudden politicization of Asian Americans that has occurred over, you know, really, even just the last decade. Right? But certainly over the last three months or so, there has been a sharp awakening to the fact that being Asian American, being comfortably Asian American, does not vaccinate you from the realities of a world that will not allow us to become comfortable. That will in fact, use us or target us, or otherwise exploit the very passivity or quietness that we've been stereotyped with. We have never been as quiet or as passive as people assume. There have been Asian-American people on the front lines of anti-racism, on the front lines of social justice work, on front lines of activism since the very beginning of our arrival in this country. I mean, you know, so many Asian Americans even came here, you know, the first immigrants to arrive here came with messages of -- that we're sort of focused on pushing back against injustices in their own countries and in America.

And those things are often lost in the history books. They're elided with so many other aspects of our culture, simply because we don't control those narratives. Right? At the same time, there is some truth, you know, that notion of being comfortably Asian American is something that is an artifact of our privilege. You know, I think especially those of us who have the fortune of being educated, coming from middle class and upper middle class backgrounds, of having investment in resources made in our futures by our parents even, right? Those are all things which have led left us cocooned a little bit in our own safety and our own self-satisfaction. So, that has contributed to us not being a big part of this racial conversation in many cases, certainly as a mass, as a community, right.

What I think has also clearly occurred is the perception, and maybe even the reality, that race in America, first and foremost, springs from the cardinal sin, the original sin, of slavery, of anti-Blackness in this country, right? You know, that there has been no other group in America, with the exception perhaps of Native Americans, who have faced the tooth of American racism in quite the same sharp and poisonous way, and our role in that conversation has frequently been to be sort of, you know, there's the pull of Black, the pull of white, and then there's everybody else -- and we're part of the everybody else. What is also true, however, is that we are the group that is most likely in a cyclic basis. You know, East Asians, I think Asian Americans in general, but East Asians in particular, who are, even as we're not part of that regular conversation of race in this country, we're brought forward on a cyclical basis to be used as a tool, right, to you disrupt that conversation.

We are the ones who become the sort of holiday sort of prize. You know, every 10 years, five years, eight years, however many years, every generation, America seems to go to war with an Asian country or have some sort of conflict or tension with an Asian country, and every single stereotype, every single bigoted framing for Asians comes back again, and is used for a new generation. And that recycling of racist imagery comes regularly enough that if we actually studied history, we'd see it, but separated enough so that people can basically grow up and come of age thinking that was all over before it blasts you in the face again. Right? So I think a lot of the work that Phil and I try to do, even with just the podcast and the writing we do and so on and so forth, is to remind people that this is not new, that this has happened before, that we, as Asian Americans, need to be prepared and conscious and alert and awake, right? Because if we allow ourselves to nod off, then we'll be, you know, we will succumb, much as prior waves of Asian Americans have, to the forces that necessarily try to uproot us, expatriate us, reduce us. Right? And that we can only do so if we're in allyship with others.

Singh:
If you're just joining us, this is "Becoming Less Racist." I'm here with Jeff Yang and Phil Yu, and we're talking about racism against East Asians today. And one of the things you're talking about here, Jeff is the power and the value of contextualizing what's happening today and using history as a way of really seeing what's happening right now. And I think a lot of people have been incredibly surprised by Donald Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric, by the racist terms, he's used -- Chinese virus, kung flu virus -- a lot of us haven't been surprised, but a lot of us have been surprised. And it would be, I think, really helpful if you could help us understand how his comments, like -- how do we make sense of those comments? How do we make sense of, you know, the Commander in Chief using racist terms like that against East Asians? What's going on there and how does it fit into a larger pattern?

Yu:
I think if you go along with what Jeff, I mean, just off of what Jeff just said, if you look back in history, like it all kind of makes sense. You know what I mean? You know, for painting -- if we need to find somewhere to look to blame for our troubles, whether it's economic anxiety or looking at starting wars abroad, you know, Asians are just like the next target, you know. This is the next target in this long history of like finding another to blame. Right. So, it's all wrapped up in this convenient package right now because of what's going on with the pandemic, with COVID-19. And so, you see Trump, and then, I mean, like Trump is a whole other... Like, he's a figure who is perfectly placed to do all this stuff. You know what I mean?

Not just being president, but like, being the person that he is. But that aside, like using, especially now -- we're in an election year, in the middle of a global pandemic. And we, you know, like -- the Trump administration always been at odds with blaming China for this and that and everything. It all comes together and like -- it's a perfect storm of like... You know, you think things are bad right now. As we head closer hurdle towards election day, the rhetoric will get stronger. It's either you see that like his followers and his... but also the people, his opponents, like they eat this stuff up. Like every time he says kung flu, it's a headline for three days, you know? And he recognized that as well. I think it's sort of, you know... You see him lobbing grenades in an effort to sort of, to just get towards election day, you know?

And honestly, the Biden campaign is also guilty of this as well. You know, the first big attack ad that they launched was also an effort to distance themselves from China as well. Like it's, China becomes the target in which we can all direct our anxiety and aggression and everything towards, right? And whoever can distance themselves and be the most aggressive towards China is the one that's gonna win this election. I mean, I think the path was laid, you know? And so that's all part of it. It becomes an easy thing to sort of... And of course, like the fallout is us Asian Americans here, East Asians, right, who, you know, for many people it's like, there's no distinction. We can just kind of, like -- you see that Asian face on the street, it's like -- I'm angry. Let's like, you know, let's direct that aggression towards somebody. And so you saw that the minute the pandemic hit the streets. Like the hate hit the streets as well.

Yang:
I think what's particularly pointed about this moment is, to I think your point earlier, Simran, how little surprise we really should have that this is occurring now, right? That the people who are shocked, who are evincing that somehow this is something they could not have possibly predicted, that the rise of Trump would lead to the kind of racial targeting that it has, those people are the ones who either through their active or passive collaboration has allowed this to happen. Right?, You know, to say that you're shocked now is to say that you've blinded yourself purposely that you've chosen to be ignorant of both history, Trump's history, but also American history, right? Nobody could have predicted that we'd be in the middle of a global pandemic at this very moment, but I think anybody could have predicted that global pandemics would arrive at some point in the future.

And in the past, when we've seen diseases come from abroad, especially from Asia, those diseases have been associated with humans. And the first way that people actually curtail, attempt to curtail, disease is by targeting people. They block migration, right? They restrict travel. They herd people into geographies and exclude those geographies. They start referring to those individuals as not humans, but as carriers. Right? And we saw that all the way back at the earlier days, earliest days of East Asian immigration, Chinese, specifically Chinese immigration, to America, in the late 1800s. One of the things that actually was utilized as an excuse for abuse, isolation and restriction of Chinese migration of America was an outbreak of bubonic plague that occurred in Chinatown. It was associated, you know, via many with slanders like -- Oh, it's because Chinese people are dirty.

It's because Chinese people eat rats and rats carry bubonic plague. It's because they are, you know, foul heathens who don't do any of the things that we civilize individuals associate with hygiene and sanitation and medicine, et cetera. Right? And, that sense of using disease, of pestilence, as a way to objectify Asians over time has continued all the way through to our more present day. If you remember SARS, if you remember bird flu, all these things were diseases that were, or that originated, or that really had their initial outbreak, in Asia, in China. And in each case, they led to circumstances where Chinese in America were then excluded, you know, shunned, attacked, stereotyped. So we've seen this all before. This is a bad rerun of a crappy movie, right? But even though we see it keep on coming back, we still claim to be surprised.

Well, when you have a racist ideologue, a demagogue like Trump rising to power, when you have him very clearly delineating the targets of his institutionalized racist attack as being first Muslims, second, Latinx people, third, Chinese, you know, fourth, Black people, but especially Black women -- you know, he had a row of dominoes. These were all lined up. He was knocking them down one after the other. And then when the pandemic came around, Trump had already established that he was targeting China in a trade war. Now, all of a sudden he had another excuse to personalize and racialize the attacks to make them not about foreign policy, but domestic policy. And that's always been the case for us as Asians. Anything that occurs abroad impacts us here. Anything that is seen as geopolitics becomes domestic policy and impacts us as people as individuals here in America.

Singh:
I want to leave time for your segment for your show, but I really need to ask one more question. And that is how does this, I guess, criminalization and dehumanization of East Asians, square with the model minority setup, right? So on the one hand, we look at East Asians as, dirty, disease-ridden, all those things that you described, and on the other hand, they are our shining examples of what it means to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and achieve the American dream. So how does it work that it's possible to have those two exist in tension with one another at the same time?

Yu:
Well, nobody said racism would make any sense. I mean, I think that the one.. I think that the model, it shows how tenuous the model minority myth really is, right? How out delicately false it is. And it's held up by people who do not have our interests in mind. So I mean, you know, I think anybody who strives towards or believes that model minority myth and strives for it has come into this false sense of identity because of it.
I think you just look at what's happening right now, the last three months in this country. And you see this wave of anti-Asian violence, like -- none of that really matters, this bootstrap mentality that if Asians are Asians can just work hard, we can achieve this dream, and that we are somehow above this, you know, this conflict, you know, if we just achieve. I think all that goes out the window easily, when you look at everything that's been happening, it's like -- you know what, in the end you can be, you can be the biggest achiever all you want. You can achieve all these things. But in the end, you're just this guy with this face who brought this disease to our country. And nobody really cares. I mean, like, I always think about the family that was attacked at like a Sam's Club in Texas, by this guy with knife. This kid, he was a toddler and he got, you know, he got cut in the face. Horrific. I'm like, that kid didn't do anything. That kid didn't bring this disease here that, you know. That guy didn't take anybody's jobs or that guy's not achieving beyond anybody. He was just probably in the shopping cart. And you're like, how's this guy, this kid, to blame? And I always, my heart always comes back to that. And it tears me up because, it just shows like the model minority myth, this striving towards whatever it's... Nobody really believes it. Yeah.

Yang:
Yeah. You know, that point that racism doesn't have to make sense, right? Racists are perfectly capable of paradox, of being able to be racist publicly to people who they don't know while being married to, or parents of, or friends with, grandparents of those same types of people, within their own families. You know, racism embraces contradiction because it does not require logic. It simply requires ignorance or hate or a willing desire to align oneself to the realities of the impact of racial and other kinds of intolerance and bigotry. But I would also say that, you know -- so here's where we get a little philosophical, right? There's like almost like a quantum theory of racism, where, you know, we think of racism as a particle, as an object or an idea that we can locate, you know, and then if what we can do is somehow to capture and isolate that particle, it is going to be removed from our systems, that we will no longer have, again, that racist bone in our bodies, that all these racists say they don't have, currently.

But the reality is that racism is a wave, right? Racism isn't just a particle. It's something that has both a frequency and amplitude, that reverberates across time and through space. And maybe the source of this sort of contradiction, the contradiction of racism, is this notion that racism has a sort of like quantum effect. Right? And one of the things we can, I think, easily measure is the degree to which racism reverberates between these poles of, you know, elevating, celebrating, sort of this philic pole, right? Where people are excessively highlighting what might be seen as positive features, you know, which isn't just the model minority myth. It's also things like hyper-sexualization. It's also things like erasure of the humanity that's inherent in the hard work we do simply to be ourselves, right? But that pole reaches a peak and then something happens, usually something external, and all of a sudden you slide off that peak and into the trough of the phobic, right? From the philic to the phobic. And everything that was seen as positive before is erased to replace with something horrific and monstrous and dehumanized in the other direction. I think that occurs for Asian Americans very explicitly. I think for most races, the most marginalized groups, we see a similar kind of wave formulation. And I think that if you were to look through history, even our own personal histories, but especially the history of our culture, you'll see that wave pattern just emanating throughout. So that's my decidedly ascientific --

Yu:
I'm not a science guy, Jeff. I only kind of followed you.

Yang:
[Laughs] Pseudoscientific explication of what that means, but, you know, to me it's fairly convincing, 'cause it really does feel there is a cycle to this and the cycle constantly goes back and forth between those two poles. And at either end of the pole, we suffer. But at one end we suffer as objects of fascination and desire or, you know, on the other objects of fear and hatred.

Singh:
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you both for all those insights. And I'm happy to kind of sit back towards you. I know we're running a little long here, but I know you have a segment you want to push for your show too. So let's go ahead and do that.

Yu:
Yeah. So this is a joint between "Becoming Less Racist" and "They Call Us Bruce." So, we wanted to try a hand at our signature segment of "They Call Us Bruce," we call it the Good, the Bad and the WTF. Jeff, you want to lay down the rules of engagement?

Yang:
Yeah, that's the tradition, I guess. Let me explain how this game was played. This is, as Phil mentioned, our signature segment, it is the thing that we do with each of our episodes with our guests, if we have a guest. And in this case, we have a guest who is also a host -- that is you, Simran. What we do is we take a topic and we serve it up three ways, right? We look at it in a round table format, from the dimensions of the good -- the thing that we individually want to celebrate about that thing, we feel is positive, joyful, exhilarating and inspirational -- then the bad -- the thing that we are upset, horrified, irritated, annoyed by aghast at about that subject, or even just the things that we've encountered along the way around that subject that are negative -- and then finally the WTF. Now the WTF is the hardest some ways, but also most interesting because it's not necessarily good or bad. It's the thing we're still puzzling over. It's a thing that we still have to kind of tilt our head at and say -- Hmm, about that particular topic. And for this special episode, we thought that we would do the good, the bad and the WTF of "Becoming Less Racist." So, with that, we always put our guests on the spot. And now that we've switched roles here, Simran, we'll start with you to talk about the good of becoming less racist, and you can interpret these things any way you want. This is really more of like a trigger for conversation or anything else. It could be personal, it could be broad and abstract. But we'll kick it to you and then we'll go around in a circle and then we'll take on the next slice of that topic.

Singh:
Cool. Sure. So, "Becoming Less Racist," the good. I think part of the premise of "Becoming Less Racist" is to understand that racism is about ideas and ideas that are deeply entrenched in all of us. And so I think the challenge that we have as a society, and individually too, right, is -- being called a racist is about the worst thing anyone can call you. And so we have these collective defenses that come up the moment that term comes up. And now that we're starting to understand racism as something that's systemic, and like you said earlier, Jeff, as something in the air that we breathe, I think we're starting to think about it a little differently. We're starting understand that we all carry racist ideas. And this is not something we need to be ashamed of because it's something that we've been taught, something that's been socialized over time. And so "Becoming Less Racist" -- I think that the good there, is this acceptance, a collective acceptance, of racism and white supremacy, that's been grown within us, and once we can acknowledge that, then we can actually start dealing with it. So I think to me, at least that's kind of the goodness that comes out of this approach.

Yang:
Yeah, I'll go next. And then Phil, I'll kick it to you for the third leg of this, because I really like what you said there Simran, and I'm actually going to highlight the word "becoming," right, in the idea of "Becoming Less Racist," -- that this is a process, that it's often an endless process. You can't stop breathing, right? But we can do is breathe cleaner air, and you can do things to clear the air around you. As long as we actually think of the process of pushing back against both internalized and external racism, as long as we don't become satisfied with what we've done, as long as we don't claim that we are free of those racist bones, I think that the notion of becoming less racist is critical in so many approaches to the way we live our lives, and the way we view society, the way we view our culture. It's actually in some ways more challenging to deal with those who are, I think, good in their intentions, but in being good, in being well-intentioned refuse to accept and embrace their participation in a much larger context of institutionalized racism than it is to simply push back against verbalized and overt and obvious racism that just blasts you in the face. And the notion of "Becoming Less Racist" -- less racist, especially, not not racist, right? -- is an important way to push back against that idea. Phil, I'll turn it over to you.

Yu:
Ah, the good of "Becoming Less Racist." I'm going to highlight the actual real world manifestations of what this is starting to look like. And I'm thinking about like things like actual monuments to racism, like literally being toppled, you know, in ways that like -- and it's not just that, but all these things that we thought were, would never happen, that we would never see, like, and conversations that we never thought we'd see from people that, you know, were unheard of, like suddenly becoming real, you know. It's everything from the Simpson saying the Apu will no longer be voiced by a white guy, and other animation roles, like things like that, to the actual toppling of racist monuments, like things that people held onto for a long time for the sake of tradition. And then you're like, you know what? It doesn't have to be that way. And, this conversation can start here. A lot of them are just things that like nobody ever really imagined it was worthwhile or thought it was just too entrenched to happen, but like it has to start somewhere. So that's, I think that's pretty cool. That's my good.

Yang:
That's very well said. I mean, you know, people, I think, especially in the notion of toppling monuments, you have people who were actually willing to die and kill for statues that stand for dead losers and traders, you know? And that just goes to show how important it is for us to interrogate this aspect of our culture. Even as we look to address things like state violence against Black people, and, you know, institutionalized racism in immigration and things like that, these are just important. So that is the good and Phil, I'm going to kick it back to you to talk about the bad of becoming less racist.

Yu:
I also know we're probably short on time, so I'm going to keep it quick, but the bad of becoming less racist, I think it's the work of trying to convince someone that something is actually racist. I feel like so much energy is expended on just trying to convince people like, yes, what happened to me or this thing, this is racist. And you can spend so much time arguing about that as opposed to the solutions you're like, I'm just trying to convince people that this is wrong, you know? And that is an energy sucker in a big way. So, that's hard work.

Yang:
No one said it was gonna be easy. Alright, Simran, the bad of becoming less racist. And in that actually, maybe it may not be your answer, but I am kind of curious about how you chose that title as the title of the podcast.

Singh:
Yeah. I'm happy to speak to that. And I think the bad, as it relates to the title of the show itself, is that it implies that the bar is low. In a sense, like, I'm good with that, right? Like if everyone was just a little less racist, life would be a lot better for a lot of us. So, it works in a sense. But I think the goal, and this is what, you know, we opened the show with, is the goal is not just to be less racist, it's to eventually become anti-racist. And so, yeah, the fear of this title in my heart is, or the bad of the title in my heart, is that people might take, the header and just, be like, okay, that's what I need to do. The reason that we ended up choosing the title goes back to what you were saying, Jeff, which is, I really think, I really believe that this has to be a process and we have to leave space for all of us to undergo this. And so, I think so many of our conversations around racism are overly politicized and overly polarized to the point where it leaves no space for all of us to actually be vulnerable and grapple with these things that have been grown inside of us. And so I wanted to indicate for people that this is a space where we'll do that together. And I try and be honest about my own complicit within racism as I've experienced it. You know, not just as somebody who's racialized, but also someone who has racist ideas in his own head. And I think for me, I don't think we can get much further -- I don't think we can go very far, I should say -- we can't go very far until we start doing this together. And so that's where the title really comes from.

Yang:
I appreciate that. Yeah. You know, I think that what you raised as the challenge inherent in the phrase "Becoming Less Racist" -- the sort of sense that less is enough, as opposed to keeping on making less, even less -- that is a problem that we're actually seeing literally right now, lots of people saying -- we've become less racist. That should be good enough for anybody. Right? You know, we have talked toppled four statues. Why should we do 20? You know, we have made it a little harder for police to kill Black people, and we've captured like five people who have done so, and arrested them. That should be good enough for anybody. I think that right now we are facing this backlash to this initial wave of backlash against our racist history and our institutionalized racist present, right, that is incredibly problematic and toxic. People saying -- we've done enough. Time for us to actually just sit back and assess. Slow it down a little bit, you know -- as if there's going to be another moment coming soon in which these things can be done.

I think, you know, there's a sense in which the crisis has manifested, the crisis of Trump, the crisis of the pandemic, the crisis of our economy, in such a way that we have a singular opportunity to do a lot of things now. And I know that there are voices out there saying that we are moving too fast and breaking things, and that there is, perhaps, an excessive reaction in some cases. But the reality is we have had hundreds of years of baking these things into the clay of our nation, the bricks that were laid into our nation, bricks that were laid by people who were enslaved, right, who were brought here by people who were dragged here as immigrants and, you know, in the case of East Asians, right, and offered a certain opportunity that they did not receive for decades later, baked into the clay of America, by people who, as soon as they got here -- and talking here about white immigrants, in many cases, embrace the myth of American whiteness as the center of their being. It's going to take a lot of breaking for us to actually make a society that isn't resting on that foundation. And while nobody, you know, thinks this is not going to be hard and painful, nobody should be thinking that it should be over this quickly.

All right, sorry. It should be faster in this last round. I will take the first stab at the WTF of becoming less racist. I'll kick it to Phil and then Simran, we'll ask you to close things off. You know, for me, the WTF of becoming less racist, frankly, is as with most of these things, the fact that we actually have to assert that it's necessary, you know -- the fact that a lot of times, when you tell people who don't think of themselves as racist, that it is a job for us to become less racist, they will recoil. And to your point earlier, Simran, so many people are far angrier at being called racist than actually at racism, right? That's the thing which would boggles me every single time. Phil, let me kick it to you. What is the WTF of becoming less racist?

Yu:
Okay. So mine is this prevailing belief that I've encountered that, if we just wait it out, racism will get better over time. Like, surely we're in a better place than we were 10, 20, 30 years ago, and so if we just leave it alone, the old racists will die off and that old way will be gone and everything will be okay. And, that is just simply like, just not true. Like, you know, there is a renewal of racism that happens in every generation and this takes hard maintenance and it just takes a lot of work and obviously like, it takes some toppling of terrible shit, you know? And so, it's this lazy view of antiracist work, right? Like -- just leave it alone and things, I don't know, somehow will miraculously get better. And I see this way too much. I see it a lot. And I think it's actually like super destructive and very harmful for anybody who's trying to get anything done.

Yang:
Dude, people who play that are treating racism exactly as they are treating corona. Right? It'll just go away. Just forget math or social distancing. We'll just like walk out there, and tomorrow it'll just disappear. Like Trump says. Anyway, all right. Simran, take it away for the final leg of our journey.

Singh:
Yeah, I could go a bunch of different directions with this, but the one that I've been thinking about quite a bit the last few days is one that's come up fairly often. And that's the idea of American exceptionalism. This feeling of cultural supremacy that's instilled in us from a young age, this idea that we are far more advanced than any other civilization in history or any other country in the world, and that we have the right and the obligation to go help civilize other people without dealing with all this mess in our own backyards. And then, you know, COVID hits us and we see how fragile our infrastructure is.

You know, police brutality hits the news and, you know, we start shedding light on how racist we are as a society. And then all of a sudden you were -- like, what are we doing? Like who are we to go around judging other people? And so, yeah, I mean, the very idea of supremacy itself is foreign to me. Like I just can't get it personally, but at the moment, the particular form of cultural nationalistic supremacy it's -- yeah, it makes no sense, but it's still there. Right. It's still a real thing. So gotta figure out how to deal with that.

Yang:
Well, thank you very, very much, Simran, both for having us on and for doing this with us and, Phil I'll give it to you to sign off as we always do.

Yu:
Am I saying it off on "They Call Us Bruce" style? I was going to give it back to Simran to... 'cause this is your house, man.

Yang:
Oh, actually, that's fair. How would...

Singh:
Let's do both. I mean, my sign off is just to thank you both. I, you know, again -- I've been following you all for quite some time and I've learned a ton from you and I know you don't have to continue educating us, but you do. And so I'm grateful, I'm grateful for that. And just for those who are viewing, a note to say that on Thursday -- sorry, Friday at 1:00 PM, we'll be speaking on Islamophobia and racism with Linda Sarsour. So, like today and like every day, we'll try and look at how racism affects us in this country, and learn about what we can do about it. So, thank you all. Again, Phil, Jeff, thank you. Really, really appreciate your time.

Yu:
Thank you. I just want to tell everybody, remind everybody, that they can check us out at "They Call Us Bruce" on social media and, just, I don't know, Google "They Call Us Bruce" and you can find us and listen to our podcasts. We've made it to episode 100, past 100, now.

Singh:
Amazing. And follow Phil at @AngryAsianMan on social media and Jeff Yang is @OriginalSpin. So they got good stuff for us online if you, follow them. So thank you. Thank you both. Really appreciate it.

Yu:
Thanks a lot.

Singh:
All right. Take care.

Yang:
Peace.

Yu:
Peace.