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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: race

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August 21, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Should Obama go to Ferguson?

Whether President Barack Obama goes to Ferguson, Mo. in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen has become the question du jour among American politicos.

Obama’s liberal base and a righteously raw black community have clamored for the nation’s first black president to get directly involved in the latest episode of deadly violence meted out upon a defenseless black youth.

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But visiting Ferguson would not only be a risky move for a president bogged down in political immobility, it would more likely inflame tensions than quell them.
And given his track record dealing with issues of race, it’s probably better that Obama maintain some distance while demonstrating an empathetic engagement.

His presidential performance in two previous race storms – the Henry Louis Gates racial profiling and Trayvon Martin shooting incidents – didn’t live up to his 2008 “More Perfect Union” campaign speech on race, or the country’s subsequent and wildly unrealistic expectation that he single-handedly improve America’s racial climate.


Comments | Topics: african american, barack obama, race

August 19, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Mikado, yellowface debate at Seattle Repertory Theatre forum

Corrected version

Should historic works created during different times with different sensibilities be shelved? Should the work be altered? Can the work be done if proper context is provided? How often do you see representations of people who look like you on a regular basis? (No. Yes. Yes. Almost never.)

These were just a few of the questions asked at a Monday night forum on theater and race sparked by a recent Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society production of “The Mikado” that cast 40 non-Asian actors in Japanese roles. The event, “Artistic Freedom and Artistic Responsibility,” featured a panel of theater artists and was organized by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, the city’s Office for Civil Rights and King County’s cultural-services agency 4Culture. In addition to the panelists, the discussion drew in discussion from audience members who had submitted comments in advance.

Seattle Channel plans to broadcast the video. Many artists in other cities who could not attend the event watched a livestream and discussed it on Twitter with the hashtag #SeattleAFAR. Here is video from Howlround.

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I first wrote about the problematic production in a Seattle Times column four weeks ago, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” The column sparked a national debate — community groups like the JACL spoke out against the show, protesters demonstrated outside most of the shows, national outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR and CBC covered it, and influential bloggers like Angry Asian Man and Reappropriate wrote about it. Read, watch and listen to all the coverage at ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage.”


Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

August 19, 2014 at 6:02 AM

‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage

The controversy about a Seattle “Mikado” production began with my July 14 Seattle Times column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” My Opinion Northwest blog post about the experience of watching the show: ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show” If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at…


Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

November 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Building steam under science, technology, engineering, math and the arts

The dearth of women in technology professions or girls taking STEM classes has been well-documented. But I found reason for hope recently during an afternoon with young girls studying STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics education, during full-day workshops on six consecutive Saturdays.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

The girls were recruited from Seattle-area middle and high schools and community organizations by the Greater
Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women. At the TAF Academy, the Federal Way public school run by the Technology Access Foundation, the girls engaged in hands-on learning about robotics and gaming technology using NASA STEM education guidelines developed for the U.S. Department of Education. I met the girls on their final day when they had gathered at Rainier Beach Community Center to model their robots – including some talking ones – and debut video games they designed.

The games had stunning graphics and creative twists. I was especially wowed by those inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Who says girls are not gamers!

Also, who says STEM should not include arts. The aesthetic of the games, their design and usability, was all about artistic values. The afternoon was a celebration of the girls’ accomplishments but for me it was also a glimpse at the promise of STEAM, rather than STEM, education.

President Obama has emphasized STEM education as necessary preparation for a global and tech-driven economy. I’ve written here and here about the sizeable gap between the number of tech jobs available and the number of job seekers with the training and education to fill those jobs.  The inbalance is greater for young people of color. National efforts draw attention to the dilemma, but it is dogged work at the local level, by advocacy and commnity groups like The Links, that moves the needle.


Comments | Topics: children, Education, race

November 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Langston Hughes theater performs much-needed play about breast cancer

If you haven’t seen the “The Purification Process,” at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, your chance ends this weekend. The dramatic-comedic play tackles everything from breast cancer to work, marriage, friendships and those cringe-inducing mother-daughter tensions – all of this viewed through the lenses of African Americans. There’s a reason to focus on black women. While white women are more likely to get…


Comments | Topics: breast cancer, race, Seattle

September 9, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Detangling the hair wars fought by African Americans

My recent column sticks up for 7-year-old Tiana Parker, an Oklahoma girl forced to choose between her school and her hairstyle. The Tulsa girl was sent home from school, on the first day no less, because her hair was styled in dreadlocks. She kept her hairstyle but switched to a new school that will hopefully be more interested in what’s in her head, rather…


Comments | Topics: African Americans, Afros, children

July 24, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Shootings by King County deputies viewed through the prism of Fruitvale Station

King County Sheriff John Urquhart really must see the movie “Fruitvale Station” which opens in Seattle on Friday.

Fruitvale is based on the real-life slaying of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by an Oakland transit officer in 2009. The cop, Johannes Mehserle, was captured on bystanders’ cellphones standing over Grant, who was pinned to the ground by other cops,  and shooting him point-blank in the back. Mehserle said he mistook his gun for a Taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than a year.  The movie moves backwards from that fateful night to show the life Oscar Grant lived.

Urquhart needs to see ‘Fruitvale.” It would help with the sheriff’s mission to restore public confidence, following a recent independent report to the King County Council critical of the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of an incident where deputy and a corrections officer shot a man 16 times last year while were searching for another man. Urquhart was on KUOW radio this week calling the 2012 shooting of Dustin Theoharis justified despite the high bullet count. His view is backed by two review panels. Urquhart must cross the blue line and see carnage left by cops and wanna-be cops with itchy trigger fingers.

He must understand what film critic Steven Boone, reviewing Fruitvale for, meant when, paraphrasing The Elephant Man, wrote about Oscar Grant: “(He) was not an animal. He was a human being. He had dreams and feelings. He cared for many people, and many people cared for him.”

Oscar and the lucky to be alive Dustin Theoharis are human beings who did not deserve what they got from the people paid to keep us safe.


Comments | Topics: children, crime, King County police

July 15, 2013 at 7:38 AM

Asiana fake pilot names a juvenile joke from NTSB on KTVU TV

On Friday, KTVU TV in the Bay Area reported the names of the Asiana pilots on air, and named four fake Asian-sounding names: “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk” and “Bang Ding Ow.” Here is the video of the news report.

Get it? Captain Sum Ting Wong rhymes with Captain Something Wrong.

After the social media world went after KTVU and the nonprofit Asian American Journalists Association started asking questions, the National Transportation Safety Board apologized and acknowledged that a summer intern “erroneously confirmed the pilot names,” in a Friday news release. KTVU also issued an apology Friday.

AAJA released a statement saying, “Those names were not only wrong, but so grossly offensive that it’s hard for us at the Asian American Journalists Association to fathom how those names made it on the broadcast.” In fact, a KTVU staff member hung up on AAJA President Paul Cheung when he called to ask how the names appeared on air, according to Cheung.

To put this in context, this is an aviation disaster in which three people died, many were critically injured, possibly paralyzed, and the government agency charged with investigating the crash made a joke of it.

When the agency held a news conference reporting the final minutes of pilot dialogue before the crash, should we consider that a joke too? Perhaps it would be helpful if the agency’s final report about the Asiana 777 crash in San Francisco was issued in gibberish, which the NTSB could claim was Korean.


Comments | Topics: aerospace, Boeing, race

June 21, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Is Paula Deen racist? Speaking up in her defense

Celebrated chef Paula Deen (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)

Celebrated chef Paula Deen
(AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)

 Update: The Food Network confirmed Friday that it will not renew mega chef Paula Deen’s contract at the end of June. The decision came after Deen apologized for using racial epithets in the past. Network executives obviously talked to a few big advertisers and decided riding out the overblown controversy was not worth the financial costs.

There are many reasons to turn away from Deen.  In an era when no one should be ignorant to the fiscal and health costs of unhealthy eating, Deen has built a profitable empire atop a mound of butter, fat and sugar.

I was not surprised when Deen announced she had Type 2 diabetes. I was surprised she was still alive. I’ve always pictured her arteries as clogged roadways where nearly nothing gets through. At some point, even the oxygen gives up.

People have been muttering angrily about Deen since she combined her diabetes diagnosis with a lucrative endorsement of a drug used to treat it.

Now she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire after  admitting in a legal deposition to using racial epithets. A former manager at Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Ga., is suing Deen and her brother for sexual and racial harassment, saying that Deen tolerated racist jokes. Suddenly, an adoring nation has erupted in furor. Social media has been the biggest outlet for the “Paula Deen is a racist” crowd. On Twitter, #paulasbestdishes is meant sarcastically, not a resource for her Southern food recipes.

Only Deen knows if she harbors racist views. The rest of us ought to do one thing: Note the context of reports about her. She had used racial epithets. Decades ago. Indeed, her company released a statement underscoring the time in American history when Deen used a racial epithet:


Comments | Topics: food, race

June 7, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Seattle Public Schools stumbles on race, teacher Jon Greenberg

Supporters of Jon Greenberg rally at a Seattle School Board meeting. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Supporters of Jon Greenberg rally at a Seattle School Board meeting.
(Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

The Seattle Public Schools would rather deal with outraged teachers and students at the Center School than confront race head on. Why else would district officials  transfer Jon Greenberg, whose Race and Social Justice class was once investigated for making one student feel uncomfortable.

The district had already investigated Greenberg’s curriculum for subversiveness. What do they think he’s doing: making white students stand up and apologize for slavery? The class was the subject of an investigation earlier this year after the parents of one senior complained their daughter felt intimidated by discussions of race. Greenberg is being  transferred to Hamilton International Middle School.

Greenberg defended his class in a Times Op-ed in March.

“Whether students move on to become cashiers or CEOs, they will inevitably fill, in varying degrees, positions of influence. Everyone benefits from analyzing the role race and racism play in our experiences — past, present or future. My students have provided 10 years’ worth of evidence of that.”

Eighteen Center School teachers had signed a letter urging Superintendent José Banda not to accept the transfer. Greenberg is a highly respected teacher. On the rigorous, four-tiered evaluation, Greenberg was ranked “innovative,” the highest level.


Comments | Topics: children, Education, race

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