I'm against ad hominem attacks. But considering the comment you're responding to, your assessment seems fact.
The source that you are citing was co-authored by Dr. Meselson, the expert that Radiolab brought into the studio. Since you seem to be following the same line of questioning that Krulwich did, and want a reaction from the Yangs, let me repeat what they said in the podcast:
"We know that there were chemicals being used against the Hmong in the mountains of Laos. Whether this is the chemicals from the bombs or yellow rain, chemicals were being used. It feels to him like this is a semantic debate, and it feels like there's a sad lack of justice, that the word of a man who survived this thing must be pitted against a professor from Harvard who has read these accounts."
Why does it bother you so much that westerners wanted concrete proof that this stuff happened?
That you're once again invoking Radiolab's rational, scientific Westerners vs ignorant, backwater Asians binary, without even considering facts (such that several Western studies conclude that chemical warfare was a possibility; such that Mrs. Yang has spent most of her life in this country, and furthermore is a US citizen), I feel serves as yet another example of the damage that the show has done and continues to do.
PH, thanks for bringing up this article. (I assume that's the one you were referring to? Let me know if there's another.) I hope that readers take a look at your comment, and seek out the many other papers on this issue. I'm nowhere near an expert on this, but even just a cursory google search seemed to show that Radiolab's scientific truth bore a disturbing resemblance to an ideologically driven conjecture. And I strongly believe that people who're interested in this issue should do their own research, before coming to any conclusions on whether chemical weapons were used against the Hmong.
For the past thirty years or so, since the notion of systemic oppression has been developed, it has been common to claim that various forms of racial targeting take place regardless of the intentions of the aggressors.
Or rather, we need to replace the language of "aggressors" and "targets," since these terms imply willful abuse. The can be replaced with the less accusatory language of "privileged" and "oppressed."
It is only a small step to then say that racism takes place in effect, not intent. However, what are we to make of this unintentional racism?
In fact, the concept is extremely unhelpful and dubious in it's construction. I'm reminded of a thoughtful article by Judith Butler (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/judith-butler/no-its-not-anti-semitic) which points out a certain resentful moralizing in saying that criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic in effect if not in intention.
Basically, she points out that the only way to make a claim of anti-Semitic effects is to pre-suppose anti-Semitic intentions.
The same thing happens when we say that an action is racist in effect if not in intention. It is a closeted way of accusing someone of racist intentions without risking the open combat that goes from a blame.
Ironically, the racist-in-effect line of reasoning does exactly the same thing it is trying to resist in supposedly White, imperial knowledges. The imperial discourse subsumes and ignores all voices by assuming itself to have a closer relation to Truth than those other voices have. However, the claim that one can be racist in effect but not intent does the same thing. That is, it takes a given action or utterance in situation, determines the action to be racist and thereby dismisses whatever actual intention the author of the action or utterance had.
At base, the racism-in-effect line of reasoning is a rhetorical drone strike. It allows the accuser attack an opponent without risking a similar attack in turn.
The racism-in-effect line of reasoning is ultimately parasitical on the practices it denounces and thereby reinforces it's terms. That is, it maintains race as the only relevant set of power relations. In so doing, it avoids the considerably more difficult but more productive task of trying to create a new discourse that goes beyond the power-swapping of the race debate.
Dear Mrs. Yang,
I'm very sorry for the loss of your son and for the loss Hmong have lived with for nearly half a century. I'm sorry it was exacerbated by the cruel treatment you and your uncle faced while being interviewed for Radiolab, in the airing of the show, and in your correspondence with the program and WNYC afterward. Thank you for your words here, and for your bravery.
For those of you who don't believe the experience Kao Kalia Yang and her uncle had while being interviewed for the Radiolab segment can be termed "racism", I want to offer this perspective. Judith Katz defines racism as "prejudice plus power." It is true Robert Krulwich and Pat Hillman prejudged the experiences of Eng Yang and the Hmong people, and it's true that their judgment was based on studies done by white men. It's also true that Radiolab and WNYC have all the power here, and that Robert Krulwich has power himself because he is popular, male, and white.
Get this: white people have power. When they use that power to minimize the experiences of people of color, they are being racist.
Racism doesn't always come in forms as overt as segregation. There are other forms of racism as insidious as they are devastating.
I'm struck by how Mrs. Yang repeatedly mentions Robert Krulwich's supposed racist motivations for his behavior.
I listened to the episode. Callous? Very. Racist, no.
At least in my opinion, I have, of course, not heard the full interview or was not a party to it, so I can only go off the information I have: the episode and this article.
The episode tried to be clever instead of careful, and chose not to fully contextualize any of the sides of the argument so that they could make a pat ending to the segment about how there can multiple truths, instead of saying, like Errol Morris insisted in the first segment of the episode, that there is almost always an absolute truth. They didn't even attempt to find one, possibly just so they could have a clever separation of this story from the first one, where they DID try to find an absolute truth.
Krulwich approached the argument from a position of authority he indeed did not have. I agree with Jad Abumrad's assertion in the episode that Krulwich was so overly concerned with the falsehood of Yellow Rain that he may have dismissed the deaths of hundreds as apocrypha. But I think he was tunnel-visioned and short sighted, not racist. I think he probably would have treated them (and honestly has treated other guests on the show) the same way if they were white and male. I do think the show insulted Mrs. Yang and her uncle, but I think the sin of Robert Krulwich is pride, not racism. He privileged his facts above hers not because she was a Hmong woman, but simply because they didn't jibe with HIS facts. Now, that's an assumption I'm making, but it's no bigger a leap to believe that Krulwich was acting out of scientific pride than it is to believe he was giving her a chauvinist imperialist dismissal. OR to believe Krulwich's assertion that Mrs. Yang was attempting to monopolize the conversation HE started. One leap of thought about the character is not ok, but another one is?
I honestly think that's why this conversation hasn't gone forward publicly: calling someone a racist is not an accusation taken lightly by anyone in this country, even racists. By making the argument about WHY Krulwich did what he did instead of the straight facts and the actions of the producers, by repeatedly attempting to intuit Krulwich's motivations, the argument has become ABOUT his motivations, his character, which people are much more likely to try to defend, especially considering his previous accolades. Even if he actually was dismissing her claims because he IS racist, it changed the argument from "You told a story without journalistic integrity" or "You presented a scientific article packed with confirmation bias" to "You are inhuman." And regardless about how you feel about his behavior in this manner, Krulwich is still as human as Mrs. Yang, and he will fight to maintain his humanity, just as she is doing. And WNYC will fight to protect Krulwich, because his character reflects on them. And all parties now will focus on defining Krulwich's and Mrs. Yang's characters to the detriment of the original complaints about the presentation of the story.
I hope that doesn't seem callous. But I hope the parties involved here can all can come to some kind of accord. The truth of this story is bigger than Mrs. Yang or Mr. Krulwich, and it is a disservice to the truth that both parties seem to want to show the world to change the subject of this discussion from one of facts, history, and the presentation thereof to one about the internal motivations of the storytellers involved.
Of all of odious and intimidating statements uttered by the RadioLab team during and after the interview, the one that I keep returning to is Robert Krulwich telling Kalia Yang that she would need a “court order” to obtain the full interview. Why were these words so infuriating to me? To begin, they seemed to be uttered with an air of confidence, buoyed by an assumption that the “system” was working for RadioLab and not for the Yangs.
Why couldn’t the Yangs have access to the full interview? Because it threatens the story that RadioLab wants to tell. And, make no mistake, this is their story: Ronald Reagan and Alexander Haig lied to the world so that they could build chemical weapons. Why else would Robert Krulwich complain that Kalia Yang had “monopolized” the interview? She had committed the sin of digression.
The irony is that the story has taken a sharp turn and is no longer about a dedicated band of truth seekers showing up the Reagan administration. But it sure seemed like it would be, with the “system”—the social institutions of public radio, Ivy League science, and now the courts—mobilized to discredit and embarrass a “backwater” people and their hawkish manipulators. The betrayal that so many loyal RadioLab listeners felt may have come from their sense that the old story was, well, a bad one. Like most bad stories, it features stereotypical villains and heroes.
As of tonight, the RadioLab team is still sticking to their story, even in apology. Some people are struggling to understand how the production of this podcast is evidence of racism. The RadioLab drama is just a subplot of a much larger story. Any scholar of race in America will tell you that race is the grandest national story of all. It is a story of white supremacy and progress. It is a story wherein people of color play a minor role for which they should be grateful. But individual racists aren’t the best storytellers and never have been. Institutions are. RadioLab, if you are truly interested in exposing lies, I know about a real whopper.
Yang is charging the people at Radiolab with racism, insinuating that her miscarriage was somehow related to this, and labeling her interviewer an imperialist. All because she was featured as an interpreter for her uncle on a radio program that questioned his perception of events that were later used to justify the development of WMDs by the U.S.
She makes no effort to offer any serious evidence to support her uncle's claims, and dismisses all criticisms as "semantics".
Instead she writes a piece that blatantly attempts to emotionally manipulate the reader into unquestioning sympathy for not only her and her uncle, but her entire self-serving narrative of the Hmong people and their role in the war in Laos and Vietnam.
For this, she is celebrated by your editors as "brave" and a climate of intellectual relativism and chauvinism is fostered with respect to the actual events in Laos.
Meanwhile, some of her readers are actively trolling the FB pages of Radiolab, referring to people as "whitey", "viet-cons", and generally name-calling and shouting down anyone who disagrees.
This is a sad day for Hyphen Magazine. Bullying Radiolab for daring to disbelieve Ms. Yang's uncle is worthy of reactionaries and chauvinists, not progressive people.
This piece is awesome! I think reading this has helped me think about my own situation a little more deeply. Thanks!
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?
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.
AJ, I appreciate the reply. I personally was not insisting that I am "better able to explain and contextualize a person of color's experiences with regard to their racial identity than they themselves are." But this assertion helps me understand where you are coming from, which seems to be some version of subjective relativism.
Could a circumstance ever exist where a person of color alleges racism when in fact there is none? I would say yes. It seems you would say no, how dare you?, and then call me a racist for posing the question.
As an Asian American who heard the Yellow Rain story when it aired, It was heartbreaking to hear the original piece. I felt great sympathy for Ms. Yang and her uncle. I also read this piece by her, and I definitely think the constant questioning was insensitive. Though, not once did I think they were being racist, and I'm someone who is pretty quick to point it out when I see or hear it.
First, I am sorry that Kao Kalia Yang lost her baby, and I do appreciate the book she wrote. Moreover, she is right that Hmong are frequently subjected to various forms of racism. It may also be true that she was "ambushed" by Radiolab.
However, I am afraid that there are a lot of myths that exist in Hmong American history. For one, it is true that large numbers of Hmong were killed or otherwise died in the jungles of Laos, or when crossing the Mekong trying to get to Thailand, but I don't think that calling it a "genocide" reflects the much more complex reality. The Hmong were not the only people killed by Pathet Lao and Vietnamese troops. People from other ethnic groups died as well. In addition, large numbers of Hmong also sided with the Pathet Lao, and today there are more Hmong Ministers, vice-Ministers, provincial governors, district governors and members of parliament than there were before 1975. It wasn't that the Pathet Lao wanted to specifically kill all the Hmong, which would have been genocide. Instead, they wanted to kill those who fought against them, regardless of ethnicity, and many Hmong did indeed side with the Americans, so many Hmong were targeted. But it was about fighting enemies, it was not genocide. A more careful examination of history, including considering both sides of the story, is required.
Also, it is important to remember that many of those who went after the Hmong after 1975 had been subjected to unrelenting bombardment prior to 1973. The biggest bombing in Laos did not take place against the Hmong (at least the ones in the US who were mainly allied with the USA) but against the Pathet Lao, with the Hmong helping to direct the bombing. It was the Hmong, amongst many others, who at least implicitly supported the use of agent orange against their enemies. Many innocent people were killed as a result. This truth needs to be acknowledged. The Hmong were not only victims, although sometimes they were.
In the 1980s and 1990s many innocent people were killed by Hmong insurgents who shot at buses, killing women and children. This point is rarely acknowledged.
I am not sure if there was really Yellow Rain in Laos after 1975 or not. I do, however, agree that people did not get it confused with bee crap. That argument doesn't make sense. However, the narrative of Yellow Rain may well have taken on a life of its own. People were indeed getting sick and were dying in the forest after 1975, and they couldn't always explain what was happening, so it may have been that the idea of Yellow Rain became an easy way to justify the terrible things that were happening. I don't believe that all Hmong are lying about this, but some may be mistaken.
I am sorry about all the suffering that Hmong people have gone through, but I am not only sympathetic to the Hmong in the USA, but also those who had bombs and agent orange dropped on them by Americans that the Hmong now in the USA supported during the Secret War before 1973. What about having some sympathy for the Hmong who supported the Pathet Lao and suffered greatly as a result? Are they not Hmong as well? And even if they weren't Hmong, are they not human? Why have their voices been silenced? Wars and conflicts are always complex, and people always do nasty things during wars. It's sad that Hmong on both sides of the conflict have suffered so much, but just because some people are skeptical about the Yellow Rain story doesn't automatically make them racists.
Thank you, Mr. Yang, for sharing your knowledge with the world. I appreciate your willingness to openly discuss times and stories that must be painful to remember. Please know that you have been heard and believed.
Thank you, Mr. Yang, for sharing your knowledge with the world. I appreciate your willingness to openly discuss times and stories that must be painful to remember. Please know that you have been heard and believed.
I'm glad you find The Walking Dead enjoyable, but after watching two seasons, I'm afraid I disagree. There is a whole lot of standing around and talking in angry whispers on that show. This sums it up better than I can: http://thisisnthappiness.com/post/34173578788/pretty-much
I have heard that the third season has been better, but at this point my interest just isn't there anymore.
"Even though I had to drop The Walking Dead because it was driving me so crazy (how can a show about zombies be so very boring?"
The show does have some slow moments, overall I have found it enjoyable.
It does appear the most engaging character in the series was the "Bicycle Girl", the first zombie Rick see's. Due to viewer response, the producers had to call the actress back to do a webisode on how she became a zombie.
Season 3 promises to be more interesting.
In a Current Magazine piece out today Radiolab claims "there was an abrupt shit in [your reaction] to the story." According to them, you "initially reacted positively to the story in a private email to them, but when they requested permission to publish your comments online, [you] withdrew them and submitted a negative critique."
How do you respond? Was there an original email? Will you publish it here?
If you want to know just how irresponsible RadioLab was about the science of yellow rain, chase down an article in “Politics & the Life Sciences,” 24 August 2007, starting on page 24.
The RadioLab team had access to this article, as well as a dissertation written by one of its authors, well before they interviewed Eng Yang. The article proposed a methodology for evidence collection, chemical analysis, & attribution assessment allowing for transparency “so that assumptions and rationale for decisions [and theories like Matthew Meselson’s, one would think] can be challenged by external critics.” The authors used a wide variety of previously unused evidence, including “8,529 pages of United States government documents, declassified . . .and released through a Freedom of Information Act request, including medical records, laboratory reports, diplomatic communications, internal memos, and protocols originating primarily from the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center. . .and interviews with 48 individuals with expert knowledge related to Yellow Rain, including 20 who were directly involved in investigating allegations. . .”
A few of the many conclusions in this paper:
“Between 1979 and 1982, refugee reports of attacks were consistent with other intelligence data, including known battles and flight paths of aircraft, more than 60 percent of the time. . .
Clinical complaints and findings among self-described victims and detailed refugee accounts of attacks were sufficiently similar in Laos, Cambodia, and Afghanistan to suggest a key common factor, most plausibly a Soviet link, in influence and support of direct operational involvement. . .
Clinical complaints and findings of alleged victims as documented by photographs, medical records, autopsy results, and third-hand accounts are consistent with mass simultaneous poisoning and not with any known natural disease endemic to Laos, Cambodia, or Afghanistan. . .
Approximately 75 percent of alleged attacks involved seeing or hearing a helicopter or airplane, followed by seeing or smelling a gas or powder fall to the ground.”
RadioLab sold the bee poop story—based on work conducted nearly 30 years ago— as incontrovertible fact instead of the questionable theory it is. And they had evidence in hand that made that clear. (Did they take the time to read it?) So it’s not just that they were rude and insensitive. They completely misrepresented the science behind the story and used their “certainty” as justification to treat Eng Yang like a superstitious, ignorant man. Eng protested during the interview [in Hmong] that his people kept bees and knew what bee poop looked like. Of course, Radiolab didn’t tell us that, either. This piece was inexcusable science, nothing close to journalism, and if only “a story,” one that cements erroneous ideas in the minds of its listeners. And all they want to admit is that they were overzealous in their pursuit of the “truth.” That’s simply a lie.
I'm just going to knock out a few points here...
"If racism is unescapable to this degree then people have no agency whatsoever to address it."
How do you figure that? Lots of things are inescapable that we can address the heck out of. Forcing people to be continuously aware of privilege and oppression is sometimes an end in and of itself -- it's one of the few things we can do (individually, in a small way) to make inroads in the prevailing discourse.
"Could it be that the label racism is being used to identify all forms of cultural bias, of which some certainly are racist and others may not be?"
Without getting mired in word definitions, it's possible that sometimes we're using racism as a shorthand for biases that are more related to nationality per se (though the distinction between such and race is not always a clear one.) In this case, though, I think Ms. Yang's experience is a direct product of both her race and nationality.
"So, those who have questions about race and power relations, or those who respectfully disagree with your reading of a particular situation, are in willful denial of their own racism, or simply base racists?"
The former, no, not necessarily; who said otherwise? The latter, yes -- those who disagree with my reading of this particular situation (in the way I was originally addressing anyway) are engaged in racism. Without even analyzing Ms. Yang's actual story, insisting that you, a white person, are better able to explain and contextualize a person of color's experiences with regard to their racial identity than they themselves are, is itself an oppressive act. Going by your definition of racism (i.e. regardless of attitude, all white people are inherently racist because we all benefit from white privilege -- which I agree with) this belief is a direct product of white privilege, and therefore, yes, racist. I dislike racist as a noun; it perpetuates the idea that there are these bad people over here who are racists, but if you are a smart well-intentioned person you aren't a racist -- everyone is capable of doing and saying racist things (and, I reiterate, racism is located in effect, not intent.) So in short -- I'm not accusing anyone of being "a base racist," whatever that means; I certainly do think we are encouraged by society to deny the racist position we occupy -- and claiming that this woman is incorrect and her experience wasn't actually rooted in racism is a blatant manifestation of that.
"This is smug, dismissive and unproductive and shuts down important discussion."
I am anything but smug, but yes, I do tend to dismiss tired racist arguments I've heard/read hundreds of times... guilty. Actually, pointing out when people's privilege is showing is as productive as anything I do. If it causes someone to withdraw from "important discussion," that was their choice and not mine.
Thank you. I am so glad to have found your voice today.
Though insensitive, dismissive, manipulative, and rude, the actions of Radiolab amount to lousy pseudo-journalism (they are not a news/journalism show) NOT Racism.
I'm afraid that the usage of the word 'racism' in the title of this post, especially for those who are uninitiated to the controversy surrounding the episode is causing an all-too-common internet bandwagon effect.
A few facts that should not be dismissed:
1) Radiolab is a storytelling show, not objective journalism. Think TED talks, not 60 Minutes.
2) The story was about the nature of the human experience of truth. This, by necessity, is an exploration of something inherently ambiguous.
3) The episode submitted evidence that both supported and refuted the eye witness accounts of Uncle Eng.
4) Radiolab edited, modified, omitted and manipulated what was included in the episode, and manipulated the interviewees to their own end.
From Mrs. Yang's account, it is clear that Radiolab was dismissive, irresponsible, and, worst of all, misleading; both in their account of the interview and, worse, in their attempt to spin the aftermath of the episode. However, labeling it as racism, simply because of the difference in race between the parties on either side of the table, is folly, and unfortunately, is also irresponsible storytelling.
The single element of this narrative that could be framed as racism is the omission of the official titles of Mrs Yang and Uncle Eng. This had the effect of undermining the credibility of their accounts, making them generic rather than expert. The removal/refusal of identity is a far-reaching tenet of institutionalized racism. I will not speculate about the decision to omit their titles, however, In listening to the episode, the eye-witness account of Uncle Eng was used as a tangible, unambiguous, human backdrop upon which to frame the myriad complex, -often conflicting- elements that comprise the cross-section of this devastatingly sad human story. Listening to the episode, the humanity, conviction and pain of Uncle Eng's story is not lost.
In the end, the pensive conclusion, even before the edits made to the podcast, was clearly surprising and revelatory for the hosts. In fact, it speaks to a prescient reality, some of which was added by Mrs. Yang herself; that truth is a deeply experiential human phenomenon, not a checklist of facts and figures. It is in our minds and hearts. It lives in our present,in our memories, and is the stuff that our realities and identities are built out of. As much as it exists outside of us, it is fostered inside of us. Any attempt to refute, modify, or discuss it is a undertaking which must be executed with the utmost sensitivity, care, and gravity. Something that Radiolab did not fully do In the end. Ironically, in so doing, they revealed that necessity for sensitivity and gravity most clearly. Labeling this as racism, however, is an emotional leap, not a logical one. I only hope that the droves of people flocking to this story remember the travesty of the Hmong people first, the message of the episode second, and are not solely energized by the inflammatory framing of this botched episode as racist.
I am Asian, I am female, and I am a Radiolab listener. Listen to the show before you get angry and start pointing your finger. They left in this poor girl's very emotional reaction to the questions, they cut into the show and discuss how it made them feel. They treated this subject matter with total respect. When considering that isn't even what the show was about, it's pretty unusual. I say what you get from Radiolab is actually a step above most regular news programs. It's easy to just jump on the "they're racist!" train. It's harder to actually go back, listen to the episode, and decide for yourself.
Please continue with your work to share your experience and that of the Hmong people. ELS