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I’m tired of people’s stupid reactions to the Japan earthquake

March 17, 2011 · 23 comments

in Inspiration, Journalism how-to's

I wish that following news from Japan did NOT involve following American public reaction to the disaster. Of course, the racists are beyond evil; I’ll get to them in a second.

But I’m also troubled by the regular folk who are yammering about “taking stock” and “counting their blessings.”

Now that they’ve seen the horrific decimation of Japanese lives and property, some Americans are re-evaluating their own situations. They’re grateful that an earthquake didn’t rock our side of the planet into a tsunami. They watch video of the wounded, homeless and dead — and suddenly feel an appreciation for the homes, jobs and families that they’d been complaining about 10 minutes ago.

So what’s wrong with their epiphany? Well, here’s my pet peeve: Why did it take someone else’s extreme tragedy for these people to realize what they have? Where are their brains — and hearts — that they didn’t feel blessed every single waking day? By any global standard, we Americans enjoy an obscene amount of abundance. We take much for granted.

Which leads to my second pet peeve: Are we so self-centered that we can only respond to Japan’s nightmare in comparison to our own belly buttons? I’m the first one to admit that I love talking about myself. But what’s going on overseas exists apart from my obsessive navel-gazing. The issue demands my attention — and respect — on its own terms.

Given the situation, I think there are only three decent responses:

  1. give money to help the relief effort
  2. keep up with the latest news
  3. pray

Of course, the ignorance of the annoying people is nothing compared to the truly ugly Americans. AngryAsianMan.com explains it all in his rant, “hey you f@#king facebook idiots, the tsunami is not payback for pearl harbor.”

Watch out for the benign racists too. I met one the other day at my gym’s morning fitness class. It was the smiling instructor. She approached me after the workout and asked, “Did you have anyone in Japan?”

Whaaaat? It took me a minute to register her question. Oh, I get it — she sees my little Asian face and assumes I’m Japanese….

“Uh, no,” I said, frowning. “I’m Chinese.” As I left her, did I imagine that she seemed disappointed? By the way, the instructor was a Caribbean-American woman of color. Would I ever walk up to her and ask, “Do you have anyone in Libya? Or Haiti?”

Well, I’m done venting. I’d like to close by directing you to Gil Asakawa, a Japanese-American in Denver. On his NikkeiView.com blog, he has a superb reflection on what it was like being a kid in earthquake-y Japan (before his family immigrated to the U.S.). His thoughtful list of resources includes where to donate, which I’m using as one of my guides.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going back to googling, texting my donations via cell phone and listening to the radio.

More on my news sources:

  • National Public Radio is doing great stuff — and growing as a news organization. It’s actually hiring reporters. But its management needs work, according to a March 14 New York Times story.
  • Pew Research Center just released its “State of the Media” report. More than ever, people are news addicts. But they’re getting their fix online — to the point where websites are the only growth segment of the news industry.
  • Speaking of online, you can search Google for just the latest updates. Here’s where I’m going for news:

Pick a time frame for your Google searches. Click on "Latest" for breaking news.

 

 

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Wytenus March 17, 2011 at 1:27 am

Betty,

I totally hear you on the Facebook racists. I’ve actually stopped reading my newsfeed because what I was reading was making my head spin. What I find particularly incredible about the Pearl Harbor “karma” people, aside from their apparent lack of empathy and humanity, is their selective memories. Did they all forget about the Japanese American internment camps and Hiroshima and Nagasaki? But that’s really besides the point and not worth arguing with those people…

Thanks for the Google tip. I didn’t know you could combine the latest tweets with the top links on a single page. If you’re interested in real time updates on Twitter, I’d recommend following @martyn_williams and @nytjim. Jim is an NYT editor and doing a terrific job aggregating news out of Japan. Martyn lives in Tokyo and is also doing a great job updating news around the clock. They’re both worth a look.

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M. Skye Holly March 17, 2011 at 2:13 am

I am going to have to check out AngryAsianMan.com, thanks for that. I hear what you are saying on so many levels to the point where I want to high-five you a bunch of times. But also, I agree w/ Chris’ statement which makes me wonder should I even go ahead and read the link. I already feel that he is going to comment on things that made him angry (AngryAsianMan as your title is a dead giveaway!) and I think I am going to get angry with him. But I don’t want to get myself all worked up. What Chris said hits me, that reading this stuff makes your head spin and it is not worth arguing about. Why argue when we can follow what you suggested. 3 simple things, not too tough. Give. Stay aware. Pray. Easier than ”eat pray love,” if you ask me. Why do we make it so much harder on ourselves and harder on the rest of the world? One nation is going through extreme times and people want to call this situation ”payback for Pearl Harbor.”

I appreciate my free speech, but some things we should make people pay for.
An insensitivity tax or something like that.

As with the epiphanies that you mentioned, yup, yup, I know. I have been through ups and downs, but I don’t want it to take the downs that happen to be what fuels my appreciation for living. We really do have more than we are grateful for, as a people, as a nation. But when we appreciate life out of someone else’s calamity, we usually go right back to the indifference or complaining after the buzz dies down. Our sense of gratitude isn’t fueled by compassion, maybe instant emotional response. Once that fades, we forget. Back to routine, back to self-centeredness.

To live on purpose, and not by accident or default is the way to go. I believe in living not because you escaped death, but living because you’ve been given life. Granted, for those who have near death experiences that turn their life around, I am not taking anything away from you. Sometimes that is what we might need to get our attention. But what will keep our attention? Not the realization that we’ve survived a car crash or escaped a fire…that is living motivated by fear. Coming from a love standpoint, true appreciation for the simple or mundane moments is what keeps you after such epiphanies.

Give pray love! Betty, you just may have to start a movement. But beware, someone will start posting with anti-happy and insensitive remarks.

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Mari March 17, 2011 at 8:08 am

I agree 100%: why does it take such a big tragedy to be more sensitive/smart/aware about our own privileges?
Donate, pray and keep up-to-date (now and in the future).

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betty March 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

chris and skye, what are you two doing up so late? aren’t mid-terms over? and isn’t this spring break week? unless of course, cruising my blog is your idea of crazy fun….

chris, thanks for those two great twitter contacts. i just followed both of them. btw, i clicked on their twitter profiles and learned something from each of them about how journos can promote themselves on twitter.

martyn williams’ profile has a very cool link to his google news page. it archives all his latest stories. the bottom of the google page has a link to his “fast flip” that shows page images of his latest stories, all on one screen: http://bit.ly/dE3bA1 (his twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/martyn_williams.)

as for jim roberts, this assistant managing editor at the new york times has only one thing on his profile — his phone #. that says it all. http://twitter.com/#!/nytjim

and skye, please do check out angryasianman.com. its author, korean-american phil yu, has a wicked sense of humor. he’s not even always that mad. he’s the go-to guy for the latest asian-american news.

meanwhile, another reader emailed me about the viral video featuring ucla student alexandra wallace. it’s the one where she complains about all the asians on campus. youtube took it down but copies abound: http://bit.ly/ffO3K8

for more on this video, check out the responses by gil on nikkeiview.com (http://bit.ly/e1102e) and phil on angryasianman.com ( http://bit.ly/eC74XR).

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Kristin March 17, 2011 at 9:07 am

I think that people are using social media as a way to appear sensitive or something. Counting their blessings? A lot of people here don’t understand how well they’re taken care of (not that I understand to a full extent either). What I really don’t get? Say you actually think all of your racist political comments are correct…what makes you think it’s okay to put it up on FB or Twitter for the world to see? Even beyond the level of disrespect, you’d think people would be smarter about they use social media by now. It’s sad how much energy goes into all of these negative comments and even sadder when I know how excited they get when people comment on their statuses–positive or negative.

While I’m Korean and haven’t gotten any “Do you know anyone in Japan?” questions yet, I know exactly what you’re saying. No, I will not be disappointed if you can’t outwardly guess that I’m Korean, but yes, I will be angry if you assume I’m something else. I also always get people asking me where I’m from “originally.” When I say Minnesota…they always give me a bit of a blank stare and follow with, “Oh, so you were born there?”

Ew.

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betty March 17, 2011 at 9:08 am

mari and skye, i never thought about variations on the “eat pray love” theme! let’s keep this going….”read pray give.” there must be something giving-themed out there that rhymes with “love…”

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Kristin March 17, 2011 at 9:19 am

Oh! I forgot to mention a project I’m involved in to help!

In February, a company I dance with, Summation Dance, performed two sold-out shows at Baryshnikov Arts Center. The artistic director is Japanese and has immediate family there. We’ve decided to remount the evening-length work for one night and ALL proceeds will be donated to relief efforts. Not a single dancer, production crew member or other artistic staff member is getting paid and the performance space was generously donated by NYU-Tisch. I’ll be sure to update you when I get more details (the performance is in early April).

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Elizabeth W March 17, 2011 at 9:33 am

I am only glancing at the news, because it’s too much for me to take in. It’s a level of devastation I can’t even get my head around… and I hate feeling so powerless.

In the wake of faraway disasters– I tend to donate to local charities. I’m thinking CityHarvest.

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M. Skye Holly March 17, 2011 at 9:33 am

read pray live
read pray hug
tweet pray love…

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betty March 17, 2011 at 10:53 am

kristin, please come back here and post about the relief effort. i will help you tweet about it. i would like to attend too, esp if you’re dancing in it. and ellzabeth, i like the idea of giving locally. there is need all around us. my daughter and i just started volunteering at the local animal shelter — a few weeks ago, we went and each walked a dog.

love love love

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Hana Song March 17, 2011 at 11:33 am

Unfortunately, I was also asked if I had someone in Japan. Now that you mention it, it’s very annoying. And the one who asked is my roommate and knows very well that I’m Korean – still she chose to assume that because I’m Korean I know people in all the Asian countries. Of course.

The situation is pretty awful though. You might have already seen this blog, but the Boston Globe has a great page called the The Big Picture with some amazing photojournalism. The albums of March 11, 12, 14, 15 are all dedicated to Japan. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ Definitely worth taking a look.

Also, Alexandra, the UCLA girl, is allegedly receiving death threats. Her class schedule and exam locations were posted online, so the police are advising her to reschedule her final exams (this week) for safety reasons. http://bit.ly/hWhvvH

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betty March 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

hana, the boston globe blog is really powerful. i just looked at the photos and they made me cry. so vivid that you can feel it and smell it. thank you.

and yes, of course you know everyone in asia! haha. ugh. as for this ucla student, she is an idiot. anyone who threatens her is an even bigger idiot. but her enduring problem is that clearly, she didn’t understand that WHATEVER YOU POST ON THE INTERNET, STAYS ON THE INTERNET. forever.

so alexandra wallace, good luck finding a job when you graduate. honey, your name will be linked forever with anti-asian racism and general youthful stupidity. i ALWAYS remind my students to never, EVER post anything they’ll regret — even if it’s just a tweet, fb status feed or comment on someone’s blog. social media will come back to haunt all of us!

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ingrid March 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Those people that are counting their blessings might give a thought to the fact that Japan sits next to the western tail end of the Pacific plate, a section of which was responsible for the quake. The Pacific plate curves around through Alaska and down via the San Andreas fault in California. I worry that such a large adjustment on one end of the plate will soon be felt at another part of it. Why aren’t the scientists worrying about that?

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Frantzie March 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

So Right on Betty! Thanks for sharing!

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betty March 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

ingrid, you state that so clearly — as you do all things environmental. i dunno what the answer is. btw everyone, if you want to read a good environmental blog, click on ingrid’s name. and thanks, frantzie, for the love. :)

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Miss Rachel March 21, 2011 at 6:51 am

Wow. I’m relieved to say I have not heard that stupid Pearl Harbor thing until now. Your instructor’s question reminds me of this (white) guy who works at this Asian Fusion restaurant I frequent. He’s married to a Chinese woman who also works there. He’s a nice guy, but sometimes he just seems to be trying too hard. He speaks Chinese, but one time he tried it on an Asian customer who didn’t respond. The customer said “I’m Japanese.”

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Stephen March 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

I arrived in Seoul on the day the earthquake hit beneath the ocean, close to the City of Sendai. I’ve been to Sendai before; I have friends who live there and in Fukushima Prefecture where my daughter spent a year abroad. We’ve heard from one of four families we know in the immediate area. We are holding our collective breath as we wonder about the other three. We remain hopeful for these families though a dark logic: Japanese people have lived with earthquakes and devastation in their history. If any nation knows how to pick themselves up off the floor after nature has delivered a knockdown punch, I’d say “Japanese Resillence” will rise up off the floor before the count to ten. Of course, Sendai and other nearby residents are facing more than just a knockdown. They are engaged in a twisted version of Xtreme Boxing of no rules! The tsunami and the fires in the nuclear reactors aim to destroy a community’s will to live. It feels more like the ‘gods of vengeance’ are at work here–something more cruel that divine sport where some god thought it would be fun to watch Sisyphus push a rock up a hill for an eternity.

Anyway, in Seoul, the situation in Japan has an immediacy that you can’t get in California or New York–unless you are a New Yorker or Californian with personal ties to this island nation. Even Seoul isn’t on top of the mess but safely linked to the Asian continent. One Seoul resident said to me–after talking disparagingly about Japanese colonialism–felt oddly protected by Japan because Japan acts like a buffer: it feels the brunt of shifting tectonic plates beneath the Pacific Ocean. Korea occasionally gets a shivering shake and is spared the tsunami. But it lives with its own nemesis–the nightmares of a nuclear holocaust.

What the media isn’t covering is the effect of an estimated 450,000 people on the move. What’s it like when 450K people are displaced from their homes and jobs and loved ones and need food, clothing, and shelter somewhere–anywhere–else? I’m writing from Austin, Texas where 7,000 or so Louisianians fled after Hurricane Katrina. Overnight, our city population grew by ten percent. City life became surreal in a flash because 7,000 temporary residents were like imposing family members suddenly down on their luck and needing a helping hand! With no other place to go and nothing to do but sit around and wait–for their homes to dry out, or businesses to call them back home for work, or to bury their dead. The kids were pushed into local schools where some kids were ridiculed for their rags and ‘country ways.’ You know how kids are…

Seoul is a short two hour flight from Narita Airport. I was on my way to visit family in a seaside town about two hours south of Tokyo when the US State Department scared me off. Actually they said, “Don’t go!” So I remained on the sidelines watching events on television and wondering about octogenarian in-laws competing with newly arriving visitors for food, public space, a seat on the train, the last bottle of bottled water: ugh! The price of airline tickets, I was told, skyrocketed. Prices doubled quickly. I don’t know what the going rate to fly round trip is. And what happens if you arrive in Tokyo on one day but learn your flight’s been cancelled when you want to leave? I’m sure one will feel some level of panic.

Those fortunate to get out of Japan–by plane or boat to Korea–competed with others for a “room in the inn.” I was told that hotel occupancy was way up during a time of year when rooms should have been readily available. One heard more Japanese spoken on the streets of Seoul as time passed while news coverage on CNN International continued to loop images of Sendai as a city of toothpicks, toy cars, and sludge spilling over a high wall. By the end of the week, the photos took on an artful quality–catastrophe as photogenic art. I couldn’t help but imagine the next issue of National Geographic magazine on news stands soon. While Americans struggle to distinguish a Liu from a Kim or a Yamaguchi or a Nyugen or a Carpio, I was thinking in Seoul about profiteering. Which is more angering?

I flew out of Incheon Airport and over the mountain ranges of Japan where the blustering tailwinds spanked all fleeing airplanes shaking my cool soft drink into my lap. A napkin or two (and a prayer or two) quelled the vengeful gods sufficiently, ending my brief “suffering” after about one and one half hours of flying time out of Korea. Notwithstanding scary ruminations about the altitude of airborne nuclear contaminants in the thin atmosphere at 39,000 feet, I was quickly putting distance between me and the chaos I just flew over. But, in truth, i couldn’t stop thinking about my in-laws who are pacing themselves for the long haul of healing and rebuilding their homeland.

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betty March 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm

thanks for sharing ths insider’s view, stephen. a lot to think about.

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Annon March 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Betty you said the following: “As for this ucla student, she is an idiot. anyone who threatens her is an even bigger idiot. but her enduring problem is that clearly, she didn’t understand that WHATEVER YOU POST ON THE INTERNET, STAYS ON THE INTERNET. forever.
so alexandra wallace, good luck finding a job when you graduate. honey, your name will be linked forever with anti-asian racism and general youthful stupidity. i ALWAYS remind my students to never, EVER post anything they’ll regret — even if it’s just a tweet, fb status feed or comment on someone’s blog. social media will come back to haunt all of us!”

I Say: Alexandra doesn’t have a thing to worry about concerning her employment opportunities when she graduates. First of all she is White and a woman, as well as a very attractive woman too, she’s already backtracked by saying she doesn’t know what made her make that video and wished she could take it back if she could. AND you must remember white people are very forgiving when someone of their own kind says “they’re sorry” about some stupid thing they did or said. Look at John Imus and his comments about the black female college basketball players looking like as he put “nappy headed hos” yet he’s still making millions on WABC radio to this day. Another one? How about Dr. Laura Schlessenger and HER racist comments? She has book deals in the works & may even return to radio.. Why am I not surprised… I could give further examples of this but those examples should be sufficient. In short Alexandra will not have any problem getting hired at CHASE, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs or any other company once she walks through the door… I would love to see a follow up of her life 10 years from now, I bet you she will be A-OK :)

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betty March 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm

you make good points and you may be right on this one, annon. guess we’ll just have to wait and see. but quite frankly, i feel we all have better things to do than spend even another second thinking about alexandra wallace…..

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Kristin Schwab April 4, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I’m back to give an update about the dance performance my company is having. All proceeds will go to the Japan Society’s relief fund.

Please check out the link for details: http://summationdance.org/benefitforjapan

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Christina Lam April 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm

thanks, Betty! I liked having a list of agencies that are vouched for from which to choose…

peace,
Christina

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betty April 27, 2011 at 9:17 am

kristin, i couldn’t make your dance performance but so wonderful that you did this. and christina, thanks for checking this out.

there are so many ways to connect with japan. i’d like to link you now to the twitter of mike yamashita. he’s a shooter (aka photojournalist) for national geographic. he was recently in assignment in japan. and his tweets really moved me. very poignant.

btw, that instructor at the gym class recently asked me again what my nationality is. when i reminded her that i wasn’t japanese, something shut down in me. she meant no harm but i haven’t been back to her class since.

some people just don’t get it. maybe some day i’ll explain to her how i feel. but i also have reached the point where i don’t have the time or interest in setting the record straight with every person i meet. life is too short and i have too much to do.

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