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.]




I'm against ad hominem attacks. But considering the comment you're responding to, your assessment seems fact.

I wholly believe that the RadioLab handling of this entire issue is disgusting beyond belief. Not journalism, and not good public broadcasting. No integrity. I am astounded that this segment was allowed to get on the air. Is there no editorial process for them? I am deeply sorry for the abuse suffered by the Yangs at the hands of the producers of the show. And still . . . What do you suppose would happen if we dealt with Krulwich, et al. as individuals instead of White and Western? To use such categorization in disparaging ways sounds a lot like the racism that is being criticized. White things are bad. Western things are bad. To say that is socially acceptable. But to say Colored things are bad, or Asian things are bad is some kind of racism. As if to assume that anything that is not white is pure and enlightened by default. There is just as much prejudice among the cultures of the world as in any one culture. Why can't you find fault and place blame without resorting to racial or cultural stereotyping and labels? To walk the path of your oppressor is not justice. It is still the wrong path. Nonetheless, I hope you are able to find some satisfaction with those unenlightened people at RadioLab.
Dear Kao Kalia Yang, I wanted to write and express that I was sorry, if not surprised, to hear your story. Western fantasies involving Southeast Asia run very, very deep; I think you can still see them in films like Avatar which reinforce the same old confusions. I've spent time in Vietnam and among Tang / Tay people who live in the hills near Laos. Their situation remains very difficult, as, I'm sure does that of the Vietnamese Hmong who were relocated en masse to the US. I am frustrated by the lack of a sense of basic humanity in so much life in the West, in contrast to the common courtesy which seems so standard in Southeast Asia. It's really not complicated to empathise with the people we encounter; in fact I think it's harder, and does us more damage, not to. I'm British, not American, and I can't do much to lobby the station you mention. What I wanted to say was that I lost a baby to a missed miscarriage too, recently, and only found out at the scan. Mine was at only 11.5 weeks but that's still unusually late, and I hadn't had any symptoms. We were completely unprepared for that outcome. I will not forget delivering the baby some weeks later at home and taking it in to the hospital to be disposed of. It looked to me like the archetypal image of a ghost: tiny ears, tiny fingers clasped to its chest, eyes closed, mouth open. My husband said he felt that he 'got to be a dad for 5 seconds' in the ultrasound room until they told us there was no heartbeat. We were able to get a photograph of our scan, after asking around and being brushed off on occasion, and that has helped us immensely. For us it remains a memorial to the hope and excitement we felt going in to the scan. After six months and a lot of grieving before we felt able to try again, I am 10 weeks pregnant again, and we are both terrified. Good luck with your path. Not enough people talk about these things - either of them.
Dear Kao Kalia Yang, I wanted to write and express that I was sorry, if not surprised, to hear your story. Western fantasies involving Southeast Asia run very, very deep; I think you can still see them in films like Avatar which reinforce the same old confusions. I've spent time in Vietnam and among Tang / Tay people who live in the hills near Laos. Their situation remains very difficult, as, I'm sure does that of the Vietnamese Hmong who were relocated en masse to the US. I am frustrated by the lack of a sense of basic humanity in so much life in the West, in contrast to the common courtesy which seems so standard in Southeast Asia. It's really not complicated to empathise with the people we encounter; in fact I think it's harder, and does us more damage, not to. I'm British, not American, and I can't do much to lobby the station you mention. What I wanted to say was that I lost a baby to a missed miscarriage too, recently, and only found out at the scan. Mine was at only 11.5 weeks but that's still unusually late, and I hadn't had any symptoms. We were completely unprepared for that outcome. I will not forget delivering the baby some weeks later at home and taking it in to the hospital to be disposed of. It looked to me like the archetypal image of a ghost: tiny ears, tiny fingers clasped to its chest, eyes closed, mouth open. My husband said he felt that he 'got to be a dad for 5 seconds' in the ultrasound room until they told us there was no heartbeat. We were able to get a photograph of our scan, after asking around and being brushed off on occasion, and that has helped us immensely. For us it remains a memorial to the hope and excitement we felt going in to the scan. After six months and a lot of grieving before we felt able to try again, I am 10 weeks pregnant again, and we are both terrified. Good luck with your path. Not enough people talk about these things - either of them.
How can you say that the actions and the of that idiotic host was not racist, was not discriminatory? He belittled Ms. Yang and her uncle, he disregarded them and their position and who they are based on their race, based on their ethnicity. "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 she is an educated Hmong woman, who is an award winning writer is overlooked because of the fact that she is HMONG! Her uncle's work in the field of the very same subject was disregarded and any credentials that they had were overlooked because they are HMONG. They would not have been treated as such and they would not have ceased to become just another "Hmong guy" and "his niece" if they were white. Radiolab needs to give out a real apology and the host needs to stop trying to justify his actions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but how they were belittled and humiliated had nothing to do with Robert Krulwich trying to assert his opinions or "bring out the truth".
"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." . Utter, total and complete nonsense. . "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." . More nonsense. . Good reporting requires challenging the source. . "Radiolab, an NPR show" . On occasion I listen to NPR. I admit I am surprised they didn't side with Ms Yang right off. None the less, NPR has always left me with the impression the result of any interview was predetermined. I try to like NPR yet I never could. . Considering the Hmong were allies of the US during the Vietnam War, a certain due respect should have been given. Radiolab should just toss this interview, go back for a redo and use someone more professional than Robert Krulwich. . The Hmong and how they helped the United States is a story worth telling and worth telling properly.
Radiolab's interview is a great example of institutionalized racism. And several of the comments to this blog post are a great examples of how our understanding of racism needs to be broadened to include a definition of what institutionalized racism is and how it works.
Thank you and amen to AJ for your comment. And thank you for not making a person of color say it.
I heard the original podcast aired and was shaking at the disturbed and knowing something was just not right.....after reading all the responses on radio labs website which thankfully led me here to your very fine article, I am even more distraught over the handling of you, your uncle, and the Hmong by radio lab.....thank you for taking the time and energy to post this most important and thorough explanation behind your experience and the interview in its entirety....I feel I have so much to say to you and not the words....yes, you are so incredibly brave and yet still communicate tenderness in the midst of tenacious ignorance and has been my great honor to read, learn, and understand through your words.....again, thank you .....
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with RadioLab. I am a former listener who eventually tuned out because of that haughty attitude you unfortunately had to deal with. The hosts are the worst kind of "intellectuals" - closed minded men who believe they already know all the answers and just look for data to suit their existing points.
When I listened to the segment, I was upset and angered and determined to send a scathing email to radiolab and the hosts. But I believe the best action to take is to work with either radiolab or some other radio program to help tell the Hmong history to the wider audience. I thank you, Kao Kalia Yang, for this article and I believe it was very poignant and eye opening and also heartbreaking. But I have to say my favorite part is not when you were giving the back story of what happened before, during, and after the segment aired, but when you stated that you are willing, even after all that you have experienced, you are still willing to work with those that can aid in telling your story and the Hmong story. This is what I believe is the best action to take. This isn't really about Yellow Rain anymore. It may have been the catalyst, but the discussion is much bigger and more complicated. Even those at radiolab know that it really isn't about Yellow Rain. They stated in their closing discussion that this interview opened their eyes to a much larger issue at hand. It would be great to see what they do now in the face of this realization.
As an avid RadioLab listener, I was excited and hopeful when the segment (listened via later podcast) began airing. When the Hmong story started being told, I thought "finally, the world is going to learn about what has been happening over there"—and then. after some time, I heard "hearsay". I felt sick. It has been helpful to hear your point of view here. I am glad that you have this voice that can be sounded. I hope that RadioLab takes you up on your offer and shares the story of the Hmong. It is a truth that needs to be told.
Thank you to those who have responded to my (accidentally left anonymous) post asking for more explanation about the issues of racism in this piece ("Please explain"). AJ, Nadia, and Noelle: some of your comments are very helpful. Here is your argument as I understand it. Western institutions privilege whiteness. White truths and voices are privileged in society. Radiolab privileged certain truths (associated with whiteness and power) over other truths (associated with the Hmong). This is modern racism, not overt and offensive, but in a more institutionalized and "socially acceptable" form. With respect, it seems like following this argument all the way down washes out racism as a concept. Racism runs so deep in our society and is so pervasive, underpinning all power relations and subjectivities, that it becomes impossible to fully apprehend or address. Now everything bad that happens to "the oppressed" (as AJ put it) can be traced to racial power relations. By default, all white people are racist because they benefit from white privilege and it is shot through all of their actions and subjectivities. If racism is unescapable to this degree then people have no agency whatsoever to address it. 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? Modern racism is real. But in this case I still don't see it. If this is racism, then all forms of cultural bias are racist. And if that is true, then racism is meaningless because it might as well be defined as "subjectivity." Please respond! Here is something else, less substantive, but still troubling. Noelle concludes her remarks saying: "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." Likewise with AJ: " 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." 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? This is smug, dismissive and unproductive and shuts down important discussion. One aspect of male white privilege is that it is often hidden from those who benefit from it. There is a lot of ignorance about this issue. As a white male, I will never be able to understand the full range of white privilege. It would be arrogant to think I could. What I can do, and what I try to do, is reflect on my own perceptions and biases that relate to my privileged social position. I try to learn more about the matrix of race and power in our society and acknowledge the ways I benefit and how others may not. If I am ignorant about the full extent of white privilege (which I can never really know), does that preclude me from thinking about race and power? Again, please respond!
Thank you for having the bravery to tell your story, your words here have moved me. I had been a big fan of the podcast for a long time, but when I heard how Robert spoke to you and hearing the pain in your upset me greatly. Ignoring the resources you had to share, not identifying your uncle for who he is ...and for treating you with such indecency was wrong. Ignoring the fact that the Hmong people have an understanding of nature and of bees....that is racist yes, it's also bad science. If you're trying to solve a mystery you don't ignore a fact like that. Anyway you are very brave to tell your story. I'm inspired by your words, and how you tell them. Also what the hell why does radiolab need to do a story where they try to make one of the most persecuted groups of people look bad and stupid? What is wrong with them? How about they do a story about how the holocaust was fake next, oh it wasn't gas in the showers!!!
This post makes me empathize with Mr. Krulwich more than anyone. I believe if you start relating a story as dramatic as this one, you had better be ready to clarify key points from the storyteller. I think he tried his best to seek clarity, not to "badger." Your use of that word is irresponsible. Who has seen this yellow rain get dropped? Why was the documented evidence re: yellow rain nothing at all like that of agent orange? There were plenty of victims on both sides to corroborate evidence of agent orange being used. There was both chemical evidence and lasting human evidence to support a wide number of documented cases. There was no chemical evidence to prove yellow rain was toxic, or anything other than bee droppings. No details on a delivery system or whether it was definitely a powder, a rain drop, smoke, what color it was, nothing. No one sample that could even be conclusively labeled a culprit. Doesn't it seem funny that no scientific evidence of a chemical agent exists after 400 reported attacks on both sides of the conflict? Where are the toxins in the blood of the survivors? Your uncle couldn't even verify that he heard planes while the 'yellow rain' was falling. There are so many inconsistencies in these accounts! That's another thing. Where were the planes? Yes, one should not stand out in the open when bombs are being dropped to study the sky. Yet if you are experiencing these horrifying events, some details would surely be indelible. Even with a firsthand account supported by journal entries, details were almost nonexistent. Your uncle traveled to different places and saw the same things, heard about other peoples' accounts, and identified the culprit as yellow and sticky. These are the only details he gave. If he could not remember a specific plane or helicopter, or noise, or smell, what were the details he remembered that might make a western journalist less skeptical? Surely he could recall something of further use. His knowledge of bees was not mentioned in the podcast – and it would have been prudent to mention such a thing – but all he could say is that the yellow rain fell away from colonies. Why would the bees have to be close to known colonies? Bees migrate: "An episode of mass pollen release from bees in 2002 in Sangrampur, India, prompted unfounded fears of a chemical weapons attack, although this was in fact due to a mass migration of giant Asian honeybees. " Whether or not you believe him, his firsthand account amounted to nothing more than conjecture as far as a responsible journalist is concerned. Also: if it was the Vietnamese or Laotian military responsible for these attacks, why wouldn't this have come out after the regimes were toppled? Why would everyone be silent about this, especially if it could be used to demonize the potential source of the chemical weapon: the Pathet government, or the hated Vietnamese? This all smacks of similar cases of (documented) evidence-turned-conjecture: "The team re-interviewed a Hmong man who had said in an earlier interview that he had seen “with his The Yellow Rain Affair 83 own eyes” chemical attacks on a village in Laos, had witnessed six deaths, and had suffered chest pains, chills, and dizziness. The CBW Team asked him how, while he was a resistance fighter in the distant jungle, he could know so much about attacks on the village. He then changed his account to say that he “did not personally see the attacks but rather had received accounts of the attacks from others.” In another example, the team was able to locate a Hmong woman previously interviewed by a British nurse. The woman reportedly said in the earlier interview that she had experienced a chemical attack and had become very ill from it. When interviewed by the CBW Team, however, the woman gave a different account: she confirmed that airplanes flew over her village every two or three days at high altitude but she denied ever having experienced chemical warfare. The team also interviewed a Hmong man who, when in a group with other Hmong, “told of gassing attacks but denied its reality when the interviewer talked to him alone outside.” I used this source: Why does it bother you so much that westerners wanted concrete proof that this stuff happened? NPR is supposed to be guilt-ridden because they wanted to enforce journalistic standards? Mr. Krulwich already apologized for his tone. Did you ever consider that his tone may have stemmed from the fact that your uncle's story had the same inconsistencies that led to other Laotian accounts being discredited? Is it racist to doubt someone, or to view their story as apocryphal? Surely you do not believe that a solemn firsthand account makes for anything more than a plausible story worthy of investigation. Your uncle's story did not stand up to the investigation. The only argument for racism I found powerful: the producers at Radiolab did not mention your or your uncles' credentials. That was a mistake. But when you throw around terms like "badgering" and "interrogation" and "racist" simply because someone chooses to be skeptical and fact-oriented, you are making a far larger mistake.

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.

Dear Mr. Yang, I would like to acknowledge you for the quest and commitment to the honoring of your people, your heritage, the lives of those lost, and the critical importance of publicizing what occurred, and persisting in seeking disclosure and acknowledgement of the truth underlying those events. Unfortunately, Radiolab and its featured performers and producer, in the interests of expediency and entertainment, completely missed the essence and importance of your story, as the witness and sole documentarian of no less than a genocide, in their singular goal and mission to expose a misrepresentation of a dead US President to justify chemical weapons development, through a facile invocation of scientist-as-authority, and bee dung. It is inconceivable that were you Eli Wiesel, and the genocide involved were the Holocaust, that the disrespect and dismissiveness of their behavior would have occurred; and, I completely support your daughter's hanging of a racist mantel around the necks of Mssrs. Krulwich, Abumrad, and Walters, irregardless of their myopic inability to recognize it themselves. I hope that at minimum, notwithstanding the failure of Radiolab and NPR to acknowledge their profound error and failure of both judgement and journalistic integrity, that the broadcast of the story produces individuals interested in getting to the truth, actions, and actors responsible for what you observed, and the justice demanding to be served, in the face of such a horrific event.
Thank you for sharing your story. I am disturbed by the program's, and many of the commenter's, blinders to people's lived experiences to justify their need to have a gotcha Regan moment. What if the president's name was changed to Kennedy, Johnson or Carter? How would that change the narrative, the responses, the angle? Human suffering can not be erased just because it doesn't fit neatly in a political agenda or narrative. Why are some here so blinded that they can not realize that science can never be altered or skewed to fit the desired narrative? Or to admit the flaw in their desired narrative?
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.
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.
Thank you. I am so glad to have found your voice today.
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.
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.

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.

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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Sincerely, Preston Goodson
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.
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 ( 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.

I haven't come across Judith Butler before, so can't comment on the specific example you're bringing up. However, I do feel that there are some common straw man arguments being set up in the discussion over institutional racism.

Can someone misuse the framework of structural inequalities and systemic oppression (from which the concept of institutional racism arises)? Yes, but that is true of most things. However, that doesn't negate the fact that this framework is very powerful in drawing attention to the many affects of underlying hierarchies (not just of racism, but through intersectionality, also of sexism, classism, etc). Saying that at times it can be misused, so therefore this framework is not just utterly baseless but also dangerous, seems a logical leap equivalent to saying that sometimes medical drugs can be abused, so in conclusion they're not only ineffective but dangerous. It also presupposes that the act of calling someone a racist/sexist/etc is much more damaging, and has much greater negative social, political, and economic repercussions, than the racism/sexism/etc being called out and critiqued. In other words, one of the unexamined assumptions embedded in your criticism is that those with the privileges being called out, in this case through racial hierarchies, matter more than those without.

This is truly an interesting article. However, I would suggest that "racism" probably was not the correct term that should have been used. I am a bit annoyed by all these commenter who are attempting to include all their "research", or overly trying to prove another point. Please, if you disagree, just simply say so, no need for the attempt of startling more drama. Everyone should simply understand that, although you may view Radiolab higher than a day-to-day radio station. At the end of the day, they are still a radio station. How can they survive, if they do not create drama? How can they stand out from all other stations if all they do is stick to the "truth"? So how about, everyone, leave your "past experience, belief, and support" aside and when you make a judgement....let only right then and there impact. If you are a supporter of Radiolab, put aside your "love and past experience with their radio station". If you are from the Hmong community, do not allow yourself to immediately react just because you are "Hmong" and see the word "racism". All readers of this article, sit back and think it thoroughly before making a fool out of yourself. Overall, I am Hmong and I would like to state again that "racism" really was not the correct term to have been used. I would label their characteristics as ignorance and negligence. If America would stop living by the code of "where's your proof?" and "where's the scientific record?" for every damn thing, then they could start appreciating HISTORY a bit more. Everyone will have a different story to tell. Line 5 people up and allow them to witness a death, they'll all come out with different stories. They shouldn't be judge upon or accused of lies. You "seek" for their help, you "asked" for their viewpoint. What they experience is what "THEY" experience. No scientific testing or person will ever know what that person went through, what that person witness. The world should just respect that. Have a great day World, let's all lessen the drama for one day :)
Here's a pretty detailed response from RadioLab. Sounds like Kalia might have gotten a couple things wrong?

Thanks for linking to this, Mina. I'd be very interested to hear what people have to say in response.

My initial, extremely glib reaction: Radiolab needs to hire better PR people!

My much longer reaction to one of Mr. Capello's points:

In part three of his rebuttal, responding to "the accusation that Radiolab refuses the statement submitted by Kalia Yang", Dean Capello writes:

"Kalia initially sent Pat a very kind email. The email praises Pat for the powerful balancing of perspectives.

A day later, when the team asked her permission to run her response, she declined and followed up with a very different response. Our team evaluated her criticisms openly and honestly.

And Robert's public apology was a response to her note.

The comments section of the website reflected a wide range of viewpoints, including, within days, comments posted by Kalia's husband that voiced her concerns."

Four questions this raises in my head:

(1) How do some of Kalia's sentiments being echoed by her husband in some comments, at all refute the accusation that Radiolab refused to publish Yang's criticism of their segment? People can say whatever they want in the comments to this article, and as long as the comments aren't outrageously homophobic, racist, etc, they'll be allowed through. That is a completely different thing than Hyphen putting up their statements in an article, and that Mr. Capello is conflating the two is disingenuous at best.

(2) I'm not going to touch on the accuracy of Mr. Capello's portrayal of Ms. Yang's initial email, both because I haven't read it, and I don't find it relevant. (Others are, of course, more than free to disagree with me on this point, and address it directly.) What I will touch on, because I find it immensely intriguing, is this. Robert Krulwich's multiple clarifications and justifications have all been published, put on the podcast, edited and put on the podcast again, etcetc.

When offered the same platform, Ms. Yang sends a response that, as can be seen in her article above, talks incisively about the underlying power imbalances that come to play in the podcast. This response is never published because initially she sent Pat "a very kind email". Yet how is her initial communication being more positive, enough to disqualify her later criticism from being valid?

Listening to Radiolab's Yellow Rain podcast, it seemed to me that the show was alarmingly backwards on both race and gender issues. For one thing, it doesn't take a PhD scientist, or several months of reviewing academic papers, to know that one of the most pervasive and damaging stereotypes in our society is that of women being naturally irrational, emotional, conniving, indecisive, manipulative, etc. Sometimes all it takes is turning on the TV, and realizing how disproportionately few women occupy positions of authority.

Radiolab's editing of the Yellow Rain story, and Mr. Krulwich's dismissal of Ms. Yang's perspective as an emotionally manipulative attempt to wrest control of said story, among other things, seemed to draw upon and resonate with such sexist undercurrents. Yet it seems that instead of realizing this, Radiolab is seeking to once again justify it, and in doing so drawing upon some of those same undercurrents.

(3) A corollary to the point above: Instead of putting up Ms. Yang's words, Radiolab chose to put up Mr. Krulwich's reaction to her words. And they're using the fact that they've done this... to support their arguments that they haven't neglected her viewpoint, haven't deemed Mr. Krulwich's thoughts and reactions and truths more important and valid at every turn, that they've always been fair and balanced in presenting all viewpoints to their listeners without prejudice.

I find it rather remarkable that we're presented with contrary evidence here that manages to so thoroughly contradict itself and support the opposing viewpoint.

(4) This is a very obvious point, but Mr. Capello at least seems to have missed it, so: that Radiolab generously offers to post a statement by an interviewee that praises the show, yet is totally unwilling when the interviewee submits something critical instead -- does not say very good things about the show and its open-mindedness and receptiveness to criticism!

There's a lot to unpack in Mr. Cappello's rebuttal, and this comment has already become rather long. I might come back later if I have time, and I hope that others will also step in and air their opinions.

Also, this post from Matthew Salesses is an incisive critique of Radiolab's response, as well as good overview of the MPR comments. 

I do not think anyone has fired up this board like you have. . Regarding Kirti Kamjob's comments: . "than the racism/sexism/etc being called out and critiqued." . When racism becomes an everyday everything event, it evolves into meaninglessness. The race hobbyist ends up marginalizing the very thing they hope to stop. . "in drawing attention to the many affects of underlying hierarchies (not just of racism, but through intersectionality," . I think you bumped up against the real issue. The host had to choose between a man who literally walked out of the jungle vs men with big expensive lab equipment. . In the dynamic of the Post 1970's Liberal/Progressive world, credentials mean a lot and the more degrees the more infallible the degree holder becomes. Real world experience is nice, but the guy with the PhD simply can not be wrong. Add Harvard to the mix and you have infallibility the Pope himself could not hope to attain. . You drop a case of beer on your foot, you say damn that hurts. If a professor from a name school writes a 20 page paper on it, it certainly must be so. Despite more than abundant evidence to the contrary, the experts are never wrong. . The hosts sounded more suited to doing a Hollywood red carpet story than a thoughtful expose on the Hmong. The story should have been given more time considering the very serious charges of genocide. Back ground on the Hmong, their work with the United States and events that followed should have been more detailed. 20 minutes was simply not enough to do the issue justice. . For those who moan about evidence, if you ever have false charges placed against you, you will learn to love evidence that exonerates you. The Hmong lodged serious charges against Vietnam, solid evidence is needed to support that claim. What does work in their favor is unless suffering mass delusion large groups of people do not make up such charges. . As for "ism's" they'll always be around though the players change and the issues become musical chairs.. During the great Chick-Fil-A dust up, it was most amusing to see a Chinese-American mayor practicing exclusion, A study of human history shows one thing, nothing ever really changes.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. It is really important to hear the whole story behind the manipulated version. I'm sorry it was such a painful experience. If there is any way I can help-- I would love to start a petition?-- please let me know. Best, lily
I didn't say such a scenario could not exist. Certainly it could. I'm just saying that you and I are not in a position to identify it.

We seem to have had a technical glitch that lost some comments. If you submitted a comment in the past few hours, and it's still not up, please resubmit? I'm reposting one on behalf of KJ:

KJ wrote 50 min 10 sec ago

It's Possible to Be Fair to Both Sides

It seems to me that in the original interview, Kalia was reacting to
the way in which the interview was conducted and the surprising lack
of empathy shown by the interviewer. It seems odd that Radiolab would
invite a survivor of genocide to speak about his first-person
experience with the main intent to discredit his memories and

But what bothers me is the final product and what followed the release
of the story. Radiolab crafted the story in such a way that Robert was
allowed to contextualize Kalia's final reaction in relation to his
personal experience as a journalist. He said her reaction "wasn't
fair" and that she was trying to monopolize the story. That's quite a
claim, since Radiolab specifically invited the Yangs onto the show and
asked them to present their side of the story. And, in fact, Kalia
didn't challenge their right to do the story. She challenged what she
perceived to be their dismissive attitude toward her uncle's
experience. As she states in her own piece, "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. "

And here is where I think the power dynamic matters. Radiolab set the
stage beforehand with its invitation and the decision on what critical
lens to bring to the story. They also had editorial control afterward,
determining what stayed in or was removed (or updated). They got to
determine what sources and evidence counted as "legitimate" (academic
work supporting the bee theory) and which did not (articles and
first-hand accounts and academic work supporting the yellow rain
theory). Yet they have reacted to the questions from viewers and to
Kalia's negative response as if she had equal control over the content
of the podcast and how she and her uncle were depicted-- as if she is,
in fact, trying to monopolize the story.

The Yangs did not write to Radiolab and say, "Interview us. We have
definitive proof that Yellow Rain existed." Radiolab made the decision
to put their first-person account up against an academic study and see
which one might be found wanting. Radiolab also gave Robert the
opportunity to frame Kalia's initial reaction as manipulative, as if
she were somehow a surrogate for the Reagan administration and not a
niece trying to do justice by her uncle's lived experience. Look
carefully at the questions Robert sent to Kalia beforehand and it is
easy to understand why she and her uncle assumed that the interview
would be an exploration (and therefore a validation) of his
experiences, regardless of whether Radiolab thought Yellow Rain
existed: What happened after the Americans left? Was your village
attacked? At what point did you first hear about the yellow rain?
Where did the name yellow rain come from? How does one say yellow rain
in Hmong? Did you see it yourself? What did it look like?" But stated
aggressively, these questions can easily seems like a challenge or a
critique. I don't find is surprising, therefore, that the Yangs felt
unprepared or that the interview felt like an attempt to invalidate
what Mr. Yang had lived through. Tone is hard to intuit, especially in
email, so Robert may have assumed they knew he was looking for
evidence worthy of scrutiny while they believed he was looking for a
first-hand account of the Hmong experience during those years.

But the thing that truly bothers me is that even in apology, Radiolab
maintains that it is defending the journalistic search for "truth."
("What we attempted to do was to examine the Yellow Rain story in the
context of what constitutes truth.") If that is the case, then they
should have done one of two things:

A) Looked at the academic arguments on both sides of the debate and
interviewed officials from the Reagan administration who support the
Yellow Rain theory as well as professionals who refute it. In this
instance, the story is about government narratives versus scientific

B) Framed the story around the uncomfortable gap between what
scientists discover through research and what people experience,
illustrating the complications, nuances and consequences of this gap.

If they had gone with approach one, then they could still have
interviewed Mr. Yang, but about his professional experience
documenting the Hmong experience. If they had gone with approach B,
then they might have been more sensible to the fact that they were
interviewing a real human being about a very real, very emotional and
very traumatic episode in his life.

Radiolab needs to more fully own their aplogy and acknowledge that
this was not a facebook spat between friends. This was a professional
account that exploited one man's personal experience to make what they
believed was a profound point about the nature of truth. It wasn't
profound; it was a platitude and not nearly as worthy as a more
compassionate profile of Mr. Yang might have been.

I had meant to mention this in my last post. While the interview did not meet Ms Yang's satisfaction, it is not an all is lost situation. . Radiolab did the broadcast and keeps a podcast available. They did include a discussion of the interview and story. More know about the situation after that broadcast than before. More know about the Hmong after the broadcast than before. Uncle Eng has created a record that says this event did occur. . Someone "out there" who hears the story from someone's else's mouth may recall the Radiolab report and may investigate further. . Many investigations are conducted from the most inauspicious of starts.
She did not blame anyone for her miscarriage. As a writer and as a women who had to endure such an emotional and horrific ordeal, she was putting into perspective her emotions at the time. As someone who had a miscarriage myself, it helps to talk about it. The pain is real.
A reporter was an insensitive jerk who came to a story with an angle and some preconceived notions (how's that for novelty?) - and then spun the story in post-production to give it the slant . . . and that's racist because . . . the interviewer is caucasian and the interviewee is asian? Using a term like racism out of context in an attempt to stir up more outrage or garner more sympathy is just as offensive as misusing the term holocaust or genocide.
I just wanted to say that I cried with you when I heard you on the radio. Due to my own experiences, I think it's very easy for uninvolved people to talk about traumatic events in a cold and dismissive way. I also think this comes from a place of privilege. People who haven't had these experiences often think they can have opinions and sometimes even tell you their opinions are more valid, because they see things objectively. But this is not true. Part of the reason wars and genocide are important in our history is the huge emotional impact they have on the population. You can't study or analyse events like these without taking feelings into account. If war and genocide did not create trauma and psychological wounds, they wouldn't be nearly as relevant as they are. Your interviewers may have had a scientific reason to do what they did. But they forgot empathy. Even before hearing you react, I felt they were using your suffering to prove their completely unrelated point. This is the kind of behavior that feeds the stereotype of the cold, calculating scientist. I am not sure it was racism, though. I think the issues here are a massive lack of empathy and tact, not to mention dishonesty, because they should have told you what the purpose of the interview was.
So sorry for your and your husbands loss. Also for your uncle's and your experience with NPR. I hope you and he will write more about those times, also about the Hmong experience in the US. It is a valuable history.
Are you so cynical as to think a woman would calculatingly use the death of her unborn baby to inspire sympathy for herself? You sound like Krulwich when he interpreted her emotional reaction as an attempt to manipulate. Both backhandedly brushing off her emotional response to the situation and insinuating she has selfish intentions. She was not trying to insinuate that Radiolab was a contributing factor in anyway to her miscarriage. Most people understand that when you lose a child you somehow have to try to come to peace with what's happened. Her piece let's you know this incident is not insignificant.To Radiolab it was an interview gone wrong that's probably caused them some headache and at most regret for their reputation. But for Kalia and her uncle Eng it hit close to home.
First off, the content of the radiolab segment in question here is a near perfect exeplification of one of modernity's greatest hindrances: the conflict between empericism and individual perception. Uncle Eng "knows" that chemical weapons were used on his people in the post-Vietnam War era because of personal experience and a community narrative that confirms the objective truth of yellow rain. Jad and Robert "know" that there were no chemical weapons used on the Hmong people in the post-Vietnam War era because there is no emperical evidence for this assertion. And so the question becomes that of persuasiveness, do you the listener and reader find yourself more compelled to believe a passionately recounted first hand description or that of research that is conducted in a scientifically methodological manner? Do you believe in God because you "feel" sure that there is some sort of extra-physical force of order within the Universe, or do you reject the existence of God because again, it's an assertion for which there is no emperical evidence. Ghosts? UFO Sightings? The quote of Ms. Yang's that demonstrates this divide quite well is when she says that Robert and Jad engage in "the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge." If most readers of this article could agree to privilege the core-tenets of the western, academic canon over say, those of fundamentalist Islam and eugenicism, why not privilege it over a particular group's interpretation of a historical event that has no corroborating evidence aside from personal experience? Which leads me to my other point. Accusing Radiolab of racism in this instance is hysteria-driven and a purely ad-hominem attack. I wish that I could convey how much damage is done to meaningful causes through the lexical adoption and casual usage of words like 'racist,' 'sexist', 'classist' etc. From the mouth of a far left ideologue, they generally seem to mean 'bad' and 'does not comport with my analysis.'

Others have already responded to some of your points. I would add two things.

(1) It is telling that so many people, like you, like Radiolab, keep trying to frame this as a conflict between empiricism/logic/science and indigenous backwardness/emotion. And in your case, what I find particularly ironic is that, to drive your point home, one of the things you are contrasting (contrasting!) this empiricism based on "western, academic canon" against is eugenics.

(2) It is similarly telling that so many people, like you, like Radiolab, seek to so absolutely reject Kao Kalia Yang's account. She presents her side of the story, and she is a senseless, hysterical, selfishly short-sighted woman. You, and Krulwich, and so many others, dismiss her and her perspective sweepingly on these grounds (and in your case, claiming she made a purely ad-hominem attack while casting her as hysteria-driven was, again, a particularly ironic touch), and you are rational, logical, sensible men of science, and to even suggest otherwise could very well permit her and people like her to cause, hm, exactly what does it cause in your perspective? The downfall of Western civilization as we know it, leaving the superstitious natives and dangerous fundamentalists and eugenicists (sorry, but this will never stop being utterly ridiculous) to claim the field?

And you wish you could convey the damage that is done in these cases?

Perhaps, just perhaps, you should instead try and listen to exactly what is being said, and consider why it is being said? Perhaps, just perhaps, you should instead try and consider exactly what it is that makes it so easy for you and others to so sweepingly dismiss it?

But then again, this is probably a too ridiculous and far-left ideological notion to be given any credence, especially since no empirical, rational person wants to have the downfall of Western civilization and eugenics on their conscience.