One reason is that I’m trying to launch a youth blogging program at the youth media development program where I work. I am working with several young people to really understand blogging as a tool for developing young writers and for learning how to analyze the world around us. So, I have been reading books, papers and articles about blogging. Along with regularly posting at this blog, I kept my own personal blog for nearly two years, and read several blogs on a daily basis. I read blogs because enjoy the diversity of news I am directed to, the multitude of voices and, yes, the sometimes snarky commentary.
But as I discovered recently, the unaccountability of blogging can be dangerous.
Last week, I wrote a post about an ethnic media forum that was held in response to the AsianWeek “Why I Hate Black People” column. In this post, I identified that one of the organizers was David Lee or the Chinese American Voters Education Committee in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I met Lee when I was working AsianWeek and he was an important source when it came to issues of Asian American voting trends and city politics. Let me be honest here, I began working at AsianWeek at a time when the Fang family’s name was often in the newspaper, mostly accompanied by stories about political insiderism and corruption. I believed that AsianWeek was an important media outlet for the Asian American community but I didn’t quite trust the publishers, and therefore was wary of people in the community that they seemed to trust. So, I made an assumption about David Lee – mostly that he was close to the Fangs and had an interest in defending them. Yes, insert that annoying saying about “When you assume you make an ….”
After I wrote about the forum and Lee, some of my comments were reposted elsewhere and emailed around the community. Lee contacted me shortly afterwards to tell me that I had it wrong. He wrote:
I never once suggested that … anyone defend AsianWeek or Kenneth Eng. I have said repeatedly that Kenneth Eng was wrong and AsianWeek was wrong to publish his hate-filled column. That is why I called for the ethnic media to take ownership of the problem and to address it publicly. When a member of the ethnic media crosses the line, its imperative that ethnic media as an association hold the violator accountable. I was at the NAM forum and I heard a lot of criticism of AsianWeek. Ethnic media leaders uniformly denounced Kenneth Eng. I don't see how any responsible journalist or member of the community could characterize the forum as a defense of AsianWeek or the Fangs.
Just to clarify, I didn’t see the forum as a defense of AsianWeek, but I was concerned that the forum would focus only on tensions between blacks and Asians and not why AsianWeek decided to publish this magazine. Like I said before, even though Ted Fang did not really tell us why the column was published, other people addressed the issue.
Anyway, after our email exchange, I spoke to Lee to try and understand more clearly the work of the Chinese American Voter Education Committee (CAVEC) and actually learned some interesting things. For example, CAVEC was founded back in 1976 and is the oldest organization dedicated to voter registration and education in the Asian American community. Lee, who grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown himself, took over in 1992.
“Our main work here is about empowering the Asian American community,” Lee told me. “It’s about getting them to vote.”
In 1996, Lee helped develop a system to do exit polls for Asian American voters. “Policy makers understand polls,” he said. “It was important to get that information out there. Because before that, there would be many instances where people would make up what the Asian community wanted. The polls were a viable way to show how the community was thinking and voting.”
Ever since Lee took over at CAVEC, he has been integral in trying to work with ethnic media in order to have them be an important tool for political education.
“Over 50 percent of ethnic media used to be dedicated to homeland news and we wanted to change that,” Lee said. “Especially since so many of their readers identify with American culture.”
One fascinating thing that Lee told me was how he helped organize another forum about Asian and Black relations back in 1997, when the Chronicle published a front-page illustration that showed “two Asian women holding up the decapitated head of a black man” in order to illustrate the tensions between the two communities. The forum was similar to the one around the AsianWeek column and Lee said it helped the two communities communicate about the issues.
“Since there have been long-standing tensions in the Bayview and Visitacion Valley, even before 97,” Lee said. “Anytime we have a large group moving into a place that has been mainly African American, there are problems.”
Lee said that in 1999 he was involved in organizing yet another forum addressing relations between blacks and Asians around the issue that Asians were feeling discriminated against in public housing.
“There was this sense that Asians were taking over public housing from the black community that had been there for a long time. Asians were complaining about racist attacks against them,” Lee said. “We tried to facilitate media discussions about this issue. We invited all kinds of different people who were residents to write columns. Columns by black residents were translated into Chinese and printed in the Sing Tao and columns by Asians were translated into English and printed in black newspapers.”
All in all, talking to Lee was enlightening. Hearing about how the tensions between blacks and Asians – especially here in San Francisco – is such a complicated issue, often fanned by the media, makes me even more upset at Eng’s simplistic tirade. I also think it is an issue that perhaps we can look at in a more complex way in Hyphen. In what other cities has there been such a problem in the public housing system? What kinds of programs and multicultural alliances have sprung out of these tensions? It seems like a situation rife with really interesting stories.
Otherwise, this whole thing made me think a lot about responsible blogging. My unfounded opinions about David Lee were unnecessary. It would have been a lot more interesting to just talk to him in the first place. As I move forward in expanding this blog and working with young people around media issues, I think I’ve learned a great lesson.