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.
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!
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.
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.
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 ...as 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.
Cool story. Seriously just read my post. Just try it.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Krulwichs' behavior was so ethnocentric it embarrassed me to be an American. His insensitivity, and assumption that the Hmong point of view would understand his, was inept journalism at best.
I have a whole new, and not flattering, view of RadioLab.
Eng, you saw what you saw. It is what it is.
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.
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 sense....at 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.
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.
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.
I agree with LTE's comment. From your post you made it sound like the U.S. government owes you the right to vote. When Blacks and women couldn't vote it was because they were BORN into the category of non-voters and therefore was unfair because they did nothing wrong, but your parents broke the law coming here. I think being a CITIZEN to vote is a very adequate requirement to say the least.
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 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 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?
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.
Appearantly you do don't have an open mind. I am surrounded by Cacasion people and clearly I wouldn't be any happier. Why? Well because when ever there is an Asian in town everyone flocks to them. The answers on that is obvious. We have good intentions and morals. I am sorry I forgot to mention. I only read a few sentences in your article and didn't feel the need to read more. I can say Asians age really well do yes I would want to be stuck with an Asian when I turn 50. I clearly have nothing against cacasion's as I think Asians can relate to them as in proper morals. But this only goes for the cacasion's who are no longer in college. I live in a five town collegel area and these students have different partners like how they. hange their cloths. Of purse as they graduate life gets serious but that is still no excuse as to why they sleep around so much during college years. I'd rather be date a safe clueless nerd the. someone who looks the part but has possibly destroy their health to disease. Just my thoughts. ur I don't not dictiminate. If I came across a cacasion, african american, or hispanic with good morals I think of them as my Asian with good morals. I went to visit a small private middle school and I will admit that majority 50% of the students were Asian and 47% Cacasion. I did not see other races but I am sure it was 3%. Asians are know. as nerds. ur who would 't want to start with a nerd who eventually becomes a hottie after accomplishing their long term goals?
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.
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.
Wow, thanks for this. RadioLab is coming off my podcast list now...
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!