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About these Refugees…


Not my family

My mother is a refugee.  Her and her parents, her 10 brothers and sisters, one of my cousins, and my older sister are refugees.  A whole generation of Vietnamese in the US are refugees.  They came in the early to late seventies as a result of the bloody civil war that most Americans know as the Vietnam War, but ironically, is often referred to in Vietnam as the American War or the Resistance against America War.

I myself don’t know what it’s like to decide within a moment’s notice to leave everything and everyone you know behind, and leave the land of your birth with only the clothes on your back.  I was born very soon after my family made that journey.  But like many second generation Vietnamese, I have taken some time to try and learn about the circumstances of their amazing journey to the US.  My family is mostly reticent about this part of their lives.  And understandably so.  I don’t think it would be very pleasant to reminisce about their lives being threatened simply because of their religious beliefs.  You see, my family is Catholic.  And at the time, religious people were not received well in the new communist Vietnam, and that is the primary reason my family left.

Despite them being good ol’ Christians,1 it turns out they and the rest of this wave of Vietnamese refugees weren’t welcome with open arms by Americans.  My own memories are littered with incidents where people defined me by a war that had been fought more than a decade ago.  I remember being called “Charlie” as a kid in school and having no idea what it meant.  I also remember trying to explain to my classmates that my father was actually in the South Vietnamese military and fought alongside the Americans.2 Many Americans somehow didn’t understand that the reason my family was even here in the first place was because they were on the American’s side during the war.  Vietnamese refugees, like many other immigrant groups before them, were frozen out of jobs, prevented from moving into neighborhoods, taken advantage of in the labor force, and subjected to violence that we know as hate crimes today.3 And you know what?  Despite all of this, not once did I or any of my family ever consider trying to turn any Americans to communists.  Despite what a lot of people I went to grade school and high school thought, we never once tried to ambush American soldiers in the jungle.  In fact, my family did pretty damn well.  Me and my sisters all have college educations, my mom votes and gives to her church every week, and we pay our taxes.  I was there at the courthouse when she and my sister raised their right hand and swore allegiance to the US.

Photo from

Photo from

Obviously, every group of refugees and immigrants are a result of a unique set of historical, political, and social forces, but when I see and hear talk about the current Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of the Paris attacks, I can’t help but see some parallels.  Here are some people who are being forced to leave their homes in order to save their lives.  And they’re being forced to, in no small part because of US military intervention in their part of the world contributes to the condition of their lives being in peril.

photo from

Can you imagine having to cross a fucking ocean or a sea on a goddammed inflatable raft? photo from

I see these people enduring massive tragedy – the loss of their homes, their countries, their way of life, and very often the loss of the lives of loved ones.  And instead of showing compassion and love for these people in their time of need (you know, like Christians should), on my own social media feed, I see people scapegoating these people.  I see people using this as an excuse to demonize people who practice a different religion.  And I see people blaming them for things that are very much a result of our own country’s actions and policies.  If you want to learn why this is such a terrible way to think about the Syrian refugee crisis, I’d recommend you checking out some of the work of Charles Kurzman who very effectively shows empirical evidence that a policy of targeting Arabs/Muslims/Refugees as terrorist suspects is categorically stupid, or maybe read this piece on how not accepting refugees is going to do fuck-all to stop terrorism.4  There is no shortage of empirical studies that you can find easily online that show that this way of thinking is awful.

But you can do that on your own time. That’s not why I’m here.  No, I’m here to tell you and anyone else who is shitting all over refugees that your shit is patently RACIST and YOU NEED TO CUT THAT SHIT OUT.  I know what you’re doing.  I saw people do it to my family, and I know what it looks like.  You’re not fooling anyone.  You, Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal and whatever racist shithead governors, and all the other b-holes in this world who go out of their way to make life worse for refugees…you can all go fuck yourselves.

  1. No, seriously, my mother is the most Catholic person I know.  Like if you put all American Catholics together, she would still be more Catholic than that. []
  2. This in addition to your garden variety Asian American Racism – like stuff about karate, the slanted eye thing, and the Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany accents []
  3. People, including most of my family, feel that immigrants are able to be successful because of “America” or whatever that is supposed to mean.  I can tell you first hand that there is a valid argument that immigrants are successful in spite of America. []
  4. My good friend Erik Love also has a forth-coming book on why all this crap directed at Arabs and Muslims is terrible as well. []

Chait vs Coates

I’m finally catching up with the Chait/Coates exchange and found this fantastic bit of writing.

White supremacy does not contradict American democracy—it birthed it, nurtured it, and financed it. That is our heritage. It was reinforced during 250 years of bondage. It was further reinforced during another century of Jim Crow. It was reinforced again when progressives erected an entire welfare state on the basis of black exclusion. It was reinforced again when the intellectual progeny of the same people who excluded black women from welfare turned around and inveighed against it through caricaturization of black women.


Somebody owes me NBA All star tickets

This was published last year on True Hoop, ESPN’s basketball blog – so basically the world’s largest sports news outlet:

We asked readers for suggestions on how to improve All-Star Weekend, so take it away, Bob Ngo!

The X games used to structure their best trick contest the similar to the dunk contest. Each contestant would get three chances to do their trick, and like the dunk contest, the trick took a few seconds, the announcers would go crazy, and the crowd would cheer and then that was it. It was ok, but there was a lot of downtime between tricks, between skaters, and this was especially felt if the skater did not land the trick.

Recently, they’ve switched to a “jam session” format, which I find to be much more compelling. Basically, skaters take turns, but they go immediately after the previous skater attempts a trick. I mean, I guess there are a few seconds between skaters but it feels like non stop skating for twenty or so minutes. This gets the crowd fired up and it gets the skaters fired up. Each skater gets caught up in the moment and knows that to do well, he has to outdo the trick that the previous skater just landed. It also, gets rid of the interminable time after a missed dunk because someone else is going right away. What you get is a contest where with each attempted trick, the tricks get increasingly more difficult, and increasingly more tense. By the end of it, the whole crowd is going nuts!

They say basketball is like jazz. In jazz, the true moments of genius come out of improvisation. Why not give the dunkers a format where they can show us their genius.
I dig this because I hate watching high flyers awkwardly walk around mid court, blowing on their cold hands while trying to generate some energy and enthusiasm in the current, over-produced format. Let them hype up each other (and the crowd) by creating a live mixtape of eye-popping dunks!

And these are the new rules for the dunk contest this year:

In the Freestyle Round, each conference will get 90 seconds to perform as many dunks as they can. This will basically be like what you see when a team goes up against the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers. Just a constant stream of dunking goodness.


RIP Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall 1932-2014

There are lots of things being written about Stuart Hall today after he passed away last night.  Most of the stuff that is being written is about how he is the “father of multiculturalism” and one of the first public Scholars from England to really transcend the boundaries of the academy.  And this makes sense.  His writing on gender and race in Great Britain has been extremely influential in the way modern leftists conceive of oppression and social justice.  He is indeed a towering figure in the intellectual world.

I would write more about this, but to tell you the truth, I really don’t know much about that part of Hall’s work.  No, I know him more as one of the leaders of a group of Scholars out of Birmingham, England in the late seventies and early eighties better known as the cultural studies movement.  This group of scholars heavily influenced the way that I and many other in the field of popular culture studies understand the role of popular culture in our lives. Additionally, the entire field of American Studies can be considered an extension of the cultural studies movement.

Hall never actually wrote that much about popular culture.  In fact, the one piece that he is known for is only 15 pages.  The piece I speak of is called Encoding/Decoding.  When I teach popular culture studies classes, it only takes about half a class period to go over the basic model.  The encoding/decoding model is a generalized model for the production and the reception of culture, and the thing about it is, it’s perfect.  As someone who spent a great deal of the last 10 years thinking about and researching popular culture, I have yet to find an situation where it is not applicable.  In fact, when people ask me what was the main takeaway from my dissertation about Sabermetrics is, I tell them that “Stuart Hall was right and encoding/decoding works for everything.”1

We academic types spend a great deal of time reading other’s people work with the specific goal of trying to find weaknesses in theories and arguments, and despite it being published in 1977, I have yet to find a valid critique of the model.  Which is why I consider this to be Hall’s greatest achievement.  The model itself is fairly simple – producers of culture encode messages that are influenced by the producers social and economic circumstances, and in turn, those messages are decoded by consumers of culture in a way that is influenced by their social and economic circumstances.  Despite it’s simplicity, it has proven time and time again to be a powerful and illuminating way to understand how popular culture “does” things.  A simple concept that almost completely explains a social phenomenon – what else could one want to achieve in life as a scholar?

Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read Encoding/Decoding.  If not as a tribute to a very smart man, then at least do it to make your stupid self just a little bit smarter.

  1. The other thing I tell them is that Pierre Bourdieu was right and Distinction also works for everything, but he died years ago []