The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience

October 22, 2012

photo courtesy of author


On September 24, NPR show Radiolab aired a 25-minute segment on Yellow Rain. In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare.

Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn't been resolved. In its podcast, Radiolab set out to find the "fact of the matter." Yet its relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, racist handling of the issue has since been criticized in several places, including Hyphen.

When Hyphen's R.J. Lozada reached out to Kao Kalia Yang, she graciously agreed to share her side of the story for the first time. What follows are her words, and those of her uncle.


I was pregnant. 

In early spring, a dear friend of mine,
noted Hmong scholar and historian Paul Hillmer, contacted me to see if I knew anyone
who would be willing to speak to Radiolab, an NPR show with 1.8 million
listeners worldwide. On April 26, 2012, I
received an email from Pat Walters, a producer at Radiolab, saying the show was
looking for the Hmong perspective on Yellow Rain for a podcast. Pat wrote, “I’d love to speak with your
uncle. And no, I don’t have a single specific question; I’d be delighted to hear
him speak at length.” There were two New Yorker stories on Yellow Rain, and
neither of them contained a Hmong voice, so Radiolab wanted to do better, to
include Hmong experience. This seemed
like an important opportunity to give the adults in my life a voice to share
stories of what happened to them after the Americans left the jungles of Laos
in 1975. I asked Uncle Eng to see if he
would be interested. He was. I agreed to serve as interpreter. Before the date of the interview with Pat and
Robert Krulwich, one of the show’s main hosts, I wrote Pat to ensure that the
Radiolab team would respect my uncle’s story, his perspective, and the Hmong
experience. I asked for questions. Pat submitted questions about Yellow Rain.

On the date of
the interview, Wednesday May 16, 2012, at 10 in the morning,
Marisa Helms (a Minnesota-based sound producer sent by Radiolab), my husband,
and I met with Uncle Eng’s family at their house in Brooklyn Center. In customary Hmong tradition, my uncle had
laid out a feast of fruits and fruit drinks from the local Asian grocery
store. He had risen early, went through
old notebooks where he’d documented in Lao, Thai, Hmong, and a smattering of
French and English, recollections of Hmong history, gathered thoughts, and
written down facts of the time. The
phone lines were connected to WNYC studios.

Pat and Robert introduced themselves and asked
us for our introductions. The questions
began. They wanted to know where my
uncle was during the war, what happened after the Americans left, why the Hmong
ran into the jungles, what happened in the jungles, what was his experience of
Yellow Rain. Uncle Eng responded to each
question. The questions took a
turn. The interview became an
interrogation. A Harvard scientist said
the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee

My uncle explained Hmong
knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for
centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they
happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were
heavy concentrations of Hmong.  Robert
grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder
fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said
that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and
night. Hmong people did not wait around
to look up as bombs fell. We came out in
the aftermath to survey the damage. He
said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow
that could kill people -- the likes of which bee poop has never done.”

uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for
the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to
the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had
happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the
result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its
natural conditions. Robert crossed the
line. He said that what my uncle was
saying was “hearsay.” 

I had been trying valiantly to interpret
everything my uncle was saying, carry meaning across the chasm of English and
Hmong, but I could no longer listen to Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s
experience. After two hours, I cried,

"My uncle says for the last twenty years
he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong
people. He agreed to do this interview
because you were interested. What
happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the
last twenty years. He agreed because you
were interested. That the story would be
heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that
the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know
has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same
reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were
interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told. Everybody knows that chemical warfare was
being used. How do you create bombs if
not with chemicals? We can play the
semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We
have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done.”

Before we hung up the phone, I asked for
copies of the full interview. Robert
told me that I would need a court order. I offered resources I have on Yellow Rain, news articles and medical
texts that a doctor from Columbia University had sent my way, resources that
would offer Radiolab a fuller perspective of the situation in Laos and the
conditions of the Hmong exposed to the chemicals. My uncle gave Marisa a copy of a DVD he had
recorded of a Hmong woman named Pa Ma, speaking of her experiences in the
jungles of Laos after the Americans left, so that the Radiolab team would understand
the fullness of what happened to the Hmong.
After we hung up the phone, there was silence from the Radiolab

On May 18, I emailed Pat:

"I can't say that the experience of the interview was
pleasant, but it is over now. I've had a day and some hours into the night to
think about the content of the interview. My heart hurts for what transpired.
Our dead will not rise into life. The bombs fell. The yellow powder covered the
leaves and the grass, and the people suffered and died. We can only speak to
what we experienced, what we saw.” I
followed up on my offer of resources, “I said that I had old newspaper
clippings that a doctor from Columbia sent me. I do not want it aired that I
offered material I did not follow up on. If you want them, let me know. I will
make photocopies and send. If you've no time to look through them before the
completion of your show, then please also let me know so I don't waste more
heart in the effort."

May 21, Pat wrote back, “I’m editing our piece now and I will
certainly send it to you when it’s finished. Unfortunately, I don’t think time
will allow me to review the articles you mentioned.” He ended the email with a request for me to
listen to an attached song to identify whether it was Hmong or not.

On August 3, 2012, my husband
and I went in for our first ultrasound. Our baby was 19 weeks old.  The
black screen flickered to life. I saw a
baby huddled in a ball, feet planted on either side, face turned away. The room was very silent. I prodded my baby to move. I thought the volume hadn’t been turned
on. The technician was quiet. She did her measurements. She left the room. The monitor was on. I tapped my belly, asked my baby to move, so
I could see if it was a boy or a girl. Two doctors came into the room. The younger one held onto my feet. The older one said, “I’m sorry to tell you. Your baby is dead.” On August 4, after 26 hours of
induced labor, listening to the cries of mothers in pain and then the cries of
babies being born, I gave birth to a little boy, six inches long, head swollen
with liquid, eyes closed, and his mouth open like a little bird.

On August 6 my cell phone
rang. It was Pat, and he wanted me to
call in to an automated line at Radiolab reading the credits for the segment in
Hmong. I told him I had just lost my
baby. I told him I didn’t want to. He said, “If you feel better, you can call
in.” I didn’t feel better.

On September 24, 2012, Radiolab aired
their Yellow Rain segment in an episode titled “The Fact of the Matter.” Everybody in the show had a name, a
profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong
guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that
I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the
Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent. In the interview, the Hmong knowledge of bees
or the mountains of Laos were completely edited out. 

The aired story goes something like
this: Hmong people say they were exposed
to Yellow Rain, one Harvard scientist and ex-CIA American man believe that’s
hogwash; Ronald Reagan used Yellow Rain and Hmong testimony to blame the
Soviets for chemical warfare and thus justified America's own production of chemical
warfare. Uncle Eng and I were featured
as the Hmong people who were unwilling to accept the “Truth.” My cry at the end was interpreted by Robert
as an effort to “monopolize” the story. They leave a moment of silence.
Then the team talks about how we may have shown them how war causes
pain, how Reagan’s justification for chemical warfare was a hugely important
issue to the world -- if not for “the woman” -- because clearly she doesn’t care. There was no acknowledgement that Agent
Orange and other chemicals had long been produced by the US government and used
in Southeast Asia. The team left no room
for science that questioned their own aims. Instead, they chose to end the show with hushed laughter. 

The day after the show aired, critical feedback
began streaming in on the Radiolab website. People from around the world began questioning the segment, particularly
Robert’s interrogation of a man who survived a genocidal regime. My cry had awakened something that was
“painful,” and made people “uncomfortable.” Pat wrote me to ask me to write a public response to the show so
Radiolab could publish it in the wake of the critical response and the concern
of its audience. I wrote one.  My response was,

There is a great imbalance
of power at play. From the get-go you got to ask the questions. I sent an email
inquiring about the direction the interview would go, where you were headed -- expressing
to you my concern about the treatment of my uncle and the respect with which
his story deserves. You never responded to the email. I have it and I can
forward it to you if you'd like. During the course of the interview, my uncle
spent a long time explaining Hmong knowledge of bees in the mountains of Laos,
not the hills of Thailand, but the mountains of Laos. You all edited it out.
Robert Krulwich has the gall to say that I "monopolize" -- he who
gets to ask the questions, has control over editing, and in the end: the final
word. Only an imperialist white man can say that to a woman of color and call
it objectivity or science. I am not lost on the fact that I am the only female
voice in that story, and in the end, that it is my uncle and I who you
all laugh on.

Pat did not publish my response. 

Instead, on September 26, Jad Abumrad,
the other main host of Radiolab, wrote a public letter offering more “context”
to the Yellow Rain segment. There was no
mention of the fact that they did not take up my offer to look at additional
resources that would complicate their assumptions. My friend Paul Hillmer had offered academic
research by another Ivy-league scientist that called into question the Harvard
professor’s conclusions, which the team had refused to look at. Jad wrote about journalism and integrity and
how Radiolab stands by Robert’s “robust” approach to Truth, the “science” of
the matter. 

Radiolab went into the original podcast
and altered it. In Jad’s words, he “inserted a line
in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.” 

Many Radiolab listeners used the Jad
response as a platform to dialogue and critique the show further. 

On September 30, Robert wrote a
response to address concerns about the Yellow Rain segment. He wrote, "My
intent is to question, listen, and explore.” He apologized for the “harshness” of his tone. He stated,

In this segment, our subject was
President Reagan's 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had
manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos --
and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the
President was wrong, that the so-called ‘weapons’ were not weapons at all, but
bees relieving themselves in the forest. While there had been previous accounts of this
controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that
forest what happened, what they'd seen. That's why we wanted to speak with Mr.
Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

did not mention the research they did not look at. He did not mention the Hmong knowledge of
bees. He did not mention the racism at
work, the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge, or the
fact that he is a white man in power calling from the safety of Time, his
class, and popular position -- to brand the Hmong experience of chemical warfare
one founded on ignorance. 

tides of audience response shifted. Whereas the majority of listeners were “uncomfortable” with what
transpired, and had called fervently for apologies to be issued to Uncle Eng
and the Hmong community, some of them were beginning to say, “Robert is a
journalist in search of truth.” Others
wrote, “At least the Hmong story was heard.” Few questioned the fullness of what had transpired; many took the
“research” of Radiolab to be thorough and comprehensive, despite the fact that
sound research by respected scholars and scientists believing that Yellow Rain
was a chemical agent used against the Hmong was not discussed or
investigated. Dr. C.J. Mirocha, the
scientist who conducted the first tests on Yellow Rain samples and found
toxins, and whose work has never been scientifically refuted, was not interviewed. The work of researchers who argued against
Meselson’s bee dung theory was also never mentioned.

On October 3, my
husband and I had a spirit releasing ceremony for Baby Jules. The day was cold. The wind bit hard. The ground was dry without the autumn
rains. We buried the memory box from the
hospital beneath a tall tree, much older than us, an old tree on a small island. We wrote letters to Baby Jules on pink
balloons and released them into the sky. I wrote, “Baby Jules, there is no need to be scared. You have been so brave already.”

On October 7, I
received an email from Dean Cappello, the Chief Content Officer at WNYC,
notifying me that Radiolab had once more “amended” the Yellow Rain podcast so that Robert could apologize at the end, specifically to Uncle Eng for
the harshness of his tone and to me for saying that I was trying to
“monopolize” the conversation. I
listened to the doctored version. In
addition to Robert’s apologies -- which completely failed to acknowledge the
dismissal of our voices and the racism that transpired/s -- Radiolab had simply
re-contextualized their position, taken out the laughter at the end, and
“cleaned” away incriminating evidence. 

On October 8, I wrote Mr.
Cappello back:

Dear Mr. Cappello,

Thank you for writing me directly. I
appreciate the gesture. When I lived in New York for several years, I became a
fan of your radio station, and grew to believe in the work you all do there in
furthering understanding.

I just listened to the amended
podcast this morning. I am struck by how many times a podcast on truth can (be)
doctored, to protect itself. I don't know how much you are aware of in regards
to this matter, but I believe there are certain things you should know very
directly from me:

My uncle and I were contacted by
Radiolab because they said they wanted to know the Hmong experience of Yellow
Rain. Ronald Reagan and American politics were not at all mentioned in any of
the correspondences between me and Radiolab. For the show to say that we were
not "ambushed" and that they have been completely honest with us from
the beginning is a falsehood.

Before the interview, I wrote Pat
specifically to tell him that I wanted to make sure Radiolab would respect what
my uncle had to share about the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain.

During the course of the entire,
unedited interview -- which I really hope that you have listened to -- Pat and
Robert dismissed my uncle's experiences again and again for two hours, thus in
the edited version: you hear me cry. Robert argues this was because my uncle
and I got angry and couldn't buy the "truth" of what the scientists
were saying, but that is not what happened.

During the interview, I told Pat and
Robert that I had additional resources about what happened in Laos, that
complicate the "bee crap" theory, and that I would be happy to share
them. After the interview, despite the fact that it left us feeling horribly, I
honored my words and wrote Pat offering the additional resources. Pat wrote
back saying that Radiolab didn't have enough time.

When the show aired, I was
distraught to hear all that had been edited out: particularly, my uncle's deep
knowledge of bees and the mountains of Laos, as well as his official role as
documenter for the Thai government on with the Hmong during this time. As well,
I was shocked to hear my uncle reduced to "Hmong guy" and me to
"his niece" while everyone else on the show was introduced with their
titles and official affiliations. This, amongst other aspects of this show,
showed a side of Radiolab and a clear privileging of Western knowledge that was
far from the truth.

After the show aired, as criticism
appeared on their site, Pat wrote me asking me for a public statement of how I
received the show. I did so and he refused to publish it, instead Jad's further
"contextualization" was put up. Not only was this disrespectful but
it was a complete dismissal of my voice on the matter. *I reiterate what I
wrote to Pat, only a white man can say a woman of color is trying to
"monopolize" a conversation he has full power of in the asking of
questions, the editing, and the contextualizing and dares to call it
"objectivity" and science.

My uncle and I agreed to an
interview on the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. We spoke honestly and
authentically from where we were positioned. We did not try to convince anybody
of what we lived through, merely, we wanted to share it. Our treatment by
Radiolab has been humiliating and hurtful not only during the interview, the
editing process, and the airing of the original podcast, but in the continued
public letters by Jad and Robert to their audience, and revisions to the
original segment -- that continue to dismiss the validity of our voices and
perspectives, and in fact, silences them.

While I will not presume to know the
intentions of the hosts, I am responding to you very directly about what
transpired, and what they continue to do. While I respect the work of
journalism, I believe that journalistic integrity was lost in the ways Radiolab
handled my uncle and the Hmong story.

I appreciate what you have to say
about the role of journalism and the fact that many of your colleagues are now
interested in pursuing more of the Hmong story. I have a proposition for you:
that one of your colleagues do a story on the Hmong experience of what happened
in Laos after the Americans left, a story that will respect the Hmong voices,
and redeem all of our faith in good journalism that transcends cultures and
revives history so that our shared realities become more whole. I am happy to
help in any way I can. I cannot afford to give in to cynicism.

For Radiolab specifically, my uncle
has put together a small message in English for the many listeners who have
responded to him compassionately and kindly
. I want Radiolab to air his message
to their audiences, so that his voice can be heard and his message of love and
human rights can be delivered. It is short, and it is a clear reflection of
where he is positioned in all of he has said to me throughout this
whole travesty, "Me Naib, bullets didn't kill me, so how can words uttered
on airwaves I cannot see hurt me?" -- even as he suffers before me.

I await your response to this email.

There has yet to be a response.

I am no longer pregnant. I am no longer scared. I, like my baby, have been so brave already.


Introduction by Hyphen columnist Kirti Kamboj

[10/30/2012 UPDATE: Please join us at 18 Million Rising, to tell NPR that what happened is unacceptable, and Radiolab's dismissal of the Hmong experience must be addressed.]




Dear Ms. Yang, First, I want to extend to you and your family my heart for the losses- of your child, of your uncle's dignity at the hands of these journalists who cared nothing but to assert their predetermined beliefs, and to those died to yellow rain and the US use of chemical warfare. Thank you for writing this very moving, very powerful piece and for your courage to tell the story of your experience with what we all tend to believe as research and writing with integrity and honesty. Your written response has (probably unintentionally) brought shame to these guys who took every opportunity to listen and approach a subject with real guts and honesty and blew it.
Down with Radiolab! Keep Journalism true! Get rid of the numbskulls that abuse this!
Thank you for sharing your story. I have never been a "fan" of Radiolab, and don't listen. However, what you are describing is...well, I'm at a loss for words. My family is mostly Chinese, and we know the discounting of non-American mainstream views and history. Your experience, though, goes so far beyond anything that I can remember in ours. Your story moved me deeply, and I hope will move others to examine basic assumptions. You have my best wishes and hopes for your aspirations and the future.
I have been thinking about privilege a lot these past few years. I am a white US man born to academic parents. Not "rich" by US standards, but really so far toward the front of the 7 billion human line as to make no important difference. From were I stand in that line it seems to stretch ahead and behind farther than I can see. Stories like yours lend me perspective I would otherwise be unaware even that I lack. I try, and frequently fail, to keep my immense privilege in mind as I act in the world. Thank you for helping me with your story.
Thank you to Hyphen for publishing this and to Kao Kalia Yang for writing this. When I heard the podcast of this episode I was ashamed at hor Robert handled the interview. My heart ached for how the history of imperialism was continued through a show that I have grown to like over the last year. I didn't take action though, I didn't write to the show an express my disappointment, but I will now.
I am very happy that you shared your story here. There is (obviously) real power and knowledge in first hand experience, and it was (obviously) ignored by the interviewers. I am American, and I live in Thailand. As a westerner in Southeast Asia, I see so many amazing things come from "indigenous knowledge," but also how it is overshadowed by "western education." Here, when I talk with foreigners, or when I go home, I always hear condescending or skeptical tones when talking about different things about Thailand and Laos, like the food culture, agriculture, cloth making, anything. There is great skill in indigenous knowledge, that I honestly wish people paid more attention to. I think people would really respect it if they just opened their eyes and ears to stories from people. I wish people were more receptive to others stories too, instead of trying to weave it into their own preconceived notions. I really want to learn more about what happened after the Americans left from the people it affected, not outsiders with their own theories. It's one thing to study something from data and test results, it's a completely different thing to experience it. Thank you for sharing.
Dear Ms. Yang, I'm so sorry for the loss of your little one, Jules. I pray the universe will comfort you and your family. I also want you to know I am very moved by your story and that of your uncle's. More than just hearing your voices I believe you. I'm sorry for the way that you and your uncle were treated. It is shameful. But it is their shame and they will live with it when they go to lie down in the dark and sleep doesn't find them. Sending much peace to you and your family. Robin Mavis
What's keeping you from using this platform you've recently received to provide the research that the radiolab team didn't pay any mind to?
Ms. Yang, If you would like to learn more about "agent orange" or "yellow rain," please contact me. I can help you direct to some elders who may be able to confirm your uncle's story. And as a child growing up in refugee camp, I can recall the experience of hearing stories about the yellow rain.

Hi! Unless you leave your email or other contact info in the body of the comment, there's no way for anyone to contact you, since the emails entered in the email field are kept private. (The comment form can be quite confusing on this point!)

So please comment again, and with your email address in the main comment field as well as the email field, so that Ms. Yang has a way of reaching you.



I am deeply shocked and saddened at your story! I used to enjoy Radiolab, but now will be less enthusiastic and listen more critically - if I listen at all! I am so sorry for the loss of your child, the heartless way you and your uncle were treated, and for the horrible ordeal the Hmong people had to endure. I taught English to Hmong and other refugees from the region; one of the first things they wanted to tell me as soon as they had enough language was their experiences during and after the war. I always thought the bee story was ridiculous, and I hope you, your uncle, and the Hmong people now get a chance to be heard! Thank you for sharing your journey.
Using the emotional contour of your pregnancy and the loss of your child as the backdrop to this undermines your attempt make a convincing argument. You're clearly using the sympathy induced by the loss of your child to manipulate the reader. You asking that the show acknowledge their "racism" is also ridiculous, unrealistic, and unsubstantiated in the first place.

As Ms. Yang has shown, she can (quite eloquently) speak for herself. But given how common this attack seems to have become, and that she might be understandably put out about constantly having to defend her right to speak of her experiences -- I'd suggest that you consider just why you believe her doing such a thing is manipulating the audience, how this relates to what Krulwich said in the interview about her trying to monopolize the story of yellow rain (and what a terrible, utterly catastrophic thing it was for her to attempt to do this), the way that women throughout history have regularly been dismissed as prone to overblown frenzies and hysterics when faced with hard reality (always valuing emotion over reason, with never a logical, scientific thought in our heads), and just what it is that makes you an authority on what racism is?

I was a long time listener until this story aired. I was shocked at Krulwich. Sickened. Now, I read about it on metafilter ( and see Krulwich's "apology" and your article above. I feel for you, Ms. Yang, and your uncle. There is no reason to listen to a show that disregards truth like this. I've unsubscribed to their podcast and hope everyone else does, too.
There is no such thing as "proof" because ANYTHING can be "dis-"proven, no matter the subject at hand, even with topics such as gravity. Based on what was written, I even feel that these same "researchers" failed to see that the authenticity of an event is because there are first hand accounts of such actions. After all, it was most likely through SECONDARY and TERTIARY sources that they obtained their supporting evidences, of which those same ones are taken from PRIMARY sources. (Unfortunately, these same researchers would probably say that Auschwitz was just a summer camp and that the attack on the United States of America on September 11, 2001 didn't happen, these events DID happen because of PRIMARY SOURCES.) The authenticity of an event is strongest when one can get closer to PRIMARY accounts of an event, however, that in and of itself is where the problem lies. It is through "science" that subjects are able to be explained logically, however, it is also through science that other topics become confusing. I commend your efforts in spreading the word, since the Hmong people have almost always been "verbal" with their history. It is time to put it to print, especially since we all know that our "more reliable" primary sources especially of this event are starting to leave us like those primary sources of World War II, of which I'm still sure these same researchers will tell us that World War II did not happen. In this instance, as the saying most attributed to Winston Churchill, "History is written by the victors.", I guess we know what's written by the losers, things such as "it never happened" or "it was not an official war".
It was beyond belief. I laughed. I just did not know how to respond to their [Radiohead's] actions. I can not believe that these people who were conducting the interview could ever be perceived as reliable people; they forget that EYE WITNESS accounts are not hearsay but when someone says that so-and-so said it that it then becomes HEARSAY. Some people I tell you.
Why not take this opportunity to set the record straight about Yellow Rain by sharing the research that RadioLab refused to? Having it in your possession and refusing to share it seems counterproductive when you have this great platform to share the truth.
People who are narrowed mind that always seek the world in one vision will live a life having forever limited, unproductive future. Life is meant to be foreseen as multiple perspectives, lifestyles, and appreciation of differences - especially cultural, people and their history. The right intentions will create an everlasting unity, and people or groups who have negative intents are egotistic of the ultimate goal = philanthropy “love of humanity”!
I don't think that Radiolab was being racist against the Hmongs. They did have their own agenda in mind and they were completely uninterested in hearing the Hmong's side of the story, which shows that they were extremely disingenious, and selective with their accumulation and interpretation of the evidence. But that does not make them racist, it makes them bad scientists and scholars
I have not listened to the show, but I have a serious question based on reading this. It is clear that the journalists were disrespectful of you and your uncle as sources. It is clear that they were dismissive of your attempts to share your knowledge of these terrible incidents after the interview. The editing and tone of the piece was callous. But what exactly classifies this is as racist behavior? If it boils down to the respective power relations of the situation (journalists as white males and you as a a woman of color), I'm not sure I get it.
Thank you, Ms. Yang, for sharing your story. I know how hard it is to speak up when everything works to reinforce silence. "Don't make waves." "Stop making a big deal of such a small thing." "Don't you know people will think badly of you, always going on about racial issues?" The very dynamic which allowed the disrespect and devaluing to happen, also pressures us to cover up wrongs and minimize racism. You did the right thing, by clearly state what happened that day, and calling out the RadioLab interviewer for his racism and inappropriately harsh, angry tone and behavior. Who wants controversy? Who wants to re-live those feelings? For you, it probably would have been easier to forget, smooth over and move on. The more attention this gets, the more time and energy it takes. So, again, thank you for being courageous and refusing to be silent. Change happens with truth. I know our Asian-American culture sometimes tells us to bear racism without speaking up. But hopefully we can discuss this public radio issue pro-actively, persistently and with patience. Let’s press for change. Give Mr. Krulwich some grace. But let’s leave behind the shame-based complicity of self-suppressive silence. Hopefully Mr. Krulwich will apologize to you and your uncle directly, properly, without justifying himself or minimizing. Hopefully Dean Cappello and/or someone else who has oversight and funding-authority will take action. Perhaps this involves discipline, like a short suspension. Perhaps an apology on behalf of the station. Most of all, that someone refer Mr. Krulwich to get some professional help or mentoring to prevent future occurrences like this. I believe him, when he says he didn't realize what he was doing. (That's usually the case with racism.) He didn't have to agree with your viewpoint. But he didn't have to act like a bully either. It's part of the journalistic ethic that he treat you and your uncle with respect and fairness. All this talk on their site, of science, facts, ideas, curiosity and the human experience...but this poor man admits he hardly noticed what he was doing. It's clear he failed in perceiving the cruelty of his actions. Maybe it's time for a leave of absence to be curious about his own false assumptions and to re-learn what is meant by the word "human"--rather than the easy work of confronting and clarifying the perceptions/views of others. I'm very sorry for the loss of Baby Jules. It was so recent, I can't imagine the pain you're still feeling, and then sharing your story here. My heart goes out to you. Maria Maria Chong Gudaitis
Just listened to the radiolab episode in it's entirety and while it is confrontational, it hardly comes across as racist. What is clear is that two differing agendas clashed: The plight of the Hmong people and the brutality they faced - against - the gathering of evidence to support the theory that the US used faulty evidence of chemical weapons in Laos as justification to produce it's own chemical weapons. It was rather crass and brazen of radiolab to setup Mr. Eng Yang in what appeared to be a "gotcha" moment. I can understand his anger and I would be angry to if some one told me that what I viewed as an atrocity against my people, was bee poop. All that aside, what is clear is that this has nothing to do with race. Too often in our society we jump to racism as justification of our angst... especially if the person wronging us doesn't look like us.
Kao Kalia - your writing is so beautiful and perfect. Thank you for being the voice and advocate that is needed. Thank you for sharing your side of the story. I am so sorry for the lost of your little one.
I highly recommend you to contact your local news station. Have this asaltation your truth can be heard. Give them something real to publicize in good faith. I love my Hmong people and will not tolerate this unethical draw back of our Hmong peoples progress that we rightfully earned in America. We all have faced enough discrimination, disrespect, loneliness, and unknown answers that people like them will never know. The last thing we need it someone trying to make money off of our stories after altering them. Hmong people are to kind to deal with petty people like them. Though my kids are of other Asian decents I want their voice to one day be the voice of our Hmong nation that stands powerless but tall against those who manipulate our well being. Good luck and I will def. spread the words. We hmong people may not be wealthy in money but we are wealthy in pride.
Was Robert insensitive in his interview with Kalia? Yes. Did the Hmong people endure unimaginable suffering? Most definitely. But was Robert racist? I don't think so. He was intent on making a very important scientific point. One which Jad underscores in his analysis of the interview: "I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop."
Was Robert insensitive in his interview with Kalia? Yes. Did the Hmong people endure unimaginable suffering? Most definitely. But was Robert racist? I don't think so. He was intent on making a very important scientific point. One which Jad underscores in his analysis of the interview: "I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop."
Wow, thanks for this. RadioLab is coming off my podcast list now...
I am so sorry for your loss. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this with us. It's liberating for me as an Asian American to have read something so honest, real and well-written as what you have provided in the article above. I have written to RadioLab (as I know many others have) in support of you and your uncle and the Hmong community at large. I wish you all the best.
There are just some people in the world who want to "believe" that the United States has no faults, when in actuality, every country, every person, and everything will have their own faults. No one and nothing is ever perfect. For RadioLab to not respect the voices of people who have lived a different life from their's just shows that they have really no compassion for human beings whatsoever, though you may want to believe that they do. Every person from each and every background has a story, and the only thing that matters is, is that YOU, as the author, and your uncle know the truth and feel the truth in your hearts, and your blood. Not just you and your uncle alone, but all the Hmong in the world, just like you and me know the truth. Whether America wants to believe it or not, it happened and nothing can change it. The only thing that we can continue to do today as Hmong people, is carry on the stories we know, and to hope that one day, our voices will be heard.
Was Robert insensitive in his interview with Kalia? Yes. Did the Hmong people endure unimaginable suffering? Most definitely. Did the Radiolab team brush aside the suffering of Kalia's uncle and her people in its pursuit of scientific truth? Yes. Was the point of this segment to uncover and document the suffering of the Hmong people? No. Was (and this question is for all the Hyphen readers) Robert racist in his handling of the interview? I don't think so. What was the point of this podcast? Well, Jad underscores the important point of the podcast: "I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop." Last question: Is it a good idea to examine and probe at the scientific aspects of a genocide without so much as acknowledging the profound suffering of its victims? No. But I trust that the Radiolab team is hyper aware of its embarrassing shortcomings in this regard and will never again be cavalier or insensitive to human suffering in its pursuit of the truth.
I disagree with your cynical attempt to manipulate well-meaning American "Liberals" and to continue the self-serving tradition of casting the Hmong in the role of complete victims. You accuse the hosts of a public radio science show of "racism" because they respectfully defend facts in favor of emotional and manipulative story-telling? Story-telling, I may add, that continues to serve only a certain generation of Hmong, and the American masters they served in Southeast Asia. RadioLab aired your views on their show - something they didn't need to do, precisely in order to show how Facts and Perception clash. Now you are sinking to the level of branding them as racist, and blaming them for your miscarriage? How dare you?
I listened to Radiolab's podcast and was moved by the emotions you and your Uncle expressed. Obviously the genocide of your people is tragic and going to elicit powerful emotions. However, Robert was clearly trying to get to the bottom of the story. He was trying to determine if your uncle had evidence to contradict the current science surrounding the topic of yellow rain. When you obfuscated and made it about the broader hardships that your people suffered he attempted to bring you back to the questions specifically on yellow rain. You chose to take this as a personal attack on your people's history instead. After hearing the podcast I felt for you and your uncle deeply. However, after reading this post I am more skeptical about your authenticity. If you have all this research that Radiolab supposedly ignored then why are you not citing it here. For an award winning writer your lack of supporting evidence is disappointing and undermines your credibility. I hope those issues can be remedied, because I honestly believe that everyone would be interested if you had evidence to support your assertions.
I want to add my words of thanks for sharing your story. You and your uncle have indeed been brave. I had really grown to like Radiolab, and I still hope they might learn something as journalists, as men, and as human beings from this experience; I really hope that is not too much to ask. In the meantime, I just want you to know that you were heard; I read your uncle's statement and thanked him for his words as well. I have already talked to my children about the Hmong experience, and as a teacher I will make sure my students know your story as well; hopefully the good that may come out of this is that we may educate a future generation of journalists and scientists about how to inquire respectfully and with compassion, how to truly listen, and how to question first our own biases before project motives and opinions onto others. Again, thank you.
I think what should be noted is that Radiolab is a storytelling show. They are not reporting. They are telling a story. Sometimes in order to tell the most compelling story they don't always show the full picture. Look to the New York times for such journalism excellence. It's pointless to yell at Radiolab for doing their job. They told a riveting story and were completely fair to the interviewees. They didn't distort the truth, they just didn't pull back the entire curtain. They only have so much time to tell their story. Once again, the tell STORIES. It's your own fault for believing Radiolab to be something it is not.
Two weeks ago I listened to the segment, in tears, and then anger. I was slightly mollified at the end of the piece by the excuse that this was "bigger" than the genocide of the Hmong, that the point was that our country used dubious evidence to justify an argument for a chemical arms race. Now that I have read Ms Yang's account, I am ashamed that I was so easily persuaded. A few commenters have questioned whether Radiolab's behavior was/is racist. As a recent transplant to the deep south (Louisiana), the question of racism has been much in my mind. I think one problem is we have an antiquated, even naive, understanding of racism (and sexism, for that matter). We still seem to think that racism refers primarily to the explicit mistreatment of people who are not of European descent. Certainly that is unambiguous, but I suspect it is merely the tip of the iceberg. A tip that we Americans, at least, feel like we have pretty much done away with. Now that it is socially *un*acceptable to use racial slurs in polite conversation and we've stopped legislating "separate but equal"--now that every city has a "Martin Luther King Jr Blvd" and most schools mention George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman during Black History Month (month? really? not day?), we must finally be finished hearing that word, racism. But racism is a larger, more nuanced evil than we are willing to admit. It is insidious and lies dormant and latent in our hearts, manipulating our emotions and sense of authority and entitlement, allowing us to treat people of color with disrespect, allowing us to dismiss their testimony, ignore their experience, and still sleep well at night. Ms Yang presents a clear indictment of Radiolab: her uncle was only ever identified as some poor, clearly traumatized victim of genocide--his credentials were never given. Ms Yang was only ever identified as the niece of this poor, traumatized victim of genocide who happened to speak English beautifully--her credentials were never given. What possible reason could there be if not racism? I don't mean "put on your white robes and let's go burn us a cross" racism, I mean the kind of endemic, latent racism that allows a white American radio producer or host to forget that kind of thing. Or overlook that kind of thing. You can try to soften it as much as you want. They were certainly bad journalists/insensitive/unkind/tactless/cruel. But they weren't racist. Because if we recognize that Radiolab's behavior is racist, we might have to admit that our own behavior, our own gut reactions, our own self-complacency is shot through with the racism we thought we'd left behind when we stopped using the "n" word.
To all of those decrying Kao Kalia Yang calling this racist- racism doesn't just mean prejudicial statements. It also means institutions, power, and privilege. If you re-read her article with that in mind, the racism in what happened makes a lot more least I hope it does. She makes it very clear where power and privilege were at play. Not only that, there are some more obvious things like her uncle and her not being named. And to the author- thank you so very much for sharing this. I keep privilege in mind in so many situations, but I forget that it is everywhere. It is easy for me, as an Arab-american, to hear it when my people are the topic of conversation. Easy as an organizer to hear it in discussions of african-americans, immigrants, and other groups. Easy to hear it on Fox news. Harder to hear it in situations where I think "safe." Thank you for reminding me. I hope the sympathy of a stranger for what happened to you is not unwelcome. You are inspiring, for telling your story so eloquently, for being willing to do so, and for sharing the most personal pieces of it.
Those of you questioning the racism inherent in Ms. Yang's experience are failing to take into account the ways in which white and Western epistemologies and "truths" are privileged over those of other cultures. You're either ignorant of the concept of racial privilege or desperate to deny it. No one has to say something explicitly disparaging about a particular race; most racism does not involve such -- there is inherent racism in Krulwich's refusal to take the knowledge and viewpoint of people like the Yangs seriously, because they're not from the right place and their credentials and qualifications are not, and do not imitate, those bestowed by institutions that privilege whiteness (like pretty much all Western academia and what we refer to as the scientific community.) Yes I know he did not say that and probably didn't think it explicitly either, and that is irrelevant -- the effect is the same, and racism is located in effect, not in intent. Consider the types of knowledge and information Krulwich deigns to take seriously in practice, in relation to all the ways of knowing in all the world and human race, and tell me there is no cultural bias. On a more general note, if you are white, which I'm assuming most if not all of you are (as I am as well) -- when a person of color tells you about the ways racism has affected their lives, it is absolutely not your place to challenge them on it. Never, not even a little. I know most white people (even intelligent, gentle-hearted, progressive ones) believe that their way of seeing and thinking about the world is a default, neutral, universal one, rather than one rooted in their particular cultural background (CASE IN POINT -- that, in fact, is arguably the very definition of white privilege) but you do not and cannot have the perspective to evaluate the lives and stories of people of other races and cultures and "correct" them on how they are best defined; the arrogance is staggering. All you're doing is showing the oppressed that they should be hesitant to speak against their experiences of oppression; you are at that point an active participant in muting an already marginalized voice.
Thank you Ms. Yang for sharing your story, your prose are beautiful and your message is so important. After going through all that, I'm not sure I would have the emotional energy to press on and tell the whole truth of my experience. So thank you again and my warmest wishes to you and your uncle. To those who don't see racism in the power of privilege used here to disrespect and discredit the voices of others: read a book you dummies. And to those clambering for her sources (besides the compelling first person evidence of her uncle) : she's already put enough energy into fighting these Radiolab jerks so calm down! If you're interested in more information about Yellow Rain outside of this incident of racism, literally five minutes of googling lead me to some interesting academic articles arguing that chemical weapons were indeed used and some examining the strength of the various theories about it, such as this paper: So get off yer lazy butts and do your own research. Ms. Yang's story is about the power of privilege to silence other voices. It's not a reading guide for John Q. Internet.
A few thoughts. I don't understand why the question of racism becomes the only interesting one to so many people. It shouldn't be used as a trump card to contextualize the question. There is a difference between privileging "western knowledge" and privileging "logical thought" and "the scientific method." They were and still are doing the latter not former. Claiming "indigenous knowledge" should be given an intrinsic value equal to the scientific method is the same thing as asking for creationism to be taught alongside evolution. Why didn't she cite this research she touts so much? Or even summarize what it says? My heart breaks for her loss but at the same time It's hard to read this article and not feel like you're being manipulated. And @AJ, you just wrote the most arrogant comment I have read in years that repeatedly accuses others of being arrogant. How un-self-aware can one person be?
Ms. Yang, As a journalist and radio producer, but more importantly a human being, thank you for your thorough response. My heart goes out to you and your family for all it has gone through. As a long-time Radiolab listener, I appreciate your message - and I think that you provide a good reminder that journalism is only important because of what it does for the people it reaches. And that every good story is a gift of the teller, who should be treated with respect and equality despite disagreements. Thank you for your words. Laura
Would Robert have asked the same probing questions of a white interviewee that he did of Kalia and her uncle? I think so. He may need a course in microinequities to understand how he carries inherent biases that lead him to treat people of different races and cultural backgrounds differently. However I don't think he was being racist per se during the podcast. Racism is a severe indictment. I don't think his actions rose to the level of being racist. He is unaware of the microinequities that persist in his behavior, as are most white people. I would save the world "racism" for truly racist behavior and use the semantically appropriate term "microinequities" for what played out on the divisive but important Radiolab podcast.
Certainly I think that there's an aspect of racism here, in that Radiolab clearly did not take you seriously. However, the other aspect is that your story, and the story of the Hmong, clashed with their progressive, US liberal centric agenda and narrative that they wanted to tell. As you say, what they're really concerned about is US politics and Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and also about reinforcing their belief that the American involvement in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and southeastern Asia was unambiguously bad, with no room for nuance or mixed feelings. (One can, for example, oppose US war involvement while still criticizing the Communists, I hope, and recognizing the suffering of the Hmong people.) Since Regan and Haig accused the Soviets of supplying chemical weapons to the Communist governments of Laos and Vietnam, it is important for their narrative that the Hmong people be wrong. Since the Hmong people fought against the Communists in Laos and generally supported US actions (and while some were resettled in the US, the Hmong still suffered far more and were not repaid for their losses enough), they must be seen as wrong. If it were any other accusation, if it were an accusation by the Hmong that attacked a conservative worldview and made the US government (especially when led by right-wingers) look bad, then the progressives at Radiolab would have treated you differently. But they don't care about you one way or the other, only US politics and the progressive worldview.
I wish I knew more of the topic. I know very little of this yellow rain.. I do know some of the genocide that happened there. I am in shock that this yellow powder was blamed on bee poop. At the risk of appearing ignorant (I don't know a whole lot about bees either) if there was enough bee poop to be visible on plants and animals, wouldn't this phenomenon be a fairly common occurrence and not just this one time? Not too mention that would be an awful lot of bees pooping at the same time. And last I knew, bee poop is not deadly. That's just my layman a thoughts on what sounds like another kind of poop story (bull crap). As for the interview, keeping in mind I did not hear what aired, I'm still inclined to believe her rendition if events. I do not believe it is racism however. I think there is a scientific and political agenda... But I don't believe it is racism. All that said.. I do get hung up on the term "homing guy" and " his niece" how about Hmong expert at the very least.. Or, wild thought, actually listing their credentials! There is no excuse for that. To silence, edit, and manipulate a story to prove a theory is NOT science. It is ethically and morally wrong and it is appalling for any scientist to do so. Compile that with silencing the voice of an attempted genocide survivor is abhorrent. And as a woman, my heart goes out to you.. Your pain and your loss. As a woman who is facing great challenges as my husband and I try to conceive, I cannot relate to being pregnant and losing your baby. But having such a deep desire to become pregnant myself, I can imagine. The dismissal " when you feel better." The lack of compassion and the ignorance for the significance of your loss is astounding. To me, that is pure sexism and its a disgrace. I am sorry for you and your uncle's experiences. I truly hope you find a voice in a public forum as this story any story if genocide... NEeDS to be heard so that future people who face a similar fate will not bw ignored and their outcry will be matched by the American people. in other words, no people shall be forgotten and all genocides need to be prevented.
Radiolab aside, what I am interested in learning about is your uncle's knowledge about the mountains, the bees, and the research to which you refer in your piece above. Please write a book about all of these things. It is exactly this kind of knowledge that I want to hear about. I still don't understand what happened on the Radiolab show, so I'm not prepared to judge your actions or theirs, but what I do want is more -- I want to hear what your uncle had to say about the mountains, the bees, the research.
To privilege scientific inquiry over other ways of knowing is not racist, it is rationalist. Those who allege that Radiolab refutes the Hmong perspective because of racism do not appreciate the premium Radiolab places on proof, causality, reproducibility, etc. They do not ignore or denigrate the Hmong perspective; they respectfully disagree with it because it does not meet their standard of rigor, and there's nothing wrong with that.
I say half her story were bull, I came from a refuge family, and when my family was fleeing the war, yes they were tracking us down, but that's war. Once we relocated in Thailand, we were pretty much fine from there on. My family, cousin, and friends made it alive, still has very close relative that voted to stay in Thailand. And to this day, hmong people will always be hmong people going and searching destruction where they live. i remember back in 03, I headed back to Laos to visit my uncles and aunts. While there, I remember seeing two hmong refugee coming into town and using the so called corrupt Laos community Internet phone to call their relative in America. I remember their exact word, " please help us, we're hungry and they are trying to kill us, we need your help." I remember asking myself, wtf. The problem is my uncle was a CIA at the time, and he knew exactly where all the refugees were at, and even told my pop that if they wanted to kill the hmong so bad, they would have done so, instead of bringing them thouands of pounds of rice once a month. Then, how the heck do these refugee survive in the wilderness this long on sugar cane, drugs, and stream water? Because no one can for 30 years!
I think the controversy over whether or not the interviewers' behavior was racist stems from the way hyphen has shaped the story. "The Sciene of Racism" as a title for a piece about the genocide against the Hmong strongly suggests it's a piece regarding genocide as the ultimate manifestation of racism. To find that the piece is actually about something more subtle creates a lot of dissonance in terms of how seriously to take the accusation of racism here. If Ms. Yang says her mistreatment by the hosts was racist then I wouldn't presume to contradict that; I don't see the evidence for it in the coverage of this but that means absolutely nothing because only she was witness to their tone, their off the air correspondence, etc. It's obvious that Ms. Yang is outraged that she her uncle's firsthand accounts of genocide were swept aside by the hosts' bizarre agenda to transform one of the great horrors of human history into nothing more than a footnote in their effort to indict the Reagan administration, or whatever it is they're trying to do. Ms. Yang's accusation of racism and White imperialist contempt strikes me as a side argument, pointing her finger at the irony and hypocrisy of the supposed anti-imperialist, progressive views of the show's hosts. Their insistence on the 'bee poop' theory reminds me of Pat Buchanan's insistence that Jews could not have been gassed to death with diesel fumes because, according to him, diesel fumes are not lethal. A scientific claim such as that is either true or not true, but when it's twisted into the lede in a conversation about genocide, then something has gone very very wrong. To be clear, I'm accusing the show's hosts here, not Hypen, though I think Hyphen's coverage has confused the scope on a more subtle level.
There are a lot of people who care about the Hmong experience. I hope you and your uncle keep speaking about it. My sympathies to you and your husband for your loss.
I usually don't respond to neanderthals but I at least needed to say this much.